Thursday, April 28, 2011

Big Bend Biscuits
What’s cooking? Cochineal Drop Biscuits

I’m always amazed at how it often takes a tourist to get a native to see the sights of his or her own city/state/country. I lived in Manhattan for 10 years and NJ for another 30 before I went to the top of the Empire State Building. The impetus? My 11-year-old nephew arrived from Houston for a visit.

Similarly, I never visited the celebrated Jockey Hollow area outside Morristown, NJ, where George Washington’s army spent a miserable winter in 1780. Never, at least, until friends from Seattle showed up.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

My Favorite Lamb Recipe – Aye, There’s the Rub
What’s cooking? Amazing Roast Leg of Lamb

Last week’s New York Times Magazine contained a piece by Mark Bittman with three yummy-sounding recipes for leg of lamb.

As I read them, I thought, I should try one of these. And then I remembered why I probably won’t: I have my own concoction that lifts lamb to a height I should probably call Amazing Taste. So flavorful that my friend Ellen – who says she doesn’t really like lamb – will dig into it with gusto.

The key is the spice rub, which I discovered in my early single days in Manhattan. It comes from Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook, the original edition (1961), and the first grown-up cookbook I ever owned. It appears in the book to be almost an afterthought, but I fell in love with the list of ingredients that at the time encompassed almost every condiment I had in my larder.

Amazing Roast Leg of Lamb

6-7 pounds bone-in leg of lamb, trimmed of excess fat (also works fine with boneless leg, which is easier to carve and may take less time, but is not quite as flavorful)

The Rub:
2-3 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
2 bay leaves, crushed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons salad oil

Mix well the ingredients to the rub. Make small slits all over the lamb, and massage the rub into the meat. Let sit 30 minutes to an hour. (You can let it sit more; if so, refrigerate the lamb while it sits).

Preheat the oven to 450º. Set the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan, and roast 30 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350º, and continue cooking for another 30 minutes. After that, using an instant meat thermometer, check the temperature of the meat every 10 minutes, until it reaches 145º in the thickest part. It should not need to cook more than 1½ hours. Let it sit for 5 minutes before carving.

Kitchen Goddess note: You can test for doneness by pressing the meat with your fingers – it will be slightly resistant at rare/medium rare, and more resistant for medium. Also, if you prick the meat with a fork, the juice that comes out will be rosy for medium-rare, almost clear for medium.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cheesy Competition

One of the great things about Austin is the variety of slightly bizarre and clearly funky happenings that seem to occur on a daily basis. Last weekend, I put on my bravest face and joined the crowd at The 3rd (Usually) Annual Austin Regional Grilled Cheese Invitational. I kid you not.

The day featured rock music directed by a DJ, lots of beer, a Queen (seen in the photo above) and King, and even the requisite couple of dudes selling T-shirts. I was not the oldest nor the youngest (that would be an unusual group), but definitely a generation beyond a majority of the celebrants. And I clearly didn’t have enough tatts or flowers in my hair. But as with many things Austin-like, all ages were welcomed with an openness and a general sense of joy and good will that reminded me of a 60s-style love-in – as long as what you love is grilled cheese.

The setting was the large back yard of the local Moose Lodge. Indeed, if you participated in the raffle, you could even win – as second prize (first prize was half the pot) – a free membership in the Lodge. A restaurant named Chedd’s, part of a Denver-based franchise that specializes in gourmet grilled cheese, gave away fresh-grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato basil soup all afternoon, and Antonelli’s, a local cheese shop, donated the aged Grafton cheddar used in the sandwiches. No one left hungry.

Apparently, these competitions are spreading faster than the mint in my garden. The mother of all grilled cheese competitions, which started in 2003, takes place in Los Angeles, and first prize at the various regional competitions is usually a trip to LA for the showdown. The Austin invitational pulled 31 competitors, in three categories: Missionary (cheese only), Kama Sutra (anything goes, but it must be at least 60% cheese), and Honey Pot (dessert).

The overall winner went by the unlikely name of Charlie Sheen Duh, which I didn’t get exactly – does Charlie Sheen like grilled cheese? While I couldn’t quite understand all the ingredients – and the chef was particularly cryptic in his description – the sandwich came on King’s Hawaiian rolls, and featured mozzarella and honey with some sort of cream sauce.

For me, the day was an eye-opener: I’d never imagined there could be so many ways to tweak a grilled cheese sandwich. But I am now intrigued, and may put forth some effort toward next year’s competition.

So what’s in your favorite grilled cheese?