Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Poise Regained


What a hairy week. After the circus on Tuesday, I needed to recover my composure. As I mentioned, I took to my pool on Tuesday afternoon, then took to my bed. In between, I made dinner.

Comfort food was called for. Something that required repetitive, soothing motions. Tai chi in the kitchen, if you will.

So I made risotto.

A lot of people avoid risotto because it demands a lot of time at the stove, stirring. That's one of the reasons that I enjoy making it, provided I have the 30-40 minutes that it takes. I can stand at the stove and stir methodically, adding chicken stock at regular intervals, and zone out. When I'm done, I have a creamy, filling meal and a centered chi.

Last night, I told my mother that I made risotto to help cope with the day's trials. She laughed and commented that it's interesting what different people eat for comfort. My grandmother, she reminded me, could eat a gallon of ice cream in one sitting when she is under stress. My other grandmother derived strength from a pack of cigarettes, a pot of coffee, and a pan of homemade fudge (she no longer goes for the cigarettes or coffee, but the woman can still put away an unsettling amount of chocolate). A friend of mine craves Tex-Mex when she wants comfort food, and a different friend eats those scary "Ranch-flavored" chips.

Which makes me wonder: What's your comfort food?

Risotto with Green Vegetables
A Fritter Original

You're going to be stirring a lot when you make risotto. Some people will tell you that you need to stir constantly. I don't buy it. You can step away from your saucepan for a few minutes to prep vegetables or set the table. Just don't get hooked on an episode of Hardball or spend 10 minutes photographing asparagus.

1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 teaspoon (roughly 1 clove) garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine (I used an unoaked chardonnay, but sauvignon blanc would work too)
1/2 cup risotto rice
1 zucchini
1 bunch of asparagus, cut 1 1/2 inches below the tips
1/2 cup shelled edamame (frozen is fine)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
A few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley

The Risotto

Heat the chicken stock in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until simmering. Reduce the heat to low and cover.

In another medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until almost translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add the garlic and stir constantly for 1-2 minutes to prevent browning. Add the wine and reduce for about 6 minutes, until the liquid is almost completely evaporated and the onions are thick.

Add the risotto rice to the onions and stir to coat. Cook the rice for 1-2 minutes, stirring to prevent burning.

Add 1/2 cup of hot chicken stock to the rice and stir until the stock is almost completely absorbed. The mixture will become very thick and dense and when you scrape the bottom of your saucepan with your spoon, the rice will not slide back into place very quickly. At this point, add another 1/2 cup of chicken stock and stir. Repeat this process until the rice is nearly al dente, about 25-30 minutes.

See my note above about stirring. The next part of this recipe can be performed either before you begin the risotto, if you are a "constant stirrer" type, or while you're making the risotto, if you do not believe that you need to be stirring for 30 minutes straight (like me).

The Veggies

Peel and chop the zucchini into 1/4 inch rounds on the diagonal. Heat a small saute pan over medium-high heat and saute the zucchini with a pinch of salt and pepper for 4-5 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside.

Heat a small saucepan containing 1 inch of water over high heat until boiling. Add the asparagus tips and boil for 2 minutes. Do not overcook. Drain well and set aside.

All Together Now

Once the rice is nearly al dente, add the shelled edamame and stir to mix it in. Gently fold in the asparagus and zucchini. Season with salt and pepper, and allow the risotto to cook another 2-3 minutes so that the vegetables are evenly heated.

Serve the risotto in bowls and garnish with a few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley and a sprinkling of lemon zest.

Serves: 2. This recipe can be increased easily by adding 1/4 cup of uncooked rice per person.

My Apologies

Usually, I post on Wednesday mornings. This involves some amount of preparation for said post on Tuesday nights.

Unfortunately, my household had one of those "hair on fire" days yesterday, involving--but not limited to--the following absurdities:

One ranting preacher lady;
One wily plaintiff's attorney;
One colossal thunderstorm (occurring at a moment when I needed to walk 5 blocks without any rain shield but a legal-sized yellow pad of paper and a deposition transcript);
A couple of very bad boys;
The twelve deputies who arrested them (the bad boys, not the preacher lady or the plaintiff's attorney);
No lunch.

When I got home, I took to my pool, then had dinner, then took to my bed. So did my husband, to whom half of the listed absurdities happened. We were both wrung out.

So I'll post tonight. Thanks for your patience!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

History Doesn't Repeat--It Rhymes

History: it's one of my favorite subjects. I've always been one of those people who is interested in dates. For some reason, when I read about a historical event, I calculate the years that have elapsed since that event. I won't pretend that knowing how much time has passed since then adds anything to my understanding of the event; it's just one of those things I do.

I particularly love "on this spot" markers; the ones that commemorate a long-demolished estate where a Very Important Treaty was signed, or a statesman was born. I'm intrigued with the way those round-shouldered metal plaques pop up out of nowhere and teach you something.

In Atlanta, my home for several years, you can find yourself stopped at a downtown intersection next to a plaque identifying This Spot as the site of a major Civil War battle or troop encampment. Staring out into the dark, kudzu-entangled ravine next to the roadway, you can tune out the traffic and telephone lines and see another era. You can picture smoke from weary soldiers' campfires, and the steam from horses' breath rising in the chill of the morning.

Reading these markers, you can try to see what they saw, so many years ago, those people in history.

I like to think that the historical plaque marker people would appreciate that their efforts paid off for at least one person. Their precise attention to detail should be rewarded. I used to drive past one plaque that wanted me to know that "west of this point 75 feet" was the residence used by General Sherman during his occupation of Atlanta.

No, the house was not right here; it was 75 feet from here. To the west, okay?

I got to thinking about all of this because one year ago last weekend (exactly one year ago last weekend), Steve and I spent a long, lovely weekend in Santa Fe, New Mexico with my parents. The four of us roamed through the town's stucco-walled streets, happily reading about four centuries of recorded history (at least that's what I did). This dessert reminds me of the excellent meals that we had while there.

Bananas in Coffee Bean Syrup
Adapted from this recipe in Food and Wine Magazine

2 cups water
1/2 cup whole coffee beans
1/2 cup sugar
Two 3-inch strips of lemon zest
One 3-inch cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
2 firm, medium bananas
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Vanilla bean ice cream, for serving (alternatively, plain yogurt is also delicious)

In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil, then add the whole coffee beans. Simmer the beans over medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Add the sugar, strips of lemon zest and pieces of cinnamon stick and simmer over moderate heat for 10 minutes or until syrupy.

Meanwhile, peel the bananas and slice them 1/2 inch thick on the diagonal. In a shallow dish, gently toss the bananas with the lemon juice.

Strain the hot coffee syrup through a fine strainer, reserving a few beans in the syrup, then pour the strained syrup over the bananas and let stand until cooled to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, about 2 hours. Spoon the bananas and coffee bean syrup over a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, add a few reserved coffee beans for garnish, and serve.

Serves: 2

* With thanks to Mark Twain for the title of this post.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Eggplant and Barley Salad

Not too long ago, I wrote about Fort Lauderdale's regular summer thunderstorms. Well, we're a bit off schedule today. As I write this, early in the morning, lightning is webbing the sky to my east and bursts of thunder are shaking the windows. If I abruptly end this post and you do not hear from me for weeks, it is because my computer got fried.

Changing subjects, in the last few weeks, a number of my friends and acquaintances have declared an intention to eat less meat.

Perhaps these vows have something to do with the recent coverage of the toll that large-scale meat operations take on the environment, perhaps they simply are reactions to the cost of meat in the check out aisle (an exhaustive discussion can be found here). Whatever the cause, I have been asked to post some vegetable-based recipes.

I am happy to oblige, partly because I like my friends, and partly because these requests suit my own ends. You see, I like vegetables. When I was in elementary school, I would eat salads as after-school snacks. This preference started because I liked the salad dressing that my mom bought, but eventually I came to like veggies on their own merits.

Eggplant is one of my favorites. I like tomatoes a lot, too. I started eating zucchini after deciding that it does not need to be squishy and slimy, if you prepare it correctly.

This eggplant and barley salad makes a lovely, cool summer meal. For those of you who take a dim view of rabbit food, it has the advantage of being a salad that is not based on fussy green leafies. This salad is a meal.

Turning back to the weather, it is now sunny and raining at the same time. That's kind of pretty.

Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad
Adapted from this recipe in Gourmet

1 1/2 lb eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 zucchini, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped scallion (from 1 bunch)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 cup pearl barley (8 oz)
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
8 cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
4-6 Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, pitted and halved
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion, rinsed and drained if desired
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the eggplant and zucchini with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper in a bowl, then spread in an even layer in a baking pan. Roast the vegetables in the oven, stirring occasionally, until they are golden brown and tender, 20 to 25 minutes total. Set aside and cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, cook the barley. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a heavy pot over medium heat, then saute the scallion, cumin, coriander, and cayenne, for about 1 minute, until fragrant. Stir constantly to prevent burning.

Add the barley and stir so that it is coated with the spices. Saute the barley for 2 minutes, then add the chicken broth and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until all of liquid is absorbed and barley is tender, about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally. Once the barley is cooked, spread it in a shallow baking pan so that it cools quickly to room temperature.

While the barley is cooling, make the salad dressing. Whisk together the lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large bowl. Add the barley, the roasted vegetables, and the remaining ingredients to the bowl and toss gently to coat with the dressing.

Serves: 4 entree portions, or 6 smaller side portions

Sunday, July 20, 2008


I am surprised by how many of my acquaintances dislike lamb.

For me, lamb is a treat. It has more character than most of the meats you will find in your average grocery store. It is not a taste everyone enjoys, though.

"Lamb is gamey." That's a complaint I've heard a lot.

But that's what makes it better than other meats! It's more interesting; its scent has an intriguing undercurrent of olives. It's tender, and when cooked, it has a lovely rosy hue.

What is it about lamb that some people don't like?

A friend of mine, a woman who is fairly adventurous in most respects, recently admitted that she dislikes lamb. She said that she is game (get it?) for trying a recipe of my recommendation, though, acknowledging that perhaps she has not yet found a recipe she can enjoy.

This Mark Bittman recipe seems like a good starting place. Lamb chops are lean and they are not too expensive. The savory beans and tomatoes could be a meal by themselves, if you find that you are not enchanted with the taste of lamb.

Do not approach this recipe with trepidation, however. C'mon, become a convert!

Lamb Chops with White Beans
Adapted from Mark Bittman's recipe in How to Cook Everything

1 teaspoon of olive oil
1 15-ounce can of white beans
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 cup cored and chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh sage
4 one-inch lamb chops
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup of red wine
1/2 cup of chicken stock or water
Minced fresh sage for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Drain and rinse the beans, then add them to the saucepan. Add the garlic, tomatoes, thyme and bay leaf, and stir gently to mix. Allow the beans to come to a simmer, and reduce the heat to low. Stir every few minutes.

Meanwhile, grease a heavy oven-safe skillet. Rub the chopped sage onto both sides of each lamb chop and season with salt and pepper. Place the lamb chops in the skillet. Pour the wine and chicken stock into the skillet around the chops. Cover the skillet with a lid or aluminum foil and place it in the oven. Cook the chops for 20-25 minutes (depending on whether you prefer them medium rare or medium).

Remove the cover from the skillet. Pour the beans into the skillet around the chops. Simmer for another 5-8 minutes over medium heat.

Garnish with some minced fresh sage and serve. See the light.

Serves: 2

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Avocado. It's What's for Breakfast.

I am a believer in the school of thought that any food can be a breakfast food.

There is no reason to limit yourself to traditional "breakfast foods" first thing in the morning. Some of those foods, like pancakes and syrup, are out of place anyway, when you really think about it. Batter and syrup? Doesn't that sound like dessert to you? (I'm not saying that is wrong, by the way; no one has eaten more cookies for breakfast than yours truly).

Some foods are more pleasant to eat right after you wake up than others, I will concede that point. I have never woken up and thought to myself, "If only I had some sushi right now." But maybe that is because I have never tried it.

Other foods snuggle right up to my breakfast eggs. Take the avocado, for example. Avocado subs in as a breakfast food quite naturally. It's creamy, it's not sugary, and it doesn't make my coffee taste weird.

Last weekend, I had an avocado on hand, so I prepared this wholesome breakfast. Since it does not require much of a recipe, I'll just tell you what to do: poach an egg in 1 1/2 inches of gently simmering water with 1 tablespoon of white vinegar for about 4 minutes. Pit an avocado and scoop it out onto a plate. Add a few grape tomatoes and a sprig of basil to the plate. Lift the egg from its poaching liquid with a slotted spoon and allow it to drain for a few seconds. Place the egg on the plate and sprinkle a bit of sea salt over it.

Pour yourself a cup of coffee and dig in.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

It's a Scorcher

Mercy sakes, it's hot. Turn on a fan, someone.

This is not a day for the stove. No, thanks. I need to sit in an overstuffed chair on our sun porch, barefoot, with a glass of iced tea in my hand. I'll stare out the window at the lizards running along our fence line, sipping, while the fan blades turn slowly overhead.

Once, when I was a kid in Texas, I actually tried to fry an egg on a sidewalk on a day like this. Texans appreciate expressions like, "it's hot enough out there to fry an egg on the sidewalk." Hyperbole comes naturally to us (everything's bigger in Texas, hadn't you heard?).

Being a curious child, or perhaps just a tad literal-minded, I had to try this out for myself. One August afternoon, as the temperature settled around 102, I scooped a cold brown egg out of its styrofoam container in the fridge and ducked out our front door. As cicadas buzzed in the trees, I tip-toed out to the sidewalk, which was hot enough to burn my feet a bit. I cracked the egg onto the dusty concrete and crouched, waiting.

And what happened, you ask? Did the egg fry?

The edges began to turn white--it was cooking! And then, as quickly as it began, the experiment crashed to a halt. The Hitzelberger's dog ran up and gulped the egg down with one slurp of his pink tongue.

So the theory is yet untested. Some other eight year old out there will have to resume the experiment in more controlled conditions.

Shrimp, Tzatziki and Feta Salad
Adapted from this recipe in Bon Appetit

1 cup Greek-style yogurt (I used 2% Fage)
1 cup 1/4-inch cubes English hothouse cucumber
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice plus additional for drizzling
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
1 1/4 teaspoons aniseed, finely crushed, divided
Extra virgin olive oil
1 pound uncooked large shrimp, peeled and deveined
8 cups baby spinach leaves
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

In a medium bowl, make the tzatziki by combining the yogurt, cucumber, dill, 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice, shallots, and 3/4 teaspoon crushed aniseed. Season the tzatziki generously with salt and pepper. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the shrimp with salt, pepper, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon crushed aniseed. Add the shrimp to the skillet and saute until they are pink and beginning to curl. Chill the cooked shrimp in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Divide the spinach among 4 plates and drizzle with the additional lemon juice and olive oil. Add several shrimp to each plate and spoon the tzatziki generously over the shrimp. Sprinkle each plate with feta cheese and serve.

Serves: 4

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


I studied French for eight years. This should make me a scintillating conversationalist en francais, non?

Regrettably, non. It turns out that when you study a language for eight years, your knowledge will erode unless you exercise those abilities. Practice makes perfect--or at least intelligible.

It is a challenge to exercise one's knowledge of French in Fort Lauderdale. Sometimes, I wish that I'd studied Spanish when I was eleven and my brain was like a little sponge. Instead, I wanted to study French--because it was such a romantic language. I am a Francophile, gotta admit it. Love the country, love the people, love the food, love the wine.

However, I don't have many people to converse with in this romantic language, so I don't use it much anymore. Come to think of it, in the last four years, my practice of French has been limited to the following occasions:

1. to decipher naughtily-named boats on the Intercoastal Waterway;

2. to amuse a grandfatherly Canadian client on the way to a business meeting;

3. to read poetry from my 11th grade poetry journal, just to see if I still could do it (I could); and

4. to watch SCOLA to see if I could do that (I sorta could, and then realized that I couldn't at all).

Dad, you were so right in 1991 when you told me that I should study Spanish because it would be useful. So very right. And I am glad that I took two years of Spanish in college, even though my brain was not nearly as flexible as it was years earlier.

But overall, I am glad that I studied French. It is still so romantic.

Crepes with Chanterelles, Bechamel and Caramelized Onions
Adapted in part from Mark Bittman's crepe batter recipe and Bechamel recipe in How to Cook Everything

For the crepes:
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 1/4 cup whole milk
2 eggs
2 tablespoons canola oil

For the Bechamel:
1 1/2 tablespoons of butter
1 1/2 tablespoons of flour
1 cup of heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the filling:
1 tablespoon of butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 cup of chanterelle mushrooms (porcinis would also be tasty)
1 teaspoon of fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Planning Tip: you're going to need three burners available for this recipe, so think ahead!

Begin by making the crepe batter. Combine the flour, salt, and milk and beat until smooth. Beat in the eggs and canola oil. Refrigerate the batter for one hour.

While the crepe batter is in the refrigerator, make the filling. Place 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a medium saucepan and heat the pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and allow it to slowly caramelize, stirring occasionally. This will take almost 30 minutes. When the onion begins to brown, add the garlic and stir more often. After 3-4 minutes, add the chanterelle mushrooms and thyme and saute, still over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.

While the mushrooms are sauteing, begin the Bechamel sauce. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. When the foam begins to subside, whisk in the flour. Continue whisking for approximately 3 minutes until the sauce darkens. Whisk in the heavy cream about 1/4 cup at a time, then reduce the heat to low.

Now, while the Bechamel sauce is sitting on low heat and the mushrooms are sauteing, take the crepe batter out of the fridge and give it a gentle stir, careful not to create bubbles (bubbles can cause crepes to tear). Heat a small (9 inch) non-stick skillet over medium heat. When a drop of water sizzles on the surface, add 1/2 tablespoon of butter and swirl it around the skillet to create a thin layer on the bottom.

This next part is going to happen fast, so keep your eye on the ball!

Add about 3 tablespoons of crepe batter to the bottom of the skillet and turn the skillet so that the batter distributes in a very thin, even layer. When the batter is dry (less than one minute), flip the crepe over and cook the other side for about 15 seconds. The crepe should be a rich caramel color and it should be tender, not crisp.

Repeat until you have the desired number of crepes.

Smear a tablespoon of Bechamel sauce on each crepe, then top with the chanterelle mushrooms and onions. Fold the crepe over and enjoy!

Serves: 4

Steve and I opened a 2006 Ash Hollow Gewurztraminer with our crepes and its rosey mineral taste paired quite well with the rich mushrooms and Bechamel.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Wonder of Dinner Plates and Cream Pitchers

I was raised in the kind of house where you would never ever dream of showing up to a party empty-handed.

Even when I go to a close friend's house, I must know what to bring. I really do want to know; you can't just say "nothing." I'm still not comfortable with the fact that my in-laws always say "nothing." If you say "nothing," you're getting a bottle of wine, whether you need it or not.

This may be a tad annoying to my South Florida friends; I understand this. But I was raised in a place where everyone pitched in. Someone brought a salad, someone else brought a side. My mom brought dessert.

The dishes would be lined up on long tables next to stacks of delicate Blue Danube plates and over the clink of silverware and ice cubes, you'd hear gentle exclamations like, "this is wahhhndurhful."

This kind of entertaining feels normal to me. It's not that I feel the need to "earn" my seat at the table; I just like to feel that I'm a part of things, I suppose; both the things that are happening here at this party, and the things that are part of our larger social relationships.

So, when you invite me over, assign me a task. It'll make me happy and keep me out of your hair.

This weekend, I made my chocolate chip cookies for Nick and Wendi's July 4th party. We nibbled them in little bites, huddled under the eaves as fireworks cracked and sizzled overhead. As the smoke drifted across the Intercoastal waterway, a yacht blared its horn in appreciation of the finale and a fine drizzle cooled our skin in the muggy darkness.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
A Fritter Original

1 stick of softened butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon brewed, then cooled coffee
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and grease two cookie sheets.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars. Add the eggs one at a time and continue to beat until well-blended. Add the vanilla extract, almond extract, and coffee, and blend.

In a separate bowl, combine the flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ground cloves. With the electric mixer running, add the flour mixture to the batter in 1/2 cup amounts, mixing just until blended through.

Fold in the rolled oats and chocolate chips.

Using two spoons, drop the batter in small balls onto the prepared cookie sheets. Bake until lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Cool the cookies on the sheets for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a rack. These cookies freeze well, as does the uncooked batter.

Makes: 2 dozen

The title of this post comes from the late, great Laurie Colwin's The Lone Pilgrim.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th!

Enjoy the long weekend and the fireworks, and don't go too heavy on the beer! Have some lemonade, some ceviche, and lots of ice cream! Wear your sunscreen, and I'll see you again on Sunday.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Ever had a recipe make it into your "almost but not quite" file?

This happened to me a few weeks ago. I found a Melissa Clark recipe that sounded great on paper, but didn't quite happen in the pan. Kind of like a job applicant with a great resume but no personality.

Take the sauce--that was great on paper and in execution. Sweet fennel, onions, and briny Calamata olives simmered in red wine and freshly squeezed orange juice, with some fragrant chopped sage tossed in at the last minute. Oh my word, is that good stuff.

But the overall dish?

Alas, it saddened me in the end. The problem was the meat. Melissa used a cut of London broil, which is notoriously tough unless it is marinated for hours in something highly acidic. Since the recipe did not call for a long marinade, no such marinade occurred.

And that's why I was disappointed on the first run. The sauce was lovely, but the meat was tough and tasteless and dense. I mean airline seat cushion dense.

I kept thinking about the sauce in the days that followed. It really is something. And it deserves a better cut of meat.

That's why I had a do-over this week. I picked up a cut of flank steak, which is economical but tender, and got to work.

And found satisfaction, at last.

Flank Steak with Red Wine, Fennel, and Olives
Adapted from this Melissa Clark recipe in Food & Wine

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
One 3/4-pound piece of flank steak
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 small fennel bulb —halved, cored and very thinly sliced crosswise
2 tablespoons pitted Calamata olives, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup red wine (I used a 2004 Heras Cordon Rioja)
1/2 cup water
The juice from one orange
1 teaspoon finely chopped sage, plus sage leaves for garnish

In a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Season the meat with salt and pepper, add to the skillet and brown over moderate heat on both sides, about 4 minutes; transfer to a plate and cover tightly with foil.

Add the onion, fennel, olives and garlic to the skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until very tender, about 8 minutes. Add the wine, water, orange juice and chopped sage and bring to a simmer. Cook over moderate heat for 5 minutes.

Nestle the flank steak into the skillet. Cover and cook the meat over moderately low heat until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 145° for medium rare, about 10 minutes. Transfer the meat to a cutting board and cover loosely with foil; let stand for 3 minutes.

Divide the flank steak into two portions and serve covered with the onion and fennel mixture and the pan juices. Garnish with the sage leaves and serve immediately.