Monday, February 28, 2011

Lamb Roast, Green Beans, Roesti, Caesar Salad, and Carrot Cake

For two cold and sunny days after a recent ice storm, all the trees down to the smallest branches were encased in glistening transparent ice. For miles around, the landscape was transformed. It was very much like moving through a bejeweled zone, where diamonds shone in the trees, brighter and more numerous than a bright night sky. I brought out my paints and tried to capture the glowing tree outside my kitchen window, but the result looked more like spring buds or tiny lights, rather than diamonds. It would be wonderful to find the trick to get that glow. And it made me think of Frost’s metaphors in “Fire and Ice,” though without the world-ending sentiments: fire from the bright sun and ice covering all the trees and bushes – a wondrous confluence. Our octogenarian neighbor, born and raised a Clevelander, said she had never seen anything quite like it (“like something out of Doctor Zhivago”). The photographs below capture only a bit of the magic.

Now, on to the food. February’s otherwise endless snow has made it (not April) the cruelest month. But there have been the highpoints of two family birthdays – one a 40th, the other a 4th, and of course the jeweled trees brought joy. For our son’s 40th birthday (making Mama feel a bit old), the menu requested was: lamb roast, green beans sautéed with garlic, roesti, and carrot cake for dessert. And we added Papa Metafora’s salmonella-free Caesar salad.
Lamb Roast: There are basic (and quite similar) recipes in every general cookbook, whether Bittman's How to Cook Everything, Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food, or the Betty Crocker Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Cook Today, New Tenth Edition , or either Joy of Cooking - Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition - 2006 or The 1997 Joy of Cooking; we stud  the roast with garlic and also smear it with crushed garlic, and sprinkle salt and much black pepper over it. Serve on the rare side. It’s rather odd that, though Papa and I rarely eat meat, when we do it must be carnivorously rare (or at least medium rare).
Roesti (or Rösti ): Our first experience with this wonderful potato dish was on our “European Grand Tour” – student version – in 1967, a mythical year in which on could tour Europe “on $5 a day.” We flew to Paris and back from London on a Cal Charter for $150 each (before too much envy takes over, remember the cost of living and the worth of the dollar in those days). We ordered Roesti at a little restaurant in Zurich, and it was amazing: a giant “latke” but much creamier and not so crispy. It is great as a side dish with beef, chicken, or pork.
Here is the version Papa Metafora makes. Ingredients: 2 pounds of Idaho potatoes, boiled for a quarter of an hour, then cooled, peeled, and coarsely grated; 1 small onion coarsely grated; 1 teaspoon of salt; ½ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper; 2 tablespoons sweet butter, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Mix the potato, onion, salt and pepper together in a bowl. In a large seasoned skillet, heat two-thirds of the butter and olive oil to medium high heat, so that the potato mixture sizzles when it is ladled into it. Toss the potato shreds in the hot oil and butter, and then quickly press the potatoes neatly to form a cake covering the pan’s surface. Cook for twenty minutes on medium-low heat, remove from the heat for a minute, place a large enough plate on the potato pancake, and holding the plate in place, turn the large pancake onto the plate; heat the remaining butter and olive oil in the now medium-hot pan until sizzling, and slip the large pancake back into the pan. Cook on medium-low until the bottom is as golden as the top, and serve immediately. This delicious crunchy Roesti, creamy within, can be served with dollops of sour cream or with Gruyère cheese grated and melting on the top.
For the Green Beans, see our recipe for sautéed carrots in my first post on the blog.
Caesar Salad: I miss those days of using raw eggs: Goodbye to old fashioned chocolate mouse. Goodbye homemade mayo and alioli. Goodbye to our original Caesar Salad. But Papa Metafora has developed a delicious alternative, using mayonnaise (for the best flavor, use only Hellman’s in the east, or Best Foods in the west). Apparently, also, anchovies were not included in chef Caesar Cardini’s original creation in 1924 at his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico; however, you can of course add minced anchovies to the dressing if you know all your guests will like them (or you could pass a plate of anchovies around for people to help themselves).
Here’s Papa’s current recipe. Ingredients: ½ cup mayonnaise; juice of ½ large lemon (about 2 tablespoons); 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil; 2 medium-sized cloves of garlic, boiled for 45 seconds, cooled and crushed; 2/3 cup shaved Parmesan cheese; 1 avocado cut into pieces; one head of Romaine lettuce, washed and dried, and torn into edible pieces; ½ baguette cut into 1” or smaller cubes, plus extra oil,1 large clove of crushed (unboiled) garlic, and coarse salt; salt and pepper to taste. Before baking the bread croutons, mix the unboiled crushed garlic with two tablespoons of olive oil, and then drizzle the mixture over the croutons as you toss them in a bowl; bake them on a foil covered cookie sheet for ten minutes in a 375 degree oven; remove and reserve them. For the dressing itself, mix together until smooth the mayonnaise, lemon juice, and olive oil, and then mix in the crushed garlic; add the avocado to the mixture, turning gently to cover the pieces. Pour the dressing over the lettuce and toss thoroughly, and then keep tossing as you add the Parmesan and the delicious garlicky croutons.
Carrot Cake is the favorite dessert of the birthday man, and this year I tried a new recipe, which oddly was disappointingly dry (the recipe had me strain the carrots in a colander, and I think too much carrot juice was removed!). Also, the cake’s ingredients can add up to quite a bit, so a good bakery’s carrot cake would have been okay, but then our son and the rest of the family would have been disappointed. However, the new lighter frosting I made was more wonderful than ever (perhaps due to a smaller amount of butter than usual), so I will include the frosting recipe here. Once finished, the frosting must be refrigerated, of course. Also, beautiful marzipan carrots were made by our grandchildren to decorate the birthday cake.
Here is the recipe for Cream Cheese Frosting: This recipe will frost either a 9” by 13” pan cake or an 8” or 9” layer cake; the frosting would be delicious also on other spicy cakes, pumpkin bread, or gingerbread. Ingredients: 16 ounces cream cheese (softened); 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened); 2 cups confectioner’s sugar; 2 tablespoons sour cream. First beat the softened cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer on low speed, until homogeneous – 3 to 4 minutes. Next add the confectioners’ sugar and sour cream, and beat until well blended – 2 or more minutes. To frost the cake, place one layer on a cake plate, anchoring it with a small dab of frosting, and frost the top of the layer. Add the second layer on top of the first, and frost the top and then the sides.
Winter’s Cabin Fever (especially during this, the snowiest winter I remember) brings on childhood cravings, Proustian in their power. This winter it was Lavash, the Armenian flatbread from my youth in California. A couple of years ago, we bought enough Lavash for our family here in the east, about $20 worth, though it was in cracker form (normally Lavash is a large circle of bread, two feet in diameter – it can be moistened and softened in a tea towel, if you like); but shipping cost us $40, and it arrived the worse for wear, mostly crumbled. What to do: make it myself. Even though it is a flatbread, it contains yeast and so there are bubbles. It is great with cheese: Bring on the manchego cheese for a great fusion snack, lunch, or appetizer.
Spring is just three weeks away! All the best, Mama and Papa Metafora
Our next post will offer Mama Metafora’s and our son’s Lavash recipe.

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