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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of middle-aged high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, and wealthy) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Lamb, on May 24th, 2015.

braised_lamb_shanks_carrots

My daughter in law, Karen, is a wonderful cook. More than once my DH and I have been at their home and she served these delicious lamb shanks. Last time she made it was a few weeks ago and I just couldn’t eat it because of my food poisoning (sorry to keep bringing that up, but it really did disrupt my eating style, big time, though I’m fully recovered now), but I did eat some of the gravy and rice she’d served alongside. It tasted wonderful, and she mentioned where the recipe had come from, so I made this myself.

Whenever I go researching for a recipe, I rarely, if ever go to the Joy of Cooking. In years past, I used to, because that was kind of the cookbook bible I had in my younger years, when I owned 10 cookbooks total. But now, I’ve got umpteen hundred cookbooks and I either search online, or I go to my recipe program and look at what recipes I’ve stored in my to-try file (it’s called Internet Recipes there). So, for whatever reason, as I was beginning to eat regular food again, this lamb recipe kept coming up in my head. I figured that it meant I really should make it (the dr. said don’t eat something unless you actually crave it). And I know that a lamb and rice diet is something lots of veterinarians say is easily digestible. So, I bought the ingredients and I made it.

Karen calls this Moroccan Lamb Shanks, but that’s not what the recipe is called in the cookbook, Joy of Cooking. It’s called Braised Lamb Shanks, but it contains a variety of mild Moroccan spices (cinnamon, allspice, cumin, coriander and harissa). And the recipe calls for carrots and winter squash. I decided not to add the winter squash to it, just because, but I used rainbow carrots, and I added celery, which wasn’t in the recipe. And it made a marvelous gravy – according to the recipe, the collagen in the bones helps thicken the braising liquid (chicken stock and white wine), and it does. Not a lot, but it makes a slightly thickened sauce that’s perfect over rice or mashed potatoes, which is what sounded good to me.

In the Joy cookbook, Rombauer has you bake the lamb shanks for 1 1/2 hours at 300°. I took the lazy woman’s approach and did the whole thing in my small slow cooker (actually it’s my risotto cooker that has a slow cooker function). It was perfect for making 2 lamb shanks, which was more than enough for me for 2-3 meals. So, in the recipe below, I’ve included a paragraph at the bottom with the instructions for making it in the slow cooker.

The prep work really took very little time – I browned the lamb shanks for awhile, removed them, sautéed the thinly sliced onions, added in the garlic at the last (I used ample) and the spices. Then you add the liquids, some tomato paste, heat that up, then add back in the lamb shanks. I set it to cook on the slow setting for about 6 hours. Twice I picked up the lid and turned the lamb shanks over, because they weren’t submerged in liquid, only up about halfway. Then I added the carrots and celery, and let that cook for about 45 minutes to an hour and it was ready to serve. At the very last you add in some fresh lemon juice, some harissa and the final dish is sprinkled with freshly chopped mint. Done. And it was every bit as good as I remembered. The gravy is a lovely medium-brown color and drizzles well over whatever carbs you might want to serve with this.

As for the lamb shanks, I happened to go to Sprouts to buy my ingredients (I don’t often shop there, but I figured they’d have lamb shanks) and sure-enough, they had some grass fed lamb shanks. They were on the smaller side, but perfect for me. Lamb shanks aren’t cheap food anymore – each small one was about $4.00. If you’re feeding hungry teenagers they’d have wanted 2 of these smaller ones. But with lots of veggies and carbs to go with it, you might be able to get away with just one per hungry person.

What’s GOOD: several things: (1) the flavoring/gravy is divine; (2) I did it in a slow cooker, so it was super-easy; (3) it’s good enough to serve to guests, even. Good enough reasons to try it? I’ll be making this again.

What’s NOT: really nothing at all – if you don’t want to use a slow cooker, just bake in the oven for 1 1/2 hours; otherwise, set this for 6 hours and then add the veggies and plan for another hour and it’s ready to serve.

printer-friendly CutePDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Braised Lamb Shanks with Carrots

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Joy of Cooking
Serving Size: 4

1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil — to brown the lamb shanks
2 tablespoons olive oil — to brown the onions (and you may not need it)
2 large onions — halved and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 Pinch ground cinnamon
1 Pinch ground allspice
2 cups chicken stock — or lamb stock or broth or water
1 cup dry white wine
1/8 cup tomato puree
2 cups carrots — sliced
2 cups winter squash — such as butternut or Hubbard, peeled and diced [I didn’t use this]
2 cups celery — chopped [not in original recipe]
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint — or 2 tablespoons dried mint
1 teaspoon harissa — [original calls for double this amount]

1. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Trim most of the external fat from: lamb shanks. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Heat olive oil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Add shanks and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove the shanks and keep warm. Pour off the fat, then add additional olive oil, onions and garlic (at the last, so it doesn’t burn).
3. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook, stirring often, until the onions are quite soft, then sprinkle with all the spices. Stir to coat the onions, then add stock, white wine and tomato puree.
4. Increase the heat and bring to a boil. Return lamb shanks to the pan, cover and bake until the meat is almost falling off the bone, 1-1 1/2 hours.
5. Add carrots and winter squash. Cover and bake until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes more.
6. Remove the meat and vegetables to a platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Skim off the fat from the surface of the sauce. Add lemon juice, mint and harissa. (The collagen in the bones should produce a velvety slightly thick sauce. If it’s not thick enough, you can reduce it further, but don’t season any further until you’ve done that.) Taste and adjust seasonings. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables. Serve with orzo, rice pilaf, braised lentils or white beans. [I served it with mashed potatoes in order to enjoy more of the flavorful sauce.] SLOW COOKER: Brown lamb shanks, remove, then add onions. Cook for 4-5 minutes until softened, then add garlic for about a minute. Add seasonings, then chicken broth and all the spices and tomato paste. Stir well. Bring mixture to a boil, add lamb shanks and place in slow cooker for about 6 hours on low. Add carrots (and celery, if using) and cook another hour or so until carrots are just fork tender. Add lemon juice, harissa and sprinkle with mint when serving.
Per Serving: 268 Calories; 14g Fat (54.2% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 23g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 1722mg Sodium.

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  1. John Becker

    said on May 25th, 2015:

    Glad you liked the recipe, it’s one of our favorites! When we make it, I usually tweak the harissa in the other direction… to each their own. Shanks are getting pricey, but bone-in shoulder chops are still semi-reasonable, have lots of flavor, and braise well. Try the Jerk Chicken recipe, or the Five-Spice Ribs, some of our other favorites. Joy’s full of surprises and is worth consulting, even in an era of web clipping and a completely saturated cookbook market.

    Cheers
    John Becker
    Joy of Cooking

    Gosh, thank you, John, for commenting on my blog. I’m honored. I was almost surprised to find a recipe in Joy that was almost Moroccan in nature since when your grandmother (right?) created the cookbook, cooking international dishes wasn’t hardly known let alone in the cookbooks of the day. I think this recipe is sensational and have considered making it for guests – and yes, it would be a pricey proposition with the price of lamb shanks. Guess I need to watch for sales! They take up way too much room in my freezer, however. Thanks so much for stopping by. . . carolyn t

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