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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16 Responses to “chasing ice cubes, and a recipe for swiss steak”

  1. 1
    Olga — October 2, 2012 @ 8:34 pm

    Mj that sounds so comforting. Maggie is so funny. Forrest just loves when we’re in the kitchen hoping for something tasty. Not sure what my ice is … I have so many. But one of them is my grandmother’s plov, an Uzbek rice and lamb dish.

  2. 2
    jenn s — October 2, 2012 @ 9:05 pm

    I’m so excited about trying this recipe!! Takes me back to dinners and suppers around my Mimi and Aunt Jewel’s table on Sunday afternoons when we visited them for church.

  3. 3
    Gail — October 2, 2012 @ 9:51 pm

    When you tweeted that you were writing a post on Swiss Steak, my heart skipped a little beat. But, I stopped myself from being too excited, just in case, it wasn’t Swiss Steak as I know it.

    My hands-down favorite meal growing up was Swiss Steak (we had it without green pepper and DEFINITELY no wine). I can picture the recipe, torn from the box of either Minute Rice or Uncle Ben’s, taped to a page in my mother’s recipe notebook. I could eat mountains of it, and so could my dad. He and I would be so excited when that familiar aroma of onions simmering in tomato sauce filled our small house. My brother, not so much, but I didn’t care. I was Daddy’s girl and our mutual love for this dinner brought us even closer together.

    But then I grew up, left home and was experimenting in my own kitchen. Swiss Steak was abandoned.

    It wasn’t until my father was sick, very sick, that I ate Swiss Steak with him again. I didn’t have the recipe book any more. It didn’t matter because I knew the recipe inside and out, having watched my mother make it for many years.
    My father, as weak as he was, still managed to eat a good plateful of Swiss Steak served over a mound of rice. I was happy to cook for him and desperate to nourish him. I watched his face as he closed his eyes while he slowly chewed each mouthful. I knew he was remembering all the nights we ate that meal made by my mother all those years ago.

    Swiss Steak was the last home cooked meal that he ate, and I’m so grateful that I was there to share it with him.

    • 3.1
      Merry-Jennifer — October 3, 2012 @ 6:51 am

      Oh, Gail. What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing those memories with me, with us. xo

  4. 4
    Belinda Markham Wood — October 2, 2012 @ 10:45 pm

    This is THE recipe that most reminds me of Grandma! Gotta have the green peppers though! :-).

  5. 5
    Kathryn — October 3, 2012 @ 4:14 am

    I have to admit to never having heard of Swiss Steak but I love the way that you describe it and your urge to make it for your husband. A lovely post, as ever.

  6. 6
    DessertForTwo — October 3, 2012 @ 7:57 am

    This looks so comfy and delicious. Hot buttered rice is the key to my happy place 🙂

  7. 7
    Jennifer Hess — October 3, 2012 @ 10:02 am

    Ice cube! I love it 🙂

    I never had swiss steak until my former mother-in-law served it. Her sauce had sauteed mushrooms in it as well, and she served it over mashed potatoes instead of rice, but I’m loving your version, and will have to make it soon. Thanks so much for sharing with us.

  8. 8
    Chris — October 3, 2012 @ 11:53 am

    Our cat loves chasing balls of aluminum foil around the wood floor.

    Haven’t had swiss steak in over 12 years, it was my older kids’ favorite. Yours sounds about the same as ours, except I always put in more green pepper just because that’s my ice cube:)

  9. 9
    Kiran @ — October 3, 2012 @ 1:53 pm

    The story about your cat and ice is soooo cute 😉

  10. 10
    Isabelle @ Crumb — October 3, 2012 @ 8:37 pm

    Funny how all cats develop at least one weird obsession, isn’t it? One of ours comes running whenever she hears the can opener… not because of cat food, but because she has an unnatural love of canned chickpeas and canned corn.
    My ice cube is fresh bread, right out of the oven, with a pat of melting butter. I know all is well with the world when there’s fresh, warm, crusty bread in my life.

  11. 11
    Paula — October 4, 2012 @ 6:24 pm

    Girl, when you write a post you write a post! What a charming story about your cat and your husband’s memories of this dish that you so lovingly created for him.

  12. 12
    Laura — October 5, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

    I am fairly certain my only experience with Swiss Steak has come from a TV dinner…. or perhaps that was Salisbury Steak. I’m excited to try your recipe 🙂

    And my parents’ dog has the same ice obsession… Only she chews it, leaving little shards of ice to melt into puddles. Inevitably someone, wearing socks, gets quite the surprise (and wet socks) when then walk into one of the puddles 🙂

  13. 13
    Di — October 5, 2012 @ 1:36 pm

    Once again The Merry Gourmet” stirs” all of our senses. Your words create picture- perfect images accompanied by movement, sounds and smells that make it so easy to imagine your story for ourselves.

  14. 14
    Kelly Senyei (Just a Taste) — October 15, 2012 @ 4:39 pm

    This reminds me of the Hungarian beef goulash my mom always made when we were growing up. It looks so rich and satisfying – perfect for the cold weather ahead!

  15. 15
    Macaroni Mama — February 20, 2013 @ 6:21 pm


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