Back in the days of braising weather, the routine would be that I did the meat braising before Emily arrived an hour or so before serving time. Then Emily prepped and made the side dish, while I made drinks for us to sip on while cooking. For the evening of lamb shanks 2.0, Emily came over to braise with me which left us about two hours with nothing to do while the lamb simmered away. Together with roommate Alex we decided to grab a few drinks at The Passenger, Alex and my favorite bar of all time and, conveniently enough, the bar that is closest to our apartment. We set the stove top to low, prayed that the apartment wouldn’t blow up while we were away, and made the early evening trek to the Passenger.
I took advantage of the light crowd and the early drinking hour and ordered a Corpse Reviver #2, a tart gin based drink with equal parts cointreau, lillet blanc, lemon juice and a dash of absinthe. After the first round of drinks, the three of us felt a little hungry so we asked for an order of beef jerky with our second round. I love gin and all but my heart belongs to whiskey so I asked for a manhattan made with Jefferson’s Rye. Beef jerky and a manhattan, a pairing after my own heart.
After two rounds, we called it quits and headed back to the apartment to finish making our meal. We were happy to find the apartment just as we left it, except it smelled even more aromatic from the braising lamb shanks. Alex and Emily got to work making stir-fried baby bok choy with shitake mushrooms while I made fried rice to soak up the sauce of the lamb shanks. Soon enough, we were ready to plow into our meals. Our efforts, both sober and not as sober, produced one of the best Sunday dinners of 2012 to date.
Several Fridays ago, I had resigned myself to a fairly low key evening. It was the Friday before the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler and I wanted to rest up for the big race. That week, I had come across a recipe in the Washington Post’s food section for Cod with Tomato and Mushroom Wine Sauce that really caught my eye. As it was still Lent at the time, I was super excited to find a meatless and healthy meal that was tasty to boot. I e-mailed roommate Alex to let her know I would be making this for dinner in case she wanted to partake as well and she suggested I serve the fish with some quinoa we had in the apartment. What started out as a healthy Friday dinner turned into a very healthy Friday dinner.
I have always enjoyed a good mushroom and wine sauce, and there is even one I pair with chicken thighs. The addition of tomatoes gave the sauce more depth and texture. As for the fish, the mildness of the cod really lent itself well to the tomato and mushroom wine sauce. The sauce didn’t overwhelm the fish and vice versa. With many ingredients, the dish might sound complicated but overall was really easy to put together. To complete a funfilled Friday night, Emily stopped by after getting her bangs trimmed and ended up staying for dinner. Along with roommate Alex, we opened a bottle of wine, ate dinner, and settled onto the couch to watch Crazy, Stupid Love a not completely terrible romcom.
While it took me over a week to settle on a recipe for the leg of lamb, I knew I wanted to serve leek bread pudding (also from Thomas Keller’sAd Hoc at Home) since I decided to host Easter dinner. I first made this savory bread pudding last Easter and made it again in December for my office holiday party. Both times those who ate the concoction oohed and aaahed at its deliciousness. My culinary prowess aside, the true reason this bread pudding tastes so great is because three cups of heavy whipping cream, three cups of whole milk, three eggs, and a cup of cheese are involved in putting this together. Additionally, twelve cups of buttery rich brioche is the bread of choice (though a Pullman loaf is can also be used per Thomas Keller). If you think the one thing this recipe is missing is the addition of nearly half a dozen more eggs and tons of butter, go for the brioche; otherwise my preference is to make this bread pudding with a Pullman loaf or regular white bread. As a person who regularly runs 40 miles a week, I hardly think twice about decadent dishes but this one made me pause and consider whether I would have a mid-run heart attack after consuming this. Luckily that has not yet happened. If I can stick to making this luscious bread pudding only three times a year (and convince others to eat the majority of it), I can assert that as rich and decadent as this dish is, it is worth every single calorie.
For Easter dinner, I asked Emily to make the bread pudding while I handled the leg of lamb. Part of me wanted to go for the brioche this go-around but the responsible-ish part of me opted for a loaf of white bread, similar to a Pullman loaf. Emily came over with the remaining ingredients and after she finished the knife work (cutting leeks, cubing bread, etc.) we broke into a bottle of white wine she had bought when we were in Paso Robles last summer and drank away while putting the finishing touches on the bread pudding. As Emily and I have perfected the art of cooking while drinking, the bread pudding came out as delicious as I remembered. I love how the bread puffs up while baking away in the oven and turns into a nice golden brown. It is wonderfully crisp and firm on the outside but gooey and sumptuous on the inside. If it were up to my stomach, I could make and eat this at least once a month, but my arteries likely can only handle this 3-4 times a year and only if there are others to help me plow through it.
For Easter 2012, Emily and I decided to roast a leg of lamb. For a solid week I searched high and low for the perfect recipe, sending Emily close to a dozen from pancetta wrapped to mustard crusted. Nothing seemed quite right until I realized that what my heart and stomach really wanted was a simple and traditional preparation that would showcase the lamb itself. Finally, a few days before Easter I found the recipe I was looking for right on my bookshelf in Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home.
Rather than a plethora of herbs and spices, Keller calls for the lamb to be marinated in nothing more than canola oil, garlic, and rosemary. In order to ensure that the lamb is evenly flavored, the garlic cloves are inserted directly into the thickest parts of the lamb. Rosemary sprigs are then inserted strategically into the sirloin of the lamb and salt, pepper and canola oil are rubbed into it before putting the lamb into the oven. Since the preparation was so simple, I splurged on the leg of lamb by heading to Eastern Market, buying the last one in the case, and requesting that the butcher remove the fell (which gives lamb its gamy taste) and french the bone.
After an hour and 45 minutes in the oven, the lamb came out perfectly medium rare to rare. I let it rest for another 45 minutes while Emily and I finished preparing the rest of dinner, drinking some sparkling wine, welcoming guests, and munching on cheese, pate, and duck mousse. Easter is the greatest of holidays and celebrating it by breaking bread with my best pals makes it even more joyous.
The appetizing spread
As I have mentioned several times before, my cousin Cathy is an amazing food blogger leading a life of indulgent meals at restaurants and equally delicious but much healthier meals at home. Not equally known is that her husband, Vernon, has his own food blog, Stellar Recipes. From what I can tell, Vernon, goes through the dozens of cookbooks in the couple’s collection and makes those recipes that interest him to much success. Let it be known, Vernon Chaplin is a very good cook. One of the recipes Vernon made earlier this year was roasted brussels sprouts with a dressing that was both sweet and tart. As I love brussels sprouts and am always looking for different ways to make them, I filed this recipe away in my head. I don’t need Pinterest, I have a photographic memory.
The recipe sat in my brain until Alex suggested making brussels sprouts to accompany the post-race brined pork tenderloin. Immediately I asked her to make Vernon’s recipe and she happily agreed. The brussels sprouts came out perfectly roasted and the dressing really brightened up the vegetable. Best of all, they accompanied the pork perfectly, but really I would make these brussels sprouts any time.
After races, I normally treat myself to a huge porterhouse steak that evening. For this year’s Cherry Blossom Ten Miler, I decided to switch it up and make Brined Pork Tenderloin from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home for my post-race victory meal instead. I have made this pork tenderloin several times before and it has become one of my go-to recipes for an easy but spectacular dinner. Before this cookbook, I hadn’t thought of brining pork before but now I can’t imagine not brining pork. With garlic, honey, rosemary, and peppercorns among other herbs and spices, Thomas Keller’s pork brine adds a nice subtle flavor to the pork which comes out of the oven nice and juicy. Brining is really the way to go.
The one downside to this recipe that making this recipe requires a bit of advanced planning due to the time it takes to make the brine, let it cool, and then brine the tenderloin. I think it’s totally worth it and simplify the recipe a bit by not using preserved lemons (which Keller instructs you to make yourself). While I love planning meals, preserving lemons two weeks ahead of time is a little bit more than I can handle. Additionally, I find that fresh lemons work very well and add a nice acidity and brightness to the dish. For this particular foray into brined pork tenderloin, I made the brine and brined the tenderloin the day before, letting the tenderloin chill in the fridge until an hour before cooking time and then bringing it to room temperature before searing. Roommate Alex made brussels sprouts as a side and together we enjoyed a laid back and satisfying Sunday dinner. I still maintain that a post-race porterhouse is the way to go, but am glad I mixed it up this once.
Growing up, the Lam household was a meat-eating household and beef was often the meat of choice. Of course, weekend mornings often included pho or Vietnamese beef stew (bo kho) and on Sundays, dinner would be steak, pan-fried noodles with beef, or tableside grilled beef. During the weekdays my mother would often marinate flanken style short ribs and I would be in charge of grilling them while doing homework at the dining room table or kitchen counter. There were also many times when my mom would make thit bo luc lac, or shaking beef, which was a favorite among the Lam siblings. Honestly, my brothers enjoyed shaking beef more than I did and while I didn’t mind eating it from time to time, I would have much preferred a grilled steak.
Now that I am fending for myself in the real world, shaking beef is one of my go to weekday meals. Although cutting up a wonderful piece of steak tears at my heart a little, I like the ability to portion out servings and pack the leftovers for lunch. Other than some marinating time (which can be done the night before) the dish takes less than 30 minutes to make. The key to making this dish is to keep the wok or pan incredibly hot so that the beef sears quickly. It is also important to sear the beef in batches so the pan can remain hot, but if I’m lazy I just throw all the beef in. What makes this dish especially great is a lime and pepper dipping sauce that adds a nice tartness to contrast with the sweet and vinegary beef. You can serve this over watercress, but I like it with just a bowl of white rice.