Sunday, March 8, 2009

Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb

The votes were tabulated from the poll I had on my blog and the dish that people most wanted me to make was herb crusted rack of lamb. This lamb dish gets seared on a hot grill, coated with lots of fresh herbs, and then finished in the oven. The end result is super tender lamb with a crispy flavorful coating.
We were serving 4 people so I started with 2 small racks of lamb. The racks had already been frenched, meaning that the extra meat and fat around the bones had been removed. Having the bones exposed makes for a more impressive plate presentation as well as making them easier to handle and cook evenly.
The lamb was given a good coat of salt and cracked black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil to get it ready for the grill. We grilled the lamb over high heat on all sides. What we are looking for here is adding some good color and flavor to the meat. The lamb is removed from the grill while it is still rare and set aside to rest while we make our herb crust mixture.
I start the herb crust with some fresh bread crumbs. I used a store bought loaf of French bread that I sliced, toasted in the oven, and ground into crumbs using a food processor. The crumbs get set aside so that we can next make the herb mixture in the food processor. I started with a handful each of fresh mint and flat leaf parsley. I added in the leaves from a few sprigs of fresh rosemary 2 cloves of garlic, and 1/4 cup of fresh shredded parmasan cheese and gave it a few pulses. Next I added in 3 cups of the fresh bread crumbs and began to combine while adding a drizzle of olive oil to bring it all together. The end result is a bright green speckled breadcrumb mixture.

It is now time to bread the racks of lamb. I began by well coating the lamb with dijon mustard. The mustard is the glue to hold on the crumb mixture. Then I coated the lamb with the bread crumbs and pressed them tightly with my hands. The lamb is now ready to be finished in the oven. I placed the lamb into a 375 degree pre-heated cast iron skillet with a light drizzle of olive oil. After 10 minutes of cooking, I flipped the lamb and continued to cook in the oven for about a total of 20 minutes. I used an instant read thermometer to make sure we pulled the lamb from the oven when it was about medium rare. After allowing the meat to rest for about 10 minutes, I sliced the lamb into individual chops and served.

We served the lamb chops with a porcini mushroom risotto, mashed potatoes with parsnips, and toasted sesame seed asparagus.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Great Chili Cookoff

I want to thank all of my friends and family that came out to support me with their votes at the Habitat for Humanity Chili Cookoff. I won first place in the people's choice category with my "Green Monster" Chili. With trophy finally in hand, I am happy to share my recipe with everyone. CLICK HERE FOR RECIPE

My entry was a white chicken chili that was full of roasted green chilies, grilled chicken, and northern white beans.I started my chili by roasting 2 pounds of assorted poblano, anaheim, jalapeno, and serrano chilies with tomatillos. You can adjust the heat of the chili by playing around with the types, and the quantities of each of the chilis that you use. Keep in mind that using fresh chiles in a recipe is not an exact science. The heat of a particular variety of chile can vary greatly based on where, and, when it was grown, and the time of the year.
I gave them a rub with vegetable oil and roasted them in a 375 degree oven until they looked like this....
After roasting, the chilis get placed into a plastic bag to make them "sweat". The skin of the pepper and the seeds are easily removed under cold running water after only a few minutes. I then chopped the peppers and the tomatillos and set them aside in the large stock pot that the chili will be put together in.
The base of the chili started with rendering down 1/2 a pound of diced bacon in a saute pan.

The crispy bacon bits are removed from the pan and set aside to be added back to the chili later. I then added 1 diced green pepper, 1 diced onion, and 6 diced celery stalks to the hot bacon drippings. This is a traditional Cajun style base for many recipes, otherwise known as the "holy trinity" of creole cooking. There is a definite extra depth of flavor that is added to the chili by cooking the vegetables in the bacon fat. Hey, I am trying to win a chili cookoff, not count calories! The vegetables are cooked until softened and added to the stock pot with the chopped chilies.

The next step was getting the chicken ready for the chili. Several pounds of boneless skinless chicken breasts were butterflied and seasoned with salt, pepper, cumin, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder. The chicken was grilled over very high heat until well done. I was looking for good color and a little charring to add extra flavor to the chili. In this step you do not have to worry about the chicken getting too dry because its going to be diced and added to the chili.
The diced cooked chicken was added to the stock pot with several cans of northern white beans that had been rinsed and drained.
With all of the ingredients in the pot it was time to finish it by adding the liquid and dairy ingredients. For this large batch I added 2 quarts of chicken stock, 1 can of salsa verde, and two cans of green enchilada sauce. You will want to taste the mixture at this point to determine if it has enough chicken flavor. Depending on where it is at I usually add some additional instant chicken stock or bouillon cubes at this point to get the flavor where I want it. I then bring this mixture up to a simmer and add some additional dried seasonings. One teaspoon each of cumin, black pepper, and garlic powder are added to the pot along with a large tablespoon of dried oregano. At this point we can re-incorporate the bacon bits that we cooked earlier and move onto the step of adding the dairy ingredients. First one softened package of cream cheese is added to the pot. It is important to have the cream cheese soft enough so that it will easily mix into our chili mixture. The final ingredients are 1 cup of heavy cream, and one cup each of shredded sharp cheddar and monterrey-jack cheeses. The pot is given a final stir to incorporate and then the chili is brought to a simmer on low heat for at least an hour for the flavors to incorporate. The chili is great served with some accompaniments such as fresh cilantro, diced onions, shredded cheese, and sour cream. Feel free to email me if you would like a more detailed ingredient list and instructions for this recipe. Thanks again to everyone that voted!