Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Confession Wednesday- Sharing, or Not

I have always frowned upon restaurants, chefs, friends who won’t share a recipe. My perspective was that it doesn’t matter if you give me the recipe for the Frico Caldo, I will still come into your restaurant and order it for a whole variety of reasons ranging from my technique never being as good as yours to just sheer laziness. I never really believed in “secret” ingredients or family recipes that cannot be shared.

The confession…I am now one of those…. I cannot share my granola recipe. I can’t! At least not yet. I didn’t even know I couldn’t until I tried to write it and realized that, while I had the ingredients and quantities list ready, what I didn’t have was the willingness to share it! The whole “don’t do onto others…” doesn’t apply to this one time offense of not sharing…

Here’s the granola story…About a year and a half ago I took a trip to D.C. with a good friend- just us two. I felt it would be appropriate to bring something home to the husband but, long story short, there wasn’t much time for shopping. We found ourselves sipping coffee and eating cupcakes at Baked and Wired in Georgetown when I stumbled upon an easy, seemingly tasty, and convenient gift- an appealing bag of granola. I bought it.

When the husband sampled it back home, I took a bite, then another…and then another. I am not a fan of cereal—of any kind- not hot, not dry, not with milk, not with yogurt, in no shape or form. I didn’t grow up with it- I could have lived without it for the rest of my life and not miss it once- until the first bite of that granola. It was enthralling. I could not stop eating it and soon enough (no, not in one sitting, but soon!) we finished the bag.

A few weeks later another friend was traveling to D.C.. I begged for another bag (or two) of that granola. She brought it and it was as good as I remembered it. And we finished it just as fast. There was something we couldn’t deal with- we loved this granola, we could not order it online, and although I tried numerous other locally available varieties nothing came remotely close.

I had to make it. I had no recipe, no ingredient list, not even some leftover samples to guide the process. I knew the base- oats. I loved the texture-lots of slivered almonds. A keynote flavor was obvious- coconut- I got flakes. I remembered pecans and decided to sliver them the same way as the almonds (this was a process!).

I looked up some granola recipes and began improvising in a range of ways and with different quantities variations of - butter, brown sugar, Mexican vanilla, maple syrup, honey, and the like. At the end, I always added some dried fruit- sour dried cherries and apple juice sweetened cranberries being most notable.

It was good. It was better than anything we could buy and seemed very close to what we had from D.C.. I made it for over a year- probably about once a month- a huge batch and a whole night of slaving over it and winging the recipe. The husband would devour it and would use it for breakfast, dessert after dinner, and at times in lieu of lunch. It almost bothered me that he liked it so much.

Two weeks ago, another friend was in D.C.. I wanted the granola. He didn’t have time to get it. I called and they generously offered to mail me three bags. Heaven! I could refresh my memory, recreate the recipe, enjoy the granola without actually working on it for a change. The excitement grew when I got it in the mail.

And, predictably, we started going through each bag with amazing speed. By the time I considered recreating the recipe, there was a mere half a bag left. I had to start before we ate it all.

Deconstructing was fun. I took one big scoop out onto a plate then spent a bit of nerd time separating the ingredients.

I wanted to get the proportions right. Took a peek at the plate and the ingredient list- different than my homemade granola.

The original had more moisture, less ingredients, more almonds, fewer pecans, tiny pieces of coconut, some currants, few apricots, and OIL! Canola oil.

I had everything I needed ready so I spent the better part of a snow day at home experimenting with proportions for moisture, chopping down pecans and coconut flakes for texture, using olive oil or canola oil or butter for flavor, and varying the temperature and time of baking for crispness and color. It wasn’t the first time making the granola but it was the first time I put a LOT of thought into the variations, and the first time I wrote down what I did.

At the end of the day I had several variations of the granola ready for tasting. I put them in identical containers, numbered the bottom to know which one is which, and was ready to challenge my husband’s taste buds. The closest to the original was the one I used canola oil in, of course. The butter kind had a very rich caramel-like flavor- that’s what happens when you heat butter and sugar or sugar substitutes, I guess. The winner was the olive oil and that is how my own granola recipe was born…the one I can’t share today.

But my lack of generosity with the recipe shouldn’t preclude you from enjoying my granola.

In anticipation of Easter, let’s adopt the Christian concept of ask and you shall receive. If you want to be an official granola taster- leave a comment, make sure I have a contact email, and I’ll be sure to get you a sample!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Be patient with the animal...

Was I just talking about expectations last week? I should have also mentioned that (1) the concept of patience is a little problematic for me and (2) sometimes I simply refuse to learn my lesson!

If you read this blog before (or if you just happen to know me), you know that I spend inordinate hours cooking. I love it—most of the time. Those hours have nothing to do with me being patient. No, no, no. I am not patient. I want instant gratification, immediate response, instantaneous replies. That is what I naturally expect.

I imagined that age, a law degree, and a toddler, would allow me to develop this weak muscle- the patience muscle. I suppose you have to have one to be able to “develop” it. What gets me through many hours in the kitchen is not patience. It is unadulterated love for cooking and some serious perseverance, being goal oriented and excited about the final product. And when I do need patience in the kitchen I replace it with setting clear expectations.

As for not learning my lesson, I do this with people as much as I do it with cooking. I excuse, give second chances (and third and fourth ones), find explanations, blame myself, regroup, and try again. Most of the time, this works, except when I simply cannot let go of a relationship I feel is important to me or when I have to clean up fat, gristle, connective tissue, and silver skin from lamb meat! That little animal has stubborn stubborn fat and tissue!

Leg of Lamb- Bouchon-style!

Get yourself a leg of lamb a day before you plan to eat it. 5 and a half to 6 lbs deboned. Test your butcher’s knowledge by asking him to debone it into actual traditional leg cuts- if it is a short leg of lamb (most are) then you will ask for the top round, bottom round, and knuckle. For a long leg, you will also get a sirloin. My trusted and very knowledgeable butcher called me up to clarify what I meant when I called my order in. If you get a confused face and response from your butcher, don’t be shocked. Ok, you have the leg.

Now the part where you need the patience or at least where I can try to set some reasonable expectations for you- cleaning it up. You need to remove fat, silver skin, and connective tissue from the lamb leg. There is A LOT of this. Probably there was almost a pound out of six and a half for mine. The process is tedious, dull, and seemingly useless. It is irritating and makes you feel unproductive. I nearly lost it!

There is a point to this though, of course. The method of cooking is not hours upon hours in the oven like some leg of lamb recipes. It is rather a pan sear and a much quicker roast yielding a perfectly cooked tender and very flavorful piece of meat. So do it, be patient with the animal and know that you are not crazy feeling frustrated with the process.

Great! Now you should have your individual parts of the lamb cleaned and separated. If you broke them into smaller chunks to remove all of that stuff, that is fine! I did too and it turned out great.

Lightly score the top of each individual cut with the tip of a sharp knife. This will allow the marinade to permeate the meat. Season each side of the meat fresh ground pepper (not salt!!!) then with a tablespoon or so of the delicious marinade below.


Well, the marinade is a little more complicated than a couple of things you have in the fridge combined. Or who knows, maybe you have some garlic confit laying around in the fridge. I did. For this marinade you need garlic confit- about 8 large cloves and ½ cup of the garlic confit oil. You will also need 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme leaves.

You put all of this in a blender or food processor and pulse for a few seconds- allow it to have some texture not to be a total puree.

Garlic Confit

Ingredients: 1 cup peeled garlic cloves and 2 cups canola oil.

Cut off the root ends of the garlic cloves and discard. Place the cloves small pan and add enough oil to cover them by about one inch. The garlic should all be submerged in oil. Place the saucepan over low-medium heat (use a diffuser if you have gas stove and some extra attention if you have an electric stove).

The garlic should cook gently- small bubbles that do not break at the surface. Adjust the heat if needed and stir about every 5 minutes for a total of 40 minutes or until the garlic is completely tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Allow to cool in the oil and store in an airtight container.

This holds in your refrigerator if covered in oil up to one month. It is a fantastic building block for salad dressings, mashed potatoes, marinades, or as a nice simple spread on a baguette.

Back to the lamb…you rubbed it with fresh pepper and the marinade. Cover, refrigerate, wait at least 6 hours or up to a day.

Additional Ingredients: canola oil, 1 tablespoon butter, 8 sprigs of thyme, 12 garlic cloves peeled,

plus 1 cup lamb jus! And some kitchen twine.

When you are ready to cook it, preheat the over to 325ºF.

With kitchen twine, tie each piece of meat into a compact roll- start at the center or widest area of the meat an continue to tie pieces at 1 inch intervals around each roast. I had no actual clue how to do this and have never done it before. It was almost an exercise in weaving. I liked it.

You want to keep the meat tied securely to ensure a uniform roast but don’t tie it too firmly – it will cut into the meat.

Season each roast generally with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.

In an ovenproof skillet, pour a bit of canola oil and heat until hot. You don’t want to crowd the meat so you might need to cook this in batches. Add the lamb to the skillet and sauté gently rolling around the meat in the pan to brown it evenly on all sides- 3 to 4 minutes.

If you are doing several batches, cook each piece of meat. When you are done, add the butter, thyme, garlic and return all the meat to the pan. Saute for another couple of minutes basting the meat with the oil and melted butter.

Transfer the skillet with the meat to the oven. Each piece of meat will cook in a different amount of time. Carefully check with an instant read thermometer!

[side note- I got one of these yesterday. I am so in love!]

The sirloin, if you have it, will cook the quickest and could be ready after 7 minutes. Start checking on it. The bottom and knuckle will take 20-25 minutes and the top round about 30 minutes. All in all, the purpose is internal temperature that is about 125ºF to 130ºF for medium rare.

Remove it from the oven. Shhhh! Allow the lamb to rest for 15 minutes in a warm place. Remove and discard the twine. Slice it and arrange the desired portion on plates giving a sampling of the different cuts.

Ladle some of the jus over the lamb and onto the plate and garnish with a sprinkle of fleur de sel or just kosher salt and a sprig of the cooked thyme.

I made this tonight for Passover. It was a hit. Such a hit that I failed to take pictures of the final product.

Happy Spring!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Is it spring yet?

I am ready for spring. Really. I am sick of the emotional roller coaster of sun, storms, snow, more sun, spring flowers, snow days, etc. I just need some stability in my weather patters.

Weather patterns aside, not long ago, life used to be more spontaneous- less planning, less preparation, more spur of the moment everything. That changed drastically in recent years maybe because I like a little more predictability, maybe because I realized that I expect certain things and they can only occur if I plan them, maybe I am just getting old and cranky.

Actually planning what to cook, reading through recipes, getting myself in the right mindset for some crazy production that yields two portions is both fun and much needed. Some recipes have become month long projects just because, say, one of the ingredients needs to pickle for 4 weeks or so. Others require some ingredient that I need to order from a different state. All for a good cause though- it makes me happy.

But that’s not what this is about today. Today is about spring and planning a beautiful spring meal. Nothing says spring like a nice leg of lamb! And nothing says crazy cooking obsessions like making a lamb jus for that nice leg of lamb.

So here is a preview of a few things to come- today, lamb jus recipe. Monday, leg of lamb recipe. Later in the week, flageolets as a side dish (they are beautiful, delicate, and so full of flavor). All adapted from the Bouchon cookbook.

Lamb Jus

Ingredients: 2 tablespoons canola oil; 5 lbs lamb bones; 2 small yellow onions peeled (1 cut into quarters, one cut in half – you will reserve one half of this one for another use); 1 large carrot (3oz) peeled and cut into 4 pieces; 1 large leek (3 oz), roots trimmed, split lengthwise, rinsed well (no dirt!), cut into 2 inch pieces; 4 large Italian parsley springs; 4 thyme springs; 3-4 bay leaves; ¼ teaspoon black peppercorns; ½ head of garlic (take a whole one and split horizontally- don’t throw away the other half- reserve for another use).

Preheat your oven to 450 º F.

Place a large roasting pan in the oven and preheat it for 10 min. I personally have a decent size roasting pan and needed 2 pans to fit the bones in a single layer and allow a nice roasting/browning.

Take the hot pan(s) out. Spread canola oil in the pan (s) and spread the soup bones in a single layer. About 25 minutes later, look in and turn the bones that are well browned. Turn the rest of them when they are well browned. Total roasting time: 40 minutes.

While the bones are roasting, char that half of the onion. Heat a small heavy skillet over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. No oil! Place the cut onion cut-side down in the pan to the side (not directly over high heat if you can help it- meaning, if you have a gas stove) and let it brown then char black for about 30 min.

You may need to adjust the heat down if you are not working with a gas stove. You want the onion to get really charred black, but that needs to happen slowly. The charred onion will add great color to the jus. Take it out of the pan and set it aside.

After 40 or so minutes of roasting the bones, take the pan out and add the quartered onions and carrot to the roasting pan. Roast together for another 20 minutes.

Remove the bones and the veggies into a colander to drain the fat and place them in a large stockpot. Cover them with cold water- probably about 3-4 quarts. Fat will rise to the top when you add cold water- remove it and any impurities with a skimmer.

Drain the fat out of the pan. Add about 1 cup hot water to your pan and scrape the bottom of the pan to release the pan juices. Add the resulting juices to the stockpot.

Add your charred onion and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Skim impurities. After about 15 minutes of simmering, add the rest of the ingredients (leek, garlic, parsley, thyme, peppercorns, bay leaf).

Simmer for about 3 hours. Skim periodically. The water might reduce below the level of the bones- don’t add water.

Remove the bones (yes they go in the trash, unless you have a better idea for them). Strain, strain, strain. Chinois, fine mesh sieve, fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth- you choose, but do strain at least twice. And, as Keller suggests, ladling the liquid out instead of pouring keeps the stock sediments at the bottom and makes for a more clear, less cloudy final produce.

Refrigerate and allow it to cool completely. Remove the fat that will form at the top. Return to a pot and reduce by about half until you have only 4 cups. Strain once more an you are done! It should be colored brown, caramel-like and look deep infused with flavors, but clear of impurities.

The jus should last in your fridge for 3 days or can be frozen for longer periods. The leg of lamb recipe calls for one cup, so you will have 3 extra ones for other purposes or more leg of lamb!

Happy Spring!