Feast 44 – Decadence and Arrogance

March 23, 2010

I knew this day would come… I have been dreading it but in the back of my mind I knew it was inevitable. I’m not sure why I resisted for so long but even now, afterwards, it just seems tacky… it seems pretentious. But at the core, it’s honest at least. Yes, today is the day I open up my blog with a self aggrandizing statement. Damn, I am good at what I do and damn this meal was one of the tastiest I have ever had, much less made. Ok, there, got it out of my system.

Excessive indulgence is always a gateway to enjoyment as long as it isn’t taken to too much of an extreme. This meal was extravagant and decadent. It far outreached the necessities of an individual’s dining needs. But hey, sometimes, that’s just what the doctor ordered. This meal centered around a whole leg of lamb, roasted Mediterranean style on a bed of vegetables, offset by cauliflower stewed in tomatoes and spinach with chickpeas. It may not sound extravagant at first read but the divergent flavors, textures and color combinations made for a gorgeous and delicious plate of food. This truly was an amazing feast and I am extremely happy that I have leftovers to last for the next week. Well, maybe they will last, as good as the food was it may not…

All the recipes here were sourced from Claudia Roden’s New Book of Middle Eastern Food which I will go out on a limb and say is an essential volume if you enjoy food from the region. It’s diverse, well written and accessible. I think I am starting to sound like a salesman but really, you should buy it.

Leg of Lamb with Onions, Potatoes and Tomatoes: This dish proves my constant point about using good ingredients cooked in the proper manner and getting outstanding results. The preparation isn’t complicated, a bit of work followed by a bit of waiting for the roasting followed by a lot of enjoyment. Exactly my sort of thing. Throughout this meal, I made the slightly unusual substitution of red onions for all onions called for in all recipes, this is because to a last one, all yellow onions at my local store were of questionable quality. And by questionable, they were practically rotting in the bins. I have no idea how a produce manager could in good conscience leave poor produce like this out for sale but I have long ago stopped asking silly questions about military stores. Suffice it to say, I used red onions. A leg of lamb is a fairly large piece of meat to work with, probably one of the more unwieldy things I have cooked. The sheer size of this particular leg drove me to have to break it down into two pieces. I am by no means a professional butcher but I do understand a bit about the anatomy of knees so I had an advantage there. This being said, it was still a difficult process of separating the upper and lower portions of the leg to fit in my grossly inadequate pan. It took quite a bit of strategic cutting and muscle to get the job done. But done it was, two manageable pieces that would fit side by side in my cooking vessel. All this digression aside, this dish is dead simple.

Vegetables in the pan for the Lamb

Quarter two onions and spread on the bottom of a roasting pan. Add to this two large potatoes cut into chunks and three large tomatoes cut into large pieces. Take your leg of lamb, brought to room temperature, and pierce the flesh all over, inserting around 15 cloves of garlic all through the meat. Salt and pepper both sides of the lamb and place atop the vegetables. sprinkle liberally with oregano.

Leg of Lamb, ready for the oven

Roast in a preheated 325 degree oven for two and a half hours or done to your satisfaction. Use of a probe thermometer is highly encouraged. I would have but mine is in Colorado with the rest of my life so I had to made due with timing and visual inspection. The last time I made a leg of lamb I had undercooked it a bit so I opted on the other side this time and came away with a beautiful piece of meat with a crispy layer of fat on the outside, wonderfully tender and flavorful. Also, using this method, the vegetables will be slow cooked in the drippings from the lamb, outstanding!

Fresh from the Oven

Spinach with Chickpeas: I have been on a spinach kick lately, something about the vibrant green and slightly astringent flavor, yeah, it suits me just fine. This is a great method of preparation coming out mild and flavorful and quickly done in about 25 – 30 minutes from inception. I used canned chickpeas and frozen spinach but fresh of both can be used as well, just ensure you soack the fresh chickpeas overnight and thoroughly wash the fresh spinach. In a large pan, fry six cloves of chopped garlic with 1 1/2 tsps of ground coriander in a bit of oil until they get really fragrant. Drop in the spinach and put a lid on the pan, dropped the heat to medium low to give the spinach time to mix in with the spices. After the spinach has fully incorporated with the spices, stir in the chickpeas, add salt and pepper to taste, not too much and cook covered for a few more minutes. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 a lemon overtop and serve hot (or cold according to the cookbook but I would go for hot…)

Okra cooking away

Okra in Tomato Sauce: Funny story here, well funny to me at least… I had initially planned on making Okra with Garlic and Coriander which is the recipe next to this one but when I made my shopping list, I wrote down the ingredients for this recipe not the one I had originally slated. Strange, I got home and was wondering what exactly I needed a bunch of cilantro for… then I noticed that yup, transcribed the wrong ingredients to the list… improvise, adapt, overcome. I used frozen okra for this dish, whole pods, not the insipid chopped battered ones that I enjoy in a certain frame of mind… I was a bit lazy here as well and skipped the step of chopping off the stems and caps of the okra, choosing to cook them whole and unaltered. Turned out great as well… start with a large onion cut into thin slices and fry in a bit of oil until caramelized. Add four cloves of chopped garlic and fry for another few moments. Add the okra and cook, stirring often until the okra soften. Add 3 large chopped tomatoes, the juice of 1/2 a lemon and salt/pepper. The recipe called for 1 – 2 tsps of sugar as well but since I used red onions which have a higher sugar content to my taste, I skipped the added sugar. Cook until the tomatoes break down and a sauce forms, around 20 – 25 minutes. Stir in a small bunch of chopped cilantro, cook very briefly and serve…

Meal Plated and Ready

Well, I think I gave a glowing enough review of the results in the opening paragraph that I don’t need to flog the deceased equine.
Suffice it to say it was really, really good and I am looking forward to the leftovers… enjoy.

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Feast 43 – Chorizo means love in the language of cooking

March 18, 2010

I am in love with chorizo. That is the simple honest truth. The spicy, greasy, tangy flavor gets me every time. The first memory I have of chorizo, the first time I can say that I ever tried it was the week of my marriage. My supervisor at the time invited my wife and I over for dinner and he and his wife made a lasagna with chorizo instead of Italian sausage. It was a foreign, unexpected twist that probably has some part in setting the stage for what you are reading today. And so, this week, I am making a dish to accentuate chorizo, one of my favorite ingredients. It is also helpful that the bounty I received with Eddie’s departure included a package of chorizo so I had it on hand and needed to use it up anyway…

This week, as usual, is made up of three dishes, Chorizo and Cheese Chili Rellenos, Quelites con Frijoles (Spinach and Beans) and a Cilantro and Green Cabbage Slaw. All three recipes are sourced from the excellent El Charro CafĂ© Cookbook, a wonderful collection of recipes and anecdotes from a family operated Mexican restaurant in Tuscon. I have never been there but through the pages of the book and the recipes that I have tried, I feel like their dining room would be as comfortable as a favorite pair of jeans. I don’t mention cookbooks in my blog unless I feel they are worthy of attention so please, if you enjoy my style of cooking and value my opinion, get yourself a copy of the book or better yet, make a visit to Tuscon and try it first hand.

Chilis cooling on the pan

The Rellenos: Rellenos are quite versatile in that you can stuff them with just about any savory ingredient you like, change up the batter to meet your own preferences and top them with just about an compatible sauce you might think of… I went with a fairly basic interpretation here, roasted Anaheim peppers filled with a mixture of chorizo and shredded Mexican cheese, fried and topped with a sprinkling of cheese. Easy peasy and tasty. I have modified the recipe to feed just me as sad lonely greg is eating alone these days… Roast 2 anaheim peppers in a 400 degree oven for about 25 minutes until the skin starts to blister. Turn once during roasting. Let them cool slightly and then gently peel off the skins of the peppers, doing your best not to tear the peppers and leaving the stems intact. This is much easier if you put the peppers in a brown paper bag for 15 minutes to cool them, don’t ask me why, it just works. I didn’t have a brown paper bag so I just had to be careful. Carefully make a slit lengthwise in each pepper. Meanwhile, it a hot pan, crumble two links of chorizo, skins removed and quickly fry up to cook but not overcook the meat. Break up the meat as much as possible so that it resembles cooked ground beef with a tasty difference of course. Let the meat cool and mix with 1/2 cup of shredded Mexican cheese. Gently stuff the peppers with the chorizo and cheese mixture being careful not to overstuff the peppers as that would complicate your frying… make a batter from 2 eggs, 2 tbsps flour, a twist of salt and pepper, a drizzle of oil and copious amounts of cayenne pepper. This batter will turn out fairly thick and should coat the peppers well. It helps to pat the stuffed peppers dry with paper towels before dipping in the batter. Deep fry the chilis in hot oil until well browned, gently turning once during frying. Its critical to try to avoid the filling spilling out during the frying, I work out this problem by shallow frying the peppers so that they aren’t completely submerged, slit side up during the initial cooking and drizzling a bit of extra batter onto the top of the chili during cooking. This should soft set during the initial frying and create a barrier for when you turn them over. This may be too much work and there is probably easier methods, I don’t do enough deep frying to really claim much expertise in that area. Drain the peppers on paper towels and top with a bit of shredded cheese.

The Spinach and Beans: While on vacation in the states, I picked up some anasazi beans, primarily for their unique mottled coloration. I started the beans around 3 hours before the main meal preparation to allow them plenty of time to cook. Start simply with 2 cups of beans and 4 cups of water in a large pot. Add to this a whole head of garlic, peeled and crushed. A bit of salt, bring to a boil and then cover and simmer over medium heat for 2 1/2 hours. Sweat down a whole chopped white onion in a bit of oil until translucent. Add a package of frozen spinach and stir until the spinach incorporates into the onions. Transfer the spinach and onions into the pot with the beans and cook for a few more minutes. Stir in a 1/2 cup of half and half, salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately. The original recipe called for additional garlic and crumbled cheese in the beans but I skipped these, opting for a milder side dish to offset the rellenos.

Salad Arranged in Container

Cilantro and Green Cabbage Slaw: I enjoy salads that I can make by prepping all the ingredients, making a marinade and then just shaking the hell out of everything in a large tupperware to mix and coat. And believe it or not, that’s all the knowledge you need to make this dish. Make a dressing from 1/2 cup oil, the juice of one lime, 1 tbsp vinegar, 2 minced cloves of garlic and a bit of salt and pepper. Finely shred 1/2 a head of cabbage and combine with 1/4 cup of minced cilantro. Pour the dressing over the greens and shake in a covered tupperware to combine. Top with diced green onions, sliced cucumber and thinly sliced radishes. Finish off with some lime wedges and dried chili flakes. Chill for 30 minutes. Serve and enjoy.

Meal Plated and Ready to Eat

As usual, this meal provided points and counterpoints of flavors and textures, the key components I aim for when building a meal. The sharp flavors of the chili relleno were well balanced by the creaminess of the beans and spinach. The crisp coolness of the salad were a welcome diversion from the piping hot melted cheese and chorizo. Overall, tasty and well balanced. i hope that you enjoy it as much as I did if you choose to take the time to make it…

Five meals to go…


Feast 42 – These Remains

March 11, 2010

I feel beaten down… long hours at work and poor quality of sleep are taking their toll. This post is late and I make no apologies. I feel bad about it, it has weighed on me since the cooking that I needed to get it transcribed as quickly as possible given my workload, each day weighing heavier and heavier until now, an oppressive force on my back, I will type until the monkey is dismounted.

This meal was intuitive. The thought process was fluid and natural.
This was primarily because the main course was dictate by the leavings in Eddie’s freezer which I inherited upon his departure. It made the choice easy. He left me with a large selection of food, amongst which were a number of pork chops. I don’t have much experience with pork chops, it is not an item that is normally in my rotation given my wife’s aversion to all meats excepting fish and fowl. But, I decided, there will be no waste in this process, cook and see what the result is. I decided on a traditional approach, pork chops with an apple sauce, a veggie dish and a starch, in this case potatoes. However, I’ve never been one to leave well enough alone so I had to spice it up a bit. A bit of thought and here is what I came up with: Beer braised pork chops with a habanero apple sauce, roasted curried cauliflower and gorgonzola potato skins. Tasty just reading it, I’m sure you will agree…

Ingredients in the pan for apple sauce

The Apple Sauce: As you probably have gathered if you follow my blog in the least, I enjoy dishes that involve a bit of preparation followed by unattended cooking to reduce down or fully cook the ingredient. I like the manual labor of slicing and dicing and setting everything up but I also like the leisure involved in slow cooking with the occasional stir and letting flavors develop. Apple Sauce is like that. I peeled and cored three Braeburn apples and then cubed them into 1 inch pieces.
Drop these into a saucepan that you have a lid for followed by the zest of one lemon, one habanero sliced into extremely thin threads, 2 tablespoons of vinegar, 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/2 a cup of water. Bring to a boil, stirring to combine well. After the sauce comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low, add a dash or two of cinnamon and let simmer until it reaches a nice consistency. You know, like the consistency of apple sauce… that’s what I would call nice considering that yes, this is an applesauce.

Pork Chops simmering in the Beer

The Pork Chops: Another simple dish without too many moving parts, quite to my taste… take two pork chops and ensure that they are dried well. Salt and pepper both sides, pressing the spices into the meat with the palm of your hand. Sear both sides in a hot pan with a bit of oil. Once both sides are nicely seared, pour 1/2 a bottle of good beer overtop (I used sam adams noble pils because first, it was what I had and second, it’s a damned good beer). Reduce heat and let cook away until the beer has reduced to almost nothing, about 25 minutes. Serve with a nice dollop of applesauce on top.

The potatoes: This was a dish that was born from pure inspiration, there’s nothing to it really, its just a modified baked potato but the gorgonzola makes it quite attractive with a flavor bite that will make you beg for more. Bake a potato at 400 degrees for 35 – 40 minutes until the skin starts to wrinkle and the potato is pliant to the touch.
Remove the potato from the oven and let slightly cool. Slice the top and bottom third of the potato away and discard the center (well, my discard, I sprinkled it with salt and pepper and ate it. How you get rid of trimmings in your kitchen is your business). Give the two potato skins a generous twist of salt and pepper and pile on some crumbled gorgonzola. Run this under your broiler for about 5 minutes until the cheese melts and gets just a hint of brown. add on some chopped green onions and serve immediately. Make extra, you will want them.

Cauliflower tossed with spices

The Roasted Curried Caulifower: This is the only dish that
I used a recipe for this week and it is remarkably similar to the curried cauliflower that I normally make on the stove top when I make Indian food for the family. However, I think I enjoyed the flavor and texture of this method even more so I will probably add it to my standard rotation. It turns out quite nice. I followed this recipe fairly faithfully but added cayenne pepper to the sauce along with the other ground spices because I do like it a little spicier. I’m going to skip the retyping of the recipe, please follow the link to epicurious for the run down. It is definitely worth the time to click through…

Meal plated and ready

This meal is best served with a lager or pils in my opinion and luckily, I had another Sam Adams Noble Pils on hand and it certainly worked. Two more things that I learned this week is that a meal like this definitely sets you up for enjoying a bit of butter pecan ice cream while sitting on the couch and that leftover gorgonzola and proscuitto makes one hell of a sandwich.

Next week, which is sooner that later due to the delay in posting this, I intend on making chorizo and cheese rellenos, spinach and anasazi beans and a cilantro and green cabbage slaw. Check it out, it should be tasty.