chasing ice cubes, and a recipe for swiss steak

Maggie, our silver tabby Maine Coon, is fascinated by ice. Ice speaks to her on some deep, internal feline level. Q-tips from the glass jar on my bathroom counter run a close second, but the availability of ice is more predictable and, thus, a more achievable treat.

The refrigerator in our kitchen, our third and final fridge after a series of expensive lemons, has an automatic icemaker. To fill a cup with ice, I touch of a small raised square on the space-age keypad to left of the door handle. This elicits a grinding rumble from inside the door, and if I’ve pressed the cubed ice button, I get a noisy expulsion of perfectly formed ice cubes into my cup. If I have mistakenly pressed the button for crushed ice, a shotgun explosion of ice chips and shards is the result.

More often than not, when trying to fill a cup with ice, a stray piece shoots across the hardwood floor. A streak of grey fur, a blur of fluffy feet and tail, inevitably follows that piece of wayward ice, as Maggie attempts to corral the skittering ice. When she catches the ice, she bats it across the floor again, or she picks it up in her teeth and carries it to a special spot. Watching her do this makes my own teeth hurt, imagining the cold that must be radiating down her sharp canines.

She loves this game more than anything. Opening a cabinet or walking near the fridge now elicits a pavlovian response from Maggie. No matter where she was in the house before, our minor kitchen movements (that may or may not end at the refrigerator) prompt her to immediately appear on the rug in front of the fridge, long tail twitching rhythmically and ears cocked forward, waiting patiently for her next frozen treat.

Like Maggie, most of us have an ice cube, some thing (or things) that immediately stirs our soul, gets our hearts beating faster and with purpose.

My husband’s ice cube is Swiss steak. The mere mention of the possibility of this meal prompts all other thoughts in his head to vanish. He is instantly transported back to the 1980s and 1990s, to the five-seater Formica table in the back room off his grandmother’s kitchen. Grandma Estelle served Swiss steak on a regular basis back when she was alive and well and cooking up a storm. She always served it with white rice, and she served it at dinner time (lunch, for you non-southerners).

To Sam, that dish represented all that was good with the world in a single tomato-sauced, beefy plate. Swiss steak represented his grandmother’s love, life’s stability, and the comfort of family. It meant he was home, where his people cared about him unconditionally.

I made Swiss steak for our Sunday supper this weekend. I made it because it is my husband’s ice cube. And because I love him, and because he needed it.

And because I did, too.

Swiss Steak

I’m nearly certain that Grandma Estelle would keel over if she knew I used wine in this recipe, but I did anyway. I like the way deglazing a pan with wine builds flavor, and it does so here. I omit the green pepper from my version, but feel free to add it back in if you’re not averse to it.

Also, if you can’t find cube steak, you’ll need to ask the butcher to run the steak through the mechanized cubing machine, the device that tenderizes the steak for you, making the unique crosshatched, dimpled pattern in the meat.


Olive oil, for browning meat
2 pounds round steak, cubed
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 large onion, chopped fine
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped fine (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine
1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce
Kosher salt
Freshly-ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large dutch oven, on medium-high heat, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering. Season steaks liberally with salt and pepper. Dredge steaks in flour, shaking off excess. Cook steaks in batches, browning for about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Add additional olive oil if needed, to keep steaks from sticking. Remove browned steaks from pan and set aside. Repeat until all steaks have been browned.

Reduce heat to medium and add onions and bell pepper, if using, to dutch oven, using additional olive oil, if needed. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add wine to dutch oven to deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until the wine has reduced in half. Add tomato sauce to pan, stirring well until blended. Bring to a slow boil, then nestle steaks in the Dutch oven, being sure to cover each one with sauce. Cover and transfer to oven. Cook for 1 and 1/2 hours, or until steaks are tender.

Serve over rice.

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18 Responses to “vacations and baked meatballs”

  1. 1
    Brian @ A Thought For Food — March 23, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

    I used to love meatballs and will sometimes make my own using TVP (textured vegetable protein)… I like to fool my friends… most of whom have no idea there’s anything different.

    Have so much fun on your vaca!

  2. 2
    Lana @ Never Enough Thyme — March 23, 2011 @ 4:35 pm

    Here’s wishing you long, slow walks on the beach, peace, quiet and rest!

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — March 23rd, 2011 @ 7:55 pm

      And that’s just what I need. Thanks, Lana!

  3. 3
    Rachel @ Baked by Rachel — March 23, 2011 @ 4:52 pm

    Totally jealous of your vacation plans – have a fantastic time!

    I’m a big fan of spicy meatballs but w/o sauce… yeah I’m one of those people who can’t stand tomatoes. My hubs on the otherhand would love tomato covered meatballs 🙂

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — March 23rd, 2011 @ 7:55 pm

      Oh, no! Another tomato-hater! 🙂

  4. 4
    Jenn S. — March 23, 2011 @ 5:15 pm

    This is practically the exact recipe that I use to make my spaghetti and meatballs. One glaring difference? My boys demand that the meatballs be “baseball-sized”! Yep, the actually call it Mom’s spaghetti and baseball meatballs! Have fun @ Disney and the beach! 🙂

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — March 23rd, 2011 @ 7:56 pm

      Baseball sized? You are feeding a crowd of boys, after all, so it makes sense. 🙂

  5. 5
    Tracey — March 23, 2011 @ 8:55 pm

    Enjoy your vacation! Combining Disney with the beach sounds perfect 🙂 The meatballs look great, you can never go wrong with spaghetti and meatballs in my opinion! My husband won’t eat veggies for the most part, but tomatoes are the one thing he isn’t opposed to – so long as they’re in sauce form and not just sliced on a plate.

  6. 6
    Aggie — March 23, 2011 @ 8:56 pm

    I had to laugh at the baseball sized meatballs in the comment above, too funny. have a wonderful time at Disney and the beach. always a good time to spend with the kids. And yes, meatballs are a family dinner of choice in these parts. looks delicious!

  7. 7
    Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction — March 24, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

    Yum! Those meatballs look amazing… Definitely have to add them to the menu soon. Hope you enjoy your vacations!

  8. 8
    Chris @ The Peche — March 24, 2011 @ 5:37 pm

    So happy we finally met in real life. Travel safely and have a blast at WDW!

    And thanks for reminding me that I don’t have to fry our meatballs. I always throw them in a pan with some oil, and yours look tasty and not so unnecessarily fatty.

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — March 25th, 2011 @ 3:05 pm

      Loved meeting you & Karen in real life finally!
      Don’t get me wrong – I love a good meatball fried in oil. For everyday consumption, though, my metabolism prefers baked. 🙂

  9. 9
    Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite — March 25, 2011 @ 8:41 am

    I can totally relate to needing a vacation after a vacation – it’s the sign of a good one! These meatballs look wonderful – I have never heard of a baked version before but bookmarking for SOON! Have a wonderful family trip and get some much needed R+R! xox

  10. 10
    Mary @ Delightful Bitefuls — March 25, 2011 @ 12:29 pm

    YUM! I need that for lunch… 🙂 My hubby will love this!

    Great blog; happy I found you!

    Mary xo
    Delightful Bitefuls

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — March 25th, 2011 @ 3:51 pm

      Thanks, Mary. Glad you happened by!

  11. 11
    Megan — March 28, 2011 @ 10:53 am

    Oohhh, meatballs!
    Have a great time on vacation!

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