Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment

The Iceman Cometh

December 15, 2010
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With all due to respect to San Antonio Spurs great George “Iceman” Gervin, I’m talking about the bitter cold in Atlanta, not the quiet storm that is a perfectly-executed finger roll.
Ah, the finger roll…like a slam dunk for the Yacht Rock set. So smooth.
But I digress (as usual). It’s freezing in the Deep South. As I headed out to my car this morning, I noticed my neighbor hauling in the last of the season’s whale blubber into his igloo. He gave me a quick glance: one of sympathy, but also one of survival-fueled gratitude, for it would be me- not him- without enough warming whale oil to outlast winter’s savage fury…
…at this point, I realized I had been dreaming, leaving me really pissed that I was still in bed, and I would be forced to leave the warmth of my downy cocoon to go commute in such crappy weather.
However, there exists some upside to such frigid conditions: I tend to crave hearty stews and rich red wines. Screw summer, and its socially-acceptable desires for lettuce and Vinho Verde. No, I want the stuff that made love handles before love handles were so fashionable (at least in America).
Fortunately, I had some lamb chops on hand. I also had potatoes and Guinness, but I’m Irish, so you already knew that. Add carrots, onions, some beef stock, a little bit of salt, pepper, and thyme, and before you lie the trappings for a proper Irish Stew (or some variation of it). For grins, and because lamb and Syrah go so well together, I popped a juicy, spicy 2006 Kokomo Dry Creek Valley Syrah.
What resulted was a rib-stickin’, soul-warming meal that was worth of Greatness. Just like George Gervin. And Yacht Rock. And favorable weather.


We didn’t cook a dog. Dogs have personality.

April 25, 2010
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Jules: Pigs sleep and root in shit. That’s a filthy animal. I ain’t eat nothin’ that ain’t got sense enough to disregard its own feces.

Vincent: How about a dog? Dogs eats its own feces.

Jules: I don’t eat dog either.

Vincent: Yeah, but do you consider a dog to be a filthy animal?

Jules: I wouldn’t go so far as to call a dog filthy but they’re definitely dirty. But, a dog’s got personality. Personality goes a long way.
Okay, all you North Shore Animal League folks can relax. It’s not a dog we cooked. It’s a lamb (P.E.T.A. folks continuing not to relax). However, you have to admit that it does look like we’ve got Fido hooked up to the spit:
So, dog lovers, rest easy. Lamb lovers (and I’m not talking about “lamb with a side of potatoes”), sorry. Lamb lovers (as in “lamb with a side of potatoes”), here’s how it’s done:
1 whole lamb (about 25.30 lb.), head off*
Kosher or Sea Salt
6 lemons, halved
3 or 4 footlong branches of fresh rosemary
thin copper wire
6 oz. lemon juice
6 oz. red wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped garlic
2 tbsp crushed black peppercorns
1/4 cup rosemary leaves
1/4 cup oregano
32 oz. olive oil (extra virgin or regular)

*when I cook whole hogs, I usually get head-on, because the cheeks offer some of the best meat on the animal (and the ears and tongue are good eatin’ too). With lamb, the heads are heavy, but I don’t believe they bring as much meat to the table, so I opt to leave them off rather than pay for the extra weight.

1) Dig a 4′ x 2′ pit, or block off an area with bricks or stones on a non-flammable area of your your yard. For example, doing this in a bed of pinestraw would be a bad idea. Build a fire with charcoal (not the lighter fluid-infused kind, unless you like meat that tastes like lighter fluid) and/or wood (I used both). Once the coals are ashy, move them to the perimeter of the rectangle, leaving the middle empty.

2) Unwrap your mummified lamb (make sure it’s thawed; you can order them in at a butcher shop and have them hold it for you until thawed, as most come in frozen…unless there’s a farm around the corner from you). Rub the inside and out with salt. Fill the cavity with the halved lemons and rosemary sprigs. Close the body cavity with the copper wire.

3) Mix the lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, peppercorns, rosemary, oregano, and salt-to-taste in a large bowl. While whisking, drizzle the olive oil into the bowl to create an emulsion. This “vinaigrette” will serve as your baste for the lamb.

4) Secure your lamb to your spit with the meat forks on the spit rod and tie the legs with copper wire and secure to the rod. We also used some additional copper wire to wrap around the middle of the beast. Secure the spit rod to your rack (we made one out of 3/4″ iron gas pipe fittings…it’s about 4 feet wide). Position the lamb about 18-24″ above the fire, depending on how hot it is. We also put a pan in the middle of the fire pit to catch tasty drippings. The area in the picture to the left is where I’m burning more wood to create coals to shovel onto the cooking fire when those coals get low…about every hour or so.

5) When your small grill rotisserie motor does not have the power to turn the lamb, curse momentarily, and then get creative. We tied some twine to the neck and positioned the lamb on its side over the fire, then secured the twine at that angle on the top post of the spit rack. The lamb only needed to be repositioned about every 30 minutes.

6) Every time you reposition the lamb, make sure to baste liberally with the olive oil mixture. I make a “mop” out of a stick and some strips of a dishrag. You can also buy mini mops at BBQ supply stores.

7) Your lamb should be done in about 3-4 hours, but the best way to check is with a meat thermometer. Stick it in the thickest part of one of the legs, and also in one of the shoulders. 145˚ means medium-rare. 155˚ is medium. 165˚ is well-done. Once mine hit mid-rare, I boosted the coals underneath, basted it up, and positioned the critter on each side for about 10 minutes to crisp up the skin.

This was my first go at it, and I was happy with the results, but I’d like to try it again with a proper rotisserie motor. There’s definitely an element of “feel” when it comes to cooking the beast evenly, and I moved coals around to the thicker parts, as well as just kept an eye one what was cooking and what wasn’t. In the end, it ended up a little more cooked than how I would want a rack of lamb at a restaurant, but everything was very moist and tender, so I wasn’t complaining. The dogs didn’t complain either; they clearly knew it was a lamb and not one of their own…or they just didn’t care.
For wines, I alway encourage folks to drink what they like. When I’m messin’ with lamb, I gravitate towards big reds: Syrah in particular. Zinfandel is also a nice pairing, or a smoky Malbec or Tempranillo-based red wine. For something a little lighter, a Grenache-based wine would be good. Here’s a lineup of what we knocked back, bellies full of an animal with no personality (otherwise, we wouldn’t eat it…maybe):

Classic Pairings 103: Syrah-lence of the Lamb

January 27, 2010
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PETA advocates, raw foodists, and vegans need not apply. As Bourdain often says [paraphrased], “if you’re slower than me, dumber than me, and tasty, then you’re fair game.”

No truer statement could be made about the glory that is lamb. And while I’m not here to argue the land speed record of a galloping lamb or challenge said beast to a spirited game of Trivial Pursuit, I can say with full, experienced confidence that it is mighty delicious…

…okay, no more defending the virtues of eating red meat. It just seems…well, a little creepy. Seriously, I’m starting to feel like Jame Gumb over here (better know as Silence of the Lambs“Buffalo Bill”). “Would you eat lamb? I’d eat lamb…” (somewhere faintly in the distance, I think I hear Q Lazzarus “Goodbye Horses”).
We’re derailing. Focus, Joe! Anyway, there’s something about lamb: the richness of the red meat, the slight gaminess lent to it from the presence of lanolin; it can stand up to just about anything. Then, slather the lamb (in this case, the tender but more affordable leg) in herbs, garlic, and spices, roast it to a crusty exterior in the now-infamous Showtime Rotisserie, and it just begs for a table on a cold winter’s night, paired with a wine equal in robustness and machismo.

Syrah (otherwise known as “Shiraz” in parts of the New World, especially Australia) is a wine dominated by complex bouquet, intense flavors, massive tannins, and- at times- absurd alcohol levels that shame Hannibal Lector’s wimpy Chianti and overpower those outmatched fava beans.

My victim- er- wine choice for this pairing was a 2004 E. Guigal Crozes-Hermitage. This AOC in the Northern Rhône Valley of France (a Syrah hotspot) is know for wines that are complex, elegant, powerful, and yet more approachable in youth than big shot neighbors Hermitage, Cornas, and Côte Rotie. Furthermore, at a very reasonable 12.5% ABV, I had confidence this bottle would work well with food, rather than suffocate it with alcohol (and I’ve had Aussie Shiraz at 16%+).
Bottom line: the wicked nose of pepper, smoke, flowers (perhaps violets, but I don’t exactly know what a violet smells like…it was floral, okay?), plums, blackberries, and meat- yes, roasted meat, progressed into a mouth-filling flavor of fruit, herbs, and more pepper. The tannins (which usually dries your mouth out and/or makes it feel “fuzzy”) were pretty smooth. What pleased me the most was the good dose of acidity, giving the juice freshness, and making my mouth water for food…

…in particular, lamb fat. Yeah, the meat was good…medium-rare, juicy, flavorful; the crust of black pepper and crushed garlic and sea salt and Herbes de Provence got busy in a PG-13 sorta way with the herbal, peppery nuances of the wine. But all those smooth tannins and acidity just CRUSHED with the melt-in-your-mouth, velvety veneer of lamb fat (and we’re talking R-rated plus, folks). Perhaps you just had to be there. The richness of the lamb, the spices, and the all-of-the-above of the Crozes. Man, this might’ve been the best food/wine pairing in the universe.
So, to try and sum this up: Syrah and Lamb are a classic pairings for reasons that can barely be defined by words. You just have to go try this one. Come on over…I’ll cook it all again. I don’t care about lotion in the basket. I don’t care if you’re a size fourteen. I just want you to experience this combination. Yes, it may be an obsession, but it’s probably not one that will land me as a character in a disturbing movie.
Speaking of disturbing movies, check this out (actually, I have to boast that I think this is my best work yet. Cheers!):

Preyed Upon by Infomercials

January 24, 2010
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Remember this snake-oil salesman?

Yes, it’s Ron Popeil, founder of Ronco, and crown-prince of spray-on hair, food dehydrators, and the Showtime Rotisserie, a device whose 3 AM infomercials have surely given many a college stoner a food-motivated stir in the britches.

Shamefully, I too fell victim to the sweet siren’s song of cooking a whole turkey, baby back ribs, hot dogs and sausages for the whole neighborhood….oh…I’m hyperventilating. How could I survive without this ultimate kitchen gadget?! Set it, forget it, and become the champion of the kitchen: envied by men, and adored by women for my roasting prowess.
This was eight years ago. I saw a deal online…$99 bucks, and I would become an Iron Chef in my own mind.

Needless to say, it was used a couple times, then boxed up; set aside; shunned for years and years. But, like a phoenix from the ashes, we pulled the rotisserie out of mothballs this weekend and thought we’d give it another go. I’d procured a few bottles of freshly opened, then recorked Bordeaux (disclaimer: I got these as part of a tasting hosted by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux…more on that later). While Cab is often a little hefty for roast chicken, I found these 2007 Bordeaux to be quite approachable, and I had chicken at home. What? You think I should’ve gone out and purchased something more appropriate? Who am I? Charles Montgomery Burns? I’m broke, son! Maybe if you’d click a link once in a while… 🙂
As it turned out, the chicken was great. I actually split-tested it against another chicken that was pan roasted in butter and its own juices. The rotisserie chicken was more flavorful, juicier, and had crisper skin. Oh, Ron Popeil, you rascal! You’ve done it again. We were so delighted with the results that I ended up doing a half leg of lamb in it the following night.

I think the secret is to use something small enough to not crowd the cooking area (the chicken was under 5 lbs. and the lamb was 2 lbs.), as well as trust your own instincts (or a meat thermometer), rather than the “catch all” cooking times on the side of the Showtime.
So, my hat is off to you, Ron (oh, and I need some of that hair spray). In my mind, you’ve been upgraded from “snake oil salesman” to “P.T. Barnum-style rejuvenating tonic peddler”, like this guy:

"…but sorry about your pet, Mary. That sucks."

September 19, 2009
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Huge thanks to good neighbor Chris and chef Bart for the incredible vittles the other day…between the Greek roasted lamb, the dragonfruit sangria, the stuffed, fried zucchini blossoms, and the heirloom tomatoes (oh, and the tasty wine), I’d say the party was a resounding success. This is truly what good livin’ in the ‘burbs is all about:

Posted in cookouts, food, lamb, wine