Ratios, conversions, measuring, multiplying: there’s a lot of math in cooking. Every so often, I even use ∏r2 to calculate the area of a round baking pan in order to best choose a baking dish for a specific recipe—and I think of Frank Geiger.
Mr. Geiger was my 11th grade pre-calculus teacher at McCaskey. My first one-on-one interaction with him came on the first day of class when he suggested that I save the chitter chatter for later if I hoped to earn a decent grade.
The initial scolding did instill a bit of fear in me, but it was no more than a simple reality check: if I wanted to do well, I had to listen. The class was the most demanding I’d taken to date, and I quickly realized that Mr. Geiger was willing to give as much of himself as he demanded of his students.
He arrived to school early and stayed late each and every day to help the students that wanted a little extra help. (I made frequent appearances.) He set the metaphorical bar high and he encouraged his students to keep stretching until they reached it. Looking back, he stands out as one of my all-time favorite teachers.
Every Friday, Mr. Geiger offered an extra credit assignment. It was always a lengthy and complex critical thinking problem; bonus points were not given willy nilly. My mom, who loves a good brainteaser, remembers me asking for help every Sunday night around nine o’clock. She’d gamely work with me until we found the solution, as I needed every point I could get. (She clearly deserved a few bonus points herself.)
Fast forward a couple of decades, and my sons are taking really hard math. My older son took a class called IB Math a few years ago, and though it sounds rather basic, it was anything but. He began meeting with Dave Myers, a retired math teacher who taught at McCaskey for 37 years, many of them alongside Mr. Geiger.
Amidst the quadratic equations and coefficients, we’ve gotten to know Dave pretty well over the years, talking sports, comparing vacation notes, and even sharing a recipe or two.
Dave’s wife Margie once told me that he’s a meat and potatoes guy, and one of his favorites is this flavorful Swiss steak. I never had Swiss steak until Margie shared her recipe, but it has turned into a family favorite here, too. As a bonus, the dish preps quickly and an incredible aroma fills the kitchen as the meat and veggie mixture simmers throughout the day. The resulting meat is fork tender and the sauce has a bright, tomato flavor. Over time, I have made a few tweaks to the recipe, which was passed down from Margie’s mother, but it’s very much true to the original.
It seemed only fitting to assign a grade to this recipe, and I knew a few students who were more than happy to test the meal and weigh in. After making the recipe many times over the last few years and consistently clearing plates that were scraped clean, you can probably guess the grade. (Extra credit was also awarded because leftovers taste even better!)
The cooked meat can be sliced, shredded, or broken into chunks as preferred. Margie serves it in steak-like pieces, about the size of a deck of cards. Dave enjoys his Swiss steak served with mashed potatoes and a green salad and/or green vegetable. I sometimes serve it with a baked potato–my kids like to mash the sauce into the baked potato instead of butter.
The Swiss steak is equally delicious over noodles. Whenever I have leftovers, I shred the meat and use it as a delicious meat sauce for pasta.
Yield: 4-6 servings
- 1 round steak (about 2 pounds, trimmed of excess fat)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
- 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce plus 1/2 can of water
- 1-2 teaspoons garlic powder*
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat the oil in a large skillet or the insert of a slow cooker (if your cooker has a browning feature) over medium-high heat, and sear the round steak, 3-4 minutes per side, or until both sides are nicely browned. (I like to add the onions and bell pepper to the skillet or cooker around the meat, after it has been flipped, to sear them a little bit, too.)
If using a separate skillet, transfer the meat mixture to the slow cooker. Add the tomato sauce, and then fill the can halfway with water**, swirl it around to get all the sauce out, and add to the meat. Then add the onions and bell pepper (if you didn’t sear them with the meat), garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. (I use 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt and about 1/2 teaspoon pepper.)
Cook for 4 hours on high or 6-7 hours on low. Test with fork and if meat breaks apart easily, it’s done. For a delicious sauce, use an immersion blender to incorporate the onion and green pepper into the tomato sauce gravy, which thickens it nicely. As an option, the mixture could be transfer to a blender.
- *Margie’s recipe allows for a fairly big swing in the amount of garlic powder. I started with the lesser amount and worked my way up, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, to the full 2 teaspoons, which we think is just right. Err on the side of less if you’re not sure…or use several cloves of minced, fresh garlic if preferred.
- **If you happen to have an open bottle of red wine on hand, try swishing the can out with equal parts water and red wine—still a half can total—to impart an extra layer of flavor.
- Margie dusts the round steak with flour before searing it. While I do sear the meat to give it extra flavor, I take a shortcut and omit the flouring step. The flour will add a little extra thickness to the tomato sauce, however, the puree step at the end thickens the sauce as well. Omitting the flour makes this a gluten-free meal, too. If you do not flour the meat and don’t wish to puree the sauce, there are several options for thickening the sauce. First, whisk in a tablespoon or so of cornstarch that has been mixed with an equal amount of water, or use similar slurry made with flour. As a general rule of thumb, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch will thicken as much as 3 tablespoons of flour. Alternatively, remove the lid from the slow cooker at the end of the cooking time to allow some of the excess moisture to cook off and thicken the sauce that way.