Orange Beef Stir Fry on CabbageFor our second foray into wok cooking during the June Cookbook Challenge, we turned to Greatest Ever Wok & Stir-Fry, a thick little book full of “easy and delicious step-by-step recipes.”  Thank goodness they go step-by-step!  Don’t you just hate cookbooks with stream-of-consciousness recipes?

Once again hoping for inspiration to strike as we were searching for a recipe from this book, we found ourselves referring to our list of meats on hand.  And wouldn’t you know it?  Almost as if by magic we came to the entry for “stir-fried lamb with orange” almost simultaneously to reading off “one pound ground lamb” from our freezer’s contents.  It was a happy coincidence and we decided to run with it.

I don’t know that we had ever even thought about stir-frying lamb before we came across this recipe.  Now we’re definitely converts, at least where ground lamb is involved.  The relatively lean meat is well suited to wok cooking because it doesn’t release as much greasy fat as ground beef.  As a result, you’re able to work with the sauces and liquids you choose to add to the wok, without worrying about diluting them too badly.

IMG_8292To start, this recipe had us pre-heat a dry wok over medium heat, then add in 1 pound ground lamb.  We dry-fried the lamb for about 5 minutes until the meat was mostly browned (but not cooked through).  We didn’t end up with much excess fat to drain off, but the directions warned us to do so if we needed to.

At that point, we threw in two minced garlic cloves, ½ teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, and one sliced red onion, cooking them in the wok with the ground lamb for another 4 or 5 minutes.  Then we added the grated peel and squeezed juice of one orange and two tablespoons of soy sauce, mixing them in until they were thoroughly combined.

We reduced the heat and covered the wok, letting the contents simmer for 12 minutes.  After this, it was a quick 3 minutes over higher heat as we added in the segments of a second orange and some salt and pepper.  We served the dish garnished with some snipped fresh chives and served it over some leaves of Napa cabbage which we also used like lettuce wraps.

Orange BeefThe lamb was great – meaty and spicy, tender and juicy.  The sweet acid from the orange was a welcome contrast, and the sliced red onions had steamed to the point that they were meltingly soft.  We could have done with a bit more heat in the final dish, but that’s a personal taste that is easily accounted for in future versions – of which there are likely to be plenty.

As for that hyperbolic title?  Well we were definitely impressed by the sheer volume of dishes they compiled…but we’ll leave it to those who’ve studied the field a bit more closely to make the call.  But “greatest ever” is pretty much the equivalent of the nuclear option; it doesn’t leave much room for anyone else to claim superiority, so if you’re going to call yourself the “greatest ever” of something you’d better be bringing it.  If many of the other dishes in this collection rise to the level of our stir-fried lamb, I’d say this book is at least in contention.

asparagus-ramps-and-shallotsLast time we worked on a “Favorite Five” with Counter Intelligence’s Melissa McCart, I ended up chasing yuzu all over the metro area before finding the juice at Hana Market.  This time, thankfully, our mission involved a list of ingredients that would make even the most ardent locavore smile.  The biggest challenge would be showing off the wonderful spring flavors to their best advantages.

When Melissa emailed us the list of ingredients that chef Barry Koslow of Tallula selected, we knew we wanted to participate again.  Koslow’s five were a veritable all-star list of the early spring farmer’s market:

1. Ramps
2. Asparagus
3. Spring Lamb
4. Morels
5. Fava Beans

salad-and-entreeSince we’d been eagerly awaiting most of these ingredients ourselves, it would be super-easy to work them into a dinner for the challenge.

As it turns out, three of the ingredients on the list – ramps, morels and asparagus – figure prominently in “Think Like a Chef,” Tom Colicchio’s cookbook that has yet to steer me wrong.  They are a “trilogy” whose flavors and seasonality naturally complement one another.  Colicchio provides several recipes that make use of this interplay, and I’ve been eager for the opportunity to try one of his more ambitious recipes as the second in my series of Restaurant Quality Dishes that I’m attempting as my Foodie Resolution for the year.

My efforts at asparagus soup with morel custard, fava bean and pecorino salad with prosciutto, and broiled lamb loin chops after the jump. (more…)