Lamb shanks were a meat I picked up while picking up lamb chops. Dalia’s does a mean lamb shank, and I was looking for something straightforward to do with lamb, that didn’t involve a lamb steak style prep. Stefan Gourmet had a good looking lamb shank recipe, so I took his approach when trying to make this dish.

The meat itself came from Australia and was, to be plain, a little butchered. The pieces were nearly cut in two in the middle.

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We coated the meat in olive oil, the leaves of fresh thyme, salt, a pepper blend, a light dusting of garlic and onion powder and sealed the meat in a bag.

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This went into a sous vide pot and was cooked for 48 hours at 144 F. The smell of the meat after cooking was fantastic.

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Though plans had changed in the two days of cooking. I still went ahead and recovered the lamb juices. Since solids will form with unheated sous vide juices, these were poured into a pot and heated till solids formed. These solids were then strained, using a collander and wet paper towels, and placed in a jar for later use.

Solid forming in the lamb juices as they heat. The brown layer on top is later strained  off the juices.

Solid forming in the lamb juices as they heat. The brown layer on top is later strained off the juices.

The meat itself was very good, but very reminiscent of the kind of meats the Chinese favor. It’s as if the breakdown of all the connective tissue left it with a lot more gelatinous character. It also reminded me of meats that have been stewed for many hours, but without the water associated with that kind of treatment.

More gelatinous than I expected, very tender, and delicious.

More gelatinous than I expected, very tender, and delicious.

Because the meat had been nearly doubly cut, it never did hold up to much of any kind of post prep, falling apart easily. All that said, I’d do it again. Meats nearly cut in two shouldn’t be used as stand alone entrees, but perhaps as the source of meats for sandwiches, quick soups, or as a meat topping for a pasta dish.

My daughter wanted lamb chops, wanted to cook one herself and leave the other for me. I didn’t want to fight for the kitchen when she was using it, and I wanted a piece of meat cooked to the degree I wanted. Sous vide was the way to go, because I could start 2 hours ahead of time and just wait for my meat. I picked up some chops at the Publix on Pleasant Hill, the one near Fung Mei.

To note, Richard Blais has a fine sous vide recipe for lamb chops, up on the Sous Vide Supreme site. I was moving quickly with no time for marinades or fresh spices. So what I did was dry spice the meat before sealing it in the bag. I used dry rosemary and dry thyme, a large pinch of the spice on each side of the meat. I used a pepper blend instead of pure black pepper. The simplest version of the blend is cracked black pepper, crushed red pepper (i.e. the pepper flakes used on pizza), and a small amount of ground red pepper. Salt to taste, a dusting of garlic and onion powder and I sealed it in a bag.

Lamb chop, dry spiced and  ready to go into the pot.

Lamb chop, dry spiced and ready to go into the pot.

The finished meat. I added vegetables and ate it as is.

The finished meat. I added vegetables and ate it as is.

For purely idiosyncratic reasons, the meat stayed in the bag 2.5 hours at 131 F. I wasn’t interested in finishing on the stove, as I’ve found that thin meats in particular can go from medium rare to medium well before getting a decent crust. This chop wasn’t particularly thick. The chop was a fattier cut than most supermarket meats, and you have to get used to trimming sous vide meats before serving, because the fat isn’t rendered the way grilling or pan frying will.

I would say the chop compared well to other steaks I’ve cooked sous vide. I found my steak to have a little chew, and my daughter also found her meat to be chewy when pan fried. I’d consider 3 or 4 hours for meat of this quality.

This is a topic, I’ll note, covered nicely on the Sous Vide Supreme blog, in a recipe supplied by Richard Blais, but my take on lamb as steaks is that you can treat them pretty much the way you would treat beef steak. This lamb was something of an impulse buy. I’m short of fresh herbs, so I made do with the powdered stuff I usually use on steaks these days.

I sealed the meat in a Food Saver bag. This isn’t necessary, a good Ziploc will do.

The steak was cooked at 130 for two hours, then 131 the remaining three. Note that with my setup (a PID controller), I have a peak temperature initially 2-3 degrees higher than my nominal setting. This steak peaked at 132 F. Afterwards it was spiced (kosher salt, cracked black pepper, garlic, onion powder, a little cracked red pepper)

then finished on the stove, 45 seconds a side at a high heat. With a red wine reduction, the final result looked something like this.

As a side, I tried a steamable edamame I found at the local grocer.

This product tasted better than it looked coming out of the microwave. Be warned.

Before last week, I knew of two menus at Ming’s BBQ in Duluth, the take out menu, and the large picture menu, usually containing specials. But last Friday I saw a third menu, with what seems like specials on one side, and various family options (meal packages up to 129.00 or so) on the back.

The orange menu has a lot of specials and items not found on the take out menu.

They had some interesting specials that day, including this rack of lamb special

A Ming's special.

Both my daughter and I thought highly of Ming’s lamb.

Ming’s BBQ
2131 Pleasant Hill Rd.
Duluth, GA 30096
(770) 623-9996

Ming's Bar B Q (Duluth) on Urbanspoon

Desta Ethiopian Kitchen is in a collection of shops on the corner of Briarcliff and Clairmont Road. It’s a block south of the I-85 – Clairmont Intersection, and on the right as you’re heading south. It’s not easy to see, more on the Briarcliff side of things. When you see what looks like parking, pull off the road and look for it.

There are at least three other Ethiopian restaurants in the area as well. Desta is in a separate building, and you may see the drive through before you see the rest of the restaurant. There is outdoor and indoor seating, and a decent amount of parking by the restaurant. Inside, it’s quite an attractive restaurant, if small, and there are both tables and booths to sit in.

I came here on a Father’s Day, after having argued the merits of 2-3 other places. I had eaten Ethiopian food about 22 years ago, in a restaurant in Philadelphia. On that day, the food was laid on a huge chunk of the Ethiopian bread (called injera, and made with the grain teff) and the food placed over the bread. Injera is spongy, and it is intended to be used as a utensil. We tore up bits of our plate of bread, scooped up the food, and ate it. From what I could see in the newspaper, the arrangement in Desta was going to be a little different.

We ordered chicken, fish, and lamb tibs, and my wife was also curious about their lentil stew. So we ordered a side of that. When the food came, the dishes were served on long rectangular trays, maybe 3 inches wide and perhaps 12-14 inches long. All the meats and fish were cut into small chunks, to be easy to handle. Each dish came with a house salad on the side. And in shallow grey pans came the pale brown injera, rolls of it, as long as the palm of your hand and the roll perhaps an inch to an inch and a half thick.

My wife ended up asking for a fork.

My daughter and I took to the bread easily, and tore off chunks of it to eat the food.  The stew came with a spoon, and I’d pour some of the stew into a chunk of the bread and eat that as well. My daughter loved her fish, which was mild and a little crunchy. My wife liked the chicken quite a bit (it had a yellow color to it and seems to have been nicely spiced) and I liked the lamb dish I chose. We had differences of opinion about the lentil stew. My daughter and I liked it, my wife wasn’t as happy with it.

One thing that is easy to do at Desta is underestimate how much food you’re really eating. The injera ends up being a lot of your meal, and so what seems like a small serving can end up quite a large one. As a consequence, we took home food from every plate that was served to us, along with about six rolls of the bread.

Given the quantity of leftovers, the meal was shockingly inexpensive. Service was generally excellent.

Verdict: Delicious ethnic food served in a way that doesn’t shock as many first time Americans. Highly recommended for those looking for something new.

Desta Ethiopian Kitchen
3086 Briarcliff Rd.
NE Atlanta, GA 30329
(Inside Williamsburg Shopping Center)
(404) 929-0011

Desta on Urbanspoon

Update: Amy on Food’s nice review of Desta features some excellent photos and a review of the foods she tried.

One of my favorite Mark Bittman articles is “For the love of a good burger“, where he details how he likes to cook his burgers. The essence of the technique, as best I understand it, is to use a good but fatty cut of meat, grind your own meat, and then don’t compress your patties. When talking about compression, Bittman shares this bit of wisdom:

The patties should weigh about 6 ounces each: not small, but not huge, either. Handle the meat gently. Make the patties with a light hand, and don’t press on them with a spatula, like a hurried short-order cook.

It’s not exclusive to Mark Bittman either.  In Tony Rosenberg’s article, “A Perfect Burger, Top to Bottom“, he talks about forming the patties and again, there is an emphasis on being gentle when doing so:

Then work gently to make thin patties. If you really pack the burgers (particularly if you’re using leaner beef), they will acquire a dense, meatloaf-like texture. Thin burgers cook quickly and don’t ball up into fat pucks (heat tends to shrink the patties), plus you get a good balance of meat, toppings and bun in each bite. Gently press and stretch the patties, sprinkle them with a little salt, and make your way to the grill.

And in an article based on the advice of Bobby Flay, we see:

To get a nice char on the meat while keeping the inside juicy, cook over high heat, according to Flay, who cautions that you shouldn’t play with the meat while it’s on the grill: Place each patty on the grill (which you should have preheated for 15 to 20 minutes), let it get brown and slightly charred (this will take about 3 minutes), and then flip it. Flip each burger only once or they will start to fall apart. Don’t press on the burger either; this will cause juices to come out of the meat and will cause annoying flare-ups.

I have had in my life, maybe one and a half, maybe two “Bittman” burgers, burgers that were not flattened until the meat was firm and hard. Both times I’ve have had them at Ted’s Montana Grill, once in Cumberland Mall, and the half in Snellville. In each case the meat was almost falling out of the burger, the patty really wasn’t held together with much more than a prayer. But the meat is insanely tender when handled in this way. It’s not a style of burger that everyone likes. My reader Susan doesn’t, and calls them “crumbly”. Personally, I like the idea of hamburger that almost melts in the mouth and is, to my tastes, sublime.

I’ve been in communications with Foodie Buddha on the matter, he of the affable disposition and the nice burger joint tag. But I really want to throw this whole question open to the blogosphere: is there any restaurant in Atlanta that actually serves a good “Bittman” burger? Is there any restaurant anywhere that serves a burger without being pressed to death by short-order cooks? If not, why not? If so, why?

Notes: The blog ToastPoint has an interesting attempt to make a “Bittman” burger at home. Other interesting Bittman burger articles include the “Inside out Lamb Cheeseburger” and “The Real Burger“.  The blog “Eat” has an intriguing article on making a Bittman style lamburger. Checking the WordPress tag “great hamburgers” yields this interesting blog report on Burger Meister in San Francisco from the Meat Meister’s blog. Checking the WordPress tag “the perfect burger” reveals this review, by Dorothy on the Hill, of a place called the Eat Bar, in the Washington D.C. area.

I’ve never been much for the fake exotic theme. As exemplified by a swell of ‘Hawaiian’ bars in the 1960s, usually with a name like Kon-Tiki and an emphasis on tropical fruit flavored drinks, these things were as realistic as liquid smoke. And the succession of bad themed restaurants hung with me. It was an association that was easy to pass on. For that reason I avoided Outback for years.

Thankfully, just before reaching Atlanta I tried an Outback. I had the Outback special. I ordered a medium rare steak and I received a medium rare steak. Bread, a salad and steamed vegetables came with the meal. Prior to this time I never ate zucchini, but I devoured the squash Outback provided. The steak was square and a little thicker than I was used to, but otherwise a flawless sirloin. The tangy tomato dressing was fine, a nice riff off of catalina. The service was surprisingly good.

Over the next decade and change Outback has managed to hold onto these fundamentals and the Outback in Stone Mountain (just off highway 78, near the 78 and  East Park Place intersection, completely opposite the Best Buy found there) is no exception. My family was eating at this Outback when we were in Norcross, and we’ve continued since moving to Snellville. Be warned that this is a popular restaurant and if you head here on a mother’s day, you could be waiting 90 minutes to a couple hours.

The steakhouse genre is a crowded one and yet we still prefer Outback to most steakhouses for two reasons. The first is the price, as Outback tends to be a little cheaper for the same amount of food, and the second is generally excellent service. I say generally because this location has on occasion simply had service that was merely good. However, the odds you’ll get great service here are higher than at the other steakhouses close to Snellville.

The menu for Outback has recently changed, adding newer, less expensive items. You can go to the Outback web site and download a PDF of the menu for this store. Most of the favorites are still there. I tend to order the Outback special, my wife likes an off-the-menu item called a Drover’s platter (chicken and bbq combination), and my daughter is fond of  the Royal Port Tilapia. New are things like a new pepper mill steak, a marinated sirloin, and ribs and Alice Springs chicken — this last seems a resurrection, in a smaller serving size perhaps, of the old Drover’s platter.

Other items we’ve had and liked include the rack of lamb, the Outback grillers (shish-kebabs), the towoomba pasta, the ribeye, the prime rib, and the Kookaburra wings. We’ve done mother’s days and birthdays here, times where we wanted to be treated a little better than average and were in no particular hurry. This place is highly recommended.

handy tip:

If it’s crowded, watch the seating around the bar. That seating is first come first served. If you can wait until someone leaves, you can often get seating faster than if you let your server seat you.

Outback Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

What people want  is as individual as a fingerprint.  For now, however, these sites and links have caught my eye, and I’ll let others have a go at them, if they wish.

This is a good looking soup.

More notes on the super grain quinoa, and how to use it. Quinoa is so easy to make, I suspect it goes mainstream in a few years.

Some brief links on food blogs I’ve enjoyed reading. This is a good looking tabouleh salad.  This is a quick article on cooking pearled barley (yum!). And Modern Domestic has a pound cake series that leaves my mouth watering (her comments about food shows are also very amusing).

I have an interest in lamb, since it’s generally available in more reasonable portions than steak and tends to be cheaper. I also like the taste. Three lamb links that caught my eye are these. Steve Raichlen has a nice post on a lamb rub (looks like a curry to me *^^*), The Real Epicurean gets down and simple with lamb steaks, and this post on lamb curry looks worth picking up and trying sometime. Well, that time when I buy a six pack of spice mills and toast my own seeds (gotta be a cheaper way)..

Hackerette has some nice quick ways to cook pasta. More on pasta: if it’s made right, it’s made from hard wheat. I spent a summer in a grain elevator, and the rule of thumb is, the harder the wheat, the higher the protein content (up to 15% in the case of some hard wheats). I don’t know why pasta, made from hard wheats, tags in at a mere 10% protein content, but I suspect it’s because the US of A sets up grades and 10% is the minimum to get to the best grade, with regard to pasta.

I like this blogger’s style. Can’t tell you why. Maybe it’s because I come from a family of Texans, and he’s in Texas. But I enjoyed this post.

When I buy some guava paste (I’ve seen sticks and tins so far, not sure which is best) I have to try this guava pie.

Finally, my wife has a life long affection for Cracker Jack. So, sometime, I’ll have to show her this caramel corn recipe.

When I found this place on the Internet it was called La Jalisco Carniceria. On the front of the building it called itself La Jalisco Ranch Market. It’s in a modest strip mall about two blocks south of the Highpoint-US 78 intersection, on the north side of 78, and it is the only butcher open at hours I can get to during the week (open until 10pm). I called ahead and asked if they had lamb. After some moments the lady answering me said, “They had some lamb.” What the heck, you only live once.

Lamb is perhaps my favorite meat these days. Lamb can be cooked any way that beef steak can be cooked, and a typical price for lamb (ca $5.00 /lb) is about half the price of a good cut of beef steak.  There is lamb available on my way home, generally from the Publix on Pleasant Hill, just east of the I-85 intersection, but they have had fewer and fewer lamb steaks and these days are restricted to lamb chops. I stopped at that Publix, and bought a couple Kashi frozen entrees: I like their Ranchero Bean entree and I bought the Black Bean Mango to try. I find the Kashi frozen dishes are great sides for a meal like this. They had a sale on Australian wines so I bought two bottles of red wine. I’ve tried both white and red as reductions with lamb and red is markedly superior in flavor.

So I get to La Jalisco and I’m pleased when I enter. It’s a neat grocery store, with a vast array of peppers, vegetables, canned goods, dried beans, and spices. Virtually all the signs are in Spanish, and the clientele was pretty much 100% Spanish. So, I go to the meat counter and ask for lamb. Once the butcher understood me, he went into the back and pulled out a sheep. Yep, pretty much a whole frozen sheep.

After some words and some pointing I made it known that I wanted steaks off the leg of lamb. I ended up with 4 of them, about twice as thick as I asked for. However, the price was really good (2.99 a pound, roughly half that of Publix), and I was entirely pleased with my purchase.

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