52 Foods Week Thirty Eight: Eye of Round

Along with the previously cooked ribeye steaks, our Nevada County grassfed beef order included a lovely eye of round steak. Frequently a braising cut, due to its leanness, eye of round presented an interesting challenge for me. I generally gravitate towards fatty cuts like chuck and ribeye for roasting, or quick cooking lean cuts like skirt and flank. A nearly three pound, thick piece of meat, whose only fat was on the outside, required some consideration if I was going to cook it using my favorite method: the Weber rotisserie.

My rotisserie setup offered both an advantage and disadvantage when it came to the eye of round. The advantage was that the turning would allow the fat to run along the meat as it melted, rather than dripping right off. This could help maximize the flavoring and tenderizing action of the fat. The disadvantage was that the grill tends to be a fairly dry cooking environment, which would not help the lean steak stay moist. To address the second issue, I began by puncturing the beef allover, then marinated it in a mixture of red wine and grapeseed oil—the wine to help tenderize the meat and the oil to provide some additional fat to the inside of the roast.

Red Wine, Grapeseed Oil and Water to Cover

I let the meat marinate for almost three hours before starting the grill. Then I removed it from the marinade, gently patted it dry, and prepared a rub of large grained salt, crushed red pepper flakes and coffee grounds. I really enjoy the coffee grounds on beef roasts; I find they impart a wonderful earthiness and a slightly bitter flavor that is great complement to a good piece of beef.

Salt, Coffee and Red Pepper Flakes

I covered the roast with a generous helping of the rub, massaging it a bit and repeatedly applying it—with a little water when needed—to get the mixture fully covering the meat.

Rubbed Steak

I prepared the grill with mesquite charcoal laid on either side for indirect cooking and placed a pan of water in the center to keep the air moist.

Grill Prepped

With the grill ready to go, I slid the roast onto the rotisserie skewer, secured it tightly, arranged it on the Weber and set it turning.

Steak on Rotisserie

I let the eye of round cook mostly uninterrupted, other than a couple interventions to check the heat and add more charcoal. I cooked it about three hours, before removing it to rest for a few minutes.

Resting Eye of Round Steak

Finally, I sliced the steak as thinly as possible, revealing a medium to medium rare center, with reasonable moisture. I would liken it to a good roast beef in terms of juiciness.


It was certainly not as tender as a well marbled cut would be, but overall it made for a very nice dinner, with the rub on the outside providing adequate seasoning to make each slice a little spicy and salty. For those who prefer lean beef, this would be a very nice way to enjoy a barbecued steak with very little fat.


All the photos are here.

52 Foods Week Thirty Seven: Mission Figs

I’ve mentioned that apricots are one of my favorite fruits, and I underscored that with two additional apricot appearances. In every instance, I combined the apricots with some kind of pork. It’s occurred to me that this trait—call it porcine compatibility—maybe the best measure of my appreciation for a given fruit. This week, to put perhaps too fine a point on it, I’ve chosen another of my all time favorite fruits, Mission Figs, and, lo and behold, combined them with bacon.

The Farmers’ Market is rife with figs right now, a wonderful occurrence but one that can make for tough decision making. I opted for a basket of super ripe figs from Cadena Farm in Esparto, CA.

Ramón Cadena at the Davis Farmers' Market

While at the market, I also picked up three pounds of Bledsoe’s double smoked bacon and a package of lavash bread from East and West Gourmet Afghan Food—also known here as “the Bolani guys”—a great purveyor of Middle Eastern breads and sauces. This acquisition gave me the idea to make a lavash sandwich with bacon, figs and goat cheese. I invited a friend over and we got to work.

I began by cooking seven strips of the bacon in a skillet.

Bledsoe Bacon

While the bacon cooked, we sliced the entire basket of figs into thick slices.

Sliced Figs

Then we laid out the lavash and spread it with Laura Chenel Chèvre.

Lavash Covered in Goat Cheese

I laid out some figs on one end of the lavash, then folded that piece over and arranged the bacon in two clusters with enough space between them to fold one section over onto the next.

Another Layer of Figs

We laid more figs on top of half the bacon, then folded the lavash over until it was a roll similarly in size to a large burrito.

Folded Over

We warmed it for a few minutes in the oven, then sliced and served it.

Sliced Bacon, Fig and Goat Cheese Lavash Sandwich

Figs and bacon are one of the most natural combinations I can think of. The mild sweetness of the figs are a perfect compliment to the smokiness of the bacon. Adding the creamy chèvre to the equation smooths everything out and without overpowering. I think you could really enjoy this combination anyway you wanted, rolled in lavash is just one finger friendly solution.

One note for the future: I would warm the lavash before working with it so that it’s softer and less prone to breaking.

All the photos are here.

52 Foods Week Thirty Six: Okra

I am often impressed by the resolve of Southern vegetarians. To willfully place off limits such a wide swath of one’s regional cuisine would be surprising in any instance, but when that cuisine includes such outstanding dishes as fried chicken and jambalaya and even the vegetables, such as collard greens, have meat as an integral component, it would be hard to fault anyone for renouncing their herbivosity.

One culinary trait I have noticed among my Southern vegetarian friends is both an affinity for and a skill at making fried okra that no omnivore I know has ever demonstrated. I admit to being a bit intimidated by okra preparation, afraid I will create a sticky mess. Lucky for me, as okra season arrived, one of those aforementioned Southern vegetarians expressed interest in helping me make some fried okra for Fifty Two Foods. I nearly stumbled over myself to say yes.

I picked up a pile of okra from Vue Family Farms, and our friend, Anna, brought along a few red okras from another friends’ farm. I handed her a knife and stepped aside while she demonstrated her okra technique. She began by cutting the okra into approximately inch long pieces.

Slicing Okra

While cutting the okra, she instructed me to combine two eggs with a cup of milk in a small bowl.

Eggs and Milk

Next she had me mix two parts cornmeal with one part flour.

Flour and Cornmeal

Soon we had a huge pile of sliced okra. Because there was so much, we had to batter and fry it in batches, which allowed plenty of time to eat one batch of okra while the next cooked.

Lots of Okra

We placed a couple handfuls of okra in the egg-milk mixture and let them soak for about five minutes. Anna says that soaking it removes the sliminess that is the hallmark of poorly made okra.

Soak in Liquid

Next we rolled the okra in the cornmeal mixture.

Dredge in Flour and Cornmeal

Finally, we dropped the battered okra into a pan of hot peanut oil and flipped them frequently so they cooked evenly. When they were crisp—about five minutes—we pulled them out, drained them on newsprint and sprinkled them with a little salt.

Anna Supervises

We made four or five batches in total. After the first couple, we tried adding more spices to the batter. A good spice mix was a healthy dose of “cajun creole seasoning” (paprika, onion, garlic, black pepper, lemon peel, chile, allspice, thyme, cloves, mace, cayenne and bay leaf) along with a few more dashes of cayenne pepper for heat.

For a Spicy Batch

Making fried okra turned out to be pretty easy. What I lacked was direction and confidence, two things that being a vegetarian in the South must really inspire.

Fried Okra

52 Foods Week Thirty Five: Pistachios

My first encounter with a pistachio nut happened sometime in elementary school, when I witnessed a friend snapping open the shells of an unfamiliar nut. I became fixated on salted pistachios for some weeks after that, delighting in the precise shelling—far superior to messy peanuts—and always chagrined to find one that was too tight to open. I also loved the taste. To this day pistachios appear in some of my favorite foods, both sweet (baklava) and savory (country pâté), to say nothing of the perfection which is pistachio ice cream.

Realizing that homemade ice cream was easily in reach, and armed with instructions from the Silver Spoon, I set out to find a large bag of pistachios at the Farmers’ Market. I found them from Fiddyment Farms, a Roseville based pistachio grower that offers a plethora of pistachio products, along with plain freshly picked and roasted nuts. A two pound bag was adequate for my experimentation and snacking needs.

Big Bag of Pistachios

I began by painstakingly shelling two cups of nuts. I considered removing the papery inner skins, but thought better of it after realizing how tightly they clung to the nut.

Two Cuts Shelled Pistachios

I threw the shelled pistachios into the food processor and ground them into a fine meal.

Ground Pistachios

This was actually a second attempt at ice cream, because my first attempt never got creamy and was more like frozen milk. Believing that the original problem might have been my use of whole milk rather than a thicker cream, I decided to make the second batch with Strauss Half and Half. Strauss, without question, makes the best milk and cream I’ve tasted.

Strauss Half and Half

I poured the cream into a pot and slowly heated it to a boil.

Heating Cream

Once the cream boiled, I removed it from the heat and added it to the pistachios, then let this sit while I dealt with the eggs and sugar.

Cream and Pistachio Mixture

As a young child allergic to eggs, I learned the hard way that really good homemade ice cream usually entails significant quantities of them. Fortunately, in the intervening years, my allergy has both lessened, and I’ve learned that the important part of the egg is the yolk, which brings me no harm. This recipe called for a heart-threatening eight egg yolks.

Eight Egg Yolks

I placed the egg yolks and a cup of sugar into the pot, and whipped them like crazy until they became very fluffy and pale. This, I realized later, was where I had actually gone wrong with my first batch. Unfortunately, my kitchen lighting is imperfect, so it may be hard to accurately note the color change in the photos, but if you follow this, be sure to whip the eggs for a long time.

Whipped Yolks and Sugar

With the yolks as pale as I could get them, I poured the warm cream and nut mixture into the pot. The yolks immediately rose in the pot, in a transformation that seemed almost like a flower blooming. This was the moment I suspected that the eggs were key to the ice cream, as it didn’t happen the first time. I stirred the mixture together the applied a low flame to slowly bring it to a boil, stirring the entire time.

Switched to a Bigger Pot

As soon as the ice cream boiled, I remove it from heat, and transferred it to a large bowl to cool. At this point, it pretty much looked just like melted ice cream, a good sign.

Chilled Ice Cream

Once the ice cream was fully cooled, the next day in this case, I poured it into an ice cream maker, and watched it freeze.

Freezing Pistachio Ice Cream

We had enough ice cream to fill two containers, one for us and one a thank you gift to our friends who lent the ice cream maker.

Packed Ice Cream

We enjoyed our first scoops of pistachio ice cream alongside a homemade limoncello, a perfect Italian dessert pairing.

Pistachio Ice Cream and Limoncello

All the photos are here.

52 Foods Week Thirty Four: Lamb Liver

A couple weeks ago, I was lucky enough to volunteer at Heritage Fire, a huge meat event held in St. Helena, CA. Put on by the folks who created Cochon 555, Heritage Fire had 25 chefs, 10 butchers and at least 2 dozen wineries. Someone told me they had an actual ton of meat, and while I can’t confirm that, with 6 pigs, 20 rabbits, a few lambs and goats and a bunch of chickens, it’s a figure I would entirely buy.

In addition to countless delicious meat preparations, the day was filled with butchering demos. At the last one, a lamb, I was given the animal’s liver—nearly two pounds of deep burgundy meat—to take home. My lamb was raised by Long Meadow Ranch and Long Meadow’s own Avia Hawksworth handed me the liver. Having never cooked lamb liver before, I sought her advice, as well as Dave the Butcher’s. The preferred preparation, I was told, was liver and onions. Searching for a recipe the next day, I discovered an Albanian preparation that used lots of paprika, it sounded like just the ticket.

I began by mixing two parts flour with one part smoked paprika.

Flour and Smoked Paprika

Next I sliced two Walla Walla Sweets and arranged them on a platter. Walla Wallas are delicious, mild onions that don’t require much heat to bring out their sweetness. The heat from the cooked liver would be plenty to soften them.

Sliced Onions

In my recipe search, I came across a few preparations that called for bacon, and while none of those recipes won out overall, the bacon seed was planted. Fortunately, I had a couple of slices that I needed to use, so I sliced them up and threw them in the pan.
Niman Ranch Bacon

While the bacon cooked, I sliced the liver into thick strips.

Sliced Liver

Then I covered the liver slices in the flour and paprika mixture.

Dredged in Flour and Paprika

When the bacon was done, I pulled it from the pan, then used the bacon grease to cook the liver.

Frying Bacon

Liver cooks very quickly—a few minutes a slice. As each piece came out of the pan, I laid it on top of the onions.

Sautéed Liver over Onions

After cooking the liver, I threw a little garlic and more paprika in the pan, and deglazed it with some balsamic vinegar. I poured this on top of the liver and onions, then served it with rice.

Covered in Pan Juices

To be perfectly honest, enjoyment of this dish really hinges on one’s enjoyment of liver. Lamb liver is pretty hefty, and one of my guests, who was not a big liver fan, bravely soldiered through. I found that the key to balancing the flavor was to mash a bit of liver onto a bacon piece and some onions, then scoop it onto a forkful of rice. We had a strong Rauchbier alongside it, and the liver held its own against the super smokey beer.

There were lots of leftovers, and I also found that it was awesome spread in a sandwich with mustard, bleu cheese and pickles. Lamb liver may be an acquired taste, but if you’re a liver fan you owe it to yourself to try it out. Hell, a butcher might even give it to you free.

All the photos are here.