Leg of Lamb Sous Vide

The holidays? Bah Humbug!! I am so tired of the same old Turkey & another spiral cut ham just makes me want to take a vacation. Prime Rib? Okay, but not this year.

Actually this is how I felt at Thanksgiving as I was wandering around the meat department of Costco. When what to my wondering eyes did appear? A nice big boneless leg of lamb.

Ah, lamb, a little bit gamey and a big bit tasty. Home went the lamb and then I discovered it was just the two of us for Thanksgiving dinner. So, Porterhouse steaks won out. Off to the freezer marched the limping lamb (that’s what happens when the bone is gone).

Time has passed, the Morlocks have risen and fallen and another 25 or so days have passed. It’s time to plan Christmas dinner.

A couple of the kids and a grandchild will be present so we decide this will be a simple dinner. Not days in planning, endless hours in preparation and weeks of cleanup to look forward to.

Now, where did I put the leg of lamb?

Now I enjoy a little lamb with my garlic. Here I cut about 4 cloves into wedges.

Then I attack the beast with my steely knife, even although it was already dead.

I stabbed it many times and in each slit I stuffed a wedge of garlic.

Then I applied the rub. I used dry mustard powder, salt, pepper, rosemary and some sage. I ground it up and patted the lamb down with it.

Ah, how to roast it I ask?  I’m not going to roast it says I.  I am going to throw it in a pot of hot water for many, many hours.

Souse Vide to the rescue. That handy little water heater that maintains and almost exact temperature for a very long time. I tried to Sous Vide artichokes once and it was a disaster. The bags opened, the chokes floated and I ended up pressure cooking the mess.

I decided to double bag my lamb.  If you have a Food-Saver or other vacuum freezer toy you know that you insert bag till it trips the sealer into operation. So, after I sealed the bags, I trimmed down close to the seal and sealed once more, giving me 2 seals on the same bag.

The 5 1/2 pound leg fit perfectly in a 12 quart food service tub (or use any pot big enough to hold said lamb). Attach Sous Vide and add water to cover and circulate. A small cooler would also work well.

16 hours later and a water temp of 135 degrees (medium rare) the bagged lamb is removed and is ugly (wet rub all over it & not a nice roasted look at all).

Remove the elastic web and use the juices from the cooked lamb to rinse off the rub. I had about 1 cup of juice so I added another cup of balsamic vinegar, strained and reduced the sauce.

Now I take the time to check out what the better half has been doing. Francene found this great idea of cooking (or I should say roasting) sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts together. A little tossing with olive oil, butter, garlic, salt and pepper then roasted at 375 degrees for 25 minutes (or when tender and tasty). They were yummy. Even our Jack Russell & a guest Chihuahua gave their approval.

Retie the lamb, pour our balsamic vinegar-meat juice glaze over the lamb and roast for about 10 minutes at 425 degrees.

Time to serve. The meat doesn’t need to rest so it can be carved upon removing from the oven and gives us a perfect medium rare from edge to edge with an attractive crust.

Stormy, our daughter in law, added a great cornbread dressing and cabbage with bacon side to round out our Christmas Eve dinner. Clean up wasn’t much more that washing a few dishes and letting the dish washer clean 2 baking sheets and one cooling rack. It doesn’t get any better than this.


Re Heat, Don’t Re Cook

We have tried so many different ways to reheat a good piece of meat and yet not overcook it.

A couple of Christmases ago Francene gave me a Panini pan and Panini lid as a present. The difference between a ribbed pan and a Panini pan is the inside of the pan and lid has also been coated.

The secret is to reheat the meat the same way you would cook a Panini sandwich. You preheat the cast iron until it starts to smoke, then turn the heat off, lay the meat in the pan, and place the lid on top of the meat.

The cast iron will give out heat quickly, and the meat will be warmed but not raised above the original temperature; 129 degrees in this example. Let meat sit between the cast iron pan and lid for 4 to 5 minutes.

As you can see here, we still have a rare steak, as the crust has been toasted and dried out (the absorbed moisture from the meat while in storage has been removed).


Red Beans and Rice, Cajun Style

Cajun Red Beans and Rice, once a Sunday stable. Sunday was wash day, and chores day. It was easy to put on a pot of beans and throw in the ham bone from Saturday’s dinner. Red Beans and Rice is a meal, not a side dish and goes very well with a nice green salad.

You can use red kidney beans or red beans.  I prefer red beans. I also make a double batch and freeze a couple of quarts for a surprise meal down the road.

Here are 2 pounds of red beans that have soaked overnight. The soaking softens the beans as well as removing the sugars that cause flatulence.

The drawback to the traditional soaking is the loss of flavor.

If you choose to not presoak your beans, be prepared to add more liquid during the cook and to extend the cooking time.

Either way, sort through the beans to remove all floaters, and foreign stuff like twigs, sand etc.

The next step is to saute the onions, garlic and green onions.

One of the fastest ways to ruin the edge of your knife is to scrape the cutting board, here I use the back of the blade, maintaining the cutting edge.

The recipe I am following came from the Time-Life Foods of the World cookbooks dating back to the 1970’s. It should also be noted that this is a Cajun, not a Creole recipe.  Think of Cajun as country and Creole as city.

The recipe is located at the bottom

What prompted me to make this for dinner was a stop for a snack in Hubbard, Oregon, home of Voget Meats.  They make some of the best smoked sausages and smoked pork chops that have ever graced my table. In their showcase where these ham hocks and they they left with me, along with my beef stick.

about 20 minutes before the beans are finished, remove the hocks and let cool down, Strip off the meat and return the ham to the pot.

We served this with white rice and sprinkled a little green onion on top.

Earlier I mentioned that this was Cajun, not Creole. If it was prepared in a New Orleans restaurant then it would have been a fancier version, as there might be Andouilli Sausage, more peppers or additional hot, hot sauce.

Instead of the onions, the Holy Trinity would have been the base. Basil, sage, parsley would have added an additional layer of flavor. The list of changes could go on.

I feel if you want to really experience great Louisiana cooking you should start in the country and progress to the city.  I love it all, well maybe not Okra.

 

RED BEANS AND RICE
Serves 4-6

6 cups water
1 pound dried small red beans or 1 pound dried red kidney beans
4 Tbsp. butter
1 cup finely chopped scallions, including 3-inches of the green tops, divided use
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1 tsp. finely chopped garlic
4 cups water
1 (1 pound) smoked ham hock
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 cups freshly cooked long-grained rice (for serving)

In a heavy 3-4 quart saucepan, bring 6 cups water to a boil over high heat. Drop in the beans and boil briskly, uncovered, for 2 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let the beans soak for 1 hour. (Alternatively, you can soak the beans over night in water.) In either case, drain and rinse the beans in a sieve set over a large bowl. Set the beans aside.

Melt the butter in a heavy 4 or 5 quart casserole or stockpot. When the foam begins to subside, add 1/2 cup of the scallions, the onions and the garlic and, stirring frequently, cook for about 5 minutes, or until they are soft and translucent but not brown.

Stir in the beans and 4 cups water, the ham hocks, salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low and simmer partially covered for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until the beans are quite soft. Check the pot from time to time and, if the beans seem dry, add up to 1 cup more water, a few tablespoons at a time. During the last 30 minutes or so of cooking, stir frequently and mash some of the softest beans against the side of the pan to form a thick sauce for the remaining beans.

With tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the ham hocks to a plate. Cut the meat away from the bones and remove and discard the skin, fat and gristle. Cut the meat into 1/4-inch dice and return it to the beans.

Taste the beans for seasoning and serve at once, directly from a large heated tureen. Place the rice and remaining 1/2 cup of scallions in separate bowls and present them with the beans.

Note: In Louisiana, red beans and rice are traditionally made with a leftover ham bone and you may substitute a ham bone for the ham hocks in this recipe. Without trimming off the meat, cut the bone into 2 or 3 inch pieces with a hacksaw, so that the marrow inside the pieces will melt and flavor the beans. Add the pieces of bone to the soaked beans and water and pour in enough additional water to cover then completely. When the beans are cooked, remove the bones from the pot, trim off and dice the meat, and return it to the beans. Discard the bones.


Flat Iron Steak crusted with Drunken Hazelnuts

Flat Iron or Butler’s cut is an incredibly flavorful steak.  It can be a little on the tough side as it may have a gristly fascia membrane that can be removed.

Flat Iron steak is not the same as a flank steak.

Here I am using a 48 blade meat tenderizer. The stainless blades are very sharp and leave very clean cuts into the meat. I am not a fan of pounding meat to tenderize it. Pounding is best used to flatten a piece of meat, generally a chicken breast.

Here you can see the small cuts

I cut one direction on side A  and the opposite direction on side B.

For a coating, I will be using Hazelnuts that have been soaked for a week in vodka. The Hazelnuts can also be used in baking cookies, Christmas cake etc..

Why do I have drunken Hazelnuts? Well I made a Hazelnut liqueur and didn’t want to throw away $50 worth of Hazelnuts.

The coating consists of 1/2 cup nuts and 1/2 cup of our homemade seasoned croutons.

Egg wash the steak and then pat the Hazelnut and crouton mixture onto and into the steak.

I am a huge fan of cast iron and use it whenever I can. Here the coating is browned and then the cast iron skillet and steak are placed into a preheated 350 degree oven for about 12 minutes or until an internal temperature of 129 degrees has been reached.

Let rest next to a good red wine like our pictured Syrah. This doesn’t do anything to the steak but does help wet the appetites.

Slice across the grain and serve.

Served here with caramelized Brussels Sprouts and Broccoli and our bottle of Syrah.


Slow-cooked Chianti Beef Stew – Part 2

In part 1 we selected our beef, cut it into cubes, seasoned and then marinated it with a whole bottle of Chianti

After marinating the beef, I caramelized 2 yellow onions and 4 cloves of garlic. I wanted to extract the sugars and condense them. This is a sweet dish using only the natural sugars that exists in the onions, garlic and tomatoes. Burner was set to medium.

Remember my sun dried tomatoes? I chopped up about 3/4 cup of them and tossed in. Use a can of tomato paste otherwise.

I then added a pint of our canned tomatoes and Basil.

Transfer onions, tomatoes etc to a small mixing bowl and transfer about 25% of the drained beef into the Dutch oven and turn the heat to high. Transfer browned beef to another mixing bowl and repeat ’til all the beef has been seared.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the reserved Chianti to deglaze the Dutch oven. Scrape all the great flavors from the bottom and sides.

The beef was salt and peppered when I marinated it so the only seasoning to add now will be the herbs. I used a tablespoon of our Italian mix.

Place Dutch Oven in a 325 degree oven for 2 1/2 hours, check tenderness, remove when beef is tender. Different cuts take different times. This is one of those dishes that you prefer a stew cut because the longer the cook, the better the melding of flavors.

This is a stew cooked to the consistency  of a good chili, not thinned

Ready to serve? If you made our tomato and spinach pasta, this would be an excellent time to use it.  The added flavors of the pasta along side the Chianti and tomato beef go great together.

Of course a second bottle of Chianti would also go well with this dish.

Enjoy.

Slow-cooked Chianti Beef Stew – Part 1

This is more Greek than Italian,. Maybe if Odysseus had been lured by the wonderful smell of this stew he would not have had himself bound to the mast but would have succumbed to the Sirens. He may have never returned to Penelope.

I am a fan of good stew beef but sometimes a bargain comes along and you have to make do :-).

I lucked out and found on sale Choice Sirloin Petite steaks for $2.99 a pound. Of course you need to expect the hidden fat but that just adds to the flavor.

Assemble your tools, good cutting block, beef, a good slicer and of course a bottle of Chianti. Medium price works great. If you are thirsty, have a beer instead.

Cut steaks into 1 inch cubes trimming excess fat at the same time.

After cutting, weigh the remaining beef. I had 4 pounds 10 ounces so I separated out 2 pounds and froze for a good Astoria Stew.

 

I like to weight the trash so I know what to expect in the future. I also like to weight the meat being used as it will help me determine the amount of seasoning and herbs used.

Trash pickup was 3 hours ago, bag the garbage to keep the rodents away. After all there will be 7 days to attract them.

Now I use a gallon zip lock bag to marinate the stew in. Pour in the entire 750 ml bottle of Chianti or any other red blend you like, add 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.  Double bag and refrigerate for several hours. I prefer overnight.

Most of the time a recipe will call for 1/2 to 1 cup of red wine. We use an entire 750 ml bottle here.  Think of this as a Red Wine Stew instead of a Stew with Red Wine. There isn’t any comparison between the two. I would have still used the whole bottle if this was a normal 2lbs of beef stew.

Please go to Part 2 for the actual assembly of the stew.

 

Good nutrition and good food for Fido

As some of you know, we lost a member of the family to cancer about 3 weeks ago. Max was our Golden Retriever and died at the age of 9.

It was a surprise!  He started getting very picky about his kibble, as he would just walk away after 2/3 of a bag or so of a brand or flavor. In the end, he would eat a doctored up bowl (could be gravy, pieces of left over steak etc,) only to turn his nose up on it the second feeding.

The cancer was discovered in a lymph node on his rear leg, and at that point in time he was given 2 to 3 months to live and that was accurate.

I have lost pets to old age and careless drivers, but not to disease. This prompted me to start doing some investigating.

After reading many articles regarding pet health, the bottom line always seemed to come back to nutrition and exercise. Pretty much the same as us.

The more I looked into pet nutrition, I realized that we had just taken the easy route,  we believed what was on the labels.

We  were also guilty of the old wives’ tales, kibble over canned, canned over kibble.  Probably from the wives of kibble companies and canned dog food companies. From what I gathered, you would be doing well to mix the two.

Max has left us, but Molly, our Jack Russell is still here. Her diet has already been changed. She is being fed supplements and vitamins, not just some fish oil for her coat.

She is also getting table scraps, or I should say, select table scraps. Remember that old wives’ tale, People food is bad for dogs. It’s a lie. Probably started by dog food manufacturers.

The left overs, or scraps are saved and supplement her regular meals, they are not treats from the table.

But some people foods are bad, like onions and garlic are bad, and apples are bad because of the high sugar content. But carrots and green vegetables are good. Just cook at little more for Fido and add to their kibble, NO, don’t add, but substitute a portion of their kibble.

Above all, don’t take my word for it, I’m not a nutritionist, but there are knowledgeable people on the web willing to share a wealth of research and not have a product they are trying to sell.

Here are a couple of sites to go to.

dog food ten scary truths

Dog Food Adviser

Kibble, chews and all that green stuff will not clean your dog’s teeth, Francene has brushed Max’s and Molly’s teeth on a weekly basis for the past year. We should have been brushing their teeth from the beginning, but we are learning as we go.

Do I think the dog food was the cause of Max’s cancer?  Well, I sure think it contributed to it. I do NOT believe our dogs’ nutritional needs were met because we believed the drivel written on the packaging.

Please do not believe that the high cost of designer foods are a guarantee of quality. There isn’t government guidelines that need to be followed and there isn’t any mandatory testing required.

There are bags and cans of good quality, medium quality and down right bad food available. Do some research, don’t rely on the labels and pay attention to your pet, you don’t need a vet to tell you something is wrong with Fido, they will do that themselves, you need the vet to tell you what is wrong.

Bottom line is if you love Fido, then take control of their diet instead of being at the mercy of the marketing departments.

Finally, why do we think they will be healthy and strong without exercise. Lying around eating bon bons doesn’t work for us, so why will it work for them?

 

Cranberry and Orange Scones to compliment that first cup of Coffee

Francene and I were picking up a few items at our local market and there was a package of Cranberry-Orange Scones on the marked down table. They looked great and we hadn’t eaten so they looked even better.

A summit conference was held in the aisle and we decided that nice bowl of soup when we got home would be a better choice, and then we could make our own scones.

Now the problem with making your own baked goods is that there is only the 2 of us, Molly, the Jack Russell doesn’t count here.

We found a few good recipes, and the one that sounded the best was from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa.  We especially liked the comments section where one Einstein said the recipe makes too many scones (16), so make the recipe, shape, mold and otherwise prepare everything for baking, then freeze most of them to be baked at a later date.

Duh, why couldn’t I have thought of that.

Ina Garten’s recipe is here.

When I bake I always rely on a recipe. To me, cooking is an art form and baking is a science. This means there is less room for error and substitutions, so I generally get everything out and measured before I start. It is better to stop and go to the store before the mixing begins.

Scones have a heavy yet flaky texture, and this is due more to the way the butter is added and mixed then most anything else.

The butter needs to be chilled and cubed, then mixed at slow speed until the butter has partially blended. There should be pea sized chunks in the dry mixture.

When you add the wet mixture, do so on the quicker side and mix at the lowest speed until just blended. Do not over mix or you will end up with biscuits instead of scones.

In addition to Ina’s recipe I increased the cranberry’s another 1/2 cup and added 1/2 cup coarse chopped pecans. I didn’t have a nice 3 inch cutter so I shaped three 7 inch circles and one 8 inch circle, then divided them into 4ths.

I then did an egg wash with the orange juice added and sprinkled some raw sugar on top so the glaze would occur during baking.

Before baking, I wrapped three of the rounds and put in the freezer, we sure didn’t need 16 scones beckoning to us at one time.

After baking at 400 degree for probably 22 minutes, the round was removed from the oven and left to cool, the 4 sections then pulled apart.

The rest of the rounds will be separated before baking as the first method left the center of the round or the end of each scone 3/4 baked. Not raw dough, but not evenly baked either.

The final verdict:  Easier to buy at the store, but taste better when you do them yourself. They where great with the first cup of coffee.

Citrus Chicken Tajine

Write an article about Tajine and suddenly you have make it. Francene cooked  this citrus chicken version and it was a delight.

Francene has a couple of Moroccan cookbooks and this recipe came from 150 best tagine recipes by Pat Crocker. (tajine / tagine both are acceptable)

Citrus Chicken Tagine – page 64

• Medium tagine

  • 1 piece (1 inch/2.5 cm) fresh ginger root
  • 1 piece (1 inch/2.5 cm) fresh turmeric or 1 tbsp (15 mL) ground turmeric
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp avocado or olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 piece (2 inches/5 cm) cinnamon stick, 1 crushed fine
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 4 bone-in chicken pieces with skin (about 1 1/2 lbs/750 g)
  • 1 orange, sectioned
  • 1/2 cup whole dates
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice or orange flower water
  • 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp Pomegranate Molasses or store-bought or liquid honey
  • 1/4 cup blanched almonds

1. In a mortar (using a pestle), smash ginger, turmeric and garlic. Pound and grind until a paste is achieved. Or, using a small food processor, blend ginger, turmeric and garlic into a paste.

2. In the bottom of a flameproof tagine, heat oil and melt butter over medium heat. Add spice paste, cinnamon and cumin and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes or until paste is lightly colored. Add chicken and toss to coat in the spices. Cook, turning frequently, for about 7 minutes or until chicken is browned on both sides.

3. Using tongs, turn chicken so that the skin is up. Tuck orange sections and dates around chicken. Stir in orange juice, lemon juice and molasses and bring to a boil. Cover with tagine lid, reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes or until chicken juices run clear for thighs and is no longer pink inside for breasts. Garnish with almonds.

A very easy recipe to follow and the kitchen aromas are just wonderful.

We had a six pack of chicken legs in the freezer and used them. On hindsight, I would not use legs, maybe bone in thighs or breasts cut into thirds. This isn’t finger food unless you enjoy yellow cuticles for a week. The turmeric will color and stain very easily.

We served the chicken tagine with a side of zucchini and a delightful tomato and cucumber salad.

We made the dough, now what do we do with it?

We got our hands sticky, we did something different, we made pasta dough. Not just any pasta dough but dough that has sun dried tomatoes and spinach blended into it. 

Working with dough is pretty straight forward, nothing about it should be intimating. First thing I do after setting up my Kitchen Aid mixer and attaching the pasta roller attachment is to get my floured work surface set up.

I then split the single batch of dough into thirds.

Set the roller to 0, the largest opening and the mixer to slow, start running your ball of dough through it. Leave the roller at 0 until you have a consistent and smooth  ribbon of dough.

You may have to add a little more flour if the dough is sticky or spray a mist of water onto the dough if it is to dry and crumbly.  This just takes practice to get the hang of it.

Now start feeding the dough through the roller  and close the gap as well. I usually skip a number each time. 0, 2, 4, 6 the 7. You would stop before seven for lasagna dough, etc. I like my spaghetti like angel hair.

This is harder to do with a dough that has had anything like tomato or spinach added to it. The additional vegetable infusion makes the dough less elastic than plain pasta dough would be.

When you have your desired thickness attach the pasta cutter of choice, here I have the spaghetti cutter attached. On slow speed feed the pasta ribbons you made through the cutter and then hang to dry. Here I use a pasta drying rack, very expensive and folds up flat for storage.

Store your fresh pasta in the refrigerator, It’s hasn’t dried to the commercial pasta level and will mold if sealed in an airtight container and left or stored at room temperatures.

Fresh pasta will cook in just 2 to 3 minutes, not the 20 for dried pasta.

 

Here is our homemade pasta served in a quick marinara made with our own canned tomatoes and homemade meatballs. I got a little messy with the Parmigiano Reggiano