Thursday, March 29, 2012

Risotto Time!

We recently had visitors from Boston and upon their arrival the 2 men volunteered to help in the kitchen while the ladies enjoyed sipping wine and watching their spouses cook. It was my friend Jerry's first time making risotto and he did a beautiful job. I am going to share with you the whole menu, which started with a Roasted Tomato Dill Soup with Boursin Cream, then moved into the star of the night: Shrimp Risotto served with a beautiful salad, which Eddie made with Romaine lettuce, Lemon Plums and a Blueberry Vinaigrette. For dessert we had Balsamic Strawberries with mint and Sweet Ricotta Quenelles.

Let's start with the Roasted Tomato Dill Soup with Boursin cream which I made ahead of time. A friend had just given me tons of fresh, plump, juicy tomatoes so I decided to create a soup. I chose to make a complete vegetarian soup, but you could also make this with chicken stock.


10 large tomatoes
1 large carrot
1 stalk celery
2 cloves garlic
4 Tbsp. Olive Oil
2 Tbsp. sun-dried tomato oil
1 cup water
7 Tbsp. chopped fresh Dill, more for garnish
1 tsp. dried Dill
1 tsp. salt
1/2 pepper
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 Tbsp. butter
Peel and slice carrot. Slice celery, chop 2 cloves garlic. Place in soup pot with 2 Tbsp. Olive Oil. Cook until veg are softened.

Core the tomatoes. Cut into thick slices (about 3/8"). Place slices in single layer on a cookie sheet. Brush both sides with 2 Tbsp. Olive Oil. Sprinkle the teaspoon of salt evenly over tomato slices. Broil until you get a nice char on both sides of the tomato. Tomatoes have a high moisture content so be patient. Place the tomatoes in the soup pot with the sauteed vegetables.
Roasted tomatoes added to the soup pot.

Pour 1 cup water into the soup. Add 7 Tbsp. fresh dill and 1 tsp. of dried dill. Add 2 Tbsp. sun-dried tomato oil (just pour off the oil from a jar of sun-dried tomatoes). Add 1/2 tsp. black pepper and 1/4 tsp. red pepper and simmer on low heat for about 1 hour. Cool completely and blend until smooth. Taste for seasoning. Add more salt/pepper if it needs it. Put back into the soup pot and reheat with 1 Tbsp. butter.

Add more water (or chicken stock if that's what you're using) if you want a thinner soup. I kept it thick. This is a soup with a very rich tomato and dill flavor. Just for fun I garnished with Boursin cream (Equal parts Boursin cheese spread and Plain yogurt mixed well so the consistency can be made into a design). I decided to use different Chinese symbols for each serving:  Friendship, God, Peace, Joy, Luck, etc. You can find these translations on the internet and just copy onto your bowls of soup. This is the symbol for God.

To make the design either use a pastry bag or make a pastry bag by cutting a small corner off a plastic baggie or do what I did by using an old plastic honey bear bottle. Or you can just do a drizzle of the Boursin cream or a dollop with fresh dill as garnish. I took this picture before I garnished and decided to place the chopped dill on the edge of the plate rather than on the soup so as not to interfere with the design. I do like to play with my food!

Next course...

The first trick to making risotto is to stir it constantly. The second trick is to make sure the stock you add (one ladle full at a time)  is hot. And keep stirring until the stock you just added is completely absorbed. That's what takes a bit of time and why Jerry stopped smiling half way through the procedure! By cooking slowly and stirring constantly the starch in the arborio rice is released and makes a creamy, velvety dish. Properly cooked risotto should form a mound when served, not slide all over the plate, and not a thick sticky lump. ANYONE can cook Risotto. There is no mystique if you follow these few guidelines.
Jerry starts out all smiles!

For the Shrimp:
Use 6 large shrimp per person--real wild shrimp is best, but not always easy to find.
Devein the shrimp--you really cannot skip this step. Make a slice in the shrimp where you see the dark line (yep, that is poop), and peel it out. Rinse shrimp.
Get 2 Tbsp. of Olive Oil and 1 Tbsp. butter hot and bubbly in a heavy frying pan. Toss in the cleaned shrimp and cook until just barley pink. Remove from heat. Add 1/4 cup Basil (use the chiffonade method to cut) or Fresh Parsley. Set aside while you cook the rice.

For the Risotto:

1 1/2 cups Arborio Rice (short grained rice)                                            
1 qt. Chicken Stock (home-made is best; see previous blog for recipe)
1/2 cup White Wine
1 medium shallot or 1/2 small onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
3 Tbsp. unsalted Butter
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup light cream
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh Basil or Parsley
Course ground kosher salt to taste

Heat the chicken stock to a simmer and then lower heat so it stays warm.
In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the Olive Oil and butter. When the butter has melted, add the chopped shallot and saute for 3-4 minutes or until slightly translucent.
Add the rice to the pot and stir briskly with a wooden spoon or heat proof rubber spatula so the grains get completely coated with the Oil and melted Butter. Saute for another minute or so until there is a nutty aroma, but do not burn the rice!
Add the wine and cook while stirring until the liquid is fully absorbed.
Add a ladle of chicken stock to the rice and stir until the liquid is absorbed. When the rice appears almost dry, add another ladle of stock and keep repeating the process. This is where you must stir constantly to get the desired texture.
Continue adding ladles of hot stock and stirring the rice. You will start to see the rice take on a creamy texture as the natural starches are released.
Continue adding stock, a ladle at a time for 20-30 minutes or until the grains are tender, but still firm to the bite. If you run out of stock and the risotto still isn't done, you can continue adding hot water one ladle at a time.
Stir in remaining 2 Tbsp. butter, 1/4 cup cream, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and season to taste with Kosher salt. Risotto should be served right away as it will get stickier as it sits. But you still have time to quickly reheat the shrimp and add to each serving around the risotto making sure the butter/oil gets divided evenly. Jerry, you did a fantastic job with the risotto!

Eddies turn...


I had never heard of lemon plums and discovered them this spring at my local Safeway market. They are beautiful to look at and have a delicious, sweet, slightly lemony flavor. As they ripen they get more red and their flavors tastes more like a regular plum. The Blueberry Vinaigrette is a nice counterpoint to the sweet fruit and I got the idea by chatting with a woman in the grocery store when I first came across the plums.

Ingredients for the Blueberry Vinaigrette:
1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup Olive Oil
1/3 cup vinegars (I used equal portions of balsamic, champagne and wine vinegar)
2 Tbsp. (or more) water
2 Tbsp. Agave Nectar (this has become my new honey. I love it!)
1/2 tsp. salt
Put all ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth. You may need to add a bit more water until you get the correct 'dressing' consistency.  Keep at room temperature until ready to use. Do not refrigerate.
                            Thank you for making the salad Ed!

To make the salad, chop Romaine, slice the lemon plums, and drizzle with the Blueberry Vinaigrette. Garnish with a few fresh blueberries.

The last course...

Traditionally "quenelles" are made with poached fish or meat. The first I ever had was in a French restaurant in Boston and they were Creamy Lobster Quenelles. Unbelievably rich and delicious.  The shape is like a small football or oval-shaped dumpling. To form the quenelle scoop your ingredient in a tablespoon and take a second tablespoon and pass the ingredient back and forth between the two spoons until you get it into the shape of a little football. Also, a quick note on this recipe. When I announced to my husband that I wanted to try marinating strawberries in balsamic vinegar he thought I was nuts, but it really turned out good and he even liked it!

For the Balsamic marinade:                            
1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar
4 Tbsp. agave nectar
1 tsp. sugar
Sprinkle of cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
Juice from 1/2 orange
Zest from 1/2 orange
Whole mint leaves

Mix all ingredients and crush (or muddle) the mint leaves. Slice 2 cups of strawberries and place in the marinade for 2-3 hours. Stir occasionally to make sure that all the berry slices are benefiting from the marinade.

To serve:
Remove strawberries from the marinade and place in serving bowls. Do not add the mint. Pour a couple spoonfuls of the marinade in each serving. Garnish with a fresh mint leaf and the Sweet Ricotta Quenelles with orange zest on the ricotta cheese.

To make the Sweet Ricotto Cheese:
Mix 1 cup Ricotta cheese with juice of 1/2 orange. Add 2 tbsp. Agave nectar. Form into the quenelle (sorry for the blurry picture above...I was rushing to serve dessert!) and finally  top with a little orange zest.

Another time I served this dessert in colored wine glasses and did not garnish with mint or zest...equally yummy!

When I served this dessert to my friend, Diana, she thought it was not sweet enough. I don't like too much sweet so for me it is just right. My idea of a perfect dessert is a glass of Port and a cheese tray. But to solve this problem, her husband suggested sprinkling the whole thing with Turbinado Sugar--that's the course raw pale brown cane sugar. Great suggestion Dennis! I believe the fun of cooking is experimenting and trying new and unusual combinations.


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Monday, March 12, 2012

I Love Lamb!

It seems like ages since I have talked about food...doesn't mean I haven't been thinking about food or cooking up a storm! I had my first-ever catering job last week cooking for 40 at my monthly woman's club meeting. I made an Abbundanza Italiano! which was yummy, but a bit more work than I anticipated since my kitchen is not set up for big scale cooking, but it was fun, challenging, and extremely satisfying. OK, it was a pro-bono job, but I think it may create some real paying jobs in the future. I will share the complete menu and recipes with you in an upcoming blog.

I have also been very busy with my grant writing business, I thoroughly enjoy writing grants for wonderful and worthy causes, but it is time consuming and when on deadline that is my primary focus. So, now on to some cooking...

It's important to start by cleaning your leg. If the lamb is wrapped in netting, remove the netting. Then spread the leg out flat on a cutting board with the inside of the leg up. With your sharpest knife remove all silver skin (that's the filmy white/silvery layer that runs along the inside of the leg). Slip the point of your knife under the edge of the silver skin to get it started and then peel it off, using your knife to encourage it along. Sometimes once you get it started you can almost pull it off. This skin is very tough and although it takes patience to remove, it is well worth it. Also remove any cords and other ugly stuff and trim the fat if it is very thick, but don't take it all off. The fat gives it beautiful flavor and helps keep it moist.

I'm going to give you two different boneless recipes. The first recipe is roasted without marinating the lamb and the second calls for a marinade. I'm also offering two different roasting methods. With the first, you brown the lamb before going into the oven and keep the oven heat high during the entire cooking process. The second method calls for starting at a high heat and then reducing for the rest of the cooking time. There is no one correct answer. Try both ways to see which you like better. And the third recipe I will share is one I do when we're in Ireland with a full bone-in leg of lamb.

Once you've cooked a few lamb legs, you don't really need to follow a recipe at all. Just keep in mind the types of flavors that go well with lamb: garlic, rosemary, red wine, sweet onion, mint (the real thing, not the jelly), a small amount of sage, thyme, orange or lemon juice and/or zest; prosciutto, dried fruit, such as prunes or raisins may sound unlikely, but paired with the right herbs and spices are delicious; Parmesan, feta-especially feta made from sheep's milk--my favorite. When using veggies in the stuffing, I have used spinach and also swiss chard and like them both. Adding mushroom to either, especially the wild kind also works well. Be creative. Try new things. Have fun with it!


  • 6 lb. boneless leg of lamb
  • Salt/Pepper for rubbing on the meat
  • 1 (10oz.) bag fresh spinach leaves
  • 8 oz. feta cheese (or more); made either with sheep or goats milk
  • 2 Tbsp. pine nuts
  • 3 Tbsp. garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Kitchen string
  • 1 cup all-purpose White Flour
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. fresh thyme or1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. fennel seed
  • 2 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • Several long springs of rosemary
Silver skin and other undesirables are now removed from your leg of lamb. Cut shallow slits (about 1/2") into the meat to help it lie flat. Cover the meat with a layer of plastic wrap and pound the meat until the thickness is a bit more uniform and the lamb is about 1" to 1 1/2" thickness everywhere. Don't worry about being precise; just try to get it as even as possible so when stuffed and rolled it will cook more evenly. Use a meat mallet, rolling pin (marble rolling pins work great as they weigh a ton!), heavy skillet or any heavy object will do the job. The goal is to make the shape of the meat into an even rectangle so it is easier to roll. Beat your meat firmly, but not brutally.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  1. Rub the inside of the leg with 2 Tbsp. olive oil.
  2. Sprinkle leg of lamb liberally on both sides with salt (I use freshly ground kosher sea salt) and freshly ground pepper.
  3. Spread the finely chopped garlic on the inside of the leg.
  4. Lay the spinach leaves over the garlic on the inside of the leg.
  5. Then crumble the feta cheese over the spinach.
  6. Add the pine nuts.
  7. Roll the roast from the long side into a firm cylinder, and tie the roast together with kitchen string at 2 inch interval's. Some stuffing may pop out at ends, but just push it back in with your finger.
  8. In a flat dish, mix together well the flour, 1 tbsp. salt, 1 Tbsp. pepper, the thyme, and the fennel seed, and press the tied roast firmly into the flour mixture to coat all sides.
  9. Heat the sesame oil in a heavy oven-proof or cast iron skillet or roasting pan over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers and sear all sides of the leg including the ends to a deep golden brown color. Lay the leg of lamb into the skillet (don't overcrowd the meat) or roasting pan. Insert a meat thermometer at the thickest part. Place the springs of rosemary around and on top of the leg. These may need to be changed out before your leg is done as they burn easily and you don't want to infuse your lamb with burned rosemary flavor.  Roast to your desired degree of doneness. I like it rare which is about 10-12 minutes a pound (for boneless lamb) or 1 hour for a 6 lb. leg. Rare is an inside temp of 130 degrees. Medium rare is 140. There is also lots of controversy around what constitutes the correct temp for rare vs. medium. Your meat thermometer will be a big factor, so once again, experiment until you get it done the way you like it. You can always put the roast back in if too rare, but if overdone you have no options. The meat will continue to cook after taking out of the oven so the most important thing is NOT to overcook your lamb.
  10. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and allow to rest 15 minutes before cutting. This step is a must, otherwise you will lose the good juices from the meat if cut right away; they will just bleed out all over the cutting board, and once out you cannot return them. Cut off the string.
  11. I like to cut in fairly thick slices (1/2 to 3/8"); arrange on a platter on a bed of chopped kale or if you are roasting with veggies, place them around your thick slices of lamb.

1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 cup white wine
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried thyme
2 Tbsp. fresh chopped rosemary or 1 Tbsp. dried rosemary
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil

Blend marinade ingredients in a blender, just a few pulses until well mixed.
6 lb. boneless leg of lamb, cleaned as above and rolled and tied

  1. Place lamb and marinade into a plastic bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible from the bag and seal. Wrap again with another bag to prevent leakage and place in the refrigerator to marinate for several hours or overnight. Turn the bag every so often to make sure lamb gets coated evenly with marinade. When ready to roast, take the lamb out of the fridge and let set out for about an hour to come to room temperature.
  2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  3. Remove the lamb from its marinade bag. Pat dry the marinade off the lamb with paper towels. Generously salt and pepper. Place rolled lamb on a rack in a roasting pan. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the roast. Add about 1/2 cup water in bottom of pan.
  4. Roast at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Then reduce heat to 325 degrees and roast for an additional 40-50 minutes, which should give you a rare roast. The shape of the lamb can also impact cooking time. The fatter or thicker the chunk, the longer it will take to cook.
  5. Cut away the kitchen twine. Let meat rest 15 minutes. Carve into 1/2-3/8" slices. Drizzle pan drippings over the carved meat.
My husband and I own a guest house in Ireland so we spend time there each year doing the annual "fix-up", painting, cleaning, gardening, etc., in addition to touring and having fun. I do a lot of cooking in Ireland and Irish lamb is wonderful. There really is nothing like a young, grass-fed all natural Irish lamb. I love going to the butcher shop, selecting our lamb and having the butcher cut it on the spot.

Obviously, this is a happy butcher!  When I get my lamb home, I simply rub it all over with olive oil, add generous freshly ground salt and pepper, drizzle a little red wine (about 1/2 cup), add 4-5 cloves chopped garlic, and lay on sprigs of rosemary, top with more rosemary and put into a hot oven (425 degrees) uncovered for 15 minutes. Then, cover the leg loosely with foil and return to a 350 degree oven and continue roasting for another hour, depending on the size of the leg. Take the foil off and return to the oven for the last 15 minutes of roasting to make sure it is nicely browned. I don't have a meat thermometer in Ireland, so use the 15 minutes per pound rule. This was a BIG leg so it cooked a bit longer. If some of the lamb near the bone is very rare, I cut it off next day and make lamb balls for spaghetti.

To make lamb balls, finely chop the rare lamb, add bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, 1 minced garlic clove,  2 Tbsp. finely diced onion,1 tsp. of Italian seasoning, salt/pepper, 1 egg until you get a good meatball consistency. If the mixture is too dry, add a bit of red wine. If too moist, add more bread crumbs. Roll into balls and fry. Drop the balls into red sauce and let simmer for about an hour. This gives the red sauce a rich beautifully meaty flavor.

And this is a happy cook!   
When in Ireland we try to go to the Farmer's Market on Sunday in Galway. This market is filled with fruits, veggies, home-made pates, cheeses, fresh flowers, meats, fish off the boat, fabulous spices from all over, coffees, as well as crafty things, clothing and even incense!                                  

When I am roasting a bone-in leg I like to add root veg to the roasting pan: potatoes, carrots, onion, whole cloves of garlic.

This is my husband on the right admiring the beauty of fresh carrots!