Julia Child famously quipped that people who love to eat are always the best people. We’re willing to take that one step further and say people who love to cook are even better. Happy hour meet-ups and restaurant dinners are lovely but feeding friends and loved ones a home-cooked meal creates a ripple effect of happiness worth its weight in flake salt. This year, we’re committed to making a tradition of no-occasion-needed hosting because, like any skill, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. We reached out to Jay Bartholomew, food-obsessed Schoolhouse spouse, new dad and self-taught chef (@seasonofsalt) to teach us his ways in the kitchen. Although he’s been cooking up a storm for years now, it was only recently he decided to host weekly dinners for friends, family, and well... basically anyone who feels like showing up.
The trick to stress-free dinner parties is consistency. Every Saturday, rain or shine, two guests or ten guests, Jay is serving up delicious food. The beauty of an open and reoccurring invitation is the absence of pressure. It’s a fluid, lowkey way to connect with friends new and old. They say that food is love made visible and it’s true – there’s no warmer feeling then being in a room with loved ones enjoying the same food, drink in tow. With a baby of his own, Jay alternates between a 5pm meal so those with kids can attend and a 9pm, post-bedtime service for the night owls. While his style of cooking leans toward a no-shortcut approach, we asked him to share his top tips for what he's coined “simple fancy” food – easy ingredients and ways to cook beautiful food for a group.
His go-to's include shared steaks, simple salads and elevated preparations of low-cost standbys such a grits, mushrooms, and cauliflower. His number one piece of advice? Season hard, and season early.
– Season of Salt's Simple Fancy Cooking Tips –
Kosher salt. "Salt & pepper shakers are cute table accessories but if you're using them with regularity, it means the food is under-seasoned. Kosher salt is coarse so you can pinch it with your fingers and get a feel for how much you're using. Season meat no less than an hour in advance or even a day or two ahead. For meat, use around 1/2 teaspoon per pound until you've developed a good feel for how much to use. If you don't have time to preseason, then do it the moment before you cook it."
Buy thick steaks. "It's better to share thick steaks than serve individual thin ones because you have far more control over how they cook. Also, leave out a tip jar if you're feeding people on the reg - people are always happy to contribute a few bucks to the cause and it will quickly offset food costs."
Reverse sear steak. "Contrary to tradition, it is far superior to gently cook thick steaks via indirect heat then sear them to finish. Set your oven to its lowest setting and cook your steak on a wire rack set on a baking sheet until it reaches an internal temperature about 10 degrees below your target then finish in a screaming hot cast iron pan. For example, cook to 120 in the oven then finish to 130 on the stove."
Use a digital, instant-read thermometer. "If you plan on cooking meat with any kind of regularity in your life you simply must invest in one of these. Quality thermometers can be found for as little as $15."
Board sauce. "A good steak needs nothing more than salt and pepper. A sauce can't hurt, but they can be intimidating to make. Instead, simply chop some herbs on a cutting board, drizzle with olive oil, and carve your steak on top. The juices that releases will form a delicious sauce to spoon over or mop up with each bite."
Splurge on produce. "Even organic vegetables from a farmers market are relatively inexpensive compared to proteins."
Zest is free. "Citrus is a huge salad upgrade. People tend to associate bitter tastes with citrus peels and therefore discard them, but the white "pith" between the peel and flesh is the real culprit. Zest citrus for a fragrant garnish then cut away the white pith. Slice your citrus fruit between the membranes to release segments of perfect citrus called 'supremes.' Juice the remains over the supremes to really intensify their flavor and juiciness."
Plan ahead. "Think of dishes with elements that can be prepared a day or two in advance with no loss of quality like sauces and garnishes."
– Recipe –
Cast Iron Ribeye with Cauliflower Puree
"This is a simple way to turn humble cauliflower into an elegant puree that will impress without stealing the show. It can be prepared a day in advance and reheated. Pre-seasoning the steak and slow cooking it prior to searing delivers the absolute best results and helps prevent overcooking. This technique requires steak that is at least 1.5 inches thick."
For the Puree:
- 3 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 small yellow onion, sliced
- 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 1 head white cauliflower, trimmed and sliced 1/4" thick
- 1 cup cream
- 1 cup milk
- Kosher salt
In a large sauce pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Take care not to brown anything. If you do, discard and start over.
Add milk and cream. Bring to a simmer then cover and cook until completely tender, about 30 minutes.
Strain and reserve cooking liquid.
Add cauliflower, onion, and garlic, 1 cup of reserved liquid, and remaining tablespoon of butter to a blender and blend on high until completely smooth. Add salt to taste. Test consistency by dragging a spoonful of puree across a plate. The puree should hold its shape when the plate is tilted on its side. To thicken cook down over low heat. To thin, add more reserved cooking liquid. Puree can be prepared a day ahead and reheated.
White cauliflower is an elegant color to contrast against steak, but orange cauliflower looks better with white meat like chicken or scallops.
The only difference between this puree and a smooth cauliflower soup is the consistency. Simply use more cooking liquid to make soup.
For the Ribeye
2-inch thick ribeye steak, about 1.5 pounds
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Kosher salt and pepper
Place steak on a wire rack set over a baking sheet and season liberally with salt and pepper (about 1/2 teaspoon of salt per pound). Let sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour and up to a day.
Preheat oven to the lowest possible setting (around 200°F).
Cook until steak until a digital thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 10°F below your target temperature: 120°F for medium-rare, 125° for medium, 130°F for medium-well. This could take around 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on your oven. Check often, especially as the steak gets close, as the temperature will start to rise more rapidly. Remove steak from oven.
Add oil to cast iron pan and heat over your hottest burner until the oil just starts smoking. Sear the steak for about 1 minute on the first side then flip. Add butter to the pan and tilt the pan to create a pool. With the pan tilted, use a small spoon, baste the steak with butter for another minute. Using tongs, you can sear the sides as well, but take care not to overcook it. About 3 minutes total should be all you need. The final internal temperature should be 130°F for medium-rare, 135°F for medium, 140°F for medium-well.
Ribeye can be substituted for New York strip or other similar steak.
Try adding to the pan whole garlic cloves, large chucks of shallot, and/or sprigs of herbs while you baste for added flavor