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Monday, February 22, 2016

Moroccan Lamb Shanks - North Africa - Dinner 1

Moroccan Lamb Shanks

Lamb is one of my favorite proteins. The fat content is decadent and just perfect, and I love the earthy and gamey nature of the meat. I enjoy lamb chops and leg of lamb, even a lamb burger now and then, but the best way to enjoy it is the shank. I fell in love with this cut while working for a restaurant company in Fells Point. They had two delicious preparations in two of their outposts. The first, was a full entrée, the shank was braised in a sweet, pepper, and clove spiced sauce, the second, and still served at Mezze, was similarly braised to fall-off-the-bone perfection and served in a light tomatoey sauce that I suspect was enriched with cinnamon and anise. I took my inspiration in part from these favorites, but also from an article I read about food and travel in morocco. I have always been enamored with the cuisine of the northern and eastern sides of the Mediterranean (Spain, Italy, France, and Greece) but the flavors of her African shores had a special exciting mystique. The confluence of western European, African, Arabic and Asian cultures means unique ingredients and deep, often complex, dark flavors with a spicy edge that you just don’t find anywhere else. Harissa is a ubiquitous ingredient throughout the cuisine of many north African countries and beyond, and is one of my favorite flavoring agents. Harissa is a red chili paste, usually made from serrano and Baklouti peppers, and featuring other spices like garlic, caraway, and coriander. Harissa delivers a slow creeping heat of varying intensity depending on the types of chilies used. The subtlety of the heat, and how well it plays with without overpowering other flavors, is why I love to use it whenever I can. The sugars and fruit notes of the wine in this recipe, and the fragrant rosemary, anise and fennel are the perfect complement to the headlining harissa and lamb. I hope you enjoy!

  • 4 lamb shanks
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 2-3 yukon gold or russet potatoes (cut into 1 in thick chunks)
  • 1 large onion (rough chop)
  • 3 large carrots (cut into 1 in thick chunks)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon harissa (paste or powder, add more to your taste)
  • 1 teaspoon each - Rosemary, thyme, oregano, anise seed, fennel seed
  • 3 bay leaves


Do in the morning:

Using kitchen twine, tie the shanks like you would put a ribbon on a holiday present. This will keep the meat from falling off away from the bone during the final simmering process. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan. Brown the shanks on all sides, about 2 mins per side. Place the onions in the bottom of the crock pot. Place the browned shanks on top. In a small cup, mix the red wine, tomato paste and seasonings until they are a thick (not runny) consistency – mixing them almost makes a sauce which will allow the flavors to better coat the meat during cooking.  Pour over the lambs shanks, you may need to turn them over or use your hands to ensure proper coverage and absorption. Cook on low heat for 6 hours.
At meal time:

In a large dutch oven or sauté pan you can cover, pour the cooking liquid from the crock pot. Add the potatoes and carrots, any large pieces of onion that are still intact, and the bay leaves. Add a little more red wine if needed and cook for 30 minutes, covered, or until the vegetables are soft. Season with salt and pepper at this point. When you are ready to serve, carefully remove the twine from the lamb shanks, and gently place them in the simmering sauce. Bathe them with the sauce and allow them to took covered (come up in tempt) for about 5 minutes. I served mine in the cooking vessel family style, topped with saffron petals to highlight the fragrant sauce. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Creamy (Cheesy) Asparagus & Roasted Cauliflower Soup - Lunch 1 - American

This recipe is a rich and creamy soup that highlights the flavors of the vegetables and is punctuated by the savory and nutty addition of parmigiano cheese. The creaminess is achieved without the additional dairy and fat of traditional heavy cream, by emulsifying the vegetables and the cheese with my new favorite kitchen toy - the immersion blender. I roasted the cauliflower in advance, but it works well simply adding them raw with the asparagus; just make sure you boil for long enough that both are soft. For this dish I used my own stock, which I pre-seasoned for storage. You can use store bought chicken stock, but if you do you’ll want to pump up the salt, pepper and herbs as stocks are typically unseasoned (broth, if you have a favorite brand) works too!

  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 pound asparagus ( trimmed, chopped and several tips set aside for garnish)
  • ½ lb cauliflower (can be roasted with garlic ahead of time but not necessary)
  • 5 oz parmigiano reggiano
  • 2 medium white onions (diced)
  • 3 gloves of garlic (rough dice)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Salt, pepper, herbs to taste (depending on if your stock is already seasoned)
  • Pinch of cayenne for anyone who likes a little heat
  • Fresh ground black pepper for garnish


In a large pot, cook the onions and garlic with the butter until soft. Add the chopped asparagus and cauliflower, then cover with the chicken stock. Bring to a boil and cook until vegetables are very soft (30+ minutes). This is the point where you would add thyme, dill, tarragon, bay leaf, garlic powder, white pepper, fennel seeds, or whatever other herbs you appreciate in a vegetable soup, just do what smells right or you are used to, it’s hard to go wrong. taste as it cooks, add salt or a little water depending on how the salinity changes as the soup boils down. If you have fresh herbs make a bouquet garni and drop it in. While the soup boils, bring a small amount of water to a boil in a small pot. Drop in reserved asparagus tips and cook for 2 minutes, remove with a slotted spoon and drop into ice water. This blanching will bring out the brightest color for the garnish. Once the vegetables are soft, use an immersion blender to emulsify into a silky texture (a good conventional blender also works, just be careful transferring in and out of the cooking pot). You can strain out the remaining fibers if you like, but I prefer to leave them in. Slowly add the cheese, blending intermittently until smooth and creamy (save a little cheese for the garnish as well). Serve in a large bowl, top with reserved cheese, blanched asparagus tips, and a twist of fresh ground black pepper.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Breakthrough Breakfast Bake - Breakfast 1 - American - Gay Brunch

Brace yourself. I'm going to disclose something that usually makes people gasp...

My fiancé does not like breakfast food. (I can just picture the blank stares of disbelief)

I know I know, it's hard to believe, and makes you feel kind of uneasy right? Like something is wrong with him...

How can you not love the familiar smells and savory taste of eggs, sausage, pancakes or waffles?

None-the-less, Mark does not like them, in fact it's more than dislike, I would call it categoric aversion and active avoidance. As if that weren't enough, the most unbelievable aspect of his breakfast loathing is his distaste for bacon. It's not simply a passive prejudice, but mention the word and his face crinkles up and out of his mouth spews a flood of bitter vitriol that would leave any bacon lover scarred for life. Despite this character flaw, and the general distrust it engenders, I love him and generally try to make him happy. As you might expect, this makes cooking breakfast a particular challenge, one that I am often reluctant to undertake. That is until last Monday...

A few weeks ago we were in DC for a conference and were invited to a Gay Brunch (see previous post for definition) to close out the weekend festivities. Knowing our tastes and habits I expected to down several bloodies and mimosas and end up with an overloaded plate trying to eat in a corner and avoid being seen while I stuffed my face. I pictured Mark doing much the same but maintaining a level of composure through his typical avoidance of brunch food.

The host waited an hour, allowing the beverages to take hold while guests picked at a light display of cheeses and fruit. So far so good, I didn't have to hide yet. Then he brought out the Breakfast Bake. I could see my composure going out the window as I watched him make his way across the dining room with the cheesy, golden and bubbly casserole in hand. I thought my fate was sealed as I instinctively picked up a plate and made my way to be first in line for the breakfast grail. I thought it was the mimosas making me fuzzy, but before I knew it there was another body in line ahead of me. To my utter surprise it was Mark. My initial annoyance instantly gave way to incredulity as I struggled to intervene and explain he "could not possible enjoy it" it just looked"too breakfasty". My mimosa goggles cleared (and my appetite in check) from the shock, I watched in awe as he cut himself a piece of eggy, potatoey, sausagey goodness and took his first bite.

He liked it! He more than liked it. He 4 servings and eating alone in the corner liked it! I'll spare you and he the embarrassing detail of the face-stuffing that ensued, but needless to say this was an unexpected potential turning point in our epicurean relationship. I took note of the ingredients, complimented the chef, and enjoyed the rest of the brunch.

I let the idea of a breakfast breakthrough simmer in the back of my head for a while before finally deciding on holiday Monday at the tail end of a 3 day weekend to try my own luck at facing the breakfast hating beast. I altered the ingredients, substituting for what I think was spinach with Brussels Sprouts (Mark's favorite) and changing out the cheddar cheese for Pepper jack (another go-to). I didn't dare consider the B word (bacon for those with no short term memory) and chose a mild sage sausage from the local grocer as the protein. The result was delicious, in my opinion, and ended up being lunch for a few days this week. Marks response? After repeated prodding for more feedback, after what I took as a dismissive initial "very good" I finally got him to admit "It was very...sausagey"...womp

Back to the breakfast drawing board...

I have a feeling any non-breakfast-hater will thoroughly enjoy!

  • 6 Eggs
  • 1 large Russet or Yukon Gold potato (peeled)
  • 1 medium white onion (peeled)
  • ½ lb bulk chicken or pork breakfast sausage
  • 12 Brussels sprouts (trimmed and sliced very thing – slaw like pieces)
  • ½ lb pepper jack cheese (grated)
  • Salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste
  • Olive oil for sautéing

Preheat the oven to 400F. In a medium sauté pan, cook the sausage until browned. Be sure to use a firm spatula so you can break up the larger pieces evenly. When nearly cooked, add the shaves Brussels sprouts to wilt them slightly (otherwise they may end up too crunchy for your liking). In a large bowl, beat the eggs together. Grate in the white onion and the potato. Fold in half of the pepper jack cheese, cooked sausage and sprouts, mix well and season with garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Pour mixture into a small baking dish or casserole, mine is 6 x 9 with 3” high sides. Bake for 30-40 minutes until bubbly, and the cheese is browned and melted. Allow to sit at least 5 minutes before cutting and serving so it has a chance to set.

Back to the Chase - Recipes Imminent

So until this point my blog has consisted of amusing, sometimes satirical or sarcastic, accounts of major and minor events in my life, each accompanied by the recipes for the dishes the feature in the storytelling. This is the backbone and motivation behind this blog, food, travel and lifestyle but like, in real life. This is not going to change, however, these stories are time consuming and let's be honest, not everyday is blog worthy and I tend to fall behind in my posts.

Beginning, well, now, I will be posting my recipes independently. They will still be featured in full narrative posts, but this change will serve two purposes. First, it will allow me to regain posting regularity(who doesn't appreciate regularity) and maintain momentum. Second, it will allow me to record and catalog all the various recipes I create.

As you know, I take my inspiration from so many varied sources, and more often than not am successful in my endeavors, but it's hard to keep track of the articles, posts, and TV shows that give me the spark and get my culinary juices flowing and harder still to recall every last ingredient or technique I use in my own interpretation and execution. Hence I should probably get them in writing so I can share them before they slip from my memory.

I'm going to try to be consistent with formatting, but welcome feedback as to what works and what doesn't, or what additional details you'd like to know.

I am also going to label, or categorize according to what meal to which the dish belongs, the ordinal it is in my collection, the cuisine after which it is molded, and (where applicable) the magazine or food-blog or what have you, that inspired it.

For example, an upcoming post will feature a dinner dish of Moroccan braised lamb shanks, inspired by a travel article from The end of the post title would read like this;

Dinner 1 - North Africa - Saveur

Make sense? Hopefully I will quickly amass a useful library for anyone who wants to try their hand at my recipes, worst case, at least I keep myself organized.

With that, I am back on the trail of umami, I hope you enjoy the chase!