Lamb and Eggplant Shepherd’s Pie My Way

What is it about a November weekend? For food it calls for red meat, a substantial sauce and potatoes. My taste buds were in search of a lively braise including lamb and eggplant.  This recipe requires the time to cure the eggplant in salt (one hour) and the time to braise the lamb (the same hour). 

Stew? It could be. Or you could add a crust and call it a pot pie. This one has a topping of cheddar enhanced mashed potatoes which makes it a Shepherd’s Pie.  November calls for lengthy braises. Fortunately, November also allows the leisure to cook braises and stews.

This recipe is adapted to New Mexico, which means the addition of chiles (by now, dried and ground).  Add cheddar and rosemary to the mashed potatoes and you enter the realm of the irresistible. Good pub grub taken to its logical extent.  With this, drink the heartiest white wine you can find or a Pinot Noir or a substantial ale. Serve with haricots verts, broccoli or asparagus quickly sautéed with garlic. Just plain enjoy. Here you go:

Eggplant Lamb Shepherd’s Pie

1 Eggplant, peeled and diced to ¾ “
2 TBS Coarse Kosher Salt
2 LB Red skinned potatoes, peeled and quartered
3 TBS Butter
¼ C. Half and half
½ C. Cheddar, shredded
2 LB Lamb, from leg or shoulder , trimmed and cut to 1” cubes
1 medium onion, diced to ¼ “
½ C Carrot, diced to ¼ “
½ C. Celery, diced to ¼ “
6 Garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 C. Diced tomatoes
1 TBS Dried Oregano
1 TBS Fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 TBS Ancho chile ground
½ tsp Chipotle chile ground

Sprinkle eggplant with kosher salt and spread on a baking sheet. Toss and let stand for one hour. Rinse and pat dry.

Put potatoes in enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook until fork tender (approx. 12 minutes). Remove to a heated bowl. Add butter in 1 TBS increments. Stir in half and half to make a smooth puree. Add cheddar and one tablespoon rosemary and blend well. Keep warm in oven.
 
Rinse and drain eggplant. Heat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add olive oil. Cook until soft (approximately 12 minutes.)  Dredge  lamb in flour and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.. Add to pan and cook until well browned. Remove from pan. Add beef stock and stir to incorporate bits in the pan, add to lamb and  keep warm in a 350 degree oven. Add onion, celery and carrot to the sauté pan and cook until vegetables are soft.  Add one TBS olive oil and stir well. Add three TBS flour, mixing well to make a roux  Add two cups beef stock and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add rosemary and oregano Remove from heat. Return lamb, eggplant  and tomatoes to the sauce, bring to a boil and simmer for two minutes. Pour into a nine-inch by thirteen-inch baking dish. Evenly cover with mashed potatoes. Bake for 45 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

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Flap Steak Fajitas followed by Cherry Tart

Flap steak is a cut similar to flank that works wonderfully when marinated, grilled and sliced across the grain.As is the case with the tougher cuts, it is very flavorful and when properly done is a delight. For this one I used a beer marinade. A good dark ale works well. Some like Guiness for this but I used Marble Brewery Red Ale. Here is the recipe:

Beer Marinated Flap Steak

serves 2

1 LB Flap steak
Salt and freshly fround black pepper
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
1 Jalapeno pepper in matchsticks
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 TBS dried oregano
3 TBS Worcestireshire Sauce
12 oz. Ale
1 Lime, sliced
 
Veggies:
1 bell pepper, cut in slabs
1 red onion in 1/2 inch slices
1 jalapeno sliced in half lengthwise
 
4 wheat tortillas
 

Four hours in advance, or overnight, score the steak with a sharp knife across the grain at one inch intervals about half way into the steak. (This creates more surface to absorb the marinade.)  Season the flap steak with salt and pepper, cumin and oregano on both sides. Evenly spread half the onion, jalapeno and garlic over the bottom of a flat dish. Put the steak on top of the onion mixture. Cover with remaining onion, jalapeno, cumin and oregano. Pour worcestershire sauce and ale over the steak. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook. Prepare a hot fire. Put the veggies on the grill and cook for five minutes. Turn and cook for five minutes more. Don’t worry about the char on the peppers. Most of that will scrape off and the rest is atmosphere and flavor. Set the veggies to the side. Remove the steak from the marinade and put on the grill over the highest heat. Cook for three minutes turn 90 degrees and cook for two more minutes.  Flip the steak and cook for three minutes. Turn 90 degrees  and cook for two more minutes. Remove the steak from the grill and let rest for 10 minutes. While the steak is resting toast the tortillas on the grill a minute or two on each side. Slice the steak thinly across the grain. Slice veggies and serve.

 Cherry Tart 

4 C  fresh cherries, pitted
Tip: remove the stems and put the cherries in a large recloseable bag and hit them with a meat pounding hammer. The cherry pits will come out easily.
1/2 C sugar
3 TBS white flour

 Mix sugar and flour. Toss together with cherries. Set aside.

1 C  White flour
6 TBS unsalted butter in 1/4 inch cubes, well chilled
1/4 C ice water

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put the flour into the bowl of a food processor. Evenly distribute the butter over the flour and puls until you have a coarse meal texture. Drizzle the water in small bits until the pastry holds together. Press the pastry into a disk and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Roll out the pastry to 1/4 inch. Put the crust into a baking pan so that it is relatively centered.. I have a favorite 6″ saute pan I use for baking tarts.  Fill the crust with the cherries. Loosely place the outlying portion of the crust over the top of the cherries. Place into preheated oven and bake for 40 minutes.

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Bacon Pecan Stuffed Dover Sole

This is a great dish because it doesn’t take a lot of time and energy to put together. The fish should be fresh or else don’t bother.

Serves 2

1 or 2 strips Applewood smoked bacon

¼ C Onion, finely diced

½ tsp. Ground cumin

1 tsp. Dried oregano

Freshly ground black pepper

¼ C. Pecan, coarsely chopped

¾ LB Dover sole, fileted

1 Chipotle pepper from canned chipotle in adobo, finely chopped

¼ C. Mayonnaise

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook the bacon until crisp and drain then crumble. Pour  off any bacon fat in excess of one tablespoon. Add onions to the pan and cook for five minutes (until soft). Add cumin, oregano and black pepper and cook for another minute. Add pecans and bacon and cook for another minute. Working with each piece of sole, lay it out flat and fill with a tablespoon of the stuffing. Roll the sole around the stuffing then place the sole on end in a baking dish. The roll should hold together. If not secure it with a toothpick. Continue until all of the pieces are stuffed and rolled. Whisk together the mayo and chipotle and put a dollop on top of each sole roll. Put the baking dish into the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes.

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Heirloom Tomato Tart

This is a fabulous easy summer light dinner. This recipe is loosely adapted from an early 2000’s issue of Gourmet. Times like this I miss Gourmet mag. The idea here is that you prebake the crust and then fill it with layers of a caprese salad. Use the best fresh mozzarella you can find. Make your own basil pesto. And, of course, only perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes just off the vine. Add a green salad and perhaps a bottle of well-chilled Albarino or Sauv Blanc and enjoy the food and company… 

Black Pepper Parmesan Pastry
1 C all-purpose flour
6 TBS unsalted butter, well chilled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 TBS freshly grated parmesan
1 tsp. black pepper
2 to 4 tablespoons ice water
1 TBS Dry sherry

Put the flour in the bowl of a food processor. Distribute the butter and parmesan over the flour. Grind fresh black pepper over the butter. Pulse until you have a coarse meal texture. Drizzle in the icewater and sherry and puls until the mixture holds together. Form into a disk and refrigerate  for 30 minutes. Roll out tothe  a thickness of one quarter inch. Butter a tart pan and dust with flour. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Put the crust into the tart pan and trim the edges. Using a fork prick holes all over the crust. Put the crust in the oven and bake for 35 minutes. Some people like to put pie weights in the tart pan to keep the crust from separating and forming air pockets. I’ve had pretty good luck just pricking the raw crust with a fork. You can bake the crust a day in advance. Keep it in the tart pan until you have assembled the filling. 

Filling:

2 lb Favorite heirloom tomatoes, perfectly ripe, sliced 3/4 inch thick

3/4 lb fresh mozzarella (not unsalted), very thinly sliced

1/2 cup pesto

Layer the tomato slices over the bottom of the prebaked piecrust. Arrange a layer of mozzarella slices and cover with a layer of pesto. Repeat until the piecrust is filled. Chill until ready to serve.
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Charlie Parker

The story I heard was that, as is often the case when Jazz musicians get together and jam, challenges are offered in which others are expected to take the riff and better it. A musician whose name I don’t recall  put an intricate challenge to Mr. Parker in the form of an elaborate 32 bar riff. Mr. Parker played the entire riff note for note, even capturing the inflections. He then played the entire riff backwards note for note. Then went on to explore the musical possibilities of the riff before handing it off to the next person. I know that he did this because my audiophile friend played the reel to reel tape forwards throughout the entire Charlie Parker riff then (as you could do with reel to reel) played it backwards for me. I had to hear it about 3 times to be convinced. But I was. I was just a young wannabe audiophile at the time but I continue to appreciate the richness that music brings to our lives.

Hi Fi was the keyword. I first heard Hi Fi in an audio booth in a music store in Fort Dodge, IA. My friend had them put Harry Belafonte on the Hi Fi. I put the earphones on and I haven’t looked back since. Sometime I’ll have to talk about my relatiuonship with wine and women…

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NM Style Harissa and Couscous Style Quinoa

Our friend, Donna made an outrageously delicious Moroccan chicken dish with olives and preserved lemons. She asked me to bring a side dish. I brought a “couscous” style red quinoa pilaf (recipe below). But I also realized that such a lovely dish also called for a harissa. This Harissa is not as fiery as some. It is mostly flavor forward with a long lingering finish that merges flavors and heat.

Couscous Style Quinoa

2 TBS Olive oil

½ C. Red onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 TBS Fresh ginger, grated

½ tsp. ground cinnamon

½ tsp. ground cumin

1½ C. Quinoa, well rinsed (If you don’t rinse it, it will be bitter.)

3 C. Chicken stock

Put oil in a saucepan over medium heat and cook for one minute. Add onion and cook for two minutes. Add garlic, ginger, cinnamon and cumin, stir well and cook for two minutes. Add the quinoa and stir well to coat with oil. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover the pan and cook for 15 minutes. All of the liquid should be absorbed, If not stir well and cook a bit more. Fluff with a fork and serve.

Our friend, Donna made an outrageously delicious Moroccan chicken dish with olives and preserved lemons. She asked me to bring a side dish. I brought a “couscous” style red quinoa pilaf (recipe below). But I also realized that such a lovely dish also called for a harissa. This Harissa is not as fiery as some. It is mostly flavor forward with a long lingering finish that merges flavors and heat.

Harissa, NM Style 

2 dried ancho chiles, seeded and stems removed

2 dried guajillo chiles, seeded and stems removed

2 dried red New Mexico chiles, seeded and stems removed

1 dried chipotle , seeded and stem removed

1 tablespoon coriander seed

1 tablespoon cumin seed

¼ C. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon saltolive

1 tablespoon fresh mint

¼ C.chopped fresh cilantro

Put the ancho, guajillo, New Mexico and chipotle peppers along with coriander and cumin seed into a dry sauté pan over medium heat. Watch closely and shake frequently. Don’t let the chiles burn or they will be bitter. When the aromas of the chiles and spices begin to appear, remove from heat and transfer to a spice grinder, blender or mortar and pestle. Break the chiles into small pieces. Grind to a powder. Transfer all ingredients to a blender (If they’re not already there.)  Drizzle the olive oil as needed to form a paste. Add the salt, mint and cilantro and pulse until you have a uniform paste, scraping down as needed. Store in a bowl or jar in the refrigerator with the a thin layer of  olive oil poured over the top. Refrigerate until ready to use. This harissa Will keep up to three days refrigerated or two months frozen. 

Make sure that the surface is covered with a layer of oil each time you use some. When you run out of Harissa, the remaining oil is great to have around for dressings or sauces. Talk about an outrageous pastry for lamb empanadas! Ah, but that’s a tale to be told another time…

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My Favorite Green Chile Cheeseburger

Living in New Mexico, a good green chile burger is at least as important as boots or a hat to a Texan. A lot of considerations come into play when making one. Do you cook on wood, charcoal (if so lump or briquette?) or gas? What do you use for burger meat? What chile and how to prepare it? What cheese. What bun?  (I’m not even going to talk about what to drink with it.) When you put it all together it can be pretty special.

This is how I go about putting together my favorite cheeseburger. I grill on a mostly charcoal fire. Right now I have some good oak that I use to hold the fire in. When I build a good charcoal fire I like it to be hot and contained. The oak contains it and adds a bit of smokiness not too overstated. The heat does the cooking. It takes about 20 minutes to get the coals hot (mostly gray and white). I use a chimney starter – no fluid. If you want to accelerate the starter, soak the newspaper in a bit of vegetable oil.

While the fire is getting ready bake your French fries. A half pound of new potatoes scrubbed and cut into quarter- inch square strips, tossed with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, salt, pepper and minced garlic and baked for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

I’m fussy about burger meat. When I can get over there I get it from Kaune’s  Market. a local store in Santa Fe. They have an old fashioned butcher department with true ground chuck ( 85 percent meat). They don’t plump it up with water. Just sayin’. Divide the meat into equal portions and shape into patties without overworking the meat. I like half pound burgers. Rub each side with Tamari and generously grate black pepper on both sides of each burger. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

Allow a half inch thick slice of sweet onion for each burger. (Walla Walla is the best when you can get it. Red onion works well, too.) For the green chile, if you can get poblano pepper that works the best. For more heat use a jalapeno. I cut slabs about two inches by three inches. For the bun, any good quality burger bun works well. When I want it to be extra special I get the large ciabatta dinner rolls that Whole Foods sells in their bakery section.

The cheese is Tucumcari (NM) cheddar in generous slabs that are put on to melt after flipping, while side B cooks on the fire.

Now, let’s cook. Once the fire is ready, toast the buns (insides only). Once they are brown take them off. Put the onion slices and slabs of poblano on the grill for five minutes. Turn and cook for five more minutes.

Put those to the side and put the burgers on the grill. Cook for two minutes. Turn 90 degrees, and cook for two more minutes. Flip put the cheese on and cook for two more minutes. Turn 90 degrees, and cook for two more minutes. Take it off the grill. Put it on the bun with the onion and chile and add a generous helping of fries to the plate. Take a moment of silence…

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