Leg of Lamb – 10/31/10

I’m not sure what inspired me to roast a small piece of a leg of lamb. Somewhere in my mind I’d been wanting to do something with lamb…whether it be with the chops, shank or leg. The deal was sealed when I saw the perfect-sized piece of roast at my local Bristol Farms.

I got a boneless piece of roast which I liked because I could stuff it with various herbs before tying the roast together. I used fresh rosemary, thyme, garlic and…of course…salt and pepper. My method of cooking this would be simple – sear then finish in the oven low and slow – around 200 degrees. Conveniently, I was working on a pork confit at the same time in the oven at 200 degrees. I often like to roast things at a pretty low temperature, taking a page out of Cook’s Illustrated and Ad Hoc at Home. Roasting at a higher temperature tends to overcook and dry out the exterior of a roast before the whole thing is cooked through. With a lower temperature, I would be able to maximize the amount of perfectly-cooked medium meat.

lamb1

lamb2

I was aiming for a medium temperature on the meat. I took it out when my thermometer read 133 degrees and let it rest, though I felt the meat ended up being closer to medium-rare. Still good though.

lamb3

I completed my plate with some garlic sauteed spinach, and a mint-based salsa verde on top. I just tossed in fresh parsley, mint, garlic, anchovies, and capers into my food processor while continually adding olive oil. I forgot to buy a lemon (dammit!), so I was missing some of the acidity I was looking for.

In all though, I was pretty happy with my lamb!

Lasagna – 10/30/10

I really enjoy a good lasagna, but I’m pretty picky. It seems every Italian establishment has some variation of the dish, and they vary widely in types of meat, types of cheese, vegetables, mushrooms…you name it. I like my lasagnas heavy on the meat and the noodles, so I often find my homemade dish the most satisfying.

lasagne1

I like my lasagna pretty simple. I often experiment with various types of meats…sausages, ground beef, veal and pork, but I keep to fairly standard mozzarella cheese and a basic tomato sauce.

I started with making a quick tomato sauce. I first seared the beef, then sauteed the shallots and garlic before crushing some San Marzano tomatoes. I simmered this down with fresh basil and the beef just until my sauce reached the consistency I wanted. Then, I just started layering my sauce, no-boil lasagna noodles (so convenient!), and parmesan and mozzarella cheeses all the way to the top of my dish.

lasagne2

After about an hour in the oven…voila! I was actually pretty lucky to get a perfectly browned crust on top. I was pretty happy with this lasagna as the ratio of noodles, meat, sauce and cheese was just to my liking. My lasagnas can be fairly inconsistent, but this one was a winner!

Animal – 8/21/10

Animal
435 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90048

I’ve been wanting to try Animal for a while, and finally got the chance. Founded by Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Two Dude Catering (Food Network) fame, Animal has been a consistently popular restaurant since it opened in 2008. Every time I’ve tried to make a weekend reservation (I admit – usually with short notice), I get a response such as “the earliest table we have available is 10:30.” Or 11:30. What! I didn’t even realize people were seated that late (the restaurant is actually open til 2am on Fridays and Saturdays). They offer the full menu for first-come, first-served walk-ins at the bar, and this is what we opted for.

Obviously, this place is not for vegetarians, as the menu is meat-centric, offering various meats and cuts that are rarely found all in one place, including oxtail, rabbit, sweetbreads and octopus.

boudin, rooster aioli, gherkin

This boudin was made of chicken liver and rice, then fried in bite-sized balls. It was actually pretty light, and nicely crispy – a good way to start the meal.

pig ear, chili, lime, fried egg


Here, pig ears are sliced thin and fried. Combined with lime and chili peppers, it’s topped with a fried egg. Honestly, the fried egg really makes this dish for me. The spiciness of the peppers was slightly mellowed out by the runny egg yolk, which really brought everything together. However, I could’ve used two egg yolks here.

barbecue pork belly sandwiches, slaw

First off, the pork belly was melt-in-mouth tender. It probably helped that it was a rather fatty piece of pork. The meat was succulent, with the barbecue sauce adding a slight sweetness and smokiness that was not overpowering. Too often I see BBQ pork sandwiches that are dredged in a thick BBQ sauce, and this was not the case. The coleslaw added just the right amount of acidity and lightness to this dish. Bravo!

poutine, oxtail gravy, cheddar

I remembered seeing a picture and description of this dish when I first heard about Animal and was like…this is a total must-order. I love oxtail. Here we have braised oxtail and its gravy (presumably the braising liquid), on top of french fries and a mild cheddar cheese.  I think the fries were fried extra crispy, in order to add more texture, and combat sogginess from the gravy. Really delicious – definitely a fan.

foie gras loco moco, quail egg, spam, hamburger

Here’s a play on the Hawaiian staple dish of loco moco which, at its base, usually has rice topped with a burger patty, spam, fried egg, and gravy. Animal steps it up a notch with a lobe of foie gras. Completely decadent and rich! I first tried pieces of each of the components separately and found them good on their own. Combined, it made for something quite tasty (though, it can be hard to taste the foie gras with all those components, since it’s a pretty thin slice). This was probably my favorite dish of the night.

bacon chocolate crunch bar, s&p anglaise

Of course, a restaurant named ‘Animal’ would have a dessert with bacon in it. I’ve heard a lot about this dish, and it’s the must-try dessert on the menu. Layers of rich chocolate and hazelnuts is topped with bacon bits. I like salty things with chocolate, and the bacon lended this saltiness and the “crunch” in this bar. While good, I wouldn’t particularly say it was ‘great,’ however I was pretty full by this point.

peach and raspberry pie, whipped cream

Animal serves a daily pie topped with freshly whipped cream. Today’s pie was peach and raspberry. The peaches were nice and sweet, and the raspberries were tart (a little too tart for me). The pie crust was quite nice though, and the whipped cream was a nice accompaniment. I began to actually eat the cream with the bacon chocolate crunch bar, which made for a pretty good combination.

In all, Animal met my (high) expectations. The food is a little different, with innovative takes on comfort food and some new dishes altogether.  The food is very rich, and you’re likely to leave full and sleepy. At least, I did. I would come back, especially for the pork belly sandwiches and loco moco, as well as to try some of the rest of the dishes on the menu.

Another restaurant from Shook & Dotolo is in the works on Third Street in West Hollywood, which will be a different concept from Animal. It will be exciting to see what these guys come up with.

Ad Hoc Fried Chicken – 8/1/10

I purchased the Ad Hoc Fried Chicken kit from Williams-Sonoma a while back. I saw it in the store and immediately had to get it. Nevermind the fact that I had never made fried chicken before, and am slightly averse to frying in a big pot of oil at home – it was Ad Hoc fried chicken, and I had to have it.

The kit comes with enough brine and seasoned batter for two uses, and I first made the chicken pre-blog. Because I would be using so much oil to fry the chicken, I figured I might as well cook as much as I could, and invite some fried chicken-appreciating friends over and turn it into a bit of a potluck.

First, the chicken. I was able to fit 24 pieces of thighs and drumsticks into the brine, which sat overnight. They were dried, and allowed to come to room temperature.

Ad Hoc’s method is to batter the chicken in the seasoned flour, dip in buttermilk, and then dip again in the seasoned flour.

When the chicken was battered, we let it sit for a few minutes to let the batter set.

After that, they went into the oil. I started with oil that was approx. 350 degrees, subsequent batches were frying at around 330 degrees.

After about 12 minutes, the first batch was done!

After about 5 batches, all 24 pieces were fried. I continuously put in sprigs of thyme to flavor the oil, as well as to act as a garnish.

The chicken was pretty damn delicious, if I do say so myself. The exterior was a golden brown; very crispy. But what made the difference was the very flavorful, juicy interior – definitely a result of the brine. Easily some of the best homemade fried chicken I’ve had. While it was a lot of work, and involved a lot of cleanup (all that oil!), it was worth it…though it will probably be a while until I do it again.

Heather baked some jalapeno cornbread as an appetizer/side – luckily, it wasn’t too spicy…but had just the right kick.

Kristen brought some watermelon, which was quite juicy and delicious.

Angelo brought a couple of salads, and James put on his chef’s hat, making baked corn and a homemade crab dip. Unfortunately, I did not get pictures of these. As I wasn’t sure we would have enough food, I had also made a beef stew ahead of time.

I’ve posted enough times about braising dishes at home, so I didn’t do a step-by-step pictorial. I roasted some cauliflower and broccoli as well.

These were cut up, and roasted in my cast-iron skillet with salt, pepper and olive oil.

I also made some mashed potatoes using russet potatoes, butter, beef fat (from the stew) and heavy cream. Unfortunately though, I didn’t get a picture.

Mike and Lilly of LA Beer Hopping were in charge of the beer.

The selection included Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, Allagash White, Alesmith X, BridgePort IPA, and a Ninkasi Spring Reign. I threw in a Pliny the Elder for good measure. I thought this was a pretty good selection. The IPAs would satisfy the “hopheads,” and the Allagash White, Alesmith X and Ninkasi beers attracted those that wanted a less bitter, perhaps lighter, craft beer.

For dessert, we had a couple of options. Heather brought a homemade peach/blueberry/raspberry cobbler served warm.

And I made a tiramisu.

This was actually fairly simple. I whipped up some cream, adding vanilla extract, marscapone, and sugar once it reached the ‘soft peaks’ stage. I layered lady fingers (dipped in a mixture of coffee and kahlua) and the cream mixture, with grated chocolate at each layer.

I was pretty pleased with the meal. It was a lot of work cooking so much (especially all that chicken), but it was a good opportunity to get some people together and enjoy some good food and good brews.

Pot Roast – 6/13/10

For anyone that is a semi-regular reader, most of my home cooked meals have been braises. They’re just really satisfying dishes that do take some time, but yield some really delicious, tender meat and creates a good sauce at the same time. Plus, they’re usually pretty inexpensive to make, as ‘cheap’ cuts are typically the cuts of meat that are braised.

My desire to cook a pot roast was somewhat inspired by an episode of Barefoot Contessa that I recently watched – the revelation came to me as I was looking at a stack of leeks in my local Bristol Farms. They had a really nice chuck roast in the meat department; thus, my mind was made.

I didn’t actually look up the actual recipe before cooking; I largely did it from memory and made it my own. However, this is what Ina Garten’s is for reference:

Ingredients

* 1 (4 to 5-pound) prime boneless beef chuck roast, tied
* Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
* All-purpose flour
* Good olive oil
* 2 cups chopped carrots (4 carrots)
* 2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
* 2 cups chopped celery (4 stalks)
* 2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 to 4 leeks)
* 5 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
* 2 cups good red wine, such as Burgundy
* 2 tablespoons Cognac or brandy
* 1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes in puree
* 1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
* 1 chicken bouillon cube
* 3 branches fresh thyme
* 2 branches fresh rosemary
* 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Pat the beef dry with a paper towel. Season the roast all over with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Dredge the whole roast in flour, including the ends. In a large Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the roast and sear for 4 to 5 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn and sear the other side and then turn and sear the ends. This should take 4 to 5 minutes for each side. Remove the roast to a large plate.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the Dutch oven. Add the carrots, onions, celery, leeks, garlic, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper and cook over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender but not browned. Add the wine and Cognac and bring to a boil. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, bouillon cube, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Tie the thyme and rosemary together with kitchen string and add to the pot. Put the roast back into the pot, bring to a boil, and cover. Place in the oven for 2 1/2 hours, until the meat is fork tender or about 160 degrees F internally. Turn the heat down to 250 degrees F after about an hour to keep the sauce at a simmer.

Remove the roast to a cutting board. Remove the herb bundle and discard. Skim off as much fat as possible from the sauce. Transfer half the sauce and vegetables to a blender or a food processor fitted with the steel blade and puree until smooth. Pour the puree back into the pot, place on the stovetop over low heat, and return the sauce to a simmer. Place 2 tablespoons flour and the butter in a small bowl and mash them together with a fork. Stir into the sauce and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring until thickened. Taste for seasonings. Remove the strings from the roast, and slice the meat. Serve warm with the sauce spooned over it.

I bought a three-pound chuck roast, already tied with butcher twine.

With some salt, pepper and flour, I browned this on all sides.

Then I added my aromatics – onions, celery, carrots and leeks.

I cooked these down a little bit, then added some red wine, chicken broth and a can of tomatoes. Finally, I put the roast back in for the braise.

I put this in the oven for about three hours to let the braise do its work. When it came out, I took the meat out to rest, then cut it up into slices.

While cutting it up, I could tell it was pretty tender, but not quite “falling apart” tender. I added these slices back into the sauce to warm, and topped with chopped parsley.

I needed something to serve this with, so I whipped up some yukon gold potatoes into a mash, with fresh chives from the garden.

I was ready for plating!

Overall, my dish was a little bit of a disappointment. My mashed potatoes were slightly lumpy, and not on purpose. Some of the larger potato chunks were a little undercooked, so they left some small chunks. The pot roast itself wasn’t quite as tender as I thought it’d be. It was a little dry too. Hmm. I think I may have cooked it a little too long. In addition, my sauce wasn’t really as thick as I would’ve liked – I should’ve added some flour or corn starch to it at the end…unfortunately, I just totally forgot to do this. Overall it was definitely something I’d eat, but my execution was a little off today.

Pasta – 6/1/10

I love noodles. One of the things I wish I cooked really well is pasta – in many variations. Making pasta can be very simple or very complex. It can be as simple as boiling some dried noodles and mixing it with a jar of sauce, though I don’t recommend that. I don’t remember what show I was watching on the Food Network, but someone was making a pasta sauce by braising ribs in a tomato sauce, and then mixing it with sauce. It looked delicious!  Thus, I was game to try some variation of this.

I didn’t follow a particular recipe, as I didn’t find one that was exactly what I wanted. Having read through a number, I decided to craft my own concoction.

The meats: one rack of pork baby back ribs and a couple pounds of bone-in beef short ribs.

This would largely be a braise of these meats, in a tomato-based sauce. I started my browning my meats.

Once done, I sweated down my onions, along with garlic and carrots.

I then added a little bit of red wine, San Marzano tomatoes, some chicken broth, and my meat. Bringing this to a simmer, I transferred it to the oven for the next couple of hours.

By this point, the sauce had developed a very rich, meaty flavor, and the meat was falling off the bones. I took out the meat, reduced the liquid to a thicker consistency, and placed the liquid in the refrigerator. I would cool this overnight in order to skim the fat off the top once it coagulated.

While it was hot, I pulled the meat apart into smaller, bite-sized pieces and discarded the bones.


I couldn’t help but eat some of the meat while it was breaking apart, and it was delicious! I actually liked the pork a little bit better, but they were both very tender, moist and full of flavor!

Fast forward to the next day – I removed the fat from my sauce and put it on the heat. To finish, I re-warmed the meat and added chopped parsley and basil.

I cooked up some penne for this, and mixed the pasta and meat sauce in a separate pan. I grated some Parmesan over the dish and finished with a little more fresh basil.

I was pretty happy with how this dish turned out. The flavors were really spot on. However, I found my sauce a little bit on the watery side – I wanted something thicker. I partially attribute this to the juices of the meat coming out after re-adding it, and maybe I added too much liquid to the braise (mainly, the chicken broth). Oh well. Next time, I might add more tomatoes and less liquid.