My sister Kim is a magnificent cook as was my mother. Her meals, on an ordinary weekday night, combine flavors and ingredients unexpectedly and look camera worthy. I, on the other hand, fear Kim’s exuberant experimentation and thus follow recipes, hoping I will have leftovers.
Kim is the sort who reads cookbooks from page 1 to the index and regularly uses her nutmeg grater and bain marie. She started talking about the Barefoot Contessa decades ago, and I mistakenly thought she was reading historical fiction in the bath. When we visit the Williams Sonoma outlet in San Marcos on our annual sisters get-away, I rejoice in the lovely textiles on clearance; she is on a quest for Staub.
But at the end of the day, she is a working mom. She knows the value of the grill, slow cooker, and air fryer. She mixes and freezes cookie dough on the weekends, so she can quickly bake chocolate chip cookies on tough school days. She menu plans, bulk buys, and freezes casseroles. Thus, it was no surprise to me, when she gave my sister, Karie, and me a brilliant idea for what she calls “steak bites.”
A few mornings ago, Karie sent us a text: “Besides stew and chili, what do ya’ll use your stew meat for? The kids eat these really well, but we are getting into a rut. Any ideas?”
I started to text back, describing how I made taco soup with stew meat, when Kim suggested something so much better: marinating the meat for a couple of hours, throwing it into a grill basket, and making a sort of deconstructed shish kabob without the effort of skewers. Whaaat? I thought to myself. What an idea. Because Dad’s stew meat is lean, trimmed well, and already in cubes, I could immediately envision the ease of putting this meal together. While the meat grills, sauté green beans. A few hours before, put sweet potatoes in the oven to bake or whip up mashed potatoes. Voilà.
My mind then turned to two things: the marinade and fresh baked bread. In a moment of lovely serendipity, I had a package of stew meat already thawing in my fridge, and Nanaw had dropped off a loaf of her bread the evening before. Although Elliott, my picky eater who does not love change, was expecting stew with gnocchi, I decided to get that meat marinating and give it a try. For whatever else may come, Elliott loves his Nanaw’s bread.
As I started pulling olive oil and ground mustard out of the pantry, I saw a bright yellow chicken with a pink comb in my mind’s eye: the circa 1980 recipe card for my mother’s shish kabob marinade. I could use the last of the lemon juice from my Meyer lemon tree and fresh garlic in place of the garlic powder. I combined the ingredients in a 9×13 Pyrex dish, submerged the stew meat (oh, so effortlessly), and put it in my fridge.
Served with mashed potatoes, green beans, and fresh bread, the grilled steak bites were fantastic! Shane had been a little skeptical as he put them on the Green Egg. But he rued the day he failed to trust his sister-in-law and one of her genius ideas. And my boys, Everett and Elliott, loved them. The meat was tender and flavorful. And Elliott said he could taste Nanaw love in her bread.
The only check to our meal that night: wishing I had thawed two packages of stew meat instead of one.