This one is for the he-man, the all-American male, that macho guy who balks whenever something a little exotic is recommended -- say, a cold soup, a sauce with more than one spice or any of those "Frenchified" dishes.
Tonight, the no-frills meal. Nothing too fancy, nothing too foreign, nothing a normal American can't pronounce, spell or eat. Tonight, it's back to the basics, the kind of meal you can sling together for a bunch of the guys between football games, the kind of meal you can serve up with a bottle of catsup and a simple announcement: "It's chow time."
The Staples: Make sure these are all on hand: butter, salt, coarsely ground pepper, catsup (optional), white sugar, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg.
The Shopping List: 4 pounds of boneless steak (sirloin or club, about 1 inch in thickness); 6 large Idaho potatoes; 1 small container sour cream; chives; peas (3 cups of fresh peas, shelled, or 2 packages of frozen peas); Boston lettuce (1 small head); 1 bunch parsley; 1 bunch scallions; 6 cooking apples (large, tart); frozen pie crust; 1/2 pound cheddar.
We begin with the pie. It's possible, of course, to make the pie crust from scratch -- but there's no way you're going to explain that to the guys. So let's start with frozen pie crusts. (Caution: Check thawing instructions on package.)
4:30 p.m.: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together 1/2 cup of white sugar, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, a large pinch of ground cinnamon, a small pinch of nutmeg and a tiny pinch of salt. Add 2 tablespoons of flour.
Now peel the apples and cut away the cores. Slice the apples and add the slices to the bowl. Stir.
Spread small dots of butter -- a couple of tablespoons in all -- over the base of the pie. Add the apple mixture and spread the upper crust over the heaped fruit. Using a sharp knife, poke several steam holes in the upper crust.
4:50 p.m.: Place the pie in the hot oven.
5:10 p.m. Lower oven heat from 450 degrees to 375 degrees.
5:30 p.m.: Now, on to the steak. There are some people who would call this kind of meat "steak au poivre," but you don't have to be one of them. Using the heel of your hand, press fresh coarsely ground black peeper into both sides of the steak. Leave the meat at room temperature until you're ready to cook it.
5:40 p.m.: Pie crust should be brown and bubbly. If so, remove pie from oven. If not, give it a few more minutes.
Rinse the potatoes well, then roll them in a small amount of cooking oil until they are evenly coated. Salt the potato skins and put the potatoes on a rack in the oven. They should be done in 45 minutes to an hour.
5:50 p.m.: Now you turn your attention to the peas. Although you're going to cook the peas in the French style, there's no need to tell the fellows about this.
Peas can be cooked in 4 or 5 minutes, but we'll simmer -- not boil -- them about 30 minutes. Put 1/2 cup of water in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the peas, either fresh or frozen. Rinse, peel and chop the scallions -- both green and white portions -- and add them. Rinse the small head of lettuce, slice it into strips and add these. Also add a small handful of parsley, chopped. And some salt and pepper. Just before the mixture comes to a boil, turn heat very low. Cover pot and allow to simmer. (Caution: Check occasionally to make sure water hasn't boiled away.)
6:10 p.m.: We're ready now to panbroil the steak. Since this can be a smoky business, we're going to cut most of the fat away from the steak.
Heat a large, heavy skillet over high heat. When skillet is very hot, add the meat. Brown the steak quickly on one side. This should take a minute or less. Turn steak over and brown the other side. Lower the heat to medium and cook the steak 6 to 8 additional minutes. Then flip it back over for 6 to 8 minutes more on the first side.
6:30 p.m.: The peas should be tender now, ready to serve at any time. When a fork passes easily into the potatoes, they're ready. Serve them up with sour cream and chopped chives. Using a sharp knife, cut into the center of the steak and test that for doneness. Naturally, you'll want to serve this with no embellishments, no fancy sauces -- maybe just that bottle of catsup -- and after that, it's every man for himself.
You may have a bad moment or two later on as you're dishing up the apple pie with a nice slab of cheddar. This may raise an eyebrow or two. But you can do what any real man would do. Say your wife made it.