Annie being off to Sacramento for her latest immunotherapy infusion, I cooked dinner for myself yesterday, something I enjoyed immensely. Having grown up peeling potatoes and dicing onions for Papa, as he and Mama collaborated to fix dinner for eleven, or for as many of the tribe who assembled on any given day, I soaked in a lot.
He had many specialties, his “go-pher” stew being the most popular, because we all went for it. Among those dishes that he used to prepare, was one he called “rancho-styled steak.” This is a dish which combines tomatoes and thin strips of beef, with onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, garlic and ground pasilla chili pepper, a mild to medium-hot spice often found in Mexican cuisine.
Part of the routine of having Annie gone for two or three days at a time, is that I plan a menu for that period, so that we can stock up for these occasions when we shop. It was she who proposed this family favorite for this trip, and I pounced all over it.
My pops would have used round steak, but he was feeding a medium-sized army. For me Annie selected a small London broil, figuring that it would do best being simmered in the tomato sauce, while all of the flavors combined to create that, which transported me back to my youth. Plus, I could live off of it for a few days.
Papa religiously included this dish when we camped down in Baja, Mexico, each summer, it seeming appropriate for the venue, and all. Ironically, it was the one time when he would not recruit me as his helper in the “kitchen,” including the pot-walloping, because he wanted the kids to have a vacation from kitchen chores.
He frequently did the dishes himself, heating up the water in big pots on the Coleman stove, fueled by “white gas.” We had to go into downtown La Puente, back in the day, to buy white gas by the gallon, as opposed to going to Sav-on Drug Store and buying the Coleman brand gas, which was double the price.
What did not cost a penny, then or now, were the tomatoes. I planted 107 tomato plants this spring, which is the good news; the not-so-good news is that many of the tomato plants were incorrectly tagged. I kept waiting for those beefsteak tomatoes to beef up, and they didn’t.
|I'm thinking Heinz...|
OK, grand, then they’re Aces, since they are pretty uniformly round, unlike the beefsteaks, which usually have lots of nooks and crannies. However, when I went to harvest two dozen for my sauce, I concluded that they must be some of the Heinz tomatoes that were planted specifically for heavy sauces and catsup.
They are on the small side and are meaty, as opposed to being juicy. After washing and quartering them, I simply put them in the giant cast- iron fry pan on full-heat, and let them cook down. Having eschewed the task of blanching the tomatoes and removing the skins, I now started fishing the detached skins out of the simmering tomatoes.
The onions, peppers and garlic were off to the side, having already been sautéed before I started the tomatoes. I had cut up the London broil into two-inch, thin strips and browned it, the au jus sauce bubbling gently while it awaited the rest of the ingredients.
After the tomatoes had cooked down I combined everything, put in salt, black pepper and the pasilla powder, and determined I needed more tomatoes. I went back out and got another dozen. Nothing like having the produce section of your local grocery store, located right outside your back door.
And that’s the part of cooking this dish that I enjoyed the most: the adjustment process. Let’s see how two dozen tomatoes work, and a tablespoon of pasilla powder. Not enough? Add some more. Put in a teaspoon of salt, and add to it as necessary, and do the same for the black pepper.
Annie cooks the same way. Folks are always asking her for recipes, and she just sighs and shrugs her shoulders. “What can I say?” she’d ask. “I don’t have one-not one that is written down.”
The only question now to be answered, is what did I want to use as a base, over which I would pour the rancho steak? Rice? Pasta? Both were admirable choices, but I opted for baked potatoes, primarily because I wanted to be able to bake a couple extra ones for breakfast the next morning.
And speaking of breakfast tomorrow morning, did I mention that I baked a pound of bacon today, so as to be able to make BLT sandwiches? No? Huh, sounds like tomorrow’s post…