April 20, 2017

Dear friends,

Not many local restaurants serve something so popular the proprietors are compelled to offer it commercially. Barberton Hot Rice and Whitey’s Chili come to mind. Another is the steak sauce served for 40-some years and now bottled and sold at Lanning’s Restaurant in Bath.

I hadn’t thought of that steak sauce or even the restaurant in decades, until last week when we celebrated Tony’s birthday there with a gift certificate from a friend.

“I love this steak sauce,” Tony said as he offered me a bite of his porterhouse drenched in the stuff. The brown brothy sauce was spooned onto the steak in the kitchen. It sparked a taste memory that was just out of reach, like a word on the tip of my tongue. I grabbed my spoon and took a taste unmuddled by beef. Ah, yes. Julia Child’s steak Diane.

I have made steak Diane several times, including once on a camp stove during an electrical outage. The dish is always made in the pan just before serving. Steaks are quickly browned, then set aside. In the same pan, shallots are sautéed in butter, and then beef bouillon, Dijon mustard, Madeira and fresh lemon juice are added and simmered to concentrate the flavors. The steaks are bathed in the sauce before plating.

Steak Diane is seriously good, an icon of a recipe that should not be forgotten. But who wants to stand over a stove while everyone is already at the table? Maybe that’s why the dish has waned in popularity.

Lanning’s apparently solved that problem, and I figured I could, too. It took a couple of batches, but I think I have come up with a decent make-ahead version of steak Diane sauce. It should keep in the refrigerator for at least a couple of weeks because of the acid it contains, so feel free to make a double batch.

The sauce may be used by itself over grilled steak, but it’s better when added to the pan after making pan-grilled steaks. Remove the cooked steaks from the pan, add the sauce and simmer, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Return the steaks to the pan and swirl in the sauce, then plate the steaks and pour the sauce over the meat.

Tony didn’t say whether my sauce tastes like Lanning’s, but I know he liked it. As he flipped steaks on the grill Sunday he shouted to me in the kitchen, “Got any more of that sauce?”
No, but in a matter of minutes I made some.

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STEAK DIANE SAUCE
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup minced shallots
1/4 cup Madeira
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 cup rich beef broth
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Heat oil in a small skillet or sauté pan. Sauté shallots until softened. Add Madeira and bring to a boil.

Simmer until liquid is reduce by half. Stir in mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Add beef broth and lemon juice and simmer for two minutes. Use immediately or cool, pour into a lidded container and refrigerate. Makes enough for 4 steaks.

TIDBITS

* Few chefs have embraced the farm-to-table movement as enthusiastically as Ben Bebenroth, who actually leased a farm to supply his restaurant, Spice Kitchen + Bar in Cleveland. Beginning in June he will share this year’s chef-grown bounty with us at a farm stand at his Spice Acres Farm, 9570 Riverview Road in Brecksville.

I mention this because even at the height of summer it’s a gamble buying fruits and vegetables at produce stands and stores. Many have no connection to a farm and get trucked-in stuff from wholesalers. Wise consumers ask.

You won’t have to ask at Spice Acres, where eggs, vegetables, honey and flowers — the overflow the chef doesn’t use at his restaurant — will be sold from 9 a.m. to dusk Thursday through Sunday this summer. It is one of 11 leased farms in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

* Pizza love: For years I disdained thin-crust pizza as the spoil-sport Puritan cousin of lush, wanton, thick-crusted pies. No longer.

First I tasted a few crisp-crusted, imaginatively topped pizzas on vacation last summer in Colorado. Then I developed a craving for the brick-oven beauties at Pizza Fire (with several locations in Northeast Ohio), where thin disks of dough are topped and cooked in a matter of minutes while you watch.

Now I’m in act three of my obsession. Earth Fare, I discovered, sells fresh, unbaked 12-inch pizzas that crisp up beautifully in your home oven in about 10 minutes. Best of all, they cost just $10 and serve two, compared to the still-reasonable $9 or so personal pies at Pizza Fire.

I still love Rizzi’s bubbling, cheesy, thick-crust pizzas, and will no doubt return to them in time. But for now I’ll save a few bucks and a bunch of calories with my new fave from Earth Fare. Are there any other thin-crust pizzas I should try?

By the way, the area of Florida I visited in January is dotted with Pizza Fire-type places that proudly advertise their coal-fired ovens. Is it just me, or do other Northerners feel that “coal-fired” flavor is nothing to brag about?

THE MAILBAG

From Sharon:
Have you ever used an Instant Pot? I am thinking about getting one but don’t know how useful it would be.

Dear Sharon: I haven’t but I plan to buy one soon. A fellow food writer swears by them. Mike Vrobel of Copley, who writes the popular Dad Cooks Dinner blog (see my list of favorites for the link), uses his Instant Pot as a pressure cooker to make quick after-work meals for his family. He even “baked” a cheesecake in one. l understand that the electric appliance also may be used as a rice cooker, slow cooker and steamer. They cost about $100 at discount stores.

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