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Weekend Culinary Adventures

by VM Brasseur on June 24th, 2007

This morning I hosted a brunch for my friend, her husband and their two-year old daughter. The last time we got together it was at their house and they served a great meal. I was far overdue to return the favor. Few people seem to want to make the trek up here, so I don’t often get the chance to serve a brunch. Thus inexperienced, I had to break a rule of hosting and use my guests as guinea pigs for untried recipes…

  • Bloody Marys
    I’ve never made bloody marys before but it seemed like a brunch-type thing to do. That and the fact that they’re usually spicy and this worked with the rest of the meal. I’m not very familiar with the bloody mary so I’m not sure whether the ones I made were correct, but judging from the fact that one of my guests had three of them (they were small glasses) I think it’s safe to assume that even if not “correct” they were at least tasty. Unlike the usual celery stick garnish mine were graced with spicy pickled green beans. This, it turns out, can be filed under “Very Good Idea.”
  • Cinnamon muffins and mixed fruit
    The pre-meal course was composed of mixed fresh fruit (strawberries, apricots and two kinds of sweet cherries) and cinnamon muffins topped with pepitas. The fruit was good (and especially appreciated by the two-year old contingency) but the muffins, though flavorful, were a bit dry. Thankfully there was coffee (and bloody marys) to help fix that dryness.
  • Huevos Rancheros
    I don’t know how I landed on the idea to make huevos rancheros for this brunch but somehow I did and it became the general theme for the meal. Though I cannot attest to its authenticity, I can recommend the Cooks’ Illustrated (login required) version of this recipe as particularly tasty. It makes four eggs’ worth, which worked out to one for each of us. After I finished mine I found myself wishing I could have another. The salsa, which at first I feared would be mushy and overly-cooked, was very flavorful. If there were a flaw in the execution of this dish it’s that I allowed the eggs to cook slightly too long. In this case it was a good thing as prudence and conservative food safety demands one not serve undercooked eggs to toddlers. But if I make this recipe again I hope to serve it while the yolks are still runny. Mixed with the salsa the yolk will make a rich and satisfying sauce, I think.

My guests left. After cleaning up I immediately launched into the next batch of food. This round is intended to serve as dinner for a few days at least while allowing me to try out new things.

  • Lamb meatballs
    A few weeks ago I acquired some Ras El Hanout. When I bought it I had no idea what I was going to do with it but after smelling it one thing was obvious: it needed to involve lamb. I’m not a big fan of lamb but in this case I could make an exception. I went to Oliver’s Market (which has a great butcher counter) and got some freshly ground lamb. Adding finely diced onion, two teaspoons of Ras El Hanout, an egg and a pinch of salt I mixed the lot together and then formed little oblong “balls” of meat. While that was baking I made a spiced tomato sauce. Once the sauce was ready I added the lamb and let it simmer for a while. The end result was tangy, spicy and very good. The entire dish was far from subtle but I often look for that in my food so it was OK. If there is a flaw here (to my taste) it’s that there is too much cinnamon. This overshadows some of the flavors in the dish, so next time I will either remove the cinnamon sticks sooner or will use only one stick.
  • Fattoush
    Lamb and tomato sauce is all well and good but it needs something to round out the meal. This evening that something was a very enjoyable fattoush. It featured plenty of cucumbers, tomatoes, lemon juice and fresh minced mint. It could have used a bit more pita but, well, one makes do with what one has. This was my favorite part of the entire meal and I’m looking forward to making another for dinner tomorrow.

A single pound of ground lamb is not going to provide enough to feed me for dinner and lunch all week. To fill that gap I also tossed on a pot of…

  • Good Mother Stollard beans
    This week’s meal (like many more before it) is brought to me by the good taste of Steve Sando at Rancho Gordo. Steve, have I ever thanked you for bringing us this very tasty bean product? If I’ve not then I apologize since thanks are certainly due. The Good Mother Stollard is my favorite bean. Others, though good, usually need ornamentation of some sort. The GMS? That I can hit with the salt and EVOO which I keep at the office and I’m good to roll for lunch. It stands on its own as a meaty, hearty and flavorful foodstuff. Aside from that it’s also quite pretty. Beautiful and functional: that’s nature at work for ya, folks.

Lest people think that my life is all high-impact, slow-cooked meals and heirloom beans, I offer this datum:

Yesterday’s dinner was box of Trader Joe’s vegetable siu mai with ponzu sauce. Effort involved? Opening the box and heating the pan. No, I don’t always eat complicated home-cooked meals. It just seems that way because that’s all I write about.

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