Feast 8 – Leg of lamb with roasted potatoes and stuffed tomatoes

June 29, 2009

This meal was all about balance. i have gone on at some lengths about the trinity of protein, starch and vegetable but while keeping to those precepts, this meal transcended, becoming almost a single dish in the balances of flavors and textures. the lamb, soft, delicate and hot from the oven. the potatoes, crispy exterior with a moist fluffy interior. and the juicy tomatoes, ripe with flavor from the bleu cheese. yes, this was indeed a nice meal, complemented by a bottle of one of my favorite wines, casillero del diablo merlot. i’ll probably rant about this at some length in the future but simply put, as far as i am concerned, chilean merlot is the absolute pinnacle. but, before i digress further, let me detail out how i did what i did… i am going to follow the format of putting the dishes in the order i prepare them, firstly it will make sense if you want to follow along and make the same dishes and secondly i can mentally recall better when i go thru them as i made them.

The potatoes:

Potatoes peeled and ready to start

Potatoes peeled and ready to start

i owe a debt of gratitude to Gary Rhodes for these, they are based off a recipe in one of his books and are always a favorite when we make them at home. they are made in three stages so not something you will pop out in 20 minutes but well worth the time. the outsides of the potatoes get nice and crispy while the insides take on a texture not unlike mashed potatoes. they go really well with just about any roast you would like. Start with 6 new potatoes, relatively small ones with a nice uniform shape to them. peel the potatoes and slice in half. drop these into boiling salted water until they just begin to soften. drain and set aside. mix a cup of flour with a generous three or four grinds of black pepper and salt. roll the potatoes in the flour and plan fry them in a shallow layer of oil until browned on both sides (turning once of course, they aren’t gonna brown if they are just sticking up in the air). do this in batches if needed so that you don’t overcrowd your pan and lose too much heat. after all the potatoes are browned, roast them in a 325 degree oven for around 45 minutes. just before serving, drop a 2 tbsp lump of butter into the roasting pan and shake to coat all the potatoes. cover and wait for the other dishes to be ready.

A grilled Pastrami and Swiss I made while cooking

A grilled Pastrami and Swiss I made while cooking

Tomatoes stuffed with Bleu Cheese and Bacon

tomatoes cored and excavated

tomatoes cored and excavated

In years past, i was fairly against bleu cheese. it did not appeal to me one single bit. however, because my wife likes it, i began using it in the occasional dish and slowly, it grew on me. i have to say that i like blue shropshire more than your standard blue cheese but alas, the rainy shores of England are a bit of a trip and i have to make due with what i have.

this is another of those ultra-simple dishes that will get people raving. easy to make with a real nice payoff. start by coring and excavating four tomatoes, beefsteak or any of similar size and shape. For me, it was a chance to use my melon baller for something other than taking up space in my cooking kit. turn them over to drain out any excess liquid but don’t stress yourself too much about it. in a medium mixing bowl, mix together 1 cup of panko bread crumbs, 5 oz of bleu cheese, 2 beaten eggs, 4 minced cloves of garlic, 3 crumbled slices of bacon (cooked of course) and season with salt, pepper and oregano. stuff this mixture into the tomatoes and set aside until your lamb is done. these go under the broiler for about 12 minutes which coincides pretty well with the amount of time you need your leg of lamb to rest before carving.

The Lamb:

I have to be honest, it felt really strange to me that the main course of the meal was the last thing i starting preparing. usually, i would expect loving devotion throughout the day to the main course but for something as tasty as a leg of lamb, it really was a question of firing and forgetting. I went very minimal on the lamb because the point was to bring out the lamb, not show of the contents of my spice cabinet. i rubbed the leg with a bit of olive oil, sprinkled with salt, pepper and a bit of rosemary and then simply roasted it on a rack in a roasting pan until the internal temperature hit 150 degrees. start it out at 400 degrees for the first 15 minutes then back it down to 325. the approximate time is around 20 minutes per pound so my 4 1/2 pound leg took around about 1 1/2 hours and came out with a nice medium-rare texture. lovely if i do say so myself. after the lamb has reached the required internal temperature, remove from the oven and wrap in foil to rest for around 15 minutes before carving and serving.

The finished plate

The finished plate

Once again, Eddie joined me in this feast and welcome he is as he has decided to buy the adult beverages for each meal which is certainly fine by me. the reception was overwhelmingly positive, biggest impact on me was eddie saying that although he had eaten lamb dishes many times, this was the first time that he had actually tasted lamb. point for me in my opinion, thats exactly what i was going for, showcase the natural flavors of the prime ingredient.

thats it till next week but i wanted to drop a few teasers for those that are keeping count. cath, i plan on a grown up version of a meal that i made quite often late night in japan. also, you know who you are, i am considering working up a poached scallop served in a seawater reduction. the next meal is going to be my take on the all american bbq, what with the whole 4th of july thing. however, he says slyly, i may not leave the room to do it 🙂


Feast Seven – Memories of Japan by way of Texas

June 21, 2009

Food is the stuff of memories. a good meal can be something recalled for a lifetime or as is the case with this meal, it can be an evocation of times past, a homage to what was, better times, better places. food is escapism at times like these.

it may seem odd given that my entire menu today is made of of japanese style dishes but this meal is a direct result of my visit with friends Gavin and Victoria in Denton, Texas. yeah, not the place you would immediately associate with japanese cuisine but we had a great meal together there, good food, great company and conversation. who could ask for more?

today, i made a seared tuna steak with wasabi aioli, cold soba noodles with chili flakes and furikake and broiled zucchini and squashed flavored with soy sauce. it was a simple menu but one that evoked memories and made a few new ones. the biggest lesson that i have learned over the past few weeks is that food does not need to be complicated to be really good. that and some nonsense about valuing where you are and what you are doing and who you are with because in all may change. but mostly that thing about the food.

Apologies ahead of time, i had an issue with my camera so there are no pictures to accompany today’s descriptions. sorry. i can sketch you a picture of a fish if you like, just drop me an email.

Chilled Soba Noodles with Chili Flakes and Furikake

I wanted a starch with the meal but nothing too pedestrian. properly prepared, these noodles stand up to any main course and serving them chilled offered a counterpoint on the plate to the broiled veggies and seared fish.

Boil a large pot of salted water, deep enough to fully submerge your noodles. dry soba noodles can be found in the asian section of most grocery stores. drop the noodles into the water and boil for just a few scant moments until the begin to soften. this happens quick so don’t start in on anything else or you will overcook them. drain the noodles, move them into a bowl and refrigerate. if you are in a hurry, a little while in the freezer will do just fine. when the rest of the meal is ready, give the noodles a quick rinse in cold water to make sure they are not sticky or clumpy. drain well and liberally season with furikake and red pepper flakes. toss the noodles to evenly distribute the spices and then drizzle with a bit of sesame oil. toss again and serve.

Broiled Baby Zucchini and Squash

i have to admit, i picked these because they were cute. something about small vegetables screams out japanese cookery to me, it’s probably just some broken association with no basis in reality but it works for me. again, we are going really simple on these. i sliced three of each vegetable in half lengthwise and put in a baking dish. salt and pepper the veg, drizzle a bit of olive oil and soy sauce over, just a touch, you don’t need to drown them. broil in a hot oven for around 20 minutes or until they are soft and just starting to turn brown. serve immediately.

Seared Tuna with Wasabi Aioli

This is the centerpiece, a dish that i had in Denton at the aforementioned meal. it makes perfect sense, all the flavors are balanced as you would expect them to be and with a good piece of tuna, its just decadently delicious. i have never before this evening made a mayo or aioli so i was intimidated to say the least. i cheated and used my immersion mixer with a whisk attachment. i still got some separation after the aioli sat for a few so obviously, take this recipe with a grain of salt and when you figure out how to do it perfect every time, drop me a line.

i started with two egg yolks and whisked them until they were very smooth with a custard sort of color. after they are well on their way, drizzle olive oil into the yolks, continuously whisking. a few drops at a time and completely integrating each addition before adding more. i worked my way up to around 1/2 a cup. still whisking, add a bit of salt and pepper and 2 – 3 tbsp of wasabi powder. i guess paste would have worked as well but the dry ingredient integrated better without changing the consistency of the aioli. i should point out that i am well aware of the fact that an aioli is made an aioli by the addition of garlic and this dish has none. yes, i am abusing the term and using a preparation without all the traditional ingredients. add some pressed garlic if you feel like it. i decided this meal didn’t need it, probably on the account of the four heads of pickled garlic that eddie and i ate between us as a snack. i am overly inundated with garlic for the time being. ok, enough of that, once you got a good consistency, refrigerate and start your fish

for best results, let the tuna steaks come up to as close to room temperature as you are comfortable with. this will allow you to have a shorter sear time but still warm the center of the fish without overcooking it. with a chilled fish, if you sear it for the appropriate interval to get the outside where it needs to be, the center of the fish would still be quite cold.

simply salt and pepper the fish on both sides, no need for anything more elaborate, you have plenty of flavor coming with the aioli. heat a scant amount of olive oil in a flat bottomed pan over a medium high heat. you want to handle the fish as little as possible once it goes in the pan so keep yourself in check, leave it alone. sear the tuna on both sides, flipping only once! i like to watch the cut side of the tuna steak and when the fish turns white about a 1/4 of the way up, its time to flip. cook the other side the same way which should give you around about 1/2 of the thickness of the fish that is warm but not cooked through. immediately plate the fish and spoon over a bit of the aioli. serve alongside the noodles and vegetable with some chilled sake or whatever other beverage of choice you may had.

the reaction: as a briefly mentioned, my aioli started to separate so i can’t call it a complete success. it is something that i will have to work at. flavor wise, i think everything came out astonishingly well. it was a well rounded meal texturally, in flavor and consistency. the counterpoint of the chilled noodles and the hot tuna was pretty nice. this one was probably a B+ but still a success overall. bottom line, seven done, forty one to go. hope you enjoyed.

i completed the loop on my meal memory by having a shiner bock after it was all said and done. i have to say that i am looking forward to my next meal with my friends in texas and all the others that i miss during my year of exile.

Feast Six – Indulgence

June 14, 2009

Nothing defines a feast like pure outright indulgence. eating the foods you like, cooked the way you like them and damned be the consequences… these were my first thoughts when i was organizing this weeks meal. i wanted to make something that would satiate me completely and utterly. i’m not sure about the rest of you but the one thing that i just can’t get enough of is duck. i don’t have it often but when i do i am always struck with how damned tasty it is. it’s the closest to steak that my wife will eat so i have used it on a few occasions to simulate that flavor and texture in dishes made for her. but i digress, here is the lineup and the fallout of this weeks meal.

Three courses this week, a protein, a starch and a veg, a formula you will probably see repeated many times over the next 10 months, it just works for me in terms of balance in a meal. I decided this week to roast a whole duck, crispy skin and all. on the side, i made a bechamel based potato casserole and experimented with a vegetable i had never had before, bok choy. results, if i don’t say so myself, were pretty darned astounding.

The duck:

this is definitely the dish that takes the longest out of today’s offerings. the duck itself needs to roast for an hour and a half plus around 15 minutes resting time before service. the sauce served atop it took almost as long to make, mostly because of the homemade stock used as a base. the rich flavors made it well worth the while so don’t let a few hours work deter you.

take the whole duck and clip off the wings. put these and the neck/gizzard in a stock pot with one chopped carrot, one chopped celery stalk, one chopped onion, 6 cloves of crushed garlic and 4 1/2 cups water. bring this to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. simmer for about an hour. strain the stock into a smaller sauce pan and cook at medium heat until its reduced by half. set aside.

Ingredients for stock, ready to boil

Ingredients for stock, ready to boil

next, melt 3 tbsp butter in a sauce pan and toast another 6 cloves of sliced garlic until soft. you don’t want these crunchy so be careful not to overcook them. add to this 1 cup of nice red wine. i used a 2003 Chateau de Malleret Haut Medoc but a nice cabernet or similar will do the trick as well. i was looking at what to do with the rest of the bottle after the one cup for the sauce and a nearby wineglass answered that question in short order. tasty! anyway, bring the wine to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. add in the reserved stock and 2 tbsp or so of flour, cook to reduce to a nice thick gravy texture, however thick you like it. salt and pepper to taste and wait for the rest of the meal to be ready.

the duck itself was very simple yet a bit time consuming. i really could have used a roasting tray but in the absence of one, i made do with a baking dish. the duck would have been a bit crispier if elevated out of the drippings but neither i nor eddie complained one single bit. first, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. then, using a fork, pierce the skin of the duck in a few places along the breasts. brush with soy sauce. sprinkle the exterior and interior with salt, pepper and dried thyme. next, in a small bowl, mix together 4 crushed cloves of garlic and 3 tbsp of dijon mustard. spread this mixture over the duck evenly. roast the duck, breast side up for 45 minutes, turn and roast for 30 minutes then turn one final time and roast for 15 more minutes. after the second turn i backed the heat down to 350 but your individual stove may vary. keep an eye on it and don’t kill your duck.

Duck ready for the oven

Duck ready for the oven

the potatoes:

slice 4 red potatoes into thick slices. boil these in enough salted water to cover until they are just getting tender. drain and arrange the potatoes in a buttered baking dish, two layers thick. meanwhile, make a bechamel sauce by melting 4 tbsp butter then adding 4 tsp flour and cooking until the flour and butter become a paste and starts to brown in the pan. add to this 2 1/2 cups of milk and whisk over medium heat to smooth out. cook until you are happy with the thickness and then salt and pepper the sauce. i then grated in about 4 ounces of asiago cheese. pour the sauce evenly over the potatoes. chop up three or four slices of proscuitto and sprinkle over top of the potatoes. sprinkle over about 1/2 a cup of panko breadcrumbs, generously salt and pepper and stick it in the oven around the first time you turn the duck over. this should give the potatoes plenty of time to brown up and the sauce to smooth out over the potatoes.

the bok choy:

i saw this in the store and decided i absolutely had to make it into something. trouble is, i had never even been served bok choy much less made it into something myself. so, i turned to the ever helpful internet, more specifically epicurious.com and their fabulous recipe section. it was also a blend of a recipe on this site and a chapter from nigella lawson’s book “how to eat” that directed my duck recipe as well. credit where credit is due after all.

Bok Choy chopped and ready

Bok Choy chopped and ready

the bok choy was a simple stir fry, starting with some canola oil in a large pan (the wok takes up too much room on my tiny stove). first, mix 1/3 cup of chicken broth, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 1/2 tsp of cornstarch and 1/2 a tsp of salt. then, heat the oil over medium high heat until a drop of water sizzle on contact. i usually drop some water in with the oil, a few drops off the fingertips and then start the heat. when the pan starts screaming at you, its ready for cooking. to the hot oil, add todays ingredient of the day, around 8 cloves of sliced garlic. again, don’t overcook these, you want them soft and golden, not crispy and brown. add to the garlic three heads of baby bok choy, trimmed and quartered lengthwise. cook this until the leaves begin to wilt and the bottoms start to soften. re-stir the cornstarch mixture and pour over the bok choy. cover and cook for another few minutes then serve, finishing it off with a little sesame oil for flavor.

completed plate, ready to serve

completed plate, ready to serve

the reaction: well, what can i say, everything did turn out really nice today. i was quite pleased. the duck was very moist and flavorful without being greasy and overly rich. the potatoes gave a nice creamy counterpoint to this and the bok choy was flavorful with just enough crunch left in the stems to not be soggy. this meal is best enjoyed while finishing a bottle of red wine and watching a zombie movie (28 weeks later in this case), just to let you know. individual mileage may vary but it added up to a nice evening in my book. hope you enjoyed the description and pictures and hope you will join me again next week.

6 down, 42 to go.

Feast Five – South of the Border (The Results)

June 7, 2009

There is something about mexican food that leaves you feeling satisfied like no other cuisine i can think of. i believe its a combination of the rich textures, spicy flavors and general “mass” of the dishes. after this evening’s meal, i felt completely and utterly satiated. i can’t lie. it turned out pretty damned good. and here is how it happened:

The Beans

as the beans take the longest to prepare, they are the obvious starting point for today’s cookery. around noon, about 4 1/2 hours before serving time, i started the beans. they are fairly hands-off, they just take some time. i decided to go with a blend of black beans and pinto beans. i used 1 cup of dry black beans and about 2 cups of pinto beans. these go in a large stock pot with enough water to cover by an inch and a half (or so). dice in a whole onion and three slices of bacon. liberally salt, a grind or two of pepper and bring to a boil. after you reach a boil, drop the heat to medium low, cover and simmer for 2 1/2 hours. the beans are ready for stage two when they are soft and the skins start to split open.

when they reach that point, drain the beans and mash to get a good blend of whole beans with pulverized ones. i used my immersion blender because its pretty darned good at that sort of thing but a potato masher or similar tool will do the job just fine. traditional wisdom is then to transfer them to a large frying pan and cook them off a bit then serve. well, space constraints on my stove top led me to leaving them in the same stock pot and letting them reduce a bit over low heat. keep a close eye on them so that they don’t dry out, that would not be pleasant whatsoever. mine did fine, kept them covered and off the heat until about 30 minutes before service and then heated them up. you may notice that there is nothing elaborate or intricate about the flavors used in the beans, this was entirely intentional. with the complex flavors and rich variety of my other two dishes, i wanted a bit of counterbalance to keep the meal on an even keel.

the chicken with Mole:

Anaheims, Jalapenos and Habaneros chopped for Mole

Anaheims, Jalapenos and Habaneros chopped for Mole

This was actually split into two preparations, the mole sauce and the chicken. the mole took about an hour all said and done so start you work on it as suits you. you can make it all the way up until the adding of the chocolate and leave it in the fridge until about 15 minutes out if you have time to do it earlier. i did this and then just brought the sauce up to temperature to blend in the chocolate right before topping the chicken, it worked great.

Browning the onions and garlic for the Mole

Browning the onions and garlic for the Mole

start with 2 medium sized yellow onions, chopped. brown these off in some canola oil until they are a rich golden brown, not quite burnt but definitely well on their way. then, add in 6 whole cloves of garlic, 2 chopped anaheim peppers, 2 chopped jalapenos and a chopped habanero. i initially intended on 2 habaneros but decided that it would overbalance the flavor a bit too much. in a spice grinder, grind up 1/2 tsp of cloves, 1 tsp cumin seed, 1 tsp of coriander seed and 1 tsp of black peppercorns. once the peppers start to soften, add the ground spices along with a generous tsp of cinnamon and a bit of salt. stir in a can of chicken stock and then break out the handy immersion blender to puree the mixture. make sure your pan is tall enough to handle the motion in the ocean, if not, transfer to a large mixing bowl to prevent splatters all over your kitchen. at this point, you can hold the sauce or if you are close enough to service, mix in some chocolate, preferably mexican if you can get it (i couldn’t and ended up using semi sweet baking chocolate). the amount should vary a little based on how spicy the sauce is but for me it turned out to be about 1/4 of a cup. individual taste and mileage may vary. let the sauce simmer, stirring often until ready to top the chicken.

as for the chicken, i again went with chicken thighs for their flavor and economic values. simply put, i salted and peppered them and fried them off in a bit of oil, around 8 minutes a side but ensuring the chicken is cooked through. to serve, plate the chicken and pour a bit of sauce over. i think it would have been equally good if not better to stew the chicken and let it fall off the bone so the sauce would have fully saturated it. but i digress.

The rajas con crema

this was my favorite dish of the day. it had a little bite but a smooth texture that made me want more. it was also the easiest to prepare, hands down. this dish traditionally calls for poblano peppers but poblanos are not meant for people stuck in south korea. i was unable to poblanos so ended up using anaheims which turned out quite nice.

peppers roasted and ready to peel

peppers roasted and ready to peel

preheat your oven to 450 degrees and roast 4 peppers for about 15 – 20 minutes, allowing the skins to blacken. remove from the oven and let sit, preferably in a paper bag to loosen the skins. ever prepared that i am, i did not have a paper bag so ended up peeling them by hand, burnt fingers to prove it. yeah, i could have waited for them to cool a bit but i am pretty impatient when it comes right down to it. chop the peppers into large pieces and sit them aside.

in a small pan, saute one sliced onion and 4 cloves of minced garlic until the onions are soft but not brown. use low heat to avoid caramelizing the onions. once they are nice and soft, add in your peppers and a couple twists of salt. cook for about 5 minutes over the low heat and then add about a 1/4 cup of heavy cream. cook until the cream has reduced to a thick sauce and serve immediately. if you don’t plan on serving immediately, you can refrigerate for a day or two or in my case, hold them in a 225 degree oven until ready to eat.

Rajas con Crema ready to serve

Rajas con Crema ready to serve

overall, the flavor offered a nice counterpoint, the creaminess of the rajas, the spiciness of the mole and the full body of the beans. it was all amplified by Eddie supplying some fine cerveza and lime to chase it down. although i sensed some initial skepticism from Eddie about a chocolate sauce on chicken, the taste won him over and reaction was overwhelmingly positive. i call this meal a win with no part of the meal i would have made differently with the exception of getting mexican chocolate and poblano peppers if i were in a place that carried such exotic ingredients.

Plated and ready to serve

Plated and ready to serve

the thing i am enjoying most about this project is that while i am cooking, i am learning more about cooking. the lesson today came from the mole. before the addition of the chocolate, just after pureeing the mixture, i taste tested the flavors and found it strikingly similar to japanese style curry. with a slightly different spice balance, the same base sauce will make an outstanding curry without the crutch of a mix as i have used in the past. as this is one of my favorite dishes, i will probably be applying this new found knowledge in the near future to whip up a batch of killer curry. it just points out the lesson that i should have realized from reading Escoffier, there are a number of limited preparations that expand out into an infinite variety of dishes. i know that sounds pretty obvious but today was my “a ha” moment where i can say that i actually get it.

thats 5 down and 43 to go. not sure what next week will bring, i am going to let it come to me over the next few days and then flesh it out. probably not chicken, i don’t want to get into a rut.

Feast Five – South of the Border

June 6, 2009

i’m not sure what triggered it but i got hit with a real hankering for some mexican food. i’m as guilty as most of you reading this and have a tendency to stray closer to Tex-Mex than true mexican cuisine but i’ve came to terms with it. wow, that was easy.

so, this weekend’s meal is going to consist of some semi-traditional mexican dishes. i got lazy and decided not to make my own tortillas, both because of the time considerations and the fact that with the beans i am making, i didn’t see the need really for an extra starch. would have been nice but not essential to the meal. so, without further ado, here is the lineup for tomorrow:

Homemade Frijoles Refritos
Rajas Con Crema
Chicken with mole

for the beans, i plan on using a mixture of pinto and black beans, made from scratch with dried beans. no shortcuts opening cans here.

Rajas con crema is basically roasted peppers that are sliced and fried with onion. cream is then added to make a sauce.

chicken with mole is just that, chicken with a mole sauce. i will be using pan fried chicken thighs (cost and flavor, see last weeks meal for details) and making a mole out of dried whole spices, blanched almonds and chocolate.

well, thats the set up, tune in tomorrow for the execution. i’m looking forward to it and hope you are too.