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Sara

 

Sara and me

I participate in an amazon program that rewards a little tiny $ something (pennies, really) to me if you purchase any books I recommend, or products that I buy and feature on my food blog. 

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Just finished Kristin Hannah’s latest book, The Four Winds: A Novel. What a story. One I’ve never read about, although I certainly have heard about the “dust bowl” years when there was a steady migration of down-and-out farmers from the Midwest, to California, for what they hoped to be the American Dream. It tells the story of one particular family, the Martinellis, the grandparents, their son, his wife, and their two children. The book is heartbreaking, but one of those that everyone should read. The hardship, the hunger, the dirt and dust, the failed crops, the lack of rain, then the story picks up again in central California, back in the day when the wealthy growers just used up the migrants. I don’t want to spoil the story. So worth reading. Hannah really knows how to weave a story.

Brit Bennett has written quite a book, The Vanishing Half: A Novel. It’s a novel, yet I’m sure there are such real-life situations. Twin girls are born to a young woman in the South. Into a town (that probably doesn’t exist) that prides itself on being light-skinned blacks. The father was very dark, but he plays no part, really, in this story. Growing up, the girls leave home at 18 to find their way in New Orleans. Suddenly, one twin disappears (her clothes and suitcase all gone in the wink of an eye). Her twin left behind has no idea what’s happened to her. As the story reveals, with divided paths, one twin continues her life as a black woman, and the other twin, the one who left, is able to pass as a white woman. She marries well, has a daughter. Well, let’s just say that there are lots of wicked webs woven throughout the story, starting from the girls’ mother who never wants to speak again of her lost daughter. But you know where this is going, don’t you? Things are found out. The author does a great job of weaving the story apart and then back together.

Kathleen Wheeler has written quite a family story. Brought To Our Senses: A Family Saga Novel. The title calls it a saga, but two generations don’t make a saga – to me anyway. But that’s not the story . . . this is a book about dementia or Alzheimer’s, and it’s hard to read in many places. The mother, the matriarch, is in denial for years and years about her problems. Some of the children are also in denial. The daughters don’t all get along. The son moved away and chooses (mostly) to be absent for most of the drama. Such a sad, sad story, but could be and is real for lots of people with relatives, loved ones who suffer from this awful disease. There is resolution at the end (with the children, all adults, of course). But the mother’s downhill slope is so graphic and realistic. I don’t wish to stick my head in the sand because I know many families suffer through the kinds of angst written here. It’s just so hard to read. Good book, though.

What a book. The Only Woman in the Room: A Novel by Marie Benedict. A novelized biography of Hedy Lamarr, the famous actress. She was a brilliant mind, and a beautiful woman. It tells the story of her coming of age, how she navigated the world of acting back in that time period (she was Austrian, and Hitler was in power). The writing was very well done – to tell Hedy’s story with detail and poignancy. Eventually Hedy made it to the U.S. and her life story changed, but still had its difficulties. I loved the book, beginning to end. She should have become an engineer as she invented several war related bomb tools. Very much worth reading.

Also read The Secret of the Chateau: Gripping and heartbreaking historical fiction with a mystery at its heart by Kathleen McGurl. There are two stories here. The historical part is just prior to and up to the French Revolution, when aristocrats were chased and killed, guillotined in many cases. There is a young couple (part of the royal court) who escape to a remote small castle owned by his family, located on the edge of France and Italy, hoping to wait out the revolution and hoping the villagers love and care about them. Then jump to current day as a small English group of close friends decide to retire somewhere on the continent, and settle on a small abandoned castle in the remote hills of France along the Italian border. Got the picture? The historian in the group is quite interested in the history of the home, and clues are revealed (in the tower) that lead her and the group on a quest to discover what happened to the couple who used to live there. There was a fire once upon a time. There’s an pesky ghost. There’s also a very old child’s doll/playhouse on the grounds. Plus there’s a small graveyard. It is VERY intriguing. Very interesting. I love historical novels like this, and this one in particular does have quite a mystery involved, too.

Agathe von Trapp was the eldest daughter of the renowned von Trapp family. Some years ago she wrote Memories Before and After the Sound of Music: An Autobiography beginning from her first memories at age 2 (yes, really!). The book tells the honest-truth about the family’s life in Austria and Italy prior to the war, and debunks many of the story lines from the musical, The Sound of Music. Liesl, the part played by Charmian Carr, was supposedly the story of Agathe. But it wasn’t, really. As long as you know that the musical and movie were written and changed to make a story for the stage and film, then reading the true stories about their family life, their escape (by train from Italy, with no problems at all, no hiding in an abbey) and eventual settling in Stowe, Vermont, where there still is a family lodge for paying guests. The family singers toured for many years, and earned enough barely money to then survive for some months in Vermont, practicing and gearing up for their next national or world tour. One of the sad parts for me was reading that although Maria von Trapp certainly kept the family together, her step-children didn’t necessarily love and adore her. They say she was quite selfish. A good enough read. Not a long book, and not exactly an example of fine, non-fiction literature, but still, it kept my interest mostly because I’ve been a fan of the movie ever since it came out in 1965-66.

Sarah Steele wrote a quite intricate book – probably more interesting to a woman anyway – called The Missing Pieces of Nancy Moon. A young woman going through a breakup of her marriage, and the death of her grandmother, finds a box in the relative’s wardrobe. In it are fabric swatches attached to dress patterns, and a postcard of a woman wearing the dress. It’s all quite mysterious. Florence decides she should re-create the dresses and the journeys. Quite an interesting theme for a book, and it’s well done here. Travel to the Riviera is included, and some fun encounters with new friends. Well worth reading.

I’ve been a fan of C.J. Box for several years. Have read most of his books. Mysteries of a sheriff in Wyoming, solving murders, usually. Box has a gift of suspense. This new book, Long Range (A Joe Pickett Novel) This one starts with the after-effects of a deadly grizzly bear attack, then extends to the murder of a judge’s wife. All interconnected, and complicated. The book was too short . . . I always want more.

Tracy Chevalier has written another fascinating book . . . A Single Thread: A Novel. The time period is between the wars, Britain. So many spinsters were left following the war, and Violet doesn’t want to become an embittered woman, caring for her angry, feeble and declining mother. So she moves on to Winchester. She works at a ho-hum job, but also becomes a volunteer at the Cathedral (ever been there? gorgeous), helping to make needlepoint kneeling pads. There are traditions even for kneeling pads (yes, really), and Violet takes this very seriously. There’s a love story woven into the fabric of this story too, and how Violet blooms and grows. Chevalier has a way with words. A good read.

An unusual book, The Weight of a Piano: A novel by Chris Cander. It begins in 1962 in Russia, a young girl is gifted a Blüthner piano. She has real skill and hopes to keep it forever. Yet, once she marries, she must leave it behind when she emigrates to the U.S. Thence the story begins, of what happens to the piano, its interim stops (even a bit about how the piano feels –  yes, some surrealism here). And about how it survives the voyage to America itself. I don’t want to give it away. You’ll learn a LOT about pianos and equally as much about Blüthner ones, how they’re made. The book does not have a happy ending – at least not in my opinion, if that’s something that’s important to you. Quite a story; and again, unusual.

Erik Larson’s tome, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz. This book covers the “reign” of Winston Churchill during the height of WWII. You’ll learn so much more about him. About the war. About the inner workings of the British government, including political. I’m a great admirer of the late Mr. Churchill. One of my more recent trips to England I visited Chartwell, the family home and where Winston died. If you’ve never been there, do add it to your itinerary next time. Beautiful grounds, including the small studio he used to paint.

Ken Follett is one of my fav authors, and I pre-ordered his newest, The Evening and the Morning (Kingsbridge), which is a prequel to The Pillars of the Earth: A Novel (Kingsbridge), my all-time favorite book I’ve ever read in my life. Time period: 975 to about 1007 or so. Give or take. It follows a poor, but eager and intelligent builder as he earns his trade. It’s about his loves. His failures. The families all around, and much about the ever-present church (and its leaders, some honest, many not). Could hardly put the book down. Love Follett’s style of writing.

Every so often I read a romance of some kind. Historical ones mostly. And most I don’t include them here. But one I liked a lot is The Secrets of Saffron Hall by Clare Marchant. It happens to be very inexpensive right now on amazon, on Kindle, in case you’re interested. It jumps from 1538 and to 2019. Having to do with a precious book, a Book of Hours, and what secrets it contains. The growing of saffron plays large here and both romance in Tudor times and a tenuous marriage in current time, but nearly all of it takes place at a Tudor castle. Loved the book.

The book Where the Blind Horse Sings: Love and Healing at an Animal Sanctuary shares the story of a number of animals brought to an animal sanctuary in the Catskills. If you’re an animal lover, you’ll enjoy the stories, each animal bringing more to the human-animal relationship than you might even guess. Profound stories of love of animals. Not a long book; I think I got it as a bargain book from bookbub.

The title caught my attention on this one: Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim by Sabeeha Rehman. She’s written her own autobiography, beginning when she was a young child in Pakistan, to her eventual settling in New York. It’s about the Muslim experience. Their beliefs, their customs and traditions, told in a very pleasing and informational way. She marries in American Pakistani Muslim (an arranged marriage) and it’s the story of everything. Nothing much is left out of the journey she made, and still makes. She became a kind of activist for her religion, trying to bring Muslim customs to integrate into American culture (not always an easy task). Her husband is a doctor; she a hospital administrator. Likely you’ll learn more than you thought about Muslims. Very well written. Enjoyed it very much.

Finished Chinn’s story, The English Wife. What a great read. Could hardly put it down. I’m reading 3-4 books a week these days, and am so happy when I have a book I can’t wait to get back to. Really the story is about two sisters. Partly in Norwich, England, then in Newfoundland. One there, one here. And some of it takes place during WWII in Norwich, and much of it Newfoundland, then, and more recent. I loved the part of the book that took place on 9/11 when flights were diverted to Newfoundland. Family secrets, family lies, much anger between the sisters. There’s romance. There’s war. There is love of family. Particularly I savored the descriptions of Newfoundland, mostly rock, if you’ve never been there. It’s a twisted tale, by that I mean the family secrets which become the undoing. It’s a bargain on amazon right now, as I write this.

Also finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s recent book, The Book of Longings: A Novel. It is a book that might challenge some Christian readers, as it tells the tale of Jesus marrying a woman named Mary. The story is all about Mary, her growing up, her scholarly pursuits, and then from the moment she meets Jesus as a young man. The story follows along to and beyond his death on the cross. In the time of Christ it was extremely uncommon for a man not to marry. It was almost unseemly. Fraught with suspicions, I’d suppose. Although scripture, as scripture, does not play a very strong part here, if you’ve read the Bible you’ll see many of the stories of Jesus’ life through Mary’s eyes. I loved the book from the first word to the last one. The book is believable to me, even though the Bible never says one way or the other that Jesus ever married. It’s been presumed he never did. But maybe he did?

Jeanine Cummins has written an eye-opener, American Dirt. A must read. Oh my goodness. I will never, ever, ever look at Mexican (and further southern) migrants, particularly those who are victims of the vicious cartels, without sympathy. It tells the story of a woman and her young son, who were lucky enough to hide when the cartel murdered every member of her family – her husband, her mother, and many others. Her husband was a journalist, and his life was always in danger because he wrote the truth, and that was taking a risk. The story is about her escape, with harrowing chapters as she makes her way north from Acapulco, with various major detours, one step, or sometimes nothing more than a hair’s width ahead of the cartel minions trying to find her. I could NOT put this book down. The author is not Hispanic, and some have criticized her for that, but she did her research, and many authors write about places and people they are not. I have nothing but respect for her having told this story. You need to read this.

Also read JoJo Moyes’ book, The Giver of Stars. Oh gosh, what a GREAT book. Alice, living in an English home which lacks much, leaps to agree to marry a visiting American. It was an escape for her. He is a man of some family wealth, and she travels from England to Kentucky, during the 1920s. Once settled into the family home, she discovers married life is not what she had expected. Affection is lacking, and she must share the home with her tyrannical father-in-law, the owner of mines in the deep mountains. And with the ghost of the deceased mother-in-law. The family cook won’t tolerate Alice’s help in the kitchen. Alice is terribly lonely and unhappy. The town doesn’t much like this English woman with her funny way of speaking. But then, she meets a woman who encourages her to join the Horseback Librarians. With trepidation, she begins traversing the remote hills, through unbelievable weather, to deliver old, battered and tattered books to the remote inhabitants of the area. She makes friends, wonderful, loving people from all walks of life. There is tremendous tension from the danger of the mines, the unions trying to get a foothold, plus the unraveling of her marriage, including the dreaded father-in-law who feels she should answer to him, behave as he wants. Uh, no. Alice goes her own route. Her new friends become her family, and, oh, what love. There has been much criticism of Moyes’ possible plagiarism of another book regarding the Horseback Librarians. I read the other book – but I didn’t feel remotely as intrigued by that story as I was by Moyes’ version. A feel good story, but it takes some while getting to that “feel good” part, nearly to the end.

Frances Liardet has written a blockbuster tale, We Must Be Brave. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Although the scene is WWII England, this book is not really about the war. It’s about the people at home, waiting it out, struggling with enough food, clothing and enough heat. It’s about Ellen. Her early years, under much hardship. About her teens, some of it as an orphan. Then a young adult, which includes marriage, a marriage blanc, which I didn’t understand until you learn the meaning. Then a child enters the picture, a child that will become a focus for the remainder of the book. Through the war, and beyond. I cried several times, as will you, I suspect. What’s a constant is the descriptions of the place, a town called Upton, near Southampton. About the hills and dales, the flora and fauna, the rain, the mud sometimes, the flooding sometimes. But throughout, it’s about neighbors caring for neighbors, and about love. A must read. Would make a really good book club read.

Jamie Ford has written another good one, Love and Other Consolation Prizes. Remember, he wrote The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Loved that book. This one takes on a rather ugly part of America’s past, when Chinese people were treated like trinkets. Ernest Young is such a boy, who ends up being a “prize” at an event, and with great angst, ends up as a kind of servant at a high-class bordello in Seattle. Yet, the women and girls there become HIS family. He is intelligent and learns many lessons. Eventually, when society women battle to close down such houses of ill repute, he leaves that life, with his wife. They have children. The bulk of the book is about the early years around the turn of the 20th century, then you pick up the threads nearing the end of his life, and his wife’s. There are any number of small mysteries, which unravel with a word here or there – you know that word foreshadowing? Really interesting read.

In between more literary novels, I bought a comedic memoir . . . Juliette Sobanet’s Meet Me in Paris. There’s the falling apart of a marriage (and divorce), but in the inbetween, she decides to take a trip (sans husband) around Europe to get her head straight. The kind of tour that would drive me crazy, but it was one night, maybe two at each major city. She knew no one, but soon enough bonds with  three other women. Then she has a chance-meeting of a young Frenchman who had been an exchange student in her home town. They’d lost touch, yet there were definitely sparks there, never realized. Some of the touristy stuff was trite, I must say, although the women do try to take in all the major sites, if only for a few minutes. There is plenty of humor. Some steamy stuff too as she meets up with the young man in another city. Apparently it’s a happy-ever-after story. Great literature it is not, but it was a fun romp, so to speak.

Recently finished Thomas Nelson’s The Hideaway. It seems like there are SO many novels out there about families finding, inheriting or otherwise going to an old house with memories. Especially ones on the water. With stories to tell. It’s a great way to introduce some light mystery to the telling of some other family story. In this case it’s Sara’s grandmother who was enigmatic in every way. And Sara inherits the run-down, ramshackle B&B on Mobile Bay. Cute story with lots of twists and turns.

Also just finished James Conroyd Martin’s Fortune’s Child: A Novel of Empress Theodora (Book 1 of 2). Theodora grew up the daughter of a circus performer, but then moved onto “the boards,” as acting was called back in Byzantine times (Constantinople, 6th century). She always had high expectations – she just “knew” she was going to accomplish great things. She was an occasional prostitute, a mistress, and then, behold, the son of Emperor Justin is mesmerized by her beauty, takes her on, and makes her his wife, amid much royal machinations. A young eunuch also plays large in the story too, a man hopelessly in love with Thea, but knows his love can never be returned or fulfilled. He becomes an historian to the Empress. Quite a story – much of it chronicles her early life and not a lot of it in Constantinople. But riveting story.

I’m doing SO much reading of late. Read this book in one day. The Glass Hotel: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel. Loosely based on the story of Bernie Madoff (Ponzi scheme), it tells a novelized version of a man with incredible power and charisma who gathers a group of willing partners. It’s about the people he cuckolded, and the people who took him down. At the beginning drugs come into play and I almost didn’t continue, but that was a very short section. Well worth reading. Lots to discuss if you’re looking for a book club read.

Once in awhile I read a poignant animal story, as you know if you’ve followed this sidebar for any length of time. Craig & Fred: A Marine, A Stray Dog, and How They Rescued Each Other by Craig Gross, tells the story of his military duty in Afghanistan, in a war zone. And how his unit befriended a dog, a stray, and how that dog really did become his lifeline.

Cara Wall’s new book, The Dearly Beloved: A Novel. It tells the story of two couples. The two husbands become co-pastors of a New York City church. The wives? Oh my, are they ever different. They don’t abide. The husbands try to get a grip on their jobs, pastoring, preaching, and keeping the wives happy.

Loved-loved Gregory Buford’s humorous memoir, Kept: An American Househusband in India. He aims to be a U.S. diplomat, takes the tests and fails. On a whim, his wife takes the test and is hired. Their first assignment: Chennai, India. They spent two years there, with his much-loved wife going off to do diplomatic duties (albeit at a low level – everyone must pay their dues at the beginning) and Greg is left at home to deal with the servants, the house, the beggars, the nanny, the construction next door, shopping, and also partly caring for their infant.

William Kent Krueger wrote Ordinary Grace. From amazon: a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God. It’s a coming of age story.

Shirley Ann Grau’s book, The Keepers of the House. Hmmm. Much to think about. [from an amazon review]: There is a reason it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1965. Seven generations of Howlands have lived on this rural Alabama plantation in good times and bad. It tells the story of this family from the time its patriarch settled the land in the early 1800s to the mid-20th century.

Marie Martin wrote Harbored Secrets. From amazon: In May of 1935, Blinny Platt’s homestead shack burns to the ground forever leaving her family asunder, scattering them like the embers flew on the Montana wind. She was only 8, sent away and in charge of her little sister. She could handle that because Platts take care of Platts. However, it is the hidden secrets of her parents smoldering beneath the charred remains that haunts Blinny until 1982.

Best book I’ve read recently. Not new. Called Follow the River: A Novel by James Alexander Thom. This one is also based on the history of a woman (married, pregnant) who was captured by the Shawnee, during the early settlement days east of the Ohio River, about 1755. And her eventual escape. I stayed up all hours to keep reading. The book was written from the many journals and writing compiled by her children. Her name: Mary Ingles. And it chronicles her 1000-mile trek in treacherous weather and over uncharted ground. What an amazing woman, and what a story.

Alan Hlad has written quite a novel. From true life. The Long Flight Home. It tells the story based on family history, of the homing pigeons that were used in Britain during WWII that flew back and forth across the English Channel into German-occupied France. It’s a heartwarming story. Heart-wrenching sometimes. War is an awful thing no matter which side you’re on when it comes to how it affects everyday people. You’ll learn a lot about pigeons, but also about love. Great read.

Riveted to Katie Munnick’s novel The Heart Beats in Secret. It begins in Scotland in 1940. A woman, a single mother. A journey across the sea. Then her daughter’s story, and finally the granddaughter’s story, when she inherits her grandmother’s old cottage back in Scotland. Plenty of mother-daughter dysfunction. But it comes right in the end.

Sarah Vallance has written a book about her devastating brain injury. Prognosis: A Memoir of My Brain. What a story. What a saga of her recovery. And how she did it. An open wide sharing of her angst, her anger, her journey. Well worth reading. If you have anyone who has suffered a brain injury, it would be wise reading.

Just love all of Amy Harmon’s books. This one is no exception. Where the Lost Wander: A Novel. A pioneer story of a young woman made a widow on the trail to the west. 1850s. As it was in life, tragedies occur. But there is caring and love too. Loved it.

Read Her Mother’s Hope by Francine Rivers. After leaving her childhood home of Switzerland, young Marta Schneider dreams of one day owning a boardinghouse, until marriage and motherhood change her ambitions. Determined to give her family a better life, she vows to raise strong children. But her tough love is often misunderstood, especially by her oldest daughter, Hildemara Rose, creating repercussions that will echo for generations.

Esther Freud’s book The Sea House: A Novel is about a small village on England’s southern coast.  The book is about love found, love lost, love sometimes found again, sometimes not. About how fleeting it can be or seem.

Amor Towles’ book, Rules of Civility: A Novel was quite a read. It’s NYC, 1937. Twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent [Kon-TENT she iterates to many] is in a Greenwich Village jazz bar when a handsome banker happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society.

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien. What an adorable book. True story about Stacey’s 20 years with a feisty but lovable barn owl.

Loved The Wedding Officer: A Novel by Anthony Capella. It takes place in the middle of WWII in Naples. A young British officer, Captain James Gould, is sent to Naples to wade through the zilions of applications from soldiers to marry local Italian women (and presumably take them back to England when the war ends).

Reading behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian by Jill Grunenwald. So interesting. Jill is  young, with a newly minted degree in library science at a time when the economy was very slow. She accepts a position in a minimum security prison in Ohio.

The Walls of Lucca by Steve Physioc. A novel that takes place in between WWI and II about a weary Italian soldier.

The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna. A novel about Croatia in the aftermath of their more recent wars.

A Column of Fire: A Novel by Ken Follett. It takes place in the 1500s, in England, and has everything to do with the war between the Catholics and the Protestants, that raged throughout Europe during that time, culminating in the Spanish Inquisition.

Having read all of Kristin Hannah’s books, I knew I’d read her latest too: Between Sisters: A Novel.  Two sisters, raised by the same mother but different fathers. At a young age a rift occurs and the sisters go their own way.

Just finished Matt McCarthy’s book The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly: A Physician’s First Year. It tells the true life story of his first year as an intern at a New York hospital.

Also read Karen Harper’s book The Royal Nanny: A Novel. The time frame is 1890s onward, at Sandringham, when Charlotte Bill (a real person) was hired by the Duke and Duchess of York, to care for their children.

Also read Roger Swindell’s Mendelevski’s Box. It’s an historical novel about the aftermath of WWII in impoverished Amsterdam.

Also read a very quirky non-fiction book: The Perfect Gentleman: The remarkable life of Dr. James Miranda Barry by June Rose. This is a biography about a person who lived in the mid-1800s. He was a surgeon; graduated from Edinburgh Medical School at the age of 14. Joined the British Army as a medical officer then sent off to South Africa and many other tropical outposts during his career.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. The premise of this book is different . . . a woman writer goes to Scotland to connect with her distant heritage.

Another great read, The Island of Sea Women: A Novel by Lisa See. It’s about Jeju Island off the coast of Korea where the island as a whole is matriarchal because the women were trained from a young age to deep dive, free dive, for mollusks. These women were the breadwinners. Husbands stayed home and cared for the babies. The island is real. The history is real.

Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford. A novel about the early days of radio in London.

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler. This book is a novel, but based on the life of Alva Smith Vanderbilt (Belmont). Her family was nearly destitute (and faking it) when a marriage was proposed for her with William Vanderbilt.  You see the inner life of Alva – her day to day busy work, charity work, visiting for afternoon tea, the undercurrent of society’s morals.

Also read In Falling Snow: A Novel, by Mary-Rose McColl. From amazon: Iris, a young Australian nurse, travels to France during World War I to bring home her fifteen-year-old brother, who ran away to enlist. 

Also couldn’t put down The Secret Wife by Gill Paul. A long story that begins in war-torn Russia. Cavalry officer Dmitri falls head over heels in love with one of the daughters of Tzar Nicholas.

Uncommon Woman. A book about Colonial America, but really the western frontier at that time, which is in western Pennsylvania.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.). Resolute is what I’m discussing here. It’s fiction, but based some on a true story. Resolute, as a young girl from a privileged life on a plantation in Jamaica, was taken captive by slavers, eventually ended up in Colonial America. This book is the story of her life. The people she met, the men in her life, her children, and always about her indefatigable energy for life. Always hoping to return to Jamaica.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This is a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, the son of a farming family, who sabotages everything in his being regarding going to school and leaves as soon as he is able (probably about 8th grade, I’d guess). And becomes a shepherd. And at night, he read literature that he accumulated from his grandfather. And then what happens to him as he grows up. Riveting.

Moloka’i: A Novel by Alan Brennert. A riveting book about the early days of Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) in Hawaii, and the stigma attached to the victims AND their families. It chronicles the story of a young woman, diagnosed almost as a child, and ostracized from her family, subsequently learning to live alone and remote.

House by the Fjord by Rosalind Laker. What a darling story. From amazon: A touching and atmospheric love story – When Anna Harvik travels to Norway in 1946 in order to visit the family of her late husband, the country is only just recovering from five cruel years of Nazi occupation.

Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde. This story, which takes place in a kind of Texas backwater, sets a town into an angry mess when two young boys, one white, one black, become friends, something most folks don’t like. At all. There’s a dog involved, the father of the black boy, the father of the white boy plus a woman who lives in the town and does her best to avoid people altogether. But they all get fused. Wonderful story.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. You might think what a stretch – what does an Indian (Native American) tribe have to do with the FBI. Read and you’ll find out. This is back in time, 50s I think, and a number of murders have taken place on the Osage Reservation. A wake up call, even for today.

Oh wow. Just finished reading David Guterson’s book, East of the Mountains. You know this author from his most well known book, Snow Falling on Cedars. I loved the Cedars book when I read it years ago, and assumed I’d like this other book (not new) as well. Have you learned to trust my judgment when I tell you, you HAVE to read a book? If I tell you the story line, I can already hear you thinking . . . oh no, I don’t want to read this kind of a book. Please trust me. You’ll come away from it being glad you did.

A fabulous read – Catherine Ryan Hyde’s newest book, Have You Seen Luis Velez? Raymond, a youngster, an older teenager, who  lacks self-confidence and feels like an odd duck sometimes, reluctantly (at first) befriends an elderly woman in the apartment building where he lives with his mother and step-father. Sweet story.

Magic Hour: A Novel

Excellent Women

Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by Min Jin Lee. Everyone should read this one.

An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Tayari Jones. DIdn’t like it much, but others do.

Recently finished Sally Field’s memoir (autobiography) called In Pieces.

If you want grit, well, read Kristen Hannah’s newest book, The Great Alone: A Novel.

You’ve got to read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book – Take Me With You. What a story.

 

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 February 14th, 2021.

moroccan_lamb_meatball_shakshuka

Cross the pond to Morocco. Delicious dinner dish. There are a bunch of tiny lamb meatballs simmering in a rich tomato stew. Then the succulent steamed eggs on top.

Certainly I’m mixing cuisines here. I’ve just begun following a blog called MarocMama. Amanda (an American, I believe) resides in Morocco, and lives in a typical communal family household with her Moroccan husband, their children and his extended family. She writes about travel and food, and her cross-cultural lifestyle. When I saw this recipe, my mind went immediately to shakshuka. Amanda called this a kefta (for the little lamb meatballs). But with the eggs on top, well, it was nothing short of shakshuka for me.

[Shakshuka] was brought to Israel by Tunisian Jews as part of the mass Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim lands, where it has become a characteristic feature of the local cuisine. Shakshouka is typical of North African and Arab cuisine and is traditionally served in a cast iron pan or, in Morocco, a tajine. It is a Maghrebi dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, olive oil, peppers, onion and garlic, and commonly spiced with cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg. Egg shakshouka evolved from an Ottoman meat stew, also called shakshouka, into a vegetarian egg-based dish. Maghrebi Jews brought it to Israel, where it has become a characteristic feature of Israeli cuisine.. . from Wikipedia

And shakshuka is not usually a meat dish, either, so as I said up top, I’m mixing cuisines and cultural lines. Please no hate-mail! I’d purchased some ground lamb recently and knew I wanted to try this dish. I don’t own a tajine, but I knew that a wide skillet (iron one, even, although I used a nonstick high sided pan to make this) would work. I followed Amanda’s recipe mostly, but did make a few changes. Do use a pan that has a lid.

Recently I read on Food52 about a new-ish method of treating ground meat (that actually came from Cook’s Illustrated) with the addition of baking soda and water. Why? So glad you asked . . . sprinkling a mixture on ground meat helps the meat retain moisture, so it only gives off fat. And oh, does it ever work!

Typically, this dish served in Morocco would have a pile of some kind of soft or crusty bread on the side (chunks of a French baguette, or something similar to naan) so you could scoop up a meatball with the sauce, and drag it through a bit of the oozing egg. However, if that last part’s not your thing, you can cook the eggs until they’re hard and not drag the egg into it unless you wanted it.  You could even leave out the eggs – – but then it wouldn’t be shakshuka anymore, just so you know . . . but then, this recipe never started out to be shakshuka. I just renamed it. It began as kefta.

tiny_lamb_meatballsSo first off, I mixed up the lamb meatball ingredients, then I poured in a stirred-up concoction of 1/2 tsp baking soda and 1 T water. Then I squished the meatball mixture well, so the baking soda would be distributed. Then it needs to sit for 15 minutes, to soak in, to do it’s thing . . . which is to draw in the water in the meat.

You don’t brown the meat in this recipe. The little meatballs are dropped into the tomato-y sauce you make. While the meat is sitting for the 15-minute soak in baking soda/water, I started the sauce. First it was onion, then garlic, in some EVOO. Turmeric is added, some half-sharp paprika (or use regular paprika and a generous pinch of cayenne), salt, cumin. After the onions had softened a lot, I added in a large can of good San Marzano tomatoes. Next time I make this I won’t add all the juice from the can, as it made a bit too much “soup.” Amanda uses large fresh tomatoes, but I didn’t have any fresh tomatoes at all, so canned would have to do. They happened to be the whole type, so I needed to squish them in my hand to break the tomatoes up into edible chunks. Do simmer that mixture for awhile so the lovely cumin and turmeric spices can mingle with the tomatoes.

That mixture simmered while I made the meatballs. The recipe indicated forming them into tiny grape-sized meatballs. Wow, is that hard! I made about 38 meatballs (pictured) from the one pound of ground lamb.

moroccan_lamb_meatballs_shakshuka_full_panAmanda mentioned in the recipe that if you crowd the meatballs, they won’t absorb as much flavor from the lovely tomato stew, so to use the extra for another dish. As it turned out, I did have a small bunch of meatballs left over, so am going to make a soup with them in the next few days. I cooked those meatballs in a small frying pan, and there was not one speck of water-type moisture in the pan – only the fat. So easy to do.

Above you can see the full pan. I’m hoping you can see the meatballs a little better. I simmered the tomato mixture uncovered for awhile to try to reduce the amount of soupy liquid. And I only used two eggs, because I’m just a family of one. I’ll be having leftovers one of these evenings.

What’s GOOD: everything about this was delicious. Wonderful. So full of flavor – from the lamb, the turmeric, the cumin, and the good San Marzano tomatoes. Loved it. Even the soft, runny eggs. Such a break from tradition to have eggs in a lamb and tomato stew.

What’s NOT: nothing really. Took a bit of time to make the meatballs, but otherwise it was easy enough. You could probably do this in a little over 45 minutes if you start the tomato stew first.

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Moroccan Lamb Meatball Shakshuka

Recipe By: Adapted from MarocMama blog
Serving Size: 4

MEATBALLS:
1 pound ground lamb — or beef, or combination of both
1 tablespoon garlic — minced
1/2 onion — finely diced
1/2 teaspoon salt — scant
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3 tablespoons flat leaf parsley — finely diced
1/2 teaspoon baking soda — mixed with 1 T water
TOMATO SAUCE:
2 tablespoons olive oil — (2 to 3)
1/2 onion — finely minced
28 ounces canned tomatoes — San Marzano, reserving some of the liquid for another use
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika — half-sharp, or use regular plus a pinch of cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt — or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon flat leaf parsley — minced
1 teaspoon garlic — crushed
3 large eggs — or one for each serving

1. In a bowl combine the ground meat with crushed garlic, onion, salt, and paprika and a small handful of chopped Italian parsley. Mix well with your hand to combine all of the ingredients. Pour in the mixture of baking soda and water, and massage into the meat. Set aside for 15 minutes for the soda to do it’s job of retaining moisture in the meat.
2. Roll into about 35-40 small balls slightly larger than a grape.
3. In a tajine (or use a large skillet with a lid) add 2-3 tbsp olive oil and minced onion. Place the tajine on the stovetop on medium heat, using a diffuser if you have an electric range.
4. Mix in turmeric, spicy paprika (sudaniya in Morocco), salt, ground cumin, chopped Italian parsley and crushed garlic. Pour in the tomatoes with only about half the liquid from the can and stir well.
6. Arrange the meatballs in the tomato stew so that they each have a little space to soak up the sauce. If you have more meatballs than space in the tajine reserve them for another dish. Each meatball needs enough room for some sauce to surround them. I used a heat diffuser so the mixture would simmer very slowly, and for the next section of cooking the eggs.
7. Cover the tajine and continue to cook on low. Check after 30 minutes. Once the meatballs are cooked through, crack 3 (or more) eggs and place on top of the meatballs and sauce. Cover the tajine again so that the eggs can cook through. Some people like the eggs to be steamed just until they are set but the yolk still is runny. You may also cook the eggs until the yolk is hard.
8. Serve and eat by scooping up bites of meatball and egg with crusty bread.
NOTE: You could also serve this with rice or couscous and scoop servings of the meatballs and the tomato stew with an egg on top onto each plate or bowl.
Per Serving: 511 Calories; 38g Fat (65.8% calories from fat); 26g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 222mg Cholesterol; 1301mg Sodium; 9g Total Sugars; 1mcg Vitamin D; 135mg Calcium; 7mg Iron; 846mg Potassium; 317mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Lamb, on December 24th, 2020.

Lamb Curry with Nuts and Coconut Milk

Lamb Curry. Enough said. Photo Attribution

Long ago, when I was a teenager, my best friend lived a few doors from me. Linda and I were fast friends for all these years. Sadly, Linda passed away of pneumonia about 2 years ago. She was severely handicapped and lived most of her young life at home, being home schooled. She eventually broadened her world, learned to drive a specially outfitted van with hand controls and a lift/gate, attended her last year of high school at the one I attended too, then she attended college, had several jobs too. Her dad was a Navy dentist; Van was a stay-at-home mom to Linda and her sister Joan. Once in awhile Linda’s mother Van and her dad would entertain a big group of friends, and one of her favorite things to prepare was lamb curry. This lamb curry. (It was my first introduction to lamb, as my dad wouldn’t eat lamb. He wouldn’t eat chicken, either. So my mom was kind of stuck with pork, beef and only very occasionally some fish.) Anyway, as we got old enough to handle knives, Linda’s mom would recruit us to help prepare the condiments. And they are legion. Van usually served about 25-30 condiments. So our job was to clean, dry, mince, chop and put things in tiny bowls, covered with waxed paper (I don’t think we had plastic wrap back then) and carefully refrigerated or stacked on a large tray, ready to serve. Van always made the curry the day before – the flavors are so much better with an overnight chill.

Over the years I’ve made this dish a multitude of times, always for guests because it makes a lot, and usually I’d serve about 10 condiments. Lamb lends itself well to a curry style sauce. And it’s not difficult to make. I’ve just not made it since I’ve been writing my blog. No real reason. Hence I don’t have a photo of it and needed to use someone else’s (at top).

To cut to present day. A couple of months ago I was asked if I’d be willing to do a food oriented speech/talk and/or food demo on zoom, for my branch of AAUW (American Association of University Women), an organization I’ve been in since my 20s. First, it was discussed about Christmas cookies. Ho hum. And I’m trying not to bake them since I’m a family of one. My friend Ann, who was talking to me about this, asked if I’d cooked anything unusual recently. Oh, yes I had. That was the Food Cart Curried Chicken. And the Curried Shepherd’s Pie (click links in next paragraph). So I suggested I do a talk about curry. Ann thought that was a good idea.

I did some online research and wrote up my speech. Ann had hoped I could do a food demo on zoom, but with only 25-30 minutes to talk, I thought that was not feasible. Plus, lighting would be a problem (this was a nighttime zoom session). I ended up propping up my iPad a few feet away on the island, turned on the lights over my head, set up all of my props (various curry powders, and individual ingredients that go into them). And at the end, in talking about the two dishes I had made, the Food Cart Curried Chicken plus my recent Curried Shepherd’s Pie, I pulled them out of the oven and moved them closer to the iPad, steaming hot and tried to scoop up a big spoonful, so the guests could see how delicious they looked.

I talked about the history of curry – starting in India – then incorporating some of the surrounding countries, then into Japan (the Japanese fell head over heels in love with curry when it was introduced to their culture a long time ago). I talked about the Colonial Period in India, when British officers were running the country. About how they hired local cooks (usually men), and when they were transferred to a new station, sometimes their cooks with them, as well as the spice combination that cook used. At the new post, new British military families would be introduced to the curry of the last place, etc. Eventually curry made its way to the United States, probably to Savannah, or Charleston, and in the early decades of the last century, the south was introduced to a pivotal dish called Country Captain. I also mentioned my friendship with Kunda, my microbiologist friend, who taught me how to make Shrimp Khichdi, a favorite in her family. And about the gift Kunda made to me, a bag of her mother’s garam masala (also a combination of specific herbs and spices). Kunda’s family in India makes it once a year, it’s an all-day family work-party gathering, and one of her family usually flies to California to visit Kunda and that person is the courier of Mom’s garam masala.

You know, of course, that “curry powder” isn’t a powder made from a curry tree. Right? Curry powder is a combination of spices (also can be called a masala), and probably every curry cook has his/her own special mixture. I talked about the heat in curry (which can be mild to hot, to very hot). I’m certainly no expert on curry – I’m a white Anglo-Saxon female with Scottish, Irish, English and Welsh roots, but gosh, do I ever love curry. My speech went well, so many people told me. I went long – nearly an hour. There were numerous questions at the end, and then I got to eat my curry. Yum.

So here’s the recipe below.

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Indian Lamb Curry

Recipe By: An old recipe from a family friend, Van Canon, c. 1955
Serving Size: 12

1 large leg of lamb
3 teaspoons salt
3 1/2 tablespoons curry powder — or more to taste
2 tablespoons ghee — or unsalted butter
15 ounces coconut milk
2 cups lamb broth — from the lamb bone
2 cups hubbard squash — peeled, chopped, or use acorn squash or eggplant
1/4 cup lemon juice
8 medium onions — finely chopped
3 whole garlic cloves — minced
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup evaporated milk
1 tablespoon sugar
8 medium Granny Smith apples — peeled, chopped
1/3 cup raisins — either black or golden
1/2 cup shredded coconut meat — unsweetened
For serving: fluffy basmati rice

1. Cut meat off the bone, discarding larger pieces of fat. Set aside the meat.
2. In a stock pot add water to cover the lamb bone and cook for a few hours, covered. You want to have at least 3 cups of broth. You may add some celery, onion and carrot to the mixture if you have it.
3. Cut the meat into bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle the meat with salt, pepper and all the curry powder and use your hands to massage the seasonings into all sides of the chopped lamb.
4. Melt ghee (or butter) in a large, heavy pot. Add onions first, saute over medium heat for about 10 minutes, then add garlic. Continue cooking for one minute only. Don’t allow the mixture to brown. Remove mixture to a bowl and set aside.
5. Add oil to the same pot and brown the meat in batches (if you crowd it, the meat will steam rather than brown). Once all the meat has been browned, add the onion mixture, coconut milk, lamb broth, evaporated milk and sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer mixture for about 30 minutes.
6. Add apples, squash, raisins, coconut, lemon juice, and cook for about 2 hours, covered. Taste for seasonings. This is best if made the day before and reheated. Serve with lots of condiments. Mixture freezes well.
CONDIMENTS: (this is a list of 30) in my order of importance: chopped fresh pineapple, coconut shreds, peanuts or cashews, chopped egg white and yolks, green onions, fruit chutney and crumbled bacon. Other condiments may include: chopped avocado, chopped celery, chopped green or red bell pepper, chopped tomatoes (no seeds), diced mushrooms, french fried onions (the canned ones), chopped black olives, minced candied ginger, guava jelly, toasted coconut, watermelon pickles, sweet pickle relish, canned mandarin oranges, chopped pimiento, sour cream (or yogurt), stuffed olives, capers, cocktail onions, golden raisins (plumped in warm water and drained), kumquats, fresh chopped papaya, sour cream or yogurt mixed with grated zucchini and lastly sour cream or yogurt with cardamom mixed in.
Per Serving: 308 Calories; 18g Fat (51.4% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 34g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 12mg Cholesterol; 711mg Sodium; 22g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 96mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 538mg Potassium; 136mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Lamb, on August 26th, 2020.

snow_capped_lamb_chops

Lovely little lamb chops with an easy pan sauce.

Pulling out of the freezer a small vacuum-sealed package, I thought I was defrosting a little ribeye steak. But when it was fully defrosted . . . no, it was little baby lamb chops. The sealed pouch edge had kind of curled up and I never saw the L-A-M-B I’d written on the label. I had a day to think about what I’d make with them, and recalled an old recipe I used to make often. I thought I’d posted it here – lucky for you, I had not. You need this recipe – especially if you like lamb.

Back in the early days of my first marriage, we shopped at the military commissary, and lamb shoulder chops were very inexpensive. Growing up, my dad wouldn’t eat lamb – no way, no how – so I’d not had lamb but a couple of times in my life up to that point. Once in a great while, if my dad was on a business trip, my mom and I would have lamb. She missed it too! You can make this recipe with either shoulder chops (cook them longer) or the super-tender loin lamb chops.

But, then move forward to the 60s, as a newlywed, I didn’t have very many cookbooks – only a couple were given to me upon my marriage, but I’d acquired a military wives’ cookbook. Over the years I bought several of them, and I still refer to them now and then. They’re pretty tattered and spotted, the pages having gradually turned a bit on the yellow side. This recipe came from one of those cookbooks.

In this instance I had beautiful little lamb chops – they may not look small in the photo, but they were. Maybe only 4 small bites per chop. The recipe indicates one chop per person, but that kind of depends on how big the chops are. You’ll need to use your own judgment as to whether your guests would eat one or two of them.

The chops are seasoned with salt and pepper and briefly sautéed in a frying pan in EVOO. I took them out of the pan when they’d reached about 110°F. They cook some more later on, so I knew I was safe removing them at that temp. Then you cook the pan sauce – green onions, celery, broth, thyme, and lastly some mushrooms, minced up finely. Then the chops are added back into the pan and cooked until they’re almost done (about 125°F or more), then you add a dollop of sour cream to the top of each chop. Cover it and let it simmer slowly for about one minute just to take the chill off that sour cream. Onto plates they go, with some of that pan sauce spooned in and over them. Garnish the sour cream with more green onions and some chopped parsley.

What’s GOOD: lovely flavor – oh, I do love lamb chops. I should have them more often. I think these came from Costco and I froze them in little 2-chop vacuum seal packages. So that means I probably have a couple more of them in the freezer. The pan sauce is just perfect with the chops, and the little dollop of sour cream adds a nice richness and color to it all. It’s a keeper of a recipe, and easy to make too.

What’s NOT: only if you don’t have all the ingredients to do the sauce – like the mushrooms, for instance. They add a lovely richness to the sauce profile. Not a thing to complain about this recipe.

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Snow-Capped Lamb Chops

Serving Size: 4

4 lamb loin chops — 1/2″- 1″ thick
1 tablespoon olive oil salt and pepper
8 ounces low sodium chicken broth — or beef broth
1 teaspoon dried thyme — if fresh, triple quantity
1/3 cup celery — finely chopped
1/3 cup green onions — finely chopped
1 cup mushrooms — finely minced
2 tablespoons parsley — minced
1/3 cup sour cream
Minced parsley and green onion, for garnish

Note: If you prefer more of a gravy, thicken the liquid with a small shaken-up mixture of flour and water (about 1 tablespoon flour to 3 ounces of water). Add this after cooking the vegetables and stir to prevent sticking. Add more broth if needed as you cook it to your desired consistency.
1. Brown the lamb chops in olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Drain off any fat from the pan, then add the green onions, thyme and celery. Simmer for about 6-8 minutes until the chops are just cooked through. Use an instant read thermometer and remove them once they reach about 115-120°F. Remove the chops and place in a warm oven while you prepare the sauce. The chops will continue to cook as they sit – they will reach about 130°F to be medium-rare.
2. To the pan add mushrooms and parsley and cook until the mushrooms are cooked through, about 3-4 minutes. Simmer until the liquid has reduced somewhat. Add the lamb chops back into the pan. Place a large dollop of sour cream on top of each chop, cover and simmer for about a minute until the sour cream has warmed through. Place the lamb chops on individual plates, spooning some of the pan sauce on and over each chop, then add additional green onions and parsley sprinkled on top of the sour cream.
Per Serving: 383 Calories; 32g Fat (75.7% calories from fat); 19g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 80mg Cholesterol; 87mg Sodium; 2g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 49mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 507mg Potassium; 230mg Phosphorus. Exchanges: .

Posted in Lamb, on March 28th, 2018.

rolled_leg_lamb_herb_garlic_sauce

Uhmmm, mouth watering going on here as I look at this photo. This would make a great Easter dinner entrée if you are inclined to have lamb.

A few weeks ago I was at a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter. I’ll be posting most, if not all, of her recipes from the class. Can’t wait to make some of the dishes myself. Including this one. I love lamb. I just don’t love the calorie count when I do have it. Obviously the wool-covered critters store up lots of fat amidst their meat, hence lamb, although it doesn’t look like it’s full of fat, it is! Darn.

Anyway, this recipe uses a boneless leg of lamb, butterflied. That means rolling it out and cutting butterfly slices all over the meat to make it a bit more flat. There’s a big hunk of the lamb leg that always sticks up high – – it needs to be butterflied and pounded some. If you’ve never done this before, you’ll see what I mean when you unroll that nice big boneless leg (Costco’s are a great price). Make some butterfly slices, then pound it some.

You make a lovely, big batch of herbs (Italian parsley, fresh mint leaves and fresh cilantro) and mix it with garlic, smoked paprika, salt and cayenne. Some oil is added to this mixture, then you pour off 1/4 cup of it to which you add sherry vinegar and more olive oil. That part is slathered all over the outside of the rolled and tied roast – but later. Meanwhile, you use the bulk of the herb stuff to rub all over the interior part of the roast, the part that will get rolled inwards. The roast is tied well with kitchen twine, then you slather on that saved bit of herb stuff.

rolled_leg_lamb_wholeTHEN, you put it in a plastic bag and chill it for at least 8 hours, or preferably 24 hours, so those herbs just permeate everywhere. Let it sit out for an hour before roasting, though. Into a 375°F oven it goes (in a roasting pan) and bake/roast for about 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until the interior temp reaches 125°F (rare to med-rare) or up to 135°F for medium to med-well. Personally I want it pink in the middle everywhere, so I’d be removing it at 125°F. So do start checking the temp after an hour to make sure you don’t cook it beyond your desired point. Remove from the oven and it gets tented for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, you put the roasting pan (roast has gone onto a cutting board and tented) and add wine and chicken broth to boil down a little bit. That little bit of stuff, with the pan juices gets added to the sauce that’s been kept aside. The lamb is carved into 1/2” thick slices (and then you’ll see all those beautiful swirly herbs rolled up inside). See photo. And then serve some of the herb sauce on the side, or spoon it right on top of the slice.

What’s GOOD: everything about this is good. Delicious. Fantastic in my view, but then I love lamb. I love cilantro and mint too. An altogether beautiful dish, excellent for a lovely spring dinner for guests (Easter). I’d serve it with some spring vegetables (asparagus?) and a casserole full of mashed potatoes, or au gratin potatoes, or sweet potatoes. But I prefer white potatoes with this.

What’s NOT: only that you need to plan ahead with this one – the roast needs to marinate for about 24 hours.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Rolled Leg of Lamb with Herb Garlic Sauce

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter, 2018
Serving Size: 12

4 pounds boneless leg of lamb — butterflied
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
HERB GARLIC SAUCE:
1 tablespoon cumin seed — roasted and ground (or use ground cumin)
1 1/2 cups Italian parsley
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
2 large garlic cloves — peeled
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1. SAUCE: This must be made ahead as it is inserted into the raw roast and rolled, then refrigerated for 8-24 hours. Place all the sauce ingredients into a food processor (EXCEPT oil) and process until a coarse paste forms. With the machine running, add 4 T of the oil. Transfer 1/4 cup of the sauce to a bowl, add vinegar and remaining 2 T oil. Set that aside.
2. 1-2 DAYS AHEAD: Lay meat flat and pat dry with paper towels. Trim any excess fat. If there are portions that are much thicker than others, butterfly even those small sections so the whole piece if more evenly flat.
3. Lightly pound the lamb with a meat mallet (flat side), if necessary so the meat is more evenly thick. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the lamb with 3/4 of the sauce (the larger portion). Starting at the short end, roll lamb up tightly. Tie the roast well, then rub on the remaining sauce set aside earlier. Wrap roast well in plastic wrap and chill at least 8 and up to 24 hours. Let stand at room temperature for one hour before roasting.
4. Preheat oven to 375°F. Unwrap lamb and transfer to a roasting pan. Roast the lamb until an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of the meat reads 125° to 135°F depending on your choice of medium-rare to medium. This will take approximately 1 1/4 hours, but begin checking the temp earlier than that. Transfer meat to cutting board and tent with foil for about 20 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, add wine and chicken broth to the roasting pan and simmer until slightly reduced. Add the sauce that was set aside and mix. Slice lamb into 1/2″ thick slices, snipping away the twine as you go and transfer the meat to a heated platter. Add any juice from the cutting board to sauce. Serve lamb with the sauce.
Per Serving: 300 Calories; 19g Fat (59.4% calories from fat); 27g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 73mg Cholesterol; 889mg Sodium.

Posted in Lamb, on June 9th, 2016.

quick_easy_lamb_moussaka

Do you happen to have a package of ground lamb in the freezer? Here’s a quick and easy dinner if you’ve also got some zucchini and cottage cheese. Oh, did I lose you there at cottage cheese? You’ll never know, hardly, that there’s cottage cheese in the topping. I promise.

If you’ve ever had moussaka, made the long, laborious way (making a sauce and with a lamb stew kind of thing, plus eggplant), then you know the deliciousness of it (and it’s a lot of work). It’s kind of like Moussaka is to Greece as lasagna is to Italy. They’re similar, although lasagna has pasta in it. This dish has almost no carbs, just meat, vegetables and cheese and dairy.  The limited carbs come from the cottage cheese (some), the yogurt or sour cream (some) and the tomato sauce (which is pure carbs because tomatoes are a fruit), though there’s only an 8-ounce can of the sauce in the whole casserole.

The other day I was looking up a recipe I did for my blog when it was brand-spanking new in 2007. And I started off the first paragraph talking about the dish being a casserole. And then (9 years ago) I swear the word casserole, in food circles, was an anathema. As if it was something bad that only your ancient great grandmother would make. I’m glad to see that casseroles are making a comeback – in fact I bought a cookbook a few years ago all about new-fangled casseroles.

zucchini_layer_moussakaThis casserole is a revision of a recipe I posted here, years ago also – Easy Ground Beef Moussaka. It’s a winner of a quick recipe, and one that I’ve made dozens of times over the years. You briefly cook the zucchini and put it in the bottom of a 9×9 baking dish, then you cook meat with onion, garlic and spices, then add in some canned tomato sauce. That goes on top of the zucchini. Then you make the super-easy topping (cottage cheese, yogurt or sour cream, egg, Feta, and Parmesan) and it’s spread on top with another sprinkling of Parm on the very top.

meat_cheesy_layer_moussakaSo THIS RECIPE, I just revised it a bit by using ground LAMB. The zucchini is the same (see picture above), the filling is the same (although I added in some different herbs and spices – I added some dried mint to the meat mixture which is different) and the topping is identical (see the uncooked dish at right). I should have invited somebody to come for dinner, because it made plenty for about 5 people, I think. A salad on the side and maybe some bread is all you’d need for a complete meal. I didn’t make a salad or have bread – the serving of this dish was ample for my dinner.

easy_moussaka_bakedThere at left is the dish just out of the oven. I actually turned on the broiler element for about 3 minutes to get those nice crusty bits on top. But the topping is all composed of dairy and a little bit of cheese, so you don’t want to overdo the broiling.

The dish comes together in about 30 minutes, I guess, maybe a little bit more, and it bakes for 30 minutes, so you could have it on the table in about an hour.

The lamb I had was not very lamb-y tasting. Why is that? I think it was Colorado lamb, not New Zealand. I don’t know if there is a difference. But the casserole was just wonderful anyway. Maybe it’s because I grew up on casseroles. My mother used to make them frequently. The original recipe for this came from one of my mother and dad’s friends, so it’s a old-old recipe.

What’s GOOD: well, I like casseroles to begin with. This is an easy one-baking-pan dish, though you will dirty up a couple of pans doing the prep for this. I love the combo of the ground meat layer, the zucchini and then the Feta-salty-creamy topping with the melted Parmesan on top. It’s comfort food, I’m sure. And I liked this one made with lamb rather than ground beef.

What’s NOT: if you don’t like lamb, well, you won’t like this. Most people like Feta. And I promise, even if you’re a cottage cheese hater, I doubt  you’d notice. You can barely see the curds of cottage cheese in the topping, but it’s blended in with crumbles of Feta and you could easily think that’s what you were eating.

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Easy Ground Lamb Moussaka

Recipe By: one of my own, old recipes, revised
Serving Size: 8

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large zucchini — cut into 1/4″ coins
LAMB LAYER:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion — finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic — minced
1 pound ground lamb
1 tablespoon oregano — Greek if available (don’t use Mexican)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon dried mint flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt — or to taste
8 ounces tomato sauce
2 tablespoons red wine
Salt and pepper to taste
CHEESE LAYER:
1 1/2 cups cottage cheese — use full fat
1/2 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — or sour cream
1 large egg
1/4 cup Feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — for sprinkling on top of casserole

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a large skillet heat the olive oil, then add the finely chopped onion. Simmer for 4-6 minutes until the onion is wilted. Add the garlic and stir for about a minute. Scoop the onion mixture out and set aside.
3. To the same skillet add the ground lamb (usually there is sufficient fat – add a jot of oil if it’s particularly lean) and break up as it cooks through. Spoon out any fat and discard. When all the pink is gone, add the onion mixture back in, then the seasonings, tomato sauce and red wine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir in salt and pepper to taste.
4. Meanwhile, in another skillet, heat olive oil. If the zucchini is really large, cut each one in half lengthwise and then slice. Add to skillet and cook over medium heat until the zucchini has taken on some golden color, stirring occasionally. Do not cook the zucchini through as it will cook further during the baking. When it’s cooked enough, pour the zucchini into 9×9 square baking dish (ceramic or glass).
5. Pour the lamb mixture over the top of the zucchini and spread out, completely covering the zucchini.
6. In a medium bowl combine the cottage cheese, yogurt, Feta, egg and one portion of the grated cheese. Stir vigorously until the egg has completely disappeared in the mixture. Carefully pour this mixture over the meat mixture, trying to get it all the way to the edges – but without picking up any of the meat. Use an offset spatula if you have one.
7. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake for 30 minutes, or until the top of the dish is golden brown. You may use a broiler at the last if you’d prefer, but watch it carefully as it will burn quickly.
8. Allow to cool at least 5 minutes, then serve portions, trying to keep the square portion intact. Serve with a green salad and bread on the side.
9. As it sits, the zucchini lets loose of some of its water, so If you have leftovers, try to drain off that liquid so the casserole isn’t water-logged. Reheat in a low oven for about 20 minutes, or heat individual servings in the microwave, but cover it as it will spatter.
Per Serving: 314 Calories; 23g Fat (65.8% calories from fat); 18g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 77mg Cholesterol; 533mg Sodium.

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.

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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.

Posted in Beef, Lamb, on September 12th, 2014.

mini_greek_style_meat_loaves

Dinner needed in a hurry? This is a great make-ahead meal that requires very little time in the oven. The salad with cucumber provides some vegetables and the Greek tzasiki-type sauce on the meat just makes it perfect.

A couple of weeks ago I spent the weekend with daughter Sara and her family. And Sara wanted to spend part of Sunday doing some make-ahead meals for her family. Both of the kids are in sports, so weeknight mealtimes have to be jammed into what little time Sara can carve out of the late afternoon or evening. Sabrina drives herself mostly, but John the younger sibling is just 13, so he must be delivered and picked up and often John Sr. stays and watches his practices. Anyway, this is one of the meals we put together and Sara was kind enough to give me a portion so I could make it meat_loaves_ramekinsonce I got home. I baked mine in 2 ramekins (just easier for my single portion).

The recipe came from Cooking Light. Since making this Sara and I both agreed on a couple of things: (1) we would switch the amount of lamb and beef – we both wanted a more lamb flavor; (2) the baking time was not enough. So the recipe below has been changed. We also used full fat yogurt, but you don’t have to. We also thought that if the meat loaf was just slightly bigger, we could have eaten just one, so if I did this again, I’d do just that – I’d mound the meat loaves in the muffin tin or ramekin. You’d need to up the baking time if you did that. Lamb is rich, so halving the 2-meat loaf portion would cut down the calories significantly. The original recipe called for 10 ounces of beef and 5 ounces of lamb. That’s been switched, just so you know.

The other problem I had was that the meat loaf wasn’t really done well enough at 7 minutes baking and 3 minutes broiling. I did another 3 minutes of broil, and still the meat was really rare when I ate it (note blood-rare juice coming out of the left meat loaf in the photo). So I’ve upped the baking time to 9 minutes and 3+ minutes broiling. Do check the internal temp if you can – it should be about 160-165°F. The other things could be that pressing the meat into the muffin tin allows contact on the sides with the meat – maybe done that way it cooks in the shorter time. Just use a meat thermometer and gauge accordingly. In ramekins they didn’t quite touch the sides, so that may be why they weren’t quite so “done.”

The sauce was easy enough to make – it’s the standard kinds of ingredients for tzasiki sauce and was made ahead. On the recipe below I’ve also included instructions for freezing the meat – make them into mounds that will fit in a muffin tin or ramekin, place on a parchment or plastic wrap lined baking sheet and freeze, then package them for longer freezer storage.

If you added vegetables to the salad (it already has cucumber in it, but you could add bell pepper, for instance) you’d have a complete meal with the meat loaves, sauce and the salad.

What’s GOOD: these were tasty. Not necessarily off the charts, but not every meal can be that way, anyway. I would like them better next time with more lamb, hence the change in the recipe below. They were certainly easy to make and very quick for a weeknight dinner – providing the meat loaves were defrosted. The sauce is really good – don’t skimp on that part as I think it makes the dish.
What’s NOT: nothing, really. Altogether a good dish and easy.

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Mini Greek-Style Meat Loaves with Arugula Salad

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Cooking Light, May 2013
Serving Size: 4

5 ounces ground sirloin
10 ounces ground lamb
1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs
1/3 cup red onion — grated or VERY finely minced
4 teaspoons chopped fresh mint
4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
3/8 teaspoon salt — divided
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3 garlic cloves — minced
1 large egg — lightly beaten Cooking spray
YOGURT-FETA SAUCE:
1/2 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — or use nonfat if preferred
2 ounces feta cheese — crumbled
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice — divided
SALAD & DRESSING:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups arugula leaves — [or combo with spinach]
3/4 cup cucumber — (1/4-inch-thick) diagonally sliced, seeded, peeled

NOTES: If you want to make these ahead to freeze, form into shapes that will fit into a muffin tin or ramekins, place on a plastic-wrap lined baking sheet & freeze solid. Then package and seal for longer-term storage. Sauce cannot be frozen. Each serving is 2 of these patties.
1. Preheat oven to 450°.
2. MEAT: Combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon mint, 1 tablespoon thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, allspice, and next 3 ingredients (through egg). Press meat mixture into 8 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. (if you have more empty muffin cups, fill that half full with water during the baking.) Bake at 450° for 8-9 minutes. Turn broiler to high; broil 3 minutes. If top isn’t starting to brown, continue on broil for another minute. If using an instant-read thermometer, bake until the center of the meat loaf is about 160°-165°F which will still be just past pink in the middle. Cook longer if you prefer it more well done.
3. SAUCE: Combine yogurt, feta, 1 tablespoon juice, 1 teaspoon mint, and 1 teaspoon thyme in a mini food processor; pulse 10 times to combine.
4. SALAD: Combine 1 tablespoon juice, olive oil, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and pepper in a bowl; stir. Add arugula and cucumber; toss.
Per Serving: 463 Calories; 34g Fat (66.4% calories from fat); 26g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 147mg Cholesterol; 534mg Sodium.

Posted in Lamb, Soups, on October 23rd, 2013.

moroccan_lamb_chickpea_lentil_soup

After roasting, grilling or braising a leg of lamb, I never seem to know what to do with the leftovers. One night we had the lamb shawarma in a sandwich (flatbread) as we’d prepared it for the dinner for 8 we did. But I still had about a pound of meat remaining. What to do. Aha! Soup.

Going to Eat Your Books, I quickly found a recipe in my copy of James Peterson’s soup book, Splendid Soups: Recipes and Master Techniques for Making the World’s Best Soups. Peterson, indeed, makes some splendid soups in this book. None of them 2-3 ingredients, however. But I like that. I used his recipe as my inspiration. A few ingredients I didn’t have, so I just punted. I changed a bit the way it was made because I believe that the vegetables you put into the beginning of a soup give out and off all the flavor and texture they have to the broth. And rather than starting with fresh meat (like shanks or stew meat) I wanted to use the leg of lamb bones (that did have a bit of meat attached, but I’d cut off most of the meat – it was added in at the end of the soup making, since it was all cooked). And I prefer soups with more than just beans or lentils – I want more veggies.

So I threw out all those soft and mushy veggies used to flavor the broth and added new ones (onions, carrots and celery). It called for fresh ginger in the beginning too. And some saffron, cinnamon and turmeric. I added curry powder also. I’d saved the broth and drippings from the roasting pan when I made the lamb shawarma, so that went into the pot as well. The shawarma seasonings were somewhat similar to this soup, so I thought they added just a bit more oomph to the flavor.

What I had were tiny yellow lentils, so they went in after the broth was created, but after I’d strained out everything from the broth itself (the bones, ginger chunks, onions, celery, etc.) so it was just flavorful broth at that point. I added beef broth (using my Penzey’s soup base. Then after the lentils were done I added a CAN of chickpeas (drained and rinsed) and new vegetables. I also added a can of chopped tomatoes including the juices. That simmered for a short time, then I added the lamb, all cut up into cubes and some parsley. Full-fat (Greek) yogurt was added. My pot was simmering a bit too vigorously if you examine the photo carefully – so it separated some. It didn’t look very pretty, so I added 1/4 cup of heavy cream to it. Hardly made much of a difference in the consistency, actually. It probably needed more, but that’s all I was willing to add. And it was done. All I did was garnish it and serve in wide bowls along with some home made no-knead wheat/rye bread I’d made, nicely slathered with unsalted butter. Yum.

What’s GOOD: first, it was a good way to use up all that leftover leg of lamb meat. I was happy to have a good use for it. AND, I’m glad I now have a great recipe I can return to in the future! I don’t much like just pieces of leftover lamb heated up as a dinner entrée. The soup freezes well too. I now have 2 ziploc bags (2 servings each) in the freezer for some night when I don’t feel like cooking!
What’s NOT: only the time you have to commit to the long, slow cooking – at least a couple of hours, but it happily simmered away while I did other things in between times.

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Spicy Moroccan Soup of Lamb, Lentils and Chickpeas

Recipe By: Inspired by a recipe in Splendid Soups by James Peterson
Serving Size: 6

About 2 pounds leg of lamb bones (left over from cooking a leg of lamb)
3 tablespoons butter — or more if needed
1 medium onion — finely chopped
1 whole celery rib — finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
A 1-inch knob of fresh ginger, sliced in about 5-7 pieces
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pinch saffron threads
1 teaspoon curry powder
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth — or beef broth, or lamb broth
14 ounces garbanzo beans, canned — drained, rinsed
3/4 cup dried lentils
3 cups canned tomatoes — chopped
3 cups leg of lamb — (left over lamb meat cut from the leg)
VEGETABLES (added toward the end)
1 large onion — chopped
4 ribs celery — chopped
2 whole carrots — chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 cup cilantro — packed, finely chopped
1 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat
1/4 cup heavy cream — (optional)
Salt to taste Pepper to taste

Note: this soup can be made in a slow cooker; it just will take longer. Add the lentils about an hour before the soup is done along with the new vegetables.
1. In a 6-quart pot, lightly brown the lamb bones in butter. Remove lamb from pot. If the butter has burned, pour it out and replace it with fresh butter. Add the onions, carrots and celery. Stir over medium heat for about 5 minutes and then add turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, curry powder and saffron. Stir for 5 minutes more.
2. Add broth. Cover the pot and simmer gently for an hour. Remove the lamb bones and strain mixture to remove all vegetables, debris and foam. Wash the pot and pour the strained mixture back into the soup pot. Add the new vegetables (onions, celery and carrots), lentils and tomatoes and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the lentils and vegetables are just cooked through.
3. Add the canned garbanzo beans and the left over lamb meat. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir parsley, cilantro and yogurt into soup. Season soup with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into soup bowls, sprinkle with more cilantro.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Per Serving: 600 Calories; 33g Fat (45.8% calories from fat); 41g Protein; 46g Carbohydrate; 14g Dietary Fiber; 100mg Cholesterol; 583mg Sodium.

Posted in Lamb, on October 19th, 2013.

leg_of_lamb_schwarma

That’s a huge leg of lamb (8 1/2 pounds to be exact) we made for our Israeli dinner recently. The darkened patches are the spices that were used in the marinade. It’s oven baked. Since it’s not roasted on one of those unique vertical spits, it’s not an authentic Shawarma, but it’s close enough for government work, as they say. I suppose I should call it Shawarma for the home kitchen.

As I just mentioned a few days ago, my DH loves-loves lamb, and would happily eat it about once a week if I’d prepare it. But lamb is a very saturated fat – and I don’t just mean because it’s a red meat – I mean that lamb in and of itself is a very fatty meat, comparing it with beef or pork. It’s hard to realize it unless you read the nutrition info on lamb recipes, or even when you look at those cute little lamb chops in the grocery store, or at the slices of lamb cut from the above leg. Even when I cut up the meat from this meal later (as leftovers) I could hardly SEE any fat in it. But it’s there. Hence I buy leg of lamb very rarely. And not only because of the high fat, but also because I never seem to be very happy using up the leftovers. But oh, this time, I’ve got a winner of a recipe to share – in a day or two – a soup I made with the bones and lamb meat.

The recipe for this came from Jerusalem: A Cookbook. The authors provide lots of details about the origins of the spice mixture ((Lebanese) and about ways to serve the lamb.schwarma_spices

Aren’t the colors beautiful? Seeing this plate reminds me of our trip some years ago to Turkey (in 1997). We visited an underground ancient city in Cappadocia that provided a safe haven for Christians when the Romans were trying to arrest and kill them all. The Christians lived and hid there for months, some for years. There was even a morgue that could be sealed up with a stone (because of the smell, I suppose) because no one could go above ground during that time. Considering this was about 2000 years ago, they had a very sophisticated ventilation system too, so they wouldn’t be found from any little twists of smoke emanating through the rocks hiding the entrance at ground level. In one of the subterranean rooms was a kitchen and a big stone sat right in the middle of this room – the top was flat with a myriad of little 2-4 inch round indentations.  It was their kitchen spice cabinet, so to speak. When the underground caverns were discovered centuries later, there were still remnants of the herbs and spices in the little cups. At left you can see an example of one (from tryanythingonce blog). Those cups would have held all of the spices you see on the plate above. At right is a photo from the underground caverns (from the vagablond.com). The cavern we visited went down something like 8 stories below ground. It was an ever-winding spiral, down, down, down. Only the top 3 “floors” closest to the surface were open to the public and some of the connecting tunnels were very narrow and low. My DH, who is tall, got stuck in one of them as he bent over trying to move forward, and had to be pushed slightly from behind to get through the passage. Scary for him, as he gets claustrophobic. The picture here shows very wide and tall tunnels. Not so in the one we visited!

Anyway, back to this lamb. . . all those spices were toasted and ground up in my spice grinder. If you happen to look at the plate and wonder about the cinnamon – it’s from Penzey’s. They sell it in chunks like that – you can easily use a cinnamon stick – I just happened to have the chunks in my pantry. So the spices were combined with some peanut oil, salt, fresh ginger, garlic, cilantro and lemon juice. I spread it all over the outside of the lamb, puncturing numerous slits in the meat and pushing the mixture into them as well. Into a large plastic bag it went and refrigeratedlamb_shawarma_wet_rub

overnight. Most of the marinade stuck well to the lamb, so once it went into a baking pan (on a rack, my turkey roaster actually) it was easy to go right into the oven. The lamb was roasted at a low temp for about 5 hours (part of the time covered with foil). I allowed a little extra time because the lamb leg was bigger than the recipe indicated. The meat wasn’t falling off the bone, really, as some commenters mentioned on other sites where I found the recipe online, but it was quite tender.

shawarma_condimentsTraditionally this dish is served in either pita bread or some kind of soft foldable flatbread with condiments like chopped tomato, chopped cucumber, onions and definitely some sumac to sprinkle on top. I did the same.

We had fresh sangak bread on hand and I tore it up into hand-sized portions and placed the slices of lamb on the bread. The tray was passed at the table for people to add condiments of their choice. The recipe also mentioned a spread to put on the bread or pita – a mixture of canned tomatoes, harissa, tomato paste, olive oil, salt and pepper. So I spread some of that on each piece of sangak bread as it was served. The harissa added some heat – everyone noticed that. I liked it, actually. The only thing missing in my book was some fresh Greek yogurt to dab on the hand-sandwich. The recipe didn’t indicate it, so I didn’t put it out, but I think it would have been a nice addition.

What’s GOOD: loved the spices in this – warm and cozy. The lamb was not difficult, but was a bit time consuming and I needed to be near the oven periodically over the 5 hours to keep water in the pan below the meat (so it wouldn’t dry out). It made a gorgeous presentation. Meat was well done, obviously. Not dry, though and was still relatively tender. Made a very spectacular centerpiece of a meal.
What’s NOT: it’s a fair amount of work, as I mentioned above. If you have an Alligator 11-1/4-Inch Dicer with Collector, it’s quick work to make the condiments you see above. If you don’t own all the spices already, it could be a bit expensive to buy them all.

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Lamb Shawarma

Recipe By: From Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Ottolenghi & Tamimi
Serving Size: 8

2 teaspoons black peppercorns
5 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon cardamom pods
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 whole star anise
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/2 whole nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon sumac
2 1/2 teaspoons Maldon salt — or regular salt
1 ounce fresh ginger — grated
3 cloves garlic — crushed
2/3 cup cilantro — chopped stems and leaves
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup peanut oil
5 1/2 pounds leg of lamb — bone-in (5.5 to 6.5)
1-2 cups of water added to the roasting pan to keep the lamb moist
CONDIMENTS:
2/3 cup chopped tomatoes
2/3 cup chopped cucumber
1/2 cup sliced onions
1 1/2 tablespoons sumac
Lemon wedges to squeeze over the sandwiches
PASTE FOR THE FLATBREAD:
2/3 cup canned tomatoes — drained, chopped
2 teaspoons harissa
4 teaspoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Pita pockets or thin soft flatbread for serving

1. Put the first 8 ingredients in a cast-iron pan and dry-roast on medium-high heat for a minute or two, until the spices begin to pop and release their aromas. Take care not to burn them. Add the nutmeg, ginger, and paprika, toss for a few more seconds, just to heat them, then transfer to a spice grinder. Process the spices to a uniform powder. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in all the remaining ingredients, apart from the lamb.
2. Use a small sharp knife to score the leg of lamb in a few places, making 2/3-inch-deep slits through the fat and meat to allow the marinade to seep in. Place in a large roasting tin and rub the marinade all over the lamb; use your hands to massage the meat well. Cover the tin with foil and leave aside for at least a couple of hours or, preferably, chill overnight.
3. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Put the lamb in the oven with its fatty side facing up and roast for a total of about 41/2 hours, until the meat is completely tender. After 30 minutes of roasting add about a cup of boiling water to the pan and use this liquid to baste the meat every hour or so. Add more water, as needed, making sure there is always a little in the bottom of the pan. For the last 3 hours, cover the lamb with foil to prevent the spices from burning.
4. Once done, remove the lamb from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before carving and serving.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Per Serving: 756 Calories; 59g Fat (69.9% calories from fat); 46g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 170mg Cholesterol; 856mg Sodium.

Posted in Lamb, on October 13th, 2013.

rack_lamb_ancho_blackb_port_sauce

The cooking class I went to recently was all about SAUCES. We had 4 sauces altogether: two on meats (pork tenderloin and this lamb), one on a chicken breast, another on salmon, plus a chocolate caramel sauce on a dessert. And none of them was ordinary. They all started from some basic sauce, but each had something unique or different about them. That’s why I took the class!

Do you ever eyeball those lovely lamb racks at Costco? Or the frozen ones at Trader Joe’s? They’re pricey, no question, but for a special occasion, I’ll splurge and get one. My DH really loves rack of lamb and I don’t fix it anywhere near often enough for him! Maybe twice a year. I think the ones from TJ’s already have a rub or herbs on them – you won’t want to buy that as this recipe has a light flavoring to put on it as well. But this recipe is all about the sauce.

Ancho chiles are a favorite of mine because they are mild. They impart lots of flavor, but not much heat. Now occasionally you may find one with some heat, but usually not. Anchos are dried poblano chiles, same thing. At left you can see the dried anchos (thanks to photo at Freida’s Produce). At right is a photo of a fresh poblano. We can buy them fresh at almost any grocery store here in California.

The lamb is rubbed with a mixture and allowed to sit out at room temp for about 45 minutes; otherwise, make it several hours ahead and just put it in the refrigerator until 30 minutes or so before you’re ready to bake. The lamb is browned well on as many sides as you can manage (they’re a bit awkward to brown, I admit), then place them on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast for about 15-20 minutes. They also need to rest for 5-8 minutes afterwards to let all the juices re-absorb before you cut them into little ribs and serve.

Meanwhile, you make the sauce. Have everything all ready to go – once you start the lamb browning and baking, you’ll want to be on a time line. Have your meal all ready (except plating) and do serve this with some kind of carb so you can soak up any errant sauce. You’ll want to get every bit of it! Anyway, the ancho chiles need to be soaked (do this ahead), then they’re whizzed up in the food processor with some of the soaking liquid. It makes a puree that gets added to the sauce later on.

The  usual flavor mixture starts with celery, carrots and onion, then peppercorns, port wine, red wine, cranberry juice concentrate (great flavor), the ancho puree, some brown sugar and chicken broth. You boil it until it’s reduced by half, then you season it and add fresh blackberries. At the very last minute you add a couple T. of unsalted butter and season it if needed. Serve with that carb, and garnish with at least one pretty blackberry. This makes a fairly thin sauce – if you want something thicker, remove a bit of the liquid, cool and add some flour. Do this after you’ve reduced the liquid by half.

What’s GOOD: Well, the sauce first and foremost. It has wonderful flavor. If you enjoy lamb, this will be a fabulous meal.
What’s NOT: the sauce does take a bit of time to make – this would be a special occasion kind of meal.

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Rack of Lamb with Ancho Chile Blackberry Port Sauce

Recipe By: Phillis Carey cooking class, 9/2013
Serving Size: 8

LAMB:
3 pounds racks of lamb — (two 1 1/2 lb racks)
4 cloves garlic — minced
2 tablespoons cilantro — chopped
1/4 cup grapeseed oil — (or vegetable oil)
ANCHO PUREE:
3 whole ancho chiles — (dried pasilla)
3 cups boiling water
1 teaspoon minced garlic
PORT SAUCE:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — divided use
2 celery stalks — finely diced
1 medium carrot — finely diced
2 small yellow onions — finely diced
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 cup Port wine — (use Ruby port)
1 cup red wine
1 cup cranberry juice concentrate
1/2 cup ancho chile puree (recipe included here)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup blackberries — fresh (remove 6-8 of them for garnish)
Salt

1. LAMB PREP: Unwrap lamb and pat dry with paper towels. Combine the garlic, cilantro and oil, mixing to form a paste. Rub all over the lamb and let stand at room temp for 45 minutes, or cover and refrigerate for 3-4 hours.
2. ANCHO SAUCE: Combine the ancho chiles and water in a small bowl and let stand 1 hour. Drain well, reserving the soaking liquid. Remove the seeds and stems and puree in a food processor with the garlic and about 1/2 cup of the liquid, or more if needed.
3. PORT SAUCE: Melt HALF the butter in a medium non-reactive saucepan over medium heat. Cook the celery, carrot, and onions until soft. Add the peppercorns, port, red wine, cranberry juice concentrate, ancho puree, brown sugar, and stock and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half. Strain into a clean pot, add the blackberries, and cook over medium heat until the blackberries are warmed through. You may crush them with the back of a fork if preferred. Season with salt, to taste. Add the remaining butter in little pieces and allow it to melt without bringing it to a boil. The sauce is on the thin side – if you prefer a thicker sauce, remove a little bit of the sauce after you’ve reduced it by half, allow it to cool and shake it up in a sealed jar with about a T. of flour. Add into the sauce and cook for 3-5 minutes before finishing with the butter.
4. LAMB ROASTING: Preheat oven to 425°F on convection/bake if it’s available. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the lamb racks with salt and pepper and brown them on all sides, fatty side first. Transfer lamb to a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 120°F. If you prefer it medium, cook it until it reaches 125°-130°. Remove pan from oven and tent with foil, allowing it to rest for 5-8 minutes before cutting the chops individually and serving onto hot plates with a fresh blackberry for each serving. Do serve with a carb (rice, mashed potatoes, polenta or pasta) to soak up the sauce.
Per Serving: 735 Calories; 55g Fat (72.9% calories from fat); 23g Protein; 23g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 116mg Cholesterol; 1197mg Sodium.

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