Saturday, December 27, 2008

Lamb and Cous Cous

During my junior year in college, I lived in Aix-en-Provence, France, where I first had a dish called 'cous cous.' Because of the long and sometimes contentious relationship France had with Algeria, many of recipes made the transit from North Africa to the streets of Paris and Aix-en-Provence. Thus, when I was living in France I was able to try many different versions of this delightful dish. Cous cous was one of my favorite meals when I lived there, but after I returned to the United States, was not able to find a restaurant that had it on their menu. Fast forward to 1990 when the Maven and I were living in Monterey and I was going to graduate school. Dee was working for a local company and she took a client out to lunch at a restaurant in Pacific Grove called Fandango. Lo and behold, this delightful restaurant had cous cous on its menu, and Fandango's version of it was justs as wonderful as the cous cous I had in France. Now, let's get to 2008. We had our kitchen remodeled and I am motivated to try out new recipes and cous cous was high on my list. I found a recipe for this dish on line and last night I tried my hand at Lamb and Cous Cous and I am happy to report that it was an unqualified success. Deirdre loved it and I have been tasked to make it again soon. Below is the recipe:

Lamb with Couscous

Vary this recipe as you will, using beef or chicken instead of lamb and adding or subtracting vegetables. The heat level is also optional: harissa or another hot sauce can be used more copiously if you like spicy food or left out altogether if you want a milder stew. The easiest thing is to stir in just a touch of fiery hot sauce and let your guests add more if they wish.

3 pounds boneless lean lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch chunks
1-1/2 cups finely diced onions
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp paprika
1-1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
About 1 tsp salt
About 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of saffron (optional)
1 tsp dried mint
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro stems (save the leaves for garnish)
3 cups coarsely chopped onions
4 cups water
3 carrots, cut into 1-1/2-inch chunks
2 cups cooked chickpeas (garbanzos), homemade or canned
3 cups 2-inch chunks peeled winter squash, such as butternut or acorn
2 cups 1-inch chunks peeled turnip
1 cup raisins (optional)
Pinch of ground cinnamon (optional)
2 tsp Harissa, or other hot sauce, or to taste (optional)
2 cups 2-inch zucchini pieces
2 to 3 cups instant couscous

Combine the lamb, onions, garlic, spices, saffron, mint, and cilantro stems in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the water and bring to a boil, adding more water if necessary to cover lamb. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, or until the lamb is tender.

Add the carrots, chickpeas, winter squash, turnips, and the optional raisins, cinnamon, and harissa or other hot sauce to the pot, making sure they are covered with liquid (add more water if needed), and cook, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes more, or until the carrots and squash are tender. Taste for more harrisa or hot sauce and salt and pepper.

Almost all the couscous available in the United States is already cooked or instant. Once you've added the squash to the stew, cook the couscous following the directions on the box. Spoon the couscous into a large, shallow serving bowl and ladle the stew over it. Pass harissa or another hot sauce at the table.

Yield: Serves 8, with leftovers

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Dinner

Christmas dinner at the Cafe this year was a bit more traditional than in years past. Deirdre wanted me to prepare a turkey, so I once again brined a turkey breast overnight for our meal. I prepared the same brine I used for our Thanksgiving meal and I am happy to report that the turkey was just as moist and flavorful as the first brined turkey I cooked last month. The sides included wild rice pilaf, cranberry sauce and a chopped salad. We enjoyed a bottle of Grayson Pinot Noir, slightly chilled, with our meal. Our reindeer friends, acquired at Art of the Table, kept the watch over our table as Dee and I enjoyed our meal. Tonight, I will be trying my hand at a traditional Moroccan dish, Lamb with Cous Cous.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Balsamic Pork Chops

I made this meal last night, courtesy of the Super Mom. It was nothing short of fantastic!

Balsamic Pork Chops
Recipe Courtesy: Southern Living, October 2001

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
6 (3/4-inch-thick) boneless pork chops
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can chicken broth
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
Garnish: fresh rosemary sprigs

Combine flour, 1 teaspoon rosemary, salt, and pepper. Dredge pork chops in flour mixture.

Melt butter with oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add garlic, and sauté 1 minute. Add pork chops, and cook 4 minutes on each side or until golden. Remove pork chops.

Add broth and vinegar, stirring to loosen particles from bottom of skillet. Cook 6 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Add pork chops, and cook 5 minutes or until done. Serve over rice. Garnish, if desired.

**Cook's Note: I think the garlic in this recipe goes in much too early. Per the recipe, by the time you saute the garlic and brown the chops, the garlic has been sizzling away over medium-high heat for nearly 10 minutes. The first two times I made this, the garlic was scorched and bitter. I'd recommend browning and removing the chops, first, then saute the garlic just before you deglaze.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Slight change in plans...

Much to the chagrin of the Super Mom, earlier this week I planned the following menus for the coming week:

Sunday: Stay in Bed Stew
Monday: Chicken Masala
Tuesday: Chicken with Tarragon and Cream
Wednesday (Christmas Eve): Balsamic Pork Chops
Thursday (Christmas Day): Brined Turkey Breast
Friday: Leftover Turkey

Of course, no plan survives first contact with the opposition. Instead of eating at home for Christmas Eve, we have been invited over have dinner with Bud & Barbara, our "GR parents." Thus, my new menu for the week looks something like this:

Sunday: Stay in Bed Stew
Monday: Chicken Masala
Balsamic Pork Chops
Wednesday (Christmas Eve): Beef Tenderloin
Thursday (Christmas Day): Brined Turkey Breast
Friday: Lamb with Cous Cous

The Stay in Bed Stew was nothing short of fantastic, while the Chicken Masala was rather pedestrian. The Masala was easy enough to make, as all I had to do was back a few chicken breasts until they were done, than simemr the pre-cooked chicken in the Masala sauce for 15 minutes or so. The Vindaloo sauce is a lot spicer and much more aligned with our tastes.

I am excited about the Lamb with Cous Cous. I lived in France during most of my junior year in college and one dish I grew quite found of was, you guessed it, Lamb with Cous Cous. I found a recipe for it that looks very similar to the meals I had in France. Of course, full report to follow on how that meal turns out.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Amateurs discuss tactics...

And professionals discuss logistics. Thus today was all about planning meals for the coming week. Here is the current menu plan for the week:

Sunday: Stay in Bed Stew
Monday: Chicken Masala
Tuesday: Chicken with Tarragon and Cream
Wednesday (Christmas Eve): Balsamic Pork Chops
Thursday (Christmas Day): Brined Turkey Breast
Friday: Leftover Turkey

I have made up list of ingredients needed for each meal and over the course of the next few days I will forage for them all

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Citrus Chicken

Last night our friend Ann Marie came over to make Citrus Chicken. Below is the recipe:

- 1 whole chicken
- 1 lemon, cut into pieces
- 1 orange, cut into pieces
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1-2 cups chicken stock or broth
- 5 whole garlic cloves, peeled
- 3 cloves, minced
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Oregano to taste
- Cayenne pepper to taste (optional)
- white wine for deglazing the roasting pan

Pre-heat the oven to 400F. Wash and dry the chicken. Stuff the chicken with the cut up lemon, orange and 5 garlic cloves. Place the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan and season the top of the it with salt, pepper, oregano and cayenne pepper. Pour the chicken stock into the roasting pan. Place the chicken into the oven and cook until the internal temperature of the chicken is 170F.

In a mixing bowl, combine the lemon and orange juice and season to taste. After the chicken has been cooking for 45 minutes or so, baste the chicken with this liquid. Continue to baste the chicken every 15 minutes until done.

Once the chicken is done, remove it from the roasting pan, place it on a cutting board and loosely cover with aluminum foil and let it rest for 10-15 minutes. While the chicken is resting, place the roasting pan on a stove under low heat. Deglaze the pan with white wine and add some more chicken stock. Reduce the liquid for 5-10 minutes. Strain the liquid and place it in a gravy boat/dish.

Carve the chicken and serve, pouring the reduction over the meat.

Cook's Notes:
This was an incredibly easy dish to make and each bite of the chicken was tart and juicy. With the chicken, I served rice pilaf and steamed broccoli. We washed it all down with a bottle of 2004 Leewin Estates Prelude Vineyards Chardonnay. I will definitely make this dish again!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Citrus Chicken

Tonight our friend Ann Marie is coming over to make a dish she calls "Citrus Chicken." All I know for sure is that chicken and citrus is involved. Full report to follow.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Post-Ex of the Brined Pork Tenderloin

I am happy to report that the herby brined pork tenderloin I made for Friday night's dinner was nothing short of fantastic. I brined the tenderloin for 8 hours, removed it from the post inwhich it soaked, and put it into a cast iron skillet. I then placed the skillet into an 375F oven and I cooked the tenderloin until it reached an internal temperature of 160F. I removed the tenderloins from the skillet, then covered them with aluminum foil and allowed the meat to rest for 10 minutes. I had already prepared a salad, so while the meat was resting Deirdre mashed the red skin potatoes with a little butter and milk. Our plates were loaded up with a few slices of pork, mashed potatoes and some green onion garnish. I took a bite of the pork and the meat was incredibly tender and moist. We enjoyed a bottle of Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouvea with this meal, slightly chilled. Bottom line: This meal was a winner. I think that my next brining adventure will be with chicken.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Herby Brined Pork Tenderloin

Tonight we will be expanding our foray into brining. Our friends at Art of the Table provided the brine we used for our turkey for Thanksgiving, and we used the generic brine. When we purchased the generic brine, we also picked up a jar of herby brine. I am happy to report that I am currently brining a pork tenderloin which I will roast tonight. I am still working on the side dishes, but I will definitely enjoy some Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveu. Full report to follow!

Dinner with Henry & Jan

Last night we had our friends Henry & Jan over for dinner. They were unable to attend last month's Kitchen Warming Party, so they had not seen our new kitchen. I made one of Deirdre's favorite meal, Tenderloin DeLuxe. There was one "Oh my" moment last night. I put the tenderloin into my new GE oven at 6:35PM, and in the past it would normally take 40-45 minutes for the roast to reach an internal temperature of 124F. Well, in less than 20 minutes, the internal temperature was 100F. I reduced the temperature of the oven from 400F to 300F to slow down the rate at which the temperature was rising. In the end, the roast took 31 minutes to reach the "medium rare" temperature of 124F.