I first discovered I enjoyed cooking when I was around 10 years old. My mom worked two jobs to take care of us, leaving me as the oldest to make dinner for myself and two sisters.

Not that she left us to our own devices or anything. Typically I was working with leftovers or pre-prepared food. I always found it interesting to mix and match the different things left in the refrigerator to come up with a meal. This was much to my mom’s chagrin most of the time when she came home and had to clean the mess I had left.

As I became an adult, I found my self working on various cattle ranches and such and developed a fondness for camp cooking. Now, I find myself the head cook and bottle washer of a blended family consisting of eight kids and one beautiful woman, all spoiled by my culinary endeavors.

For this particular recipe, the lady of the house and I were hungry for a steak. However, sometimes in East Texas it is just too hot for a meal that heavy. We decided that flank steak and arugula salad would be the perfect compromise. We paired it with a cabernet sauvignon, grilled stuffed avocados and finished it off with a tres leches cake.

Grilled Flank Steak and Arugula Salad

11/2-pound flank steak marinated with below:

For the marinade:

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

1 clove garlic grated

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1 teaspoon fresh basil

For the salad:

11/2 cups of halved cherry tomatoes

6 cups of baby arugula

1 clove minced garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (we like to use a balsamic glaze)

1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions:

First, make the marinade. Combine all marinade ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Place flank steak into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag and pour marinade over it. Zip the bag and give it a shake to insure the meat is coated completely. Place in the refrigerator and let sit for at least two hours. Feel free to massage the meat on occasion.

While you wait:

Combine arugula and tomatoes. Stir in the oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with salt. Cover and place in fridge.

Cooking the steak:

Remove steak from refrigerator and allow to get room temperature — normally around 30 minutes. Heat your grill to 400 F. With the lid open, place the steak on the grill and sear both sides. Then, reduce the heat to 350 F and close the lid.

We like our steaks medium rare, which takes about four minutes on each side. Remember every grill is different, and cooking times may need to be adjusted accordingly.

When cooked to desired doneness, remove steak and cover in foil to allow it to rest for five minutes. Slice the steak in thin strips across the grain of the meat. Plate the salad and top with desired amount of steak strips.

Grilled stuffed avocados

2 avocados halved and pitted

11/2 cups pico de gallo

Hatch green chile crema sauce

Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Make pico de gallo:

1 small onion — diced

3 roma tomatoes — diced

1 jalapeño — seeded and diced

1/4 cup cilantro — finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon garlic

Juice of one lime

2 tablespoons salt

Stir all ingredients in a bowl and chill for flavors to meld.

Hatch green chile crema sauce:

11/2 hatch green chiles — roasted, peeled and diced (1 can of diced green chiles can be used if not in season)

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 teaspoon fajita rub (we used Fiesta)

1 cup Mexican crema

In food processor, pulse green chiles and cilantro until finely chopped, add crema and fajita rub and pulse until well blended. Pour mixture into a pourable container. (We use an inexpensive condiment dispenser we picked up from Sam’s.)

To prepare the avocados:

Slice a checkerboard pattern in the soft meat of the avocado using a pairing knife. Brush with olive oil and salt and pepper. Preheat grill to 400 F. Grab yourself a glass of wine, then place the avocados face down on the hot grill and close the lid. Wait five minutes, or as I like to time it, half a glass of wine, and rotate the avocados 1/4 turn. Cook for five more minutes. Remove avocados and place on serving tray. Fill the pit holes with a heaping scoop of pico de gallo, then drizzle Hatch green chile sauce over the entire avocado.

Tres leches cake

Cake

1 cup all-purpose flour

11/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

5 eggs divided

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/3 cups milk

1 can evaporated milk

1 can condensed sweetened milk

1 cup heavy cream

Whipped topping

2 cups heavy cream

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Maraschino cherries

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F and grease a 9x13 pan. In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Separate eggs into two medium sized bowls (whites and yolks). Beat egg yolks with 3/4 cups of sugar on high speed until yolks are pale yellow. Stir in milk and vanilla. Pour yolk mixture over flour mixture. Stir gently until combined. Beat egg whites until peaks form (they will hold their shape when the beaters are lifted). Stir in 1/4 cup sugar and beat until stiff. Fold egg white mixture into batter, and pour into baking pan. Spread to even out surface. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a fork comes out clean. Allow cake to cool to room temperature. With a fork, poke holes in the entire cake.

In a small pitcher combine, evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. Pour mixture over cake and place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Whipped topping:

Combine 2 cups heavy cream and 3 tablespoons of sugar and beat on high until spreadable. Spread topping on cake and top with maraschino cherries if so desired. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Tips from Jason

In this big ol’ family, we often eat in shifts. However, sometimes the stars align, and we are able to eat together as a family. When that occasion happens for us, here are some suggestions that help me to steamline the process. Make your condiments and prepare your vegetables all at the same time.

For instance, I like to prepare my pico de gallo, Hatch chile crema and arugala salad prior to starting the grill. This allows you to do all the grilling at once. Place your avocados on the grill at the same time as the steak. They take almost as long to cook. By doing this, you can assemble them while the meat rests. Additionally, I always prepare the cake earlier in the day, if not the day before.

Thank you so much for taking time to read this. I hope your family enjoys it as much as mine does.

If you have any questions or a recipe you would like me to try (and possibly feature), please email etxfoodguy@gmail.com or mail to: The Lufkin Daily News, Attention: Food Guy, 300 Ellis Ave., Lufkin TX 75904