Several people in my Saturday morning long run group are starting to gear up for the Marine Corps Marathon at the end of October. I’m still pretty sure I never want to run a marathon but I do enjoy doing a bit higher mileage to a point. Two weeks ago, four of us gathered bright and early for a hilly and hot 13 mile run. I already had a mile and a half under my belt by the time I met up with my running buddies which made that run a total of 14.5 miles for me, the longest run of 2012. While I was really happy to get into some longer long runs, I wasn’t very smart running wise that week. I had added a mile or two to my usual Tuesday and Thursday tempo runs, and therefore ended the week having run a little over 47 miles. Due to a little vacation the previous week, I had only run 27 miles and my highest mileage week prior to that was 43 miles. Needless to say my legs weren’t quite ready for that 47 mile week. Despite taking an ice bath and massaging my legs after the long run, I still went through the next day feeling more sluggish than usual and my legs felt like someone had tied 15 pound weights to my quads.
In hopes of putting some pep into my step, both literally and figuratively, I pored through my cookbooks in search of a comforting and protein filled Sunday dinner. Although I thought I had settled on the most perfect to roast chicken several years ago and would never want to make roast chicken any other way, I couldn’t stop coming back to Andrew Carmellini’s Marinated Chicken Alla Griglia in Urban Italian. I really liked the idea of marinating the chicken in a roasted garlic puree, various herbs, and a dash of dried red pepper flakes for some added kick. And despite the amount of time needed to marinate the chicken, the recipe didn’t really seem too complicated or time-consuming. For sides I took Andrew Carmellini up on his suggestion and served the chicken with Zucchini Bagna Calda and Potatoes Girarrosto-Style.
When everything came together, I had one of the best meals I have made in quite a while. After marinating for only five hours, the chicken was juicy and flavorful. The skin was crisp and I really loved the mix of garlic and herbs with a bit of tang from the rice vinegar and spice from the red pepper flakes. I may have found a new favorite roast chicken.
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.
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
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.
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.
Like nearly all Americans, both roommate Alex and I are huge fans of Mad Men. Since late fall, we have frequently mentioned hosting a party to celebrate the show’s undoubtedly triumphant return from a long hiatus and the start of the fifth season. At the time, March 2012 seemed so far away and we would only drop a few words here and there like, “we should make updated versions of 60s classics,” or “everyone should dress up like characters in Mad Men.” As the day drew near, Alex and I solidified our plans for this bonanza; we would indeed make everyone dress up in Mad Men inspired garb, and delicious and updated versions of 60s classics would be had. We invited a dozen or so of our dearest Mad Men loving friends and laid out the conditions for the evening: dinner from 7:00pm until 9:00pm when the show would start, no talking while the show is on, and yes, dressing up is required under penalty of exile.
Clams Casino from Tom & Shelley
Deviled Eggs, also from Tom & Shelley
That Sunday, I tapped into my inner Betty Draper and made two bacon covered meatloaves and Mothers Ruin Punch while Alex made green bean casserole.
A glass of mother's ruin punch
Alex's Green Bean Casserole
Not to be outdone, our guests brought over inspired dishes such as deviled eggs, clams casino, scalloped potatoes, spinach salad, bacon wrapped dates, and jello with cool whip.
EJ's scalloped potatoes
Needless to say, we had a feast at hand. All in all the night was a hit: everyone had a great time, the food was really amazing, and the first episode of Mad Men’s Season 5 was very good. To top it all off, I had an extra meatloaf to last me through most of the week! To all of this, I can only say Zou, Bisou, Bisou.
Jello & Cool Whip