Herb Roasted Leg of Lamb with Minted Garlicky Tzatziki, EVOO Tomatoes, and Honey Broiled Feta

DSCN5258Cooler weather means hotter food in the Fountain household, and something that roasts low and slow and fills a Sunday afternoon with the smell of savory cooking meat makes the cold and rainy all that much better. It’s been a while since I’ve made lamb, and the lovely rolled boneless legs they had on sale at Whole Foods convinced me it was high time I muttoned it up.   Not wanting to go too crazy, I opted for a fairly traditional approach: lots of fresh herbs and garlic, a tzatziki sauce, some pita, and some feta.  But, wanted to at least leave my mark on the meal, I also roasted off some fresh tomatoes and broiled the feta with honey, to impart some complexity and sweetness to the plate.  Gamey, tender, cooling, fragrant, and filling; it tasted good enough to *almost* make up for the Patriot’s loss to Cincinnati.  Almost.

DSCN5235

Herb Roasted Leg of Lamb with Minted Garlicky Tzatziki, EVOO Tomatoes, and Honey Broiled Feta

2lb rolled and tied boneless lamb leg
1 head garlic
1/2 cup fresh rosemary
1/2 cup fresh oregano
fresh mint
sea salt, cracked black pepper
2 carrots
2 celery stalks
2 medium white onions
2 fresh tomatoes on the vine
1 large cucumber
1 cup Greek yogurt
4-6 oz wedge of feta cheese
EVOO
3 tbs clover honey

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I start with my aromatics.  The oregano and rosemary are from my own garden, so I basically cut off a few handfuls of twigs and destemmed them, then I peeled all the skins from my garlic cloves.

DSCN5240I don’t have a food processor, so I just chopped everything up real fine the old-fashioned way; with my chef’s knives.  Once I had a nice mince, I added some salt, pepper, and EVOO to form a paste – which I then packed all over my roast, reserving a tablespoon to the side.

DSCN5241I peeled my carrots, then cut them into big chunks along with my celery and onions.  These I threw into a large stovetop-to-oven roasting pan with a few glugs of EVOO over medium heat to wilt slightly.

DSCN5243I then halved my tomatoes, leaving the stems on – ‘cuz it would be prettier to serve them that way later.

DSCN5245After making a bit of a nest of the cooking veggies, I placed my roast on top, then pushed the tomatoes cut side down around the perimeter of the pot.   I scatter the remaining herb mix over the tomatoes.   After pre-heating the oven to 325°, I set the already simmering pot inside on the middle rack and shut the door.  I let this whole thing cook for 3 hours, basting every once in a while with the juices accumulating at the bottom of the pan.

DSCN5246While the roast roasted, I peeled and de-seeded my cucumber.

DSCN5247After salting and peppering the chopped cucumber well, I set it into a colander placed over a large bowl to drain as much water from it as possible.

DSCN5248Squishing down on the pieces will release a little more liquid.  Sometimes you get a lot, sometimes just a little – but watery tzatziki isn’t much fun, so this step is usually necessary.

DSCN5249Although Greek yogurt is usually already strained, this container had a few ounces of whey floating at the top when I opened it, so I decided to squeeze it through a cheesecloth to get as much liquid out as possible.  Using two pieces, I formed a cross of cheesecloth over my colander…

DSCN5250… then, by gathering up the corners, I was able to squeeze a few more ounces of whey out of the mix.

DSCN5251Now that the cucumbers and yogurt are drained, it’s time to make the sauce.  I mince up about 2 tbs mint, throw in a few tbs of minced onion, a little bit of minced garlic, and some salt and pepper.  This gets added to the cream and cuke, and mixed well.

DSCN5253One can cook a lamb roast to medium rare and serve it bloody, which is delicious, or it can be cooked until it is fully roasted through and falling apart – which was our choice for this meal.  The carrots are tender and sweet, and the tomatoes are deeply roasted, their flavors perfectly concentrated.

sous-vide-duck-breast-with-warm-lentils-feta-and-mushroom-honey-cream_18I actually forgot to take a picture of my feta, but here’s one from an older recipe (a nice one I’d forgotten about, actually) to show you how it’s done.  First, the cheese goes into a nice, oven-proof shallow dish, where it is doused with EVOO and studded with some cracked pepper and a few leaves of oregano.  Into a 400° oven for about 10 minutes it goes, or until the cheese has begun to brown on top.  I then cover it with honey, turn the heat up to broil, and cook the cheese for another 5 minutes or until it is bubbling and gooey and luscious.

DSCN5257A little EVOO dressed arugula, some warm pita, and a drizzle of pan sauce compliments my unctuous herbaceous mutton, my minty cucumber cream, and my richly roasted vegetables.  Clayton and I make little sandwiches by taking shreds of meat, dollops of yogurt, bits of steaming tomatoes, and scoops of quivering honey’d feta and stuffing them into pita before stuffing them into our salivating maws.  As the wind whips outside and the rain beats against the skylight, we enjoy the warmth spreading through our tummies with each delicious bite.  Now that winter’s almost here, the days of salads and seafood a waning, but I’m not minding that one bit if my dinners get to be this good for the next few months.  I’ll just have to make sure I keep ‘em coming.

Sous Vide Veal Tenderloin, Honey Roasted Carrots, Potato Crisps, Gorgonzola Cream, Demi-Glaze, Gremolata

DSCN4576The reason why we omnivores like veal is because of how tender it is.  Yes, the little critters are confined to a very small pen which keeps them from moving around a lot, which keeps their flesh meltingly soft by preventing the development of tougher muscles, which many people think is sad (or atrocious, depending upon your ilk).  I have no such scruples: I am gluttonous for foie gras; I revel in veal; I love lobsters boiled live; hell, I’d enjoy an ortolon if I ever got the chance to eat one.  If you consider me inhumane because of my eating habits, I certainly respect your opinion… but I’ll likely not invite you over for dinner when I’m pulling out all the stops.

All this is just preamble, though.  I bring up the tenderness of veal for one reason: to say that it’s even MORE tender when cooked sous vide.  Although not a particularly old technique, sealing foods in air-tight bags and cooking them in a water-bath set to the temperature at which the food should be served  is optimal for several purposes: by cooking the food in this manner, there is no risk of over-cooking, and there is no drying out of the surface layers of proteins by virtue of the much higher heat needed to bring the internal temp to the right degree; something magical with collagens and proteins and cellular stuff happens at a lower heat held for a long time — tissues turn to gelatin, and juices stay locked in place; and meats need only a quick browning on a hot pan at the last minute before service. But sous vide cookery generally requires the purchase of a prohibitively expensive and very space-consuming piece of equipment, since since money and space are two things I don’t have, I thought I’d have to struggle with maintaining the temperature in a saucepan on my stove, which I’ve done successfully once before, but which took lots of time standing by the stove stirring and adjusting the water with flame and ice (figuratively speaking).  Tonight’s technique was MUCH EASIER.  And the results?  Veal so perfectly cooked and tender I could cut it with a sharp glance.  Doused with demi-glaze, served with  potato crisps draped with gorgonzola cream, honey roasted carrots, and a snappy Meyer lemon gremolata, dinner transported me to Nirvana with each and every sweet sweet bite.

Sous Vide Veal Tenderloin, Honey Roasted Carrots, Potato Crisps, Gorgonzola Cream, Demi-Glaze, Gremolata

1lb veal tenderloin, trimmed
4 tbs butter
1 tbs dried tarragon leaves
1 small bunch slender carrots
3 tbs EVOO
3 tbs honey
1 large russet potato
3 oz gorgonzola cheese
1/4 cup cream
1 Meyer lemon
4 tbs minced parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
sea salt, cracked black pepper, dried oregano, dried rosemary
1 package Classic Demi-Glaze Gold

DSCN4551Instead of a set-up shot, showing all my ingredients, I shall instead show you the star of tonight’s show: my Igloo cooler.  Based upon Serious Eats’ brilliant life hack article, I now know I don’t need to buy a ridiculously expensive piece of equipment to sous vide – all I need is a $20 cooler.  Y’see, not only do these babies keep things cool, they keep things HOT, too.  For anything that can be cooked sous vide in less than 5 hours and in less than 160° water (these are my approximations), a nice, tight sealing cooler will do the trick.

DSCN4554I start by rinsing, then patting dry, my veal tenderloin.  After rubbing it down with salt and pepper, I put a few pats of butter on the meat, along with the tarragon…

DSCN4555… before wrapping it tightly in plastic.

DSCN4556The whole package then gets set inside a large freezer zipper bag, and using a straw, I get as much air out of it as possible.  I zipped the bag up as close to the straw as I could before I started sucking like a Hoover vacuum cleaner, then I even slightly zipped across the straw while sliding it out of the bag so that as little air as possible would leach back into the bag before it was sealed completely.  SeriousEats points out that one can also submerge as much of the bag as possible in water before sealing to push out all the air, but every time I’ve tried that I’ve always spilled a little water into the bag – and I didn’t want to get my meat wet.  This worked fine.

DSCN4558I thought I would have to use a kettle to get my water hot enough, but my kitchen faucet delivers water at close to 160° – so I actually had to add a little cold water to get my temp to a little over 142° F. I then filled up my largest, heaviest measuring vessel with hot water, too, so it would submerge – which I used to anchor my bag of meat which still wanted to float.  I shut the cooler, and walked away for 90 minutes.

DSCN4559Meanwhile, I used my mandoline set at the thickest setting to slice my russet potato into substantial chips.

DSCN4560I placed them in a single layer on top of a baking paper lined cookie sheet, and then brushed them with EVOO before sprinkling some salt, pepper, rosemary, and oregano on them.

DSCN4561I also trimmed the greens off my carrots, peeled them, and spread them across a ceramic baking dish.

DSCN4562Someone gave me this lovely raw honey, which is very potent and delicious.

DSCN4563The carrots get doused in EVOO, salt, pepper, and honey, and then both they and the potatoes get placed into a 400° oven for about 30 minutes.  At the halfway point, I flip the potatoes and roll over the carrots for even cooking.

DSCN4564Gremolata is one of those condiments that isn’t used as often as it should be.  The traditional mixture of minced parsley and garlic with grated lemon zest adds snap and freshness to tons of preparations, and it goes particularly well with rich meats.

DSCN4565A little salt, pepper, lemon juice, and EVOO gets added to the veg, and all is mixed well.

DSCN4566Ahhhh – gorgonzola.  DSCN4569I melt a tbs of butter in a saucepan, add my cream, and then my gorgonzola to make a cheese sauce.  On another eye, I prepare the demi-glaze with only a few ounces of water (I want a nice, rich drizzle of flavor, and not a gravy) and a dash of minced garlic.

DSCN4568My 90 minutes have passed, and I eagerly reach into my Igloo to see how my veal tenderloin looks.  And it looks MARVELOUS.  It is perfectly cooked to a lovely medium rare – but it admittedly looks a little flaccid and unappetizing all greyish like that….

DSCN4570… which is why I’ve got an oiled, cast iron skillet smoking on one burner.  I sear my tenderloin on all sides, propping up the narrow edges (which make my meat want to roll over) by clipping the tongs in the ‘closed’ position and resting them flat against the edge of the pan.  I sear for about 1 minute all the way ’round – so 6 minutes total.  I’m looking for the Malliard reaction, which is a fancy way of saying I want to brown the outside of this tender morsel.

DSCN4571Perfect.

DSCN4575Just the extreme edges are tantalizingly browned, and the insides are exactly medium rare throughout.

DSCN4577The explosion of flavors on my plate just blew me away.  The sweet carrots, crispy potatoes and sharp, creamy gorgonzola sauce, the rich, garlicky demi-glaze offset by the fresh, green gremolata, and the oh-so-silky-and-tender-and-delicious veal medallions.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to prepare veal any other way, and now I can’t wait to try the same technique with strip steaks and filet mignon, and even eggs for perfect Benedicts.  But now – I EAT!

Brown Butter Seared Scallops, Lentilles de Puy, Dressed Cress and Scallion Oil

As I sit out on my deck this Sunday afternoon, I feel the coming autumn chill in the air.  Clayton may be in a tank top sitting in a sliver of sun, but here in the shade I actually need a light sweater.  Although I’m sad that my tan will soon fade (leaving me the color, and general muscular consistency, of tapioca pudding), I am looking forward to how the cooler weather opens up my kitchen, allowing me to cook indoors without cooking myself in the ambient heat during the process.  Last night, although muggy, was temperate, so I reaquainted myself with my stovetop.  What better way than to pan-sear some plump, juicy, never-frozen, tender scallops?  Thanks to Marcus at Whole Foods for the recommendation (even if he was talking to someone else – and I was merely eavesdropping), although their sheer size and perfection had already reeled me in.  As I wandered the aisles with my six scallops in tow, I alighted upon the bulk bar, and before I knew it I was loading up on some lovely French lentils.  After throwing a few more items into the basket, I headed home, figuring out the meal I’d make on the way.  I visualized a bed of fragrant, steaming, and toothsome lentilles de Puy topped with perfectly crisp-crusted scallops and drizzled with a verdant, herbaceous oil.  And I’ll be damned if that’s not exactly what I made…

Brown Butter Seared Scallops, Lentilles de Puy, Dressed Cress and Scallion Oil

6 very large fresh sea scallops
3 tbs butter
1lb French lentils
3 slices bacon
1 medium onion
6-10 cloves
1″ peeled fresh ginger
3-4 cloves garlic
1 medium carrot
1 qt chicken broth
zest and juice of 1 lemon
watercress
curly parsley
scallions
1 shallot
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper

Remove the paper husk of the onion, cut it in half, and stud 1 part of it with the cloves.  Mince the other half.

Peel and cut the carrot into 1″ pieces, crush and remove the paper from the garlic, and peel about an inch of fresh ginger root.

Rinse the lentils several times, and pick through them looking for little rocks and stuff, which I’ve never found but I still look for (thinking the one time I don’t look I’ll crack a tooth on something).

Bacon.  I cut these three slices into, like, 4-5 pieces each.

Into my deep saucepan it goes, where I fry it to just crisp.

Add the studded onion carefully to the pan, along with the carrots, minced onion, garlic, and  ginger.

Add the lentils, and stir everything well.

Cover everything with chicken stock, bring to a boil, lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and cover the pot.  It takes about 45 minutes for the liquid to be absorbed, and the lentils to soften (but not mushify).  When their texture is just right, remove from the heat…

… remove the clove studded onion and knob of ginger…

… and stir in the minced shallot, the lemon zest, and some chopped parsley.  Set aside, tilting the lid so some steam can escape, until service.

To make the scallion oil, chop the green onion roughly, then saute it for just a moment in hot EVOO – just long enough for the green color to pop, but not to fry.  Dump into a blender with 1 cup of chopped parsley and the juice from the lemon, then whir until smooth.  Transfer to a small squeeze bottle, and keep warm.

My scallops weren’t cheap…

… but they were amazing.  I should have put something nearby to demonstrate scale; these bad boys are at least an inch thick, and even fatter the way ’round.

I melt 3 tbs of butter to foaming in my small non-stick fry pan, and set my scallops – which I’ve dusted with sea salt and cracked pepper – on the heat, leaving plenty of room between them to breathe.  I leave them undisturbed to sear for 5 minutes, or until I see the opacity of the scallop deepen halfway up its side.

Using tongs, I gently flip each scallop, revealing their caramelized, butter-encrusted faces.  Another 5-7 minutes of searing on the reverse side, and they’re ready for plating.

Fragrant lentil caviar sweetened with carrot and emboldened with bacon; fork-tender sea-sweet scallops browned with butter and encased in crisp; scallion lemon and parsley EVOO dressed watercress and daubs of herbaceous oil.  A perfect marriage of land (pig), earth (beans), and sea (scallops) – all brought together for a fulfilling and delicious dinner on a stormy late summer’s night.