Friday, November 08, 2013

Persillade, pistachio cake, new plan


Who was Aunt Sassy?
I don’t currently have the patience or obsessiveness to delve deeply into a single cookbook for weeks or months at a time. Perhaps you've noticed. I don't want to have long heart-to-hearts with a few cookbooks anymore. I want to shake hands and make small talk with lots of different ones. The other day, I decided to start in the upper lefthand corner of my shelves and cook five recipes from the very first book then proceed to the next in line. 

Unfortunately, the first book on the shelf was Lamb from the Time-Life Good Cook series. Lamb. So gamy, so funky, so expensive. So rich and unctuous when hot, so congealed and fatty when cold. I was tempted to skip over Lamb, but couldn't go changing the rules so soon. Six days later, I am done with Lamb.

If you're not interested in hearing about lamb (or Lamb), skip down to the last paragraph of the post in which you will get the details on that incredible cake.

Sunday night, I roasted a persillade-stuffed lamb shoulder for my father's birthday party. This was a $58 butterflied lamb roast that I spread thickly with a butter-parsley-garlic mixture, rolled up, tied, roasted. See how masterfully that roast was tied?  

Sometimes, if only by accident, even I can take an arty picture.
All thanks to the very useful pictures in LambI tied a pork shoulder a few weeks ago and there’s a reason I didn’t post a picture of that. 

It was an expensive roast, or so I thought when I swiped my credit card at Mill Valley Market. But the roast served nine at the birthday dinner, four the next night in leftover form, four again the next night, and there were leftovers of all the leftovers. In the end, it provided protein for approximately 23. Not as cheap as lentils, but on a par with a nasty little supermarket chicken. So I take it back about the costliness of lamb. If you're willing to stretch the leftovers to their limit -- which this book helped me do -- a lamb roast can be reasonable.

Do you know about the Time-Life Good Cook series? It was published between 1978 and 1980 and edited by Richard Olney, a writer whose brilliance I've seen extolled a hundred times but never experienced for myself. Each book covers a category of food (lamb, pork, breads, candy, et cetera) and the first half is dedicated to basic techniques and the second to recipes drawn from a truly vast range of books. Among those recipes, at least in the case of Lamb, are some that call for leftovers. I really appreciated this.

On Monday, I used some of the leftover roast to make Suliman’s pilaf, a recipe adapted from Elizabeth David’s Book of Mediterranean Food. We liked this pilaf more than we had liked the original roast. You chop your cold, cooked lamb, fry it in olive oil with onions, toasted nuts, and raisins, then toss all of this with hot basmati rice. I made some changes to the recipe and am going to type it up for my recipe binder and if you are interested, I will share. It was super-easy and super-delicious. 

On Tuesday I made a so-called French mousakka using the remainder of the leftover lamb. Richard Olney excerpted this recipe from his very own French Menu Cookbook and I'm afraid it is not a  dish that does him proud. You fry some eggplant and line a casserole with the slices. Then you mix leftover lamb with onions, garlic, tomato, egg, and dry breadcrumbs. Scrape this into the eggplant-lined casserole. Bake. Unmold. Stare. Mark said, "This is grotesque."

I wouldn't have said "grotesque" but it was definitely odd. Fussy presentations like this are totally out of style. I could have embraced and even celebrated its quaint appearance, but the thing was not that tasty. The combination of reheated lamb and dry breadcrumbs made me think at every bite: stale.

I managed to find a recipe in Lamb that did not include lamb. This was a melange of crispy green beans and soft shelled flageolet beans that Olney suggests makes an excellent accompaniment to lamb. I wouldn't go that far. That was recipe #4. 

Recipe #5, which I served last night, was a Greek dish of lamb cubes (fresh) mixed with onion, olive oil and oregano then placed atop squares of tin foil, topped with feta, sealed up, and baked. I wouldn't make this again nor recommend that you make it even once. It sounded lovely, but the lamb (too much!) was strangely grainy and swimming in liquid. You could definitely troubleshoot this recipe and solve its many problems, but that is not my mission in life. As of today, we are on to Classic Desserts

Verdict on Lamb after a mere five recipes: If you don't own it, you don't need to buy it. That Elizabeth David pilaf was incredible, but you should just buy her Book of Mediterranean Food. Or ask me for my excellent adaptation of the recipe.

But to get back to the picture at the top of this post, by far the most thrilling thing I made this past week was the exquisite, perfect, tender, rich, breathtaking, amazing, splendid and so on Aunt Sassy Cake from Baked Explorations. Torte-like layers of pistachio cake iced with honey buttercream. One of the best birthday cakes I've ever baked. The recipe is here. You must try it. 

27 comments:

  1. I had lamb the past two nights for dinner. http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/24/lamb-meatballs-in-20-minutes/

    I'm sure I would love that rice pilaf, but I don't make roasts because there's just two of us. Do you think it would work with some chops or even ground lamb?

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    1. Oh sure, it would work with any leftover meat, including. . . turkey. I'll type this up.

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  2. I sit here with pounds of leftover roasted lamb shoulder in the fridge. I would very much appreciate the adapted pilaf recipe. Thanks for saving me from buying the book of Lamb!

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    1. Oh, I am probably too late to save your leftovers. I'lll post tomorrow.

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  3. Lamb is one of those things that I can love prepared in a restaurant, but I just can't seem to do it justice at home. I can't even make what I consider to be a knock-out lamb chop at home. I would love the pilaf recipe. I think lamb in pilaf might make me proud. I appreciate your new approach very much. It sounds as though it will make cooking out of a book that doesn't particularly wow you or yours into a short-lived and tolerable experience. Brava! Oh, that cake. I love pistachios. I will have to try it, maybe make half of it. There are only 2 of us here most of the time. Great post, Jennifer.

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    1. It's a big cake. I wish 4.5 inch cake pans were more readily available, even for a family of 4.

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  4. I've noticed that most of the chefs of my acquaintance assert that lamb is their favorite meat. I love lamb, and will often order it in restaurants, but I have never really loved any of the lamb roasts I've made over the years. I do love lamb chops, and braised lamb shanks are divine. Roast leg of lamb I haven't mastered. Your cake is beautiful.

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    1. My lamb roasts are always kind of tough. I've made good shanks, but that's just the usual braising magic. To me, lamb is the most mysterious of the three mainstream American meats.

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  5. Would you believe, I have only eaten lamb once, and that was when I visited Iceland, where I tried it because it was a local specialty? It just wasn't a meat my family or any of my friends ever ate. I always thought of lamb as something that was eaten in England, or in America of the 1950s. Obviously there are lots of Americans who eat lamb, but I still don't know any of them personally. The people I have dinner with or swap recipes with nowadays never ever mention lamb. Very odd. Have you ever read that short story about a woman who killed her husband by hitting him over the head with a frozen leg of lamb, and then cooked it and served it to the detectives investigating the case? That's what I think of when I think of lamb. I know, I'm strange.

    I think it's good to change your strategy when you feel like it. And Classic Desserts sounds very appealing to me. I hope it inspires you to try more than the allotted five recipes. :)

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    1. I LOVE that short story! I think it is by Roald Dahl. The cop husband is leaving his pregnant wife, presumably for another woman, and he tells her on the night they would usually have gone out to a restaurant. She goes to get something from the freezer since obviously they won't be going out, and on the spur of the moment clobbers him with it!

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    2. You are absolutely right. There's even a Wikipedia page with the plot summary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamb_to_the_Slaughter

      And we see once again, the comments on this blog are much more interesting than on most food blogs, lol. I enjoyed re-visiting this story. Thanks, Kristin, for supplying the author.

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    3. I have not read that story! But I will look it up. In that great Sandra Tsing Loh (spelling?) article about menopause, I believe one of the women throws a lamb roast out the window. It would be different if it was a pork roast, but a roast beef would work well.

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    4. Yes, it's a leg of lamb she throws out the window and I just reread most of the story and it's a masterpiece. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/10/the-bitch-is-back/308642/

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  6. That cake is one of the most beautiful desserts that you have posted!
    As for lamb leftovers I usually make a Thai curry out of it or a "leftover lamb" stew.
    I think I'll try the Suliman's Pilaf sometime.

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  7. We have eaten lamb usually at Easter time. We love it that one time, your brave to make it and eat for several meals! I plan to change up my blog, I think its a great idea, Jennifer!

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    1. Easter lamb is the classic. How are you changing your blog?

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  8. I like the new plan. Made the TK coconut cake per your rec and it really was a winner - wasn't sure I'd like the meringue frosting.

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    1. I can't remember what coconut cake was either. You could probably recommend it back to me and I'd make it and think it was the first time. I'm glad it worked out.

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