Roy Choi's memoir L.A. Son, the story of how he came to create the world's most popular taco truck, is a crazy fun ride of a read. In it he describes cabeza (aka beef cheek) tacos as "some of the best things this planet has to offer as food." So of course I had to try them.
Polenta is a rather intensive affair, when cooked at home from dry crunchy grit. The traditional recipe calls for near continuous stirring, for half an hour to fourty-five minutes. Deborah Madison offers a more modern walk-away version, but it needs to sit in a double boiler for an hour and a half, after two separate pots of water are brought to a boil, one at a time, on top of each other, all before the grit even comes into play. At my house, a cooking time that long and with that many steps could only be accomplished with very well orchestrated planning, which is not my forte.
We had a wonderful lunch today - and the best part? I didn't cook it. My husband Jason, who likes meat, cooked a leg of lamb and a pot of beans. He made fennel and blood orange vinaigrette. My friend Laure brought cream puffs. All I had to do was go out into the garden and snip some lettuce and arugala. Luckily, I have a nice raincoat.
The lamb was a two day project - Jason picked it up from Avedano's on his way home from work friday and somehow managed to cram it into the refrigerator. Saturday he realized he'd incorrectly instructed the butcher and removed the thigh bone himself, much to the horror (or was it fascination?) of our children and their guest, Iris. He made a paste of garlic and parsley and little fish and rubbed it all over the lamb, inside and out. Then he tied it up with some string and crammed it into the fridge again. Sunday he roasted it in the oven. After the work was done, he assured me that really it wasn't much work at all.
Then, after lunch, he took the kids out to see a movie. It was great to have the house to myself, but a little lonely to wash all those dishes in silence. I guess I could have turned on the radio. I did get a chance to do some reading on the sofa, though, which is really rare. Usually I read in my bed, in the middle of the night when I can't sleep.
Right now I'm reading Best Food Writing of 2009 for the Food Lit Book Club I moderate at 18 Reasons. 18 Reasons is a non-profit spin off of Bi Rite Market, over in the Mission, that hosts a variety of food related events - lots of tastings and how-tos. And it's an art gallery, for food related art. Right now Sita Bhaumik has a show there, "To Curry Favor", that includes a huge wall print made of curry - its' fragrance fills the room.
We're starting the second quarterly session of our book club this month, and will be also be reading Farmer Jane by Temra Costa and It Must've Been Something I Ate by Jeffrey Steingarten. Meetings are on the last Saturday of each month, from 1:00-3:00. We've had special guest stars at two of our three meetings so far, Anne Zimmerman, whose biography of MFK Fisher is coming out soon, and also Novella Carpenter, the author of Farm City. If you're interested in joining, send an email to email@example.com for details.
Roast Leg of Lamb (adapted from Canal House Cooking Volume 3):
One 8-10 pound leg of lamb, tail, pelvic and thigh bones removed; shank and heel bone left attached. Have the butcher give you the removed bones, to flavor the beans.
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 anchovy fillets, minced
1 bunch parsley, leaves chopped
extra virgin olive oil
1 handful fresh rosemary, leaves chopped
salt and pepper
Make a paste with the garlic, anchovies, half the parsley and salt and pepper. Open up the meat so it lays out flat and rub the paste into the inside of the meat. Wrap the loose flaps up meat over the inside areas with paste and tie kitchen string around the leg to hold it together. Put the lamb in a large dish and rub about two Tablespoons of olive oil, the rosemary and lots of salt and pepper on the outside. Refrigerate the lamb overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350˚. Put the lamb in a large roasting pan, meatier side up, and let the lamb come to room temperature before putting it in the oven. Roast the lamb until it is browned and crusty, and the meat inside is rosy with an internal temperature in the thickest part registering 120˚ for rare (about 45 minutes), 130˚ for medium-rare (about 1 hour). Transfer the lamb to a cutting board or serving platter and let it rest, covered loosely with foil, for 10 to 20 minutes before carving.
Carve the lamb and serve it with the remaining parsley.
3 cups cannellini beans, soaked overnight
1 large yellow onion, quartered
1 large carrot, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 sprigs lemon verbena
salt (tomato salt or rosemary salt, if you have some)
bones from a leg of lamb (have the butcher put them aside for you when you purchase the lamb)
The night before, cover the beans by an inch or so of water and let them soak. The next day, put the beans, lamb bones, onion, carrot, celery and lemon verbena in a big pot and cover all parts by 1/4 inch of water. Bring to a boil and simmer gently over low heat until the beans are tender, one to two and a half hours. Be sure not to add salt until after the beans are soft. If you do add salt early on, the beans will never soften and cause indigestion.
When the beans are soft, add salt to taste - start with 1 Tablespoon and go from there - be sure to taste the broth instead of the beans, because it will take a while for the beans to absorb the salt. After salting, continue to cook the beans over very low heat (or just let them sit with the stove turned off) for at least another half hour, but not so long that the beans cook too much and fall apart. Before serving, remove the onion quarters and large chunks of celery. Use a slotted spoon to serve, leaving the liquid in the serving bowl.
Spring Greens with Orange Fennel Vinaigrette (adapted from Epicurious.com):
makes 8 servings
1/4 cup fresh blood orange juice or fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh fennel bulb
2 tablespoons chopped fennel fronds
3 blood oranges or seedless oranges
12 cups torn assorted salad greens (such as arugula, watercress, mâche, and endive)
2/3 cup walnuts, toasted
salt and pepper
Whisk the orange juice, shallots, orange peel and honey in a medium sized bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in the oil, then fennel and fennel fronds. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill. This dressing can be made up to a day in advance. Re-whisk the dressing before using.
Peel the oranges and divide them into sections. Working over a bowl, cut the membranes off each section of orange. Combine the greens and walnuts in a large salad bowl. Drain the orange segments and add them to the salad. Toss with enough dressing to coat the greens evenly, you may not use all of the dressing. Season with salt and pepper and serve right away.