A Bunch of Wins

Every once and a while, I just want to whip up a big dinner and eat like crazy. Okay, not every once and while, more like every other night or so. But I’m not necessarily in a position in my life where I have all kinds of hours in the day to spend in the kitchen. Nor do I have an unlimited budget where I can just buy pounds and pounds of food. Nor do I have the type of metabolism where pounds and pounds of said food just disappear magically hours after consumption.

Such is life, eh?

But sometimes the stars align, and you find yourself with a free weekend night and that urge to cook whittles its way into your brain. It also works perfectly when some of your favorite people also have a free weekend night and want to partake in that same sorta thing – a lot of eating, a lot of cooking, and maybe even some booze-drinking. Alright – always some booze drinking. So that’s what we did.

Also, we learned to play euchre. We are slightly addicted – even taught the parentals how to play during a trip to NC this past weekend.

So. The shanks before your eyes – there’s a quick story. There was a restaurant I wanted to check out while in Sedona last year, but sadly the night we thought about going was a night they were closed. So my in-laws, since they are awesome and super-duper smart, they went there the first chance they got and enjoyed a tasty meal without us, making up for it by picking up a signed copy of the chef-owner’s new cookbook. It was a nice surprise at Christmas, and I’ve been thumbing through the book since, bookmarking the “must-try” recipes.

These lamb shanks won the top honor of being the first tested recipe (I had some garlic scallops picked out for Valentines day, but then I realized garlic was probably inappropriate….) and we roped Liz & Kevin into eating with us (or did we invite ourselves over, bribing them with lamb shanks and Rioja?).

I guess how it happened doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, we had a ginormous amount of food, the shanks were awesome (and easy!) as was the rest of the food, and we have yet another card game to play.

That, my friends, is a win-win. Wait. A win-win-win. A bunch of wins, fair and square.

Lamb Shanks in Adobo Sauce
Adapted from The Elote Cafe Cookbook; serves at least 4

Wine note: we got extra-fancy and did a special wine-pairing for this dish. we tried out two Spanish Rioja wines, and while I can’t remember the names of them, I’ll say this: we bought one from 2001 and one from a 2006 vintage. They were both amazing, especially the 2001, but the 2006 went much better with the food. not too rich, but plenty of heft and spice to stand up to the shanks. a nice Syrah or Malbec would also be really tasty.

one other note: I’m betting this dish would be great with short ribs instead of lamb shanks, too. Really any meat – adobo sauce is versatile like that.

printable version

time commitment: 3-4 hours (1 hour active time)

adobo sauce
12 garlic cloves, peeled, whole
3 dried ancho chiles*, stemmed
3 dried guajillo chiles*, stemmed
3 dried chipotle chiles*, stemmed
4 c fresh orange juice
2 T packed brown sugar
2 T dried oregano (Mexican oregano, if you have it)
2 T cider vinegar
2 t kosher salt
2 t freshly ground black pepper
2 t ground cumin
1/8 t ground cloves
1 stick canela (Mexican cinnamon) or regular cinnamon, about 3 in. long
2 dried bay leaves

4 lamb shanks (about 1 lb. each)
1 t kosher salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper
2 T canola oil

pickled onions
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1 T cider vinegar
2 t olive oil
2 t oregano (Mexican if you have it)

2 T sesame seeds, for garnish
cilantro, chopped, for garnish

Make the adobo sauce. In a dry, heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, roast garlic cloves, turning occasionally, until softened and speckled brown, ~12 minutes. Remove from pan. Add chiles to pan and toast, turning once, until fragrant, about 30 seconds, taking care not to let them burn.

Carefully pour orange juice into pan. Add remaining adobo ingredients, then add garlic back to pan. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until chiles are softened, about 10 minutes.

Lift out cinnamon and bay leaves and reserve. Cool adobo slightly, then purée in a blender until very smooth. Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Prepare lamb. Sprinkle shanks with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a heavy, large pot (preferably a 6-7 quart Dutch oven) over medium-high heat, then brown 2 shanks at a time, turning occasionally, until golden brown, 7 to 8 minutes per batch. Return all shanks to the pot, or place them all in a large enough baking dish if you don’t have a big enough pot to hold them all. Cover shanks with adobo sauce, and add reserved cinnamon and bay leaves. If the liquid doesn’t come up halfway over the shanks, add some water (or beef broth, if you want) to make up the difference. You’ll probably have plenty of liquid, but it also depends on the size of your pot.

Cover and place in oven and braise, turning shanks every hour, until meat is very tender when pierced, 2-3 hours. (If you want, you can do this part 1-2 days before you’re serving this dish. Let the shanks cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat, scraping fat from the top first, and let shanks heat up, then follow the next instructions.)

Meanwhile, Pickle the onion. (Do this the day of; skip this step if you’re preparing shanks in advance.) Put sliced onions in a bowl and add the pickling ingredients. Let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

Transfer shanks to a platter and cover with foil. Pour adobo into a saucepan if you used a baking dish. Skim and discard as much fat as you can – there will be a film on the top of the pot. Boil sauce over medium-high heat until thick enough to coat meat, about 10 minutes. Uncover shanks, pour sauce on top, and sprinkle with pickled onions, sesame seeds, and cilantro.

*Find in the Latino foods aisle or spice aisle of a supermarket, or at a Latino market

On the Lamb

I’m sure you’re all just as ready as I am for me to be settled in San Francisco, right? It seems to be a hot topic in my life these days, and the move essentially dominates every conversation I have lately. I guess I can understand that; in fact, in some ways I feel like all I’ve done is think about and prepare for the big move.

And now, step 2 of that big move is here: we close on our house and move the F out of it.

I mean that in the kindest way ever, really I do. This condo means a lot to us and I’m sure when tomorrow comes and all its’ contents are packed into boxes, I’m going to burst into tears, which is sorta common lately. Again, in a good way. I like to think that crying means we’ve really, and I mean really, lived here. Made friends here, made a life here, really lived here. But selling a home is hard and stressful, I tell ya, and I will be glad when Step 2 has come and gone.

Which brings me to this next minor detail. I will be a little homeless this month. And I do mean a little, because I have some really great friends who have offered to let me shack up with them, so while I won’t be in my home, I’ll be in theirs. I’ll also be heading to another one of those conferences that I love so much, and even making an unplanned trip to California in an effort to start this job-hunting quest that is entirely inevitable.

As if I need to say so, I’ll be busy, and I might, might, be MIA around here. You’ll understand, won’t you?

For now though, there is this simply divine lamb burger we have to talk about before I head back out into condo-packing-and-cleaning land. I made this a long time ago, well a couple of months ago, and it is certainly one of my very favorite home-cooked burgers. Do you ever look at a recipe and say to yourself, “man, there is no way whatsoever that this dish can be anything less than super”? That’s what I said with this recipe, and it’s true. A really pungent French-Indian spice/onion mixture, called vadouvan, is made and mixed into the lamb, creating an über flavorful burger that just gets better when topped with a yogurt-mint sauce. I couldn’t stop thinking about this burger while eating another burger leftover for lunch today, and took that as a hint to take a break to tell you about it.

But, alas, that break’s over, and there is trash to take out and clothes to pack. Aren’t you jealous?!

Oh! I should also say this, in an effort to appease you: I’ve updated the recipes (during another, er, break) so if you start to miss me, should I happen to disappear for a bit, there’s always a ton of recipes to fall back on..

Indian-Spiced Lamb Burgers with Yogurt-Mint Sauce
adapted from Cooking Light, July 2010; makes 4 burgers

time commitment: 1 hour or less, all active

printable version

1  T  olive oil
3/4  c  finely chopped onion
1/4  c  finely chopped shallots
2  T  minced garlic, divided
3/4  t  ground cumin
3/4  t  ground coriander
1/4  t  ground cardamom
1/4  t  ground mustard
1/4  t  ground turmeric
1/8  t  ground red pepper
Dash of grated whole nutmeg
1  lb  ground lamb
2  T  finely chopped fresh mint, divided
3/4  t  kosher salt, divided
1  red bell pepper
1/2  c  2% low-fat Greek-style plain yogurt
1  T  fresh lemon juice
1/4  t  freshly ground black pepper, divided
Cooking spray
4  (1 1/2-ounce) hamburger buns
1 c thinly shredded red cabbage

Heat oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and shallots; cook 15 minutes or until onions are golden, stirring frequently. Stir in 1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, cumin, and next 6 ingredients (through nutmeg); cook 1 minute. Remove from heat; cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, turn burner on high and place bell pepper directly onto flame. Turn with tongs until pepper is charred all over. Place in a zip-top plastic bag; seal. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel, remove core and seeds, and cut into 4 pieces.

Combine lamb, onion mixture, 1 T mint, and 1/4 t salt. Divide mixture into 4 equal portions, gently shaping each into a 1/2-inch-thick patty. Press a nickel-sized indentation in the center of each patty. Cover and chill until ready to grill.

Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Meanwhile, combine remaining 1 1/2 t garlic, remaining 1 T mint, yogurt, juice, 1/4 t salt, and 1/8 t black pepper in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Sprinkle patties evenly with remaining salt/pepper. Place patties on a grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 4 minutes or until grill marks appear. Carefully turn patties; grill 3 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. Place 1 patty on bottom half of each bun; top each serving with 2 tablespoons yogurt mixture, 1/4 of cabbage, 1 piece of bell pepper, and top half of bun.

Battle Cinnamon: Warm & Toasty

Acutely comforting, cinnamon has always been a favorite spice of mine. Could it be because there is generally a direct correlation between the smell of it and the nearby gratification that is eating a cinnamon roll, or an apple pie, or perhaps a hearty stew? Probably. But no matter the reason, my eyes lit up when I opened the attachment describing this month’s Iron Chef theme ingredient.

It wasn’t long before I had my two dishes chosen; for once, I didn’t vacillate, which historically, is customary for me moments before setting foot in the grocery store.

Amidst watching the Olympic games, listening to Emily’s impressive iTunes playlist that eerily seemed as if we had chosen the music from our own library of tunes, and chatting about blogging, Anton Ohno’s ‘soul patch’ and Lindsey Vonn’s creepishly long eyebrows, we ate our way through 12 dishes, most of which are pictured below (minus the cinnamon horchata).

[Dishes, from left to right and down: cinnamon lime chicken fajitas, cinnamon raspberry cupcakes, cinnamon and goat cheese dumplings, cinnamon toast crunch and white chocolate cookies, cinnamon biscuits with cinnamon pear butter, cinnamon roasted vegetables with chickpeas and quinoa, roasted cinnamon-chile sweet pototoes, cinnamon-peanut butter cups, and cinnamon rice pudding with cinnamon roasted bananas]

Despite the somewhat fuzzy picture quality, all dishes were gorgeous and tasted even better. I made a (surprise) Moroccan lamb stew and some cinnamon buttermilk biscuits n’ pear butter. My favorites of the night? The cinnamon ice cream, Jenn’s quinoa dish, and Hope’s dumplings (even though she was saddened by how they turned out, I thought they were mighty fine). My fellow blogger and buddy Emily pulled through with the win, bringing a creamy, rich, and smooth cinnamon ice cream to the table; the cinnamon roasted pe-cans may have sealed the deal. It seems ice cream is the way to go, as it’s won 3 of the 9 battles (this, my basil ice cream, and Jim’s peppercorn custard).

The top three (pictured below):

1. Emily’s Cinnamon Ice Cream with Cinnamon-Roasted Pecans
2. Christina’s Cinnamon-Lime Chicken Fajitas
3. my Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Caramelized Onions 

Battle 10 will mark our Iron Chef anniversary! Hard to believe a year of battles has gone by, but it’s definitely been fun. And Emily claims to already have the ingredient picked out – but if she’s like the rest of us past winners, it will change 25-50 times before next month!

Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Sweet Potatoes, Tomatoes, & Caramelized Onions
Loosely adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2008; serves 6

printable version

6 c Vidalia onions, thinly sliced (~ 2 lbs)
2 lbs bone leg of lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 c beef stock
2 cinnamon sticks
2 t g cinnamon
1 t salt
1 t g black pepper
1 t g ginger
1/8 t crumbled saffron threads
4 chopped plum tomatoes
1 peeled and chopped sweet potato
4 T chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
2 T olive oil

Combine 2 c onions, lamb, and 2 c broth in heavy large pot. Add cinnamon sticks, ground cinnamon, salt, pepper, ginger, and saffron; bring to boil over medium-high heat. Partially cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer gently 1 1/2 hours. Add tomatoes, sweet potato, and 2 tablespoons parsley. Continue to simmer, partially covered, until lamb is tender, sweet potatoes soften, and juices thicken, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove cinnamon sticks. If mixture is more watery than desired, turn heat up to high and reduce broth, which will further concentrate flavor of stew.

Meanwhile, heat oil in heavy large skillet over high heat. Add remaining 4 c onions. Sauté until beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium; sauté until onions are deep brown, stirring often, about 45 minutes. Cool, cover. (Rewarm prior to topping stew)

Transfer lamb stew to large shallow bowl. Scatter caramelized onions and remaining 2 tablespoons parsley over.

Flame Kuchen + Getting Shanked

This recipe is included in the Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook – check it out!!

Heading to the South for the holidays involves a set ‘to-do’ list: visiting gramma, eating homemade biscuits, Aunt Faye’s chicken pastry & the rest of her spread, getting a chicken biscuit at Bojangles, finding a good NC BBQ joint (complete with Cheerwine & eastern NC vinegar sauce), spending loads of time with family, and going bowling with high school friends. This year, a brick oven and a guy named Mark were added to this list.

Mark & his wife, Dee, are good friends with my in-laws, and they have rotating dinner parties with a decently large group of other couples such as the Coxes & the Balls (no, I did not make up those names – the “Hickeys” are also good friends of theirs, but they don’t participate in the dinner festivities). Word on the street was that Mark is a pretty hard-core cook, and so someone got this wild idea for us to hang out and cook together while Hubs and I were home for the holidays. The email strings started shortly thereafter, and in no time Mark and I became cyber foodie buddies and were planning away.

It’s not every day that I get to chat about cooking techniques, pizza flours, and olive oils with someone who is thoroughly interested. I mean, I generally spend plenty of time talking (or typing) to myself and to those of you in cyberworld who care to read, but at the end of the day, I have a totally different career from food and in general, I don’t get into those conversations nearly as much as I’d like to (although one of my resolutions may change that).

Let’s be clear, the food conversations with Hubs are almost as difficult as cutting a perfect tournée. Although he likes hearing about some things, like how to make healthy fried chicken or how I infused bacon into soup without us actually eating bacon (which is by definition infusing), he could care less about watching either gelatin and sugar syrup morph into marshmallow fluff or a tiny ball of yeast and flour become a colassal mass of yeasted goodness, and I’m sure he wonders how even the ‘simplest’ things make me grin like a Cheshire cat.

But grin I do. It’s the seemingly minute aspects of life that really “do it” for me – like talking about pizza flour and how the nice (and cute) Italian guy at Pasticceria Natalina sold me Caputo 00 flour out of his bulk bag (and for cheap!), or sitting here watching snow fall like confetti at New Years parties and thinking I must be inside a snow globe because it’s so thick and white and pretty (yet I’m still dry…that is, until I have to walk down the sidewalks full of it).

Or like cooking with, and for, people who until very recently were practically strangers to me (although I apparently met them at our wedding) and how all the while, I felt as if I’ve known them for years. Food does that – it brings people together, unites them in a way that few other things can, minus sports. It doesn’t matter how young or old we are, how many kids we have, whether we have cats or dogs or both, or even if we pray and what or who we pray to. You cook good food, and it makes people happy. And that’s something to talk about for hours.

That does it for me.

And during those few hours, we whipped up a feast for six although it felt and looked like enough for a dozen. We threw together some pizzas with whatever was in the fridge, cooking it the “right” way – via an ultra-hot wood-burning brick oven. We braised lamb shanks and served them with butternut squash (among other things) and spinach – all with an Asian flair, the night’s “theme”. We ate and ate and drank good Spanish wine and then we ate dessert – a rich, creamy green tea and pomegranate panna cotta I concocted in advance.

In the end, we had a great time with great conversation, and the food was more than edible. I fell in love with the brick oven and with a puppy, much to Hubs’ dismay. I have no idea which one I might procure first – likely the brick oven from the sounds of it, and that’s not even happening in this decade. Ultimately we added one more stop to our NC holiday itinerary. But next time, next time screw the Viking stovetop –  it’s the brick oven all the way!


Asian-Spiced Lamb Shanks
Original recipe, adapted on the fly by my new friend, Mark; serves 4 but is easily adaptable to more

i hope you like flavor because these are loaded with it. we served our shanks with a butternut squash puree (ours included onions and various root vegetables (Christmas leftovers!) pureed with brick oven-roasted butternut squash with soy sauce, brown sugar, 5-spice powder, cinnamon, ginger, milk, and lime juice) and wilted spinach (sauteed with garlic & ginger). enjoy!

printable recipe

1 T evoo
4 whole lamb shanks
salt & pepper
2 T five spice powder, divided
1/2 t g cinnamon
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1 star anise pod
3 T Chinese rice wine
1/3 c soy sauce
2 T tamarind concentrate*
2 T brown sugar
2 T chopped ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bottle of Chinese beer**
1 T flour (or 1 T cornstarch dissolved in a little water)
lime juice, if needed

Heat large skillet over med-hi heat with oil. Combine salt, pepper, 1 T five-spice and ground cinnamon in small bowl. Rub mixture onto lamb shanks. Sear lamb shanks on each side until nicely browned and remove from pan, place on plate and sit aside.

Preheat oven to 225 F.

Toast cinnamon stick, chili flakes, remaining five-spice, & star anise pod in a small skillet. Mix with Chinese rice wine, soy, tamarind concentrate, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, beer. Arrange seared lamb shanks in large dutch oven, pour spice mixture over. Cover.

Place dutch oven in oven and braise for 1 ¼ hr. Increase heat to 300 and braise another 1 ¼ hr. Increase heat again to 350 F and braise another 45 minutes – 1 hour, until meat is falling off the bone. Remove from oven, and keep warm.

Strain braising juices into another pot. Add 1 T flour and bring to a boil. Reduce to low and simmer until sauce is thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper and freshen with lime juice if desired.

Optional: if preparing lamb shanks ahead of time, place shanks and thickened braising liquid back into dutch oven and refrigerate up to 3 days. Reheat over medium, skimming any fat that has accumulated.

Serve shanks with thickened sauce and your chosen sides.

*There was no tamarind concentrate to be found in Greensboro, NC (and not time to mail-order), so Mark found tamarind pods at Harris Teeter and crushed them and let them simmer in some orange juice until reduced to a thick consistency.

**You can use water or beef stock if you prefer. If you do though, increase the spices a little bit.

p.s. – thanks, Susan (my MIL), for the pictures! Yours turned out much better than mine since I accidentally left the macro setting on. oops! xoxo

Heather had a Little Lamb

lamb & veggie kebobs

Midway through the first 1/2 of the last quarter of culinary school baking class, I found that I had absolutely no cotton pickin’ room in my freezer. I’d stuffed a loaf of challah bread, and a bazillion foot-long pieces of French baguette, made sponge-style and well, non-sponge-style into our already (in my opinion) tiny fridge. Not to mention the other loaf of pumpernickel, eclair shells, and the list goes on.

Before that point, the little thing was already pretty packed. Being somewhat of a hate-to-waste-things freak, I tend to freeze almost anything I can get my hands on. Eggs whites? Check. Lime leaves? Yepper. Tomato paste? Thai chiles? Mole sauce? Now, I sense you understand. It’s safe to say I’d be totally bummed out if we lost power in these parts. No friends, not because I’d have to take an ice-cold shower in the dark, but because I’d lose my freezer food. Which we could probably live on for a month, if push came to shove.

leg of lamb

Meat is no exception to the freezer madness. And so over break, when I’ve practically cooked every night, I started to clean out the ol’ ice box. In the summertime, you gots to have room for icecream. Gots to. In addition to Ahi tuna, ham hock, pork chops, and kangaroo and beef tenderloins, I found a bunch of lamb in there – rack of lamb, lamb shanks, and a huge leg of lamb that if eaten, would clear up a crazy amount of room. It felt like Christmas in July June. And since I stupidly didn’t divide the leg o’ lamb into 1 lb portions so I wouldn’t have to roast the whole damn thing, it was lamblegfest over here a couple of weeks ago.

Oh heck yes. To put it simply, I freakin’ love lamb. It has this distinct, intense, almost sweet (when compared to beef) flavor that is such a refreshing change from your typical beef dinners. Find me in a restaurant and if I’m not ordering halibut, it’s probably because I ordered lamb instead.

on the grill

So for the first meal of lamblegfest, kebabs it was. Quick, easy, and grill-ready. For a leg of lamb, you could cook it most any way you wanted and cook time is similar to beef in that it’s best served medium-rare, but if you like charred meat, then you’d do the same here. And jazz it up a bit – use different veggies or different herb combos in the sauce if you like. I mean, after all, it’s your lamb isn’t it?

New to the world of Lamb? Try these recipes too:

grilled kebobs

Spiced Lamb & Veggie Kebobs w/ Cilantro-Mint Sauce
Adapted from Cooking Light, May 2009; Serves 4

1 1/2 t g cumin
1 1/2 t g coriander
2 t grated peeled fresh ginger
2 t canola oil
1/2 t salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (1-lb) boneless leg of lamb, trimmed & cut into 1-inch pieces
16 cherry tomatoes
16 pieces of yellow bell peppers (or red or orange)
16 wedges of red onion
cooking spray

1/2 c cilantro, fresh
1/4 c mint, fresh
2 T chopped green onions
2 T water
1 T canola oil
1 T fresh lime juice
1/4 t g cumin
1/8 t salt
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, minced with some seeds left intact


  1. if using wooden skewers, soak in water at least 30 minutes until ready to use
  2. prepare grill to medium-high heat
  3. for kebabs, combine first 6 ingredients in bowl and add lamb. Toss around. Marinate in fridge, if possible, for at least 30 minutes to a couple of hours. Then thread lamb, tomatoes, peppers, and onion alternately onto each of 8 skewers. Coat grill rack w/ spray and grill about 10 minutes, turning occasionally
  4. for sauce, combine cilantro and all remaining ingredients in mini-blender and process until smooth. Serve w/ kebabs.

(Can be made in advance and stored in fridge)