Welsh Rarebit

Savories are a particularly British way to end a meal, obviously not something sweet, a dish more appropriately washed down with a glass of port. For example, Welsh Rarebit, Soft Roes on Toast or, historically, Bone Marrow were often eaten as a savory.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions” Proverb – late sixteenth century

“The road to hell could be paved with my intentions to update twice in one week” Ryan – fairly recently

I have an excuse this time, I really do. See, my wife just finished a run of the Pirates of Penzance for the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Austin, and Sunday night was the cast party. She volunteered us to bring an appetizer, and while I’d have no problems with Jellied Tripe, I didn’t want to inflict anything a little too far out there on the unsuspecting actors and musicians. Welsh Rarebit seemed like a perfect fit: not really bizarre by any standards, and easily adaptable to bite size servings.

Since there were supposed to be roughly 30 people at the party, I decided to double the recipe. Things started off with me making a light roux.

Once the roux started smelling “biscuity” I added a bit of cayenne pepper and some of the always fabulous Colman’s Mustard…

… along with a pint of Guinness Stout and a few big splashes of Worcestershire sauce.

The mixture looked almost like I had dumped a latte in the pan. I turned the heat down to low and began working on the cheese.

The recipe called for a lot of grated, mature, strong cheddar cheese. The cheese monger at my local megamart suggested this Denhay Farm cheddar. After tasting it, I can see why it has won so many awards.

Shortly after my wrist fell off, I had grated the entire two pounds of cheddar. I added it to the pan, and slowly let it melt.

Seven minutes later the cheese had reached the right consistency. I pulled out a half sheet baking pan and poured the mixture onto it so it could cool down and set. Unfortunately, at that moment my wife arrived at home after her last performance and striking the set. That meant that we needed to head out for the party, pronto.

So I cheated a little and stuck the pan in the freezer while I ran around getting ready.

Right before we left, I cut a whole baguette into half inch slices and scrapped some of the cheese mixture into a casserole dish.

Upon our arrival, I asked for permission to use the oven. Manners first. Once I was given the okay, I flipped the broiler on high and began applying the cheesy spread on to the baguette slices. Into the oven the sheet pan went …

… and I began taking pictures for my wife while the rarebit sat under the broiler.

Golden brown? Check.

Bubbling? Check.

With those two requirements achieved, the rarebit was finished. I yanked them out of the oven and began serving the party guests who had begun slowly gravitating toward the kitchen. The wonderful smell of the rarebit is slightly intoxicating.

Welsh rarebit is like a refined, sophisticated, slightly spicy cheesy bread. Not counting lactose intolerant folks, I can’t imagine a single person not liking it.

To back up my theory, every piece was happily eaten, and here’s a picture of my wife’s friend Lisa Alexander serving her husband some rarebit. They’re also big fans of Fergus Henderson, and we ended up talking about some of the recipes from Beyond Nose to Tail.

One down, one hundred and seven to go.

Stuffed Lamb’s Hearts

To serve six

This is the first dish I’ve worked on where everything didn’t go swimmingly. My ingredients weren’t exactly what was called for, and I missed a step in the recipe. I don’t think that the final product was severely impacted, but all the same I’m pretty frustrated with myself.

Before getting to the interesting part, I’ll talk about the stuffing real quick. I sliced four red onions, crushed a few cloves of garlic, and in a large skillet began softening them.

In the meantime, I removed the crust from a day old loaf of french bread and cubed it until I had half a pound.

After a bit, I added two cups of red wine to the onions and garlic, turned the heat up, and let it sit until the wine had reduced by half.

The bread cubes were then added to the pan to soak up the wine reduction, along with some salt, pepper and chopped up sage. In the words of Gordon Ramsay, “Stuffing, done.”

Finally, on to the star of this recipe. Here’s the first real disappointment: The lamb hearts that I bought were all in a cryovaced bag, so it was very tough to tell that all of them had been slashed to–presumably–remove blood clots. If I was grinding the hearts or chopping them up, then the gashes really wouldn’t be a big deal. Seeing how I’d be stuffing them though, this proved to be a problem. There aren’t vending machines littered about like the one Mr. Zimmern found in his commercial for some new lamb hearts (and yes, I know that he bought a cow’s heart). I did come up with a work around though, but I’ll go into that shortly.

The upside of the hearts I did buy was that they had all been cleaned up of excessive fat and sinew. That meant that I could go right into stuffing. I wish I could say that it was a simple, clean process. It was anything but. To give you an idea, imagine playing with a Play-Doh Fun Factory Set. Except, now imagine that Tom Savini designed it. I’d push stuffing in one atrium, and it’d start coming out of a ventricle. Having the slash in each heart didn’t help matters, either.

The next step was to cover the tops of the hearts with “rashers” of bacon in a star shaped pattern. This turned out to also be my quick fix for the cuts. I took a slice of bacon and fashioned a bandage of sorts for each heart. The bacon was then secured with butchers twine. The hearts were placed in a loaf pan, and chicken stock was added to the pan until it came right to the top.

At this point, I should have covered the pan with tin foil. I must have been distracted by something, because I just chucked the pan into a medium hot oven, sans foil for over two hours. Again, I don’t think that the finished dish was terribly impacted because of my mistake, but I figured I’d come clean.

Here’s a finished heart, sitting on top of some mashed rutabaga with a pan sauce drizzled over it. It’s tough to tell from this angle, but the hearts ended up with very crispy tops. Very crispy. The bottoms were perfectly fine though. The lamb heart itself was a good deal tougher than the veal heart I made back in February, but it tasted wonderful with the bacon and stuffing.

Admittedly, this isn’t the prettiest of dishes, but would I make it again? Sure, if I happened across a bunch of lamb hearts, but I won’t be going out of my way to find them.

One down, one hundred and eight to go.

“Cook the Book” Roundup

Okay, this week will have two updates.  Sigh.  If I had only remembered the red onions at the supermarket…

Any how, I wanted to make a quick comment about a new website that is keeping track of all of the “cook the book” blogs that are out there on the internets.

Cooking The Books is being run by Liz C, who gives the following reason for the site:

I’m fascinated by the idea of ‘cook-through’ blogs — can we just call them CTBs? — but am too poorly disciplined to take one on myself. Plus, I figured for each one mentioned in the article there have to be some number already out there plugging along in obscurity waiting to provide me with untold hours of entertainment without me actually having to do any shopping or chopping myself. So I set up this clearing house to satisfy my cravings and connect CTBers with those who enjoy following them.

Thanks to Liz for adding my little website to the list.

My interview at AndrewZimmern.com is up!

My wife and I are, as I mentioned before, big fans of Bizarre Foods, so it was a huge honor when I was asked to answer a few questions for his website, in the “5 Questions with…” section.  I’m right up there with culinary powerhouses like Jose Andres, Michael Symon and Michael Ruhlman! You could knock me over with a feather right now.

Here’s a link to the interview.

Special thanks to Molly Mogren of AndrewZimmern.com for setting up and conducting the interview.

Lamb’s Tongues, Turnips, And Bacon

To serve four

Looks like this will be another two update week. Sorry about that. I was working all last week on a few interview questions sent to me by AndrewZimmern.com. My wife and I are–strangely enough–huge Bizarre Foods fans, so I was agonizing over every syllable. I’ll post a link to the interview this Wednesday when it’s published.

After the ox tongue recipes turned out so well earlier, I was really looking forward to making this recipe. I picked these lovely little tongues up from the same place I grabbed the lamb brains, Zituna World Food Market in Richardson, TX. I ended up throwing them in the freezer until later, because I was pretty lambed out after eating three brains recipes in a row.

The tongues were placed in a medium sized pot with a whole head of garlic and a bouquet garni. I then added enough chicken stock to fill the pot and brought it all to a boil.

Once a boil was achieved, the heat was turned down and the tongues were left to simmer for a few hours.

In the meantime, I began peeling and chopping the turnips. I need to start using turnips more often in my home cooking, I had forgotten how good they are. It’s so easy to turn to potatoes instead of considering other root vegetables.

Finally, the tongues were nice and soft so I pulled them out of the broth …

… only to place the turnip pieces in their place. When the turnip was cooked fully, I pulled the stock off the heat.

Just like with the ox tongue, peeling the lamb tongues was just like peeling the rubber off an old basketball. It was fairly simple, but of course there were little bits that just didn’t want to let go of the meat. With a little coaxing though, those little bits of skin came off. You can make out a few taste buds that stuck around. The tongues were placed in the cooling stock and set aside for little while.

In a skillet, I started browning a bunch of shallots, which were popped into a medium hot oven until they were softened.

As the shallots cooked, I took the tongues out of the stock and sliced them all in half. The shallots had fully cooked at this point, so I took them out of the oven, put the pan back over heat …

… and added hefty amount of smoked ham hock pieces along with the tongue halves and the cooked turnip. The recipe asks for smoked streaky bacon, but I just couldn’t find decently large hunks of unsliced bacon. I’m to the point where I’m just about to buy a smoker so I can make my own bacon for these recipes. I turned the heat up on the pan and slightly colored the added ingredients.

Finally, the chicken stock I used to cook the tongues and turnips was added to the pan, and brought up to a boil. On top of that I piled on a huge mound of turnip greens, covered the pan, and let the whole thing sit for a few minutes.

Here’s the completed dish. The tongues themselves were hands down the most tender pieces of meat I’ve ever had, with the turnip and bacon adding just the right amount of flavor and bite. The dish as a whole is like a jigsaw puzzle: as you’re putting it together, you find pieces that don’t seem to fit or even really belong in the picture on the box. Once the puzzle is completed though, it all makes sense.

Sometimes, I fear that I’m so enamored with Mr. Henderson and St. John that I’ll think that the dishes I prepare are actually much better than they really are, and I’m just overlooking obvious flaws with them. Then, I remind myself that St. John has won numerous awards and accolades, including Best British and Best overall London Restaurant at the 2001 Moet & Chandon Restaurant Awards. It has also been consistently placed in Restaurant’s annual list of the Top 50 restaurants in the world. This recipe was so wonderful, so tasty, that if you were to ask me right now what I’d want for my last meal, I’d have to say “Lamb’s tongues, turnips, and bacon from St. John.”

One down, one hundred and nine to go.