Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mongolian Barbecued Lamb Chops with Chinese Mustard Sauce

Ah, LOST. Last Sunday marked the end of six seasons filled with mystery and adventure, sometimes confusion, dare I say a bit of frustration but mostly amazement and real attachment thanks in large part to the incredible characters that made up the heart of the show. I’ve watched LOST since day one and have grown to love Jack, Sawyer, Kate, Charlie, Faraday, Hugo, Juliet, Desmond, Jin…even Vincent, Walt’s loyal dog. Speaking of Vincent….when he laid next to Jack……..oh…my….tears.

Anyway, sorry to anyone who doesn’t watch LOST, but let’s face it- even non-fans of the show knew last Sunday’s finale was a major event in television history. J and I had been anticipating it and planned to watch it in the comfort of our living room. Such a momentous occasion called for a special meal, so I flipped through my new cookbook (I know, I know... I bought another one!) called Big Small Plates, by Napa chef Cindy Pawlcyn. If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile you know of my love for tapas- small plates- so the minute I saw this book showcasing appetizer-portioned food packed with tons of flavor, I knew I had to pick it up. There are so many wonderful recipes, but the Mongolian Barbecued Lamb Chops with Chinese Mustard Sauce caught my eye…and I knew just the place to get my lamb- McCall’s!

I called to see if McCall’s had lamb, and they mentioned they had a nice, California baby lamb rack- perfect. I know I’ve been posting quite a bit about this place but it’s really a cook’s dream. Beautiful meat and seafood carefully chosen by two food-loving chefs who are passionate about what they do. They always ask what you plan on making, remember you from the last visit and ask how your dish turned out, and often have suggestions on what to cook with your purchase if you’re in need of some inspiration. I never thought that going to a butcher shop would be fun, but any visit to McCall’s is not only pleasant, it's educational to boot.

The recipe was pretty simple and I had almost all of the ingredients necessary. I didn’t marinate the chops overnight since I didn’t have that much time- next time I’ll start the day before. I also used a grill pan since my grill still hasn’t gotten a nice, spring cleaning quite yet.

The chops were beautiful, tender, succulent….there’s something about eating meat right off the bone that is so satisfying. J and I polished off the whole thing, and we’re not embarrassed to admit it!

For sides, I had an idea to make green chile mashed potatoes, so I just whizzed some diced green chiles with a few cloves of roasted garlic and butter. These were seriously incredible- since the chiles are broken down to a liquid puree, you don’t really even milk to get a nice, smooth consistency. They were slightly tangy, smokey and had just a small kick which went well with the sweet Mongolian BBQ sauce on the chops.

Green salad with Japanese sweet onion dressing:

Roasted asparagus with salt & pepper- simple but delicious.

My plate:

J and I sat through the entire 2 hour retrospective, then watched the 2 ½ finale….I know there were mixed reaction to the way LOST ended but I, for one, thought it was a beautiful tribute to a show I’ll miss very much.

In 24 hours, we're off to visit my sister in Ireland and also hop over to Portugal for a few days! If you have any Lisbon or Porto recommendations please post them in the comments!

Bon Voyage!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Quick Post: Beet Green & Carrot Top Soup

Don't worry- this soup doesn't contain one creepy, red headed comedian but instead some healthy, vibrant greens that you might otherwise toss in the garbage. I had a lot of greens left over from the tart I'd made for a vegetarian dinner party, so I figured I'd try them in a soup.

It started just like all of my other soups do: sauté diced onions, carrots and celery, then some minced garlic and thyme. Then I chopped up the beet greens and carrot tops, slightly worried that it would taste too "green" but went with it anyway. After a few minutes I added veggie stock and let the whole thing simmer for about 20 minutes before whipping out my new favorite kitchen tool- the Cuisinart hand blender- and pureed the whole thing. (By the way, I highly recommend getting this if you make pureed soups often like I do. It saves you from having to ladle hot soup into a blender, then pureeing, then putting back into the pot.)

The soup, like the tart, was savory, rich and tasty and I was amazed that beet and carrot tops could create such an amazing soup! Definitely a keeper!

It made a couple of nice lunches- one veggie- served with an avocado, arugula and hummus tartine:

And another with a turkey sandwich on quinoa bread:

Good and good for you!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Veggie Feast

Spring has sprung, and that means some pretty incredible produce at the local farmers markets. I’ve never really met a vegetable I didn’t like, so walking through and gawking at all of the gorgeous asparagus, avocados, fava beans and kale is akin to a teenage boy sifting through an issue Playboy magazine. Yes, my friends, springtime farmers markets offer the very best in food porn, but because it’s all good for you and stuff, you never end up feeling guilty. It’s a total win-win!

Speaking of veggie food porn (we were, weren’t we?!) one of my favorite food blogs on earth is 101 Cookbooks, because it features so many clever ways to feed a body good. The food Heidi prepares is so incredibly gorgeous you don’t even realize it’s all meant to give your body all the nutrients it needs and deserves. She’s really inspired me to think differently about vegetarian cuisine- instead of serving up pasta with marinara, why not toss some swiss chard ravioli with cranberry beans, arugula and a generous shower of pecorino cheese? I get some many ideas from reading both her blog and her cookbooks.

Last week I noticed a particularly inspired dish on 101 Cookbooks: Turnip Green Tart. The emerald green hue first caught my attention; the fact that it was encased in a corn meal crust pretty much closed the deal. I headed to my local farmers market in search of some turnip greens, but only one vendor was selling turnips, so I decided to switch gears and ask all of the farmers selling beets for their discarded beet greens and carrot tops. They were more than happy to give them to me, and I think I went a little bonkers on my newfound high of getting good, useable veggies for FREEEEEE and came home with a GIANT bag of both.

In addition to switching out the greens in the recipe, I put in a few more tweaks of my own- I sautéed the greens (80% beet and 20% carrot tops) with 2 cloves of garlic, a pinch of thyme and 1 chopped onion in some olive oil until they were soft, then I blitzed them in the Cuisinart with the liquid ingredients. I noticed there was way more liquid than greens so I decided to toss in some raw beet greens and carrot tops and blitzed it again until I was happier with the consistency. I also decided to add about ½ cup of grated gruyere to the actual mixture before pouring it into two tart shells (I doubled the mixture recipe, and the crust recipe is already for two) and garnished both the extra cheese halfway through baking.

See the red from the beet greens that bled out into the gooey cheese:)?

I was a little curious about how such a loose mixture (Heidi often uses veggie broth to cut heavier liquids often called for in these types of dishes, like cream) would firm up, but I was happy to see that it set beautifully. After letting it cool slightly, we sliced it up and dug in. IT WAS AMAZING. Kind of a revelation, actually. It was so flavorful and not at all “green-tasting” in a bad way…the greens actually made it so rich in texture that you’d never guess the main ingredient was something many people simply discard. I thought it was better than any quiche I’d ever eaten, because although it was satisfyingly hearty, it lacked the dense fattiness of most quiches. This one is a keeper, and I can’t wait to try it with different kinds of greens.

With the tarts we had an array of side dishes that showcased the vegetables I snagged at the market:

Cumin roasted multicolored carrots:

Corn and fava bean succotash with a basil vinaigrette:

Butter lettuce, avocado and grapefruit salad with a grapefruit vinaigrette:

Strawberry, pistachio and spelt flour crumble (we ate warm spoonfuls piled high with vanilla soy ice cream!). The tart crust calls for spelt flour so I had some left over and decided to combine it with some oats, oat bran, butter, brown sugar and cinnamon to make the topping.

Next up: Beet greens and carrot top soup- sounds weird, but it was deeeelish!

Have a great weekend!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sea Urchin (Uni) Spaghetti, Scallop Crudo

I watch a lot of food-related TV. More than I care to admit, actually. “The Barefoot Contessa,” “Diners, Drive-ins & Dives,” “What Would Brian Boitano Make?” and reruns of “Everyday Italian” are some of my Food Network faves, but my absolute must-watch each week in terms of food TV is “No Reservations With Anthony Bourdain” on the Travel Channel. Snarky/smart commentary, gorgeous locations and tons of food porn all in one show? Sign me up. If you checked our Tivo list you’d see that 80% of it is food-related programming while my poor husband might be able to get some music shows in there once in awhile.

One good thing that has come out of my food-television addition is that I think it’s actually made me a better cook. It happened almost subliminally. The way a chef twirls pasta on a meat fork before plating it, letting meat rest before cutting into it, rubbing lemon juice on cut artichokes so they don’t brown, always checking a cake for doneness way before the recipe says and getting out a lobster tail whole from its shell are all things I’ve seen so many times on TV that they’ve become part of my kitchen knowledge. I did get my Pro I certificate at a short-term culinary program but I think I’ve actually learned more from watching people cook on the tube. Food television also plays a huge role in what we’ll be eating that week since I either see something and decide to make it or get inspired by a recipe and put my own twist on it.

I remember seeing famed seafood chef Eric Ripert on an episode of “No Reservations” making a simple yet luxurious plate of sea urchin spaghetti a long time ago and knew it was something I wanted to eat one day. He simply whisked together equal parts butter and sea urchin which came together to form a velvety sauce to which he added a bit of parmesan, chives and sea salt before tossing in hot pasta. That bowl of spaghetti, with each strand of pasta bathing in the sea urchin sauce and topped with a spoonful of caviar was Giles Marini of food porn- sexy, luxurious, irresistible.

I finally got a chance to take a crack at this dish over the weekend. Dylan had mentioned he and Jeni bought a flat of uni (sea urchin) at McCall’s in Los Feliz, and although they had some plan to use it in a dish, they ended up grabbing a spoon and eating all of it right out of the container. So I promptly put in a call to McCalls and asked them to hold four flats of uni for me for Saturday (and told them to keep the flats away from Dylan should be pay a visit to the shop that weekend). When I went to pick them up, my eye went to a pile of glistening, pearly-white sashimi grade scallops so I had to get a few of those as well. Of course the large slab of perfectly smoked trout covered in fresh dill begged me to take it home so I added that to my purchases. Time for a Seafood Fiesta!

Here’s what we had:

Smoked Trout served with Lemon/Black Pepper Cream Cheese & Crackers: I just softened some cream cheese, added some lemon zest and black pepper and we were off to the races. It was delicious and perfect with the ice cold prosecco that J was pouring.

Scallop Crudo: I just sliced each scallop into thinner rounds, plated them up and drizzled them with a bit of extra virgin olive oil, then finished them off with some grated preserved yuzu which I’d made months earlier and some Maldon salt.

Sea Urchin Spaghetti: This dish is meant to bring out the flavor of the fresh uni, so the only other ingredients are butter and tiny amounts of parmesan cheese, salt and chives. You really don’t need anything else….except a dollop of caviar, of course. I just bought an inexpensive paddlefish caviar which was perfect- the uni is the star, after all.

The pasta was decadent, sweet with an ever-so-slight hint of bitterness that was a nice contrast to the richness of the sauce. The briny caviar also worked so well with the luxurious uni emulsion. I actually doubled the amount of pasta for the amount of sauce and each strand was still completely coated with a good amount. Had I done it Eric Ripert-style we would have had a lot of the sauce swimming around on the plate- not necessarily a bad thing, of course- but I thought it was perfect with the extra pasta.

This is one of those “wow” dishes that is so simple- you must try this for your next dinner party. Just make sure that you buy top quality sea urchin since its 50% of this recipe which you can find here.

you haven’t checked out McCall’s yet, you have to pay them a visit! Their meat and seafood is some of the freshest and most beautiful in town.

McCall’s Meat & Fish
2117 Hillhurst Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027