Monday, April 30, 2012

Milk, eggs, and more asparagus

"The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star" is the often quoted piece of wisdom from the epicure Brillat-Savarin.   For me it's the discovery of the ingredients that go into the making of the dish that thrills me.  When my friend, Michael, told me about a small farm out on Fish and Game Road - Hudson, NY - that sold the "most creamy raw milk"  and most startlingly colored eggs - olive green ones in addition to blue, shades of white and brown - I was intrigued.  I couldn't wait to go there.   One sunny day last week I took a meandering ( it's several miles east of the route 9H junction) ride out Fish and Game Road until I reached Mary and Bill Koch's lovely Rocky Fresh Farms at number 671.   The contented, Dutch Belted cows who give the NYS certified raw milk are strictly grassfed.  The benefits, or not, of raw milk have been discussed since the industrial revolution when the process of pasteurization was devised.  My overly simplistic reason for liking raw milk, from grassfed cows (and I'm not a big consumer of straight milk - I prefer it fermented, as in cheese - or swirled with sugar and other flavorings and frozen into ice cream) is that I feel like I'm getting the benefits of all the good grass that the cows having been dining on - it's not boiled away.
The eggs from Rocky Fresh Farms are laid by a variety of chickens  from the ubiquitous Rhode Island Reds to the sturdy Buff Orpingtons to the more exotic  Araucana (becoming less so thanks to Martha Stewart) who lay baby blue to olive green colored eggs.  The yolks on all the eggs that I purchased that day were just about neon orange.

I decided to experiment and make a caramelized rhubarb custard with my most recent purchase.  As you can see it looked like a disaster.  Should I even be sharing this with you?  Sure.  Do as I say, not as I do - did.  The idea was good - it tasted dee-licious - it just didn't stay together.  I know why.   I made it in a charlotte mold which was way too deep to accommodate all that liquid.   Had I cooked it longer - the outer part of the custard would have gotten too tough.  It just needs to be cooked in a more shallow receptacle - and it will work.  Promise.
The previous week I had stewed some rhubarb with the zest and juice of an orange, rapadura sugar -  organic brown sugar which I like to use with fruit because I think it adds deep flavor - and a cheese cloth bag filled with a cinnamon stick, a few cloves and a few whole cardamom pods.  Cook at medium heat until the rhubarb is soft - 15 - 20 minutes.  Let cool with the spice bag before you remove it.
In a small saucepan, combine 3/4 cup granulated sugar  with 1/4 cup of water.  When the sugar has melted and become dark amber pour it into an oval or rectangular baking dish.  Repeatedly tilt the dish in a circular motion until the sides and bottom are evenly coated with the caramel.   Place on a wire rack to set.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Make the custard:  Beat 5 whole eggs and 4 yolks with 1/2 cup sugar until smooth and creamy.   Bring 2 1/2 cups milk an to a boil.  Remove from the heat and add 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract and pour it into the egg mixture beating continuously.  Pour the custard into the caramel-lined  dish.  Swirl a cup and a half  cooked rhubarb through the custard.   Place the dish in a large baking dish and fill with hot water.  Bake for about an hour  or until the custard seems firm and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.   Remove the custard from the water and let cool.  Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving.  Run a knife around the edges of the dish and invert onto a serving platter.   Eat as is - or decorate with peaks of whipped cream.   The custard that I made with the raw milk and fresh eggs was super creamy and rich and didn't need embellishments.

More Asparagus:
As I mentioned in my last post I only eat local asparagus.  Right now I'm eating them more or less daily because all of a sudden they'll be gone.  The other day I decided to make an asparagus, taleggio cheese and lemon pizza because I had all the ingredients at the ready.  Including the pizza dough.  When I make the dough and I'm not feeding at least 4 people I freeze the leftover dough in individual serving portions.   My pizza dough is not conventional - it's actually more like a schiacciata - a flatbread.

Makes enough for 4 good-sized individual  pizzas
1   1/2 ounce package active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water, about 90 degrees F.
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for moistening the mixing bowl

1.   Combine the yeast, sugar, and water (I use a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup).  Let stand until foamy (draft-free environment), about 15 minutes.  Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl.  Add the olive oil to the yeast mixture.  Mix well.   Turn out onto a floured surface.  Knead until soft and elastic, 3 to 4 minutes.
2.   Swish a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large bowl and place the dough in it.  Turn the dough so it's thoroughly covered in oil.  Cover and place in a warm draft-free environment to rise.   It should double in size in 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Punch down.  Cut into 4 pieces and return to the bowl.  Re-cover.
3.   Preheat an oven to 500 degrees F.  Prepare your choice of topping.  For my pizza I scattered pieces of taleggio  - an aromatic cow's milk cheese that's tangy and rather mild from the Lombardy region of Italy - on the stretched dough, topped with blanched asparagus and thin lemon slices.  I drizzled a bit of extra-virgin olive oil over the top and sprinkled some sea salt on it.  
4.   Bake until the crust is golden and the topping is sizzling, 12 - 15 minutes


Even more asparagus.  Blanched asparagus tossed with extra-virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and grated Parmesan cheese.   Top the asparagus with sliced radishes.  I grated (because it arrived in chunks), just-delivered, black salt from Uganda - by friends who had just returned from that country aglow with tales of walking into the impenetrable forest to find gorillas.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Summer in the City???

What's up with this weather.  It was boiling hot last week (and today I turned the heat back on - which I really don't mind), but I just happened to choose to spend a few days in NYC then.  Ugh. Swollen feet on me, and a panting dog.  We needed to walk around.  Why else go to the city?   At a certain point I left Allegra, the dog, home and carried on.  I met friends for various delicious meals.

MONDAY NIGHT DINNER WITH ROBERT at the East village location of Zabb Elee.   Zabb Elee is a unique Thai restaurant.  You're not going find chicken satay with peanut sauce or pad thai or fish coconut curry there.  Oh no.  This place specializes in the cuisine of Northeastern (near the border with Laos) Thailand.  It's meat heavy and very spicy.  Not for the faint-hearted. 
We ate:
.   Larb Ped - ground duck with shallots, mint, scallions, with chili and lime sauce.  You can choose from a variety of meats to star in  the larb which is the restaurant's most famous dish.  It's wisely served with big, thick cucumber slices.  You need a bite every now and then to cool your tongue.
.   Yum Moo Krob - crispy pork with shallots, celery, tomatoes, pickled garlic, with chili and lime sauce.
.    Som Tum Thai - papaya salad with dried shrimp, peanuts and - you guessed it - chili and lime sauce
All of this was served with little peaks of the best sticky rice.  Thank goodness.  It got a bit too spicy for me.   Robert loved it.

BREAKFAST, EVERYDAY, WITH ALLEGRA (that's not Allegra in the photo) at The Bean, at their 2nd avenue & 3rd street location, where they've just moved having been kicked out of their 1st avenue and 3rd street location by Starbucks.  Guess what?  The Bean moved  to the other end of the block and is doing a thriving business, and Starbucks is empty.  Yay!   The Bean is dog-friendly (a counter-top bucket of biscuits welcomes them) and makes a nice, smooth iced coffee.

TUESDAY LUNCH WITH LOUISE  at Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria about which I've waxed rhapsodic on more than one occasion on this blog.  It continues to delight.

We ate:
.   Tiny fried artichokes - crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside
.   Chicory salad - which was a mixture of bitter greens including radicchio and that beautiful pale green leaf with deep rose brushstrokes called Castelvetrano, dressed with anchovy flavored breadcrumbs, lemon, and peppery, Umbrian olive oil.
.   Grilled octopus with thinly sliced green almonds, roasted kumquats, and farro with yogurt.
.   Grilled, house-made sausage with fabled Umbrian lentils.
.   Orange polenta cake - something like an orange upside-down cake - with amaretto ice cream sitting on a bed of amaretti dust
The basket of house-made bread served with a little dish of that peppery olive oil disappeared.  Quickly.

TUESDAY DINNER - take-out from Souen.  Curry miso ramen with vegetables.

WEDNESDAY LUNCH WITH ROY -  at Balaboosta the newish restaurant of the Israeli chef/owner, Einat Admony.  Balaboosta is a Yiddish word meaning a woman who can do everything. The perfect housewife, etc. The eponymous restaurant is filled with well-thought interpretations of all your favorite Middle Eastern food, and then some.  Chef Einat drives a baby pink Vespa.  Need I say more?
We ate:
.    Fried olives - offered by manager, Laurent, who managed Mogador (another favorite spot) for years - sitting on top of house-made labane - thick yogurt - with a ring of harissa oil.
.   Patatas bravas - fried potato chunks coated with za'atar - a Middle Eastern spice mixture - served with roasted garlic aioli
.   A Mediterranean Sampler; hummus with  a faint finish of orange blossom water, roasted red pepper salad with almonds, and the smokiest babaganoush, all served with za'atar pita. My mouth is still watering
.   Chard-wrapped meatballs in a lemony broth with fresh fava beans served with grilled bread.
.   Banana bread pudding with date sauce served with yogurt ice cream

WEDNESDAY DINNER - crackers with almond butter

By the time I left the city it had cooled down to beautiful spring weather.  Lots of puffed-out pink, and white trees giving the city just the punctuation it wants.


I took a trip out to Kinderhook to visit the Samascott Garden Market.  Their truck was at the Saturday morning Hudson Farmer's Market but they didn't bring  the newly harvested asparagus and rhubarb with them.  I've been waiting all year for asparagus.  Yes, I know it's available the year 'round in supermarkets.  But, on this one, I won't budge.  Asparagus needs to be local.    I came home and made what must be one of my all-time favorite meals - blanched asparagus with poached eggs with a shower of grated Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mid-April Lunch

Sometimes the idea for a dish starts with just one ingredient. And then you build a whole meal around that dish.  Like throwing a rock into the water and watching the circles around the original splash multiply.  
Saturday's lunch started with an open bottle of Nero D'Avola, a soft but robust Sicilian red wine which became coq au vin which needed an accompaniment which I dedided should be riso Venere, an Italian black rice - and something green which I found at the Saturday morning market along with a bunch of springtime radishes.  Last week's gift of a colomba pasquale - dove-shaped Easter cake - became the basis of dessert.

COQ AU VIN - You know, somehow this ubiquitous dish has escaped my kitchen.  I'm more of a roast chicken - or if I'm stewing a bird I tend towards a curry or a cacciatore - kind of cook.   But here I was with almost entire bottle of already open red wine which I knew I wouldn't drink because I'm not - HORRORS - a wine drinker (it's all about digestion).   Friends were coming for lunch on Saturday - one of whom only eats chicken or fish.  So even the  coq au vin couldn't be entirely genuine because I couldn't start it with bacon as in the classic recipe.  No problem, if I was going to eliminate the bacon then I didn't feel guilty about eliminating the little white onions garnish either.  Pain in the ass those pesky little things.  I did, however, want to garnish with mushrooms as per the recipe. But alas, the best laid plans - the mushroom lady wasn't at the Saturday market and it was too late to go out of town to the supermarket to get some.   So, in a Dutch oven over medium heat, I rubbed salt and freshly ground pepper on chicken legs and thighs and then browned them in olive oil, removed them to a bowl while I sauteed lots of chopped onions and sliced carrots (which are so delicious from the farm at Miller's Crossing), then added chopped garlic, about 10 -12 sprigs fresh thyme, a generous splash of Cognac, added back the chicken and all the juices that had settled in the pan, and covered it all with almost a bottle of  red wine and a cup or so of chicken broth.  I brought the pot to a boil, covered it and turned it down to a simmer.   After it had simmered for an hour or so I made a beurre manie which is a fancy way of saying white flour rubbed into softened, unsalted butter until it makes a paste.  Add to the pot and stir to combine - the sauce will thicken almost immediately.  Simmer for another 15- 20 minutes.  Taste for salt and pepper and add as needed.  When I made this dish my friends were a little late so it cooked even longer than required.  I think that longer cooking helps to create an even more luscious dish. Even better, make it the day before bringing it to the point of adding the buerre manie which can be added the next day when you reheat the chicken to serve.

RISO VENERE - is Italian black rice.  It's a hybrid of the legendary Chinese forbidden rice and  Italian Arborio rice.  Nice job.  The forbidden rice lends color and nutty flavor while the Arborio contributes it chubby, moisture-absorbing body.   I cook 1 cup riso Venere in 3 cups salted water.  Cook at a simmer for 35 - 40 minutes and it should be just right.  I finished it off with a knob of butter, some thinly sliced shallots crisped in olive oil and a generous sprinkling of chopped flat-leaf parsley - which I also used to garnish the very dark chicken and rice to serve - since I didn't garnish with the aforementioned white onions or mushrooms.

GREEN SALAD - was a wonderful assortment of 11 different leaves mixed by  Sue Decker of 
Blue Star Farm.  I dressed the leaves with Dijon mustard, fresh lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and salt.  The tossed salad was topped with whole cherry radishes, "Celeste", also from Blue Star, that were juicy and sharp enough to satisfy.

BAGUETTE - from Loaf.  The best bread in the entire Hudson Valley and its surroundings.

DESSERT - Chocolate-topped colomba Pasquale baked by Tre Marie bakery, Milano, Italy, sliced, topped with strawberries (not local - so they needed to be macerated in fresh lemon juice and sugar, overnight, to achieve any sort of flavor) and the wonderful lemon ice cream made in house by Otto's Market in Germantown, NY.   I must say that it just about broke my heart to open the package in which the cake was wrapped.  It looked so pretty in its pink and orange paper tied up with orange ribbon that I enjoyed looking at it as much as if it were a bunch of flowers.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:   Now what about Instagram?   Should we help Mark Zuckerberg pay his 1 billion bill to them?

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Bridge between Two Holidays

Sometimes it just works out this way.  I was born on April 7th.  So, my birthday can be on Passover, or on  Easter - or, as this year on a gorgeous Hudson Valley Saturday sandwiched between both holy days.  Like most people born under the sign of Aries the ram, I have some rather headstrong ideas about the way things should be.  Like celebrations.  I like to celebrate, to mark occasions - almost always with food.  The celebrations don't have to be loud, or dressy, or involve printed invitations - they must, however, have a good selection of guests, food and drink. And so, with those essentials in mind, I invited a group of people that I had recently met in Hudson, some people that I have known for ages, and others who live in the area to stop by for a drink and some food between 4:30 - 7:30 on Saturday afternoon.   The majority had no idea that it was my birthday - and I was happy to leave it that way.  I liked being in on a secret.
I made a menu that included some of my all time favorite  afternoon snacks -  kind of tea party/cocktail party fare.

SWEET AND SALTY ALMONDS - these tasty nuts come straight out of my friend, Amy Chaplin's granola.  Amy moistens her legendary granola with olive oil and - this is important, brown rice syrup which gives all the granola ingredients a kind of crackling glaze.  So, I extrapolated the almonds that are part of the granola mix and coated them with them with extra virgin olive oil, brown rice syrup and sea salt and roasted them at 325 degrees F. for 15 or 20 minutes - until deep gold.

FEGATINI DI POLLO ALLA TOSCANA - which is Tuscan chopped liver.  My nod to Passover.  I sauteed chopped onions with fresh sage leaves in lots of unsalted butter until the onion was translucent.  I added chicken livers to the butter and tossed to coat with the other ingredients.  I added a generous splash of dry white Vermouth, the juice of a lemon and some salt preserved capers.  Simmer until the liver is no longer pink.  Remove from the heat and let cool. You might taste for salt and add as needed.  Since I don't rinse the salt-preseerved capers - they add enough salt.  Add to a food processor and blend until smooth.   I served the liver paste with cornichons and matzos.

CUCUMBER, DILL AND CHIVES SANDWICHES.  To my mind there is no afternoon party without cucumber sandwiches.  They are the food that refreshes. These sandwiches add the crunch and moisture that's needed as a antidote to the other richer offerings.   Hothouse cucumbers are found in most supermarkets year 'round.

Make 4 dozen 2 bite sandwiches

24 very thin slices white bread
one hot house cucumber (the ones shrink-wrapped in cellophane) rind peeled off in stripes and thinly sliced. Store for a few hours in double layers of paper towels so the cucumber can sweat and won't make soggy sandwiches
1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh dill
2 heaping tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup good-quality commercial mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

1.  Line up the bread in pairs, 4 - 6 at a time.
"mask " each slice with a thin film of butter (masking the bread not only adds flavor to the sandwich, but also protects it from becoming soggy).
2.  Stir the dill, chives, salt and pepper into the mayonnaise.  Spread each bread slice with a thin layer of it.
3.  Cover one side of each pair with the sliced cucumbers.  Cover with the other slice of bread pressing gently but  firmly.  Trim away the crusts and cut on the diagonal to make 4 triangular 2-bite sandwiches.
4.  Serve immediately or refrigerate, covered with damp paper towels until ready to serve.

SMOKED SALMON FOCACCIA.   This very thin focaccia (recipe to come in another post) is covered with sliced red onions before it's baked.  I coat the cooled strips of focaccia with an ersatz mascarpone - sweet butter blended with cream cheese, some lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper.  The cheese mixture is topped with sliced smoked salmon and cut into 1-inch strips.  I like to serve strips piled onto a platter in log cabin pattern groups.  

EGG SALAD SANDWICHES.  I woke up on Saturday morning in a panic.  I worried that I didn't have enough  food.  Isn't that an age old worry?   I also heard my friend, Nally's voice in my ear saying that I "had to have something with eggs for Easter."   Okay.  I was on my way to the Hudson Farmer's Market so I picked up 2 dozen eggs instead of one.  I came home and hard cooked 8 eggs while I put together the cucumber sandwiches.     Because the eggs were very fresh I added copious amounts of salt to the water which eases the peeling.  Sort of.    I peeled the cooled eggs. Then separated the yolks from the whites. I pushed the yolks through a sieve and finely chopped the whites.  I added some mayonnaise, chopped dill, chives, salt and pepper.  The finished mixture should resemble an egg salad paste. It makes for a less oozing-out-the-edges tea sandwich.
Line up very thin white bread as you do for the cucumber sandwiches and mask each side with softened unsalted butter.   Spread egg salad on one slice and cover with the other.  Trim away the crusts and carefully cut on the diagonal to make 4 triangular 2-bite sandwiches.

The offering was supplemented with my favorite buttery, salty black olive shortbread cookies made by my friend, Cynthia.  And  to-die-for pecan bars made by my friend, Margaret,  And a sumptuous variety of chocolate dragees filled with praline, with marzipan and with salted caramel made by the French company, Maison Pecou brought by my friend, Clementine.

It was a lovely party.  Nice to see everyone.


At this time of year when there's a large variety of potted flowering plants I like to decorate the house with them instead of cut flowers.  Just take them out of their unattractive plastic containers and put them into terra cotta pots, ceramic bowls or glass vases.  I'm especially fond of the pink-flowering strawberry plants. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


There are certain traditions that absolutely need to be honored.  There is one that I hold dear and am thrilled to say that since it was created in early April, 7 years ago, it has been faithfully repeated.   It's a weekend gathering of a group of friends.   The first meeting took place in Marrakech.   We walked, endlessly through the souks, ate intensely fragrant food from street stalls, breathtakingly beautiful restaurants, and from our own kitchen.   You could say that we are a food-centric group.   We haven't been back to Marrakech (for that particular event ) but have faithfully gotten together ever since either in upstate New York or in Provincetown, Massachusetts.  This year it was Provinctown.  In the off-season, the little town, curling back on itself, at "the end of the world" Cape Cod, resembles its past - when when painters set up easels on the beach, and scarved, coughing writers tapped out wordy works, and Eugene O'Neill founded the Provincetown Playhouse where his most famous works were performed.  The charming, mostly grey, and white houses, crowded together, cheek by jowl, on short streets with names like Pearl, Law, and Snow whisper about the old days - non-stop.

Allegra &I arrived on Friday after a trip across the Mass Pike and down I-495 to 25 to 6.   A stop at PB Bakery and Bistro is a new MUST destination - and it's right there off route 6 in Welfleet.   The huge assortment of  crusty bread and buttery pastries taste as good as they look.  I picked up a croissant, a pain au chocolate and two tarts; assorted fruit, and pear which would be late afternoon pick-me-ups for me and my friend John - and dessert.   We were alone on the first night.   John made what has become the "welcome to Provincetown" meal - spaghetti all'aglio, olio, peperoncino E prezzemolo (parsley- a departure from the almost written-in-stone Italian favorite).   John had slowed roasted some beets-covered in salt and wrapped in tin foil - for hours.  The peeled and sliced beets with baby spinach leaves and crumbled Ewe's Blue (carried by me from the Hudson Valley) became our salad.  Tarts for dessert.  We ate dinner and played Scrabble in front of a blazing fire.   Sometimes you just don't get the letters you want.

On Saturday morning John & I went back to PB Bakery for more dessert tarts, bread and the most delicious almond croissant this side of Paris.   James and Mark, and their dog, Cicero arrived from New York.  We almost immediately started to cook.

Lunch:    CORONATION CHICKEN.  A dish created, in 1952 by the Cordon Bleu for Queen Elizabeth II's coronation luncheon.  It's a fancy chicken salad. The recipe has been fidgeted with ever since.  But it has some basic components; mango chutney, curry, onions and a bit of tomato.  Of course, chicken.
This is my recipe:

Serves  6-8

1- 1 1/4 cup canola oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Major Grey's chutney (mango chutney)
2 rounded tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon good-quality curry powder
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
chicken broth or water
white Vermouth or sliced lemons
4 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts - 8 pieces
a few tablespoons julienned candied ginger

1.   In a medium, heavy-bottomed skillet over low heat, heat 1/4 cup of the oil and cook the onion until it has wilted.  Stir in the chutney, tomato paste, curry powder, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and the salt.  Cook for about 7 minutes stirring occasionally.   Remove from heat and let cool.
2.  Puree the chutney mixture in a food processor until smooth.  (This can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator -for months actually).
3.   Add the egg and remaining tablespoon lemon juice to a food processor or blender. Blend the egg until creamy and pale yellow.  With the motor running on the processor, slowly add the remaining oil until a semi-firm mayonnaise is achieved.  You may not need the full cup oil - or you may need more.
4.   Add the mayonnaise to a mixing bowl. Fold in the chutney puree until fully incorporated with the mayonnaise.  Keep refrigerated until ready for use.  The sauce can be made up to 3 or 4 days before use.
5.   Fill a large skillet or saute pan with chicken broth and a splash of Vermouth or water and some lemon slices.   Bring to a boil.  Lower to a simmer and add the chicken breasts.  Poach the breasts until tender.  Use tongs to turn occasionally.  Remove from heat and let cool.
6.  Thinly slice the cool breasts, on the diagonal and place on a serving platter.  Cover with the curry chutney mayonnaise.  Garnish with julienned candied ginger.

I served the chicken with PECAN-SCALLION RICE.   To serve 6, cook 1 1/2 cups rice - your choice. Add the cooled rice to a large mixing bowl.  In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat a tablespoon neutral oil such as grape seed.  Add 3/4 - 1 cup chopped pecans.  Cook until you start to smell them cooking - watch carefully they will burn in a blink of an eye. Immediately add 1/2 cup chopped scallions  to the pecans.  Stir and remove from the heat.  Add the mixture to the rice.   Add a tablespoon of rice vinegar and salt to taste.

We had tarts for dessert.  Heaven.  Allegra and I walked on the beach.  She splashed in the bay and all was just right.

James made a super tasty spinach and mushroom lasagne for dinner.   We ate this by the fire - in another room.  And played games.  I've mentioned this in past posts.  Games are always involved when John is around.  Charades, Celebrity, Scattegories - and so on.

Sunday lunch was chicken sandwiches with Coronation mayonnaise and baby arugula, potato chips and pickles.

And dinner was an ode to our first gathering in Marrakech and a meal we ate that starred butter-tender lamb that was served garnished with almonds . So, I made  SLOWLY COOKED LAMB SHANKS.   This is how I prepared it (I haven't made it into real recipe form - yet).
.   Sear the shanks in olive oil added to a large casserole pot.  Remove the shanks from the pot.
.   Add sliced carrots, chopped onions and garlic (lots), a few sprigs of rosemary, and thyme to the pot and saute for a few minutes.
.   Add the shanks back to the pot.  Cover with a whole bottle of robust red wine, a few tablespoons ground cinnamon, a tablespoon ground cumin, a teaspoon or two red pepper flakes, 2 tablespoons tomato paste, and a cup or so pitted dates.   Use two wooden spoons to turn the lamb and thoroughly combine all the ingredients.  Lower heat to a simmer and cook and cook and cook.  Turn the lamb occasionally.  Add salt to taste about a hour before the cooking is complete.  It's complete when the lamb is fork tender and just about falls off the bone 4 - 5 hours.

I served the lamb with artichoke risotto.  James made a yummy salad with some of those roasted beets.  He diced them and dressed then with zest of an orange, slices from the orange and juice squeezed out of what remained, extra virgin olive oil, some ground cumin, salt and pepper to taste.

James also made an outstanding dessert - Mark Bittman's Flourless Almond Butter Cake.  He served it with whipped cream, strawberry sauce and blueberries.   
We did not eat this meal around the fire.  There were two more guests so we sat at a dining table decorated with pink snapdragons.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:    We all had a wonderful relaxing and delicious time.