inspiration

Today is the day I tell you about someone who inspires me. Today is the day I tell you, again, about one of my favorite people in the whole wide world.

Sometimes people surprise you. And yeah, sometimes those who are closest to you become those who are far away, both in physical distance and in spirit. I’m not always one to spill my feelings, or to share with you every. single. detail of life. It’s just not me. But occasionally, those moments arise, those instances where you are absolutely, completely blown away by emotion, and you are compelled to share.

I told you about my brother. I told you about my gramma. I told you about how hard, and yet how easy, it was to move to California. Those were moments in time that surprised me.

Seeing someone you’ve grown up with become responsible for another human being is another one.

Things have been well, different, between the two of us these past few years. We’ve been on and off, in and out of each other’s lives. We’ve argued, on the phone, in email, via text, and we’ve gone months at a time without speaking to one another. We missed Christmas. We’ve missed birthdays. And to be perfectly honest, the past 3 years of my life haven’t been quite right without the consistency of her phone calls, her minute-long hugs, her random texts.

There’s been an emptiness, to say the least.

And we’ve both missed out on some major events. Maybe we’ve held grudges longer than was needed. Maybe we’ve wanted to strangle the hell out of each other for being so damn stubborn. But I guarantee you, we have thought about each other daily, regardless of it all.

But when she told me she was having a baby, there wasn’t a single second that I hesitated at finding yet another cross-country flight so that I could be there. I’ll tell you now, if having your own children is anything remotely close to watching someone you love so dearly have their children, I just don’t know if I’m cut out for those emotions.

Sitting there for those days, those days where I was, for the vast majority of my time there, completely useless with anything aside from figuring out how to get her baby to cry (and I’ll brag, er, confess, to also getting her to fall asleep a couple of times!), I was so full of inspiration. You see, life isn’t always so easy for everyone. Bad things happen to good people, good people lose people they love at times that never seem to make sense. And we don’t always get a second chance to tell someone we love them; we don’t always get to make up; we don’t always get to say “good night”; we don’t always get to apologize to the people we’ve hurt. We don’t always get to live our lives like the stories are written.

We just don’t.

But what we do get is a chance to make the best of the cards we’re dealt. Some of us are better at that than others. The strong ones, the inspirational ones, the ones we look up to – they wake up every day and they give it their best, even if every day isn’t easy, even if some days just don’t seem worth it.

They find a way.

We all get inspired by different things, different people, different circumstances.

And Kris, if you’re reading this, I am inspired by you.

I’m glad you’re back in my life, too.

No Place Like Home

Visits to North Carolina are quick and to the point, event-driven, and filled with obligation (not that we mind, of course). So much so that we often times forget that NC was at one time home to us, and not just our parents and friends.

A couple of weekends ago, we remembered.


Even though home for now is in Chicago, North Carolina was where I learned to ride a bike, where my feet trudged through the sand and shells every summer of my childhood while looking for sand dollars and conchs, where I fell in and out of love with boys, and where I learned that life is what you make it, wherever you make it. It’s who we make it with that counts.

You reach a point where you think all of your friends are married, and then you reach a point where they all start their own families. We keep realizing that it isn’t as uniform as it seems – they’re still getting married (hence this past trip), they’re still having or not having kids, and sadly some are parting ways – for better or worse isn’t always as easy as it seems, it appears.


Sometimes we realize that we’ve grown apart – perhaps it’s the distance, or the difference in career choices (or lack thereof), or maybe we just mature at different rates (some of us, ahem, more slowly than others). Either way, we’re still friends, and that’s what counts.

I can’t say if we’ll ever live in NC again. Shoot, I can’t even say where we’ll be in two or five or ten years, for that matter. But what I can say is that, while home is wherever we choose to settle down for the time being, North Carolina will always be home-home. It will always be special for that reason and so many more, and we will always look forward to the visits back – even those visits when we say goodbye to someone we love – because it’s those visits that count.

This recent weekend was one of those trips – another wedding, another visit with our respective families, and another drive or two between Raleigh and Greensboro. This time, we stayed until Monday, catching an early flight home just in time for the work week. It’s something I think we’ll make a new tradition, as we found ourselves with an extra day – a “freebie” of sorts.

We finally got to eat at The Pit, a lauded spot for eastern-NC BBQ, and for the first time in 8 years, we wandered through our old campus, reminiscing on things that were the same, all the while remarking about all those that were different. We met up with more of the fam and people-watched at the State Fair while eating fried cookie dough and the best ice cream around – from our alma mater itself. We spent time with some of the kids, who seem to grow in feet rather than inches. I had dinner with friends. We drove past our old apartments, old dormitories, old hang-outs.


We saw Autumn in the South – leaves falling, crackling beneath our feet, reminding us once again, that this – North Carolina – is home-home. There’s no place quite like it, and that’s what counts.

Apple Hand-Pies
chiknpastry recipe, makes 6 pies

time commitment: ~2 hours (most of which is inactive time)
other: dough freezes easily. to use frozen dough, let sit in fridge overnight to thaw.

don’t get me wrong – I love fried treats from the fair, but one can only eat so much in one month, right?! these hand pies are baked instead, but they’re just as charming. the dough makes enough for two pie crusts, so you can save 1/2 of it, or double the filling for double the hand pies. i like the idea of getting another pie dough out of my efforts, so I freeze the other half for later.

the crust is very similar to other crusts I’ve used before, but I swapped out half of the AP flour for spelt flour for a whole grain twist and a nuttier flavor. the shortening has also been reduced a tad.

printable version

ingredients
crust
1 1/4 c all purpose flour
1 1/4 c spelt flour
1 T sugar
3/4 t salt
1 stick (8 T or 1/2 c) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 T (1/4 c) chilled vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
up to 1/2 c ice water

filling
1 large granny smith apple, peeled and chopped into small cubes
3 T agave nectar
1/4 t cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of salt
1 t lemon juice
1 egg, lightly beaten
turbinado, or “raw” sugar, optional

instructions
crust
pulse flours, sugar, and salt in a food processor to blend. Add butter and shortening and pulse repeatedly until small pea-size clumps form. Add 1/2 of ice water and pulse until dough holds together when small pieces are pressed between fingertips, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. (alternatively, this can be done by hand or using a pastry blender, but it’s gonna take longer!) Gather dough together; divide into 2 pieces. Form each piece into ball, then flatten into disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or until needed. (You can keep it in the fridge for 2 days, or even freeze it and let thaw overnight. But, let it sit out for a few minutes to soften before you are ready to roll it out.)

filling
combine all ingredients (apple through lemon juice) for filling. cook over med-hi heat in a small saucepan until some of the liquid dissolves and the apples cook but remain crunchy. remove from heat and cool completely.

assembly
roll out 1 dough disk on floured surface to 12-inch round (as i said above, i freeze the other round for later). using a 4 7/16″ pastry cutter (or whatever size you want, really; can also use a plate if you don’t have a pastry cutter), cut as many disks as possible, then repeat the process by rolling out unused dough until you have 6. you may need to chill the dough again if it gets too warm.

position rack in lower third of oven. measure out a heaping tablespoon onto one side of each round (total amount is somewhere between 1-1.5 T). brush entire edge of each round with beaten egg, fold half of dough over to make a half-moon shape, and press edges together. seal edges using the back of a fork. move to baking sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

preheat oven to 400. brush entire top of each pie with egg, and sprinkle with raw sugar, if using. bake @400 for 20-25 minutes. remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes before digging in!

Fried & True

When I was in grad school, vacation was a non-issue. Every 10 weeks, a quarter would pass us by and we’d be off for a bit – free to cause trouble in the big city, take a real vacation (as if one could afford that in grad school), or head back ‘home’. For most of my time in grad school, I was juggling gettin’ my learn on with planning a wedding that was to take place in North Carolina, so school breaks typically meant heading there for cake tasting, photographer shopping, and finding that-dress-I’d-never-wear-again-in-my-life. Although, if I find myself getting hitched again, I’ll do the green thing, and I’ll recycle it.

Having the luxury of being in my home state so frequently was certainly groovy for wedding planning, but it was also great for something else: indulging in, and by that I mean eating a hella lot of, my favorite foods.

It should come as no surprise to you dear friends of mine that one of the foods on that list was fried chicken. But let’s set the record straight so there’s no chance for confusion: not just any fried chicken. I’d happily eat two kinds, and those two were either given to me in a yellow box through a window along with sweat tea, dirty rice, and honey mustard sauce, or hand-dipped in buttermilk and flour and pan-fried by, on a good day, my Aunt Faye (on a semi-good day, my pops). And served with biscuits, clearly.

I dare you to find better. Double-dog dare you.

Many of you may remember my most recent trip back to North Carolina, a visit filled with emotions, both happy and sad. As would be customary when there’s a death in the family, the need for cooking is generally placed on the back burner, so to speak. And though my Aunt, in my mind, has probably made fried chicken at least every weekend of her adult life, that weekend was different, for obvious reasons. Fortunately, the Bojang is relatively close by, therefore her kitchen counter was loaded with yellow boxes and about ten thousand other things as well.

I’ve had a hankerin’ for another piece of fried chicken since that time. I didn’t dare try to replicate Aunt Faye’s, though.

Unsure of whether I’d really make it or not, I’d clipped this recipe from a Saveur magazine I’d purchased a few months back, and remembered it when I opened the freezer and realized I had a whole chicken that was practically begging me to fry it. Following a perusal of the recipe, I’d deduced that it was relatively basic, straightforward, but spicy. It was right up my alley, and aside from the matzo meal (let’s be honest: does any non-Jewish person keep that around?!) I had all the ingredients. What the hell, right?

There’s something magical about dunking a lightly battered chicken leg into a container of crazy-hot oil. The oil, calm aside from a pop here and a pop there, is suddenly engulfing the meat, sizzling furiously, erupting dramatically, volcano-like. The smell – regardless of the differing recipe – immediately teleported me back to NC, back to the dome house my Aunt Faye has lived in for most of my life; I, yes I, was frying chicken that smelled like hers. Minutes later, the sizzling continuing, it’s cooked and transferred to a napkin-lined plate to cool (and sure, to drain a bit, too). Crisp to the touch, I can hardly wait for the oil to cool, but fearing burnt lips, I do.

When that moment arrived, that moment when I could finally feel that crunch I’d been staring at for at least 5 minutes, it was nothing short of remarkable. Crunch? Oh baby, yeah, and I thought, “Why doesn’t everybody fry with matzo meal?!”. The spices? permeating every bite – a bit of smoke proving the wise doubling of paprika, a bit of freshness from another wise addition of zest, and something clean and crisp, despite the oil bath it received. This was not my Aunt Faye’s fried chicken, that’s for sure. But over time, it might just become mine.

Spicy Fried Chicken
Adapted from Saveur, April 2010; serves 4

let me reiterate – this won’t beat the taste of your mom’s, or your gramma’s, or in my case, your aunt’s and dad’s fried chicken (though if you’re not from the South, it could, actually). but if you’re into a little spice and a lotta crunch, you must give this a try. Matzo meal = a new frying staple in this house. serve this with kale chips (a couple of posts back) and mashed potatoes. a biscuit isn’t a bad idea, either.

printable version

ingredients
canola oil, for frying
1 t hot smoked paprika
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t Italian seasoning
1/4 t onion powder
1/4 t garlic powder
zest of 1 lemon
4 egg whites, beaten
1/2 c flour
1/2 c matzo meal
1/4 t baking powder
1  3-lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces
salt and pepper

instructions
Pour oil to a depth of 2″ in a 5 quart Dutch oven.

Heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 375 F. Combine smoked paprika through lemon zest; set aside. Put egg whites into a bowl. Combine flour, matzo meal, and baking powder in another bowl and mix half of spice mixture into bowl; set other half aside. Working with one piece at a time, dip chicken into egg whites, then flour mixture. Shake off excess; transfer chicken to a rack set inside a sheet pan.

Working in two batches (or more, depending on the size of your vessel), fry chicken until crispy and cooked through, 10-12 minutes each, trying to keep heat of oil as close to 375 as possible. Transfer to paper towels, and season with salt, pepper and remaining spice mixture. Let cool for 5-10 minutes.

Batter Up

It’s National Pancake Week, boys and girls! I truly, honestly had no freakin’ clue until around 12 PM on Thursday. Otherwise, I might have held off on the Vietnamese sandwich shop talk until later and instead provided some pancakes for you to mull over early in the week.

Do you just love love love pancakes? Growing up, we didn’t eat waffles or french toast; at least not that much and not enough where I can remember it. I do remember pancakes though – they were griddled on the weekends if my pops wasn’t making those bacon, egg, and cheese samiches that we all loved so dearly. Straight from the box of Bisquick they were, but they were all I knew and quite frankly, all I cared to know.

Aside from Aunt Jemima’s pancake syrup, which was the only syrup I would eat as a child. To this day, I like it better than maple syrup on my flapjacks (although I don’t eat it now, because now I know maple syrup is “better”). In fact, I hated eating breakfast at other kids’ houses; they always had Log Cabin or Mrs Butterworths, or even worse, some generic brand that tasted like sugar water. In those instances, I’d eat my ‘cakes plain, no lie. There was no Aunt Jemima substitute when it came to the syrup and as I mentioned, there still isn’t if you can get past the ‘high fructose corn syrup’ taboo.

So, friends, it’s a good day to be reading my ramblings. I have two tried and true pancake recipes for ya and until today I wasn’t sure when I’d be posting them :). I whipped up one of these batches for company a few weeks ago (s’mores weekend) and they were demolished in moments, sorta like the way my cat scarfs down a nibble of bacon. I’d consider that batch as one of my very favorite pancake recipes of all time – and really, who wouldn’t adore a flapjack that tastes like a slice of carrot cake? Exactly.

The other is from pancake fanatic, Joy the Baker, who must have at least 15 different pancake recipes on her blog. I made these for my lover boy on Valentines day morning, as I just happened to have some lovely Michigan blueberries in the freezer and a couple of Meyer lemons in the fridge. These, I think, might be his favorite pancakes, as he didn’t leave a crumb behind.

So, here you are. If I were you, I’d be making some weekend breafast plans right. this. minute.

Carrot Cake Pancakes
Adapted from Cooking Light, January 2010; serves 6

printable version

ingredients
5.6  ounces  all-purpose flour (about 1 1/4 cups)
1/4  c  chopped walnuts, toasted
2  t  baking powder
1  t  ground cinnamon
1/4  t  salt
1/8  t  freshly ground nutmeg
Dash of ground cloves
Dash of ground ginger
1/4  c  brown sugar
3/4  c  low-fat buttermilk
1  T  canola oil
1 1/2  t  vanilla extract
2  large eggs, lightly beaten
2  c  finely grated carrot (about 1 pound)
Cooking spray
butter, for topping
maple syrup, for serving

instructions
Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour and next 7 ingredients (through ginger) in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Combine 1/4 c brown sugar and next 4 ingredients (through eggs); add sugar mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Fold in 2 c carrot.

Heat a large nonstick skillet or pancake griddle over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Spoon 4 (1/4 cup) batter mounds onto pan. Cook for 2 minutes or until tops are covered with bubbles and edges look cooked. Carefully turn pancakes over; cook 1 minute or until bottoms are lightly browned. Repeat procedure twice with remaining batter.

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Blueberry Meyer Lemon Pancakes
Adapted from Joy the Baker; serves 3 (12 small pancakes)

printable version

ingredients
1 egg
1 c flour
1 T sugar
zest of 1 Meyer lemon
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 c buttermilk
1 c thawed and rinsed frozen blueberries (or fresh, if in season)
cooking spray
butter, for topping
maple syrup, for serving

instructions
In a small bowl rub the lemon zest into the granulated sugar until pale yellow and fragrant.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk and butter.  Add the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Stir until just combined. Batter will be clumpy and not smooth, which is perfect.  Fold in the berries with a few strokes until barely combined.

Heat a griddle pan or large skillet over medium-hi heat.  Add a smidgen of butter or cooking spray and let melt.  Add 2 heaping tablespoons of batter to the pan.  Heat until bubbles form and start to pop.  Carefully flip over and cook through.   Place cooked pancakes on an oven proof plate and let rest in a 200 degree F oven while you fry the rest of the pancakes.

Top pancakes with maple syrup (or Aunt Jemimas!) or as Joy suggests, mascarpone sweetened with a dash of powdered sugar and the juice of one Meyer lemon.

 

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Want some more pancakes to choose from? Here’s a few from around the blogosphere:

Chai-Spiced Buttermilk Pancakes from Joy the Baker (I will totally hit these up one day)

Whole Grain Pancakes w/ Blueberry Maple Syrup from 101 Cookbooks

Gluten-Free Pancakes from Gluten-Free Girl & the Chef

Edna Mae’s Sour Cream Pancakes from Smitten Kitchen

Uncle Austin’s Mexican Pancakes with Coconut from Homesick Texan

Strawberry Cardamom Blender Pancakes from Adventures in Shaw

Barbeque: Gooder than Snuff

Have ya’ll ever been to North Kakalaka? Let’s just say, if you haven’t, and if you ever do, a little preparation for the lingo might benefit you or else you may find yourself ‘running around like a chicken with its head cut off’. I am Southern, after all; it’s only fittin’ that I use my manners and translate a few for you :). So here we go.

Hug your neck: this is how we talk about showing affection. “Aunt Faye, that fried chicken looks so good it makes me wanna hug your neck!”

Bless his/her heart: this is what you say in the same sentence before you say something that’s not very nice. “Bless his heart, that boy has a face only a mother could love!”

Fixin’ to: what you say when you’re about to do something. “I’m fixing to warm up some of this tasty leftover barbeque.”

Gooder than snuff: when something is really, really great. “This vinegar-based barbeque sauce you made is gooder than snuff.”

Fit to be tied: angry. “When Ralph dropped that pe-can pie on the floor, Luna was fit to be tied.”

Down yonder: further down the road. “The best barbeque in Duplin County is down yonder on Hwy 13.”

Barbeque: this is not what you non-Southerners use as a verb, which is actually ‘grilling’. Barbeque is a noun, and there are many different barbeque varieties in the South. “The only barbeque I care to eat is from Eastern North Carolina.”

Full as a tick: basically, when you have eaten so much you’re about to explode. “I ate so much barbeque and red velvet cake that I was full as a tick.”

Clearly, this here list is not all-inclusive. Do you know some more? While you’re thinkin’ about it, consider trying your hand at one of my favorite Southern dishes, eastern NC bbq. And don’t you dare consider using another kind of sauce – vinegar-based is the only way to go. Don’t ruffle my feathers, now!

Eastern NC-Style Slow Roasted Pulled Pork
Adapted from Cooking Light, December 2009; serves 16

if you’ve got barbeque joints in your backyard, you may not feel the need to make your own. but up here in the midwest, it’s a necessity. if you do use bone-in, allow extra time to let the pork tenderize even more. if you need less time, boneless works just as well. serve with Southern-style coleslaw – either on the side, on your samich, or both (like me).

printable version

ingredients
2  T dark brown sugar
1  T smoked paprika
1  T chili powder
1  t salt
2  t ground cumin
1  t freshly ground black pepper
1/2  t dry mustard
1/2  t ground chipotle chile pepper
1  (5-pound) boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt), trimmed
2  c water, divided
1 t liquid smoke
1/2  c apple cider vinegar
1/3  c ketchup
vinegar-based Eastern NC bbq sauce (recipe below)

instructions
To prepare pork, combine first 8 ingredients in a small bowl. Rub sugar mixture evenly over pork. Let pork stand at room temperature 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 225°.

Place pork on the rack of a roasting pan coated with cooking spray. Pour 1 cup water in bottom of roasting pan. Place rack in pan. Bake at 225° for 1 hour.

Combine 1/2 cup vinegar and ketchup in a medium bowl; brush pork with ketchup mixture (do not remove from oven). Bake an additional 3 hours, basting every hour with ketchup mixture.

Pour remaining 1 cup water in bottom of roasting pan. Cover pork and pan tightly with foil. Bake an additional 3 3/4 hours or until a thermometer registers 190°. Remove from oven; let stand, covered, 45 minutes.

Shred pork with 2 forks. Serve with sauce.

Vinegar-Based Eastern NC bbq Sauce
chiknpastry recipe; makes 2 cups

printable version (sauce only)

ingredients
1.5 c apple cider vinegar
1 c water
1 T tomato paste
4 T dark brown sugar
1 T crushed red pepper flakes
2 t smoked paprika
1 t chile powder

instructions
combine all ingredients in small saucepan and bring to boil. reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. add more red pepper flake, if desired.

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

ingredients
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

instructions
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

Delicious Fried Zebras

DSC03571

I remember teasing you guys with some fried green tomatoes. I almost wrote this post before heading on vacation, but instead decided to post a much more relevant recipe about Jerk chicken. I thought about them again this past weekend since we had yet another trip out of town – this time back to good ol’ North Carolina. The sad part is, our trip was so quick that we had no time whatsoever to grab any tasty Southern food (except my Cookout milkshake, although I’m not sure if that counts). Must be why these little morsels came back into mind.

green zebras

I saw some of these pretty lil’ green zebra tomatoes at the farmers’ market a few weeks ago and couldn’t resist. Something about fresh, heirloom tomatoes gets me every time. I’m sure there are tons of healthier uses for them, but for me, the first thing I thought about was frying them up and dipping them in some ranch dressing. Is that pathetic? I personally think it’s smart.

breading station

It’s simply coincidence that I’ve posted two fried recipes in a row. I really don’t fry all that much – promise. And it’s not that I’m apologizing for doing so – everybody needs to eat some good fried food every so often.


What are you waiting for?

fried green tomatoes


Fried Green Tomatoes
Serves 4 as an appetizer or side; Adapted from Simply Recipes


ingredients
4 medium, firm green tomatoes (I used green zebras)
1/2 c AP flour
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 beaten eggs
2/3 c dry bread crumbs (or cornmeal)
1 t cayenne pepper
2 T olive oil
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper

instructions
cut unpeeled tomatoes into 1/2 inch slices. sprinkle with salt and pepper and let sit on paper towels for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, place flour, milk, eggs, and bread crumbs (with cayenne) in separate shallow dishes.

heat 1 T olive oil in skillet on med heat. Dip slices in milk, then flour, then eggs, then bread crumbs. put half of slices in skillet for 4-6 minutes on each side or until brown. Add the other T of olive oil for the next batch. season with salt and pepper.