Monday, February 26, 2007

Cider Lamb Stew - Sunday Best

If you're stuck in the house some weekend with a little cabin fever, here's a great meal that'll keep you busy, make your house smell heavenly (or your entire apartment building) and leave your guests feeling very satisfied. The cider marinade makes the lamb fork tender and slightly sweet. And the smoky chipotle seasoning gives the dish a little heat to keep you extra warm. I love this meal and highly recommend serving it over egg noodles which catch all that wonderful sauce. Browned almonds on top add a nice crunch. Mmm. I'm going to get me some leftovers now!

Cider Lamb Stew recipe

This recipe is adapted from one I made a long time ago from the October 1998 issue of Cooking Light.

• 3-1/2 pounds boned leg of lamb
• 4 cups apple cider
• 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
• 2 tbsp vegetable oil
• Cooking spray
• 2 cups chopped onion
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 1-1/4 cups chicken broth
• 1/2 cup dry vermouth or white wine
• 1 tsp salt
• 1/2 tsp black pepper
• 4 lemon rind strips
• 3 bay leaves
• 1 tsp chipotle flakes (optional - adds a nice smokiness)
• 1 cinnamon stick (about 3 inches long)
• 1-1/2 pounds potato, cut into 1-inch (about 1 lge potato)
• 1-1/4 cups (1-inch-thick) sliced carrot (about 3 lge carrots)
• 1-1/2 cups (1-inch pieces) green bell pepper (1 lge pepper)
• 1-1/2 cups (1-inch pieces) red bell pepper (1 lge pepper)

How to:
- Trim fat from lamb and cut into 2-inch cubes.
- Combine lamb and THREE (of the 4) cups of cider in a large zip-top bag or tupperware container. Seal and marinate in refrigerator for 6 - 8 hours.
- Once the lamb has marinated, drain, discard marinade and pat lamb dry with paper towels.
- Place flour in a large container or on a large plate and dredge the lamb in flour in batches. You'll probably have to do 3 rounds of dredging. Shake off the excess flour.
- Heat 1 tbsp of vegetable oil in a large heavy-bottom pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook lamb in batches adding an additional tablespoon of oil before each new batch. Don't pile too much in there at once because you'll want each piece to get nice and brown on all sides. Again, you'll probably need to cook in 3 batches, about 5 minutes per batch. Remove all cooked lamb from the pan and set aside momentarily.
- Spray another large Dutch oven or pan with cooking spray over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté 6 minutes.
- Put browned lamb in the pot.
- Add remaining 1 cup cider broth and next 6 ingredients (broth through cinnamon).
- Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 1-1/2 hours or until lamb is tender.
- Add potatoes and carrots; bring to a boil.
- Cover, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.
- Add peppers, cook 5 minutes more.
- Discard rind strips, bay leaves and cinnamon stick.
- Recommend serving it over egg noodles and topping with some sliced almonds that have been browned in butter on the stove for a few minutes.

Serves 8

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Cake Decorating 101 with Aunt Anne

Our first effort stab at cake decorating.

My Aunt Anne used to make incredible wedding cakes - multi-tiered, beautifully frosted and impeccably decorated. I was always in awe of her confectionary creations. Recently, I started thinking that you don't often see artfully frosted cakes anymore unless you go to a bakery. Individuals (like myself) just frost the cake simply and call it a day. So I thought perhaps I could learn a few tricks and find out how to make prettier cakes, cupcakes, even savory cheese appetizers - things that looked as pretty as they tasted. So I set up a lesson with my Aunt and brought my sister and mother along so we could all soak up the cake decorating knowledge of the master.

When we arrived at my aunt's house, she had everything perfectly organized and ready to go. She had 3 colors of frosting on the counter, all the tips we could possibly need and squares of wax paper for us to make our own pastry bags. What we quickly learned is we wouldn't be practicing on an actual cake. Instead, we would perfect our piping and decorations on an inverted tin container. Makes sense. Why ruin a perfectly nice cake?

Expert at work. Aunt Anne creates a beautiful American Beauty rose.

I'm completely clueless about frosting cakes except for the very basic stuff. Pastry bags, tips, piping borders and crafting roses seemed very overwhelming and daunting to me but I knew my Aunt would have the patience to stick with me while I floundered with my frosting. After we struggled with the wax paper for a bit, we got the hang of making our own disposable pastry bags. Pretty easy once you get the hang of it. And great for easy clean-up. In a short time, she had us really rolling. The lesson on creating an American Beauty rose was the most tricky and something that definitely takes some practice to get it down. There's a little flip of the wrist to make the rose petals and it has to be just so. The result is amazing though and watching my Aunt create them with the greatest of ease is like watching an artist at work (watch the video).

The day of our lesson was the day before my Mom's birthday so we saved all of our various creations and managed to make a pretty lovely cake out of it. My sister, Donna, brought it all together and made it work. Nice job, Donna!

I definitely have been bitten by the cake decorating bug. In fact, I have been so inspired that I have signed up (and dragged a couple of friends with me) to take a Cake Decorating course at the Boston Center for Adult Education. Should be very fun!

Below is my Aunt Anne's trusted recipe for the frosting she believes to be the most easy to work with when decorating cakes. She was kind enough to share it with me and now I share it with you. Happy cake decorating!

Aunt Anne's Butter Cream Icing

• 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
• 3-1/2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
• Pinch of salt
• 4-5 tbsp milk
• 1 tsp. vanilla

How to:
- Cream shortening
- Add sugar and salt
- Stir in milk a little at a time, adding enough to give the frosting a stiff consistency. If too stiff, add more milk. If too soft, add more confectioners sugar.

Indoor Grilling - Luscious Lamb Chops

Aren't you longing for the warmer days when you can light up the grill and throw on a steak, some chops or a burger? Well, you don't have to wait until spring. Get a grillpan or cast iron pan with some nice ridges that will give you those nice grillmarks on both sides, crank up the stovetop and create a make-shift indoor grill. The key to getting that grilled look and taste is to wait until the pan is very hot before cooking your food. Since it's marinated (only 1 hour), it'll get nice and crispy on the outside but stay moist and juicy on the inside. Happy grilling!

The following is an adaptation of a recipe from Australian Chef Neil Perry. He shared the recipe on Martha Stewart's show recently. Mostly the recipe is adapted because I didn't have one of her original ingredients (lemongrass) and there was one 1 ingredient I wasn't a fan of (cilantro) so I replaced it with parsley. I LOVED this recipe. Easy, fast and very tasty.

Lamb Chops with Lemongrass and Ginger

• 2 cloves garlic, chopped
• 2 stalks lemongrass, peeled and thinly sliced crosswise (I used 2 leeks instead)
• One 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
• 1 tsp of sea salt
• 3 tbsp chopped cilantro leaves (I used parsley instead)
• 3 tbsp chopped fresh mint
• 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 12 lamb rib chops, about 1/2-inch thick (I cooked 8 of them and they were a bit thicker than 1/2-inch so I had to cook them longer, fyi)
• Freshly ground pepper to taste
• 4 lemon wedges

How to:
- Prepare marinade: Place the garlic, lemongrass, ginger, and salt in a mortar. Using a pestle, grind to a rough paste. Add cilantro and mint, and grind 1 minute more. Stir in oil.

- Place lamb chops in a shallow dish and pour over marinade; turn lamb to coat. Let stand 1 hour.

- Preheat a grill pan over high heat. Place lamb on grill, and cook, turning once, about 2 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer to a plate, cover to keep warm, and let stand in a warm place, about 10 minutes.

- Divide lamb evenly between 4 plates. Pour any juices that have accumulated on the plate over lamb. Season with pepper and garnish each plate with a lemon wedge.

These lambchops are finger licking good. Prepare yourself ;-)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Lap It Up - Carrot, Sweet Potato & Ginger Soup

A soup this vibrant in color and intense in flavor is bound to chase any winter blues you might have far away. It's filling, guilt-free (not an ounce of cream in it) and chock full of vitamins. This recipe is so simple that once you make it, you'll probably never have to reference the ingredients or instructions again. It's bound to become part of your cooking repertoire. Something easy and deeply satisfying to whip up when the weather's got you down. Enjoy.

Carrot, Sweet Potato & Ginger Soup recipe

This recipe is from Martha Stewart's mini magazine, "Everyday Food" (December 06 issue)

• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 2 medium onions, chopped
• 2 lbs carrots, peeled and chopped
• 2 sweet potatoes (about 1-1/3 lb)
• 1 piece fresh ginger (2 inches), peeled and finely chopped (2 tbsp)
• 2 cans (14.5 ounces each) reduced-sodium broth
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 2 to 3 tsp sugar
• 2 to 3 tsp fresh lemon juice
• Sprig of rosemary for garnish (optional)

How to:
- In a large (5-quart) saucepan, heat oil over medium heat.
- Add onions and sauté until traslucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add carrots, sweet potatoes, ginger, broth and 4 cups water.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
- Purée mixture in batches or just put an immersion blender right in the pot and let 'er rip.
- Add sugar and lemon juice to taste.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve a bowl with a sprig of rosemary for garnish and a nice aroma.