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.


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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.


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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.


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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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No Mom, no, please don’t make me eat Brussels Sprouts

Okay, to the point. Every child hates having to eat those over boiled, mushy Brussels sprouts. They are tasteless and just not at all appealing.  Golly, this sounds like a lot of vegetables our parents cooked for us.

Francene hates boiled Brussels sprouts, I have a close friend that hates boiled asparagus, put these foods on serving plates and the skip right over them.

Francene’s son told her that he loved Brussels sprouts, but not boiled, roasted. Roasted till some of the leaves actually turned black.  So she tried sauteing them with, cut in half, a little EVO. salt and pepper. It’s one of her favorite vegetables now.

That friend and asparagus, bbq asparagus that is, loves those skinny little stalks now. A little EVO, salt and pepper, then placed on a hot grill right after the steaks have been removed. Cook until dark grill marks appear and the asparagus spears are a delight to eat.

What made these often avoided vegetables not only acceptable but enjoyed was that they weren’t boiled to mush then served. Roasting, grilling and sauteing gives us control of how long to cook, and visually we are making our decision to remove them from the heat based on caramelization, the oxidation of sugar resulting in a nutty flavor and brown color.

The internet is a great place to look up roasted Brussels sprouts and asparagus, as there are so many slight variations, adding garlic, different spices and herbs. I haven’t seen a recipe that didn’t look good to me as well as adding a little variety. I would also suggest that you cook them al dente.  I know I don’t care for mushy vegetables.

Brussels sprouts can be frozen and if bought on the stalk you will have the freshest Brussels sprouts available year round.

It is simple to do, cut off the stalk with as little stem as possible, remove and the soft leaves and then blanch the spouts in boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes, remove and give them an ice water bath.

Spread out on cookie sheets and freeze, then package into serving sizes. Vacuum sealed if possible.

Oh, those soft leaves, throw in the boiling water and cook for a few minutes. They are a great treat and way to get your dog eating their vegetables.

 

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Pasta, green pasta, maybe red pasta, good pasta

The stuff you learn along the way, so simple now, why didn’t I think of it before.

We aren’t health nuts but we do like to hedge our bets a bit. For years I have made spinach pasta and sun dried tomato pasta, messy and wet pasta, pasta that wasn’t very good because of that spinach and because of those tomatoes.

See, I would make my basic pasta then throw in a handful of fresh spinach, the water in the spinach would then mess up the flour consistency and I would have to start adding flour till I had that nice ball of raw pasta dough.

For the sun dried version, I would throw in a handful of sun dried tomatoes in oil, and then start adding flour till it looked like pasta dough.

Doing this would always mess up the basic flour, egg, oil and water ratios. and I ended up with a boiled flour mixture that looked like pasta.

But now I have learned and it’s time to make a pasta dish and I said to myself ‘self, why not use your dried tomatoes, just put a cup of flour and 1/2 cup of dried tomatoes in the blender and get tomato flour’

Did it and I ended up with 1 1/2 cups of tomato flour. Then I said to myself ‘Don’t be corny, just get to the point and the point being to spread a 3 pound bag of power greens (spinach, kale and chard) on the drying shelves of your food drier and dry, then use the ground up greens with the flour’

It needs to be noted that 3 pounds of fresh greens produced 1 and 1/2 cups of dried, crumbled greens.

1 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of greens, in the blender and now I have power greens flour.

From this point, I just made pasta dough.

recipe:

  • The power greens flour plus enough cake four to have three cups of flour
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/8th teaspoon salt

Put all in a food processor and start processing, add water by the tablespoon  till you get a dough that sticks together, but isn’t sticky.

Put coarse dough on your work surface and kneed about 6 to 7 minutes, This helps with consistency and the ability to hold its’ shape by stretching and working the gluten in the flour.

Form a ball of dough, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

For the tomato pasta dough, just repeat the above steps.

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The mighty Tajine

I wrote a short piece on comfort food. Then I kept re reading it and re writing it & then trashed it. It just rambled on about what I think comfort food is. I think I realized it was more important to cook it than analyze it.

My short definition would be that comfort food be filling and simple, and to me it’s a one pot dish.

The pot often defines what will be cooked and the Tajine is a reflection of a region and style of cooking. The Tajine is a Moroccan cooking vessel. I can’t think of a Tajine without thinking of Moroccan dishes, curried chicken & lamb stews.

Francene and I are fortunate to have several Asian style markets in the area so when we shop for something like curry, we have more styles to select from than most markets have Mexican hot sauces. With so much variety to stir the imagination, we just have to experiment; both with flavors as well as technique.

A wonderful lamb tajine from Antony Worrall Thompson, on the bbc.com website.

In a world of instant cookers, rice cookers, pressure cookers and cast-iron enameled ware there is also that funny looking Tajine. In a world full of the above-mentioned cookers, why in the world would you want to use a Tajine?

Because it is versatile, a Tajine in the right hands can replace all those newly hyped cookers.

Saffron Chicken Tajine from ANDREW ZIMMERN July 2017 , Food & Wine Photo credit John Kernick

The basic Tajine is a clay pot and lid that has been enameled and fired. You should never use it over a high flame as it would crack and break. Since the Tajine style of cooking works so well, you can now get them in enameled cast iron from makers such as Staub and Le Creuset, and stainless steel from Cooks Standard.

It’s the funny looking lid that is the secret to Tajine cooking. The high peaked sides are for the steam and condensation to rise to the top and the inverted cupped top drips the moisture back into the center of your dish. Think of this as a non stop basting process.

We decided to go modern and get the stainless steel with ceramic lid and could not be happier. The stainless bottom is attractive enough to serve from and most of our cookware be it in cabinets, pantry or garage, we buy to cook with not set on display.

 

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