Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lamb Meatballs & Minted Yogurt

Really? Another one???  I thought this trend was D-E-A-D.  The newest restaurant coming to Chicagoland with the familiar, and tiresome theme- Earth & Ocean.  It joins a list of many others, although now removed is Kith & Kin, which shuttered in May of 2011.  A couple of faves in Girl & the Goat and Longman & Eagle, if you can even get reso's for the Goat.  The wild boar sloppy joe at Longman is quite tasty.  Hard to get a table there too, come to think of it.  Owen & Engine is just okay, the cask-conditioned beer thing hasn't been as popular as they might like on this side of the pond, and they serve their wings dinosaur style (not disjointed) which is a frustrating mess.  That commercial where the wing is slapping that dude's face while he's trying to eat it?  Yeah, that's about how it is trying to eat one of those damn things.  Gene & Georgetti's has been around for 75 years, and is definitely the oldest steakhouse in Chicago with an ampersand in their name.  Smith & Wollensky has better views than steaks, only because this is Chicago and there are plenty better options. I have not dined at Baume & Brix, Bangers & Lace, Butcher & the Burger, or Blokes & Birds.  Too new, too hip, or too out of the way now that we live so far from the action.  Did I miss any?? 

And now I bring you Lamb & Yogurt.  I love this flavor combination, especially enjoyable was this outdoor version.  Minted yogurt, tzatziki sauce, gyros, lamb meatballs, it's all so damn good.  Nothing beats the street vendor gyro at Greek Fest, so much crispy yet juicy meat packed in a warm pita with tomatoes, onion, and sauce, washed down with cold snuck-in backpack Miller Lites.    

This recipe yields 27 golf-ball size meatballs, for 1.25 pounds of ground lamb.  When frying, you never want to crowd the pan, as you'll need to roll them around to brown on all sides.  Use a neighboring meatball for support if needed, they're friends.  Work in batches and keep the cooked balls warm in the oven.  An easy way to keep track is to put the first meatball in the skillet at Noon (the hands on the clock, you don't have to eat these for lunch, although you could) and then go either way around the clock.  When turning them, start at Noon and go the same way so they get equal frying time.  You might need to clean the stovetop after this one. 

 Lamb Meatballs & Minted Yogurt
6 servings

for the minted yogurt-
8 oz plain greek yogurt
2 TB chopped fresh mint
1 TB fresh lemon juice plus 1/2 large lemon zest
2 TB thinly sliced green onion
pinch S&P

for the balls-
1 C of torn 1/2" pieces white bread, crusts removed (about 2 slices)
1/2 cup milk
1-1.25 lb ground lamb
1/2 C diced shallot (or one small onion)
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 C chopped fresh mint (about 1 C whole leaves, loosely packed)
1 ts dried oregano
1 large egg, whisked
1 ts ground cumin
1/8 ts fresh nutmeg (or ground)
1 ts kosher salt
1/2 ts freshly cracked black pepper
flour, for dredging
canola oil, for frying

6 pitas, lightly toasted
1/4 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, diced
1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
handful torn mint leaves

for the yogurt-
combine all ingredients, stir well, taste for seasoning, adjust with more lemon or S&P if needed, stash in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.  Will keep up to a week. 

for the balls-
Place the torn pieces of bread in a small bowl, cover with the milk.  Smash down a bit to get all the bread soaking.  Set aside.  This is a panade, if you want the technical term, and is the best friend any meatball will ever have.  

In a small skillet, heat up a TB or so of EVOO or butter over medium heat and cook the shallot until soft, but not browned, about 3-4 minutes.   Add the garlic the last 30 seconds, stirring.  Set aside to cool.  Fire up your oven to warm, 225F.

In a large mixing bowl, add the ground lamb, egg, mint, oregano, cumin, and nutmeg.  Squeeze the excess milk from the bread and add the bread to the bowl, along with the slightly cooled shallot/garlic mixture.  Season with S&P, then combine thoroughly but gently with your hands.  You want to distribute the ingredients evenly but not mash the shit out of it.

Form about golf-ball size portions, roll in the palm of your hand and place on a sheet pan.  In a shallow dish, add a bit of flour for dredging.  Heat about 1/2 C or so of canola or vegetable oil in a cast-iron skillet or steel pan over medium high heat.  Dredge the balls in flour, shaking off any excess, place gently into the hot oil.  Fry your balls on each side until browned, about 2 minutes per side.  Remove to a paper towel lined sheet pan, place in the warm oven while you fry up the rest of the lamb balls. 

Serve the lamb meatballs in a warm pita topped with minted yogurt, diced cucumber, thinly sliced red onion, and a few torn mint leaves.  A syrah, pinot, or Bordeaux would pair nicely, or one of those Greek wines with forty-seven letters you can't pronounce. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

White Chicken Chili

Vacation.  The word sounds unfamiliar.  Only a few short weeks until we escape the cold Chicago winter and find ourselves on the west coast, pale white arms and legs blinding the locals.  It will be a much needed break, even if we have to fly with a 9-month old.  And the car seat.  And the stroller.  And the pack-n-play.  Add a suitcase and a couple backpacks in there too.  How many times can one eat In-N-Out in a week?

Are you stuck in the doldrums of winter and need something different?  A deviation from the usual chili?  How about this white chicken version, completely non-tomato based.  Spring training is in full swing, pun intended, so there's only a few weeks left of chilly weather to make tasty winter dishes like this chili.  Two days into Cubs' camp, and the #1 pitcher is already getting an MRI for a pulled muscle and put on the shelf for a few days.  Yup, that sounds about right.  It's not easy to play for 105 years and avoid winning the whole shebang. 

Let me say this again, here is a great example of a recipe that will benefit from homemade chicken stock.  I made a double batch of this recipe, which required a few mason jars worth of stock from the freezer.  Buying a couple rotisserie chickens for the meat, I froze the leftover carcasses ready for the next batch of stock to replenish my supply.  There aren't too many ingredients in this meal, so by using good quality stuff you're guaranteed to end up with delicious results. 

White Chicken Chili
6 servings

1 large yellow onion or 2 medium, diced
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
6 C chicken stock, homemade or low-sodium store bought
6 C canned white beans (cannellini or great northern)
4 oz canned green chilis
2 ts ground cumin
2 ts dried oregano
1/4 ts cayenne powder
4 C cooked chicken, diced (about one 2.5 lb roasted chicken)
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
3 C shredded monterey jack cheese
1 jalapeno or serrano, thinly sliced, seeded or not, completely optional
tortilla chips, oyster crackers, saltines, completely optional

Fire up a big ass cast-iron dutch oven or large pot over medium heat.  Add a few TB's of olive oil, saute the onion until soft but not browned, about 4-5 minutes.  Add the garlic for 60 seconds, stirring.

Introduce the chicken stock and increase the heat to bring to a boil.  Add the beans, green chilis, seasonings, and cooked chicken.  Add a pinch of salt and pepper, simmer over low heat for an hour.  

After about sixty minutes, your entire house should smell awesome and that means it is time to eat.  Serve topped with a good bit of freshly shredded monterey jack cheese, maybe a bit of thinly sliced peppers if that's your thang, perhaps some crackers or chips.  Jalapeno cheddar cornbread too? 

My double batch in mason jars, ready to barter for some babysitting....

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Orecchiette with Kale and Breadcrumbs

It's Hockey Day in America, and we're excited to be Hawks fans! 

They're super good, just like this wintertime pasta dish.  3 NHL games and 2 college (outdoor!) games on TV today, so while we're waiting for the 3rd period to start, you should pick a weeknight to cook up this healthy dish. 

Orecchiette with Kale and Breadcrumbs
4  servings

1 lb tuscan kale, trimmed of stems (2 large bunches)
1 C course fresh bread crumbs
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 TB unsalted butter
4 anchovy filets, drained of oil
1/4 ts chili (red pepper) flakes
1 lb orecchiette
1 C reserved cooking liquid
3/4 C freshly grated parmigiano reggiano 

Get some salted water boiling in a big ass stockpot.  Cook the kale in batches until tender, about 4-5 minutes, turning occasionally.  Remove to a sheet pan to cool slightly.  Shake off excess water and chop leaves, remove any large stems you didn't previously.

Cook the pasta in the same water according to directions, bout 8 minutes or so.  

Meanwhile, heat about 4 TB EVOO in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add the breadcrumbs and cook until nicely toasty brown, 3-4 minutes, stirring often.  Add one of the sliced garlic cloves the last thirty seconds.  Season with a pinch of kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, set aside.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, add the anchovy, chili flake and remaining 2 sliced garlic cloves.  Stir for a minute, mashing up the anchovy filets with a spoon.  Add the kale to the party, with a half cup of the cooking water, turn down the heat to low.   

When the orecchiette is al dente, add to the skillet with a half cup of parm and stir everything together.  Add more pasta water if needed, until pasta is coated with sauce.  Serve up and top with remaining cheese and breadcrumbs. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Brussels Sprouts Slaw

I've always thought Brussels sprouts being plural is kinda weird.  It never dawned on me to think that they were named after that great city in Belgium, where the cabbage has origins.  Duh.  Honestly, I'd rather have their beer.  Tripel Karmeliet and Westmalle are two of my faves.  Very tasty, and quite strong...just look at me after exiting a brewery in Belgium.  In love with that funky yeasty flavor.  And feeling quite good. 

There's a lot of haters out there of Brussels sprouts.  They don't taste good, they have a sulfurous malodor, etc.  I didn't eat them for the first 32 years of my life, they were famously named the only food banned from my household growing up.  Not until one holiday did I begin to enjoy them, sauteing them in bacon fat sure helped bring me around.  Since then, I've enjoyed them roasted (deliciously caramelizes the little guys) and even raw, as in this slaw.  If you don't have a mandoline to shave them, you'll need some knife skills to slice them thinly.  Raw veggies are the most nutritious, as cooking does degrade some nutrients in vegetables.  Don't be afraid of eating them raw!  The lemon vinaigrette is lovely to cut through any bitterness you might expect from uncooked Brussels sprouts.  This is a wonderful winter side dish that is super healthy, exactly the type of thing I like eating about this time of year, cause I just pounded half a sheet pan of nachos during that football game last week. 

Brussels Sprouts Slaw
4 servings as side

1 lb Brussels sprouts (about 3 C)
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
3 TB lemon juice (fresh of course!)
1 ts honey
1 ts whole grain mustard
pinch S&P
1/3 C EVOO
1/3 C toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 C parm or pecorino romano

Set up your mandoline to cut super super thin.  Grab a sprout, peel back the outer layer and fold towards the root end, shave carefully on the mandoline blade.  Stop before you get to your fingertips, that would not be tasty or good for you.  You don't want to eat the outer layer or the root end, so it's a nice little holder while slicing the yummy part.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk the lemon juice, honey, and mustard.  Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Slowly add about a third cup of EVOO, whisking to emulsify.  Taste for your preferred level of acidity and seasoning- add more oil or S&P if desired. 

In a serving bowl, combine the shaved Brussels sprouts and red onion.  Toss in the nuts, then the vinaigrette and most of the cheese.  Using clean hands, toss gently to mix everything up.  Serve immediately and top with a bit of remaining freshly shaved parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano.  Serve with some protein and a fruity, yeasty Belgian beer.