Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sesame Lamb Meatballs

By Paul Briand

My wife Jane and I went to a Greek festival recently at a nearby Greek Orthodox Church.

My primary motivation was the food, and I got my gyro while Jane got moussaka. What I didn't expect was that the little market of Greek food in the church hall included several recipes and I picked up this one for Sesame Lamb Meatballs.

It's one thing to go out for a taste of Greek food, it was quite another experience to return with a recipe for Greek food that we could prepare and eat at home.

1/3 cup minced onion
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch of cinnamon
1 pound ground lamb
1 cup bread crumbs
1 large egg, beaten lightly
2 tablespoons raisins
1/2 cup of sesame seeds, toasted lightly

1. In a small skillet cook onion and garlic in olive oil over moderate heat until softened;
2. Transfer mixture to large mixing bowl and add oregano, salt and cinnamon;
3. Add lamb, bread crumbs, egg and raisins, combined well;
4. Roll mixture into individual 1 1/4 inch meatballs, arranging on a tray;
5. Roll each meatball in a small bowl of the sesame seeds until coated;
6. Transfer meatballs into a baking pan;
7. Cook in 450 degree preheated oven until done, about 10 minutes.

Given the dryness of the mixture, I was worried that the meatballs would come out of my oven and into my mouth and be a little dry, but there were two surprises: the raisins that added a nice level of moisture and sweetness and the sesame seeds that gave the meatballs an initial crunch.
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Catfish Lettuce Wraps

By Paul Briand

I had the pleasure of preparing this meal with the help of my son David, who was just back from a two-month, 13,000 mile cross country road trip.

He can hold his own in the kitchen. Often during his college years and even during the road trip, he was the de facto cook, and he takes a lot of pleasure in it.

We tackled a Catfish Lettuce Wrap recipe that I found in the grocery store.

My wife and stepdaughter were a bit wary of the catfish. Knowing what a catfish looks like doesn't exactly instill a lot of confidence in the taste if you've never had it before. So David and I followed a suggestion in the recipe and soaked the fillets for about an hour in 2 cups of water with 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt to remove some of the so-called "natural, earthy" flavor from the fish.

Also, rather than keep the vegetable and bean ingredients separate, as given in the recipe, David made a slaw/salsa out of all of it, which was great both as a topping for the fish and as a separate side dish.

4 catfish fillets, about 6 ounces each
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 head iceberg lettuce or two heads Bibb lettuce (I had to substitute with Romaine lettuce)
2 cups cherry tomatoes, diced
1 can black beans, rinsed and dried
1 cup purple cabbage mix
1 ripe avocado, pitted, peeled and diced
2 limes, juiced
Salsa and sour cream, option
Red pepper flakes to taste
Cilantro to taste

1. Season the dried fillets with pepper, salt (always optional) and red pepper flakes (again optional);
2. Cook to flakiness on a grill or large frying pan coated with olive oil, spritz with lime;
3. In the meantime, combine the tomatoes, black beans, cabbage mix and avocado into mixing bowl and give a big stir, adding lime juice and cilantro, creating a hefty slaw;
4. Prepare lettuce by cleaning and drying six leaves;
5. Once the fish is done, transfer to a platter and break apart into chunks;
6. Put lettuce leaves on large platter, and fill each leaf with chunks of catfish, then add a heaping serving of the slaw mixture. Option, top with sour cream and/or salsa and serve.

There was enough going on in the mouth with all these flavors that even with some of the earthiness left in the catfish it was neither powerful enough to dominate nor was it overwhelmed by the toppings.
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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Korean Sesame Rib Marinade

By Paul Briand

My wife Jane and I had family over for dinner the other night and we served chicken kabobs with chicken and vegetables that had marinated in some store-bought marinade. Shame, shame, shame ... I know.

But during my shopping this week I found some lovely looking country-style pork ribs and promised myself a marinade that I'd make, and I found this one, although to be honest I'm not sure what is so Korean about it.

Asian, yes. Korean? I don't see anything in the ingredients that necessarily classify it as being particularly Korean. But that's how the recipe described itself so I'll have to respect that.

The key to a successful marinade is giving it time to work its magic. The marinade needs time to break down the meat (or chicken or fish or whatever) to start infusing it with the marinade's flavors, which in this case are the tang of some garlic and scallions, the sweetness of the brown sugar and some smokiness from the sherry.

The recipe I found called for regular sugar, but I substituted it for brown sugar. I just like it better in marinades and sauces.

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 scallions chopped
3 tablespoons sherry
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
2 tablespoons roasted sesame seeds

1. Mix the ingredients in an amply sized mixing bowl, reserving the sesame seeds for later;
2. Place your meat (in my case 2 pounds of the ribs, but whatever it is you want to marinade) into a gallon Ziploc bag;
3. Poor the marinade into the bag and carefully expel as much of the air as you can then seal the zip;
4. Work the marinade around the meat, and lay the bag into a large baking dish or whatever you have to contain a possible (but not likely leak). This is a piece of advice I picked up from Guy Fieri and his "Guy's Big Bite" show on the Food Channel;
5. Let the marinade work for two hours minimum, longer if you can;
6. Extract the meat and cook as desired;
7. Sprinkle cooked meat with sesame seeds.

A lot of people will toss the marinade. I don't. I put it in a sauce pan, heat it through to a boil and use it as a side sauce.
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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Watermelon Salad

By Paul Briand

Several members of my very large family try to get together each year for Independence Day festivities in Maine.

My Mom lives in Wells, near Moody Beach, and each year we have a big throwdown of the usual barbecue suspects -- burgers, dogs, chips and a variety of side dishes, which this year included an orzo salad and a Thai cabbage salad.

I had fed everyone earlier in the weekend with two big pots of chili and used some of the leftovers for chili dogs.

But one pleasant side dish surprise was a watermelon salad from my sister, Ella, that is amazingly simple but amazingly good in its blend of seedless watermelon, feta cheese and fresh mint.

That's it. That's all there is to it.

Fresh mint is key. Fortunately for us, my mother has mint growing in a section of her flower garden.

Everything in this salad is proportional to how much watermelon you use and how much of the mint or the feta you want as a complement.

When we were loading ourselves down with hamburgers and chili dogs and everything else the watermelon salad was a cool, sweet/tangy aperitif.
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