Tag Archives: cooking

Lamb and Plum Stew in Honor of “The Hunger Games” premiere

Cover of "The Hunger Games"

Cover of The Hunger Games

Last week, I received my paperback copy of The Hunger Games, and, pardon the pun, devoured it in a night.  Sure, I didn’t sleep much, but it was worth it.  I handed it over to my daughter who did the same the next night, although she wasn’t willing to cop to being up until 4am, and I didn’t reveal to her how much faster she is at reading than I am.

Yesterday, we went to the cinema in Redmond during the day when most people are either at work or school (one of the best things about a lack of schedule as homeschoolers is having an entire movie theatre to ourselves, or nearly so).  I’d saved half of the leg of lamb I’d purchased earlier in the week, but we got home so late yesterday, we ended up eating out instead.  So, tonight we had Katniss’ favorite meal from the Capitol.  Going completely on inspiration, and not looking it up, here’s what I came up with.  Remember folks, I don’t generally measure for things like this, so you’ll have to use your own best judgment, and since I wanted this to have an intense flavor, I was fairly heavy-handed with the spices.

First, chop a pound of lamb meat into small, bite-sized pieces.  Toss into a bowl with shiitake mushrooms (or any sturdy mushroom on hand that you like) and two handfulls of dried plums (prunes).  Cover with a decent quality red wine (I believe I used either Haystack or Barefoot brands, since those are the two open on my counter at the moment).  Toss in a large quantity — approx. 3 or 4 T. each — of turmeric and paprika*.  Sprinkle a small amount of cinnamon.  Grind 2 tsp. flower pepper (black pepper with dried petals from calendula, rose, lavender, and cornflower), add this to the liquid.   Stir it all together.  Let marinade all day or over night.

When you’re ready to cook, heat a pot or large, tall-sided skillet on medium-high heat.  Add in rendered lamb’s fat (or 2/3 a stick of butter or olive oil, the heartier the fat, the better the survival in the arena), and allow to melt.  Saute minced garlic.  Spoon out plums and mushrooms into a separate bowl.  Spoon lamb out of bowl, adding a splash of the red wine mixture. Brown the lamb’s meat.

Create an opening in the center of the pan or pot, and brown the mushrooms in the center until tender.  Remove from heat, add plums, and pour in the rest of the wine mixture.  Bring to a low boil for about five minutes.

Optional (at my daughter’s insistence): add in 4 heaping T. of Bhutanese red rice or a similar wild, nutty grain.  Fill the bowl that held the marinade half way with water, bring to a boil again, and turn heat down to medium to simmer and reduce sauce.

When sauce has reduced to a syrupy thickness, replace the mushrooms and salt to taste.

This turned into an intensely flavored, rich stew.  It sent me into throws of bliss, but my partner said he wasn’t very hungry to start (though he ate all the lamb), and my daughter picked out the lamb, saying the sauce was too spicy for her.  She offered me her plums and rice, but I’d already had my small bowl and a third of my partner’s, which was plenty.  Small pot, very filling.


*For my mother and other people unable to eat nightshades, I’d recommend replacing the paprika with extra cinnamon, although you don’t need as much cinnamon as paprika, even with this substitution.


Irish Stew for Nana and Nopa

Guinness Pint

Image by Stephen Edgar - Netweb via Flickr

My mother asked me, “What seasonings do you use in Irish stew?”  I replied, “Salt.”  Then our discussion led to the realization she needed my help.

Warning: this recipe requires time and dedication.  If you can’t devote about six hours for this meal to reach the right flavor, switch out the Guinness and substitute red wine, but then it’s just a tasty meat stew, not Irish. (Next you’ll be asking me how I have the right to decide what’s Irish and what isn’t, and I’ll . . . I’ll . . . well, it’s my kitchen, damn it.)

Start with half a stick of butter and a pound and a half of stew meat.  If the beef is lean (lamb is always fatty, so ignore this), use the whole stick of butter.  Melt the butter in the stew pot, and chop the meat into chunks if the butcher hasn’t done this already.  Brown the meat with crushed garlic.

Add a single bottle of Guiness Extra Stout.  If you’re living in German beer country, or you can’t find Guiness available, choose a hearty ale or beer–something sturdy that could be considered a meal in a glass.  Pour in enough water or stock to cover the meat and, eventually, the vegetables.  Bring to a boil and let boil for twenty minutes, then turn down to a simmer.

Here’s another warning: this is going to stink.  And it’ll stink for about five and a half hours, and you’ll think, dear God, what have I done to that beautiful beef? Don’t worry, because sometime around that fifth hour, the stink goes away, and it starts to smell really good.

But before that glorious moment arrives, you still have to be near the damned stuff.  So, about hour four (and a half? basically, an hour before you expect to serve the stew), add in small potatoes or chunks of large potato.  I like getting those baby reds by the pound for a stew, but sometimes I like less potato. About half an hour before finished,  add in at least three to five carrots, sliced into thick rounds.  Season the pot with salt, cracked black pepper, and thyme the same time you add carrots.

Then you wait.  When it starts to smell good, visit with the stew.  Breathe it in.  Take a careful taste.  If it’s still bitter, you have to wait at least another fifteen minutes.  When the bastard is finally ready, when its stout, meaty flavors have blended into a rich, tender broth, then serve it in giant bowls with giant spoons and hunks of Irish soda bread smothered in Derrygold butter, and enjoy it, because I can’t eat it anymore, and you won’t want to go through the process again for at least a year . . . around the time you start to miss the taste.

“I saw a book entitled ‘Irish Cuisine,’ and I laughed my balls off! Irish Cuisine?! What are we famous for cuisine-wise? We put everything in a pot and we boil it for seventeen and a half hours straight, until you can eat it with a straw . . . It’s not a cuisine, folks. That’s penance.” –Denis Leary

Teeth & Soup


Image by Martijn Nijenhuis via Flickr

As if my recent post about amalgam in my teeth weren’t enough, the last few days I’ve been in extraordinary pain from one of my impacted wisdom teeth.  It’s not tooth pain, thankfully, but my gums just at the area surrounding the lower left quadrant wisdom tooth swelled and caused me to accidentally and repeatedly bite the inside of my cheek connected to the area.  I’ve been careful with it, salting and brushing, and it’s starting to get better (slowly), but without dental insurance getting this taken care of is an impossibility.

However, because I wanted to eat without a lot of chewing, I ended up saying hello to necessity, and ended up creating a Thai-inspired soup with what I had on hand.  It’s not a proper Thom Yum Gai, but it was very tasty and since I had a request for the recipe, I’ll post it here.

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or 3-4 breasts)
3 large carrots
2  handfuls of sugar snap peas
1 medium non-green sweet pepper (ours was a mix of orange, pink, and yellow)
1 bunch fresh mint, chopped
1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
1 T. coriander
1 T. fresh grated ginger
4 slices of fresh ginger
1/2 gallon chicken broth
2 t. Thai chili paste
3 T. lime juice (or more, to taste)
~6 oz. can of coconut milk
1/2 pkg. of vermicelli style rice noodles, broken into 1 1/2 – 2″ lengths (a.k.a bahn pho)
sea salt, to taste
white wine
olive oil

Cut chicken into bite sized lumps and toss into a skillet already oiled and hot.  Throw in the grated ginger, sprinkle sea salt, and cook with a splash of white wine until chicken is cooked but not browned.

Empty contents of skillet into stew pot, scraping as much oil into the pot along with the meat and sauce.  Add chicken broth and lime juice and set to boil (this is a good point to determine how much soup you want to make; add water if there is not enough broth to cover and cook ingredients).  As it heats, toss in ginger root slices, coriander, basil, and half the chopped mint.

Shave skin and trim carrots.  Slice them into rounds as thick as nickels.  Slice the sugar snap peas at diagonal angles into approximately three pieces each (depending on size).  Trim off the top of the pepper and core; slice the pepper in half lengthwise, and then make long, thin slices.  Set vegetables aside.

Break rice noodles into shorter pieces to your liking.  When the broth comes to a boil, add in noodles and stir.  Toss in carrots.  Wait four minutes, and throw in the peppers and snap peas as well.

When noodles are almost tender, mix in chili paste, salt to taste, and coconut milk.  Stir thoroughly and remove from heat.  Carrots should have just a little give when you bite into them, and peppers should retain their color and sweetness.

Serve  with sprinkles of mint in large bowls that allow slurping of noodles and sipping of broth.  Keep salt, lime juice, and chili pepper on the table for those that want to adjust the flavor. (My daughter liked it the way it was, while I wanted more salt and lime and my partner wanted more salt and chili pepper!)

Happy Accident: Greek Lasagna


Yesterday I was set with all my ingredients to make my partner a lamb lasagna.  Except, as I discovered in the cooking process, we had forgotten something crucial: the cottage cheese.

You’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about, but trust me, next time you make lasagna, replace the ricotta portion with cottage cheese and you’ll end up with a moist and creamy filling.

So, we didn’t have cottage cheese, and I talked with my partner about what we did have in the fridge besides the mozzarella and parmesan–cheddar, jack, paneer, feta–feta!  Oh no, but that would be too strong for the lamb and tomato and morels soaked in red wine and . . . I can make this work!

I ran back into the kitchen, assessed what I had, and here’s what I did*:

  • Two hours before cooking, take a handful of morels–fresh or dried–and soak them in a small bowl of red wine.
  • Dice garlic and sauté in olive oil.  Add 1/4 c. of red wine and cook three to five minutes until the alcohol sizzles away.  Add 2/3 lb. of ground lamb and season with salt, tarragon, and thyme to taste.  Turn and separate lamb while browning, mixing in the garlic, and ensuring that the meat crumbles.  Turn off the heat and fold in a large, diced heirloom tomato.
  • Spread a thin layer of olive oil over the bottom of the pan and layer the first sheets of lasagna pasta (brown rice for us) having already cooked them somewhat in boiling water.  Lightly sprinkle red pepper flakes and grind black pepper over the mix. Place half of the lamb mixture in a fine layer across lasagna sheets, setting the other half in a bowl.
  • Slice a zucchini lengthwise and then finely slice along the length.  In the same pan as the lamb, sauté the zucchini.  When it browns slightly, set it aside.  Finely chop a handful of pitted kalamata olives.  Place another layer of lasagna sheets over the lamb and spread the olives across the sheets evenly.  Add the zucchini and crumble 1/3 lb. of goat or sheep feta over the top.  Lay another layer of pasta sheets over the top.
  • Sauté red wine-soaked and diced morels in the pan, adding it to the last half of the lamb mix.  Spread all of the mushrooms and morels in on this layer, and sauté sliced red, orange, and yellow bell peppers.  Add these over the top of the lamb with another sprinkling of red pepper flakes and black pepper from a grinder.  Place the final layer of pasta sheets.
  • Gently brush a thin layer of olive oil over the top sheets, and then place thin slices of mozzarella over the pasta. Squeeze the mozzarella between thumb and forefinger to widen circumference.  Shave parmesan from block and crumble over the layer of mozzarella.  Place lasagna in oven at 375 for about 20 minutes or until the cheese melts, bubbles, and gets brown at the tops and edges.
  • Slice into squares and serve with a salad with light dressing (caesar, oil/vinegar, lemon/oil, et al), or put it on a bed of fresh spinach.


*(Understand that with the exception of the wine-soaked morels, I hadn’t prepared anything ahead of time, so all of this was happening at the same time–I had a baking dish on the back burner, a skillet for sauteing on the front left, and a big pot of boiling water that frequently burned my hand, and at one point left a big long red stripe across my arm from spitting at me.  Don’t do it my way; do prep work!)

Returning to Focus and the Wheat Free Waffle

a proper montreal bagel.. tiny, dense and slig...

Image via Wikipedia

Norwescon being over, and my muscles less agonized than yesterday, I am returning to focus on my self-improvement project.  Too long I’ve let go of almost every good new habit I was building, in part because of the depression caused by losing Taigil to one, small mistake.  I have done my part to search for him, and will continue to wish and pray for his return, but I must honor my health and what it means to those I love.

Today is the first day of removing wheat from my diet.  It’s cold turkey (literally! there’s turkey here!) from now on, as I acknowledge my test results.  I have a mild allergy to wheat, which is going to limit even more of my diet than before.  When I’ve incorporated this new change into my life, then I shall return for further testing to see what else contributes to the inflammation that makes my body go out of kilter.  The less inflammation, the easier it will be to maintain some semblance of energy and productivity in my life.

So, I wish to say good bye to my beloved, fluffy cakes, artisan breads, challah, Trophy cupcakes, banana-coconut and poppyseed muffins, english muffins, bagels (oh dear gods, bagels!!!) of all persuasions, Top Pot and Mighty O doughnuts, Dave’s Killer Good Seed sliced bread, sesame seed hamburger buns, dinner rolls, Kosher hot dog buns, pita, naan, uthampam, flour tortillas (and all the enchiladas and burritos they might hold), toast, pancakes, waffles, crumpets, scones (especially the orange-cranberry ones with the special frosting), every pastry Pomegranate makes, cookies, brownies, fruit and custard tarts, eclairs, biscuits, hoagie rolls, pasta, wheat noodles, egg noodles, soba, udon, lasagna, macaroni, roux (and all the sauces it makes), and many more.

I am beginning to realize how, after twenty-three years of cooking, I have to relearn everything.  I have to figure out the best way to make banana bread moist and fluffy, how to mix a roux for a sauce, how to prepare spaghetti so it’s al dente (because the rice and quinoa pastas are so temperamental), what brands work best, what tortillas and other flatbreads will substitute well. At the moment I cling to my Nairn’s oatmeal and pumpkin seed crackers and my Newman’s wheat-free fig bars in vain hope I can just alter one or two ingredients in all of my family recipes and still taste as amazing and comforting as always.

But it’s one of those compromises in life.  Do I want to be able to dance with my friends again?  Do I want to be able to climb hills without pain?  Do I want to be able to have a picture taken or wear pretty clothes without worrying whether a cyst has caused scarring or stains?  Or do I want to have a quick, gratifying snack?  There are many meals I love and adore that don’t have wheat, just as I’ve learned to live without chicken eggs, onions, cattle, pig, and a lot of other things, I shall find my way through this.  Although I have to admit, wheat and dairy are two things that are going to be hardest to let go of, and I know without question that I at least need to relinquish wheat’s hold over my life and my body.

So, I begin the search for the lightest wheat-free flours to make my baked goods, the best thickening agents to make a roux turn a cream sauce decadent, and a pasta that doesn’t turn to gelatinous goo if cooked an extra minute too long.  I also search for the strength to see it through, for the good of improving my health and being a better me for friends and family.

…it’s all about priorities, right?