Tuesday, June 17, 2008

In a Moment

Once upon a time, I shunned red meat. It happened a couple of times, for a couple of years at a time. Even during the periods in which I was a veritable carnivore, I never really took to lamb. However, at this exact moment, I cannot even begin to imagine why I would ever do such a ridiculous thing. It was probably because my mother can’t stand it, so I just followed her lead and declared myself against eating this poor little animal. I came to, though, and am I ever happy I did.

Lately I’ve found myself eating lamb more than I possibly could have imagined a mere year ago, no doubt to make up for all the lost time. While a rack of lamb is a nice special treat every once in a while, it is expensive to eat often (and really, just not all that good for you). When I get the hankering for lamb, but don’t want to spend a lot of money or a lot of time making it, I have been turning to a refreshingly simple and delicious recipe.

Lamb and mint are well-known companions, yet for some reason this mint is often turned into a ghastly, terrifying jelly form. Why would somebody do such a thing? Mint has such a great, crisp, clean flavor, once that pairs so excellently with the gaminess of the lamb. Why turn it into a textural malady, into a greenish glop on the side of the plate that will likely (hopefully) go ignored?

Mint is given a proper role in this dish, one that allows the flavor to pop, a lovely complement to the strength of the feta, the subtle kick from the garlic and the earthiness of the lamb. The dish is so simple and effortless that it can be prepared on a moment’s notice, which is quite fortunate for me, since I rarely find myself with more than a moment now this bar exam business is in full swing. Its flavors are so classic and simple that you might find that moment popping up quite often.

Lamb Sausage Patties with Fresh Mint, Feta and Garlic
Molly Wizenberg, Bon App├ętit, February 2008

This recipe has really become a sort of go-to for me. I have a feeling the result might be the same for you.

1 1/2 pounds ground lamb (shoulder recommended)
2 large garlic cloves, pressed
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Place lamb in large bowl. Sprinkle garlic and salt over lamb. Gently toss lamb to blend. Combine feta and mint in small bowl.

Divide lamb into 12 equal mounds. Using damp hands, shape each into ball. Working with 1 ball at a time, poke thumb into center to make a hole. Press 1 teaspoon feta-mint filling into hole. Pinch hole closed, then press ball between palms to flatten into 3/4-inch-thick disk. Repeat with remaining lamb and feta-mint filling. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Transfer to baking sheet. Cover and refrigerate.

Preheat oven to 250°F. Heat olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Working in 2 batches, cook lamb sausages until browned on both sides and cooked to desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side for medium. Transfer sausages to rimmed baking sheet and place in oven to keep warm. Serve hot and enjoy.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Fat Kids Brunch Club

As law school was winding down and the weather was looking up, a few of us decided that Wednesday afternoons were not for spending in school. Instead, we would travel up to the South Loop and hit up some brunch. We dubbed ourselves the Fat Kids Brunch Club, since there was really no reason for us to gorge ourselves the way we usually did at said events. Though the FKBC only met a couple of times, they were two quite enjoyable experiences.

The first meeting of the FKBC occurred at the Bongo Room (as would all subsequent FKBC meetings were Sara to have her way). We each ordered our own meal and split an order of pancakes in what would become a theme of these meals together. I'm typically not one for ordering pancakes, since they're so easily and cheaply made at home, but it's a bit more justifiable when you're sharing with friends.

Though the Bongo Room is a brunch spot, and a local favorite at that, I had sampled a few of their breakfast offerings at their Wicker Park location prior to this visit. Not feeling quite in the breakfast mood myself, I went for the Smoked Chicken Asian Salad, which featured smoked chicken breast, honey roasted peanuts, snap peas, yellow and red bell pepper, shredded carrots and rice noodles above mixed greens, all finished with a sesame vinaigrette. The salad was pretty well balanced, if a little standard, though the smoking of the chicken was done with the skin still on, so it achieved a nice moist quality. The noodles were a bit thick for how delicate the rest of the salad was, and had been advertised in the menu as glass noodles. I think the original menu offering would have been better suited to the salad, since it would not have overwhelmed the other ingredients as much. Overall, though, it was a pretty good salad, and a quite large one at that.

The pancake order was a pumpkin pancake topped with a maple glaze (at least I think it was maple, though I could be totally wrong). The pancakes themselves were great (not to mention partially devoured before my camera could get to them) – fluffy and sky-high, with the perfect balance of pumpkin pie spices that I love so. The glaze, though, was incredibly overwhelming, leading me to burrow underneath the top layer with my fork in hopes of retrieving some dry pancake. The rest of theFKBC members, though, seemed to really enjoy the glaze, so I will leave it at that.

The atmosphere at the South Loop Bongo Room location is a bit different from that of the Wicker Park location, mostly owing to the South Loop location’s larger square footage. There are large windows and a great deal of sunlight pouring through them, making the small amount of artificial light from the bulbs nearly unnecessary.

The second meeting of the Fat Kids Brunch Club occurred, after some persuasion of
Sara by myself, Simone and Mel, at Orange, which also has couple of locations further up North. The space is kind of bizarre, as it is in the bottom floor of an office building with no bathrooms of its own, forcing its patrons through a complex maze of hallways and foyers when nature beckons. It was a bit dingy, sparsely decorated, but not unpleasant since it was spacious and full of light.

This time, I went for the Pan Seared Oatmeal, mostly because it was too intriguing to pass up. Essentially this dish is steel cut oatmeal, which has been cooked with apple cider, cream and spices, forced into a dense block and pan-seared served drizzled with apple cider reduction and mixed dried fruits (in my case it was apricots, golden and regular raisins and apples – I’m not sure if they switch this up). It was an interesting concept, and I think it was executed as well as could be. It was astonishingly dense, and a half of the serving filled me up beyond belief. There was something going on there that was throwing me off a bit though, and I cannot seem to put my finger on it, though I have a strong suspicion that it was the texture. I had expected something more supple, with a bit more creaminess and wetness to it, and I really had expected it to come to my plate in a round, and not a square. In the end, I’m glad I tried it, but I’m not sure I would order it again, nor am I sure that the way I imagined it would have been a success.

The pancake order for the table was a special, peaches and cream, a downright classic. The pancakes were your standard, run of the mill, buttermilk pancakes, but they had great flavor and texture. They were topped with some peach slices and a cream-like sauce with a texture reminiscent of yogurt. I thought it was pretty decent, but there could have been a lot more, especially with two large pancakes – there was just not nearly enough to sufficiently cover the pancake, especially if you’re not eating them as a stack.

Orange apparently offers orange-flavored coffee, the idea of which I find repulsive. Needless to say, I went with the ordinary coffee. The water though, is served with cucumbers in it, which happens to be something I quite enjoy. Both experiences were very enjoyable, though I’m sure they were heightened by a significant degree by my company. I have not dined at the other Orange locations, so I cannot say which of the two I prefer, though friends of mine really enjoy the outpost on Clark Street. As far as the Bongo Room goes, I prefer the original Wicker Park location, hands down, the atmosphere is superior and the window seats make for great people watching.

Bongo Room
1152 S. Wabash Ave. (between E. 11th St. and E. Roosevelt Ave.)
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 291-0100

Other Location:
1470 N. Milwaukee Ave. (between N. Honore and W. Evergreen St.)
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 489-0690

75 West Harrison St. (between S. Federal and S. Clark St.)
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 447-1000

Other Location:
2011 W. Roscoe St. (between N. Seely St. and N. Damen Ave.
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 248-0999

3231 N. Clark St. (between W. School St. and W. Belmont Ave.)
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 549-4400