Thursday, April 28, 2011

Merguez Lamb Patties and Gold Raisin Couscous

Kibbi at Open Sesame
        The first time Andrew and I went out West to see Mason, my grandson, Kym and Alex took us to Open Sesame, a Lebanese Mediterranean Grill in Long Beach (5215 E. 2nd Street, Long Beach CA. Tel: (562) 621-1698).  It was our first foray into Lebanese food and it was a huge hit with us.  We started out with an appetizer of Kibbi, a shell of lean ground beef and bulgar filled with pignoli nuts, onions and herbs.  For the main course, I opted for Kafta, a wonderful spicy skewer of ground sirloin and lamb mixed together and then grilled.  Between the Kibbi and the Kafta, there was a little redundancy.  However they were both so delicious, that on my next trip west, I practically begged Kym and Alex to take me there.  I was so into the food that I asked Omar, our waiter, if I could possibly get the recipe for both Kibbi and Kafta. He was very apologetic that somebody had taken their house cookbook home! 
Kafta with Hummus and Basmati Rice at Open Sesame
        I’ve been craving those flavors ever since.  And one night recently I was also craving lamb.  Doing a quick search, I found a recipe from the late lamented Gourmet that captured the distinct taste of North Africa’s wonderful spicy Merguez sausages.  In this case, you create your own Merguez flavor by incorporating a whole medley of spices into the ground lamb.  Pairing this with the sweetness of a raisin-filled couscous contrasts perfectly with the deep spice of the meat.  At Open Sesame, the Kafta was served with a garlic-y hummus and a cucumber yogurt salad.  You could easily add these to the plate and have a feast of Lebanese and North African flavors.  I opted to steam some fresh asparagus that gave the plate a little color, crunch and springtime appeal.  This dinner will take you  all of about 15 minutes to prepare and a total of 30 minutes from start to finish.  Here are the recipes:

Recipe for Merguez Sausage Patties and Golden Raisin Couscous

1 1/4 teaspoons fennel seeds

1 1/4 pounds ground lamb

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons harissa (spicy North African condiment)*

1 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/4 teaspoons ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 1/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth or water

1/3 cup golden raisins

1 cup couscous

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Zest of 1 lemon

*Harissa is essential to this dish.  It is not that uncommon. I found it at Fairway. You can order it on-line at
Lamb with spice mixture added 

  1. 1.   Toast fennel seeds in a small heavy skillet over medium heat until fragrant and a shade darker, about 1 minute. Grind to a fine powder in grinder.
  2. 2.   Mix together lamb, garlic, harissa, spices (including fennel), and 1/2 teaspoon salt thoroughly with your hands (do not overmix). Form into 4 oval patties (about 3/4 inch thick).
  3. 3.   Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then cook patties, turning once, about 9 minutes total for medium-rare.
  4.             While patties cook, bring broth, raisins, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then stir in couscous. Let stand off heat, covered, 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork; stir in cilantro, zest, and salt to taste.
  5.     Serve patties on couscous.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Truffled Chicken Breasts with Pappardelle in a Creamy Garlic Sauce, an homage to Ina Garten

Ina's Version as photographed for
House  Beautiful
Almost everything I write about and cook is done to the letter of whatever recipe I want to share with you. It’s not that I don’t have a spirit of adventure; it’s just that if I’m going to cook someone else’s recipe, the least I can do is follow it.  Have you ever noticed the number of people who will “comment” on a specific recipe they’ve pulled from a website even if they have barely followed it at all?  It always reads something like this: “I substituted cornmeal for whole wheat flour and yogurt for the butter.  It was so-so so I’d only give this recipe a fork and a half”.   Never mind what I’d suggest you do with your fork…but today I am slightly guilty of the same transgression, although I’d give this version as many forks as they allow.
The way I choose things to cook is fairly random.  I collect recipes and then cook one of them to satisfy two needs: one for the blog and two for the tastebuds.  I’d been holding onto an Ina Garten recipe that first appeared in House Beautiful months ago.  It looked so deliciously good and had a certain luxurious feel about it and a diet-be-damned attitude. Why not?  It was for Tagliarelle with Truffle Butter and Chicken Breasts stuffed with Goat Cheese and a hint Basil.                       
Now I started out wanting to go full-on Ina.  Here’s what happened. Goat cheese is on Andrew’s no-fly list so I had to substitute it.  Then Ina wisely recommended Cipriani’s tagliarelle which I love.  Cipriani pasta is thinner than most, cooks in a flash and gives you this delicate lightness quite unlike most boxed pasta.  No Cipriani at my grocery store but there was some nice Pappardelle that I would describe as being ‘semi fresco’—partially fresh.   Ina used white truffle butter in her recipe for the pasta sauce.  Scouring the dairy case I found none.  But what I did find was truffled Fontina cheese and Garlic and Herb Butter. So I flipped ingredients and cooked the Chicken breasts stuffed with the truffled cheese.  And I used the Garlic and Herb butter for the pasta sauce.  They were beautiful together even if, as you can see, we had a slight problem tucking the cheese under the non-existent skin on one breast.  My, it was good!  So here’s to Ina!   And here’s the recipe for one deluxe dinner:
For the Truffled Chicken Breasts
1 Boneless Chicken Breast with the skin on per person
2 ounces of Truffled Fontina cheese per breast
Fresh Basil Leaves or  1 1/2 tsp dried basil per breast
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper
 Breast on the left is the way to tight over the
cheese. But the breast on the right cooked perfectly fine.

  1. .        Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. .        Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan.  Loosen the skin from the meat with your fingers, leaving one side attached to the breast. Cut the cheese into 1/3 inch slices and place one or two slices plus either a large basil leaf or the dried basil under the skin of each chicken breast. Pull the skin over as much of the meat as possible so that the chicken will not dry out.  With your hands, rub each piece with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.  Bake the chicken for 35 to 40 minutes until the skin is lightly browned and the chicken is cooked through.  About half way through the baking process, cook the Pappardelle and Cream Sauce. 

For the Pappardelle with Garlic and Herb Cream Sauce
Chives provide color and flavor
Kosher Salt
½ cup of Heavy Cream
3 ounces of Garlic and Herb Butter
2 oz of Papardelle Egg Pasta per serving
3 tbsp. Chopped Fresh Chives
3 ounces of Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, shaved thin with a vegetable peeler.
1.   Add 1 tbsp. of salt to a large pot of water and bring it to a boil.
2.   Meanwhile, in large (12 inc) sauté pan,  heat the cream over medium heat until it comes to a gentle simmer.  Add the Garlic and Herb butter, 1 tsp. of salt and ½ tsp. pepper; lower the heat to very low, swirling in the butter until it melts.  Keep warm over very low heat. 
3.   Add the pasta to the boiling water and follow the directions for cooking the pasta exactly.  When the pasta is cooked, reserve ½ cup of pasta water and drain the pasta in a colander.  Add the drained pasta to the sauté pan and toss it with the garlic and herb cream sauce.  As the paste absorbs the sauce, add as much or as little of the pasta water as necessary to keep the sauce very creamy.
4.   Serve the pasta with a generous sprinkling of chives and shaved Parmigiano.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve at once.