Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cthulhu Sticks

Every Halloween, my friend Ann and I throw a party, filled with candy, dry ice, costumes, pumpkins, and lots of good food. We always have a good time coming up with items that are both delicious and spooky. Last year, I came across an idea somewhere (probably in one of the many Halloween magazines we pore over) to make tentacle breadsticks. I used store-bought pizza dough and managed to make some vaguely squiggly breadsticks, which we immediately dubbed Cthulhu Sticks (what, we're not super geeky or anything).

I was pleased enough with my experiment last year to try making them again, but not pleased enough. Instead of going the pizza dough route, I found a recipe for grissini (those long, thin Italian breadsticks).  The dough is pretty simple to put together and is fairly forgiving of being worked, plus I found countless tips online about using a pasta machine to roll out and cut grissini so that they're uniform (and last year, the tentacles were anything but uniform).

I am so much happier with how the Cthulhu Sticks turned out this year. I opted to color half the dough black (I used gel food coloring, but you could use squid ink if you want something more natural), which I think gives them a spooky feel. Sea salt on the black ones and poppy seeds on the white ones add a look of suckers to the tentacles, but you can add whatever toppings (or even mix something into the dough) that you'd like.

Cthulhu Sticks
1/2 cup warm water
1 package dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 3/4 cup flour, divided
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
optional: chopped herbs, food coloring, poppy seeds

Combine water, yeast, sugar, and 1/2 cup flour in a large bowl. Rest 10 minutes. Add remaining flour, oil, and salt (also any herbs or spices you could like. If coloring the entire batch, add food coloring now. Otherwise, wait until dough is more solid before kneading it in). Knead about 5 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400° and move oven rack to the top position.

Divide dough into four pieces. Using pasta roller, roll into a roughly 9x4 rectangle on the thickest or second-to-thickest setting. Cut with fettuccine cutter. Arrange grissini on parchment-lined baking sheets, keeping one end straight (so they can stand in a vase) and one end tentacle-y. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle on salt or additional toppings. Bake 8-10 minutes until golden (well, at least for the ones that aren't black) and cool on a wire rack.

To serve, arrange in a vase to get the full tentacle effect.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Moving on in the Lamb Pro-Am

Well, it's official! My pumpkin rice-stuffed lamb roast and I are moving on in the American Lamb Pro-Am! I have been teamed up with Chef Jay Silva of Bambara, and hopefully we'll have a bit of a home team advantage, because the Pro-Am event will be held at the Hotel Marlowe in Cambridge, where Bambara is located.

Tickets are $25 and can be purchased here. That includes samples from the four Pro-Am teams, plus all kinds of beer, wine, and cocktails and other tasty treats. Attendees also get to vote on their favorite dish, so of course I want my readers to come and vote for me ;) If it's anything like the other American Lamb events I've been to, it is well worth buying a ticket.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Salted Caramel Apple Tart

There comes a point after you've gone apple picking when you can't possibly eat another apple all by itself. And I love apples. Once you hit that point, you've got to do something else with them.

Enter this delicious salted caramel apple tart. Caramel and apples just go together so perfectly. I would have made caramel apples, but, well, that's just an apple covered in caramel. Not different enough from a plain apple for my apple-exhaustion. For the tart, I made homemade caramel, but used store-bought pie dough (to even out the workload). It was so good, I had to make a second one (good thing the pie dough comes two to a box).

Salted Caramel
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
1 cup heavy cream, warmed in microwave, plus more for brushing
1/4 tsp salt

Pour the water into a large saucepan, then pour the sugar into the center of the pan. Heat over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Cook on high without stirring until golden brown (have cream warmed and waiting for this). Remove from heat and carefully whisk in cream (wearing an oven mitt helps - the caramel will release a lot of steam). Boil to thicken slightly (remember the caramel will thicken further as it cools), then stir in salt. Let cool before using.

Salted Caramel Apple Tart
1 large or 2 small apples (eating apples work better than baking apples), sliced very thin
salted caramel
pie dough (1 disk of store-bought or half of your favorite recipe)

Preheat oven to 450°.

Roll dough into a 1/4-inch thick circle. Arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread caramel on dough, leaving an inch-wide margin around the edge. Lay apple slices overlapping in a fanned pattern around the dough (outer circle first, so the inner circle can overlap). Gently fold the edges of the dough up over the apples. Brush the top of the entire tart with heavy cream and sprinkle on some sugar. Place baking sheet in the center of the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 375° and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until the top of the tart is golden brown. Let cool before serving.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Vote in the Lamb Pro-Am

I have heard so many nice things about my pumpkin, rice, and lamb dish, I really appreciate all of them. I'm glad I can share my family's story and recipe with everyone.

But now's the time I need you to do a little something for me. Head over to the Lamb Pro-Am site and give me a vote! I'm at the bottom of the list, right above the big "Cast Vote" button. You can't miss me.

How the voting works: Out of the ten fabulous blogs participating, the four with the top votes will move on to the live competition. Those four will be paired with local chefs Michael Scelfo (of Russell House Tavern), Jay Silva (of Bambara), Mark Orfaly (of Pigalle), and Jason Cheek (of KO Prime). They will cook with their chef and present their dish at the Lamb Pro-Am event on November 6th. You can buy tickets here, or enter to win a pair on the voting page.

Of course, there are some absolutely mouth-watering dishes in competition with me. So while I want you to vote for my pumpkin rice-stuffed lamb roast, take some time and visit the other competitors too. Everyone did a wonderful job adapting the competition to highlight their style of cooking.

The Lamb Burger from Boston Burger Blog - I love the use of pomegranate seeds on top!

Guinness Braised Lamb Poutine from the Small Boston Kitchen - Sweet potatoes + lamb = delicious

Three Peppers Lamb from Jacqueline Church - Don't look at me strangely when I say I wanted to lick the picture of her dish.

Autumn American Lamb Supper from Doves and Figs - The only other roast-for-roast-sake in the competition, and dear god, lamb fat cornbread!

Roast Lamb Tacos from Two Recipes - the zesty Mexican-inspired marinade for the meat sounds wonderful!

Moroccan Style Lamb Chapati from Just Add Cheese - More pumpkin, but in an entirely different format.

Lamb Potstickers from Umommy - Not one but TWO fantastic kinds of lamb dumplings.

Guatemalan Lamb Tacos from the Gringo Chapin - He humbly talks about street food, but I've never seen street food look that good.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pumpkin Rice-Stuffed Lamb Roast

When Armenians say meat, they really mean lamb, and I can hardly think of a gathering of Armenians beyond my immediate family that hasn’t include at least one type of lamb dish. So when I was invited to participate in the inaugural Lamb Pro-Am, sponsored by the American Lamb Board and BostonChefs, I knew I would make an Armenian-inspired dish almost as quickly as I knew I would participate.

I was surprised at how fast I came up with a recipe for this challenge. We (me and 9 other Boston-area bloggers) were tasked with cooking a boneless leg, which ruled out any stew-like dish because there are better cuts for that. Immediately I thought of shish kebab – skewers of lamb (usually leg), marinated and grilled. But it was too simple (not to mention that Fall seems to have finally settled upon us with drizzly day after drizzly day). And then I remembered an often-talked-about dish that my grandmother used to make, and I KNEW.

My father’s mother passed away when I was very young, so I never got to experience her cooking, although my life has been filled with stories about her ruling over her kitchen. I spent a weekend this past summer with my horkur (Armenian for aunt, more specifically father’s sister), and after we baked treats that she remembered from her childhood, she gave me a copy of a cookbook she had written, which included many of her mother’s recipes.

One recipe jumped out at me. It consists of rice and pumpkin and onion and raisins, and that’s pretty much it. I had wanted to try it since hearing about it years before, and I knew that my other grandmother had made a similar dish, so it couldn’t be bad if both sides of my family had their own versions. But instead of just serving the pumpkin rice alongside the lamb, I decided to fill the lamb with it.

The rice was surprisingly quick and easy to put together. The only hardship is the chopping of the pumpkin and the onions. I know 3 onions sounds like a lot, but light a candle and get chopping – you really do need 3 onions. Trust me. And because I was planning on putting the rice inside the lamb, I diced the pumpkin up into small cubes; if you serve it just as a side dish, you can cut bigger cubes. Use any kind of pumpkin or winter squash you’d like (I used my favorite, buttercup squash). This can be made a day ahead if need be.

Pumpkin Rice
¼ cup olive oil
3 onions, minced
¾ cup rice
½ cup raisins
2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
2 cups water
2-pound squash, inside cleaned out, and diced

In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until translucent, stirring often. Add rice, raisins, salt, and sugar, and stir to combine. Push mixture to one side of pan and lay down about a quarter of the diced pumpkin; move rice over the pumpkin and lay down another quarter on the other half of the pan. Even the rice out, then top with the remaining pumpkin. Add water, cover, and reduce heat to low. Let cook until rice and pumpkin are cooked through and tender, about half an hour. Stir together before using or serving.

Now, I’m no butcher. Butchers are trained and know what they’re doing with a cut of meat. Me, I just kind of hack at meat until it looks good enough. I lamely attempted to butterfly my leg of lamb, making sure to cut out the silverskin to ensure a tender roast. I definitely could have done a better job, but I also didn’t ruin the meat (whew!). If you give this recipe a shot (and don’t know what you’re doing, much like me), ask your butcher to butterfly the leg for you. You’ll be much happier.

Once the leg is butterflied, lay it meat side up (fat side down), sprinkle with a little salt, and lay some of the rice mixture evenly over it. There will be plenty of rice left – save it to serve with the meat later. Roll the meat up, trying not to squeeze out all the filling as you go, and tie it together to keep its shape (I found this video helpful, although it was more of a two-person job for me). Place it fat side up in a roasting pan and cook in a 350° oven until a thermometer inserted into the meat (make sure you avoid the rice filling!) reads 150°. Remove from oven, cover with foil, and let stand 10-15 minutes before cutting and serving. Reheat the rest of the rice to serve alongside – the pumpkin will mush a bit as you stir, making it appear more orange than it had before. The rice inside is a bit meaty and has imparted much of its sweetness to the meat, while the rest of the rice has a more pronounced pumpkin flavor, so it almost seems like two different rice dishes.

The rice got plenty of approval from my parents, who said it tasted just like they remembered, and the three of us devoured more lamb than we thought possible. Hopefully my grandmother would have approved as well.

Many thanks to the American Lamb Board and Boston Chefs, who provided me with this wonderful cut of meat. Please take a moment to vote for me here - the top four bloggers move on to the next round!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Apple Picking at Highland Farm

You know it's really Fall when there are apples to be picked. My friends and I have picked at a few different spots over the years, but this year, on a warm but drizzly day, we opted to try a new-to-us spot, Highland Farm in Holliston.

Highland Farm was very easy to get to (despite some traffic in Framingham), and when we arrived, there were all of four cars in the parking lot. True, this was mostly due to the weather, but Highland Farm doesn't offer many of the attractions (think hayrides, petting zoos, or play areas) that make other farms destinations for families with young children. We had been hoping for cider donuts, but they didn't have those either. Highland Farm is really a no-frills apple picking experience.

But that's ok, because the focus at Highland is clearly on picking delicious fruit. All the trees are dwarves, meaning we could reach all but the absolutely highest fruit, and they use a trellis system so that every apple is reachable without disturbing the rest of the tree too much. We couldn't get over how many apples were on each tree - a few trees even looked like they were made entirely out of apples.

When we visited, Highland was picking at least 7 different kinds of apples (more eating apples than baking apples, but there were plenty of both). We chose Highland predominately because they were picking Honey Crisp on Saturday, but when we arrived, I found a new favorite in the Twin Bee Gala, which was nice and crisp but not too over-the-top sweet. There were also some amazing Golden Supremes, but we didn't find those until our bags were already full, so I didn't get to bring any home. Take a tip from me - walk through the first section of trees without picking any. The second section (we didn't even check to see if there was a third beyond) is packed with way more fruit (because less people go there, obviously), plus some more varieties, so take a look around before you start picking.

Of course, on our drive home, we opted to drive through Wellesley, which led to a stop at Wasik's for our favorite cheeses and a discussion on what to cook with all of our apples. Not a bad way to end a day out apple picking.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Lamb Jam Masters in New York

Last February, I was beyond thrilled to be a judge at the 2011 Lamb Jam in Boston. In fact, I found myself talking about Chef Jason Santos' winning dish to anyone who would listen for weeks on end. Little did I know that I would see him compete at the Lamb Jam Masters months later.

But as I was planning a weekend trip to New York with my parents (yes, we saw two shows, and we visited more museums than I could count), I realized that the Lamb Jam Masters was being held in New York that same weekend. Kismet, right? How could we not attend? The three of us ended up meeting my cousin who lives in NYC for a leisurely afternoon of stuffing our faces with lamb and drinking more wine, cider, and bourbon than we should (and yet we still went out for rice pudding after). (In planning the day, I made the stupid mistake of asking my cousin if she liked lamb. Hello? We're Armenian. Lamb runs through our veins.)

My family was, quite naturally, rooting for Chef Santos (late of Gargoyles on the Square, now of Blue Inc) to win. I told him before the event that I had come from Boston to see him bring the trophy home. He presented his poached lamb shank with black truffle, cauliflower espuma, bee pollen, and fried garlic (above) with aplomb (it was still my favorite dish, despite the local ties). It's just such a different dish than the others presented (and frankly from most lamb dishes out there) that it stood apart from the others. I guess too far apart for the others in attendance - Santos left without a prize.

The other also-ran was Chef John Chritchley of Urbana in Washington, DC. His dish of slow-cooked lamb leg with preserved lemon over a bed of white polenta was missing something for me that I just couldn't place (maybe I had had too many bourbon and Coke slushies by then?).

The People's Choice award went to Chef Mark Bodinet of Copperleaf Restaurant in Seattle. He made a lamb shoulder confit with creamy parnips and a huckleberry sauce, and this dish was my second favorite of the day. I couldn't get over how tender the meat was, and I just loved the sauce.

Finally, the award of Lamb Jam Master went to Chef Adam Mali of MarketBar in San Francisco. He served up a braised lamb shank with cannelini beans and a lavender-mint gremolata. The gremolata was my favorite part of the dish, but then, I always love floral notes in my food. The meat was perfectly cooked and tender, but I found the white beans fine and the accompanying broth unnecessary.

(See pictures of all the dishes and more here.)

And while those four dishes were the stars of the afternoon, there was a lot more going on. Dickson's Farmstand offered up lamb sausage and pastrami (for which my cousin probably went back for fourths or fifths) as well as a kick-ass butchery demo. Pera Mediterranean Brasserie served up lamb kebabs wrapped in lavash (the idea for which I'm sure my mother is going to steal for future dinner parties). The Meatball Shop had fantastic lamb meatballs with pesto and a corn salad (using the last of the season's corn) that I absolutely adored. Little Cakes made adorable lamb cake pops for everyone (although my father thought the pop part was kind of gross and just tore off the outside for the cake inside - I didn't tell him it was gluten-free). There was lots of wine and beer to be had as well, but since I don't drink beer and wine just makes me sleepy, I stayed away. Luckily, there was plenty of cider from Foggy Ridge Cider (my new favorite!) and bourbon from Jefferson's to keep me happy. Overall, even though Boston didn't bring home the crown, the Lamb Jam Masters was a great event. Thanks to the American Lamb Board for putting together yet another amazing event!

Full Disclosure note: My ticket to the event was given to me for free by the American Lamb Board. My parents paid for theirs, though.