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Just a Bite

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I grew up in a very adventurous household. I did not know it at the time, but we were really different from other families. I grew up in the suburbs outside of Chicago and from all outward appearances we were probably very typical. My father was a pretty average suburban dad with one eccentricity…he liked to travel the world with food. He was an incredibly adventurous foodie (way ahead of his time).

Today I watch Andrew Zimmern eat bugs, worms, dumplings with strange unidentifiable fillings on the Travel Channel and I realize that stuff is old hat for me and my brothers. I was doing that when I was a kid decades ago. You see, not only did my dad like to explore the world with strange comestibles, but he took my brothers and me along with him.

Whether we were home or traveling, Dad was out looking for something unusual.

No ordinary suburban chop suey hole in the wall would do. My father would schlep us in the station wagon to Chinatown to some off-the-beaten-path restaurant where he would insist on ordering whatever the Chinese ordered. The Imperial Banquet was not for us. We got the authentic food, the secret menu that never actually appears in the dining room type stuff. My father would announce: now, this is the true Chinese food just like the Chinese eat. My brothers and I would suspiciously eye the unfamiliar items on our plates and I used to wonder why we couldn’t be normal and just go to McDonalds like everybody else. The rule was that you had to try it, at least one bite. There was no sense arguing. It would not have gotten us anywhere. Once the food was on the plate, we were committed to one bite.

When I was young I did not know that we were unusual in food explorations. When I was a teenager, I realized that while my friends were having the “San Francisco treat” for their adventurous dining thrill, I was all but force fed escargot, eel that had been dispatched moments ago, rattlesnake, kangaroo, turtle, bear and all manner of slimy creepy crawlies. I had traveled the world by the time I could drive, at least one bite of it.

Recently, I was surprised when one of my kitchen staff was nervous to try sweetbreads (veal thymus gland). He had gone to culinary school, his resume said that he wanted to be a chef and he certainly seemed enthusiastic about working in a kosher kitchen. But my goodness, the hesitation went on forever! Just try it. Pop it in your mouth! Why so nervous to try something new?

This is not the first time I have seen adults afraid to try something new. I was and still am surprised when the chance to rouse and challenge your taste buds presents itself people don’t jump at it?

Most of us go about our work days in a fairly routine manner. We probably are not that exciting at home either, so when you can add a little moment of zest or culinary thrill to your day-carpe diem guys! 

I guess I am a lot like my father, at least in terms of how I approach food. All those years of “just trying a bite” really made an impact on me.  I have chosen to make culinary thrills my career. I cannot wait for the next new thing and I am all over experimenting with flavor combinations. I love fusion foods and often congratulate myself when I correctly identify the next big thing.

I keep kosher now and it is slim pickings when it comes to new tongue titillating goodies. I have to look for ways to combine flavors and textures. After a long day in the kitchen at work, I can be frequently found in my home kitchen trying new recipes. I cannot get enough new flavor, aroma and texture.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this and have come up with a few reasons why folks are afraid to try something new.

  1. Folks are used to certain flavors and while they may be experimental in everything else in life, they do not want to risk what they view as a potentially unpleasant taste.
  2. People get in a comfort zone and have to be taken by the hand to venture out of the zone. Usually once out of the zone, they are happy!
  3. People do not want to have to think about what they are eating. This reason is obvious to me. Look at all of the bland fast food available. New and exciting flavors force you to pay attention. Folks want to satisfy a physical need, rather than ponder their dinner (I typically do not like these people)!

There are probably several other reasons, but I think I hit the major list. If you are someone who falls back on one or more of the reasons listed above, I urge you to do what my father always said and “just try a bite” of something new and different.

Cardamom Dusted Lamb Chops with Vanilla-Bean Red Wine Sauce

While lamb chops are not really all that “out of the box” for many people, perhaps a recipe with flavors typically used in pastry recipes will up the ante? Or, cooking lamb may be a new thrill for some home cooks and that is as exciting as just trying a bite. For adventuresome foodies, just the name of the recipe will quicken the pulse. For newbies, trust me. Cardamom and vanilla are BFF’s and the lamb is the perfect vehicle.

Serves 2 as an entrée or 4 as a tapas portion

For the lamb

1 rib lamb rack, fat cut off (ask your butcher to “French” the rack)

Olive oil

 1 tablespoon of freshly ground cardamom seeds

Salt and pepper

For the sauce

Olive oil

1 shallot, minced

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 bottle of fruity red wine (I like Pinot Noir)

1 vanilla bean, scraped-reserve the pod

1 bouquet garni of: parsley stems, thyme sprigs and fresh bay leaf

2 cups chicken stock

Salt and pepper 

  1. In a small sauce pan over medium heat and lightly coated with olive oil, sweat the shallot and garlic until they are translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the wine, scraped vanilla bean and pod and bouquet garni. Simmer over low heat until the mixture has reduced by 2/3.
  2. Strain out the solids with a mesh strainer being careful to press in the solids to extract all the liquid. Return the strained wine to the saucepan, add the chicken stock and reduce the sauce by ½ or until the sauce lightly coats the back of a wooden spoon. Adjust season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 350.

  1. Place a medium sauté pan over medium high heat or heat a grill to medium high.
  2. Rub the lamb rack with olive oil. Dust with ground cardamom and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Place the lamb in the sauté pan and brown on all sides.

Before serving, place the browned lamb rack in the preheated oven and roast for 7 minutes for medium rare or if grilling, lower the heat to medium and grill for 5-8 minutes for medium rare. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting the rack into individual chops.

Laura Frankel is an Executive Chef at Wolfgang Puck Kosher Catering and author of numerous kosher cookbooks including Jewish Cooking for All Seasons and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes. To purchase her books, click here. For more articles by Laura, click here.
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