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Just finished reading The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome/the Pope because he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one, too!

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

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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