RL266 - Ham-fisted Steak Cooker

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The problem: "It’s a private moment John had with the roast beef", referring to John turning his failed steaks into roast beef when his dinner guests were gone, so he had nobody to share it with and had a private moment.

The show title refers to John not being able to cook a good steak, but being a ham-fisted steak cooker.

It is going super-duper for John!

Someone was calling John on his phone, but it was ringing in his computer! Maybe he got hacked? Merlin asked him to enable the screen sharing and he will fix John’s computer, but John is not giving Merlin the permissions, because Merlin might give him the Trojan horse! It might be the North Koreans, the ”Little Rocket Man”!

Johns started writing song lyrics yesterday and they were all like ”I give up!”, ”I surrender”, ”You got me”, ”You finally beat me”.

Merlin and John shortly mention about the keystone oil spill in November 2017 in South Dakota.

There was a local tourism campaign in the 1980s called ”Wild About Anchorage”. They put those ads on Alaska TV, but they should have been in TV in California. It had a great song!

John rang out the show with one of his test-bells that he got from the time where he and Merlin planned to make bells.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

Farm-to-table and artisanal dinners with Kurt (RL266)

John’s friend Kurt Timmermeister used to run a restaurant in Seattle called the Café Septiemes, because he had gone to France to learn to cook. This was the time before anybody used the word ”chef” outside of the Four Seasons Hotel or used the word ”chef” without any articles, like ”you talked to chef” (It seems to be a British thing!). Kurt was very early with the ”farm to table” concept and sold his Café Septiemes to move to Vashon Island and buy a farm. Vashon is a very rural island that is a 25 minute ferry ride away from Seattle. You can own a farm there and raise your children with bare feet.

John lived at the Septiemes, but Kurt decided he didn’t want to be a restauranteur anymore, but a farmer. He has a wonderful farm and grows all these wonderful things. While he is a wonderful person, he is also awful and he would be the first to admit it. Periodically he had dinners where he would serve you the food he grew and raised at the farm. The only thing he didn’t make himself was sugar, salt, coffee, wine and wheat. He had a big long table in the oldest cabin on Vashon island that he eventually turned into his house. He also apprenticed young cheffy people who came over from Seattle and worked for less than free, meaning they probably had to pay to have the privilege to stand in this kitchen and make food for these swells.

Kurt initially only invited his friends to these dinners, but later he extended the franchise to friend-of-friend and to people who knew someone who had been at these dinners before. Pretty soon it became too unwieldy and too many people wanted to attend. In the early days it had been a thing where you knew everybody around the table, most of them artists. Kurt was gay and had access to very interesting people, middle aged people who had lived a lot of lives.

It was a very fascinating salon, but then it became more and more rich people who were less and less fascinating. They thought they were fascinating, but although they were lawyers and they were more interesting than the people who worked at their office, sitting next to them means that you would be the one who was making it interesting for that person to go back to their office and feel like they had an interesting experience, but that was not helping John.

Eventually Kurt sold out his dinners immediately as soon as he announced them and he started to insist that if he didn’t know you personally you have to write an essay or do a piece of art to come to the dinner. With that he created a job for himself of grading 300 pieces of art which was not working either and so he just said that he won’t do those dinners anymore. He wrote a book about ”farm to table” which was very influential for a whole generation of cooks in Seattle. He was pretty early on to this game and pretty much anyone who is cooking in Seattle and who believes in ”farm to table” is influenced by or has some connection to Kurt.

Kurt decided to start making cheese, which was the new ”farm to table”y thing to do. Cheese requires you to do interesting things to make it good. After that he started to make ice cream and opened a very cute ice cream store on Capitol Hill in Seattle. There are like 5 or 6 different places on Capitol Hill where you can get some expensive ice cream and Kurt’s is the most expensive, but it is also very good.

Recently Kurt contacted a small group of his friends, telling them that he was going to butcher a cow and was selling packages of meat for $250. John bought a package and picked it up at the ice cream shop. This was a cow that John had known and had patted on the nose. Now John had this big package of beef and as he unwrapped it at home, he found all kinds of beef that confronted him with confusion. He got some rib eyes, he got some short ribs, he got some tenderloins, things he knew what to do with. He got some hamburger which he also knew what to do with. But then there were those cuts of meat that he never quite figured out what to do with them.

John doesn’t know what a London broil is and what to do with these things. The names were written with sharpie on the white butcher paper and he started to type them into the Internet where he would find a very cheerful person who had made a short video on how to make it. Honestly, one of the areas of adulthood where John feels like he is a flop is that he cannot cook a steak, the simplest of all things! He is a ham-fisted steak cooker and always overdoes it, no matter if he cooks them outside or inside or in pans or whatever. He always ruins them!

John’s friends Jonathan Colton and Jason Finn have those Big Green Eggs which they are stoking all day and Jason can make a pork tenderloin that is so good, John would have stabbed everybody who would have come near him after he had taken the first bite the first 15 times he got it served. When John asked Jason about it, he told him that he got this food from CostCo, but he is doing the thing with the thermometer and he is thinking about it.

John still sees Kurt from time to time, he is prickly and he is spectrumy. He is very social, but he is obviously very trying, but after a while it uses him up. They see each other, they have a good time, they laugh, they exchange some old memes. Merlin and John banter a while about old memes.

The private moment with John's unintentional roast beef (RL266)

John had put the packages of meat into the freezer and as he got some people over, he thought that he would be going to make ”these three”. One of them was a London broil, one of them a tenderloin, and one of them a flank steak. John has heard these words before and knows that they mean something. When he is in a restaurant, he either gets the filet or if he is feeling adventurous he will get the ribeye. In a really nice restaurant you get the ribeye, because it is always great, while in a medium-nice restaurant the ribeye can be a little bit too much connective information and not enough yummy. John doesn’t like to order a steak and then leave half the steak behind because it isn’t steak. John doesn’t want bone & fat, although they were a Greek 1990s Hip Hop group.

John went on the internet to ask for London broil and there was a woman who explained what to do with it. You fill a skillet with oil 2 inches deep, you deep-fry it and then you put it in the oven. After you bring it back out, you plopp it into the oil one more time and before you serve it, you put a bunch of butter and herbs on it. John thought if that is going to work for London broil, it is surely also going to work for these other steaks, so he got a little factory going, making three pieces of meat at the same time. They were all frozen solid and John was dropping frozen pieces of meat into the oil which he figured was how you make it crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside.

He put all all of them in the oven and cooked them some time in between of what she said, because he didn’t want to overdo it, he flapped them again and then he was supposed to let them rest and sit there for a while and Tadaaaa! Everybody was sitting there with their lobster bibs tucked into their shirts and their knife and their forks in each hand, big tongues licking their lips and as John cut into the pieces of meat, they were very pink inside and one of them was red. The most cooked ones were rare and the least cooked one was very rare, almost under-cooked, but crispy on the outside and John was expecting that these would be amazing and blow everybody’s mind.

Unfortunately, the meat was very chewy and John didn’t understand how it could be like that. Everybody was very polite, his daughter had some, his house guest had some, she said that it was delicious and John did that thing where he said that it wasn’t delicious and they don’t need to pretend, but they said that it was great and wonderful. John knew it wasn’t! He likes steak, he has eaten lots of steak, he just doesn’t know how to cook it. The people at the table didn’t eat all the steak by a fair margin, leaving him with a lot of left-over steak. At Jason Finn’s house there will be no left-over tenderloin!

Now John had these separate half-steaks in containers in his refrigerator. Microwaving them isn’t going to help. Yesterday he took them out on the cutting board, took out his fancy Japanese knife, sliced them very thin across the grain and realized that he had made fantastic roast beef! John started making sandwiches with this roast beef that was very rare in the middle and kind of crusty on the outside, he ate it at refrigerator temperature with a piece of Swiss cheese on some nice artisanal bread and all of a sudden he had gone from being a total steak flop to being roast beef ninja!

John doesn’t even know how he got there and now he is all about how to intentionally make roast beef! He got really lucky with that one and pulled the fat from the fire, but he didn’t have anybody to share it with, because his dinner people were all gone, meaning he only had a private moment with his roast beef. Now John looked on the Internet how to make a roast beef and all of the recipes were talking about how to make it back in the old days when they were kids. People would serve roast beef with gravy and potatoes for dinner and John had completely forgotten about this until he was reading these recipes. He had forgotten that a Sunday Roast was even a thing and the only kind of roast beef he had experienced in 20 years was the roast beef you get at the deli.

John’s aunt Martha had a famous spaghetti sauce and none of them could figure out what made it so good and so distinctive, but John thinks it was the bay leaves. (RL266)

Merlin's way to cook a steak (RL266)

One thing Merlin recommends is sous-vide cooking, which is kind of counter-intuitive: You cook your meat in bag in the water. If John doesn’t want to do that, then he should get a New York strip, let it come to room temperature, get a fan going and get a pan going very very hot, put a little bit of Canola oil or lard in there, put lots of kosher salt on either side of the steak and on the edges and the other kinds of things he might want, like pepper or garlic powder. The idea is that when it is super-hot you put it in there gently with your tongs and you should hear lots of sizzling.

You put Rosemary, Thyme and a little bit of Bay-leaf on top of the steak and then you press a little iron thing on top that holds it down and sears it. At that point, Merlin will take 2 table spoons of butter and put that into the pan. You lift up the iron thing, scrape off the herbs, mix them into the butter that is melting really quickly, you redistribute all the oily stuff, you flip the steak back over and at this point you spoon some of the herby butter on top of the steak and let it sear really well. John is confident that he could screw this up because it is really a game of seconds. It is even possible to screw up a hamburger because people get all cute with it.

Men play with the food too much! Don’t poke it, don’t touch it too much! When it smells like steak, you have steak. If it doesn’t sound like steak, it might not be steak yet and if you cook it too long, it becomes post-steak and is maybe only good for sandwiches. The butter thing might sound crazy, but butter on hot dog or steak is so good! If you get fresh herbs, like Thyme, Bay-leaf and Rosemary: They will freeze just fine. John does have Thyme and Rosemary in the garden, but he thinks it makes everything taste like dirty gras, while Merlin counters that what John thinks of is Cilantro. You should only use a little bit of it because you are having a steak and not a pile of Rosemary with a piece of meat in it.

Afterwards, wrap it up in aluminum foil and let it set for 10 minutes to let the juices settle. You need to let it come to room temperature before you prepare it. Using frozen meat is not as good!

John's hamburger hack (RL266)

The only reason you go to Denny’s is because it is 2am and you want to smoke some cigarettes and be goth! You can’t smoke cigarettes at Denny’s anymore and neither Merlin or John is goth, but a medium rare Denny’s hamburger: You won’t believe it! They are a real hamburger hack and Tuesdays and Thursdays your kids eat free. Denny’s is one of those companies like Domino’s or Nantucket Nectars that had been boycotted by the left because of racism or other causes and Denny’s was actually demonstrably racist. They boycotted Denny’s because the owner gave money to anti-abortion people. They didn’t go to Home Depot because that guy is just a bad crank, but apparently Home Depot says that Bad Crank Guy is no longer involved. Then there was Snapple which was all cutsie pie, but behind the curtain they were all Darth Mauls. In 1992 there were rumors that Snapple was affiliated to the KKK. Papa John’s was just super-creepy!

Bachelor cooking (RL266)

The freezer plays a large role in John’s bachelorhood, because it all goes into the freezer! John might be like Lennart Bernstein who looks at which orchestra members are here and decides from that what we are going to produce today. John gets out his conductor wand and opens the fridge. Here is what’s in it: Tortillas, Eggs, 65 kinds of mustard and hot sauce, Best Foods mayonnaise that John bought for himself and vegan mayonnaise that is a left-over from the time when vegans populated his house. Some other mayonnaise that somebody else brought into the house who didn’t understand that Best Foods is the only mayonnaise. In the cupboard there is a mayonnaise from John Hodgman’s apocalypse series. In the fridge there is also cream for the coffee, 2% milk (for some reason there are 2 containers right now), in the crisper drawer there are different kinds of cheese. In the back there is an open box of Arm & Hammer baking soda that has been in there for ages.

The fridge is just a way station. Things hang in there for 3-5 days before they are consumed or they are on their way into the freezer. If they are in the freezer long enough, John usually forgets if they had been in the refrigerator for too long. Eventually it all goes out, John looks at it and wonders how long this has been in there and he makes it anyway because he is a bachelor and doesn’t have very high standards for himself. He will eat cold beans out of a can with a fork that he got from a take-out thing a long time ago and that he didn’t throw away when he should have. If it is freezer burned, then it is not going to be any good, but if he can’t tell what it is, it goes into the crock pot. He will cook it for 10 hours, open it up with a wood spoon and mash it. With some onions, Bay-leaves and beans, it is good eating! Sometimes John was very aspirational about this kale, but if you put it in the pot and leave it in there long enough, you are going to be fine. It sweats out all the toxins and the onions help diffuse it.

When John is backstage at an event, there is often a curtesy plate of vegetables, assuming that everybody who does events would just be pacing around craving for some broccoli that they could dip in some ranch. John usually walks out of the dressing room, looks back at this enormous plastic tray of vegetables, turns out the light, closes the door and keeps going. Lately he has been taking all those vegetables, put them into the crock pot with whatever he pulls out of the back of the freezer and it turns into some kind of meaty mush. Almost every meal he produces at home contains some kind of surprise. If it is good, then: What a surprise! When it is awful, then: What a surprise! When it was something in the middle, he either turned garbage into something edible, or he turned something edible into garbage, but he never knows for sure what is going to happen until he puts that first fork to his mouth.

John made some soup the other day and put it down in front of his daughter. As she took a bite of it, she didn’t like that soup. Then John told her that she is a child and doesn’t get to choose all the time what her food is, this is good soup and he needs her to eat some of that soup. She had another bite and showed in a kid’s way that it was gross. John was getting the rest of the stuff ready in the kitchen and told her that they are going to have soup tonight, no matter what. Then he sat down and tucked himself under this bowl of soup, took a bite and realized that Oh dear, this is terrible soup! His daughter glared at him, he took the soup away and tried to find another thing to eat that wasn’t this soup.

Sponsor Squarespace

John has several different Squarespace websites that are managed by several different people. They are probably e-commerce or they are putting things on the Internet. The podcast is on Squarespace, [http://merlinmann.com/meetups] is there and Merlin is even making a private site for his daughter and her friends. John doesn’t know how Internets were done before Squarespace, because nowadays everybody he knows uses Squarespace and he doesn’t even know what the other options are. There was a time when Merlin was making a living doing the stuff that Squarespace does flawlessly and automatically now. He is very happy to not be in that business anymore because it has gotten very complex making a website that looks good both on a phone and on a giant screen. Even if you already have a website, keep in mind that someone you know might not be as cool and nerdy and might need a website.

John’s mom is very frustrated that programmers now put out stuff that is in beta and make all of us into beta testers, which is not how it used to be. People used to make sure before they released a product that it worked and now they don’t even care anymore if it works. She is so mad! She still thinks like a programmer and she can’t understand how people can listen to a podcast while they are programming, because you have to be using your brain to program, but that might not be true anymore. John asked why don’t they write a program to program? That is actually how they program now: they wrote programs to program, but then you had to learn how to use the program that programmed and then they made a new program that programmed the program that programmed and John was thinking about all these stacks that are running programs. There are still ones and zeroes at the bottom of this, that is all there is! They used to have to deal with those directly, but now people don’t do that anymore. Squarespace is a program that programs the program that programs.

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