Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A "Welcome Spring" dinner and a myth debunked

Spring has hit Southern California with the force of a sledge hammer.  Actually, maybe Summer has.  *This* was the ambient temperature on top of the exhaust hood over my stove in the thick of making this dinner:

Granted, at that point I was preheating a cast iron grill pan, had a big saute pan running, and had just turned off the oven from baking bread, but still.....

Downtown LA today hit a record of 91°.  While I'm about 30 miles south, and towards the coast, of LA, it was still plenty warm where I was.  I actually almost thought about doing part of tonight's dinner (well, all but the bread, actually) on the Weber Kettle, but I haven't gotten it grill-ready for the season yet.

So the little (hot) kitchen it was.

When I was in the grocery store earlier in the week, I did espy, with my little eye, some lovely loin lamb chops.  I realized I hadn't had lamb chops in a long, long, LOONNNNG time, and I do loves me some nicely cooked lamb.  So I snagged the package.  Here they would be:

Beautiful little gems, aren't they?  I figured if I couldn't eat all three of them, there were some scavengers in fur suits that would be more than willing to help me out  *grin/wink* .  I browsed through some cookbooks in my collection, and settled upon a rub from Jacques Pepin's "Fast Food My Way"....equal parts ground cumin, paprika, salt and freshly ground pepper.  I rubbed that into each side of the chops, and stashed them back in the fridge for an hour or so.  I used sweet, smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton dulce), since I figured the smokiness would go well with the smokiness of the ground cumin.  It did.

When the chops had sat for about an hour in the fridge, with the rub, I pulled them out, and started to heat my grill pan.  I use a small, Le Creuset that only needs to be over one burner.  Works for a singleton.  Especially since I have a "high power" burner on my stove.  I usually let it preheat for 10-15 minutes while I'm prepping the rest of the meal.

Make sure you do have a good, externally vented exhaust fan if you use one of these babies.  Or....open all the windows, turn on all the fans, and disconnect the smoke alarms !

I sprinkled a bit more of the rub over both sides of the chops, and then followed Jacques' most excellent suggestion...pour a little olive oil in a shallow plate, and put the chops on the oil (he actually used a baking sheet, but his chops were broiled).  Press down a bit to be sure that the entire surface contacts the oil, then flip and repeat !  GEE-nious !  Usually I brush oil on the surface of the grill pan, which spitters and spatters and pops and smokes and makes a mess, and STILL doesn't get oil where I want it.  Much, much better method.

Flop the chops onto the hot grill pan, and I let it go for 3&1/2 minutes on the first side.  They're crowded in a bit to be sure they're over the hottest spot.  Then turn.

Those be some nice "grill" marks !

Another 3&1/2 minutes, and SHAZAM; perfectly cooked lamb chops.

And pretty darned tasty too.  Lamb, of course, just speaks to Spring, even though it's pretty much available year 'round these days.  That rub was just perfect, it mimicked the "smoke" you'd get from actually grilling outdoors, and the grill pan is one of my favorite techniques.  It's just so much less of a hassle than lighting the charcoal, and letting them burn to ash, then getting the grill hot, then banking the coals, then running in and out to futz with the meat...

For some dishes (Santa Maria-style tri-tip for instance), outdoor grilling is totally essential.  For small, thin pieces of meat, the grill pan is my go to.  So I'm a heathen !

Along with, I had some absolutely stunning baby artichokes from my CSA:

I should've put a coin in there for scale....the "large" one on the left was probably only about 2&1/2 inches in diameter.  Some of the smaller ones were about the size of my thumb.  But they still had plenty sharp thorns !  (Don't ask me how I know....).  I knew I didn't want to boil/steam them to death, so I figured I'd do a take on Italian sauteed artichoke hearts.  I again browsed through some cook books, and found a couple of recipes that suggested just to cut the itty-bitty 'chokes in halves or quarters, rub with lemon and saute away.  In the back of my mind, it seems I'd; a) tried that before with a major fail and b) had that same dish in a restaurant as a major fail (tough, chewy, spiky, stringy outer leaves).  One recipe said to par-boil the babies first, so that was what I did, after trimming them down and cutting in halves and quarters.

After boiling (and shocking in ice water):

Then I put some olive oil in a pan, tossed in some lemon slices and a sliced clove of garlic (I'd also put lemon and garlic in the water when the 'chokes were boiling, I think lemon and garlic are just a must for artichokes...), and tossed them in to saute while the chops were grilling.

That should give some idea of scale.  The caramelized lemon slices at the top as compared to the tiny 'chokes.  And that was a *really* small lemon...and the garlic as well.  A normal size garlic clove.  TINY artichokes.

Nice and brown and toasty:

Artichokes, too, to me, especially these very small ones, just announce Spring.  They look great, don't they?  Yep, and therein lies the myth that I'm about to debunk....

This is probably the 5th or 6th time I've tried to make this dish.  Each time, the recipes have told me just to trim the baby artichokes as you would if you were going to steam their larger siblings.  No cutting down to the tender leaves.  No scraping out the stems.  No discarding anything but the thorny tops and the very tip of the "crown" of leaves.

Lies.  All lies.  Those outer leaves never, ever get tender.  Ever.  After about 8 minutes in rapidly boiling water (cut into quarters and halves, not whole), these very small, very new, very fresh artichokes were tender as a baby's butt.  At least the stem end was, and the heart, and that was what I judged it by.  But you put those bad boys into a saute pan with hot oil, and those outer leaves, and even the next few layers of inner leaves, seize right up into an inedible mass of I'm-not-sure-what.  Balsa wood comes to mind as an approximation of the texture.

The inner leaves.....fabulous.  The hearts.......amazingly, meltingly tender.  Because they were so fresh, and so young, they were almost sweet, 'though they still had that deep, vegital, green taste that is characteristic of artichokes.  No choke, no hair, no fuzz.  But the outer leaves...about 4 layers worth....?  Peeled right off after the first unfortunate mouthful and tossed into the discard pile.  Maybe a slight nibble from the base, but really not worth the effort.

Served with another batch of this...

...though, honestly, even Balsa wood would taste good with this.  Next time, I'll just serve the homemade mayonnaise with a straw.

*MENTAL NOTE*  when you want sauteed baby artichokes, peel OFF the outer several layers of leaves and then throw them in the saute pan.  I'm really, really glad I didn't just saute them.  I think *those* would have been entirely inedible.

But overall, a very nice "Welcome Spring" meal.  Bread details to come later...(it was a good, natural sourdough).

If YOU'VE had success with the sauteed artichoke method, please comment.  I still really want to nail this, because in my head, it sounds like an absolute marvel of a dish.  On my plate, eh, never quite gotten there.  Even in restaurants.

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