Lamb Fries

From time to time, we like to take advantage of a deal that the good folks at Argenta Market run over at Half-off Arkansas offering $50.00 worth of groceries for only $25.00.  This is a real steal, because as much as we’d love to be able to shop their great selection of local meats and produce all the time, we’re working class folks and it’s hard to stretch our grocery dollars far enough to do so.  We’ve always found the quality of goods there to be excellent, though, and a trip to Argenta Market is always a fun time.  On a recent trip, I had filled my basket with all sorts of wonderful food – bacon from Arkansas’ own Old Soul Organics, some Creekstone Farms beef, and a selection of locally grown onions and peppers; but I found myself a few dollars short of my coupon total.  Heading back to the meat case, I came across a small package of what looked like a couple of rather large eggs for just a few dollars labeled “lamb fries,” and being the adventurous cook and eater that I am, I had to buy them.  This is a rather traditional way to prepare them, but simple is usually best when working with new ingredients.

Lamb Fries (Sheep Testicles)

  • 2-6 lamb fries, depending on how many people you can find actually brave enough to try them.
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 eggs
  • 1-2 cups Panko bread crumbs
  • Oil for frying

The first step in preparing your lamb fries is to peel them.  Using a very sharp paring knife, work the outer membrane off of the softer interior, taking care not to damage the meat.  The lamb fries will have a rather gelatinous texture, but don’t let that daunt you!  Once you’ve removed the outer membrane, soak the fries in cold water for a couple of hours, changing the water after an hour.  This will help firm them up and helps mellow the flavor.  Remove the lamb fries and pat dry, then slice into 1/3 inch pieces with a sharp knife.  Mix the slices with the mustard and let them marinate for 15-30 minutes.  Beat the eggs, then dip the fries into the egg, coat with the panko, and fry until golden brown.  Serve with lemon wedges, cocktail sauce, or aioli.  This was my first time cooking and eating this dish, and I found the taste to be mild and flavorful, reminiscent of a slightly gamey (in a good way) oyster.  The texture firms up considerably during the frying process, and the panko adds a nice, crunchy contrast to the soft meat.  I’d definitely eat these again.  Enjoy!

White Bean and Kale Soup

Cold, wet weather is perfect weather for hearty soup – and there aren’t many soups out there that fit the bill better than this delicious soup made with two types of white beans and a generous amount of kale.  To a lot of folks, kale is just that ruffly green stuff put on the edge of a plate to add a bit of color, but this rich, earthy vegetable is the perfect addition to any number of soups and sauces.  In addition to being incredibly good for you, it’s also cheap, filling, and available at almost every local grocery store in Central Arkansas.  Like many greens, kale requires a bit of preparation to reach its full tastiness, but this is still a very quick soup to prepare.

White Bean and Kale Soup

  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 4 cups kale, chopped
  • 5-8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can cannellini beans
  • 1 can navy beans
  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 medium carrots, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 Parmesan rind (optional)
  • Shaved Parmesan for serving (optional)

In a large pot, sweat the onion and garlic on medium heat until the onions are opaque and beginning to turn golden brown.  Add the chopped kale and the vinegar and toss well.  Saute the kale until it softens and takes on a very deep green color, about five minutes.  Add 3 cups of the chicken stock, 1/2 can of the navy and cannellini beans, the can of tomatoes, the carrots, the Parmesan rind, and season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes (or until the carrots begin to soften nicely).  While the soup simmers, put the retained beans and stock into a blender and puree.  Add this puree to the soup, stirring well, and simmer for another 15 minutes.  Be sure to serve with crusty bread – you’ll want it to soak up every last drop.  Enjoy!

Review: Boscos in the River Market

We like beer, but we unfortunately don’t have that many places in Arkansas that make the stuff.  The selection of out-of-state craft beers has been steadily getting better over the past few years, but our local brewers still face an uphill struggle when it comes to getting folks to put down their Budweiser and branch out.  But we do have a few brave souls making beer in Little Rock, and one of them is Boscos Restaurant, a Tennessee-based mini-chain of restaurants that brews some tasty beers right in the heart of the River Market.  We recently went for a sample of what they’ve got on tap, and we’re sure that no matter what kind of beer you like to drink, Boscos has something you’ll like.

Famous Flaming Stone

This is Boscos’ signature beer, and we’re big fans of this light, slightly sweet blonde ale.  The characteristic caramel flavor of this beer is from – you guessed it – hot stones being lowered into the beer during brewing.  It’s a malty, lightly hopped beer, and while it isn’t challenging in the least, it’s well-rounded.

Bombay IPA

Hardcore hopheads will be dismissive of this IPA – it’s rather on the tame side compared to others we’ve tried.  Still, once we let it warm just a bit, the hop flavors opened up into a clean, slightly floral beer that wasn’t heavy on the tongue.  A good beer to introduce somebody to the style with, but overall not flavorful enough to stand out.

Isle of Skye Scottish Ale

Scottish-style ales are one of my favorite styles of beer, and while Boscos’ version wasn’t as tasty as their cross-town competitor Vino’s, I enjoyed this rich, full-flavored beer.  The beer itself has a flavor of chocolate and toasted malt, and goes perfectly with some of the fish dishes on the menu – although I found myself wanting a true fish n’ chips with lots of malt vinegar while drinking this one.  Probably one of the best beers we tried all day.

Cooper Hoop

For a lighter beer with some surprising flavor, the Cooper Hoop can’t be beat.  The hops are spicy with just a touch of tartness, and the dry bitterness on the back end was very crisp.  A good beer to drink with a steak.

Downtown Brown

Another good solid brown ale from Boscos, I enjoyed the rich but mild flavor of this one.  Most folks think of a beer like Newcastle when they think of a brown ale, but this beer lacked any of the skunked flavor and harsh bite of Newcastle.  Perhaps it’s my like of the style, but this was my second favorite beer I tried.

A great thing about Boscos is that they are constantly putting out new beers every season, so there’s usually something new to try whenever you’re around.  They also serve their beer to go in half gallon growlers, so even if you don’t have time to stop in and have a drink, you can still sample some of the best hand-crafted beer in Arkansas.  Boscos is located at 500 President Clinton Avenue in the River Market, and they’re open for lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday and for brunch on Sunday.  Enjoy!

Boscos Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Review: Purple Cow (Hot Springs)

It was the day after our beloved Arkansas Razorbacks won the 2012 Cotton Bowl, and we had all celebrated a little too hard.  In times like this, there’s only a few things that will do to revive and replenish a man, and a big hamburger and a Bloody Mary are tops on that list.  To that end, we headed down to the Purple Cow in Hot Springs, a retro-style diner done up 50’s style with shiny chrome and bright purple neon.  The Purple Cow is famous for their unique purple milkshakes, and while I’m sure they’re delicious, I just couldn’t bear the thought of drinking a gooey milkshake in my subdued and slightly hungover state.  We sat down, and just as we put our drink order in, Marty Robbins came on the jukebox – and I knew that everything was going to be alright.

As I sat being soothed by a combination of Marty and Mary, we put in our orders.  Jess went for the Patty Melt, which has always been one of my favorite diner dishes.  This version came on two large pieces of rye bread that fell prey to a common problem at the Purple Cow:  the bread and buns aren’t nearly substantial enough.  And while she felt that the onions could have benefited from a little longer on the grill, she was pleased with the crisp French fries that came in such a large quantity.  Purple Cow’s sandwiches and burgers are normally served with chips, but it’s definitely worth the extra dollar or so that it costs to upgrade to fries.  It wasn’t the best patty melt I’ve ever tried, but it was reasonably tasty and hit the spot.

For my choice, I chose the Five Alarm Burger, and the name wasn’t a joke.  A thick, juicy hamburger patty with pepper jack cheese and a tangy salsa would have been good enough, but the jalapeno slices and habanero salsa served on the side really turned this burger into a spice bomb.  Once again, the bun just couldn’t deal with all the toppings, and there’s really no excuse for a burger joint using bread that can’t take it.  But that salsa – oh, that salsa.  Spicy, but with a sweet-sour tang, it started off hot and finished even hotter.  I didn’t even use the entire cup I was given, and it made that burger so hot that I had to use multiple napkins to wipe the sweat from my brow.  Jess tried one bite and said it was one of the hottest things she had ever tried.  Between the spiciness of the burger and the restorative powers of the Bloody Mary, I felt like an entirely new man when we left.  Purple Cow is a pretty decent place to go for a good burger, and it’s an especially fun place for the kids, and they certainly helped me out after a fun night of over-indulgence.

Purple Cow is located at 4190 Higdon Ferry Road in Hot Springs, and they’re open lunch and dinner seven days a week.  Enjoy!

Purple Cow on Urbanspoon

Heirloom Apple Compote

There’s no fruit better known than the apple, but like so many of our modern fruits and vegetables at the supermarket, we don’t get quite as wide a variety as was available in more agrarian times.  Modern agriculture has focused on large, hardy fruits that can be grown in fast, high-yield quantities and then shipped for lengthy shelf storage worldwide.  And while that method of farming has its advantages – oranges in the dead of winter come to mind – modern breeds tend to lack a lot of the character and unique flavor possessed by older breeds.  Recent years have seen a great upswing in niche farmers trying to save these older “heirloom” breeds, and the result has been the proliferation of fruits, vegetables, and even meats from species that our ancestors once found commonplace.  We like to try these different heirloom species whenever we can find (and afford) them, so we were very excited when our local Whole Foods put three different heirloom apple breeds on sale:  Ananas Reinette, which looks like miniature Golden Delicious apples and has a sweet taste reminiscent of pineapple; Blue Permain, a mild, sweet apple with dense flesh that is said to have been one of Thoreau’s favorite apples; and our favorites, Lamb Abbey, tart and crisp with just the right amount of juicy sweetness.  With such a variety of flavors and textures available, I figured that the best way to use all these apples to my advantage was to cook them down into a compote, and we were pretty happy with the results.

Heirloom Apple Compote

  • 1 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon brandy
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 4 cups diced apples.  We used a mix of the heirlooms we bought above, but you can easily make this with a mixture of Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples (keeping those sour Grannies to a minimum).

Combine the water, sugar, brandy, vanilla bean, and spices in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Boil gently for 5-7 minutes until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture thickens a little.  Add the apples, stirring to coat, and bring the mixture back to a boil.  Turn the heat down and simmer the mixture for 20-25 minutes, until the apples start to break down and a thick syrup is formed.  Let the apples cool to room temperature – slow cooling will allow the pectin from the fruit to thicken nicely.  Serve with pork, over ice cream – or as we’ve done here, over some French toast.  Enjoy, and for more apple info, check out this excellent blog.