Thursday, May 28, 2009

More lamb!

Tonight's Menu

  • grilled boneless leg of lamb
  • red onion & rosemary focaccia
  • green salad "bar"
I have no idea what possessed me to buy this boneless leg of lamb at my new neighborhood farmers market last weekend. At $9 a pound, it's by far the single most expensive piece of meat I've ever purchased or prepared. As such, I was terrified of screwing it up, so I turned to Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything, my go-to cookbook when I'm preparing something unfamiliar for the first time. And he didn't steer me wrong!

Guided by Bittman, and adapting based on the flavors my family likes and the ingredients I had on hand, here's what I did. First I butterflied the leg out so it was a bit more even in terms of thickness and whomped it into a Pyrex baking pan. Then I mashed up several garlic cloves (seriously, like half a head) with some kosher salt and freshly ground pepper in my mortar and pestle. I dumped the garlic into a bowl, then added a giant handful of chopped fresh herbs: parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, fennel fronds and cuban oregano. All but the parsley was from my own herb patch (my parsley has gone completely to seed -- boo!). I mixed that together as best I could, then drizzed in some EVOO until it formed a loose paste. Then I rubbed this mixture all over both sides of the lamb, being sure to get it into all the nooks and crannies. I covered the lamb tightly with plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge for a few hours, then I brought it back up to room temperature before grilling it over high heat for about 13 minutes per side. After letting it rest for about 5 minutes, I sliced it very thin to serve.

Oh. Mah. Gawd. It was SO GOOD. The thinner ends were done medium and the thicker bits were medium-rare. The whole thing was SO flavorful and tender! The boy thought it tasted a bit like beef, and it really kind of did, but it was like really GOOD beef. So yummy! This is definitely going on the menu at my next big backyard barbecue! (Sorry, vegetarian peeps. I'll have stuff for you too, I promise!)

I've made the focaccia before. It's from the bread book. I made it with the olive oil dough and it was tender and delicious.

It's been a while since we had a green salad up in here! There are so many other good veggies to be had right now, but our cupboards were kind of bare so salad it was. This was romaine with sliced carrots & cucumbers and little grape tomatoes. Kind of boring, but it worked well with the rich meat.

Here's the timeline:
  • Earlier in the day, mix up the garlic & herbs, rub it into the lamb, and refrigerate.
  • About 45 minutes before serving, pull the lamb out of the fridge and prepare the focaccia from refrigerated dough.
  • Make the salad while the focaccia is resting.
  • Preheat oven; light grill.
  • Put focaccia in oven and set timer for 25 minutes.
  • IMMEDIATELY put lamb on grill.
  • Turn lamb halfway through the 25 minutes.
  • When timer goes off, take focaccia out of oven and lamb off grill.
  • Rest lamb for 5 minutes (the focaccia will be fine sitting during this time).
  • Slice lamb thinly.
  • Slice focaccia into wedges.
  • Serve it up!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day "picnic"

Tonight's Menu

  • bbq pork spareribs
  • grilled garlic toast
  • potato-artichoke salad
  • coleslaw
Okay, so it was too hot to eat outside. But I grilled a lot of stuff! Does that count?

The spareribs were my usual, finished on the grill (meat side down over medium heat for 4 minutes, meat side up and slathered in Carolina-style barbecue sauce for 4 minutes, rest before cutting into riblets).

I grill everything from meat to veggies to fruit, but I think this might have been my first time grilling bread! We had some leftover boule (yes, from the book -- I SWEAR I don't have any relationship with the authors/publisher) so I cut that into half-inch slices, brushed it on both sides with olive oil (LIGHTLY -- you don't want to soak it), and grilled it over high heat until it picked up some grill marks, which didn't take long at all. Then I rubbed a cut garlic clove over both sides of each slice of bread. So easy, yummy and fresh tasting! The girl particulary loved this bread. Of course, she lives on bread, so take that with a grain of salt, maybe.

The salad was my favorite summer salad. It's finally summery enough to serve this again, yay!

And the coleslaw was my usual, except I used savoy cabbage because that's what I had.

Here's the timeline:
  • Three and a half hours before serving, rub the ribs with spices and put them in the oven at 325 degrees F, TIGHTLY covered with foil.
  • Make potato salad and coleslaw after putting ribs in oven; put both salads in fridge.
  • Thirty minutes before serving, light grill and pull ribs out of oven.
  • Grill ribs as described above.
  • Remove ribs from grill; cover with foil and let rest.
  • Grill bread and remove.
  • Cut ribs into riblets.
  • Pull salads out of fridge.
  • Serve it up!

Friday, May 22, 2009

I had a craving

Tonight's Menu

  • lamb kofta kebabs w/minted yogurt
  • za'atar bread
  • marinated red onions and cherry tomatoes
We've been eating a lot of lamb lately, owing in part to the fact that the new farmers market that just opened in my neighborhood (yay!) has a vendor that sells local, pastured lamb in a variety of cuts. I like to load the ground lamb with spices and make little meatballs out of it, but tonight I had a craving for lamb on the grill. Kofta kebabs were just the ticket!

Bear with me, because as usual I don't have an actual recipe, but I can tell you what I did. First, I stuck a heel of stale bread into the food processor and whizzed it up until I had fresh bread crumbs. I was afraid dry crumbs would make the meat too crumbly. To the bread crumbs, I added some chopped fresh parsley, kosher salt, garam masala, chili powder, paprika and grated onion (fresh onion, not dried -- just peel it and run it over the large holes of a box grater). I also ran a good-sized garlic clove over my microplane zester (love this tip -- no need to peel the garlic!) and added that as well. I pulsed it for a bit to blend the ingredients, then added a pound of ground lamb and one large egg. Whiz it around until it's all combined, then form the meat into sort of oblong sausagey shapes and thread a metal skewer through each one (or a soaked bamboo skewer). Then grill them over high heat on well-oiled grates for about 4-5 minutes per side or until done through.

The yogurt sauce was easy -- just mix some greek-style yogurt with chopped fresh mint, a tiny bit of lemon juice, and a tiny bit of minced garlic. It makes a nice accompaniment to the meat.

I have made za'atar bread before. We all love this as an alternative to focaccia, and again, it went so nicely with the flavors of the meat.

For the little marinated salad I served alongside, all I did was cut a red onion in half lengthwise and then slice it VERY thinly crosswise, dumping the little onion slivers into a non-reactive bowl. I added halved cherry tomatoes (actually, I think these were grape tomatoes, but it doesn't matter) along with some chopped fresh parsley and oregano. Then I mixed some red wine vinegar with a TINY bit of sugar and a small amount of EVOO (use more vinegar than oil), poured that over the onions and tomatoes, seasoned with a bit of kosher salt, and tossed it all together. I just let this sit on the countertop at room temperature while I made the rest of the meal. It was very refreshing!

This whole meal was freaking fantastic, if I do say so myself! I had such a craving for something Middle Eastern or Mediterranean and this was perfect. The lamb kofta reminded me very much of a Romanian dish called mici, and I am half convinced that my occasional craving for spiced meat on the grill is an ancestral memory of some kind (I am one-eighth Romanian on my Dad's side). Every now and then, I need a little garlic and paprika in my life, you know?

Here's my suggested timeline for this meal. This is not exactly the one I followed, but it's the one I WOULD follow when I made this again.
  • Earlier in the day, make the minted yogurt and stick it in the fridge.
  • Also earlier in the day, make the meat mixture and put it in the fridge. It's easier to work with when it's cold.
  • About an hour before serving time, make the marinated onions and tomatoes and let them sit on the countertop while you do the rest.
  • About 40 minutes before serving time, prepare the za'atar bread (it has to rest for 20 minutes while the oven gets hot, then it cooks for 15 minutes or so).
  • About 20 minutes before serving time, light the grill and put the meat on skewers while it heats.
  • Put the za'atar bread in the oven.
  • Put the meat on the grill. Turn after 4-5 minutes.
  • Take the meat off the grill and the bread out of the oven.
  • Slide the meat off the skewers so no one ends up in the emergency room (I speak from experience with metal skewers, here -- those suckers get HOT).
  • Slice the bread into wedges, pull the yogurt out of the fridge, give the salad another toss and serve it all up!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A (mostly) make-ahead meal

Tonight's Menu

  • oven-cooked beef brisket
  • fresh bread
  • tangy coleslaw
  • grilled apricots
My day today was such that my afternoon and early evening were insanely busy, but my morning was relatively calm. So 90% of the work for this meal was done well before the after-school frenzy, and I was still able to get dinner on the table at a decent time. YAY for mostly make-ahead meals!

The brisket was my usual. I made a dry rub of sugar, chili powder, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, dry mustard, dried oregano, salt and freshly ground pepper. Then I rubbed it all over the brisket on both sides and put the meat fat-side up in a roasting pan. You could put it on a rack but I no longer have one, so I wad up some tin foil into balls and line the bottom of the pan with those, then place the meat on top. Works great! Add a bit of water to the bottom of the pan, then cover tightly with heavy-duty foil.

The cooking time and temperature can vary quite a bit, depending on the size of your hunk o' meat, the amount of time you have to work with, and how you like your meat cooked. We like a very tender, melt-in-your-mouth brisket with crispy fat; my roast was about 2.5 to 3 pounds, and I had all day, really. So I cooked this at 225 degrees F for about five hours, then uncovered it and boosted the heat up to 400 for 15 minutes or so to get the fat nice and crispy. Then I let it rest for about 10 minutes before slicing it thinly across the grain. You could do this same size roast for maybe two hours at 375, as long as there's water in the pan and it's tightly covered. It won't be quite as tender, but you can make up for that by slicing it nice and thin.

The bread was plain boule from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I am STILL loving that book! The authors have a blog where they share recipes, too!

For the coleslaw, I whisked together 1/4 cup each of sugar and apple cider vinegar until the sugar was mostly dissolved, then whisked in a tablespoon of canola oil and about a teaspoon of celery seed. Pour it over half a head of shredded cabbage, toss to coat, and stick it in the fridge for several hours or overnight. I like this version of coleslaw over the creamy mayonnaise type when I'm serving a fairy rich, fatty meat -- the acidity really helps cut the richness.

The apricots could not have been easier -- just cut a few in half, make sure to oil your grill grate, and grill them cut-side down until they pick up some grill marks and get SLIGHTLY soft. Don't overcook these or they will go mushy. I really like apricots with spiced beef -- something about that flavor combination just works for me!

Okay, so here was the timeline I followed:
  1. Make the bread in the morning (or the day before)(or just buy some damn bread, already!).
  2. Prepare the brisket and stick it in the oven (I did this five and a half hours before I planned to serve it -- see above).
  3. Make the coleslaw and stick it in the fridge (you could do this the night before).
  4. Thirty minutes before serving, uncover the brisket and turn up the heat to crisp the fat.
  5. Wrap the bread in foil and slice the apricots in half, removing pits.
  6. Light the grill for indirect heat (for my grill this means two burners on, one off).
  7. Put the foil-wrapped bread on the unlit burner to warm it as the grill heats.
  8. When the grill is hot, take brisket out of oven, re-cover and let rest.
  9. Put apricots on grill; remove bread from grill.
  10. Slice bread and re-wrap in foil to keep warm.
  11. Take apricots off grill, cover to keep warm.
  12. Slice brisket and put on serving platter.
  13. Remove coleslaw from fridge and give it another toss or two.
  14. Soup's on!