Guest Post – Having a Ball by J. Ryan Horan

Welcome to the twelfth guest post!  I’m letting anyone who wants to write about an offal dish submit a post with pictures.  Want to show everyone that fries are fantastic?  Are you tremendous with tendon?  Let me know and we’ll post your hard work here.  This guest post comes from J. Ryan Horan.

Let this be known; you are about to read about balls. Not just any balls, but those prepared for a late summer meal. It may be difficult to get through this without fleeting giggles or cringing in a certain discomfort. However, I urge you, as if I were the chairman of the American Organization for Testicles on School Lunch Menus to not only read this through but to consider trying an organ meat that has been too long ignored by the dining community.

A word on some problematic nomenclature; when putting the below piece together, I really struggled with how to refer to the ingredient at hand. The term “Fry,” as in “Lamb Fry” is all wrong and must be discarded. It conveys neither dignity nor respect nor does it pretend to. It is a condescending affection, just as one might call a runty nephew “Champ” or “Sport.” However, to call the organ by name, a technique that is perfectly adequate (if not entirely creative) for most offal, risks the overly clinical handle “Testicle.” We are then left with the slightly sophomoric, “Ball.”

Thinking neither quite perfect, I was pleased when I learned that the French, in their love of all things genital and gustatory have already covered this with the evocative term, “animelles” which is at once dignified and enthralling. The name suggests that by consuming this meat one is getting to the true nature of the beast. That, anyway is the way that I prefer to interpret it. However, though I love France, I am not French and I will use what sticks. Balls it is.

I bought a pair from some very enthusiastic farmers in Cincinnati’s Findlay Market on a whim when I saw them listed at $1.25 a pound.  These guys were actually selling all their offal at that price, lamb hearts and livers, beef tongues, heart and assorted chicken clockwork, a find that stuns me even now. The pair that I got were frozen solid which I don’t think does them a bit of harm, though in fairness I have no clue.

Prep is not for the fainthearted. Even in a family of anatomical meats, few things resemble their namesake quite as literally as balls.  The street name, in other words is not simply metaphor.  Furthermore lamb’s balls are not delicate little organs. These are not peensy kumquats that nestle in wooly little scrotums of boy lambs as they scamper among the daisies. Each one fills the hand and has the heft and resilience of a soft-boiled egg. These, my friends are whopping big balls.

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Complicating things from the standpoint of squeamishness, balls are identical in form and function amongst all members of the mammal class. If you ask a person what he thought his set looks like, he would describe to the vein, that which now rests on my cutting board. The key difference being that what rests on my cutting board is nearly the size of a closed fist.

Enclosing each individual organ is a tough translucent sack that must be removed, as does the ropey, purple duct attached to each. Once peeled (really just a matter of slicing open the sack and popping out the organ), the texture is cheerful, almost jolly. They have a lively bounce and a pearlescent sheen that is just lovely. It does remind me of one of offal’s finest virtues; it is dead simple to know when it is fresh.

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Because I am impatient, I choose to skip the proscribed step of soaking, blanching and marinating the balls and opt instead for a simple dredge in flour and sauté in brown butter, fried sage and a bit of lemon.

It is a bit difficult to divide each organ evenly, as the meat is quite soft. There is a thin membrane enclosing each piece. Wanting neat slices, I discard the ends for three even rounds. Both texturally and visually, they are identical to scallop.

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In the pan, the slices give off the faintest smell of lamb, but only barely. It’s difficult to describe, exactly. I suppose I am struck not by how it does smell but more by how it doesn’t. There is no heady cloud of browning meat or rendering fat, just butter, sage and a faint odor of lamb. The smell is great. The browned pieces go right onto a slice of fried bread topped with the pan juices.

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First bite.

Ok. There are plenty of odd cuts that I really, truly enjoy; pig’s feet, tongue, brains, blood sausage. But balls? Balls are excellent. I don’t mean that they are, “actually pretty tasty,” “surprisingly good” or “better than expected.” I mean that balls are a damn fine thing to eat, full stop. They belong on a list of favorite foods right next to Haribo gummi bears, thick sliced bacon and oyster po-boys. The texture once cooked is again, identical to scallop and they have a flavor that is mild but unlike any meat, organ or otherwise that I have had to date. This is the sort of thing that in a more forgiving world would be wrapped in bacon and grilled for Superbowl Parties or deep fried and eaten on a sandwich (Lamb-ball Parm?) at construction sites. They are that good.

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I just wish there were more than two to a pack.

Thanks Mr. Horan!

Turnip Bake

This may sound like a grim dish in a grim vegetarian cafe, but it is not.  Unfortunately I have not been able to think up a more tempting name for this delicious dish yet.  It calls out to be eaten with roast lamb.

I had a great time this weekend at the annual Cupcake Smackdown helping little children fire cupcakes at zombies, watching my friend Paul down Jaffa Cakes at an amazing speed in an attempt to break the world record, and the general fun of being around a lot of great people.

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Growing up, my family never ate turnips.  It’s not that we had an aversion to them or anything, there was just never a good reason to pick a lowly turnip over the potato, king of root vegetables.  As a matter of fact this is only the second time I’ve ever cooked turnips, the first being for the Lamb’s Tongues, Turnips, and Bacon recipe I made a few years back.   Even then I admonished myself to use them more often.  I should probably start paying attention to my own suggestions.

Now, this is right where there should be a picture of my lovely wife peeling the turnips. Or maybe one of her thinly slicing them on a mandolin. Or heck, even a picture of me thinly slicing an onion on our other mandolin would be nice.   I can’t do show you any of those pictures because I totally forgot to take any.  So in their place, here is a video of dueling mandolins. Enjoy.

Right.

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In a pan over low heat I melted a bunch of butter.  More than one stick, to be vague about it.   Along with all that golden liquid fat went the thinly sliced onion, which I sweated until it was soft, sweet and clear.

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Meanwhile my wife rubbed roughly three tablespoons of butter onto the insides of a deep, oven-proof pan. Oh, my poor cardiovascular system!

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Into that pan went a layer of the sliced turnips followed by the now softened onions and a little salt and pepper.

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On top of that went another layer of turnip slices, more onions, and more seasoning.

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We kept layering the turnip and onion until both amounts were exhausted.  I poured the butter left over from sweating the onion on top.   Waste nothing!

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The pan went into a hot oven for an hour, covered with foil to keep the moisture in.   When the timer started dinging, I checked in on the turnip mound we had constructed only to find that it needed more time.

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The pan went back into the oven for an extra 15 minutes. A quick check and back in it went. We kept checking for another 45 minutes until finally the turnip bake was nice and brown as you can see above.

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A hearty slice of the finished product. I believe that this is a great side dish for more than just roast lamb. The slightly woody, bitter nature of the turnip is significantly diminished with the sweetness of the softened onions and all the soaked up butter, meaning that paring with pretty much any protein is simple.

Two years ago I told myself to start making more turnip dishes. This amazing recipe only serves as a reminder that when cooked right, turnips sure are delicious (though I’m sure all that butter didn’t hurt, either).

One down, forty nine to go.

Green Beans, Shallots, Garlic and Anchovies

Perfect for lamb chops.

I am happy to say that Monday updates should become much more common now that I’ve gotten myself on a schedule.  I figured it was time to really kick it into high gear and finish off these last few recipes after mentally beating myself up the last few months for my overall laziness.  Apologies to those of you out there that check in from time to time only to see the same thing on the front page every time.  I’ll be better, I promise.

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This recipe starts off with two heads of garlic roasting in the oven at a high temp until they were fairly soft when squeezed.  I’ve got a request for you: Roast some garlic with the skin on this weekend if you’ve never done it before.  It’s simple, the result is excellent, and you can use the soft cloves with lots of great things. 

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While I waited for the garlic heads to cool down, I moved over the the shallot part of this recipe.  More than a dozen of the purple little bulbs were tossed with a little olive oil before taking the garlic’s place in the hot oven.  Every so often, I checked in on the fellows to make sure they were merely roasting, and not burning.

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A few minutes of snap-snap-snapping and the green beans called for were topped, tailed and ready for a quick dip in some salted boiling water.

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As the shallots roasted and the haricots verts boiled, I moved on to a more interesting aspect of the recipe.  In a small bowl I combined the soft roasted garlic, some chopped anchovy fillets, a decent amount of capers, some chopped curly parsley, and a dusting of freshly ground black pepper.  Whew!  A splash of olive oil and red wine vineagar completed the “dressing”.
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Finally, it was time to remove the roasted shallots from the oven.  As you can see here and there, the little orbs had softened and browned slightly.  To finish this recipe, I combined the green beans, shallots, and “dressing” all together and tossed the amalgamation thoroughly.

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Here’s the final product, served with a lamb chop (of course).

What an intriguing side dish.  I rather enjoyed the sweet and powerful garlic and shallots mixed in with the green beans, but every other bite I’d get a bit of the anchovy and it would throw my taste buds for a loop.  “Where the heck did that come from?!”, they shouted at me.  You might think that the briny capers would present a similar reaction, but they were far more subtle and enjoyable than the overwhelming little fillet morsels.  When I make this again, the anchovies will be left out in an attempt at a more harmonious conclusion.

One down, fifty to go.

Mashed Parsnips

Rich, sweet, and soothing.

Okay, raise your hand if you’ve updated your blog in recent memory.

Not so fast, self.

I wish I could give you a reasonable excuse.  But I can’t.  Writing malaise and a renewed interest in exercising are the real culprits.  Thankfully good friends and fellow foodies have kept me in touch with my love of food.  A few fine folks got together over at the house of one Jack Yang.  Jack runs eatinginabox.com and has made a cameo here for our Haggis making adventure.  This time however, we went to the cutting edge of food preparation technique, sous vide.  Dubbed the “Sous Vide Summit” here are two exceptional write ups (One Two) of one of the most enjoyable and educational food related get togethers I’ve ever been to.

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Pale brother of the carrot, the parsnip is richer than its orange kin in vitamins and minerals.  On top of that, I’ve found that a big bag of them are pretty darn cheap, too.  Thrifty parents looking to get their children to eat more veggies, take note.

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A quick peel, a slice down the middle and the parsnips were ready for cooking.

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Into a milk filled pot they went with a little salt for seasoning.  I cranked the heat and brought the milk up to a boil.

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When the parsnips halves were just breaking apart with a little force, I yanked them off the heat and removed them from their milk bath.  The milk was saved just in case the mashed parsnips needed extra moisture after being mashed.

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Now, the recipe calls for a lot of butter.  Julia Child might even give pause if I told her how much butter I was supposed to add to the mashed parsnips.  Okay, probably not.  But let me put it like this: I compromised and used only one stick of butter.  Yeah, a whole stick is me reducing the required amount.

While the parsnips were still hot, I slowly added the butter tablespoon by tablespoon until all of it had been fully incorporated.  A dash of salt and pepper and the recipe was completed.

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So, let’s see here:

Rich. Oh, you better believe that’s a check.

Sweet.  The normal sweetness of the parsnip is tough to describe, because it’s such a unique flavor.  Tasty for sure, but unlike any other mashed root vegetable I’ve ever eaten, and that’s a good thing.  Check.

Soothing.  Do you find mashed potatoes to be homey and comforting?  I do, and this recipe elicits the same feelings for me.  Check here as well.

May I make a suggestion?  Next time you want some mashed potatoes, try making mashed parsnips instead.  You might just find out that you really, really liked parsnips and you never knew.  At least, that’s what happened to me.

One down, fifty one to go.