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29 December 2010

Leg of Lamb and Christmas Eve Dinner...

I am a creature of habit. I am usually with my family on Christmas Day, opening gifts and drinking coffee with rum and snacking on chocolate chip cookies. However, with the way the last year has gone, it would be one of the few times, I would not be with my family and there would be no Christmas Day celebration. My in laws like to get out for Christmas, preferring instead the quiet rain of Monterey to the "affair" of Christmas. I do not blame them. Steven and I had the house to ourselves to spend a quiet Christmas together.
As a family, we opted instead to have Christmas on Christmas Eve with a very French inspired dinner. I marinated a leg of lamb for 3 days in white wine, dijon, lemon and shallots, rosemary, thyme and mint.
When planning a beautiful meal, timing and preparation are everything. I put all my ingredients into their little bowls, portioned out exactly. It makes things go quick and you're not pulling out a bunch of stuff from the cabinet or fridge.
It's called "Mise en Place" (meese in plas) and it is the one thing each chef is responsible for, setting up their own prep. If you do a lousy job, or someone steals from you... it can hinder your whole shift when working the line on a busy night. So, set your mise and don't let anyone mess with it. Also hide your towels and extra aprons. 

Christmas Eve Dinner 
"Are You Game?" Rubbed and Roasted Leg of Lamb with Zinfandel-Rosemary Gravy
Garlic Whipped Potatoes
Oven-Roasted Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts with Shallot butter
Mascarpone Chai Cheesecake

This is for a 4 1/2 pound boneless leg of lamb.


2 lemons, zested and squeezed (1/4 c juice)
1 cup white wine, Pinot Gris or Chardonnay
2 ea shallots, sliced
1/2 c dijon mustard
1 tbsp, finely chopped rosemary, 
1 tbsp, finely chopped thyme
3 tbsp finely chopped mint leaves
1 tbsp "Are You Game" seasoning from Pollen Ranch
1/2 c olive oil

Mix all ingredients together and place in ziploc bag with Lamb, allow to sit for 24-72 hours, in the refrigerator, turning over every 12 to make sure it is throughly marinated. The longer you marinate, the better... especially if you are serving people who are "scared" of lamb and claim it's "too gamey" (Whatever). 

When you are ready to roast, remove from fridge and let get the chill off. Heat the oven to 400, remove lamb from marinade and dry off. Then, dry rub the roast with:

2 TB "Are You Game"
2 TB freshly chopped mint leaves
2 TB freshly minced garlic

I placed the roast directly on the oven rack (see pic above) and below I placed a baking pan to catch drippings, to which I also added:

1 c. Zinfandel
1/2 c lemon juice
3 rosemary sprigs
1/2 c beef stock 

This is going to reduce as well as catch all the loveliness that will be dripping off the leg of lamb and make your gravy base. 

Let your lamb roast for about 1 1/2 hours, checking the temp with a meat thermometer, until the internal temp is right at 135F, then pull it out, set it on your cutting board and cover with foil. Allow the roast to rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing. Let it go to 145F for a medium roast. Try not to overcook it, unless you are cooking for people who like their meat "done".

Take your oven pan, strain ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce by 1/2, add in 1 TBSP dijon mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Turn off heat and whisk in 2 TBSP unsalted butter. Taste, taste taste. Adjust flavors and consistency. You can add a slurry of cornstarch and cold water (1:1 ratio) if you need to thicken the gravy. 

Now, I am not going to sit here and give you all my secrets. I mean, garlic whipped potatoes and oven roasted veggies are not rocket science and are fairly easy. If you require a recipe, ask and I will be more than happy to personally share my techniques. With the proliferation of food blogs and online material, I think you can find a plethora of recipes for those. I am also not posting a recipe for my cheesecake. I have to keep some things private, and one day someone will PAY me millions for that recipe... this is all you get:

Not planning on anything for New Year's Eve. 2011 should be an interesting year. It is already one full of HOPE and CHANGE. I am excited to continue this blog and working on new stuff to bring you. I will actually have a kitchen of my own and space to work. So, with that I close this blog of 2010. There may be one more before the year's end... but I am so unpredictable, and who knows what will happen in the next few days. Well, signing off for now... 
Eat Well, Live Happy!

Chef Constance Bearden.

09 December 2010

With Whisk and Knife!: Baking Season Continues-with Fennel Pollen

With Whisk and Knife!: Baking Season Continues-with Fennel Pollen: "The weather is dark and dreary with intermittent rain and fog... ah, the Central Valley of California winter. This is also perfect..."

Baking Season Continues-with Fennel Pollen

The weather is dark and dreary with intermittent rain and fog... ah, the Central Valley of California winter. This is also perfect baking weather! The oven on making the kitchen all toasty and the windows get condensation, allowing my weird cat to lick them. The smell of baking permeates the house too... whether it's chocolate chip cookies, or cake.. the smell of baking sugar, eggs and flour is just comforting. More so comforting to me, it the smell of anise, or fennel. As an Italian American, I love love love this smell. It reminds me of my heritage, of cousins and big bowls of pasta and my grandmother, in her wheelchair, making cannoli and pizzelles in their small apartment kitchen in Vista, California. THAT smell, of anise and fennel, more than most, makes me miss being a child at Christmas.
This afternoon, I decided to make biscotti, the twice baked hard cookies that come in those wrappers sitting on the counter at your local coffee place. But mine, are better. They are made from scratch and most of all love. I can't help it, there is too much history behind this particular recipe. I also have another biscotti recipe too, that aren't typical "biscotti"... but those come later. I also am using a new flavoring, Fennel Pollen. (wha..?) Yes, it's true. I made a friend and I am utilizing organic, local, and sustainable fennel pollen from Pollen Ranch. And, as it turns out, it is wonderful!! There is a certain flavor from the pollen that just takes these cookies to "another level"... more gourmet, more... um... just MORE. 

credit to my grandmother, Josephine Altieri

Preheat oven to 375

Spray a sheet pan with non stick spray or grease, 
or use parchment paper

1/2 cup shortening, melted
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 TB Fennel Pollen
1 TB Vanilla extract
3 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 TB baking powder

Mix together shortening, sugar, eggs, pollen and vanilla. Beat well, until light. Sift together the flour and baking powder and add to the egg mixture in batches, mixing well after each addition. It will be a very stiff dough, so don't think that you did something wrong. Divide and form into 2 logs, press down to 1/2 inch thickness. Bake the logs 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown and firm to touch.
Remove and allow to cook until you can handle them. Slice crosswise on the bias using a serrated blade. Place cut side down back onto baking sheets and place in oven for 5-7 minutes per side until lightly toasted. 
Remove from oven, allow to cool and place in air tight container for up to 2 weeks. 
You can also melt some chocolate and coat these particular biscotti.

 They are, yes, relatively plain, but great with your espresso in the morning. They also travel and ship well...in time for the holidays!!
I have more recipes coming... especially this weekend and next, so check back often!

Buon Natale!!

06 December 2010

The beginning of the Baking Season

I call it the Baking Season. It's the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas when I stock up on flour, sugars, and all the necessary items to bake, a lot. I make pies, rum cakes, cheesecake, but mostly I bake cookies. I will bake a cookie a day, especially in the 2 weeks before Christmas.. which means it started yesterday. I pulled out my tattered and well worn culinary school textbook "On Cooking, v.2" and found the recipe for "Spiced Oatmeal Cookies" with my little penciled in notes along side of it. The recipe had called for orange juice concentrate and I had made a note to use strong brewed chai tea instead, and to use all dark brown sugar instead of the standard white granulated. This is a really great cookie, and they keep and travel well too. And what a way to start off a dreary Sunday morning but with the magical smells of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg...with coffee brewing in the back ground!

The Recipe
Adapted from On Cooking 2nd Edition Recipe 32.37

2 cups dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups shortening
2 eggs
2 TB strong brewed chai tea
1 TB lemon juice
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
2 cups oats, old fashioned
1 1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 325F. Cream together shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. If you are having an issue with the brown sugar clumping, place it in the microwave for a few seconds to warm it and it will incorporate into the shortening better. Add eggs, tea and lemon juice and beat until well incorporated and fluffy.
Blend flour and spices together in a separate bowl and add them in batches to the creamed mixture. Mix in oats and raisins. Portion the dough, walnut sized drops, onto parchment paper covered or lightly greased cookie sheets and bake for 15 minutes until golden brown around the edges. Store in air tight container if they last longer than a day... 

Feels like you're right there, huh?

Since this is the first cookie of the "Baking Season" I will be reporting on more traditional Italian cookies too, like biscotti and pizzelles.. because I found my pizzelle iron. Took me 2 hours on a rainy day digging through all the boxes in my storage, but I found it. Enjoy these Spiced Oatmeal Cookies with a glass of milk or as breakfast with your coffee...