In rapid succession eleven days ago, we fired off our ingredient choices – ginger from Jennifer, lamb from Kevin, blue cheese from me. Yes, Kevin picked lamb before, but that was a year ago, let’s see what we can do with it this time around. Jennifer doesn’t like blue cheese she informs us. Embrace the blue I respond, make it work! Last Monday we gathered around our webcams once again to cook away.
Hey, this time around, me first, because, what the heck, it’s my blog.
I decided on making a blue cheese spoonbread. I used to love spoonbread when I was a kid, a teen… I don’t know that I’ve had it since. Basically, it’s somewhat like a souffle, but made with cornmeal, or polenta, instead of flour. A bit of online searching came up with some great recipes, and I used them as guidance, whipping up a jamón crudo (the local version of prosciutto) and blue cheese spoonbread. It’s pretty easy, make polenta, mix it with crumbled blue cheese, chopped prosciutto, egg yolks, salt and pepper. Separately whisk the egg whites until stiff, use about a quarter of them to lighten the polenta mixture to make it easier to fold together with the rest of them, and then do that. Into some buttered and breadcrumbed ring molds and then into the oven to puff up – they don’t rise like a traditional souffle, but they get light and airy on the outer edges with a kind of gooey center.
The lamb, a portion of bondiola, or shoulder, I marinated ahead of time in a mix of miso, honey, chilies, lots of ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, thyme, and sesame seeds, and then I seared it and finished it in the oven to about medium.
And, voila! The lamb, sliced, along with a spoonbread, and some radish greens that I had in the crisper drawer, quickly sauteed with more ginger. I’d probably use a different cut to do this again, as shoulder cuts are better when cooked slowly and for a long time (or, as Jennifer does in her upcoming version, use a pressure cooker), but it was delicious!
On to Jennifer, coming to us from Morelia, Mexico, as always.
Blue cheese is one of those foods, like a few others, I can’t pretend to down, even for politeness’ sake. Sure, it’s the epitome of sophistication, pairing nicely with the things an educated palate craves. Call me pedestrian, but frankly I consider most cheese overrated. But I bucked up and looked in four stores for it, and thankfully, there was none to be had, except at Costco in a quantity that would feed half of the French Foreign Legion, I considered making faux blue cheese with macadamia nuts and agar-agar, maybe with some swirls of seaweed mixed in for color. Then, torrential, nonstop rains left me marooned in the house. There would be no blue cheese even if I wanted it. I would have to make up by making lamb two ways, including ginger in each iteration, and broiling two ways.
The best part of lamb, as far as I am concerned, is the shank. Roasting or braising it hours on end the usual way would take hours at 2030 meters, so the pressure cooker became the answer. Unfashionable in some circles, the pressure cooker is an essential tool at high altitude. My favorite, it’s deployed at least once a week. After browning it in olive oil, I removed the lamb shank from the pressure cooker and made a sofrito of finely chopped garlic, onion, garlic, chile manzana and brown cherry tomatoes, cooked up with cinnamon, fenugreek, cumin, and a single anchovy. Adding the lamb shank back to the pressure cooker, I doused the whole thing with a slug of dry vermouth and revved up the pressure to maximum level for twenty minutes. Placing the lamb shank on a baking sheet, I painted it with pomegranate molasses, hoping to create a crusty glaze under the broiler. Heeding Dan’s warning of pomegranate molasses’ tendency to burn, I lowered the oven shelf a notch. And re-basted it at the midway point.
While the shank was under pressure, I started the kebab marinade: tangerine juice, tangerine zest, juiced and crushed ginger, powdered ginger, garlic, and molasses. The latter was a substitute for honey, which had solidified. And then I began to whittle away on lavender branches, grooming them as skewers, recalling that the last time I harvested a branch to cook meat on was back in college camping class during the Nixon Administration. The oven broiler just didn’t seem to be generating the intensity of heat that I wanted, so I fired up the gas grill. The kebabs could’ve reposed longer, maybe even overnight in the marinade, but I hadn’t planned ahead, so I threaded them on the lavender branches right away. Mistake number one. Mistake number two was not basting the marinade on the lamb as it cooked.
Now it was time to move on to the white bean puree, the alubias grandes having been cooked the day before in—you got it—the pressure cooker. Garlic, onion, and a single shallot were sautéed until soft, then cooked along with the beans, lemon zest, a dash of chicken broth, and, finally, blended until smooth. Blue cheese, even mock blue cheese, could’ve easily been stirred into the puree.
Now here’s what went wrong, and what went right. The lamb shank could’ve stood another ten minutes under pressure. I would have liked more char on the shank’s glaze. The kebabs deserved more marinating time. I did like how the tangerine flavor came through and mixed with the scent of the lavender branches, but the kebabs were chewy, not a desirable trait for even juvenile lamb. The bean puree could’ve been stiffer and schmeared onto the plate, serving as a base for the shank and its sauce. I definitely plan to incorporate lavender in more dishes.
Dan and Kevin, thank you for letting me participate with you. I’ve never learned so much in such a short time, and you both have inspired me to keep on tryin’.
Here’s where I’d put Kevin’s write-up, but after nine days of him being overwhelmed with work and home chores, I finally decided to just go ahead without. What I do know about his version is that he decided to attempt a souffle for the first time, flavored it with the blue cheese, and it turned out spectacularly well – I mean, look at that photo, it’s gorgeous! I also know that he fired up his backyard grill to cook the lamb which he’d marinated in whatever he marinated it in. And his mom and dad were visiting and they loved the dish. That’s high praise!