It is important to remember soldiers first and foremost during this long weekend. Many locales still sponsor civic ceremonies, and it is good to attend one of them as a family, both in support of the soldier's sacrifice and to register respect for the soldiers in the family and community trees. Our beloved Pop Pop was part of the storming of Normandy, and while he came home, both his white lipped response to Memorial Day ceremonies and NaNa's stauncher, but more misty-eyed, ones told the story of the war years that they didn't have the words, or the heart, to utter.
Memorial Day has fallen into the same jumble of three day weekends that has also claimed Veteran's, President's, Martin Luther King Junior's, and Labor Days, but as we reclaim the original intent of these national days of remembrance, doing so also reinforces that they are holidays as well. The original rites of Memorial Day were serious, even grim, indeed, but they were followed by the feasting and togetherness that is the firmament of all holiday celebrations. As you gather family and friends for Memorial Day festivities, take time to mark the intent of the holiday by acknowledging the soldier's sacrifice, by contacting family and friends who are serving by telephone or video (followed up with a good old fashioned handwritten letter and box of cookies). Since all soldiers are members of our collective family, make a donation to a soldier's charity, and invite local soldiers to your family event. Many family historians have guardianship of a generational Book of Remembrance, where mementoes and photographs of family history are gathered and care-taken. Whether this book is generations old or yours is the first generation to keep it, set aside time to go through it with today's family and friends, and don't forget to note the attendees and activities of Memorial Day 2015.
On the homefront, the Memorial Day gathering is often a picnic or backyard barbecue for family, friends and neighbors. It is typical for each family and region to showcase its local specialty on the buffet table. My grandmother would have brought two tin buckets of legendary fried chicken and a blue ribbon apple pie. In the same spirit but a different latitude, NaNa and Pop Pop would have brought fire and ice, chocolate cake, and a case of beer.
While many backyard chefs have been sneaking in grill time since Easter, Memorial Day is the official start of outdoor cooking season. In Southern California, our fire pits and barbeque grills stay lit pretty much year round, but even here, living moves noticeably to deck and patio during this last full weekend of the month locals refer to as May Gray. Wherever your grill is located, from still chill mountainsides to sunny condo patios, from heartland back yards to brownstone rooftops, grill season has arrived, and Memorial Day weekend is its opening shot.
As befits a big start, the first grill of the season is often steak. A steak dinner is an event, and that makes it especially appropriate to the spirit of this holiday. Urban Home has a primer on procuring and cooking steak, and the all-important skill of testing for doneness; click here. We have the recipe for a family-friendly London Broil, and if you're cooking indoors, a dramatic, delicious recipe for Steak Diane. We have easily transported, group friendly side dishes from NaNa's pepper slaw to pasta salad and crowd-friendly and -pleasing desserts from apricot bars to spice cake. We can even recommend wines to accompany steak.
Though we've served savory London Broil with robust horseradish cream and topped kitchen steaks with thoughtful dabs of compound butter, steaks on the grate command special condimenting. Here are four easily made sauces to serve with the first steaks of the season, and with steak and roast beef throughout the year. These sauces are easy to prepare and add to steak's savory char without detracting from the firepit satisfaction of grilled meat. Set these on the table alongside the bottles of supermarket favorites, and see which disappear first. And as you give the first steak from the grill to the soldier who got to stand first in line, don't forget not only to honor soldiers for their sacrifice, but to say a quietude to the cattle who also sacrifice so that not only may we eat, but celebrate.
Sauces for SteakEach of these sauces can be made simply and quickly from pantry ingredients. If you are serving the sauce with pan-fried steaks, make any of the first three sauces utilizing the drippings from the pan in lieu of the olive oil.
Red Wine and MushroomClean 8 ounces fresh button, shitake or cremini mushrooms; cut into quarters. Heat a four-count of extra virgin olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add 1 medium shallot, diced, to the hot oil and stir with a silicon spatula until the shallot turns translucent. Reduce heat to medium and add the cleaned, quartered mushrooms to the pan. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and several grindings of fresh black pepper. Add two to three thyme sprigs to the pan. Use the silicon spatula to gently toss the pan mixture until the mushrooms are slightly charred and fragrant and start to release their juice. Carefully add 1/2 cup dry red wine to the pan. Cook for one minute or until the mixture thickens slightly and releases its fragrance. Turn off the heat, remove and discard the thyme sprigs. Gently pour the sauce into a bowl or sauce boat, and serve immediately.
Mustard and CreamHeat a two count of extra virgin olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add 1 tablespoon unsalted butter to the olive oil; gently swirl the mixture to melt the butter into the oil. Add 1 medium shallot, diced, to the hot oil-butter mixture and stir with a silicon spatula until the shallot turns translucent. Press two cloves garlic into the pan; stir the mixture until the garlic gives off its fragrance. Remove the pan from the burner and carefully add 2 tablespoons brandy to the mixture in the pan. Gently swirl the mixture together until the alcohol evaporates. Return the pan to the burner and stir in 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard. Use the silicon spatula to mix the mustard into the brandy-shallot mixture. Use one hand to stir the mustard sauce while using the other hand to drizzle 1/4 cup heavy cream into the mixture. Once the sauce is thoroughly incorporated, use the silicon spatula to decant the sauce into a bowl or sauce boat, and serve immediately.
Whiskey-PeppercornMeasure 3 tablespoons beef broth into a small measuring cup with a spout. Measure 2 tablespoons bourbon or whiskey into the broth. Swirl the measuring cup to mix the liquids together. Measure 2 tablespoons whole mixed peppercorns into a sturdy saute pan. Use the bottom of another pan to crush the peppercorns until they are bruised and roughly broken (it is okay if some whole peppercorns remain). Add a four count of extra virgin olive oil to the pan and heat the peppercorns in the oil over medium heat until shimmering until the peppercorns start to sizzle; approximately 1 minute. Carefully add the broth-whiskey mixture to the mixture in the pan. Gently swirl the pan until the alcohol evaporates; approximately one minute. Once the sauce is thorough mixed, use a silicon spatula to decant the sauce into a bowl or sauce boat, and serve immediately.
ChimichurriEarly in the day, rinse 1 bunch fresh cilantro and 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley under cool water. Place the herbs on several layers of paper towels and set aside to dry. While the steaks are grilling, cut the herb bunches so that you have only the leafy tops. Place the leafy herbs into the bowl of a small food chopper. Add 3 peeled medium garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, and a pinch each of salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper to the herbs. Close the safety lid on the chopper and pulse the mixture until all of the ingredients are roughly chopped and mixed. Unplug the chopper and remove the safety. The sauce should be thick, green, slightly chunky, and very fragrant. If necessary, add 1 - 2 teaspoons olive oil to ensure that the sauce can be spread. Carefully decant the sauce into a bowl or sauce boat, and serve immediately.