Monday, November 10, 2014

Happy Steaksgiving from LongHorn!

Today, on November 10th, I am wholeheartedly celebrating "Steaksgiving" with LongHorn Steakhouse.  Thanksgiving purists, take note!  I'm not a big fan of turkey.  It doesn't ever taste great to me, and I pile loads of noodles and mashed potatoes on top of it to improve it.  Meh.  But I am ALWAYS a fan of a good steak.  The purpose of LongHorn’s first Steaksgiving is twofold: one, to celebrate the nontraditional – but always delicious – Thanksgiving-themed dinner that focuses on steak.  Yes, please!  Two, a focus on GIVING.  On Monday, Nov. 17 through Thursday, Nov. 20, LongHorn Steakhouse will help give back to the local community with a special in-restaurant offer to support local food banks. They will offer a FREE dessert to guests in exchange for a canned good donation at the restaurant! After all of the canned goods have been collected, LongHorn Steakhouse restaurants will donate them to a local food bank.

LongHorn invited us (on their dime) to dine at a local restaurant to sample their latest seasonal fare.  We started with the Brew Pub Pretzel Sticks, which were crispy (I think fried!) pretzel sticks that came with a beer cheese and bacon honey mustard.  We're definitely fans of pub fare, given Dan works in the beer brewing world.  I loved the soft insides of the pretzel sticks, and the outside had a crunch you might not expect.  I also kicked off my meal with a cup of the Loaded Baked Potato Soup, which was really delicious and cheesy.  I think my eyes were bigger than my stomach that night, ordering such hearty food, but it has been pretty chilly lately... which prompts me to seek tummy warmers.

For my main dish, I chose White Cheddar and Bacon-Stuffed Filet, with a side of seasoned fries.  Yeah, cheese and bacon stuffed into beef, it's like the opposite of kosher or something. This steak was listed on the Chef's Showcase menu, and it was really tasty, not overly salty which I was expecting given the flavor combo.  LongHorn definitely nails it when I ask for my steak to be a certain temperature too.  Dan had a rack of ribs and one of the fall seasonal sides, the Potato & Leek Au Gratin, which he really liked!  I actually took a good bit of everything home, as I'd over-ordered in a gluttonous moment, so we were able to enjoy it twice.  I might have to create a similar au gratin dish on my own sometime.

LongHorn also challenged me to create my own fall-inspired steak at home.  To assist, they put me on the phone with Chef Michael Senich, Director of Culinary Development at LongHorn Steakhouse.  Chef Michael has a pretty awesome job.   He is responsible for making sure LongHorn's classic recipes are up to par, as well as developing showcase and seasonal recipes that rotate onto the menu.  I could tell Chef Michael is passionate about food; he spends a lot of time putting care and thought into the recipe tests he conducts, bringing fresh food and flavor to the masses while pushing culinary boundaries where he can.  We talked a lot about making great food accessible and the challenges that can create, in terms of freedom in creativity and price... and we both agreed that duck fat fries are the bomb. dot. com.

I mentioned to Chef Michael that I'm cooking in an apartment kitchen, without a grill, and he reassured me that my cast-iron skillet method of preparing steaks is not unlike the flat-top cooking they sometimes use in LongHorn's kitchens.  It really allows for great caramelization, especially when you're using a marinated or glazed steak.  That was great to hear!  I've always loved my cast-iron skillet steaks as much as a grilled option.


When I told Chef Michael I planned to marinate my steak, he said that I could use a tougher cut of beef like a flank or skirt steak, or even a London broil, as the marinade would tenderize the meat as it sits.  He also warned me that over-marinating a steak could actually make it tougher to cook, as an acidic marinade will actually start to "cook" the meat if it stays in too long... almost like a ceviche effect!  12-24 hours is pretty much the maximum.  I told him that there's no such thing as allowing something to marinate for too long if you ask my Korean family, but I'd be sure not to let mine go too long!

For my steak creation, I selected a top sirloin (which is what we typically eat at home) though if I were marinating overnight I could have chosen tougher meat.  I knew I wanted to use apples as my flavor inspiration for fall, given my penchant for Honeycrisps, and I'd happened to pick up a bottle of Jack Daniel's Winter Jack the other day.  Who could resist giving this steak a little Tennessee fall flavor?  (Spoiler Alert: Don't copy this recipe, it didn't quite turn out as I'd like.)  I took 3/4 cup of Winter Jack (which is Jack Daniel's whiskey, apple liqueur, and holiday spices), 1/4 cup of 100% apple juice, 2 T. of brown sugar, and 2 T. of apple cider vinegar.  I whisked everything in a bowl, then placed my steaks in a ziploc bag and added the marinade.  I let it marinate for 8 hours.

To cook the steak, I simply heated up my dear cast iron skillet, added some oil, and let it sear up until it was done!  I did sprinkle on some salt and pepper on the meat as I tossed it into the skillet.  Upon tasting it afterwards, I think what I would do differently is cut the Winter Jack to 1/2 cup, increase apple juice and brown sugar, and omit the vinegar.  So I would suggest you play with the marinade a bit so you don't get a big old bite of whiskey-steak!   (Unless you really like that...  woo!)   I should have looked a bit more closely at some similar recipes online to get the proportions right.  Yet another reason I like places like LongHorn to cook it for me.

It did sizzle in a great way!

Closing Thoughts.  You guys know I'm somewhat of a foodie, and I'm known for splurging on fancy meals.  So why TWO collaborations with a *chain* like LongHorn in the same year?  While working with LongHorn, I began to think a lot about accessibility and availability of good restaurant food in general.  And unlike most chain restaurants, LongHorn's food isn't being prepped from frozen.  They have seasonal options (i.e. not the same menu since the '90s), and the price is accessible to most people, and most families.  We saw families, seniors, business groups, and couples at the restaurant.  This could be THE steak dinner for someone's birthday or anniversary celebration, and I know it will taste great.  The people who develop these LongHorn recipes are foodies too, trying to make sure their loyal clientele has the consistency they need while innovating to bring great meals to the masses.

I frequent chain restaurants of various styles almost as much as I eat at "local" restaurants (shock!), because that's life and reality.  And if I'm going to eat at a chain, it has to be a great option like LongHorn.

Oh, and Chef Michael?  Please bring on those duck-fat fries!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored blog post. I received giftcards in order to sample and create the steaks featured in this post, but all opinions and observations are 100% my own!  Thanks to Chef Michael Senich for his advice and time!

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P.S.  As a veteran myself, I have to call out that tomorrow, on Veterans Day, LongHorn Steakhouse locations will offer a free Texas Tonion and non-alcoholic beverage of choice to active-duty military and military veterans with proof of military service.  They did NOT ask me to mention this on my blog post, but I wanted to give them a special shoutout because I think this is great!
P.P.S.  Check out my Nashville-themed collaboration with LongHorn from August!

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