Posts Tagged ‘lamb’

My dad’s funeral was a year ago yesterday, and I can’t help but imagine what he’d be saying in these crazy times. Hell, if he had died this year, would we even be allowed to have a funeral? If he were here, I would probably be steering him toward Alton’s live YouTube cooking videos he’s been doing alongside his wife. These videos are sort of like the “Pantry Raid” series within Good Eats, as Alton and his wife raid their pantry to assemble a dinner on a particular evening during our quarantine. We have sort of been cooking in a similar manner; for tonight, I decided to feed my sourdough starter, so I’m also making sourdough pizza crust that we’ll top with some frozen sauce and whatever toppings we have on-hand.

If you happen to have meat you need/want to use up, the recipes from the 136th episode of Good Eats could be suitable to make during this time. Both of the recipes in this episode are for meatballs and make enough to serve a family, likely with some leftovers. For the two of us, we were able to get at least two dinners out of both of these recipes.

Baked Meatballs

Alton’s baked meatballs are best mixed one day prior to eating, though you can get by with making them an hour before serving. Place the following ingredients in a large mixing bowl:  1/2 pound ground lamb, 1/2 pound ground pork, 1/2 pound ground beef, 1/2 t red pepper flakes, 1 1/2 t dried parsley, 1 1/2 t dried basil, 1 t garlic powder, 1 t Kosher salt, 1/2 C grated Parmesan, 1 egg, 1/4 C bread crumbs, and 5 ounces of frozen spinach that has been thawed/squeezed.

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Ground lamb, ground pork, ground beef, red pepper flakes, dried parsley, dried basil, garlic powder, Kosher salted, grated Parmesan, an egg, thawed frozen spinach, and bread crumbs in mixing bowl.

Using gloved hands, use your fingertips to thoroughly mix all of the ingredients. Refrigerate the meat mixture for 1-24 hours.

After chilling, portion the meat into 1.5 ounce portions, placing them on a parchment-lined sheet pan (Alton used a disher for this, but I just used my hands and my scale). When all of the meat has been portioned, roll the meat into balls with gloved hands.

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Meat portioned into 1.5 ounce portions and shaped into balls.

Place 1/4 C of bread crumbs in a ramekin or small bowl and add a meatball, shaking the ramekin to roll the ball in the crumbs. Place the bread crumb-coated meatball back on the baking sheet and continue this process until all of the meatballs have been coated in crumbs.

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Rolling meatballs in bread crumbs.

Set your oven to preheat to 400 degrees and place the meatballs in miniature muffin tin cups.

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Crumb-coated meatballs placed in mini muffin tins to bake.

Bake the meatballs for 20 minutes.

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Meatballs after baking.

Alton recommends serving his meatballs alongside pasta that has been tossed with olive oil, fresh herbs, and Parmesan, so that is how we enjoyed our meatballs.

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Alton’s baked meatballs served over pasta with olive oil, fresh herbs, and Parmesan.

These meatballs are excellent. The combination of meats results in meatballs that are extra flavorful and not overly dense; I like the subtle gamey flavor that comes from the lamb. Rolling the meatballs in the breadcrumbs gives the meatballs a little extra crunch, as opposed to just adding the breadcrumbs as a filler. Normally, when cooking meatballs on a baking sheet, they sit in puddles of fat and end up with flat bottoms. Baking the meatballs in the mini muffin tins is genius because the meatballs sit above the fat as it drains away, and the meatballs retain a perfectly round shape. I plan to use mini muffin tins whenever I make baked meatballs in the future. This is one of those simple, classic recipes that Alton has just made better.

Swedish Meatballs

I recall my mom making Swedish meatballs sometimes when my parents would host parties. My parents had an old chafing dish that I’m sure belonged to one of their mothers, and which now resides in our basement. My mom would set out a small dish of toothpicks with those decorative cellophane curls on one end, and guests would stab and nibble to their heart’s content. My mom’s Swedish meatballs were pretty darn delicious, and I’m guessing her recipe may have come from The Joy of Cooking, though I’ll have to ask her to be sure. My brother happened to give me a new copy of The Joy of Cooking for Christmas (I also have my parents’ old versions), so I compared their recipe to that of Alton, and I can attest that they are incredibly similar. In this time of social distancing, why not whip up a batch of these meatballs to enjoy alongside a “quarantini” or three? It is, after all, the weekend.

To make Alton’s Swedish meatballs, tear two pieces of white sandwich bread into chunks and place them in a bowl. Pour 1/4 C of milk over the milk and toss to coat. Set the bread aside to soak.

Sweat 1/2 C of onion in 1 T clarified butter (Alton explained how to clarify butter in his mushroom episode), adding a pinch of Kosher salt.IMG_1616 Next, put 3/4 pound ground chuck in the bowl of a stand mixer, along with 3/4 pound ground pork, the milk-soaked bread from earlier, the onion, two egg yolks, 1 t Kosher salt, 1/2 t pepper, 1/4 t nutmeg, and 1/4 t allspice.

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Ground chuck, ground pork, soaked bread, sauteed onion, egg yolks, Kosher salt, pepper, nutmeg, and allspice in bowl of stand mixer.

Using the paddle attachment, beat the mixture on medium for two minutes.

Using a scale, portion the meat into one ounce portions, rolling them lightly with gloved hands and placing them on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

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Meat portioned into 1 oz balls.

If you have an electric skillet, set the skillet to 250 degrees and add 2 T clarified butter. If you do not have an electric skillet (I don’t), you can use a large skillet over medium heat. Either way, add the meatballs to the pan, turning them often with tongs until they are cooked through, which should take 7-10 minutes; you may need to do this in batches.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked meatballs to an oven-proof casserole dish. Cover the dish and place it in a warm oven while you make the sauce.

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Cooked meatballs transferred to casserole dish to keep warm in oven.

Sift 1/4 C flour over the juices in the pan and stir it in. Add 3 C beef broth and 1/4 C heavy cream, and increase the heat. Bring the liquid to a simmer and continue to let the sauce simmer until it has thickened, keeping in mind that the sauce will thicken more as it cools.

When the sauce has reached your desired consistency, add the warm meatballs back to the sauce.

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Meatballs added back to sauce.

Place the meatballs and sauce in a chafing dish if you plan to serve them over a long period. Of course, if you do not have a chafing dish, Alton has you covered with a method of making your own. First, set down three strips of shelf liner, forming a triangle shape. Next, place a brick on top of each piece of shelf liner, forming a triangle of bricks. Place a fuel can in the center of the brick triangle and place a second layer of bricks on top of the first; the second triangle should face the opposite direction of the first triangle. Light the fuel can and place a water-filled cake pan on top. Place a pie plate full of Swedish meatballs so it nests in the water, and you have a chafing dish. We ate these meatballs as our dinner for a couple nights, eating them with some side dishes.

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Alton’s Swedish meatballs.

While this recipe did remind me a great deal of my mom’s, I wish I had cooked the sauce a little longer, as my sauce was a little thinner than I would have preferred. Still, the sauce was very rich from the pan juices and the cream, and the nutmeg and allspice in the meatballs gave hints of warmth and spice . Swedish meatballs are not the prettiest food, but they are rich little morsels and a great contribution to any potluck… or quarantine happy hour.

I keep meaning to get in a good rhythm with this project, and then I keep having the rug pulled from under my feet. Just as I was starting to begin to recover from the death of my dad, my beloved dog, Hitcher, suddenly died from a pulmonary embolism eight days ago. We had Hitcher for 12 years, after finding him, starving on a roadside, when he was less than a year old. Although we knew Hitcher wouldn’t be around for a long time to come, it was completely unexpected for him to die last week, and his death has completely crushed me. Over the years, Hitcher was my constant “helper” in the kitchen, and made many cameos in this project. Seeing that I prepared the recipes from the next couple episodes before he died, he will make a few final cameos. It is just not the same to cook without him by my side.

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My beloved Hitcher in his younger years.

Gyro Meat with Tzatziki Sauce

I actually made Alton’s gyro recipe several weeks ago, but then had too much going on to do the write-up. Lamb has a flavor that you either love or hate, and I happen to really love it. I tend not to cook with lamb very often because it is expensive, but this recipe gave me a good excuse. Gyro, by the way, means “to turn,” as gyro meat is typically cooked on a rotisserie. If you have a rotisserie, Alton has a method in this episode for using it, but he also has an alternative method if you (like me) do not have a rotisserie. Regardless of whether you will use a rotisserie, you will want to whip out your food processor for this recipe. The first part of this recipe is the Tzatziki sauce. Make the sauce by placing 16 ounces of plain yogurt in a tea towel. Wrap up the yogurt, suspend it with a chopstick and rubber band over a container, and allow it to drain for one to two hours. You will want to use a fairly thin towel for this – I had to switch to a thinner towel when I discovered no draining was occurring.

While the yogurt drains, peel, seed, and chop a medium cucumber.

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Ready to peel, seed, and chop one cucumber. Hitcher loved cucumbers.

Place the cucumber on a tea towel or paper towels with a pinch of Kosher salt and wrap up the cucumber, setting it aside.

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Peeled, seeded, and chopped cucumber placed on paper towels with Kosher salt.

Once the yogurt has drained, place 4 minced garlic cloves in a bowl, along with 5-6 chopped mint leaves, 2 t red wine vinegar, 1 T olive oil, the drained yogurt, and the cucumber. Stir the sauce to combine and refrigerate for up to a week.

For the gyro meat, start by chopping a medium onion with a knife, and then process the onion in the food processor until it is very finely chopped. Line a bowl with  a tea towel and dump the chopped onion into the towel. Squeeze as much juice as you can out of the onion, discarding the juice; you will be surprised at how much juice is in one onion.

Place the onion back in the food processor bowl, along with 1 T minced garlic, 1 T dried rosemary, 1 T dried marjoram, 1/2 t pepper, 2 t Kosher salt, and 2 pounds of ground lamb.

Process the lamb mixture until it forms a paste-like consistency.

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Meat mixture processed until paste-like.

If you are using a rotisserie, place two large pieces of plastic wrap on your counter, overlapping them by about two inches. Dump the meat mixture onto the center of the plastic wrap, form a log shape, and roll the meat up tightly in the plastic. Place the meat log in a container and refrigerate the log for at least two hours, as this will allow the log to set into its shape. After chilling, place the lamb log on your rotisserie, leaving some room at the ends. Preheat your grill to high. For a charcoal grill, distribute coals evenly between the front and back portions of the grill, leaving the middle section clear of coals. Regardless of your type of grill, place a double layer of foil beneath the rotisserie to catch drippings and grill the meat on high for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, decrease the temperature to medium and continue to cook the lamb for 20-30 more minutes, or until the center of the meat is 165 degrees. To finish cooking, turn the grill off and let the meat continue to spin for 15 minutes more, or until the internal temperature hits 175 degrees. If you do not have a rotisserie, skip rolling the meat into a log and dump it into a loaf pan. Place a pan with an inch of water in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the loaf pan in the water bath and cook the lamb for 60 to 75 minutes, or until it reaches 170 degrees.

Remove the loaf from the oven and pour off any fat. Set a foil-covered brick on top of the meat and let the meat cool until it just cool enough to handle.

Slice the meat and serve it on warm pita bread with Tzatziki sauce, chopped tomato, chopped onion, and feta cheese.

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Sliced gyro meat.

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Alton’s gyro.

I have not eaten many gyros, but I thought this was a delicious recipe. The meat  held together well when sliced and remained moist. The herbs accentuated and complimented the lamb’s grassy flavor, and the whole gyro was a pleasing combination of textures, flavors, and temperatures. With the warm lamb and pita, the cooling Tzatziki, tangy onion, and sweet tomato made a wonderful pairing. Unfortunately, I only got to have one meal out of this recipe since I had to leave town the following day, but I intend to make this again and enjoy it for several meals!

When I began this project, I had to purchase the first couple seasons of Good Eats through Amazon. Shortly after beginning this blog, I set our DVR to record any and all episodes that were airing, building a stockpile. I currently have 135 episodes recorded. Needless to say, I had a little bit of a panic yesterday morning when I discovered that the clock on our DVR was stuck at 2:41 and it was emitting an odd whirring sound. Oh, and the DVR refused to power off. Thankfully, it rebooted just fine after being unplugged for a few minutes. Whew!

Episode 110 is very seasonally appropriate, as chili, to me, is perfect for fall and winter. I got a kick out of this episode because Alton played the role of a cowboy, and remained in character for the duration of the show; I cannot recall another episode in which he did this.

AB’s Chili Powder

If you want to make good chili, you have to start with great chili powder. Thankfully, Alton has a chili powder recipe that you can whip up easily at home. His chili powder starts with three types of dried chiles:  ancho chiles, cascabel chiles, and arbol chiles. While I had no trouble finding the ancho and arbol chiles at my regular grocery store, I had to take a trip to our local Mexican grocery store to find the dried cascabels. For a batch of chili powder, you will need three of each type of chile.

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Ancho chiles, arbol chiles, and cascabel chiles.

Using scissors, cut the tops off the dried peppers, shaking out the seeds and discarding them; you don’t want the seeds because they add bitterness. Use the scissors to cut the chiles into strips; you can do this straight into a large skillet.

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Chiles cut into strips and placed in skillet.

Add 2 T cumin seeds to the pan, setting the pan over medium-high heat. Roast the peppers and cumin seeds until they are fragrant and the cumin seeds begin to pop.

 

When making this chili powder, your kitchen will smell amazing from the toasted chiles and cumin seeds! Remove the skillet from the heat and allow the chiles/seeds to cool. While the chiles cool, combine 2 T garlic powder, 1 t smoked paprika, and 1 T dried oregano in a blender.

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Garlic powder, smoked paprika, and dried oregano in blender carafe.

Add the cooled chile/cumin mixture to the blender and blend the mixture to a fine powder. Be sure to let the powder settle for a couple minutes before removing the lid of the blender.

 

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Alton’s chili powder.

The finished chili powder is very fragrant and honestly made my mouth water. It has a rich, deep aroma that far surpasses that of store-bought chili powder. Use Alton’s chili powder in any recipe calling for chili powder, such as his chili recipe below.

Pressure Cooker Chili

Alton uses his homemade chili powder to make his version of chili. Yes, Alton uses a pressure cooker to make his chili, but he also gives instructions in the episode for how to adapt this recipe if you do not have a pressure cooker.

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Ingredients for Alton’s chili: beer, tomato paste, tortilla chips, chipotles and adobo sauce, salsa, cumin, and chili powder.

Three pounds of stew meat go into this chili, and Alton prefers a blend of beef, lamb, and pork. I could not find lamb stew meat at my store, so I used half beef and half pork. Heat a pressure cooker over high heat until hot.

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Heating the pressure cooker.

While the pot heats up, put the stew meat in a large bowl with 1 1/2 t Kosher salt, and toss to coat.

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Three pounds of stew meat being tossed with Kosher salt.

Add 2 t peanut oil to the meat, and toss again to coat.

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Three pounds of stew meat being tossed with Kosher salt and peanut oil.

Brown the meat in the hot pot, removing it after browning; you will want to do this in three batches, so the pan does not get overcrowded.

When all the meat has been browned, put the empty pot back on the heat and add 12 ounces of medium-bodied beer (I used one of Alton’s beers), scraping to deglaze the pan.

Add 1 T tomato paste to the beer, along with 1 T chili powder, 1 t ground cumin, 3 big handfuls of crumbled tortilla chips, 16 ounces salsa, 2 chopped canned chipotles, 1 T adobo sauce from the chipotles, and the 3 pounds of browned meat.

Put the lid on the cooker and bring it up to low pressure. Maintain low pressure for 25 minutes before releasing the pressure and serving.

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Lid put on pressure cooker.

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Chili after cooking for 25 minutes.

Alton thinks this chili is perfect as it stands, requiring no extra toppings, so I served it his way. I served my chili with a slice of cornbread on the side.

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A bowl of Alton’s chili.

Oh, and for those who do not have a pressure cooker, you can make Alton’s chili in a Dutch oven, letting the chili cook, covered, in a 350-degree oven for 6-24 hours. The flavor of Alton’s chili is pretty fantastic, having just the right amount of heat. The flavor from the toasted chiles blends beautifully with the saltiness of the chips, the sweetness of the tomato paste, and the freshness of the salsa. I found that the beef stew meat was more tender than the pork stew meat, which was slightly chewy. Perhaps a little longer cook would tenderize the pork more. I happen to love lamb, so I wish I could have added some of that to my chili. I also happen to really like beans in my chili, so I would probably opt to add them next time, but that’s really a matter of personal preference. This chili is super flavorful, and if you happen to have a pressure cooker, you get the flavor of a long simmer with a very short cook time. The true hero of this recipe, though, is the homemade chili powder.

 

Growing up, my family had a variety of animals – dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, and lambs, among others. I had a bit of an obsession with the name Timothy, insisting on bestowing the name on each subsequent lamb. There may have even been a female Timothy in there somewhere! Though we had lambs as pets, we really did not eat much lamb when I was growing up, but I have come to really like it as an adult. My lamb consumption has been almost exclusively at restaurants, so I was excited to get to try cooking a leg of lamb to finish off the third season of my Good Eats project.

The recipe for Alton’s grilled leg of lamb can be found here. Unless you are cooking for 8-10 people, you will want to cook half a leg of lamb. The sirloin end of the leg (the end furthest from the hoof) is the portion you want to get, and you can often get your butcher to cut this portion for you. I went to good ol’ Costco to get my lamb, so mine came in a vacuum-sealed bag; Alton is not a big fan of this, as you end up paying partially for the liquid in the bag, but it was a convenient option for me. Once you get your lamb home, you want to unroll it into a flat slab.

Leg of lamb.

Leg of lamb.

Opened leg of lamb.

Opened leg of lamb.

Note that just because you get a “boned” leg of lamb, a portion of the joint may still be in place; if this is the case, you will want to remove the joint by cutting around it and pulling it out. My leg of lamb was truly boneless. Also trim off any huge chunks of fat or connective tissue, but you want to be careful not to over trim the meat, as the leg of lamb consists of several muscles held together by connective tissue. Flip the meat over so the skin side is up and trim off the fell, which is the impermeable membrane over the fat. The fell can be very tough, so you want to remove as much as possible, using the tip of your knife to get under the membrane.

Fell trimmed off.

Fell trimmed off.

Once your lamb is trimmed sufficiently, in a mini chopper combine 4 cloves of garlic, 8 mint leaves, 1 T brown sugar, 1 T Kosher salt, 2 t black pepper, 5 T Dijon mustard, and 2 T canola oil.

Ingredients for Alton's lamb:  Kosher salt, black pepper, Dijon mustard, mint, garlic, canola oil, and brown sugar.

Ingredients for Alton’s lamb: Kosher salt, black pepper, Dijon mustard, mint, garlic, canola oil, and brown sugar.

Four cloves of garlic in the chopper.

Four cloves of garlic in the chopper.

Chopped garlic.

Chopped garlic.

Eight mint leaves added to garlic.

Eight mint leaves added to garlic.

1 T brown sugar added.

1 T brown sugar added.

and 1 T Kosher salt.

and 1 T Kosher salt.

Plus 5 T Dijon mustard and 2 t black pepper.

Plus 5 T Dijon mustard and 2 t black pepper.

2 T canola oil added.

2 T canola oil added.

Mint/mustard mixture.

Mint/mustard mixture.

You will need to truss your meat, so cut five pieces of butcher’s twine that are 17-18 inches long. You will also need one longer piece of twine that is about 36 inches long. Flip the meat so the skin side is down and spread the mustard/mint mixture all over the meat, using all of the mixture.

Mint/mustard mixture spread over lamb.

Mint/mustard mixture spread over lamb.

Roll the lamb up into a neat tube shape and flip it so the skin side is facing up.

Lamb rolled into tube shape.

Lamb rolled into tube shape.

Starting in the middle of the meat, tie one of the shorter pieces of twine around the lamb, using a surgeon’s knot. You want to tie the twine tightly, but not overly so, as the meat will expand when it cooks.

Butcher's twine tied around the center of the lamb.

Butcher’s twine tied around the center of the lamb.

Continue tying the shorter pieces of twine around the meat, evenly spacing them.

Additional pieces of twine tied around lamb.

Additional pieces of twine tied around lamb.

Once all of shorter pieces of twine are tied, use the long piece of twine to tie the meat lengthwise, looping it around the shorter pieces of twine. Again, finish with a surgeon’s knot.

Longer piece of twine looped around the shorter pieces of twine.

Longer piece of twine looped around the shorter pieces of twine.

Alton used a charcoal grill to cook his lamb. We do not have a charcoal grill, so I used our gas grill. You will want to cook the lamb over indirect heat, and be sure to lube the grill grates with canola oil prior to putting the roast on the grill.

Lamb ready to go on the grill.

Lamb ready to go on the grill.

Place the lamb on the grill, skin side up, and throw some rosemary sprigs below the grates to act as a smoking agent.

Lamb on the grill.

Lamb on the grill.

Sprigs of rosemary added to the grill.

Sprigs of rosemary added to the grill.

Close the lid and allow the lamb to cook for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, flip the meat and turn it 180 degrees.

Lamb flipped and rotated after 20 minutes.

Lamb flipped and rotated after 20 minutes.

Insert a probe thermometer at an angle and set it to beep when the meat hits 135 degrees. In the episode, Alton’s lamb took only an additional 25-30 minutes to reach 135 degrees, but my lamb took considerably longer to be done.

Lamb after reaching 135 degrees.

Lamb after reaching 135 degrees.

Once your lamb is done, remove the twine and allow it to rest under foil for at least 15 minutes before serving. We ate the lamb as our entrée, simply slicing it.

Lamb after resting 15 minutes under foil.

Lamb after resting 15 minutes under foil.

Alton's grilled leg of lamb.

Alton’s grilled leg of lamb.

We shared some leftover lamb with my parents who used the sliced lamb to make sandwiches, which they said were really good. I used the remaining leftover lamb to make my grandma’s curry. Alton’s lamb was really quite delicious and tender, and the mint mixture really flavored the meat well. If you are looking for something different to grill this summer, Alton’s lamb is a great choice, especially for a group.