Monday, May 31, 2010

Indian Lamb Chops with Curried Cauliflower and Potatoes

If I had to pick a favorite cut and type of meat, it would have to be lamb shoulder chops. I know they are tougher and have more fat and gristle than their loftier cousin, the loin chop, but they have so much more flavor.

It is most likely because the shoulder chop was the only lamb we had when I was growing up. And it was a rare treat. My father took charge of the broiler when we had meat, and he liked his meat on the rare side, so the chops were always cooked perfectly medium-well, which is how I liked my meat back then. A little mint jelly on the side was the path to pure heaven.

After I left home, I still considered lamb chops as something special, something for a special occasion. The mint jelly morphed into dried mint sprinkled along with the salt, pepper and garlic powder before broiling. Why mess with a good thing? As with flank steak, I just couldn't imagine there could be a better flavor profile out there than the one which I had always used.

Until I ran across a recipe for lamb chops that involved cauliflower and curry powder. I like cauliflower, but I don't love it. I downright hated it as a child, and never really cooked with it, but I have liked it in restaurants so I always have an eye out for recipes that call for it. When I saw how easy the recipe looked I decided to give it a try.

And it was delicious. The curry powder punched up the flavor without interrupting the intense lamb taste that I love so much in the shoulder chops. The cauliflower was delicious in the curried sauce, and the mango chutney added a sweet heat that rounded out the overall effect. I thought it needed some starch, though, so I cooked up a batch of cilantro rice that was the perfect accompaniment.

I also forgot the green onions, but I did not miss them. They would have been good, but they were not a make-or-break ingredient.

As good as it was, though, I thought I could make it better. I liked it enough to make it again the next week, and I decided to add potatoes and peas to the cauliflower for more of a vegetable curry. It was quite delicious. I don't know when my lamb chops will be seeing mint again.

This is just as good with just the cauliflower, or with the added potatoes and peas. If you decide to make it with just the cauliflower, then steam the cauliflower for about 4 minutes and use 1/4 cup each of the chicken stock and the cream.
Home Cookin Chapter: Beef and Lamb


2 cups small cauiflower florets
1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
2 lamb shoulder blade chops
2 teaspoons curry powder, divided
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons mango chutney
2 large green onions, chopped, divided

Steam potatoes until just starting to get tender, about 5 minutes. Add cauliflower and steam for another 4 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and the cauliflower is tender, but still crisp. Transfer to a colander and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Season lamb with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle generously with some of the curry powder. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat. Place the chops in the skillet, seasoned side down, then
add the salt, pepper and curry powder to the other side of the chops. Cook the lamb to the preferred doneness, about 5 minutes per side for medium rare. Transfer the chops to a plate and cover with foil.

Drain excess oil from the skillet, leaving about a tablespoon. Add flour and remaining curry powder and whisk until the mixture is blended in with the oil, about 15 minutes. Add the chicken broth and the
cream. Add the mango chutney and cook until the mixture is thick, about 3 minutes, whisking constantly. Add the vegetables and half of the green onion, allow to heat through. Serve the vegetables with the lamb chops.

adapted from Bon Appetit, January 2010

Exported from Home Cookin 6.45 (

Monday, May 24, 2010

Asparagus and Piave Cheese Omelette

Summer is approaching and the Green Market moved back outdoors last week. That means lots of asparagus, rhubarb and spinach right now. Sometimes I will blanch the asparagus as soon as I get it home. I'll cook it for a scant two to three minutes so it's ready if I want to make something on the fly.

Like this asparagus and piave cheese omelette. I needed a quick breakfast, and I had eggs, the asparagus all ready to go, and some grated piave, of which up until a few months ago I had never heard. I was at the Lincoln Park Zoo Whole Foods waiting for the rest of my knitting group to arrive and I was wandering around the cheese section. I love to browse through there as much to see what interesting new cheese I can find as to see how long it takes for one of the two (sometimes more) hip young cheesemongers to acknowledge me. Ha ha, I am only joking - they never acknowledge me!

But they do occasionally have samples of cheese, which I am eager to taste. I don't know a lot about cheese, but I want to know more and I am always on the lookout to try new kinds. And one night I tried something that was quite tasty and I thought about buying some but decided to wait until the next week. And then promptly forgot what it was. I knew it started with a "P" and tasted like a milder, younger, creamier parmigiano reggiano but that was all I could remember. I knew I would recognize it if I saw it again, though, so I checked every week to see if I could find it, but they never had it on display again and there are too many cheeses there for it to be practical to search cheese by cheese.

A few weeks ago I got lucky. It was on sale so there was a bigger sign than usual. Piave Cheese. I snatched some up and brought it home with me. It was quite good on pasta and pizzas, and it disappeared quickly, except for a last little bit that I had pre-grated that wasn't really enough for a meal. But it was the perfect amount for an omelette yesterday morning.

I am pleased with how my omelettes are turning out these days. I still follow my basic technique, but I am better at sticking to my less-is-more theory and not filling them so full that they fall apart when I try to plate them.

I had half a shallot in the refrigerator that I chopped and sauteed with a little butter. I beat two eggs with a splash of water (and yes, a scant teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce - you don't want to use too much because it can give your omelette a brownish tinge that is most unattractive) and salt and pepper to taste and added them to the pan. When the eggs were just about set, I laid the asparagus and cheese over the middle, then folded over one side and let it sit for a minute or so. Then I grabbed the handle of the pan and slid the omelette onto the plate, turning it so that the third side folded over the already-folded part.

A delicious breakfast, to be sure.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Italian Chickpea Soup: When a Recipe Isn't Quite Working for You

I have been subscribing to Vegetarian Times magazine for several years now, and I am pretty sure I just renewed my subscription. This is somewhat peculiar, because I believe I have mentioned here before that I have yet to make a recipe from the magazine that worked out for me.

So why do I keep subscribing? A combination of factors, I guess. I want to support them, even though I am not a vegetarian. I think too many of their recipes try too hard to imitate meat dishes, and I am not interested in meat substitutes. I think even if I were a vegetarian I would avoid meat substitutes. It may be just me, but I think if I were to decide to stop eating meat again I would avoid dishes that were made to replicate meat dishes. Even though there's no actual meat in a Chik'n Patty, it would feel like cheating to me to eat one if I were not eating meat.

But then again, I do eat meat, so I know I am not in the best position to judge. What else keeps me loyal to this magazine? I support most of the peripheral ideas that the magazine represents: whole foods, organic foods, sustainability, and information on companies who are walking the walk or just talking the talk. So even though it is unlikely that I will ever give up meat, I don't eat it every day and I am always looking for healthy, hearty vegetarian fare.

But I think I will have to avoid the recipes in future.

This Italian Chickpea Soup is a good illustration of my dilemma. It was in the November 2009 issue, and was a reprint of a 1993 version, revised - "our 2009 taste buds wanted more spice," and is now available online.

Here is the original version. I have mentioned before that one of the issues I have with most of the recipes I have tried from the magazine is that they call for too much spice. And I am a person who believes that if a little bit of spice is nice, more spice is better. The thyme and oregano in this recipe completely overpowered the more subtle flavors of the chickpeas and the vegetable broth.

I did cut the recipe in half, but I also cut the spices in half so that shouldn't have been a problem. The other problem I had with this recipe is that the sweetness of the sweet potato also overpowered the chickpeas and the vegetable broth and competed with the thyme and oregano in my mouth, with an overall unpleasant result. The soup was also much thicker than I thought it would be, and I was not satisfied with it.

So I decided to play with it. I so enjoyed the Tunisian Soup with Chard and Egg Noddles that I made a few weeks ago that I bought a bag of vermicelli I found at the Middle East Baker and Grocery store that is right down the street from where I work. I thought adding the noddles might help tame the competing flavors of the sweet potato and the herbs.

I read that it is a good idea to toast the vermicelli before you cook it, so I put a little oil (a little too much as it turns out; I did use less than a tablespoon, but a teaspoon would have been perfect).

It didn't take long to start turning toasty brown. As it was browning I realized I was halfway toward making Rice-a-Roni - add rice, water and spices and there you are. I guess I'll be working on that soon. Who knew all of these "convenience" foods could be made so conveniently without opening a single box?

I added two more cups of water to the soup, both to thin it and to compensate for the 1/2 cup of vermicelli noodles I was adding. It did mellow out the flavors, but it was still a little too sweet. I added a splash of white wine vinegar and it did brighten up the pot, but it still seemed to be lacking a depth of flavor. Hmmmm. What else could I add? I didn't want to end up with one of those situations where I end up adding a little bit of everything in the kitchen and having it taste like mud. What could bring all of these flavors together?

DIY Worcestershire sauce to the rescue! I added a teaspoon, stirred it in, and that seemed to do the trick.

I don't know what it is about the recipes in Vegetarian Times that makes them not work for me. I will admit that I am a recipe adjuster - I rarely follow a recipe exactly as written. But I have also been cooking for a long time now and my instincts and knowledge are pretty good about what will work and what won't. I do not have this problem with recipes from most other sources, so I do not think that is the reason why I have not yet found a recipe from there that I liked. Perhaps the fact that I do eat meat makes these dishes taste different to me than they would to someone who does not eat meat. But I make plenty of vegetarian dishes from other sources, and again, I do not have this problem.

But I cannot help but wonder, is it me or is it them?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Baking Class: Buttermilk Pie (A Taste of Two Pies)

Buttermilk pie is popular in the South, especially in Texas. It is similar to chess pie; the main difference being that the vinegar is replaced with buttermilk. There are as many variations for this pie as well.

When I first decided to make buttermilk pie and started looking up recipes, one thing I saw over and over was how sweet it was. I even found a recipe that had a less sweet alternative. With all of those warnings, I decided it might be wise to start with the less sweet version.

To make the less sweet version, according to the recipe I chose, you simply add an egg and half a cup of buttermilk. Since nothing was removed, it was a lot of filling for my standard 9-inch pie crust. I might have cooked it a little too long because I was worried that it might not set, but it was also slightly curdled in texture, and not at all smooth like it should have been.

And it was not sweet. Hardly at all.

So I decided to bite the bullet and make the sweeter version. It came out smooth and silky. And it was sweet, yes. But not terribly sweet.

All I can say is this: Anyone who thinks that buttermilk pie is too sweet hasn't tasted chess pie. It's not nearly as sweet as that.

It's a good pie. The buttermilk adds a slightly tart creaminess to counterbalance the sweetness. I will most likely make it again.

But not nearly as often as I will make the tooth-achingly sweet chess pie.
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1 unbaked 9-inch pate brisee

Preheat oven to 325 deg. F.

Put sugar and flour into a small bowl and whisk together.

Beat eggs lightly. Add the sugar and flour and the melted butter and mix well with a whisk or a large wooden spoon. Add the buttermilk and the vanilla and whisk it in.

Dust the unbaked pie shell with a scant teaspoon of flour. Pour the batter into the shell. Sprinkle another scant teaspoon of flour on top.

Bake for about one hour, until a knife inserted into the custard comes out clean.

adapted from Country Cooking, by the editors of Southern Living magazine (Galahad Books, 1974), as related by Natalie Y. Moore in this NPR article.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Swiss Chard and Gruyere Omelette

I don't have a lot of time to post these days, so I'll just say this:

Swiss chard and a touch of homemade Worcestershire sauce make a kick-ass omelette. I chopped up some of the stems and sauteed them before adding the eggs, into which I added a scant teaspoon of the Worcestershire. I had some great Swiss gruyere I bought for my potato garlic pizza so I added that as well.

It made a lovely breakfast to welcome me home from Austin on Monday morning..

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