Saturday, March 26, 2016

Mary Had a Little Lamb ... and I ate it!

Once upon a time, a little girl named Mary Sawyer brought her pet lamb to the Redstone School in Sterling, Massachusetts. After a major disruption at school, a young man by the name of John Roulstone who was visiting the school, handed Mary a slip of paper written with the first four lines of "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Some say that Sarah Josepha Hale (who is also known for successfully campaigning for the Thanksgiving holiday) composed the remainder of the poem, but some say she was responsible for the entire thing? Hale was credited with creating this classic nursery rhyme, originally titled "Mary's Lamb" which was included in her publication "Poems for Children," first published in 1830. A statue of Mary's Little Lamb still stands in the town center!


The plague reads:
"Mary had a little lamb,
Its fleece was white as snow,
And everywhere that Mary went,
The lamb was sure to go."
John Roulstone

In addition, "Mary Had a Little Lamb" is forever enshrined in history as being the first thing recorded by Thomas Edison and played on his newly invented phonograph in 1876!

Lamb, being a favorite dish for the Easter holiday and an eternal symbol of Spring, was my choice to grace my Easter table! (See my Easter Menu.) This fabulous recipe for "Pistachio-Crusted Lamb Chops on Rutabaga Rosti and Gingered Carrot Sauce" from Patrick O'Connell's Refined American Cuisine is so good that you don't feel so sorry for the lamb! What better honor than to serve the chops slathered in brown sugar, Dijon, and chopped pistachios, propped against a fantastic rutabaga rosti, and dressed with a beautiful orange sauce infused with ginger and enriched with buttery creme fraiche! YUM! You have to try this! The gingered carrot sauce can be made a day ahead (always a plus!) and the rutabaga rosti up to an hour ahead and reheated in the oven while the chops rest. The recipe recommends "slipping the meat off 2 of the racks," but in my experience it's easier to leave them intact. And finally, after making this a few times, I recommend halving the amounts of Dijon and brown sugar to 1/4 cup each. Even if you've never made lamb and may be afraid to try, this extraordinary recipe will not let you down!


Pistachio-Crusted Lamb Chops on Rutabaga Rosti and Gingered Carrot Sauce

Serves 6

Ingredients:
For the Gingered Carrot Sauce
1 quart organic carrot juice
1, 1" piece of ginger root, peeled
1 cup creme fraiche
Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
*Note: any leftover sauce goes great with fish dishes!

For the Rutabaga Rosti
2 large Idaho baking potatoes
1 medium rutabaga, peeled and quartered
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
1/2 cup clarified butter

For the Lamb
3, 1 1/2 pound racks of lamb, each comprising about 8 rib bones (rack sizes vary depending on your supplier, so allow about 3 rib bones per person)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup Dijon mustard (I recommend 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup brown sugar (I recommend 1/4 cup)
1 cup coarsley chopped pistachios

Directions
For the Gingered Carrot Sauce
Place the carrot juice and ginger in a 2-quart saucepan and simmer over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the carrot juice is reduced to 1 cup. (This takes me about 1 hour.) Remove and discard the ginger root and, over low heat, whisk in the creme fraiche. Season with salt and white pepper. The sauce may be made in advance, stored in the refrigerator, and rewarmed before serving. 


For the Rutabaga Rosti
Peel the potatoes, leaving them whole. Combine with the rutabaga and steam for 15 minutes. Let cool.

Using a large holed blade of a box grater, shred the potatoes and rutabaga. (I use my food processor.) Fold in the finely chopped onion. Season the shredded vegetables with salt and pepper and form them into 6 cakes.


In a large skillet, heat half of the clarified butter over medium heat. Carefully place 3 cakes in the skillet and brown them on both sides for about 5-7 minutes per side. (Use 2 spatulas to gently flip the cakes so they don't fall apart!) Remove and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining clarified butter and vegetables cakes. (My skillet is big enough, so I cook them all at the same time.) The rostis can be made up to 1 hour in advance and rewarmed before serving.

For the Lamb
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Place the lamb (fat side up) in a roasting pan and bake for about 25 minutes. Remove the lamb, place it on a cutting board, and let it rest for 5 minutes. Lay the blade of a sharp knife against the bone and slip the meat off 2 of the racks in one piece, leaving one rack as is. (I don't recommend removing the meat from the 2 racks, unless you're a master butcher!)

Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl, whisk the mustard and brown sugar together. Using a pastry brush, coat the meat with the mustard mixture, then roll each rack in the chopped pistachios. 


Return to the oven and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove the lamb from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice each boneless loin into 6 medallions and carve the bone-in rack into 6 chops by cutting between the bones. (Slice between each bone making individual chops.)

To Serve
Reheat the gingered carrot sauce and the rutabaga rostis. Place a warm rosti in the center of each of 6 serving plates. Rest 2 of the boneless medallions and 1 bone-in chop against each rosti. (Prop 3 chops against each rosti.) Dribble the gingered carrot sauce over each plate, and serve.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

On the Fourth Day, Let There be Pastrami

St. Patrick's Day and the arrival of Spring mean one thing at my house, homemade pastrami! Pastrami is smoked corned beef that originated from Central Europe and was brought to America by Romanian Jews in the late 19th century. Kosher butcher Sussman Volk, who had immigrated to New York from Lithuania, claimed to have created the first pastrami sandwich in 1887. Volk had inherited the recipe from a Romanian friend in exchange for storing the man's luggage while he was out of the country. (Don't you use your luggage when travelling?) However, this is disputed by legendary Katz's Delicatessen in New York City, who opened in 1888 and claim to be the first. I guess it doesn't really matter since Katz's is still going strong and Volk is just a memory in time.

My husband was the first to discover this recipe for "Close to Katz's Pastrami" from amazingribs.com. You can check the recipe out there, although it seems a lot more informative and might scare away a pastrami novice, so I've simplified it here to coax you to try it. In fact, I have made a few changes. Instead of smoking the corned beef at 225 degrees, I keep it at 250 degrees. I don't make my own corned beef either, rather I buy it at the store in those cryovac packages, which grocers everywhere are marking down post-St.Patrick's Day. In addition, I recommend making more than one, since it takes a lot of your time! Don't worry, it freezes very well. 

You need to start the process 3 days before you plan on serving. The first day you soak it refrigerated in cold water to help remove excess salt. The second day to pat dry, apply the dry rub, and refrigerate overnight. The third day you smoke it for about 5-6 hours, cool, and refrigerate. And finally, on the fourth day you steam it for approximately 2 hours, then eat! It may seem like a lot of work, but it's so good, you just might become verklempt!


Close to Katz's Pastrami

Makes approximately 4-5 sandwiches. (I like mine with mustard, pastrami, Swiss cheese, and coleslaw on toasted rye. Pickle on the side.)

Ingredients:

For the Pastrami
1, 4 lb uncooked corned beef brisket
4 tablespoons freshly coarse ground black pepper
2 tablespoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder

For Smoking and Steaming
Smoker or Grill (I use my beloved Weber, see Gadgets.)
Disposable aluminum drip pan (I use the cheap ones from the grocer for roasting.)
Entire bag of charcoal
4-8 ounces wood chips, soaked in water (I like cherry wood.)
Steamer basket or steamer insert (I use the cheap ones from the grocer and remove the center handle/lifter thingy.)

Directions:
Day 1: Remove corned beef from package, rinse, and throw away the spice packet. Trim excessive fat off the corned beef and any membrane that might remain. (Leave at least 1/8-inch fat on it!) Place the corned beef in a large pot. Cover it with cold water and refrigerate overnight.

Day 2: Remove the corned beef from the water and pat dry with paper towels. Mix together the pepper, coriander, mustard, brown sugar, paprika, garlic and onion powders. Rub all over the corned beef, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Day 3: Prepare a charcoal grill or smoker for low heat (250 degrees). Place an aluminum drip pan half full of water in the center of the fire bed. Sprinkle some of the soaked wood chips on the coals. Place the corned beef, fat side up, on the grill rack over the drip pan. Insert a grill thermometer, see Gadgets. Cover and smoke the corned beef, maintaining 250 degrees, and sprinkling with wood chips/charcoal occasionally until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Wrap with foil and return to the grill until it reaches an internal temperature of 195 degrees. Remove from grill, let cool slightly, and refrigerate overnight. 



Day 4: Set up your steamer, or bring a couple inches of water in a large pot to a simmer, insert steam basket. (Tips: If you don't have a steamer, you can wad up foil to hold the now pastrami out of the water. I place a piece of foil between the steamer and pastrami to contain excess mess.) Cover and steam the pastrami over medium-low/low heat, adding water if necessary, until it reaches an internal temperature of 203 degrees, approximately 1 1/2-2 hours. 


Let rest on a cutting board for at least 10 minutes before thinly slicing against the grain.


Mazel Tov!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Superfood or Crazy Hairy Monster?

In the latest edition of Bon Appetit, they declared coconut as the next cult superfood, proclaiming "Coconut is the next quinoa." I have always loved coconut and decided to look into its health benefits. After perusing various sources, coconut is touted to increase energy, aid in weight loss, prevent infection from bacteria, viruses, and fungi, lower cholesterol, stabilize insulin, and even halt the symptoms of Alzheimer's. Wow! Sounds good, right? Maybe not. According to an article by the New York Daily News, "Coconut is bad for you." Gasp! The article also stated that coconut "is loaded with heart-damaging saturated fat, sugar and calories that hide behind its healthy, food co-op image." In addition, a dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic's Heart and Vascular Institute stated that she cautioned "patients with high cholesterol or a history of heart disease" not to even toy with coconuts at all. Aw...

At this age of what I consider mass dietary dysfunction, the key to anything is moderation. Good or bad, I will not give up my coconut! Why not try this lighter version of  "Spicy Thai Coconut Chicken Soup" from Cooking Light: The New Way to Cook Light. It is fresh, spicy, and quick! Serve it with steamed rice and sauteed sugar snap peas for a fantastic weeknight meal! Coconut ice cream would be the perfect ending!


Spicy Thai Coconut Chicken (or shrimp) Soup

Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
4 teaspoons minced, peeled fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (3-inch) stalk lemongrass, halved lengthwise and tied together with kitchen twine
2 teaspoons sambal oelek (ground fresh chile paste)
3 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth (if using shrimp, substitute seafood stock)
1 1/4 cups light coconut milk
4 teaspoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups shredded, cooked chicken (about 8 ounces) (can substitute cooked, peeled and deveined shrimp, if desired)
1/2 cup diagonally sliced green onions
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Directions:
Heat a dutch oven over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add mushrooms and next 4 ingredients (through lemongrass) to pan; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chile paste, and cook 1 minute. Add broth, milk, fish sauce, and sugar; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low; simmer 10 minutes. Add chicken to pan; cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated. Discard the lemongrass. Stir in onions, cilantro, and juice.