Tender lamb bits

Lamb is my favorite red meat, so I was happy to bring home a pound of meat left over from a lamb-frenching marathon at work. Frenching involves removing the meat and fat that connect each of the ribs on a rack of lamb, leaving a clean, curved bone extending into the succulent little chop. Once the rib meat is removed, the bones must be scraped clean of any remaining fat or tendon; a tedious process. But the first step, cutting down between the ribs to the chop and then cutting across to release the meat, yields a lovely rectangular morsel of meat. Restaurants often discard them, but why let that happen?  I greedily collected the scraps to take with me.  On the way home, I thought of making a tagine ala Paula Wolfert, seasoned with an intoxicating mix of ginger, saffron and cinnamon, but the shopping list and 4 hour cooking time seemed like too much of a task at the time. I scrounged around in the fridge and found some root vegetables and a bunch of swiss chard.  Lentils also seemed like a good idea, and so the following dish came together rather quickly.

If you are friendly with a butcher, you could ask what they do with the rib meat after frenching lamb racks. Who knows, you might just end up with a good source for tender lamb bits. Lamb shoulder could work too. You could use faro instead of lentils; parsnips or rutabagas, too. Try adding some lima beans. You could add pinches of spice like cumin and ancho chile, or cinnamon, ginger and tumeric. But salt and pepper bring out the flavors of each ingredient, and if the ingredients are good you can let them speak for themselves. The main thing is to develop flavor by searing the meat and cooking the vegetables in the fat, so if the lamb is lean, add a little oil to the pan to make up for the loss of fat.  Or, if lamb fat is not your thing, drain off the fat after searing, and then add oil or chicken broth to cook the vegetables.   Not quite as transporting as a Wolfert tagine, but the flavors and textures are simple and satisfying in their own right.

Quick Stew of Lamb, Root Vegetables and Lentils

1- 2 pounds lamb meat, cut into bite sizes

2-3 carrots, peeled and cubed

2-3 small turnips, peeled and cubed

1/2 celery root, peeled and cubed

1 bunch swiss chard, torn or chopped into bite-sized pieces.

1/2 cup uncooked lentils

bay leaf, a few branches of thyme (optional)

2 cups water or chicken broth

salt and pepper

Liberally salt the lamb, and place it in a hot, shallow pan over medium-high heat. Sear the meat until it starts rendering its fat,  then add the root vegetables.

Continue cooking, stirring occasionally and draining off excess fat if necessary, until the vegetables are browned to your satisfaction.

Meanwhile, cook the lentils with herbs (if using) in water or broth until soft but still firm, about 10-15 minutes.

Then, toss the chopped chard into the pan with the meat and  vegetables and toss to wilt.

Finally, add the lentils and continue to let the chard wilt.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

Serves 4.

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Cheese that burger!

Cheese Bitch, circa 2010

I’m at a catering event: 1000 for a company picnic under a canopy in a freezing rain.  I’m working with two other cooks – one shaved, muscled and tattooed, the other pudgy and petulant, with a curly red beard.  They are flipping burgers; I have been told to “cheese” them and place them in hotel pans for servers to run to the chaffers. Of the available tasks, I don’t mind this one; it keeps me out of the smoke that burns my eyes and makes my nose run. At my side is a server, a short kid with a crew cut and weight-lifter’s chest.  He leans to one side, keeping time to the Jimmy Buffet tribute band with his tongs. “Cheese those burgers!” he snaps at me intermittently, pointing his tongs in my direction while I dart around him applying cheese and removing burgers at the moment of optimal cheese melt, which is indicated to me by the flick of Red Beard’s tongs.  “Here you go,” I say, handing him a hotel pan to run to the hotbox.  This is his job; I can see he resents it.  He wants to be a cook, but he’s only interested in feeding his ego. I’m glad for his runs to the hotbox, but here he comes again, dashing back, tongs at the ready.

Dad’s burgers, circa 1965

My father grilled in the backyard for family and company wearing loud golf pants and white shoes.  Everyone loved his burgers, which were juicy and contained hidden treasures of melted cheese in the middle.   For condiments we had bottled Heinz Catsup, yellow mustard, sliced tomatoes, and lettuce he crisped by rinsing and then whirling above his head in a pillowcase, to be stored on the bottom shelf of the fridge the night before the cook-out.

I’ve updated the recipe with instructions from Los Angeles foodie guru Nancy Silverton and Joyce Goldstein‘s recipe for a spicy tomato jam, but nothing will ever match the memory of those burgers of Dad’s, with their rare juices mingling with the crunch of lettuce and bun and the surprising tang of melted cheddar, all ready to run down my chin and hands to my elbows.

Silverton advises asking the butcher to coarsely grind 2 3/4 pounds of prime chuck (10% to 15% fat) with 4 to 6 ounces of prime sirloin fat (the combination should have 20% to 28% fat total). Also, try not to pound, knead or squeeze the meat when you form the patties – the less handling, the better. Of course, use the best beef, hamburger buns and cheese you can find or afford.

For six burgers:

3 lbs ground beef (see note above)

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (optional)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Combine meat, Worcestershire, salt and pepper in medium bowl; blend well. Divide meat mixture into 6 portions and shape each into ball. Poke deep hole in each ball and fill each with a portion of grated cheese. Mold meat around cheese to enclose, and then shape each burger to a 2 inch thick, 4 inch diameter patty.

Grill burgers to desired doneness, about 5 minutes per side for medium. Meanwhile, brush olive oil or butter onto the hamburger buns, place face down on the grill. Grill until they beginning to color, about 1 minute per side.

Morrocan-inspired Spicy Tomato Jam

This is a popular recipe from Joyce Goldstein’s Back To Square One, perfect for making use of a late summer abundance of cherry tomatoes from the backyard or farmer’s market.  It goes well with burgers; but also with lamb kabobs, grilled tuna or white fish, on crostini with a bit of goat cheese, or simply spread on a warm biscuit. It keeps in the fridge for a long time, so you can pull some out to serve as a condiment for a roasted chicken or loin roast when the weather turns cold.  If you have a mandoline, use it to slice the ginger and the lemons.  Otherwise, slice as paper thin as possible.

Serve warm or at room temperature.  Yield -4-5 pints

1/2 pound fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced thin across the grain

1 cup cider vinegar

2 quarts cherry tomatoes, washed and stemmed ( 4 pint containers)

2 cups brown sugar

2 cups granulated white sugar

2 large juicy lemons, sliced thin, then cut slices cut into eighths

3/4 cup water

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 tablespoon ground toasted cumin seed

1 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a food processor or blender, grind the ginger and spices with the vinegar. Put into a deep heavy saucepan along with the cherry tomatoes, the sugars, the sliced lemons and the water. Bring to a boil and cook over high heat for about 15 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and cook the mixture until it is thick. Stir often to prevent scorching. Season with more salt to taste.

Pack in sterilized canning jars and process 15 minutes in hot water bath, or put in containers and store in the refrigerator. Can keep for up to a year in the refrigerator, and up to 4 years in canning jars.

© Susan Arick and Locaovre’s Progress, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Arick and Locavore’s Progress with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Content not the author’s own has been credited to the original author, and falls under that author’s copyright.

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Avocado

I first landed in Los Angeles on a warm hazy day.  I was 19, accompanying my father on a business trip, and sheltered by a middle class suburban background and a penchant for daydreaming. I didn’t much care for the place: I was bewildered by the ribbons of freeway lined with palms; the tall, glassy, impenetrable buildings; and the sun-bleached streets framed by featureless strip malls but devoid of people.  While my dad attended meetings downtown I tried to explore, but the bus routes were poor, and it took me over an hour to travel by bus to any destination suggested to me by the smiling blond hotel concierge. The vegetable stands and food stalls  at the Farmers Market on Fairfax failed to intrigue me.  I was similarly bored by Universal Studios, which featured as its highlight the set of Ironsides; a tiny two-walled wedge-shaped office that showcased the ingenuity of Hollywood. Within a week, I was on a bus to Santa Barbara, to visit a friend from high school.

When I first set my eyes on Santa Barbara, my heart burst like an overripe fruit. It was, as they say, a Chamber of Commerce day, and in Santa Barbara, that counts for a lot. I had never seen such a beautiful place before: sun dancing on the water on my left, the mountains blue-green and illuminated by light to my right. Picturesque white washed buildings with red tile roofs dotted the landscape, the air was fresh and salty sweet; it was a lot for a girl from the flat lands of the Midwest to take in.  Within a week, I had a job silk-screening T-shirts and a place to live within walking distance of the beach in a narrow two-story townhouse set at the back of a tiny courtyard rampant with bougainvilleas and sticky birds of paradise. It had hard wood floors, sloped stucco walls and original tile in the kitchen and bath, and it cost $250 a month.  It is still there, even if little else of the Santa Barbara I once loved is.

In my backyard there was an avocado tree.  I’d never seen, let alone tasted, an avocado before.  Like my first taste of sushi some weeks later, it was love at first bite.  I spent a whole summer eating those avocados, along with date bars from the Sunburst Farms store down the street and French fries from the corner burger stand.

Since that time, I’ve seldom spent a week without having a few avocados scattered on the kitchen counter waiting for my consumption.  I like them with a bit of salt and lime juice, served with chips, a beer or a smoky anejo tequila. I like to smash and then  toss them with chopped red onion and tomato, along with a dice of fresh hot chili and the above mentioned salt and lime.  I eat them like butter on a piece of toast, or straight out of the shell over the sink.  When I moved to London, I brought a couple of avocados as a gift to my mother-in-law who mixed them with tiny frozen shrimp and mayonnaise, a dish I did not care for.  And when I finally moved to Los Angeles some 15 years later, I ate almost every day a sandwich of grilled bread, mashed and salted avocado, melted cheddar or goat cheese, and sliced tomato- my version of comfort food in a city that bewildered me with its spacial aloofness and police helicopters swarming low overhead.

Avocado Cream Pie

In Santa Barbara, my signature potluck dish was an avocado cream pie; essentially a custard made with evaporated milk, a layer of bananas at the bottom and a graham cracker crust. Sometimes the custard set and other times it did not – I remember hiking up a winding drive to a party thrown by a married lover, my stomach tied in knots and my mind racing with curiosity while the barely set filling of my pie sloshed down the sides of the pie plate and onto the front of my carefully chosen white peasant skirt.  I also baked it for friends of mine as a present to welcome them home after a month long trip to Japan.  I’d had the run of their cheerfully ramshackle house and large overgrown garden all to myself that month, the solitude being a particular luxury to me at the time.  Upon their return I presented them proudly with the pie only to be reminded of something I’d known when they left: Cris was allergic to bananas, and Keith hated avocados.

Today I am fighting an overwhelming homesickness for the city I once disdained, along with a sense of bewilderment about having landed back in the flat Midwest, in a town I once said goodbye to for good and forever. I stand at the kitchen window, looking out at the carefully manicured garden and broad suburban lawn. I am eating an avocado from the shell with a spoon. I found a good source at a market here – $1.00 a piece and all the way from California.  It is perfectly ripe, with a buttery mouth feel.   I taste the fruit’s subtle nuttiness on my tongue and watch as the sun peers out briefly from a mostly grey sky.

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My recipe for avocado banana pie is long lost, but this comes closest to my memory of it; found on a website called What’s Cooking America . Some toasted and chopped pecans or walnuts would be a nice garnish on top.

Avocado Pie

1 (9-inch) prepared Graham Cracker Pie Crust (store-bought or homemade)

1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice

1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1 envelope unflavored gelatin

3 medium-size very ripe Hass avocados, mashed

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup sour cream

Refrigerate graham cracker crust until well chilled.

In a small bowl, combine lime juice, lemon juice, and unflavored gelatin; let stand 4 to 5 minutes or until softened / proofed.

In a large bowl or food processor, combine gelatin mixture, mashed avocados, and sweetened condensed milk. Pour mixture into prepared graham cracker pie crust.

Refrigerate at least 2 hours or until the filling is firm.

In a small bowl, whip heavy cream and sour cream together until stiff peaks form. Serve pie topped with prepared whipped cream mixture.

Makes 8 servings.

Sweet Corn Soup with Avocado Cream and Cilantro

This is a decidedly more sophisticated offering using avocado; the corn soup tastes rich though it contains no cream. It can be found in one of my favorite chef’s books, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin.  Indiana has amazing sweet corn; use the freshest, juiciest corn you can find and enjoy this taste of Indian Summer!

4T unsalted butter

1 cup diced peeled yukon gold potatoes (1/4″ cubes)

1/2 chile de arbol

1 1/2 cups diced yellow onion

1 T fresh thyme leaves

4 cups fresh corn

6 sprigs cilantro plus 18 cilantro leaves for garnish

1/2 jalapeno, seeded

1/2 large ripe avocado

1/3 cup creme fraiche

1/2 tsp lime juice

salt and pepper

In a large saucepan, melt butter until it foams, then saute potato, onion, thyme and chile over low heat for about 10 minutes,until onion is translucent and the potatoes release their starch and appear creamy.

Turn the heat to high, then add corn cilantro sprigs, jalapeno, 1 1/2 tsp salt and some pepper.

Stir to coat corn in the mixture, pour in 10 cups of water and bring to a boil.

Turn the heat down, simmer on low about 30 minutes until the corn and potatoes are tender, but not mushy.

Meanwhile, puree the avocado and creme fraiche in a food processor until smooth.  Season to taste with lime juice, salt and pepper.

Push the soup through a sieve over a large bowl, removing the chile.  Puree the corn mixture in batches on low speed in a blender.  Pour in one cup of liquid.  Turn speed to high and pour in more liquid, a little at the time, until the the soup has the consistency of cream.   Blend until soup is smooth, at least 1 minute.

To serve, ladle soup into bowls and serve with a dollop of avocado cream and a scattering of cilantro. Or, place the soup in a tureen and scatter the cilantro leaves over the top, serving the avocado cream on the side.

© Susan Arick and Locaovre’s Progress, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Arick and Locavore’s Progress with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Content not the author’s own has been credited to the original author, and falls under that author’s copyright.

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