Paula Disbrowe, authoress of Cowgirl Cuisine, likes to give macho cuts of beef – in this case, sirloin – a “pretty, feminine treatment.” Because when I think “pretty and feminine” I know I think “nose-burning, palate-numbing Szechuan peppercorns.” There are also pink peppercorns, because a feminine dish must be pink, and it’s paired with red onion marmalade which is also, you guessed it, pink. (More of a magenta, really. The photo does not do its magenta-ness justice.)

We are women! We are delicate and pink, yet spicy and sassy! We are breaking stereotypes! We are no longer objectified, and feel free to show pictures of our frilly underthings in our cookbooks! It’s cowgirl feminism!

Okay, I won’t mock her anymore*; I’ve already done so enough. That, and the pan full of red onions and Cotês du Rhone currently reducing into jam on my stove smells really good, as does the crushed spice mixture in which the steaks are sitting: the above-mentioned peppercorns, fennel and coriander seed, orange peel, salt and pepper.

Note to those who think this sounds good and may want to try to recreate it, but have never worked with Szechuan peppercorns before: if you want to get a sense of what they taste like before you start cooking, don’t. If you do, and you place a high value on your nasal cilia, find some way other than sticking your nose into the jar and inhaling deeply. It WILL end poorly. Just a helpful life lesson.

If you don’t care about your nasal cilia, do it. You will never take them for granted again.

*Probably a lie.

Usually when a recipe calls for red wine I don’t pay much attention to the kind of wine specified, if there is one. When I say “not much attention” I mean “no attention whatsoever.” We all have a stockpile of wine that dinner guests have brought to our homes that doesn’t get consumed and that forms the backbone of our wine collections, so I usually just grab one of those. This time, we actually bought the suggested wine – the Cotês du Rhone – since it’s the total foundation of the jam.

Also, there’s a picture of a cake on the label. I am easily swayed by cake in any form, even illustration.

Once you throw the jam ingredients – onions, wine, thyme, bay, chile flakes, honey – into the pan and start them a’simmerin, you are free to lounge about on the couch with your feet up, eating bon bons and reading the latest Cosmo you had sent to the ranch from the big city. One must know what pumps are the most “in” for fall as well as 101 additional ways to please one’s man (or cowboy, as the case may be). Being a sassy cowgirl can be very tiring, what with all the posing next to weathered fenceposts in cowboy boots and short shorts one must do for one’s cookbook.

See, there I go, mocking again. But I don’t blame Paula Disbrowe. I blame the man-hating, hairy-legged radical feminists who insist that we cannot simply eat a meal based around a “pretty in pink” theme and without being hounded by its imaginary patriarchal implications. Can I not peruse the hottest new colors for lips without feeling guilty about capitulating to fascist beauty standards? Can I not feminize a sexless hunk of animal flesh by coating it in something pink? It’s just not fair.

Wait a second, I AM one of those hairy-legged radical feminists. So either I have to blame Paula Disbrowe personally, which lets the patriarchy off the hook, or I blame the patriarchy. I’m gonna go with the patriarchy on this one, and hope that Paula comes around and includes less underthings in her next cookbook. In the meantime, I’m going to eat a delicious steak and make my own deal with the big P by exploiting cows, because if I really thought too hard about it I would probably conclude that I can’t participate in that culture of domination and submission. Which would be tough, because, you know, bacon and shit. It’ll probably happen one day, when I am more advanced in my patriarchy-blaming ways, but today is not that day.

End soapbox transmission. I know most of you come here for the feminist discourse, but there’s food to talk about.

While I lounged*, Brian toasted and ground the spices and got off to a rocky beginning of his relationship with the microplane. I always think I don’t like fennel, but the smell of toasting fennel seed is both heavenly and a restorative for the nostrils after one has stuck one’s nose into a jar of Szechuan peppercorns. Just saying. Since I didn’t want to be a hoverer, I started cutting up peppers, onions and garlic for the garlicky greens I’d picked as a side dish.

I’m pretty sure I still hovered. I either need to stop doing that, or learn to embrace my hovering nature. And there’s another 3 weeks of therapy right there.

The sirloin we’d gotten was in one big piece, so we had to cut in down into steak-size hunks. This was also Brian’s job, since he’s the man and I’m the delicate flower. There was an oddly-shaped piece left after cutting 2 nice steaks that we left for the dogs, because dogs are people too. You know what dogs love? Raw meat. I don’t do video at TNS, but if I did my first one would be of the dogs sitting in a sit-stay, their entire bodies quivering at incredibly high frequencies as the waited for the call.

*Where lounging = hovering over the stove because I am a control freak who cannot leave well enough along.

The steaks needed to sit for an hour and the jam was still jammifying, so I thought I’d throw the greens together in the meantime and leave them in the warming draw until dinner.

I always feel so fancy when I put something in the warming drawer. I don’t know what it is. I’d feel even fancier if I had a chafing dish, but I have nowhere to put a chafing dish. Then again, if I had one I’d probably serve every meal out of it so I’d never have to put it away.

Anyway, I tossed some red pepper and onion in a cast-iron skillet and let them cook down for a minute, then scooped them out and added some more olive oil and an assload of garlic. Okay, I know I’m supposed to stick to the recipe for the Smackdown, but when you call something “Garlicky Greens,” there’d better be a shit-ton of garlic in there. THREE CLOVES DOES NOT A SHIT-TON MAKE, Paula. At least not in this house, where we routinely double or triple the amount of garlic listed in any given recipe. Then chile flakes, and spinach and rainbow chard and more spinach, because holy crap does that shit wilt down like nobody’s business. How many pounds of baby spinach could fit on the head of a pin? Like, seventeen million.

Literally.

By the time Brian returned from a last-minute walk to PathMark in the pouring rain with the butter I’d forgotten to tell him to pick up and that was the last element of the onion jam, the jam was fully reduced and ready for eating, which meant steak searing time. Brian did that as well; not because I felt incapable but because I’d had a long day and wanted to sit down. Sometimes I really love a good sit.

Aside: PathMark, why are you cutting back from being open 24-7? Because when I need a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar crunch, I typically need it after 11 o’clock at night, and often after 1am. I’m sure you have good reasons. I’m just a little disappointed in you.

Szechuan peppercorns may cause substantial sinus pain when you stick your nose in the jar and snort. They cause a totally different sensation when they hit a hot cast iron pan and suffuse all the air in the kitchen with acrid peppercorn smoke. You can’t just pull your nose out of the jar and move on; the peppercorn smoke is going to get all up in your grill. It doesn’t matter how many fans you turn on or how many window you open; your grill will be assaulted. I crossed my fingers and hoped that the jam would be sweetly jammy enough to counteract the spice rub.

This dinner was totally awesome, except that it wasn’t. It was totally meh. Very, extremely meh. Individual parts were good – we both really enjoyed the greens, which had a great combo of the greens’ natural bitterness, the sweetness of the onions and peppers and the garlic’s pungency set off perfectly by a final hit of lemon juice. There are leftovers, and they are destined for some eggs en cocotte this weekend.

The jam is fantastic and I want to smear it on everything. I would eat it heaped over any form of protein. I would eat it on a sandwich with mozzarella. I would eat it plain on toast.

Actually, considering the complete meh-ness, I could really go for the sandwich right now.

The meh-est part, unfortunately was the centerpiece – the steak. The minor issue was the lack of salt in the spice mix, an amateurist Top Chef mistake. More importantly, I think this is just the wrong cut of meat for this treatment. A good rib-eye, maybe. A nice New York strip, yes. A slightly fattier cut with fat to cut the spice a little and beefier flavor to stand up to the other strong flavors. The sirloin was just…sad. I little tough, not flavorful enough, just a hunk of protein for protein’s sake.

Usually I’m disappointed when something takes all night to cook and it’s not the BEST THING EVER. I couldn’t be that disappointed tonight, because the steak and greens both had relatively short cooking times. The major time suck was the onion jam and that was fricking good, good enough that I didn’t mind missing most of ER even though it is the SECOND TO LAST EPISODE OF THE SERIES and DEFINITELY good enough to have forced me to miss American Idol so I didn’t have to see the sweat-tasm that is Ruben Studdard. Sweet and oniony, slighly pungent, the juicy medium-bodied flavor of the Cotês du Rhone a perfect base,* while a little hit of honey boosted and added another layer of sweetness. Herbal notes and the slight hits of garlic and chile flakes kept things from getting cloying.

You’ll have to excuse me now, because it’s late and I have to put on my nighttime lady cowgirl garments. Okay, I have no idea what that means. I apologize.

Final Score: Us, 2; Food, 0

*Have you noticed how many times I’ve said “Cotês du Rhone”? It’s because it makes me feel fancy, like having a warming drawer.

ONE YEAR AGO: Les frigging oignons du printemps avec des oeufs poche