Archive for category Higher Learning

Higher Learning: Lamb Milanese with Tzatziki, Radish-Cucumber Salad

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Vivek is back…and we are all smarter for it!

When we talk about lamb, most of us think about those beautiful lamb chops or a big hunk of bone in leg of lamb that you eat during Easter, right? And those pieces of lamb don’t come cheap either. But if you know a little bit about lamb anatomy, then you can really navigate the meat department to find some awesome, high quality, and delicious lamb for only a fraction of the costs. The shoulder is a great place to get meat from, on any animal (like that BBQ pulled pork you love so much – yeah, it’s from the shoulder). With lamb, your butcher can cut the shoulder into 1 inch steaks. The idea being that we can take that cut of meat and apply a few techniques in order to make it moist and tender.

What you want to do is get the steaks and remove the bones (which you can save for stock), cover them with some plastic, and pound it out until it’s about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick. This process of pounding tenderizes the meat and allows you to cook it quickly. By breading the lamb, it’s going to create great contrast of texture, with a really crispy crust and juicy meat. It’s kinda like that pork milanese or veal milanese you may get at an Italian restaurant. With something as rich as the lamb, you want some ingredients that will cut through the richness and refresh your palette. That’s what the radish-cucumber salad does – beautifully fresh and acidic. The tzatziki sauce brings everything together – it’s creamy, garlicky, and cool.

It’s all about learning some good techniques and understanding how you can make a composed dish. Because that’s how we roll on Higher Learning!

Lamb Milanese with Tzatziki, Radish-Cucumber Salad (serves 4)
(Recipe adapted from Michael Symon)

Have the salad and sauce prepared before you start on the lamb.

For the radish salad:
1 shallot, minced
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
8 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves picked
2 bunches of radishes
1 english cucumber

Add the shallot to a bowl and season with salt. Add the vinegar, oregano, and olive oil. Taste and reason if you need to. Thinly slice the radishes and add to the dressing. Halve the cucumber lengthwise, remove the seeds, and cut into half moons. Add the cucumber to the radish mixture. Season with salt to taste.

For the tzatziki:
1/2 English cucumber
2 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
2 cups greek yogurt
Juice of 1 lemon
1 bunch of mint, leaves picked, and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)

Grate the cucumber over a strainer over a bowl. Add the garlic and salt. Set aside for the cucumber to drain – about 15 minutes.

In another bowl, combine the yogurt, lemon juice, and mint. Season with salt and black pepper. Squeeze out the excess moisture of the cucumber and then add it to the greek yogurt mixture. Stir to combine.

For the lamb:
4 blade lamb chops, bones removed
4 cups all purpose flour
4 eggs, whisked
4 cups panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Put the flour, eggs, and panko into 3 separate dishes. This is a traditional breading – flour, then eggs, then breadcrumbs. Season everything with salt and pepper. Add the parmesan to the bread crumbs and stir to combine.

Cut the lamb into equal medallions, cover in plastic wrap, and pound with a meat mallet or a heavy pan to about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch in thickness. Dredge pieces in flour, and dust off the excess. Then into the egg, and finally cover completely with breadcrumbs. Put on a plate while you dredge all the pieces.

Place a plan over medium high heat with enough oil to cover the bottom. Once the oil is hot, add the dredged pieces and cook until beautifully golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Drain on a paper towel lined plate.

To serve, spoon some of the tzatziki sauce on the plate. Top with the lamb chops and garnish with the radish salad. Squeeze a lemon juice over the top and you’ll have an awesome meal!


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Higher Learning: Steamed Mussels with Bacon & Blue Cheese

Monthly Feature
Vivek is back…and we are all smarter for it!

Mussels are probably the most underrated of all the shellfish. Lobsters are the king and are luxuriously delicious, but also extremely expensive. Shrimp are used far and wide. Clams get put into awesome chowders. And crab boils go on all during the summer (if you’re lucky!). But mussels rarely get a second look. And that is unfortunate for us – the consumers. You see, mussels are really easy to prepare (they take about 10 minutes)! Not to mention that they are really, really cheap. I got mine at Whole Foods for $2.49/lb. Two pounds is usually a great appetizer size for 4 people or a full entree for 2. They can be eaten out of the shell, tossed in pasta, breaded and fried. And the broth – oh the broth, is perfect for dunking in amazing crusty baguette or as the base for a more elaborate sauce.

I still remember the first time I ever ate mussels. Living in Tennessee, we don’t really see them much. But when I moved to Washington, DC after college, there was an abundance of seafood and I couldn’t get enough. This place – Granville Moore’s – had amazing steamed mussels and the crispiest fries you have ever eaten. On Mondays, you could get an entire pot for $10. With a couple of Belgian beers, it was the best way to wind down after an intense day at work.

So give mussels a chance. I think you’ll really enjoy them!

Steamed Mussels with Bacon & Blue Cheese (serves 4 as an appetizer)
(Recipe courtesy of Vivek Surti)

-2 lbs of mussels (Prince Edward Island or cultivated mussels), kept on ice
-1/4 lb of pancetta or bacon, thinly sliced
-1/2 bulb of fennel, thinly sliced
-1/2 onion or 1 whole shallot, thinly sliced
-2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
-2 tablespoons chopped parsley
-1 cup dry white wine
-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
-1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
sprinkling of fennel fronds or tarragon (if you don’t have either, just use more parsley)

Wash your mussels and remove any “beards” if the mussels have them. If the mussels are open, tap them to see if it’ll close. If it stays open, that means the mussel is dead – so throw it out. Wash them well and keep them in a bowl set over ice.

Bring a large pot over medium heat and add a little bit of olive oil. Add the pancetta/bacon when the pan is cold so all the fat can render out. When the pancetta is crispy, about 8 minutes, add the fennel, shallot, garlic, red pepper flakes, and parsley. Season with salt and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the butter, the white wine, and the mussels. Cover the pot and cook until the mussels open, about 8 minutes. When they are open, they are done. Sprinkle the blue cheese over the top and toss everything together. Put some mussels in a bowl and pour over some of the broth. Serve with some crusty toasted/grilled baguette.



Higher Learning: Homemade Grilled Flatbread

Monthly Feature
Vivek is back…and we’re all smarter for it!

Lately, I’ve been going to the Farmer’s Markets here in Nashville and getting really inspired to cook everything that our vendors have. With summer approaching, you can sense all the awesome produce that is about to burst into the market. Little spring onions, pencil-thin asparagus, and fresh green peas are starting to creep their way back into my life. Last week, I was talking to the cheesemonger over at the market and she showed me this awesome fresh sheep’s milk cheese called Brebis, made at Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN (which you can order online!) The cool thing about this cheese is that it’s only available once a year, for a few months because it is made during sheep milking season. I never really knew sheep had a milking season, but apparently they do. And that’s the time they make this lovely fresh cheese. It’s creamy, acidic, and slightly sweet. When I tasted some, I immediately thought of having some really fresh, toasted bread and shmearing the cheese all over it.

So after I bought my cheese and went home, I whipped up my pizza dough recipe and fired up the grill. If you’ve never had grilled pizza/flatbread, you gotta try it out. Then I started piling on the cheese, which melted just slightly after hitting the warm bread. With some fresh herbs and roasted peppers, this dish was incredible! Feel free to add whatever toppings you want, but recognize that the cheese here, really is the star of the plate. If you can’t find brebis, I would say use a really fresh goat cheese.

Making your own pizza is a valuable skill and something that’s not too difficult to do at home. Give it a shot and see how you like it!

Grilled Homemade Flatbread with Fresh Cheese, Chives, and Roasted Peppers

For the flatbread:

1 package of active dry yeast (make sure it’s not expired, ok?)

1 tsp honey

1 cup of warm water (about 110 degrees)

3 cups of all purpose flour (sifted)

1 T kosher salt

1 T extra virgin olive oil

Put the active dry yeast in the clean bowl of your stand mixer (or a big bowl if you’re mixing this by hand). Pour the honey and warm water in and mix it around. Immediately, your kitchen should smell like bread or if your nosebuds are like mine, beer (yeast is a key ingredient in beer). Honey is what the yeast eats. Don’t add salt now, because that’ll kill the yeast. Let this sit for about 5 minutes, until it becomes foamy and develops a skin on top of the water. While the yeast is activating, sift the 3 cups of flour and salt. Put the stand mixer (paddle attachment) on low speed and add the flour in 1/2 cup increments. Add the extra virgin olive oil. Keep adding the flour until the dough starts coming together. Once the dough is a cohesive ball, switch to the dough hook for kneading and increase the speed to medium. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until it becomes really soft and smooth. (And, yes, I do mean 10 minutes because this isn’t a flaky dough like a biscuit, so knead away!) Roll it up into a ball and rub it with olive oil. Put in a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap, to prevent a skin from forming. Now, you gotta let the dough rest for a few hours (maybe 2-3) in a warm spot. This will allow the dough to proof. If you tried to bake the dough now, it would be really tough and dense. Allowing it to proof makes it light, airy, and crispy. It’ll really grow in size. After it’s proofed, punch the dough, cut it into 4 pieces, and then roll it out nice and thin to whatever shape you want. I find rectangular works well for the grill.

For Assembly:

Hungry yet?

Pizza dough

Brebis cheese

freshly chopped chives

1 roasted red bell pepper

Fire up your grill and make a medium heat fire. Once you have rolled out your pizza, brush it with some olive oil and season with salt. Grill over the coals for about 3 minutes, until it develops those awesome grill marks and gets some char. Flip it over and cook it on the other side. If you rolled out your dough thick, move it over to the part of the grill that has no coals, and cover so the grill becomes an oven and your dough cooks through.

Once finished, schmear the cheese all over the bread and top with the chives and roasted peppers.

Hope you all enjoy and get to try making your own flatbread at home!



Higher Learning: Coq Au Vin

Monthly Feature
Vivek raises our cooking IQ with another edition of Higher Learning!

Coq Au Vin is one of those classic French dishes that screams both sophistication and comfort. I once lived in Washington, DC and when I first moved there, I bunked up with my friend, Andrew, in Arlington. The first day, I was wondering around the neighborhood and found this tiny little French restaurant. The special of the day was coq au vin. I ordered it and was just amazed. The braised chicken is so moist and has soaked up all the flavor of the wine it’s cooked in. With a nice starch to soak up all the lovely juices of the broth, this dish is irresistible. I knew then that I had to recreate this dish at home.

The dish does not require a lot of ingredients, so it’s all about executing on the technique. Spend enough time browning your chicken, sauteing your aromatic vegetables, and then reducing the sauce at the end.

(Recipe adapted from Tyler Florence’s Stirring the Pot, serves 4)
1 3 to 4 pound whole free range chicken
Extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup all purpose flour
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices bacon
2 carrots, cut into chunks
1 large onion, cut into chunks
3 ribs celery
1 cup mushrooms, halved
1/4 bunch of fresh thyme, about 6-7 sprigs)
1 bay leaf
1 750 mL bottle dry red wine (like burgundy)
2 tbsp butter, unsalted
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Cut the chicken into 10 pieces (or have your butcher do it) into 2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 wings, and a quartered breast. In a large heavy pot, preferably a Dutch oven, heat a 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Season the flour with salt and pepper and dredge the chicken pieces in it until they are completely coated. Add 5 pieces into the pan and cook about 7-10 minutes until the chicken is nice and golden brown on both sides. Remove those pieces to a plate and then cook the rest of the chicken the same way. Remove the chicken to the plate.

Add the bacon, onion, celery, carrots, and mushrooms to the pot, season with salt, and cook for about 10 minutes until everything is brown. Then add the garlic, thyme, and bay leaf. Pour in all the wine and deglaze the pan using a wooden spoon to scrape up all those browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken back to the pot with any collected juices. Bring the liquid up to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer. Cover the pot and braise over simmer/low heat for about an hour. Remove the lid and carefully remove the chicken to a clean platter. Strain the braising liquid into a clean, wide fry pan. Bring the mixture up to a boil and reduce until the sauce is thick. Add a pat of butter to make the sauce shiny. Add the chicken back to the sauce and baste the chicken pieces with the sauce. Taste the sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve the dish with mashed potatoes and some roasted vegetables and you have one incredible meal! Coq au Vin may sound fancy, but with some good technique and great ingredients, it’s a great dish to prepare. And when done right, there is nothing else I want.


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