Inbetween (Travel Post)

I'm one hour into Pennsylvania when the landscape really starts to change. In The Lovely Bones Alice Sebold describes Maryland as America's least remarkable state, and in some ways this is true. The interior is largely forgettable landscape-wise, with Maryland's eternal miles of poorly maintained highways being the defining factor of most, if not all, road trips.

Go Northwest though and things start to shift. The roads of the border of Pennysylvania are narrower, and are better maintained (or at least less heavily traveled). It becomes hilly, and although it can't really be true, there seem to be more downhill slopes than uphill. A multitude of trucks kick up kernels of black sediment, which I come to realize are fragments of coal. The highways are covered in eddies of black coal dust, perpetually moving in the breeze and pushed about by the wheels of passing vehicles. The road looks like it's smoldering, flameless.

Changes

This summer I'll be moving to Chicago in order to take on a year-long work assignment. I've been in Washington DC for just about six years now, which marks the longest I've stayed in one place since being a kid. Transitioning will be exciting, although I think also difficult, and this weekend will serve as a good opportunity to visit the city and see where I might want to live. Expect updates from my travels, which will take me to Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Lexington Kentucky, and finally back to DC. 

Let's Make Some Eggs

I'm the king of making foolish promises right before I go to bed. While I used to burn the candle at both ends that happens less and less frequently these days, and by the time I head to bed (at 10 PM) I'm usually pretty tired and not thinking all that clearly. I'm also not much of a morning person, meaning if I need to do something right after I've woken up it's going to be a struggle. Taking these things into account, I don't have a good explanation for why I constantly promise to do things for people in the morning. Case in point: my fiancée, as we're getting ready to go to sleep, asks me if I can make breakfast in the morning. I say yes, the night passes, and all of a sudden it's 7:45, she's about to leave for the office, and I have yet to deliver on my promised meal.

With only 15 minutes to make breakfast, scrambled eggs were definitely the logical choice, particularly as I had some really amazing chives from my CSA that were languishing in a ziplock bag in my fridge. I love eggs, and this dish was an easy reminder that scrambled eggs, when done correctly, can be truly amazing.

CSA chives snipped with scissors

CSA chives snipped with scissors

For a lot of people scrambled eggs are nothing but a disappointment. Despite their simple nature they can be hard to make, and (perhaps appropriately), if you screw things up your eggs will turn out...well, hard.

The secret to cooking scrambled eggs is low heat: that's it. That's the secret. Eggs need to be treated gently, to be caressed. Throw eggs into a pan that's too hot and they'll seize up into a leathery splotch, and there's absolutely no saving them once that happens. Cook your eggs low and slow though and they'll be amazingly moist, flavorful, and tender. Technique can also help you out quite a bit.

Scrambled Eggs with Chives
Serves 2

Begin by placing a medium-sized frying pan over low heat and adding butter. When the butter has melted, pour the beaten eggs into the pan and swirl around to coat the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with salt and season generously with freshly ground black pepper. Keep an eye on your pan: cooking eggs properly requires constant supervision, because even ten seconds away from the pan can spell disaster. Using a flexible silicone spatula, move the eggs around a little to see if they have begun to set. As you can see in the picture below, the surface of the eggs is largely liquid, while the edge has begun to set, which is perfect.

The egg is beginning to set

The egg is beginning to set

Once the eggs have begun to set, gently use the spatula to stir the eggs and loosen them from the bottom of the pan. The idea is for "curds" to form, and when you move the partially-formed ribbons of egg around the uncooked parts will also begin to distribute around the pan. Remember, not all of the egg has to touch the pan in order to cook, so don't worry about trying to get all of the uncooked egg to actually touch the metal. As you can see in the picture below, the eggs have begun to set even more, and things are moving along nicely. When your eggs look like this, it's time to sprinkle the surface with the chives (or other fragrant herbs of choice).

The eggs have set even more

The eggs have set even more

This is the moment when things get tricky: the idea behind this whole procedure is to gently move the egg around, cooking it, while also preventing one side from becoming significantly more cooked than the other. In essence, you don't want your eggs to have two sides like when making an omelette. Scrambled eggs should be like a pile of snow, not a pile of rocks, soft and pillowy, not hard with edges. If you look at the picture below you can see that I screwed things up. The eggs, while not terribly overcooked, have absolutely dried out on the bottom, a result of my not paying attention for a second and accidentally having the burner just a tiny bit hotter than I realized. See that leathery appearance? It looks like an old rancher who smokes unfiltered cigarettes. See the eggs in the bottom left corner though? Perfect.

Aaaaand...I screwed them up

Aaaaand...I screwed them up

Scrambled eggs will continue to cook after you take them off the stove, and so it's important to remove them from both the stove and the pan even before you're completely convinced they're done. The reality is that you want them to be just a little bit runny. By the time you eat they'll have firmed up a bit, and they've been cooked enough so that there shouldn't be any bacteria running around in the pan (unless you haven't washed things properly). Sprinkle with some additional herbs, add additional seasoning as desired, and eat right away.

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Scrambled Eggs with Chives
Makes 2 servings
Prep time: 4 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes (or less)

Ingredients
Four large eggs
3 tablespoons chives, snipped with scissors into small pieces
1 tablespoon salted butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions
1. Crack the eggs into a large, nonreactive mixing bowl and whisk using a fork until the yolk and white are incorporated and small bubbles appear on the surface.
2. Place a medium-sized frying pan over low heat, add the butter to the pan, and swirl it around until fully melted. Add the eggs to the pan and swirl until they evenly coat the bottom. Cook on low heat until the egg has just begun to set, which will likely take a minute or two. Sprinkle with salt to taste and season generously with freshly ground black pepper.
3. Using a silicone spatula, gently scrape the bottom of the pan and pull the egg together so that you have formed long ribbons of cooked egg. Gently swirl the pan again if you are concerned that all the egg in the pan is not cooking evenly.
3. Once the egg has largely set and you have formed soft clumps or ribbons, sprinkle 2 tablespoons of chives over the surface. Stir again to mix the chives and remove from heat.
4. Plate immediately and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of chives. Serve with toast (if that's your thing).

Carne Asada: Brooklyn Style

One of the major challenges of apartment living in DC is that it's relatively unusual to have outdoor space. While most row houses have some kind of backyard, balcony, or patio space, older buildings are not likely to have anything of the sort, and there is an unfortunate dearth of building-maintained rooftop or patio grills. During my first two years in DC I lived in a row house on Capitol Hill which did have a backyard, and I grilled year round on a beat-up charcoal Weber regardless of the weather, mosquitos (of which there are millions), or humidity (oppressive). I've been backyard-less in Adams Morgan for three years though, and so when the caveman, gotta-cook-over-an-open-fire part of my brain really starts to light up, I need to take advantage of the good fortune of my friends.

Carne asada is a favorite of my friend Jeff, who lives in Brooklyn with his fiancée and a very nice ceramic charcoal grill. Carne asada, which literally translates to "grilled meat", is great because it's hard to mess up. Typically made with flank, skirt, or shell steak, a citrus-heavy marinade helps to tenderize the meat, which makes the steak a bit less tough than it might be otherwise. It's important to make sure not to marinate for too long or else that tenderness will become mushiness, but it's pretty forgiving. Also, go ahead and get half of your grill blazingly hot, because searing your steak is the way to go. 

You'll notice that this recipe calls for beer to be added to the marinade. There's some argument about how much this really adds to the flavor of the steak, but I would argue that grilling basically requires the consumption of beer anyway, and as long as the thing is open you might as well introduce some additional flavor and sugar to the marinade. This is the exact reason you should not use domestic beer though. Other than tasting like shit, mass market beer (of the Coors, Miller, Budweiser variety in particular) is basically just water with crap added to it. Using this type of beer will introduce only undesired flavor, and will also serve to basically just water down the marinade. If you really want to add a lighter beer, buy some Tecate and add that. During my most recent batch I used a couple of good glugs of a summer helles lager from Troegs and was quite pleased with the end result.

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Carne Asada

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 8 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Juice of 6 limes
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 of a flavorful, lighter beer (a Mexican beer such as Tecate, Dos Equis Amber, or Negra Modelo is ideal. Do not use American mass-market beer such as Budweiser or Coors).
  • 1 and 1/2 pounds of flank, skirt, or shell steak
  • 1 lime, thinly sliced
  • 1 lemon, thickly sliced
  • 10 to 12 tortillas, warmed
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1 white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 limes, cut into wedges.

 

Preparation

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  1. In a large non-reactive mixing bowl, combine chopped garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, cumin, lime juice, vegetable oil, and beer. Stir or whisk thoroughly until mixed and add the steak to the bowl. Coat the meat in the marinade (feel free to use your hands) and add the sliced limes and lemons to the bowl. Mix again to ensure that the meat and all the ingredients have been combined.
     
  2. Transfer the meat and all of the marinade, including the sliced citrus fruit, to a gallon-sized ziplock bag. Squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible and orient the meat so that it's laying flat in the bag, with the lime and lemon slices distributed evenly on the surface of the meat (just do the best you can). Let the meat marinate for at least three hours, but no longer than six.
     
  3. Half an hour before you want to begin cooking, preheat your grill and scrape the cooking grate once it has been heating for around ten minutes.
    • If using a gas grill, preheat about fifteen minutes before cooking and set half of the grill burners to high, while leaving the other half on low.
    • If using a charcoal grill, pile your briquets on one half of the basin, while leaving the other half empty in order to create two temperature zones. Prepare your briquets per the instructions on the bag, or use a chimney to eliminate the need for lighter fluid and heartbreak. If you use the chimney, heat the coals until ash grey and pour into one half of the basin, leaving the other half empty.
       
  4. When your grill is heated, remove the meat from the bag and wipe down with a paper towel to remove any excess moisture and bits of chopped vegetable. Place the meat on the hottest zone of your grill and cook until seared, around 3 minutes. Flip the steak using tongs (never use a fork), and cook until the second side has seared. Move steaks to the cool side of the grill and cover. Cook until the center of the steak reads 125° for medium-rare using an instant-read thermometer, and 135° for medium. Transfer the steak to a cutting board, cover with foil, and allow the steak to rest for five minutes. (Cutting before the meat has rested will release delicious liquids and is a big steak no-no.)
     
  5. Remove the foil from the cutting board and thinly slice the steak against the grain. Serve immediately on the tortillas and top with diced avocado, white onion, additional cilantro, lime juice (from the lime wedges), or any other toppings you might desire. Consume with abandon.
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