A few months ago, I spent some time doing volunteer work in Kenya through the volunteer agency International Volunteer HQ. I stayed with a Kenyan family and volunteered at an orphanage, Internally Displaced Persons camps, and with the Masai (warrior tribes in Kenya). It was an extremely moving experience. Read more.

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    Roasted Leg of Lamb

    Filed under :Halloween, Holidays, Lamb
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    The piece de resistance at my recent Hallowe’en Murder Mystery Dinner Party was the roasted leg of lamb.  I decided to reach out to a new butcher, and after explaining the situation (I had never made lamb before!), Tony’s on the Block really came through.  Not only did they give me valuable advice (lamb shoulder is best for stewing meat; if you want a roast, you want the leg), they de-boned it, stuffed it with garlic, rosemary, oregano and thyme, and rolled it back up.

    …continue reading Roasted Leg of Lamb



    Martha Stewart’s Dinner at Home

    Filed under :Cookbooks, Couscous, Lamb, Lemon, Mousse, Sunday Dinners
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    Sunday Dinner

    Martha Stewart’s Dinner at Home is a beautiful cookbook.  Full disclosure- I’m a huge Martha fan.  I’d been itching to try something from this cookbook since I got it, and have spent many an hour admiring the menus she’s put together.  In this latest cookbook, Martha has put together 52 dinners, including a main, sides and dessert, using the freshest seasonal ingredients.  It’s organized by season, with an appendix listing the various recipes by type (starters, mains, sides, desserts).  There’s a handy addition of “basics” at the back, listing some key building blocks (how to make chicken stock, crostini, etc) and a few techniques.  In the introduction, Martha encourages us to choose meals or individual recipes that fit our needs.

    I chose my menu based partly on taste and partly with an aim to use up a few ingredients still sitting in my fridge, and made a few changes to suit both of those needs.  I started with the first menu consisting of Baby Lamb Chops with Lemon Strips, Asparagus with Aioli, and Quinoa, Pea and Mint Salad, but replaced the dessert with the Lemon Mousse from menu three, as I thought that would marry well with the lemon in the lamb.

    I decided to make the mousse first, as I could make that early in the day and leave it sitting in the fridge until dinnertime.  The super- simple recipe begins by making a lemon custard base from eggs, lemon juice and sugar, into which whipped cream is folded to make the mousse.  I used the juice of three lemons instead of measuring the exact 2/3 cup called for (don’t worry about the pits as you strain it through a fine sieve later).  I found the custard needed a slightly longer cooking time on my stovetop, but beware!- as soon as it was ready it started spitting which made it rather difficult to monitor it and take the requisite pictures at the same time.  When it came time to whip the heavy cream, I froze the beaters and bowl first, a step not mentioned in the recipe but one that helps the cream whip better.  Since I’m rather fond of cream (who isn’t?) I added an additional half cup of it.  When the mousse was ready, it was tart and yummy!!  I folded in a tablespoon of icing sugar, also not called for in the recipe, to make it a bit sweeter, but that’s purely to suit my taste; the mousse was deliciously refreshing without it.  Lastly, I topped the mousse with fresh blueberries.

    The next piece I attempted was the aioli (a type of garlic infused mayonnaise), which definitely did not go as planned.  I followed the recipe fairly closely, which calls for the cook to mix an egg with a clove of garlic in a food processor, then pour in 1/2 cup of a neutral tasting oil (Martha recommends safflower; I used canola) followed by 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil.  With the exception of adding two garlic cloves instead of one (I like my garlic), I did exactly as the recipe instructed.  But it never set.  Instead of the creamy garlicky dip I anticipated, I got a liquid mess of raw egg and oil.  I checked several reference books of kitchen tips I have, but wouldn’t you know it, they’re great to read, but when you need something specific, it’s almost impossible to find, so I didn’t find any help there.  I tried adding another egg, and when that didn’t work, another egg yolk, but eventually I had to throw the whole thing out.  I haven’t included the recipe here due to the sorry outcome, but if anyone wants to make a liquid concoction of egg and oil, I’ll be happy to forward it along.  I’m still not sure why it didn’t emulsify, so if anyone has an idea, please let me know through leaving a comment below!

    For dining purposes, I just chopped up a clove of garlic, mixed it with some mayonnaise, and voila! instant aioli.  The asparagus blanched beautifully as per Martha’s instructions (cut off the woody ends of the asparagus, and put in a pot of boiling water for about 2- 4 minutes.  When bright green and crisp tender, pull out and drain on paper towels) and I added some mushrooms to complement the dip.  The asparagus would also have done well with a spritz of lemon (in keeping with the theme).

    The quinoa salad was next, and this is the recipe I adapted most.  The recipe calls for quinoa cooked in chicken stock, green peas, and mint leaves mixed together, although Martha does make a few substitution suggestions at the top of the recipe.  I used whole wheat couscous instead of quinoa, altered the cooking method to adapt, and used a mix of basil and mint instead of mint alone.  The result was a lovely fresh salad that provided an appropriate side.

    Couscous salad

    Lastly, the lamb chops.  Martha once again creates a delectable dish using simple techniques and barely a handful of ingredients.  The recipe calls for 12 baby lamb chops (three per person- the meals in this book serve four) to be seared and tossed with a mixture of lemon juice and zest.  I used 6 lamb shoulder arm chops instead of baby chops since that’s what my grocery store had, but didn’t alter other amounts as the recipe called for the juice and zest of only one lemon to begin with.  I included basting the chops during the cooking process, and added some fresh parsley at the end.

    Lamb chops in pan

    The result?  Very happy tummies.  Now all you need is a nice glass of red.

    All recipes below adapted from Martha Stewart Dinner at Home:

    Lemon Mousse

    4 eggs

    2/3 cup sugar

    juice of three lemons

    1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled

    1 tablespoon icing sugar

    Mix together and cook the eggs, sugar and lemon juice over medium-low heat, whisking constantly until slightly thickened (Martha calls for a wooden spoon to do the stirring, but I found it worked better with a whisk for the first bit), about 3 minutes. 

    Eggs, lemon juice and sugar in the pan

    Raise the heat to medium and keep stirring (with either a whisk or a wooden spoon) until the mixture can coat the back of a spoon, about 4 minutes (be careful- towards the end it thickens fast!). 

    Stir until the mixture can coat the back of a spoon

    Strain through a fine sieve into a metal bowl, cover with plastic wrap pressed down onto the surface, and chill at least 45 minutes.

    Strain through a sieve

    All strained through

    Freeze another (freezer- proof) bowl and beaters until well chilled.  Beat the heavy cream until soft peaks form (Martha calls for the cream to be whisked but I prefer an electric hand mixer to old-fashioned arm strength). 

    Soft peaks

    Fold in icing sugar.  Fold cream into lemon mixture and chill at least 30 minutes.

    To serve, spoon some mousse into a dessert cup, and top with fresh blueberries.

    Couscous Salad with Peas, Mint and Basil

    1 1/2 cups chicken stock

    1 cup whole wheat couscous

    1 cup frozen peas (I eyeballed this, not an exact measurement; you can use fresh peas if preferred)

    1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

    1/2 cup loosely packed mixture of fresh basil and mint leaves (feel free to use other herbs of your choice)

    Follow the package instructions to properly cook the couscous you use.  I boiled 1 cup of stock, added the couscous, covered and removed it from the heat, letting it sit for three minutes until all the stock was absorbed and the couscous mostly (but not fully, since it will cook a little more with the peas) cooked.  Add the peas and the remaining 1/2 cup of hot stock.  Put the pot back on medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the peas are warmed through.  Cover and remove from heat, letting it sit for about three more minutes.

    Stir the oil into the couscous and season with salt and pepper as desired.  Let cool slightly so the couscous is warm but not hot, and fold in the herbs before serving.  Even better the next day!

    Couscous salad

    Lamb Chops with Lemon and Parsley

    3 tablespoons olive oil

    6 lamb shoulder arm chops

    salt and pepper to season chops

    juice and zest of 1 lemon (can mix together; don’t worry about the pits- even if there are some they’ll stay in the pan)

    2- 3 tablespoons fresh parsley

    Heat the oil in a large saute pan over high heat.  Season both sides of the lamb chops, and put in the pan, working in batches if necessary. 

    Season both sides and put in pan

    Sear both sides and cook 1 1/2- 2 minutes per side, making sure to lift the chops with tongs and brown the edges too. 

    Make sure to sear the edges too

    If working in batches, once the last batch is done, return all the lamb to the pan, even if it’s slightly crowded.  Pour the lemon juice and zest over top of the lamb, tilting the pan to collect the juices in order to spoon them up and over the lamb, about 30 seconds.

    Pour the lemon juice and zest over the lamb

    Spoon the juices over the top

     Put the lamb on a serving platter and top with fresh parsley.

    La piece de resistance

    Dinner is served!