Laurie Anderson has a song–more of a performance piece–called “Only An Expert Can Deal with a Problem.” It’s a dark, satirical look at the way Americans defer so willingly to experts; whether it’s the talking heads on Fox News, hyper-judgmental celebrities on Fashion Police, or mental health gurus like Dr. Phil. And nowhere is this more evident, really, than the way Americans cook from cookbooks. I know because I’m an American and for the larger bulk of my cooking life, I was such a slave to whatever recipe I was following; if I didn’t have precisely 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda left in the canister, I’d throw everything away. Julia Child wouldn’t approve; on her show, once, I heard her say, “Anyone who doesn’t finish a recipe because they don’t have all the ingredients will never be a cook.” It took me a long time to get there but now I cook much more loosely, much more confidently, and cookbooks function less as sacred texts and more like casual idea-generators. Which is how this terrific dinner came about.
Not long ago, I made a trip to the Orange County Fair–about an hour from where I live in Atwater Village–to partake of the food trucks that gather there right near the farmer’s market. My first stop was the Lime Truck, a well-known L.A. enterprise (they won Season 2 of the Great Food Truck Race on Food Network), where Alex–one of the truck’s long-time employees–walked me through one of their most popular items, the lamb sandwich. My mission: to recreate it at home.
Sorry for the slow posting this week, folks; we had to take a California Driver’s Test yesterday and, based on everything we’d heard, we had to really study for it (a very smart friend, who shall remain nameless, failed the first time he took it). As we went into the written exam, Craig said: “Whoever does better will be the ultimate victor of our relationship forevermore!” Turns out, we each passed with only two wrong. We are both victors, which sounds like an Oscar Wilde play in the making. Needless to say, no time for big, thoughtful posts; but I did post those lamb burgers on Tuesday and here’s something fun you can do with the leftovers, should you make those burgers this weekend.
My cooking life has been a weird one. Most people start out making things like burgers and mac and cheese; me, I started with braises and roasts and only now (almost ten years later) have I started getting comfortable making the stuff that most people make at the beginning of their cooking careers. Burgers are a good example. I had only cooked burgers once before in my life and it was in the oven. Never had I shaped a patty, plopped it on to a grill or into a cast iron skillet and lifted it on to a bun. And, true to form, even last week, when I finally did this thing that most cooks–most American cooks–do all the time, I didn’t just make normal burgers. I made lamb burgers and I served them with Greek salad.
Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem is so popular Julia Moskin of The New York Times did an article about “Jerusalem fever.” Do I have Jerusalem fever? Well, I’ve been cooking from it gradually, making that fattoush a few months ago, and that beet dip I posted about yesterday. The beet dip was for this week’s Clean Plate Club and the entree, also from Jerusalem, is the one you see above: eggplant stuffed with lamb and pine nuts.
Hold your ears, short ribs, and hide your eyes pork butt: lamb shoulder is quickly becoming my favorite cut of meat to cook at home. I’ve sung its praises before here on the blog, but lately I’ve been on a real lamb shoulder kick. I made April Bloomfield’s version for a crowd recently and they all went nuts for it (hers has anchovies in the mix, which show up in today’s version in the olive tapenade; anchovies and lamb make a surprisingly good match) but even the simplest version–today’s comes from my friend Clotilde–can still wow. And now that it’s spring, it’s a perfect thing to serve along with white beans (traditionally flageolets) and a zesty olive tapenade.
When I was a nerd in high school (“What? YOU were a NERD in high school? That’s SHOCKING!”) my brother and I played many CD-ROMs. “Under A Killing Moon,” “The 7th Guest,” and, my personal favorite, “Return to Zork.”
This post has nothing to do with that except the title is an homage to that most peculiar video game, with creepy animations and a most memorable soundtrack. Instead, this post is about my return to one of San Francisco’s most beloved restaurants, a restaurant that I was dying to try my first time visiting here as an adult only to leave disappointed (see here). Was I disappointed this time around?
Go ahead and imagine the most flavorful bite of food you can. What makes it so flavorful? Is it the amount of salt? The amount of heat? The amount of fat? The amount of acidity?
All of these factors come into play in this recipe for lamb curry from April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Pig. It’s undoubtedly the best curry I’ve ever had in my life; but it may also be the single most flavorful bite of food I can remember eating in a long, long time.