Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Thanksgiving Warm-Up, Or, In Search Of The Loch Ness Pancake

You know that it's been a lousy summer, garden-wise, when your plants yield more tomatoes in October and November than they did ALL SUMMER.

Bizarro, indeed.

On the other hand, there is something deeply satisfying about being able to walk into your own backyard a few days before Thanksgiving and pick some green tomatoes, the last of the chard and the last of the dandy greens, then turn around, walk inside and prepare a beautiful fall dinner for twenty of you hungry people!

I had been flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks, Olives and Oranges by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox and found an intriguing recipe for Lamb Shoulder with Concord Grapes and Green Tomatoes. Grapes AND tomatoes? Hmmm...

Since there were green tomatoes galore in the backyard (ahem) and concord grapes still at the market, I figured why the hell not? The rest of the menu came together around that dish, along with the recipe for Tempura Fried Green Beans, only with Ponzu Sauce, not mustard, from the Sunday New York Times a few weeks earlier.

The invite:

Hungry Kiddies!

I am in a spit-roasted pig hangover/fog. Many thanks to those who made it and many apologies to those who I had to turn away. Roast pig really motivates you folks!!

So... there are still a bunch of things I have been thinking about, and the weekend before Thanksgiving seems to be the perfect opportunity! Think of this dinner as a chance to eat some really great food before you are forced to go to your annual pilgrimage home to your family's Thanksgiving dinner, and all of the "family recipes" that entails. I know that green bean casserole holds a special place in many of our hearts, but.... I think we can all admit that it isn't that mouth watering, right? Don't get me wrong- I will be right there eating 3 helpings of it on Thursday, but facts is facts. Karl and I are taking down the last remnants of the garden FOR REAL this week-- which means I need to use the rest of that chard, green tomatoes and dandy greens. Concord grapes are still in the market, so we need to eat those too, right?

The Menu:
  • Tempura Green Beans with Ponzu
    (this was a staple dish at Fressen years ago-- it just appeared in the NYT and made me want it all over again)
  • Turnips and their Tops in Miso Broth
  • Dandy Green Salad from our garden!! with candied bacon and a mayonnaise-y dressing of sorts
  • Swiss Chard with a touch of Chili Flake from the garden!
  • Cauliflower with Anchovy Butter, an all time favorite of mine from Prune
  • Slow Braised Lamb Shoulder with Concord Grapes and Green Tomatoes also from the garden!-- from Olives and Oranges by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox
  • Israeli Cous Cous
  • and
  • Let's Try This Again, This Time with Pears, Swedish Oven Pancake

I sliced the tomatoes in half and sauteed them with garlic and a little olive oil, browning them on both sides.

I ended up using both lamb shoulder (with bones) and a boned out leg of lamb, cut into pieces. It seemed right to use both cuts for a)financial reasons and b)flavor/texture.

Some might say that it's a waste of a good leg of lamb to slow braise it, but I disagree. The leg breaks down slower than the shoulder does, and has a little more heft to it. The shoulder provides the bone marrow and the fat, and the leg gives you that full, rich lamb flavor.

The recipe is oddly simple -- I kept thinking, "Really? That's it?"

Salt, pepper, seared lamb, garlic and green tomatoes, concord grapes and white wine. That was it.

Covered it up, parked it in the oven and walked away. I think the total oven time was about three hours; About twice as long as the recipe called for, but I was also quadrupling the ingredients. When I finally pulled out the covered pot, the dish was glorious: Melt in your mouth.

Interestingly, the kitchen smelled of concord grapes, but the acid in the green tomatoes cut both the fruity flavor and the lamb fat very well. I only wish I hadn't waited until the end of grape season to make this! Damn. More next year.

We started with tempura green beans.

Hot, salty, tempura greenie beanies = excellent.

When I worked at Fressen, many, many moons ago, Chef Lynn McNeely served these with ponzu sauce and I loved them. I might have a problem, now that I know how easy they are to make... The batter is made with flour, egg whites and seltzer. And don't forget HOT oil for FRY-Tastic action!!!

I meant to make the ponzu sauce, but got too busy, and Karl ended up doing it. It was awesome, but I have no idea what he put in it. (Maybe, when he is done uploading the pictures, he will tell us...)

Karl sez: "- Three parts of each: soy sauce, lemon juice, mirin (sweet japanese rice wine) or you can cheat using dry sherry mixed with a little sugar, Two parts olive oil. One part chopped fresh ginger. Chopped lemon zest to taste"

Turnips And Their Tops in Miso Broth is a recipe from one of the final issues of Gourmet. Since I now really like baby turnips (a great surprise to me, since I hate many -- ok, almost ALL -- root vegetables,) the idea of serving them with a brothy version of miso butter (mirin, sherry, miso, butter and water) felt like a winner.

The bite of the turnip greens cuts through the miso broth perfectly-- and it's a gentle broth -- not quite a full-on soup. Ah, Gourmet... I miss you so. Fucking Conde Nast...

But I digress. The Israeli Cous Cous was recast as Saffron Scented Rice -- the perfect vehicle for the lamb juices.

The dandy salad was topped with candied bacon.

I know it seems like that is all we eat here, but I can assure you that is not the case. I will say, though, that the reason it is featured on the blog so much (I wonder how many posts include candied bacon?) is because it is FUCKING DELICIOUS.

"Aw, heck... not candied bacon AGAIN..."

I decided in the end that a mayonaise-y dressing would be overkill, so I just made a vinaigrette with cider vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, olive oil, pomegranate molasses, salt and pepper. It must have turned out okay, because I never got to eat any. It was gone by the time I got to the table...

Ah, Tamara Farms® chard...

The chard was so beautiful! I will definitely plant more next year... I was able to keep eating from the same plants the whole summer and fall by just picking the outer leaves and leaving the inner ones to grow. It was kind of painful to cut the last bit down. But delicious.

I just sauteed it lightly with garlic, olive oil and chili flake. Spicy and very green tasting, the perfect way to compliment the lamb.

Cauliflower with anchovy butter. I could eat this every day if I let myself. Cauliflower steamed, and then tossed with hot anchovy butter and a final squeeze of lemon.

And the Swedish Oven Pancake.

Karl refers to this delicious dessert/breakfast item as the Swedish Loch Ness Pancake. He loves to claim that it was only spotted once: the morning after the first time he stayed the night.

He CLAIMS that I only made The Loch Ness Pancake to seduce him into thinking I could bust moves both in the sack AND in the kitchen, and then I never, ever made it for him again.

I have NO IDEA what he is talking about.

Well, actually, there was a long period of time where it didn't turn up in the Web Search on the New York Times website, which is where I originally found it. Then, I couldn't find the yellowed, torn copy that I had ripped out of the paper.

It's basically an upside down pancake: Apples/pears sauteed with brown sugar, butter and a touch of calvados or brandy, then crepe batter is poured into the hot pan, and the whole shebang is tossed into a 425 degree oven for about 25 minutes. The pancake puffs waaaaay up, then when you pull it out it falls a little but not completely, and it's served hot.

Great, right? Yeah. A few dinners ago, I made it, but with plums. They looked so juicy and good. Well, they WERE juicy and good, so of course, since the crepe can't absorb all of that juice, it puffed a little and then went completely flat when I took it out of the oven, and looked like an eggy plum disaster. It was hands down the absolute worst looking thing I have EVER served. I actually considered not serving it, but it was late in the evening and I had no other option. However, miracle of miracles... it turned out REALLY DELICIOUS.

Looks and flavor? Not always related. Didn't Eddie Murphy make a similar argument about fucking ugly people? I think he did. In any case, this one came out pretty AND delicious...

A wonderful ending to a deeply flavorful and satisfying late fall dinner. Now that we have entered the season of nothing but root vegetables, I know I will look back at this post longingly.


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