I don't know what's up with the weather in Maine. It's been brain-liquefying, stupor-inducing heat, then back to fleece-wrapped, muggy drizzle. For dinner, I have alternately had cold fried chicken with zucchini corn salad and then spicy chipotle chili and cornbread.
I guess if I've learned anything about the weather patterns in Maine, it's that they follow no pattern. But here's two dishes that will be seasonally appropriate at some point soon - a cold salad topped with grilled sliced steak and a zingy dressing and a delicate pie crust filled with sweet, in season fruit, whatever it happens to be.
Thai Grilled Steak Salad
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen
1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon white rice
juice of 2 limes
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 (1 1/2 pound) flank steak, trimmed
Salt and white pepper*
4 shallots, sliced thin
1 1/2 cups fresh mint leaves, torn
1 1/2 cups fresh cilantro leaves
1 Thai chile, stemmed and sliced thin into rounds
1 cucumber, sliced 1/4 inch thick on bias
Toast spices in a frying pan over medium heat until fragrant. Set aside. Toast rice in frying pan until golden brown. Grind into a fine powder using a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle.** Set aside.
Whisk together reserved toasted spices, lime juice, fish sauce, water, and sugar.
Season steak with salt and pepper liberally on both sides. Grill on high heat for 5 minutes per side. Let rest for 10 minutes and slice against the grain into thin slices.
Toss steak with dressing. Serve over salad greens, garnished with shallots, mint, cilantro, chilies, cucumbers, and rice powder.
*I enjoyed walking down to La Bodega Latina and Hong Kong Market on Congress Street to shop for the supplies for this recipe - specifically I bought a huge cheap bag of shallots, a big (again, cheap) tray of bird's eye chilies, white pepper, and cilantro. However, you could easily find everything you needed at a supermarket.
**I failed to find rice powder at Hong Kong Market, so I made my own by employing my boyfriend, a rolling pin, and a zip top bag. If you decide to make your own rice powder, do follow the recipe's advice and use a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. The rolling pin-smashed rice was a little large, and therefore bordered on molar endangering.
On pie: first, do not be intimidated. I'm not here to make it sound easy, but I'm telling you firsthand that you can make a good one. If it's your first one? It might not be good. Or it might be great, giving you baking confidence, only to find that your next six are tough or bland. But press on, because even not great pie is good and can be fixed with ice cream.
However, this pie was good, and I give the credit to my new pasty blender. Forget the whole 'two knives' thing you may have heard. Just buy a pasty blender to cut your butter into the flour. The right tools really do make a difference.
Makes two 9-inch crusts
Adapted from Joy the Baker
2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons ice cold water
2 tablespoons ice cold vodka*
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
*Replacing some of the water with vodka prevents gluten from forming and helps create a tender crust.
Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Mix water, vodka, and vinegar together in a liquid measuring cup and add several ice cubes. Add cold butter to dry ingredient mixture, blending until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add vodka/water mixture by the tablespoon, stirring gently to combine, until mixture comes together (or looks like it will after some kneading).
Dump out mixture onto a lightly floured, clean countertop. Knead until mixture forms a ball. Divide the ball into two equal size pieces, and gently flatten them into disks. Wrap with plastic wrap (to prevent the exterior from drying out/crusting over - ew) and refrigerate for 1 hour.
After an hour of chillin', roll out your crusts. Start by generously flouring your countertop and your rolling pin. Roll gently and slowly, in one direction, from the outside of the pie crust to the edges. Rotate it frequently and if it sticks at all, add more flour. Roll until it's 1/4" thick and as round as you can make it.
Gently transfer one crust into a glass pie pan. Fill with your favorite fruit filling. I used a quart of sliced peaches, a quart of sliced strawberries, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, and a tablespoon of cornstarch.
Cut off the overhanging crust off to be even with the edge of the pie pan and top with the second crust. Press two crusts together with your fingers. To make this neat pattern, pinch together the thumb and forefinger of one hand and press crusts between pinched fingers and your thumb. After a few misshapen dents, you'll get a rhythm.
Brush with milk or egg wash for a pretty browning effect, sprinkle with sanding sugar (big cubed sugar) if you have it, and cut a few slits in the top to allow steam to escape. Bake for 15 minutes at 400*F. Reduce heat to 375*F and bake for 45 to 55 minutes more.