DINNER AT DAWN, BREAKFAST AT MIDNIGHT

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Had a great dinner with Scott Bradley around dawn yesterday at McMullan’s Irish Pub, a most reliable local open around the clock every day of the year, serving first-rate pub food and a fine selection of beer and ale on tap.

When the smoking laws arrived in Las Vegas, McMullan’s walled off one of its several dining rooms, called it the gaming room — it has a lot of video poker machines — defined it as a separate establishment from the rest of the place, and kept the ashtrays out.  It doesn’t serve food — because smoking is not allowed in establishments that serve food — but it “delivers” food to the gaming room from the kitchen next door.

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I had some shepherd’s pie for dinner.  I ordered the “lunch size”, which is enormous, but was accidentally served the “dinner size”, which could feed a regiment of Irish pipers.  I washed down as much of it as I could with Murphy’s Stout and took the rest home.

I ate some of it for breakfast around midnight tonight — cold.  Sounds gross, right?

Wrong!

MORE BEEF STEW

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Sometimes with beef stew simpler is better.  There’s nothing in this one but onions, green peppers, mushrooms, garlic, red wine, salt and pepper, a bit of Worcestershire sauce and beef.  I didn’t even sear the beef beforehand.  The only real work involved was chopping the onions, peppers, mushrooms and garlic, which takes about ten minutes — then six hours in the Crock Pot set on high, with the top off for one of those hours to thicken the liquor.

This is the second batch of it I’ve made in as many days — I need lots of extra for freezing.

It tastes wonderful, as good as any beef stew I’ve ever made.

Here are some tips for making beef stew in a slow cooker which may seem obvious but took me a while to learn.  Chop the onions, peppers and mushrooms in fairly big chunks, to preserve their texture and distinct flavors during the long cook.  Chop the garlic up as finely as possible, to better disperse its flavor in the stew.  Keep your beef in the refrigerator until the last moment and transfer it directly from there to the cooking pot, which will slow its cooking process and make for chunks that are less well done and dried out.

DONE

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After roasting for a bit over four hours in an oven set at 300 degrees, my leg of lamb was cooked to perfection — slightly pink inside with crispy bits of fat on the outside.

I salted and peppered it, then added a little sifted flour and a little sour cream to the drippings to make a sublime gravy.

I don’t want to get carried away, but this was the best leg of lamb I’ve ever eaten. The dish wasn’t a particular favorite in my family growing up, and I never cook it myself, but I’ve eaten some fine leg of lamb in some fine restaurants around the world, particularly in France — most notably the Auberge de la Regalido in Fontvieille (below) — where they know how to do it right, and this beat them all.

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I expected grass-fed lamb to be less tender and to have a stronger flavor than conventionally raised lamb, but this was not the case here. This meat was extremely tender and had a very subtle flavor.

It came from Minnesota via an on online provider called Grass-Fed Traditions, shipped frozen in dry ice. I can’t recommend it highly enough:

Grass-Fed Traditions

READY

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. . . for the oven.

In addition to the rub I applied yesterday, I also cut slits in the meat and stuffed them with pieces of garlic and sprigs of rosemary. I like my lamb well seasoned.

It’s been in the oven an hour now and already the aromas filling my home are sublime. About three more hours to go.

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PREPARATION

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For my birthday, my sister Lee sent me a leg of grass-fed lamb. In preparation for roasting it tomorrow I’ve covered it with a rub of olive oil, minced garlic and fresh rosemary and placed it in the icebox to sit overnight.

I’ll report on further progress tomorrow.

Click on the image to enlarge.

SHIRRED EGGS

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Shirred eggs are basically just baked eggs, usually cooked in small oven-safe flat-bottomed baking dishes or ramekins and served in the containers they’re cooked in.

They can be prepared very simply by just buttering the dish and cracking the eggs (without breaking the yolks) into the dish. Salt and pepper the eggs to taste and cook them to the consistency desired.  (At 10 minutes in a 375-degree oven the eggs will start to set and become opaque.)  One can also add some ham to the bottom of the dish, or some cooked rice, and sprinkle cheese over the tops of the eggs, plus any herbs one fancies. Some recipes call for the addition of a little cream to the eggs.  Variations are endless.

I cooked the eggs pictured above in a bowl designed for French onion soup, with the eggs on a bed of precooked rice I had on hand and with Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.  Delicious and very easy to prepare.

Click on the image to enlarge.

RAMBLINGS

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Yesterday Jae and I discovered a great Korean restaurant, or “barstaurant” as it styles itself, called Soyo — really good food and exceptionally pretty waitresses.

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We also checked out the Fantastic Swap Meet, which used to proclaim itself “the world’s largest indoor swap meet” but for some reason no longer does. It’s very large, however, and filled to bursting with stuff, of every description.  Jae managed to resist buying a stun gun, even though they were heavily discounted.

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Tonight we dined at Ricardo’s Mexican restaurant, a Las Vegas fixture for many years and very close to my home. I had eaten there once about six years ago and found the food mediocre. It was the same tonight. I’ll try it again six years from now and let you know if anything has changed. They had some good Mexican beer on draft, however, and served vast margaritas. Jae ordered one and somehow finished it. Then he dashed off to a poker tournament at the Luxor.

He’s been making about $50 a day gambling.

[Update: Jae busted out of the tournament before the final table.  He made a call he probably shouldn’t have made because he was “feeling lucky”.  In retrospect he blames this feeling on the margarita.]

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FRAUNCES TAVERN

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[Image via Paul Pearson & Shorpy]

Fraunces Tavern, seen above in 1900, is sometimes called the oldest bar in New York City, though it has not been in continuous operation since it started selling spirits in the 1760s.  It’s presently housed in a somewhat conjectural reconstruction of its original building, where George Washington bade farewell to his officers after the Revolutionary War:

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The oldest continuously operating bar in New York City is McSorley’s Old Ale House, which claims to date from 1854 but may have actually opened in the 1860s.

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In any case, McSorley’s has hardly changed at all since John Sloan painted the picture above in 1912.

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SOME THOUGHTS ON RED BEANS AND RICE

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. . . of a philosophical nature.

Red beans and rice was an invention of Creole chefs in the kitchens of The French Quarter in New Orleans, but its enduring popularity and ubiquity in Louisiana are due to the fact that it’s basically a dish for poor folks — a way of adding flavor and spice to the timeless staples of beans and rice.

Variations on red beans and rice can be found all over the Caribbean and Latin America.  What distinguish the New Orleans variant are the local spicy sausages and the cured pork of one sort or another.

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The meats are a kind of lagniappe — treats that enhance the simplicity of beans and rice.  If you’re not poor, there’s a tendency to think that even more meat will make the dish even better.  If you’re delighted, when eating a traditional plate of red beans and rice, to get a bit of sausage or ham in a forkful of the beans, then it stands to reason that getting several bits of sausage or ham in a forkful will delight you even more.

This is true, as I have learned from experience, but only up to a point, as I have also learned from experience.  If you get to the point where the beans start to seem like an afterthought, just garnish for a meat stew, you have gone too far.  The beans and rice have to carry the freight of the dish, or it’s not really red beans and rice as it’s eaten in New Orleans.

Click on the images to enlarge.