Today, a meal for the adventure-some. Not that you must be adventure-some to cook it; no, cooking this will be simple enough. The adventure comes with the eating. Each part of tonight's meal seems unlikely -- an unlikely combination of ingredients that somehow work together just fine.
Courage! Life contains many gustatory rewards. For years I've enjoyed a tasty lime-flavored appetizer known as seviche. And just the other day I learned it's made of raw fish. I'm sure I'll still enjoy it -- if I ever try it again.
We each have limits. And I draw the line somewhere this side of chocolatecovered ants. But we should appreciate the fact that some of our early ancestors had more pioneering palates. What of the first humans to eat oysters? What explanation can there be for such courage? Did they lose early election bets? Were they lose early election bets? Were they incredibly adventurous? Or were they possibly very, very hungry?
The Staples: Make sure these items are on hand: salt, pepper, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, cooking oil, olive oil, rosemary, granulated sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, vanilla, milk.
The Shopping List: Lean, high-quality beef (2 pounds, ground twice by the butcher on the day you plan to use it); 6 eggs; 2 large Bermuda onions; 1 small bottle capers; 1 bunch parsley; 1 loaf rye bread; 3 large oranges; 1 head romaine lettuce; 1 lemon; 2 pounds carrots; 3 cups cake flour; 1 cup chopped walnuts; 1 large package cream cheese; 1 pound powdered sugar.
One of the secrets in presenting tonight's meal is to avoid talking about it too much. Don't describe it, just serve it. Let the food explain itself.
Carrot cake, for example, sounds much too healthy. If kids hear the name, they may not give it a fair trial. And the reassuring truth: It's every bit as sweet and unhealthy and tasty as any other cake. And there is, surprisingly enough, no carrot flavor to the cake. The carrots serve to retain the moisture and to give the cake a nice heft.
Prepare in Advance: The cake. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using an electric beater, beat 4 eggs for several minutes and then mix in 2 cups of sugar and 2/3 of a cup of oil. Mix in 3 cups of cake flour, 2 teaspoons of baking soda, 2 tablespoons of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 cup of chopped walnuts. Now the carrots -- peel them and grate them until you have 3 cups of grated carrots. Mix this into the cake batter.
You should have enough cake batter to fill a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Grease the baking dish with a little butter. Put the batter in the dish and the dish into the oven. The cake should be done in just half an hour. You can test it by jabbing it with a toothpick; if the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done.
Set the cake aside while you make the frosting. Using the electric beater, mix a large package of cream cheese with 1 teaspoon of vanilla, 2 tablespoons of milk and 1 pound of powdered sugar. When the cake has cooled, spread this frosting over it.
6 p.m.: When you have finished the cake, you have completed all of your cooking chores. You see, the primary difference between steak tartare and other steak dishes is this: Steak tartare is not cooked. That's right, you're about to feed your family raw meat. But not without some precautions. It should be a splendid piece of meat to begin with and then it should be ground -- twice -- as near the dinner hour as possible.
Put the ground meat in a mixing bowl. Peel and chop one of the Bermuda onions and add to the meat. Add the yolks of 2 eggs and half a small bottle of capers. Put in a large handful of minced parsley, several shakes of Worcestershire sauce, a dash of olive oil, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Other popular additions -- chopped anchovies, chives, a shot of cognac.
The steak tartare should be served in small portions, with good rye or pumpernickel bread and, once again, a minimum of discussion.
6:15 p.m.: The salad. Squeeze half an orange and mix the juice with 1/4 cup of olive oil, the juice of half a lemon, a dash of salt and a large pinch of rosemary. Peel oranges and cut them into sections. Rinse and dry the romaine and break it into bite-sized pieces. Peel one Bermuda onion and slice it thinly. Add the dressing and serve.
It's possible that a dinner this far-out will not be greeted by wild applause. In fact, you may detect signs of rebellion.Not for the carrot cake, certainly -- I've never heard anyone complain about that. And not for the salad, which tastes somewhat better than it sounds.
However, the serving of the steak tartare may be greeted by some resistance and perhaps an occasional boo. What you do then is simple enough. You form the steak tartare into flat patties and you put them in a frying pan over medium heat and you turn them once and what you will have then are the world's fanciest hamburgers.