Do you ever, once you’ve made it through a pile of scary deadlines and come out the other side, just kind of melt into a blob for a week or two, one that can sit semi-upright in an office chair and guzzle coffee and maybe make ill-advised purchases of overpriced throw blankets but otherwise accomplish none of the tasks that are still remaining but that are simply not yet due? No, just me? Well, it is definitely me right now. I cannot promise that any of this will make any comprehensible sense. You have been warned.
My current blobby status is thanks to a pretty wild couple of weeks here, which was filled with many good and only some less-good things, including:
- Our first concert at the Hollywood Bowl, where we saw John Williams and it was magical (and Kobe showed up?)
- More lawyering than ideal
- Turning in the manuscript to this bad boy!
- Dinner at this very neat place, where I finally tried zhoug for the first time (I know, where have I been) and now I may never stop thinking about it
- Luke’s first flight, which went not entirely disastrously, for
- Our first trip back to New York!
- An enthusiastic round of peekaboo,
- Luke’s second flight, which went less not-disastrously,
- Many, many, many distraction Cheerios, and
- Two very tired parents.
Being back in New York felt both surreal and totally normal. I forgot how the city has a way of wrapping around you, both literally, in the humid smelliness and the throngs on the 4/5 during rush hour, and figuratively, in its vibrancy and richness and the sense that this is the place around which all else revolves.
In three days, we revisited our old stomping grounds, weaving our way through the army of strollers in Brooklyn, except this time we also had a stroller — weird! — and an 11-month-old in it yelling emphatically about nothing. (Somehow, despite all our extremely enthusiastic inquiries, he did not appear to remember being in mama’s belly when we went here! / lived here! / visited here! / ate here!) We went to a mega-beautiful wedding at the magical Green Building in Carroll Gardens, where Luke tolerated being trussed up in suspenders and a bow tie, and our friends tolerated Luke chortling in the middle of their vows and me scurrying away with him shortly thereafter. We got together with other friends in their apartments just like the old days, except with our monkey in the background threatening to charge into sharp corners at any moment; I reveled in this new wonderland that opened not too far from our old place not too long after it became “our old place,” and ate my weight in jianbing, scallion pancake fried chicken magic, pierogis, donuts, and bao. I do not quite miss living in the city, as I insensitively told all of my friends who still do live in the city, but I did really miss all of this, the familiar vivacity, the bustle and the good food, and it was super awesome to relive it again for a few days.
Also, did I mention that I turned in my manuscript? Yes! Terrifyingly, it is (mostly) done, sent out the night before we left for New York to my editor, who will have a project ahead of her in sorting out my scattered idea of what a cookbook should look like. Between finishing this, and the seventeen (more like two, but it felt like seventeen) marathon filings happening at the same time, and keeping some semblance of kind-of-sort-of nutritious and fresh things on the table at least for B3, there has been pretty much no cooking in the household since sometime in August. But we’re back now!
This braised beef and orzo was born of a fun project with Nuts.com, whose products I have thoroughly enjoyed since long before they emailed me. They asked if I might try making a dish out of their “Pantry In a Box” challenge, which meant using only the ingredients sent to me in a large and exciting Christmas-morning box of delicious things, along with vegetables, meat, or dairy of my choice. Charmed by a bottle of grassy olive oil and a bag of orzo (carbs, always) and intrigued by tomato powder, I took this as a sign that it was finally time to try my hand at a take on the mouthwatering yiouvetsi I can never get enough of.
This loose interpretation starts with flank steak, rescued from the depths of my freezer and quickly browned in olive oil; it’s then made fragrant with garlic and onions, braised until lovingly tender and deeply flavorful under a blanket of tomato sauce, and finished off with delicate, toothsome orzo. The sauce uses a few tablespoons of tomato powder, which is curious and new-to-me but magical — it automatically makes everything extra savory, sweet, and, well, “tomato-y” (did I mention that I and my brain are blobby?) and now that I know about it, I’ll be hard-pressed not to include it in any tomato-based dish I make. The dish comes out of the oven dyed an extra rich vermilion, with chunks of savory beef nestled in slips of orzo pasta that are far too easy to shovel into your mouth and stomach. It’s the kind of hug-in-a-bowl food that heralds the first day of fall (which is, let’s face it, this blog’s spirit season) with that elusive combination of ease and flavor — thank goodness that Nuts.com prompted me to make it.
This post was kindly sponsored by Nuts.com. All opinions are, as always, my own.
I've only ever loved everything I've ever gotten from Nuts.com, especially their dates (see these cinnamon rolls, and these tarts, and this dessert, the list goes on) but they carry all sorts of goodies, including good olive oil, artisanal orzo that is delightfully fat compared to other brands, and flavorful, pungent tomato powder.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 pounds flank steak, cubed
- Salt and pepper
- 2 cups diced onion (about 1 medium onion)
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 3 cups diced fresh tomatoes, with juice (or one 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes)
- 2 tablespoons tomato powder (or tomato paste)
- ½ cup red wine or other cooking wine
- 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar (optional)
- 1 pound orzo noodles
- 1 ½ cups water
- ½ cup grated Parmesan, for serving
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large 4-quart Dutch oven over medium heat. Working in three batches, add the flank steak, season generously with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring every so often, until browned on all sides, 4-6 minutes per batch. Use tongs to remove the steak, then add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring, until the onions just begin to soften, 1-2 minutes.
- Return the beef to the pot, followed by the tomatoes, tomato powder (or paste), and wine, and stir until evenly combined. Cover and place in the oven for 2 ½ to 3 hours, stirring every 30 to 45 minutes, until the beef shreds easily and the sauce is flavorful and rich.
- Remove from oven and adjust salt and pepper to taste, along with the brown sugar if the sauce is too tart. Stir in the orzo noodles, along with about 1 ½ cups of water -- this doesn’t need to be exact, but should be enough that the orzo noodles are swimming and have plenty of room to cook. At this point, you can finish the stew on the stove until the orzo is cooked through and al dente, about 10 minutes on the stovetop depending on the size and brand of noodles; you can also return the pot to the oven for about 10-15 minutes. If finishing the noodles in the oven, stir once about halfway through cooking to make sure the noodles on top get cooked. Once the orzo is cooked to your liking, portion out the beef and orzo and serve with plenty of grated Parmesan on top. Enjoy!