Dining In: Steak Frites

November 16, 2011 § 1 Comment

One of the bloggers whose content I always enjoy is Jeff Carter over at Points and Figures. Jeff’s part trader, part venture capitalist, part political commentator and part gourmand. At some point early this summer he tweeted about how he was making Steak Frites that evening. I thought to myself “hmmmm, maybe I’ll do the same.” Much like my deep dish recipe, it took a lot of experimentation to get things right. I started with Rachael Ray’s technique as sort of an outline (only because it was the first result that came up in Google) and expanded on it a bit from there.

I decided from the get-go that I was going to do both the frites and the steak on the grill instead of in the kitchen. Much easier to deal with spattering oil that way. Plus it’s pretty hard to beat the taste of a grilled steak, right? The obvious downside is that you lose the sucs for the base of the sauce but that’s a trade that I’m willing to make. Sacrilege to some, I know.

My grill is a good ol Weber Genesis Silver, two burners. To kick things off, I heat it to medium high. As it heats up, I put my 18″ cast iron skillet on the left side, filled with about 2″ of oil. I let the oil heat up for around 8 minutes or so (I don’t actually measure the temp, just the time) before adding potatoes sliced shoestring thin in a single layer. I leave them in for about 6-8 minutes. This is a lot longer than the original technique calls for and probably at a lower temp,  but I’ve found that it works just fine for me. I then pull the potatoes out of the oil, salt and pepper them, and crank the grill all the way to the stops.

After 5 minutes or so, potatoes go back in the skillet for 10 minutes tops. It’s pretty easy to tell when they’re done because they’ll be that nice shade of golden brown and start to curl just a touch at the ends.

As the frites are crisping, I cook the steaks. NY strips, you know the drill – leave them out for 20-30 minutes, salt and pepper. Because the grill’s running so hot I cook them as far away from the middle as I can. 4 minutes, turn 90 degrees, 4 minutes, flip, 4-5 minutes on the other side gets them to that perfect shade of medium rare.

Since I’m way too scatterbrained and clumsy to run back and forth between the deck and the kitchen I let Mrs Ilk handle the sauce. Pretty similar to the original but we use port:

1 shallot, chopped

1 T butter

1 T flour

1 c port (Here I’ll throw in a quick plug for St Francis vineyards, they send us a bottle every Christmas as part of their wine club. If you like moderately priced California reds they’re the tops.)

Salt/pepper to taste

Melt the butter, sweat the shallot in it. Add flour, cook for 2-3 minutes while stirring constantly. Slowly whisk in port and cook until thickened. Plate steak, top with frites, dump sauce on top.

We also saute mushrooms and serve on the side.



Dining In: The Failed Doner Kebab Experiment

November 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

For the past 15 years, I’ve considered myself very lucky to work in a field which has facilitated many drunken nights out in European cities. Many of those drunken nights out have ended with me stuffing my face with a doner kebab while trying not to get any on my shirt. They’re the European equivalent of the 3 am burrito. And although they feature sliced spit-roasted lamb, beef and/or chicken served on some sort of flattish bread, don’t even compare them to a gyro. It’s sacrilege.

While in Linz, Austria this past summer on vacation, I decided to expose Mrs Ilk to the wonders of the doner. Her only previous time in Europe was spent with her parents, and if there’s one thing I know about my inlaws it’s that the chance of them walking into a sketchy looking kebab shop are pretty much nil. So it had to be done. She was hooked. So hooked that after a beer-soaked afternoon at the Hofbrauhaus before heading to Munich airport for our flight home we sought out another one.

Somehow Saturday morning we got on the topic about how she was jonesing for one. I’m a firm believer that there are certain foods best outsourced to nasty holes in the wall and doner kebabs are among them, but I’m also a firm believer in kitchen experimentation. A Google search turned up this thread on Chowhound and it seemed easy enough. Was it easy? Yes. Did turn out as expected? Well, not so much.

First, the pide bread. I went ahead and converted the metric measurements to customary when needed, so you can put your calculators away.

Ingredients (serves 8 )
2 tsp  dried yeast
1/2 tsp caster sugar Caster sugar is just plain old boring granulated sugar.
1 cup lukewarm water
3 cups unbleached plain flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs natural yoghurt
Plain flour, to dust
Olive oil, extra, to grease
1 egg, lightly whisked
2 tsp sesame seeds
Combine yeast, sugar and 2 tbs of the water in a small bowl, and stir until yeast dissolves. Set aside in a warm, draughtfree place for 10 minutes or until frothy.
Sift flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the remaining water, oil, yoghurt and yeast mixture. Use a wooden spoon to stir until combined, then use your hands to bring the dough together in the bowl.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
Brush a large bowl with oil to lightly grease. Place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat in oil. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draughtfree place to prove for 2 hours or until dough has doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Punch down the centre of the dough with your fist. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes or until dough has returned to its original size. Divide into 2 equal portions and shape each portion into a 6″ by 12″ rectangle. Place on 2 non-stick baking trays and press with fingers to indent surface. Brush with egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draught-free place to prove for 20 minutes or until dough has risen an inch or so.
Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until pide is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the base. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Cut into slices and serve with dips.
Notes & tips
You can make this pide up to 6 hours ahead.

When all is said and done, what you end up with is a couple of giant chunks of flatbread that look like this:

They’re crispy on the outside (due to the egg wash), fluffy on the inside – but they’re also really thick and uneven. My first thought when they came out of the oven was “how on earth are you going to stuff this thing with meat and roll it up?” It didn’t sound hollow when tapped on the base. It sounded awful dense.

So…on to the meat we go.

2 lbs ground lamb (we used 1.5 lbs of 1/2 beef, 1/2 lamb)
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp flour
3 tsp ground oregano
1 1/2 tsp italian seasoning
1 1/2 garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp dried mustard
1 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp paprika

Put all ingredients into a mixer with a dough hook and mix for 30 minutes. You want the meat to be pulverized. What you do from here depends on what you have. If you have a vertical spit, you can form it into patties and build a cone. If you don’t, you can form it into a loaf and bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour. Just make sure it’s pressed really tight before you bake.

First of all, the ol’KitchenAid can pulverize meat in a lot faster than 30 minutes. It wasn’t even 15 before the meat was whipped to a consistency so disgusting that it made me squeamish – and that’s saying something. I gingerly scraped it all into a loaf pan (as much as a rotating spit would be in the kitchen, I don’t think we have the space) and then used a piece of wax paper to make it somewhat even before popping it into the oven for 45 minutes.

Here’s what you end up with – a slightly shrunken meat mass:

The real quandary with the meat? How to slice it. You want it thin. Tried using a cheese plane and it didn’t work at all. It was impossible t0 get a good grip on the surface of the meat to cut into and the risk of crumbling it was there. So we ended up just slicing it as thin as possible with a carving knife, which still wasn’t thin enough. We piled it onto the pide, added lettuce, tomato, onion and tzatziki and what did we end up with?

Well, pretty much a gyro with slightly different bread. Chalk this one up to the losing column. The loss was compounded by the fact that at no point did I even think about whipping up some of that runny red hot chili sauce that makes it so awesome.

Dining In: Deep Dish

November 9, 2011 § 4 Comments

As an upstate New Yorker transplanted to the Midwest, I hold no particular allegiance to either side in any of the pizza debates that have raged and raged since time immemorial. Upstate, we didn’t eat NYC style slices. Our pizzas were a bit thicker and doughier – think the consistency of a national chain like Domino’s or the Hut only much tastier. Favorite joints growing up were the iconic Proietti’s and the much more low-rent Mr. Shoes. The name of the latter always grossed me out.

(Speaking of grossouts from the age of about 10 until 14 I had an affinity for anchovies. However, they grossed my old man out to the point where “anchovies on half, pepperoni on the other” wasn’t an option. I had to get my own small pizza and eat it in the dining room or family room while everyone else ate in the kitchen. Under no circumstances was I allowed to store leftovers in the fridge. It went from box to plate to garbage disposal because god forbid it sat and festered in the garbage can over the course of a few days. I still like anchovies but eating them is no longer an act of rebellion).

When I moved to Chicago in the summer of ’93 and tried my first “Chicago style” pizza I was confused. I just assumed all Chicago pies were deep dish, but nope, this stuff was cracker-thin and cut into squares. (Later I learned from one of my hipster foodie friends that the proper term for that is “tavern cut.” So now you all know too.) It wasn’t until the family made our first pilgrimage to Lou Malnati’s in downtown Naperville that I experienced deep dish for the first time. Then I understood – there’s actually three types of Chi pie. Thin crust, deep dish and stuffed. Like the first two, can’t stand the latter.With the abundance of pizza places in the area, I never really gave much thought to making my own (especially not deep dish) until Cook’s Illustrated ran a how to on it in January of 2010. From that moment on, it became an obsession. I’ve probably taken 15-20 cracks at this recipe since then and I think I’ve finally got it perfected. So here it goes, with my adds and mods.

Dough ingredients:

3 1/4 c flour

1/2 c cornmeal

1 1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp sugar

1 packet rapid rise yeast

1 1/4 c water, room temperature

4 T softened butter (which you’ll use now), plus 3 T melted (which you’ll use to laminate later)

 Mix flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, and yeast in bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook on low speed for about a minute. I use the lowest possible setting on mine.  Add water and softened butter while continuing to mix on low until mixture starts resembling dough. Increase speed to medium and knead until dough is one big unified lump and pulls away from sides of bowl. This usually takes around 5 minutes or so. (Dough will only pull away from sides while mixer is on. When mixer is off, dough will fall back to sides.)

Form the dough into a nice big ball. Then drop into a lightly oiled bowl and let rise for an hour or so.

Once the dough is risen, you get to laminate it. This is the most fun part of the process next to eating it, because by “laminating” they mean “the dough is the canvas and the butter is the paint.”  Here it’s probably important to note that instead of two 9″ pies that the recipe has you make, I go with a single 12″ instead. So no need to separate the dough into two balls.

Flip the dough out onto a dry surface and roll it out. Take the melted butter and brush it onto the dough with a soft spatula or barbecue brush. I use the latter. Then, fold the dough in half and brush it again. Fold it once more and brush again, and then fold one final time. Place it back into the bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour.

While it’s soaking up the butter in the fridge, I work on the sauce and the toppings. I stay almost exactly true to the basic pizza sauce recipe:

2 tsp butter

1/4 cup grated onion

1/4 tsp oregano

2 cloves garlic (I’m Italian, so I double it to 4)

1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes

1/4 tsp sugar

2 tsp chopped basil (if I don’t have any on hand, I throw in a pinch of dried)

1 T olive oil

Heat the butter until melted, then add in onions and oregano. When onions are brown, add garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and sugar, turn heat up to high until it simmers. Simmer for a few minutes, then turn heat down to medium low and cook for 30 min. Off heat, stir in basil and oil, then season with salt and pepper.

The original recipe calls for just cheese as a topping, but what fun is that. I’ve discovered that it’s best with:

3 hot Italian sausages, casing removed

1/2 onion, chopped

1 package fresh mushrooms, chopped

Saute it all together, mashing up the sausage as you go. Once sausage is cooked through and mushrooms are softened, you’re ready to put it all together. Go ahead and preheat your oven to 425 and lightly oil a 12″ pan.

Transfer  dough ball to dry work surface and roll out into an 18″ disk of an even thickness – 1/4 to 1/2 an inch seems to work.  Press the dough into the pan, working into corners and 1 inch up sides. You will end up with extra dough for sure – I carefully tear it off and then make sure to press the edges nice and neat to the side of the pan. I roll the extra dough into loaves, put it into the oven with the pizza and behold – poor man’s crazy bread!

Once you’ve got the dough pressed out, add a base layer of 1 lb shredded mozzarella, then toppings, then top off with sauce. Original recipe cautions against using shredded cheese in the notes at the beginning, but I have found that it melts just fine every time and there’s no real difference from using slices.

Bake at 425 for 27 minutes (that seems to be my magic number, anyway). Let sit for a few minutes, sprinkle with a little grated parmigiana, then slice and enjoy.

Special thanks to Test Kitchen intern and friend Lena Hanson for the help with making sure I did everything in line with ATK/Cooks Illustrated guidelines.

Digestif: Sean McLaughlin On Social Media and Investing

November 7, 2011 § 1 Comment

When he’s not busy ripping on my style or questioning my allegiance to the Buffalo Bills, you can find my pal Sean McLaughlin blogging at The Minimalist Trader. Sean’s well-thought, low touch approach to trading and money management is a rarity in this day and age and he’s always got something to say – one reason why I was glad to have him as a part of my panel on Social Media and Investing that I blogged about last week. In this post, Sean provides some in-depth and insightful replies to the questions I posed:


Thanks for keeping the conversation going, pal. And don’t worry, I’ll make it to Delilah’s one of these Sundays.

Dining In: Super Easy Meatball Sandwiches

November 3, 2011 § 2 Comments

I’ll admit it, while I’m a snob about a lot of things meatball sandwiches aren’t among them. I’ve even stooped to the level of eating them at Subway (black olives and gardinera, please) from time to time. However, I haven’t had one in a while. So the other night when there was a half-loaf of crusty bread sitting on the counter, I felt suitably inspired to whip some up.

For the base meatball recipe, I went with Fabio Viviani’s Perfect Italian Meatballs. (SIDE NOTE: I know Fabio from the Domino’s commercials, and that’s it. I’ve never seen an episode of “Top Chef” in my life and usually retreat upstairs with a glass of bourbon when it’s on. However I did get to meet Stephanie Izzard this summer when I was ripped outta my gourd at a Goose Island party.) Recipe below. I had 1.5 lbs of ground beef on hand, so I increased everything by an extra 50%. Be warned, it makes a TON of meatballs. Only way you’re getting 8 meatballs out of this is if you make them 16″ softball sized.

Recipe by Fabio Viviani

Cook time: 25 Minutes
Yield: 8 meatballs

1 lb. ground beef (90/10)
4 oz. whole milk ricotta cheese
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 egg
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
salt & fresh cracked pepper to taste
fresh parsley for garnish

Place all above ingredients in a medium sized bowl and mix thoroughly by hand until they are completely combined and the mixture is uniformly firm.

Coat your hands in olive oil, and using your hands form mixture into 3-4 oz. balls

Recipe suggests cooking them in marinara just like grandma used to do, but this idea doesn’t fly in my house because Mrs Ilk thinks it makes the sauce too greasy. So instead we roasted them at 350 for about 30 minutes. They came out perfect.

Once they’re out, pile them onto crusty bread, ladle over some marinara and top with a couple slices of provolone. Crank the oven up to broil and then broil for 5-7 minutes until the cheese is in that melted-but-not-yet messy phase. Enjoy!

From The Clipboard: Investing and Social Media

November 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

Last month, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel on Investing and Social Media at a conference put on by MarketsMedia. Their conferences are always a blast and they’ve been a great help to me both personally and professionally in terms of getting me in front of people and helping me advance my goal of world domination, or at the very least thought leadership in the industry.

One of my panelists emailed me yesterday asking if I still had a copy of the questions that I asked during the course of the discussion. I dug out my crumpled up Moleskine “passport notebook” from the bottom of my bag, and sure enough I did. I think these are a pretty good, simple building block for discussion for anyone who uses social media:

—–Original Message—–
From: Wilkins, Mike
Sent: Tuesday, November 01, 2011 9:58 AM
Subject: RE: Questions from Panel

OK, here’s what I had on my list:

How did you first “discover” social media? Was it personal/professional?

What was the “ah-ha” moment when you first realized you could leverage it for business?


What are your preferred mediums?

How do you tailor your message for each?

Benefits/drawbacks of each?

Any particular mediums you shy away from?

How do you decide “what goes where?”


Do you actually try and qualify ROI at all?


How do you deal with skeptics and haters? How do you self-censor when something difficult happens?


What compliance issues do you face? Internal? External?


How do you deal with erroneous information?


How do you keep it fresh?


How do you avoid the fine line between information and self-promotion?

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