Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Lamb Burgers, Salmon, and Ribs, Oh My!

Two years ago, we invited our families over to our apartment for the Fourth of July.  It was pretty major - we were freshly engaged and it was the first time our parents were hanging out.  Whether our folks would get along was the least of our concerns, though.  Our minds were on multiple racks of lamb, a few pounds of chicken wings and short ribs, skewers, hot dogs, and four or five side dishes.  We were more nervous about making sure that our food would taste good.

This year, we decided to undertake this project again.  Wes had accumulated a few more shiny new kitchen toys and was itching to play with them.  He even bought a new Roomba on Craig's List to replace our broken one and set it to work (using gadgets to get tasks done must be his way of compensating for being a guy who loves cooking and cleaning).

On the 3rd of July, we made our rounds, hitting up Costco, Armen Market, Sprouts, and Vons; and then we prepped whatever we could.  Wes seasoned and formed twelve burger patties while I boiled and chopped three pounds of potatoes.  It was fun and therapeutic - the calm before the storm.

Just like with Thanksgiving, it isn't a proper family feast if there aren't mounds of leftovers to go around.  All of those take-out boxes that my mom refuses to throw away end up getting put to good use here.  But even after everyone got what they wanted, we had enough food to last us through two outdoor concerts at Descanso Gardens that week.  In fact, there might still be a lone burger patty sitting in the fridge...

 I had been wanting to do our own lamb burgers for a long time.  Wes commandeered the project, as he tends to have the actual technical skills necessary carrying out my fanciful visions.

With the help of a ring mold, he free-formed some patties of ground lamb with a spice blend that I got for us from Little Goat in Chicago (long time ago).  The blend consisted of salt, tomato powder, onion powder, mustard seed, garlic powder, paprika, rosemary, and cayenne pepper.  He also added an egg to help bind everything.

Then, we kept the patties in the fridge overnight to let them solidify.  Wes decided that he wanted to sous vide them at 56 degrees C for about an hour to make sure that they came out perfectly juicy before browning on a cast iron pan.  In the meantime, I made cucumber yogurt sauce, caramelized onions, and sliced roasted peppers to go between the burger buns with the lamb.  We also added feta cheese which had to be purchased by the pound from the local Armenian market, and arugula.

The result was awesome!  Flavorful, moist, and balanced.

Random event: the kitchen scale died while we were measuring out lamb for the patties, and we were pressed for time...so Wes actually replaced the coin cell batteries with the ones that were in his car keyfobs.  Honestly, I never would have thought to do that!

Wes also made his special grilled cedar plank salmon, which ALWAYS is a crowd pleaser.  On his birthday the year we moved in together (christened with the purchase of a grill), I had given him a pack of cedar planks, hinting that I wanted him to make me some salmon.  And when he did, it was magical!!

In order to do this, he had to soak the cedar plank for 2 hours, and then grill just the plank on the highest heat until it smokes (about 3-5 minutes).  Then, he flipped it over, tossed the salmon (covered in whole grain dijon mustard and brown sugar) on the charred side, and cooked it for 7-10 minutes (depending on how thick/big the salmon is).

For the ribs, Wes made use of yet another culinary gadget: the Instant Pot.  The ribs were pressure cooked with apple juice and cider vinegar, then coated in barbecue sauce and finished off in the oven.  Sounds like a lot of work, but it was probably the least labor-intensive.  Here's the recipe.

Meat was definitely falling off the bone!

Finally, we also had skewers that Wes's mom brought.  It must have taken her a lot of time to make them!  The shrimp were marinated in soy sauce, green onion... the usual Chinese flavorings.

Potato salad: the one that I always make.  It never fails.  I use red-skin potatoes, boil them about 25 minutes (not too mushy), toss in white wine vinegar and chill, add diced celery and green onion, lots of chopped parsley, salt/pepper, and a mixture of whole grain dijon mustard and mayonnaise.

I also did some hummus, using my Armenian coworker's mom's recipe.  I will post it another time, but I think that the key is to use a lot of lemon (a whole lemon to one can of garbanzo beans) and a little water, to get the texture smooth but not too heavy.  It's basically just those things, tahini, two cloves of garlic, cumin, sumac, and salt.

We grilled up some squash...

..and roasted corn for good measure.

This is Wes's man-cave.

The grill is always so spectacular to our parents.

That's where I get it from...

Tall enough to see over the table now!

Madison was only 8 months old the last time we had 4th of July at our place, and now she's going to be three.  If anything's changed the most from last time, it's her!

As always, it was fun to have family over.  After they had left, the two of us ended up going for a bike ride, gawking at a stray peacock in Pasadena, eating potato salad and Stephen's egg salad for dinner, and watching some (illegal) neighborhood fireworks go off from the comfort of our driveway.  It was a memorable 4th but there will be many more like this to come.

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