Aid for novice male cooks

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September 08, 2004|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

To Francine Maroukian, the New York caterer-turned-writer, food is a personality test, seduction and maybe, if everything goes well with the woman, love.

Is she a risotto woman? Relaxed enough to sip wine in the kitchen while you stir and stir?

Or maybe this is a gal for the lamb chop - unpretentious and willing to pick the thing up with her fingers and chew.

In her new cookbook, Esquire Eats: How to Feed Your Friends and Lovers (Hearst Books, 2004, $19.95), Maroukian is part chef, part relationship columnist - doling out tips for cooking and setting the scene, while gossiping about her own food-related romances.

The target audience is the Esquire male: single, without much cooking experience and, judging by the ingredient lists, relatively well-off - or at least willing to splurge.

With special evenings in mind, Maroukian organizes recipes in menus, and those into five chapters - "starters," "pour deux," "party food," "everyday meals" and "short and sweet."

For one of the six "pour-deux" menus, for example, she pairs a flash-grilled peppered tuna steak with "popcorn" new potatoes and buttery, wilted spinach.

In the party-foods section - five menus, with variations, for at least six friends - she suggests a chili party, with bowls of various veggies and cheeses for toppings, and a half-dozen breads for underneath.

Interspersed throughout are tips about mood lighting, music and - a key date-night tip - not overeating. They are her "little secrets," she says, "to help inspire casual confidence, dispelling that invisible but party-killing air of trying too hard."

Maroukian shines in the simple recipes - a succulent porterhouse with simple steakhouse rub is perfection after a quick searing and 10 minutes in the oven. The complicated seafood risotto, on the other hand, turned into expensive mush.

Many of the menus are easy enough for the kitchen novice, but others (including a beef bourguignon recipe that includes a direction to light the dish on fire to burn off the alcoholic ingredients) may scare off the uninitiated.

Double-Fired Porterhouse With Classic Steakhouse Rub

Makes 2 servings

2 teaspoons ground mustard (not mustard powder)

2 teaspoons granulated garlic

2 teaspoons coarse or kosher salt

1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

1 porterhouse steak, cut about 2 1/2 inches thick (about 2 3/4 pounds) with bone

olive oil

Combine the mustard, garlic, salt and pepper. Coat both sides of the steak with the spice mixture and let the meat sit at room temperature for at least an hour. The longer the steak sits, the stronger the taste of the spice mixture will be.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly film the bottom of an ovenproof nonstick skillet with oil (wiping out the excess with a paper towel) and heat over high heat until the pan is very hot but the oil is not smoking (timing depends on the size of your pan and how well it conducts heat).

Using long tongs, carefully place the steak in the pan and sear until a crust forms, turning only once (about 3 minutes on first side, 2 on the flip side).

Place the skillet in the oven to finish cooking the steak, 8 to 10 minutes for rare, 10 to 12 for medium-rare.

Transfer steak to a cutting board and let it rest for about 10 minutes to allow the natural juices to redistribute. Using a knife with a thin, sharp blade, cut the meat away from bone.

Carve each portion of meat into thick slices and reassemble around the bone on a serving platter.

Per serving: 1,229 calories; 84 grams protein; 95 grams fat; 37 grams saturated fat; 3 grams carbohydrate; 1 gram fiber; 263 milligrams cholesterol; 2,109 milligrams sodium

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