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

DSCN5239
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.

Weeknight Wondermeal: Super Simple Savory Chicken and Rice

The vegetables from the farm are almost ready for my table, so right now I’ve been using up a lot of the canned goods I have in the pantry until the weather decides to stop vacillating between crappy and beautiful to stick with “warm enough to eat outside all the time”.  I’ve also been super-busy, planning a few pig-roasts and cook-outs for my peeps in the next week or so – which takes a lot of bandwidth.  And I just returned from a kick-ass weekend in Chicago with my best friends and their beautiful daughters; thanks Nyssa-Lynn, Michelle, Jordan, and Delaney for giving me one of the best vacations evah!  But throughout all this, I’ve been feeling a wee bit guilty about not posting in a while, so even though tonight’s meal wasn’t particularly complex or gourmet, it was a quick & simple one-pan dinner easy enough for anyone to make.  Now that my Harvard undergrads are spending the summer here working in labs without the benefit of open dining halls to feed them, I feel it’s one of Lolita’s responsibilities to give them a few recipe options to choose from.  Come on, kids – you’re all wicked smart Harvard students.  If you can do a Western blot, you can make chicken and rice….

Super Simple Savory Chicken and Rice

2 bone-in, skin-on chicken leg/thigh quarters
2 cups short grain rice (arborio or sushi rice works great)
3 stalks celery
2 carrots
1 small white onion
4-5 cloves garlic
1 can diced tomatoes with juice
1 can diced green chiles
1 cup dry white wine
1 qt chicken broth
8-10 small ciliegine (cherry-sized) mozzarella
sea salt, cracked black pepper, dried parsley (for garnish)

After rinsing and patting dry my chicken quarters, I sprinkle them with salt and pepper and sear the skin in a few glugs of hot EVOO in a deep pan large enough to hold the whole meal.

Here’s my mise-en-place – which in this case is a basic mirepoix of chopped celery, carrots, and onion.  I also chop up my garlic cloves.

Once the chicken is nicely browned on both sides, I move it to a plate to rest for a minute while I sweat my aromatics over medium heat for about 4 minutes.

Once my veggies have slightly softened, I add my dry rice, which I stir around really well, making sure to toast each grain nicely in the pan.

Like so!

First, I add my cup o’ vino, stirring everything well until most of the liquid evaporates.

Then I add my canned tomatoes (with their juice) and my can of green chiles (for heat).  I mix this together well, introducing all the flavors to each other.

Finally, I add my quart of chicken stock – which covers the rice entirely, and lay my chicken gams on top.

This I cover.  (See my skylight in the reflection there?  It is the only natural light I get in my kitchen, which is why my pictures are sometimes wonky-colored…)

Then the whole pan, lid and all, goes into my oven (which apparently needs to be dusted) on 400 for about 20 minutes.  This will slow bake the rice, absorbing all the liquid, and finish cooking my chicken legs through.

After said 20 minutes, most of the stock has baked off, my rice is nice and fluffy, and my chicken is oozing clear savory liquid.

I remove the cover, raise the heat in the oven to broil, and dot my dish with little balls of pure white milky fresh mozzarella cheese.  Back into the oven the pan goes – for about another 8 minutes, or until the cheese has melted so much it’s practically toasted.

Like so!

After a long day on the farm for Clayton, a dinner like this is exactly the sort of thing he craves.  Succulent, savory chicken and flavorful, vegetable studded rice.  It is steaming hot, packed with goodness, and damn delicious if I do say so myself.  And there is always plenty of rice leftover.  How can you beat that?

Simple Sick Day Kitchen Sink Pork Chop Soup

I’ve recently come to terms with something: I am going to be one of those old ladies that is always complaining about her aches and pains.  Yup.  I know this because I’m already doing it.  And I’m about to set it down in writing.  Here goes: an acute muscle spasm of unknown origin on my right shoulder kept me awake in surprising pain all night Monday. Compensating for that has lead to a flare up of excruciating bursitis that’s frankly immobilized my left shoulder today.  I’m doped up on muscle relaxer and sluggish from hours just sitting, trying not to move.  But yet, dear readers, I had to eat – and nothing delivery would do.  So, I get up, rummage one-handedly through the fridge and my pantry shelves, and I throw together some soup – some warm, bright, savory, light, fresh, healing and wholesome soup.  With a sudden surge of energy, I find myself taking pictures before I even realize I’m doing it.  And now, here I type – with my right hand only, my left can’t reach or hold itself to the keyboard without shooting a searing pain from my shoulder to the tip of my middle finger – because, well, I’m obsessive that way.  If I’m going to be a wimp whose arms just decide to stop working one day, I’m at least going to be a well fed wimp.

Simple Sick Day Kitchen Sink Pork Chop Soup

1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
1 stalk celery
6-8 tbs diced tomatoes
8 cups chicken stock
sea salt, cracked black pepper, oregano
1 smoked pork chop
1 can cannellini beans
4 cups loose fresh spinach leaves
1 cup small pasta
parmigiano reggiano cheese

I call this a kitchen sink soup because I just threw all sorts of scraps and ends and stuff I found in the freezer and fridge – everything I could find, really – to make this.  I had an old bag of celery, from which I was able to harvest a still snappy center stalk, a stray carrot, and a found-in-the-back-of-the-drawer onion — all of these I washed, peeled, and chopped roughly.  Nights like these are why it’s always good to have basic mirepox ingredients like these on hand.

These I very ungracefully chuck into my wok, which is sizzling with a few glugs of EVOO on the surface.  After adding a dash of salt, a generous tablespoon or so of black pepper,  and about two tablespoons of dried oregano, I let everything sweat and soften for a few minutes.

I wasn’t feeding a crowd, and I didn’t want a tomato sauce, so I only add about half the contents of a can of diced tomatoes in juice.  I toss everything well, and let it all simmer for a few moments.

Just enough time to chop up my chop.  This perfectly smoked, perfectly trimmed pork chop is from Blood Farms, and it’s been in my freezer for a few weeks now.  It doesn’t take too long to defrost, and then I…

… cut all the meat off the bone, and then into bite-sized pieces.

Everything gets chucked into the pan – meat and bone (why loose all that beautiful smoked seasoning?).  A quick stir later…

… and I add my chicken stock.  I bring this to a boil, lower to a gentle simmer, and let cook for about 30 minutes.

Oh, right — my beans!  I didn’t think the soup would be hearty enough without beans, so I crack a can of cannellini, which I drain and rinse before I add them to the pot.

While this is simmering, I boil off about a cup of ditalini pasta in salted water.  I don’t cook it in the soup because I don’t want to add all that cloudy starch to my broth.

I made a spinach salad at a party the other day, and I had one bunch left over, just about to start its conversion process into compost.  I salvaged the crispest leaves and threw them in the soup during the last 2 minutes of its simmer.

They melt beautifully into the soup.

The final ingredient: this lump of leftover parmigiano reggiano cheese – the perfect nutty salty substance to top off all the vegetable and porky goodness swimming in my bowl.

A luscious, steaming broth, made slightly smoky by the bites of chop ladled throughout, enriched by the white beans and tender pasta, and freshened by the carrots and spinach and spice.  It might have been easier to crack a can of Campbell’s soup (if I had one), but then I would have to deal with preservatives and salt and stuff I couldn’t control.  Although my left arm is still no better than a vestigial appendage, and my right lung feels like it can’t take a full breath (this getting old shit has got to stop!), my tummy and soul feel totally satisfied – almost giddy, even.  If chicken soup is for the soul, here’s hoping pork soup is for the shoulder…

Roasted Short Rib, Sprouts and Roots Skillet with Truffle Parmesan Grits

I hope, dear reader, that sometimes the meal you make makes you cry.  Cry for joy, that is — for weeping in ecstasy is truly one of life’s purest pleasures.  Lucky for me (not to toot my own horn or anything), but this happens for me often – and I cook because I’m addicted to the sensation.  Tonight’s meal plucked my heart-strings in an extra-special way, and now, an hour later, I’m still all verklempt.  The sumptuous flavors and soul-soothing textures are still imprinted on my tongue, still indelibly etched into my being, and my heart beats more happily now that it’s been fed by this rich feast.  This is the kind of warmth normally found only when laying in the arms of a lover on a cold, crisp night; a brand of almost spiritual fulfillment usually reserved strictly for religious experiences; a type of gastronomic indulgence rarely found outside of chi-chi celebrity chef’s kitchens that charge shocking prices after interminable waits-for-tables.  I admit — I was inspired by the Porchetta plate at Kendall Square’s newest hottest  gastro-joint, Firebrand Saints, a hopping establishment with a sexy menu, sexy staff, and good prices.  Their home-roasted porchetta over polenta with wilted greens was a great dinner;  but I admit I feel like I one-upped them here.   Polenta can be a flavor suck, whereas grits are a flavor enhancer (‘cuz they’re less gluteny…), and a concentrated gravy of braising liquids and browned beef adds that much more.  Yet this meal is something I can see being made out on the open range, by cowboys with some roots and hearty sprouts in their packs, a cast iron skillet over a campfire, and some of the last cuts of meat to tenderize with a slow and steady braise.  Honest, homey, and perfect — see for yourself!

Roasted Short Rib, Roots, and Sprouts Skillet with Truffle Parmesan Grits

2 lbs bone-in short ribs
10-16 tiny wee potatoes
10-12 medium Brussels sprouts, larger ones split in half
2-3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2″ discs
2 medium white onions, diced
8-10 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
sea salt, cracked black pepper, truffle salt, vegetable oil
12 oz dark beer
4 cups beef stock
1/2 cup grits
2 cups water
2 tbs butter
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

I headed out on Black Friday with a mind to blow some dough.  Alas, I was mostly disappointed.  Newbury Street was all “15% off your 4th item” and stuff – not the type of discounts I wanted.  But I did find these adorable little cast iron skillets at Marshall’s (#thuglife) for a pittance, and I sort of cobbled my meal together with them in mind.  After curing them fully this afternoon, before I got truly started with tonight’s meal I threw them back in my 350° oven to reheat back through thoroughly.  They’ll come into play in about 30 minutes.

These beautiful beef short-ribs are from my new bestest friend, Blood Farms.  (Holla out to Lucy+ Chris + Andrew! Friends I incessantly urged to take the drive to West Groton to visit said Blood Farm after they waxed philosophic about their tasty bits of slab bacon in my Thanksgiving Brussels sprouts.)  These boney beefy hunks of meat were purchased a few weeks ago and frozen in my sad, crappy freezer, but which were happily defrosted this afternoon in preparation of tonight’s meal.  I rinse them, pat them very dry, then bondage them like the naughty cow parts they are (um… to hold the bones in while braising.)

I’ve moved my skillets from my hot oven to my hot range, and I’ve added a douse of vegetable oil to them to heat ’til just smoking. I’ve dressed my bones in salt and pepper, and I place them, bone side up, into the sizzling frying fat.  They sear 5 minutes on this side.  Using tongs, I flip them so that each other edge sears for at least 2 minutes, until every surface has been kissed with brown.

I add equal amounts of garlic cloves,  carrot, onion to each pan.  Then I toss all this very well to coat with fat and sear with heat.

This is my new daily beer: Session Premium Black Lager.  It’s got the whole cool crisp lager thing going, with a nice malty full bodied richness characterized by the “black” eponym.  It goes great with beef.  6 oz goes steaming into each pan…

I let all that loveliness froth and roil for a few seconds, before throwing the pans into my still 350°hot  oven.  And I wait.  For an hour.

After which time, my meat has begun to tighten on to the bone (the tough stage before the tenderness sets in), and almost all my beer has boiled down to a nice thick glaze.  Nice.  Thick.  Glaze.  But it needs more time, so I decide to meaten it up…

… by adding a couple cups of beef broth to each pan, too.  Back in the oven they go, for another 30 minutes.

The last 30 minutes will turn the starting-to-fray-with-forks-but-still-tough-at-the-bone meat into succulent shreds of deliciousness.  Those 30 minutes will also finish off the wee potatoes, sprouts, and the rest of the onion.  I toss these beauties with the liquid left in the pan (it’s OK to add more beef broth if it’s too dry; the pan should be about 1/2way full of juice), then toss the pans back into the hot oven.

The final ingredient is the grits – a starchy alternative to a soppin’ biscuit, and my preference to polenta when wanting something corny on my plate. 2 cup water, 1/2 cup grits, simmered until tender.

I add my two tbs  butter and my grated cheese to the pot when the grits are just about ready.  Then I add a generous amount of truffle infused sea salt — to add flavor and savor.  Removing the lid and heat source will thicken ‘em up.

The beauty of a skillet is that you serve right in it.  I sort of push my lovely caramelized veggies to one side and pour my cheesy truffled grits into the chasm that remains.  They ooze like lava under the tenderific meat bones, the bursting potato pods, the crisp-edged, silky innard sprouts, the sweet carrots and the melting onions.  The smooth corn goodness offsets the deep tones of meat and garden-fresh roasted flavor. With each bite, I ascend to some transcendental place where perfection dwells on the tines of a fork, while the dark deep smoldering heat of the iron underneath anchors me to terra firma, where lust lurks on the tongue.  I challenge you, dear readers, to dive into this delight.  A few easy ingredients, a  few tantalizing hours of house aromas, and you too can experience Nirvana by merely plucking the fruits of your fork.

Fish and Corn Chowder, Semi-Deconstructed

I have the Claytonhusband to thank for this meal; it was his idea, more or less.  Y’see, out on the farm, he digs up all sorts of lovely veggies, and sometimes they trigger his gastronomic imagination.  Potatoes are the newest crop he’s pulling from the earth, and their heirloom selves have been appropriately misshapen and deliciously ugly.  He fished out two particularly bulbous spuds and proclaimed them dinner, suggesting that something could be served in them were they to be rendered ‘bowl-like’, and wouldn’t something chowdery and fish-like be nice.  Along with two huge cobs of the season’s last sweet corn, that was all Lolita needed.  Witness my semi-deconstructed corn and fish chowder: a rich, sweet corn milk, crispy cubes of pancetta, and pan-roasted haddock piled atop a massive baked potato skin, and topped with snips of chives.  Warm, rich, and delicious – perfect for a chilly autumn evening.

Fish and Corn Chowder

2 large ears fresh corn
1/2 gallon milk
cracked black pepper
2 medium or 1 very large russet potato
1/2 lb pancetta, diced
3 small shallots
1 yellow carrot
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch chives
1 lb fresh haddock (or cod, or pollack, or schrod – any flaky white fish will do)

This picture is very suggestive.  Of deliciousness, that is!  Each of these spuds is about the size of a newborn baby’s head, and the corn the size of my forearm.  The Clayton grows some good veggies.

I start by shucking and de-silkifying my corn cobs, then using my potato peeler to scrape the kernels out.  Next time I’ll do this inside a large pastic bag instead of over a bowl; I got corn bits and juice EVERYWHERE.   The kernels I reserve for later, but the cobs get put into play right away.

I totally have to shout out to Rooftop Gourmet, who largely guided this recipe with their very similar “Pan Roasted Cod in Fresh Corn Chowder” post back in April.  In particular, the above technique of boiling corn cobs in milk really lit my fire — I’d never considered that before, although it seems so basic and natural I rather feel like a heel for not knowing about it prior to this posting.  It yielded what can only be called “corn milk” – a richly, thickly, butter n’ sugar sweet corn flavored lactic dream. I set my 1/2 gallon of milk and my two denuded cobs into a large soup-pot and simmered them together with a healthy sprinkling of black pepper for about an hour – skimming the skin off the top periodically.  Meanwhile, I rinsed, dried, wrapped in foil, and set my two potatoes in my preheated to 400° oven to bake for the same hour.

Pancetta is a wonderful thing.  It’s a smoked, spiced, and rolled pork belly – an Italian bacon.  Harvard Square’s legendary gourmet shop  Cardullo’s purveyed this healthy chunk to me, at a surprisingly (for them) reasonable price.  I dice it into chunks…

… then chuck them chunks into a pan to sear until crispy.

Once I’ve got a nice crispy sear on my pancetta, I remove the bits from the pan – keeping 2 or so tablespoons of the rendered fat in the pan and holding the rest to the side for later – and add in my diced aromatics: my shallots, garlic, and one large yellow carrot from the farm.  I had several orange carrots, too – but I thought that the yellow would work better with the color scheme of this meal.

I sauté this mix of earth-grown goodness until all the bits have started to sweat and soften.

Then I add the reserved corn kernels, stir well, and let saute for a few moments.  This is the flavorful base of the corn chowder.

Now comes the corn-milk, which has been simmering for an hour now, and which tastes just like farm-fresh corn.  I pour about 4 cups into the pan, and bring everything back to a simmer.

 My potatoes are ready, too.  I cut them in half, then scoop out the majority of their inner flesh, leaving two large bowls which I oil up with some of the pancetta drippings before throwing them back in the oven to crisp up a bit.

 The pulled-out potato gets added to the chowder.  It’s now a full-fledged soup, but I let it continue to simmer and thicken a bit, since I don’t want it too watery on my plate.  I taste it often, though – ‘cuz I can’t help myself – and adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper until it tastes perfect.

 I didn’t really mean to, but I sort of reassembled my two haddock filets into the whole boneless fish.  This lovely lovely came from the Harvard Farmer’s Market fishmonger, Fresh Lobsters and Fish, owned and operated by Carolyn and Chris Manning.  I’ve enjoyed their excellent products before (see here and here), but this is the first time I’ve tried their haddock.

 Since these two filets are odd sizes, I trimmed them down into two roughly same-sized planks each, and chucked the scraps into the chowder to gently poach and flavor the soup.  The planks I salt, pepper, and dust with flour.

A pat of butter and the rest of my pancetta juice gets added to my small non-stick fry-pan, and heated over high-heat until the butter is completely melted and beginning to froth.

 Into the hot fat my fish planks go.  I sear them skin-side down for about 5 minutes…

 … before carefully flipping them to brown their top sides.  Oh my, but this looks delicious.

My potato skin cups are perfectly roasted and ready to go.  I salt and pepper them up thoroughly, then place them in the middle of my plates before spooning chowder all up in there.

Delicately pan-seared and balanced haddock filets top a rich, creamy, corn chowder served up in a potato bowl with crunchy, salty chunks of pancetta studded throughout.  Each bite is both familiar – as chowder is to all we New Englanders – and surprising, since the flavors don’t blend until they come together on the tongue.  The buttery crisp edges of the flaky white fish compliment the tough-tender spud skin and its pillowy soft interior, while the milky soup stays warm and hearty as it waits to be gobbled up with both fork and spoon.  Clayton’s initial idea, a fellow-blogger’s inspiration, and Lolita’s interpretation: a meeting of minds, a medley of flavors, and one absolutely marvelous meal.