BELIEVE IT. Mother wants more on her special day than candy and tennis socks. It's probably not the cooking she minds, but the planning and shopping. If it's the thought that counts, plan dinner. And add a little something extra; in this case, the something extra depends more on the presentation than the pocketbook.
Small miracles of mechanization allow a piece of beef to be put through a machine that makes short work of the tough connective fibers, which heretofore needed long, slow, moist cooking to break down. This renders a cubed steak that cooks quickly over high heat to be perfectly edible while retaining some of its meaty chewiness. Mushrooms and wine transform an unspectacular piece of meat into a saucy bit of decadence.
To the side, a noodle ring filled with something colorful complements the main dish. It takes boiled pasta one step further by pressing it into a ring mold that's decoratively filled with a pretty vegetable. Use regular egg noodles and fill the center of the ring with broccoli florets or barely cooked carrot rounds. Or use spinach noodles and fill the center with lightly saute'ed cherry tomatoes.
It is assumed that every kitchen has flour, sugar, butter or oil, salt and pepper.
EXPRESS LANE LIST: cubed steaks, mushrooms, beef broth, cornstarch, red wine, spinach or egg noodles, cherry tomatoes, tarragon.
CUBED STEAKS WITH MUSHROOMS (6 servings) 1/4 cup butter 2 pounds beef cubed steaks (about 6 steaks) 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced 3/4 cup beef broth 1/4 cup red wine Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 1 tablespoon cornstarch
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Brown the steaks, a few at a time, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Set aside. If necessary, add a little more butter to the pan. Add sliced mushrooms and stir over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup beef broth, wine, salt and pepper to taste. Blend cornstarch and remaining wine. Whisking constantly, add this to wine mixture. Place all steaks in sauce to warm through and coat well. Serve on warmed platter and pass extra sauce.
NOODLE RING (6 to 8 servings)
Using a measuring cup and water, determine the size of your ring mold. If you don't have a ring mold, use some kind of baking pan and surround the noodles with the vegetables. 8 ounces spinach or egg noodles 1/4 cup butter 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and return to saucepan; toss with butter and pepper. Pack into a 5 1/2-cup ring mold. Set mold in deep roasting pan on oven rack, then pour boiling water in the pan to come halfway up the sides of the mold. Bake 20 minutes. To unmold, place warm platter upside down on top of ring mold and invert. Lift off ring mold (you may need to run a knife around the sides of the mold). Fill center of mold with steamed or saute'ed vegetables.
CHERRY TOMATOES TARRAGON (6 servings) 1/4 cup butter 1 teaspoon tarragon 1 to 1 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes
Melt butter in large skillet and add tarragon. Remove green stems from cherry tomatoes and discard. Over medium-high heat, toss tomatoes in herbed butter until the tomatoes are coated and heated through--about 5 minutes.