Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Harissa Leg of Lamb

Well I guess if it's Tuesday, it must be Bedlam(b)! So lame right? And you'd have to be 55 or older to even get that one! I made the lamb curry last Tuesday and that's my day off to cook. I always troll for meat bargains when I shop and with $12.00 for a small pack of stewing beef and $11.00 for a small pack of hamburger meat, a boneless leg of fresh lamb at $20.00 seemed like the bargain of the century today. So not to be Tuesday lamb obsessed, I was looking for a flavour vehicle for a Harissa sauce that I wanted to try out. And my God, I'm not sorry I did. Harissa flavour is native to Northern Africa. Tunisia to be precise. And I am so fascinated with all African inspired dishes lately. And a Harissa sauce is one of those sauces that probably has a thousand variations on it, so you don't have to be precise like a French sauce where you have to nail it every single time. And you can use this on a shoulder cut as well. Just slow cook it for 7 hours to where it has the texture of pulled pork. But since I got the bargain on the leg today, we'll do it traditional roast style. But you can use this sauce as a condiment as well. Use it in place of ketchup or HP Sauce. This is flavour town baby!

So let's make the sauce first. You'll need:
6 dried chilies of any kind. I used 2 of each of Ancho, Arbol and Guajillo (Side note - This is why it pays to stock your pantry since I had these chilies in the cupboard from my Posole Rojo recipe)
1 Teaspoon of Caraway Seed
1 Teaspoon of Coriander Seed
1 Teaspoon of Cumin Seed
1/4 teaspoon of chili flakes
4 peeled garlic cloves
1 teaspoon of salt or kosher salt
2 generous tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. And more. I'll explain
That's the basic sauce and you can add some options. This is damn spicy, so you want might to add
Zest and juice of a lemon (which I did)
1 tablespoon of chopped mint or cilantro. I used mint, but cilantro would be awesome too. Or even parsley
Some sundried tomatoes or yogurt. Suit yourself. I was happy without it.

Start by hydrating your chili peppers. Cover with boiling water and let them rehydrate for 30 minutes.
Toast your spices in a dry skillet just until they give fragrance and bash them up in a mortar and pestle. Drain your chili peppers and stem and discard the seeds. (Wear gloves for this unless you thrive on danger and pain). Save the remaining water for a minute. Put your spices and peppers and garlic and salt and everything but the olive oil into a food processer and start it up. Slowly drizzle in your olive oil until you have a paste. You basically want ketchup consistency here. Thin it down with your chili water if it's too thick. Taste for salt. But you need to put this in fridge overnight, so better to taste for seasoning when you serve since the flavours will develop. Put it in a Mason Jar and cover the top with a thin layer of olive oil and refrigerate.

For the roast:
I used a boneless leg of lamb, but a shoulder of pork or lamb would be awesome too. Same technique. Rub the sauce onto the meat and cover and refrigerate overnight. If you use a shoulder of anything, place the meat in a roast pan and bake at 285 degrees F for 6 or 7 hours. Covered and with 2 cups of water in the pan. For a boneless leg, I preheated to 450 degrees and roasted for 20 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for 25-30 minutes per pound. Uncovered the whole time. Let rest for 10 minutes under tin foil before you serve it.

Just of note, you can use this sauce as a condiment. It will keep in your fridge for up to a month. Put a new layer of olive oil on it each time you use it. But you can put it on burgers or eggs or sandwiches or even if you make a hummus, throw a few spoonfuls on top. So delish! I could eat it from the jar actually. God Bless Africa and thank you for the flavour you give us! You can serve this with any side you like. But if you do the slow roasted method, it's recommended that you shred it and serve with Naan bread or lettuce to wrap it in. Enjoy friends!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Tagliatelle with Meatballs in Red Wine

I've decided this blog doesn't give enough attention to date food. Possibly because two of the three LadyGirls are in live-in relationships, and the third (me) is a jaded serial First-Dater, we don’t consider how many people in this world are actually out there and meeting other humans in hopes that some sort of functioning relationship will blossom.

I’ve had so many first dates that I have a script that I essentially recite. My first date monologue is one of pre-crafted and charmingly quirky anecdotes, dotted with perfectly timed self-deprecating witticisms, which only work because nothing I'm self-deprecating about is an actually personality flaw, which both the date and I know. To break through my carefully fashioned exterior of a mix between Gillian Flynn's Cool Girl and Nathan Rabin’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl, you need to make it to at least a fourth cocktail on Date Three.
The monologue is necessary, particularly in the ADD-age of Tinder. Spending time with strangers is rarely fun, and when you are spending time with a stranger who only stood out because in the swath of gym-selfies, gun-selfies, and Unabomber lookalikes, he had a profile without any dead animals or dick pics. This in no way means they will be interesting, or funny, or even a functioning human being. It only means they realize that a picture of their nethers should not be treated as a valentine.

Rather than playing 20 Questions with men who ration their sentences, I will just start chattering to fill the void. As Pulp Fiction puts it, you have to be pretty familiar to share a comfortable silence with someone. What does a silence with a stranger feel like? It feels like the doctor’s office calling you back two weeks after those tests, and then the receptionist being on lunch break for the next hour. It feels like standing in line at Ikea with only three light bulbs to purchase during on the last weekend in August in a college town.  It feels like the moment of dread at 4:52 a.m. when you wake up and have to pee and you know that if you get out of bed, you’ll finally fall back asleep at precisely 6:57 a.m. In short, it is excruciating. The answer is to have a pre-prepared soliloquy of sorts, which you can deliver over a drink (or two, depending on how much you like the sounds of your own voice) and you’ll never have to have a real conversation with a stranger ever again.

So anyway. All that being said, after a few dates with someone, you may actually like them enough to share a meal with them. This needs to be carefully considered as well. It can’t be too slurpy (no pho or ramen), but it can’t be boring or cheap (please, please, never Kelsey’s).  

Once you’ve shared enough meals in public with someone, you then may want to spend time with them in the privacy of your own home. This is great if you actually truly enjoy someone’s company, but be warned- there is much more pressure in your home, because you lack the ability to people watch and base conversations on your observations. A helpful option? Making a great meal.

These meatballs are a great date meal. They are quick, your house will smell amazing, and they’re quite easy to make, without looking like you made some Kraft Dinner. The trick is to use fancy pasta, no basic fettuccine for this. If you use pappardelle or tagliatelle, it looks like an extra special effort. As my mother always told me, “It’s all smoke and mirrors baby,” (as I type this, I realize I really took that advice to heart since my first date monologue is essentially smoke and mirrors.)

I based the meal on this recipe, which I found on Pinterest. I changed a few things, but one thing I absolutely recommend staying with is the integration of ricotta. It keeps the meatballs wonderfully moist.

I wasn’t able to find veal, and also had a lengthy discussion with my best friend on the phone about the ethics of veal while trying to find it in the Loblaws, and was guilted out of even looking very hard by the end of the conversation. You could use ground beef, like I did, but it would probably be fine with really any ground meat you wanted.

For the meatballs, you’ll need:
  • 1 lb of ground meat
  • 3 tbsp ricotta
  • lemon zest
  • about a handful of breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • chopped fresh parsley
  • a few cloves of minced garlic
  • parmesan
  • chili flakes

For the sauce, you’ll need:
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • ½ cup red wine (or more, whatever)
  • knob of butter
  • 3 bay leaves
  • squeeze of lemon juice

I didn’t use white wine, as the recipe suggests, because I think red meat is better with red wine. You can use whatever you like though. I also put the lemon zest in the meatballs instead of the sauce and then squeezed the lemon into the sauce.

Mix your meatball ingredients together with your hands, there’s no other way. Form into balls; you’ll get about 12-14 depending on how big they are. Let chill for half an hour. Heat up a tbsp. of oil in large frying pan and brown the meatballs on each side. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and simmer for a minute or two. Then add your chicken stock, bay leaves, and lemon juice. Turn the heat down to a simmer and let cook uncovered for 15 minutes, turning the balls occasionally.

Cook your pasta in boiling, salted water. Just before serving, stir in the knob of butter to your sauce. Top pasta with meatballs, sauce, freshly grated parmesan, and maybe some fresh basil or parsley. (That’s optional, but you’re the type of person who puts effort into things.)

 Happy dating!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Baked Tacos

Here I go again contradicting myself. I found a recipe on facebook that I shared to my sister's wall since she doesn't like to cook or fuss around with food. But I know her family loves food. So when I spot a really easy one that has potential for flavour, I share it over to her. But even I wanted to try this one out. It's literally the easiest weekday meal you will ever make. I'm all about cooking all day long since it relaxes me and I enjoy it. So speedy recipes aren't my thing. But this took less than 30 minutes and it was full of flavour, and has the flavours of my beloved Mexico, where I'm headed to in 7 days. So a Joy! And let's do this!

You'll need:
1 package of lean ground beef (about a pound.)
1 finely chopped onion
1 package of Taco seasoning (cringing now, but it works)
1 can of refried Pinto beans
1/2 can of tomato sauce
6 small tortillas

And to garnish:
Lettuce, chopped tomato, salsa, sour cream, hot sauce, chopped cilantro

Preheat your oven to 375. Brown the hamburger meat and add the chopped onion and saute until soft. If you didn't use lean ground beef, drain the fat. If you did, let's forge ahead. There will be a bit of fat, but we're down with that. This is life. Add the can of refried beans and the taco seasoning and stir it all around for a few minutes until it all bubbles up and blends in. Add the tomato sauce. Taste and add some salt and pepper if you like.

In a 9 x 9" pan, fill each soft tortilla with the beef and spread it into 6 shells equally. Top with shredded Mexican blend cheese. Bake at 375 for about 10 minutes then broil just until the cheese bubbles and remove from the oven. Let sit for about 10 minutes and serve with garnishes. Easier than making a peanut butter sandwich. You'll be making this one every week. Cheers friends! Always trying to save you time during the Holiday crunch!