During the recent stay-at-home-as-much-as-possible time we’ve all faced, we finally decided to clean out the garage, a much-delayed project where much of that delay was caused by me. I’m somewhat of a pack rat and tend to hold on to way too much stuff, so I put off attacking that particular project as long as I could.
We began by selling some furniture. A cool midcentury dining set went to a couple from College Station for their daughter’s new apartment, and some neighbors took a patio set off our hands.
Then the real work began. I had to look through several tubs filled mostly with my things: elementary school report cards; a certificate of completion for Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Church of Comanche from 1970; my childhood coin collection that I had pretty much forgotten about; a pair of red high-top shoes that I bought for $10 from the Austin singer Natalie Zoe after a late night at Chelsea Street Pub in Richland Mall; and newspapers. Stacks and stacks of newspapers.
Some of them recounted significant events, such as Elvis’ death in 1977. I’m still not sure how I came into possession of copies of the Boston Globe from around the time that John F. Kennedy Jr., died in 1999, but there they were. But most of the newspapers in those tubs were from my time as a reporter at the Waco Tribune-Herald, from 1993-99. I’m pretty sure I have a copy of every story I wrote during those years. And in some cases, I had multiple copies. Really, I didn’t need 10 copies of the story I wrote on folks who owned chihuahuas, which was the “it” dog to have at the time, thanks in part to the “Yo quiero Taco Bell” advertising campaign.
But I did find some features that I’m glad I kept and were fun to read again, like the first-person piece I wrote after skydiving at Skydive Temple. Then there was the story I wrote after Abby and I visited all four theme parks in Texas in one week. We started at Houston’s now-closed AstroWorld on Monday, then went to Fiesta Texas and SeaWorld in San Antonio on Tuesday and Wednesday. We ended the week at Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington on Friday. At the time, the Tribune-Herald and the Austin American-Statesman were owned by the same parent company, Cox Enterprises, so the two papers split the cost of the trip, and the story led the features section in both publications on Sunday, June 22, 1997. After church that Sunday morning, Abby and I drove to Austin and picked up a copy of the American-Statesman at the newspaper building on South Congress Avenue.
I also found a notebook full of information from Beef Boot Camp sponsored by the Texas Beef Council that I attended in 1997. The event was intended for food industry professionals; I got an invitation because I was the food writer at the Trib at that time. I remember attending the boot camp, but I didn’t remember the notebook until we unearthed it from one of the plastic tubs. Abby dove into its content and quickly found a recipe for us to try.
Grilled Steak Sandwiches Topped with Texas Onions calls for strip loin steaks, but we had a couple of thick ribeyes in the freezer that we used. The original recipe also said to use white, purple and green onions, but we substituted a shallot and yellow onion because that’s what we had on hand. We made the sandwiches using homemade batard, a sort of short baguette but thicker. We added low country aioli and mashed avocado mixed with lime juice, salt and red pepper flakes. For color, we added some pickled beets.
For our drink this month, we made a daquiri using the Strawberry-Pineapple-Orange Sorbet from the recipe that was in this space in the May 2020 issue.
Grilled Steak Sandwiches
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped
- 1 bunch green onions
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Dash of cloves or allspice
- 1 pound strip loin steaks or ribeye
- Low Country Aioli (recipe follows)
- 4 sandwich rolls
- 1 avocado, peeled and mashed
- Red pepper chili flakes, to taste
- Lime juice, to taste
- Pickled Beets (recipe follows)
Add oil and butter to a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Once the butter melts, add the onions, shallot and jalapeno, and sauté until onions begin to soften, about 8 to 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Add the sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper and cloves or allspice. Cook for another 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until onions are very tender.
Season the steaks with salt and pepper. Cook the steaks on a grill or in a hot skillet to desired doneness. Let the steaks rest for 10 minutes, then slice into thin strips.
Spread the aioli on the bread, then top with the mashed avocado. Sprinkle with pepper flakes and salt, then a squeeze of lime juice. Add the pickled beets and meat and top with onions.
Makes about 4 sandwiches.
Low Country Aioli
- 1/2 sweet onion, quartered
- 1/2 pound tomatoes, halved crosswise
- 1 large green bell pepper, halved lengthwise and seeded
- 1 jalapeno or habanero chile, or more (to taste, for desired heat)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups mayonnaise
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Toss onion, tomatoes, bell pepper and chile with oil in a shallow baking pan and arrange vegetables, cut sides down, in one layer. Roast, turning the onion once or twice, until vegetables are charred and tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Discard skins from the tomatoes and bell pepper. Chop tomatoes and drain in a sieve, squeezing out as much juice as possible. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
Finely chop the onion and bell pepper and add to the tomatoes.
Mince the garlic, add a large pinch of kosher salt and mash to a paste. Add to the tomato mixture. Add the mayonnaise, black pepper and lemon juice and zest to the tomato mixture. Mince the chile and add a small amount at a time, tasting for desired heat.[Editor’s note: This recipe makes way more aioli than needed for the sandwich. Use it as a dip for chips or vegetables; in place of tartar sauce; or in place of mayonnaise on a sandwich.]
Cover and store in the refrigerator.
Makes about 3 1/2 cups.
- 1 1/2 pounds bunched beets, greens removed but leaving 1 inch of the stem (or 1 pound loose beets)
- 1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
- 2 orange slices
- 1 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (from 1 to 2 oranges)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400 F. Scrub the beets, but do not dry. Wrap individually in aluminum foil (or wrap a few small ones together in one sheet) and place the packets on a rimmed baking sheet.
Roast the beets for 50 to 60 minutes. Check the beets after 30 minutes, adding a tablespoon of water to the foil packets if they look dry or begin to burn.
Remove from the oven once a fork or skewer slides easily into the center of the beets. Small beets may cook more quickly than large beets.
While the beets roast, prepare two 16-ounce canning jars by washing the jars, lids and rings in warm soapy water, rinsing and letting air dry.
Place 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds in each jar. Place an orange slice in each jar and press to stick to the side.
Once the beets are roasted, set aside until cool enough to handle. Working with one at a time, rub the beets with a paper towel to remove the skin and skinny root, if still attached. If the skins do not come off easily, the beets probably need to cook a little longer.
Cut the beets in half, then cut into 1-inch wedges. Pack the beets into the jars, leaving 1/2-inch of space at the top. Be sure to pack them as tightly as you can without crushing them.
Add the vinegar, water, orange juice and salt to a large bowl and stir to dissolve the salt. Pour the pickling liquid over the beets, leaving 1/2-inch space at the top of the jar. You might not use all the liquid.
Gently tap the jars against the counter a few times to remove any air bubbles. Top off with additional pickling liquid if needed. Cover with the lids and screw on the rings until tight. Refrigerate at least 24 hours and preferably 48 hours before serving. Beets will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.
Makes about two 16-ounce jars.
- 1/4 cup chopped red onion
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus more as needed
- 2 tablespoons white or red vinegar, plus more as needed
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes, plus more as needed
- 1 teaspoon flaky salt, plus more as needed
For the salad:
- 2 cups cooked pasta — such as shells, bowtie or other small variety — warm or at room temperature (4 ounces of dry pasta will cook to about 2 cups)
- 1 cup cured meat — such as salami, prosciutto or bacon — chopped
- 1 cup olives, pitted and chopped
- 2 cups broccoli, finely chopped
- 1 cup sliced cucumber
- Fresh thyme leaves for garnish, optional
- Feta or Parmesan cheese for garnish, optional
In a small bowl, combine the red onion with the lemon juice and vinegar and let rest for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large serving bowl, combine the pasta, meat, olives, broccoli and cucumber. Add the olive oil, red pepper flakes and salt to the pickled onions and stir to mix.
Pour the dressing over the pasta mixture and mix. Adjust seasonings to taste and add more salt, chili flakes and lemon/vinegar as needed. Garnish with fresh thyme leaves and cheese, if using.
Makes about 4 servings.
- 3/4 cup fruit sorbet, such as strawberry, mango or a combination
- Lime juice
- 2 ounces rum
- Sugar for garnish, optional
- Lime slice for garnish, optional
Place the sorbet, a squeeze of lime juice and the rum in a blender and process until blended. Pour into a small glass that’s been rimmed with lime juice and sugar, if desired, and garnish with a lime slice, if desired.
Makes 1 drink.