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.
When I started my return to running in January after three months off to deal with the Kikuchi Fujimoto Disease, I marked the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler as my comeback race. The Cherry Blossom Ten Miler has a special place in my heart: it was my first race ever, it is the first race I run every year, and I have run in each of the previous six Cherry Blossom Ten Milers. There was never really a chance that I would not make it seven years in a row. My goal was to get to the starting line as healthy and fit as I could get in three months time. At least, that was my goal when I set out on the comeback trail. By the end of March my heart really wanted that PR even though my head knew I was nowhere near the shape I needed to be in to run 7:25 splits.
I don’t know how I let myself think it would be possible to run sub 1:14 after three months completely off of running while dealing with a serious illness, only having been running for three months, and only about six weeks of those three months included actual workouts. Looking back at my running logs and e-mails sent to friends, the training leading up to the race was way too inconsistent. I found it difficult to recover between workouts/hard runs, I could never string together a solid two weeks of running, and about every other week I would have to take an extra rest day due to fatigue. Still, I kept pushing myself to get back into shape and hit splits that my body wasn’t fully capable of handling, hoping I could will myself into shape. A week and a half before the race, I became completely demoralized after struggling through a short tempo run and a strength training routine that left me exhausted. I wondered how I could run 7:25 miles for ten miles if I couldn’t even run 7:30 miles for five miles. Part of me didn’t even want to do the race anymore.
In late February, sensing the end of Winter 2011-2012 was near, I decided to give the insanely mild winter a final farewell with a feast only those who cherish a good cold weather can appreciate: meaty shortribs braised in cabernet, served with gorgonzola polenta and mixed herb gremolata and paired with excessive amounts of wine. Yes, this meal will stick to your ribs but at least it will be warm enough outside for you to run it off. With a plan in mind, I e-mailed Alex and Emily to see whether they want to collaborate on the meal. Emily decided to provide the ingredients for the polenta to make at the apartment and Alex offered to help with the short ribs. To make the meal an event, we invited Alex’s friend Frances and fellow runner Pete, both of whom brought wine to pair with the dinner.
The afternoon of the dinner, Alex and I went to Safeway to pick up the ingredients for dinner and ended up buying all of the short ribs in stock for a total of 20 short ribs. Looking back, that was insanely excessive, but at the time, we were in the mood for excess. We also bought two of the cheapest bottles of cabernet sauvignon on the shelves in which the short ribs would braise. To make up for that purchase in bad wine karma, we picked up a bottle of sparkling wine to start off the evening as well. At evening’s end the bottle count for this gluttonous dinner would total five and a half: 2 for cooking, 1 for pre-dinner socializing, and 2.5 to go with dinner. Finally, to finish off the evening on an even more decadent note, I brought out three pints of ice cream (whiskey & pecans, dark milk chocolate, and goat cheese with port figs) from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream in Columbus, Ohio that my friend Gabby sent me for my birthday earlier that month. A carton of Whole Foods vanilla was also available as a palette cleanser. Sometimes, I wonder if I am giving myself or my guests heart disease by serving such rich dinners but it’s hard to think about that when facing the comforting trifecta of braised short ribs, polenta, and ice cream.