previously, on gastroblog: i had just had what was easily my best two hours of the past decade, if not ever. and was just dropped off at the suite to watch the nascar race. we join the day, already in progress ...
so darcie, left, drops us off at the elevator to our suite and tells us to come back to the tailgate site after the race for dinner.
we go up to the suite and sit down. it was then that i realize that i had totally forgotten about reo speedwagon. oh well. they're in clearwater in april. i got over this very quickly. just as the race is about to start, i send out a text to a bunch of people -- i don't remember who all, and it is extremely possible that i picked recipients randomly, plus i have never sent out a mass text before, so don't be mad if you did get it. i don't remember what it said, but it was something innocuous, like, "i think mario liked me." that set forth an avalanche of texting that took like two hours and caused me to need to delete my inbox and my outbox because they both got full. to put that minor fact in perspective, i have had this phone for about nine months and only cleaned out the inbox once (like, a week earlier), and don't think i had ever cleaned out the outbox.
pam started texting people too, and we were just sitting there laughing and reading texts to each other. i suspect that the nascar fans sharing the suite with us found all the just fascinating. but we later had to hear that one of the women in the suite had won her tickets in a wet t-shirt contest, so she killed us on tmi points and made me not care anymore. and, i mean, umm, not sure if i can say this, but that would not have been the most interesting wet t-shirt contest ever. just sayin.
it was while we were in the suite that ellen texts pam and tell her about the ap photo, to which i will gratuitously link. again. CLICK HERE.
it was a little harder for us to get into sunday's race than it had been saturday's, mainly because it was much longer, and as good a sports as we were trying to be on developing an interest in nascar, there is a certain statute of limitations on left turns. but i was glad carl edwards won, because it was fun to watch the backflip and all. plus we had seen him at asphalt chef the night before.
so after the race, we made our way back to the tailgate site, and it was darcie, leo (our limo driver, left) and billy harris, who was the emcee at the asphalt chef. wine was open, bread and cheese were on the table. so we sat there and watched gridlock and talked about the day.
eventually, i asked about dinner, suspecting that we were just going to break out leftovers from the tailgate party. which, if there were arancini, i was set.
no leftovers, darcie says. "you're cooking."
ok, cool. what am i cooking?
"whatever we can find."
here's what that meant: there were four rental luxury RVs on the site. each had a fridge. except for darcie, the occupants of the RVs were all gone. so any food in the RVs was probably going to get tossed when the rental company picked them up. in two of the RVs, all we found was wine and beer. not telling whose RVs those were.
in the other two, here's what we found: a bag of romaine. pepitas. a bag of arugula. two lemons. a green bottle of something that had a label that was all in italian (i assumed nice olive oil, but was wrong), a half-full gallon jug of olive oil, a bag of spinach ... and three steaks that had not been cooked at the tailgate party.
now, to call these "steaks," kind of does a disservice to them, in lumping them in with earthly cow parts. these things were insane. they were from allen brothers. they were 3-inches thick, and 48 oz each. that's three pounds. each. there were five of us.
the number floating around the tailgate party that afternoon was that the steaks were worth $100 each. i just looked on the allen brothers website, and it appears they retail for $130 each.
i asked darcie if she REALLY wanted me to cook all three steaks, since there were only five of us. the consensus was that it was now or never for these steaks. then we talked to the people who were tailgating behind us, and they were interested in one, so we wrapped it up and gave it to them.
now to the grill.
there were five. they were all upscale vikings. i decided to camp out at the biggest one on the lot. u know, not for any particular reason. well, ok, because it was the biggest. first of all, there is no flame. its all infrared burners. there are two burners and a broiler. the burners get to normal grill temperatures, but the broiler element can burn your eyelashes off from 15 feet. plus, it had two side burners.
so i get everything preheating, and unwrap the two steaks i have left to cook, and pam keeps asking me, "do you know how to cook a three-inch steak?" "yes," i said. meaning, theoretically, i knew that heat should be involved. but i had never even seen a three-inch steak before that afternoon. so there was a practical issue involved.
i knew one thing: i needed salt. pepper would be good, too, but i needed salt. and i didn't see it anywhere. "i don't know if we have salt," darcie says. these steaks are amazing. i can't cook them without salt. we need salt. it's a moral imperative. "okay, i'll look again." she goes through two of the RVs. nothing. "you sure we need salt?" i told her not only do we need salt, but she has to tell mario that i refused to cook these steaks without it. so she goes into another RV, and she comes out with official mario batali-brand salt and pepper grinders. they are huge, and they are still wrapped. amazingly, they came pre-loaded with salt and pepper. "will this work?" actually, yes, it's perfect.
i felt like i had been tested, and that i had passed.
so i salted and peppered the steaks, and i put them over the broiler element to give us some grill marks. i have never heard such a sound as when these steaks hit that iron. it was instant branding. it made me feel like i knew what i was doing. it was amazing. so i got the marks on both sides, then i turned off the middle burner, moved the steaks there and closed the grill.
my plan was to saute the spinach and serve the steak on top of the spinach. and i was going to dress the spinach with olive oil and lemon juice. so then i looked at the salad greens, and decided i could make a salad while the steaks cooked. but for dressing, the only acid i had was the two lemons i wanted to put in the spinach.
enter that mystery green bottle that i thought was olive oil.
it was dark, so i could barely see the label, but i know a few italian food words, and i didn't see the word "aceto" or "olio," so i couldn't determine whether is was vinegar or oil. so i poured a little out on my finger to see what it was, and when a thick, syrupy black glaze came out, chills ran down my spine. from the looks of it, i suspected it was very, very expensive balsamic vinegar. then i tasted it, and i was pretty sure that was what it was. i had always heard that with really good balsamic, you could pour it over vanilla ice cream. i had never had balsamic that i could imagine doing that with. but this stuff, i could totally see doing that.
i have considered buying high-end balsamic in the past, and i have found it to be more than $150 for a 3.5 oz bottle. this bottle was probably 8-10 oz. as i did math in my head, i asked darcie if she really wanted me touching this bottle. she laughed. "sure!" so then i had another issue to contend with: was i really going to use remarkably expensive balsamic for ... salad dressing? if this vinegar was what i thought it was, i was about to make the most expensive salad dressing i had ever heard of. "do it!" darcie said. i have seen mario make simple things with extravagant ingredients before, so i hemmed, and hawed, and made salad dressing. it was really, really good salad dressing. the vinegar was so viscous, it took very little effort to emulsify it with the oil with a fork. which was good since there was no whisk in sight.
i made a salad with the romaine, arugula and pepitas. i later i wished i had thought about it more, because there was cheese on the table, and there were pears and apples in one of the RVs, and there was bread that i could have grilled to make croutons. but instead, everyone got a plate with lettuce, pumpkin seeds, and about $50 worth of salad dressing.
i told darcie that as adamant as i was that she tell mario that i refused to cook the steaks without salt, i was totally ok with it if she never told him i made salad dressing out of that balsamic.
after i found the pears, i cut one up and drizzled some of the balsamic over it and served that by itself.
afraid for its potential fate, i really wanted to take the vinegar home with me, but i couldn't find the cap. and i tried to figure out ways to get it home without the cap. but i eventually gave up.
after i guessed that the steaks might be about done, i took them off the grill and covered them with some aluminum to let them rest, and wilted the spinach in a mario batali saute pan over one of the burners. (there was also a mario batali lasagna pan on the table, and i was eyeing that hard. i was afraid to say how much i wanted one of those, because i had already gotten so much stuff that weekend and i was afraid she might give it to me. plus, it probably weighed 10 lbs, and i didn't want to try to get it on the plane.) i added the lemon juice to the spinach, then sliced the steak, and at first i was afraid it was overcooked. but when i got better light on it, i decided it was about perfect medium-rare. i carved it up, and plated it on top of the spinach and went to the table.
it all tasted good to me.
darcie said that usually if she sits around long enough, someone brings her incredible food to eat. so, basically, i need to sit around her more often. but while i was cooking, she declared me a member of the mario batali family, which wasn't listed in the official list of prizes, but is really, really cool.