Saturday, April 2, 2011

. . . and little lambs eat ivy . . .

Oy Oy Oy …!

Remember that little saying we learned in grade school – March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb?  It really used to be true when I was a kid back in Brooklyn.  Along with April showers bring May flowers, Lilacs always bloom for Mother’s Day, and Indian Summer always coincides with the Jewish High Holy Days.  Moving to Florida has skewed my chi, because it’s always summer in Florida and sadly, there are no lilacs this far south.  So I shouldn’t be surprised that the last days of March were beginning to resemble the 2004 Atlantic Hurricane Season.  Maybe it’s El NiƱo, maybe it’s global warming.

The weather had its way with me, and I was left battered and broken in its wake.  Body aches, headache, sneaky little palpitations, and exhaustion from the whole thing.  I tried to pull myself together, but by 9:30 it was obvious it just wasn’t going to happen.  I hope my little spider friend is having better luck than I am.  Not only do I feel rotten now, I know I’m going to feel worse on Monday morning when I have to deal with all the stuff I should have done on Friday.

There is not much I can do except rest, which gives me time to think about what I would like to do if I did not feel like a used washrag.  One thing I can do, and I am going to do, is open a window.  For the first time in many days, the weather is very pleasant, and I want to enjoy it while I can.  The Weather Channel app on my iPhone has already announced the bad news that by this coming Tuesday, we are back to thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening accompanied by yet another deluge of Biblical proportions.  Well, that’s not exactly what the app said, but I can assure you, that is what it meant.

I’m still thinking about hamantaschen.  I know Purim has come and gone, and I really should be planning for Passover, but we love hamantaschen so much we don’t need a holiday as an excuse to shkoff them down.  If you are from the metropolitan New York area, then you are probably well-acquainted with the typical hamantaschen produced by bakeries, with a thick, buttery cookie-like crust filled with either lekvar (prune butter) or apricot or raspberry preserves.  For some reason, I have never been able to find a recipe that replicates the crust, and so for many years I have made my hamantaschen using a recipe I adapted from a really neat cookbook entitled Mama Leah’s Jewish Kitchen, by Leah Loeb Fischer.  The resulting cookies are nothing like the bakery version, but they are delicious in their own right, and relatively easy to prepare because Mama Leah uses corn oil rather than butter or margarine in her dough.

I’ve seen corn oil used in a number of Jewish baking recipes, including some I got from my mother and my Aunt Ceil.  I am guessing the reason for this is that the baked goods will always be pareve – in other words, neutral, neither dairy nor meat, and therefore can be served after either kind of meal.  While neither my mother nor aunt kept a kosher home, old habits die hard.


I thought I had finally resolved to try the hamantaschen recipe from Joan Nathan’s book, The Jewish Holiday Baker, after considering, and rejecting a similar recipe from Marlene Sorosky’s Fast & Festive Meals for the Jewish Holidays.  That cookbook has the very best Passover baking recipes I’ve ever seen, and the recipe for Flo Braker’s Cookie-Dough Hamantaschen also sounded good, but I liked the 2 tablespoons of wheat germ Joan Nathan tosses into her dough.  I was looking for a link to that recipe, and came across a link with this quote attached to it: 

Last year I made a recipe from both Epicurious and from Marlene Sorosky. They were okay.  The doughs varied quite a bit and I honestly was not motivated to make them again.  Joan Nathan’s book, Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous is on my wish list so I googled her and Hamantaschen at the same time and this recipe came up.  I am really happy with the dough.  So easy to roll out, easy to shape, and when baked, it is not too sweet.  Leave the sweetness to the filling – this is a perfect marriage.

This comes from an awesome blog entitled “The Urban Baker”, which I’ve already added to my blog list. So this gal has already tried out the Marlene Sorosky recipe and found it just “okay.”  I was curious as to the Joan Nathan recipe, and it turns out to be different than her wheat germ version.  The pictures looked very similar to the New York bakery hamantaschen I grew up with, so a decision has been made to try the Urban Baker's adaptation.

All that thinking wore me out.

So I washed a boat load of dishes, pots, pans, and every sharp knife in the house.  What’s with that?  How did they all end up in the sink at the same time? Speaking of knives, the best line I read today came from my cousin Gary in response to a link I posted on Facebook regarding Governor Voldemort’s funding cuts.

The 45th Governor of the State of Florida

I have, as of late, been going on and on about da Gov demanding drug screens from all state employees (except the ones that work directly for him), and then saw the article about his making deep cuts into the budgets for services for severely disabled children and adults.  I commented that of course he had to make those cuts so he would have the funding available to drug test all the state employees.  To which Gary replied:  “Geez, what is with this guy?  He makes more cuts than Freddy Krueger.”

Speaking of lions and lambs ... I am thinking about lamb shanks.

Apparently lamb is one of those meats that are an acquired taste.  I grew up eating broiled lamb chops, and I always loved them, but when discussing recipes, a number of people have told me they either don’t care for lamb, or have never tasted it.  Some people find it too “gamy”, but these are usually the same people who have never developed an appreciation for roast duck.  Which is sad, anyway you look at it.

My mother never made lamb shanks or even a leg of lamb.  By the time she got around to raising us grandkids, she was all about broiling lamb chops and baking chicken rather than any of the fancier preparations she had tried as a young mother.  My mother-in-law, on the other hand continues to be an adventurous cook, trying out new recipes all the time.  It was in her kitchen that I first tasted lamb shanks, and oh were they wonderful!  The lamb shanks, along with some lamb neck, were slow cooked with rice, tomatoes, onions, and seasoning until they were falling-apart tender and the rice, which was infused with lamb-tomato flavor, was mixed with green peas for the last few minutes of cooking.

The lamb rice was so good that my father, who did not care for lamb, loved the rice.  That lamb rice, with another dish that I cannot remember now, was the last meal he was able to eat and keep down.  This was May of 1983, sometime around Mother’s Day, and he was dying of cancer, after a 16 month battle involving chemotherapy which left him sicker than the actual cancer.  Despite this, he and my mother traveled from Sunrise, Florida, to Central Islip, New York, to see me, and to see the model of the house Rob and I had just contracted to buy.  I prepared the lamb shanks and rice, which I knew my mother loved, and another dish that I knew my father would enjoy, but heaping the lamb rice on his plate as well. 

My Pop, mid to late 1970's

The next time I saw him, he was in the hospital, and on June 24, 1983, four days after I arrived in Florida to see him, he passed away.  Pop is the reason I won’t gamble, not even to buy lottery tickets … but that is another blog post.

Back to lamb shanks – most recipes I have seen use the braising method to cook the lamb.  This is a tougher cut of meat, just as it is on any animal, and it benefits from the low, slow cooking with a flavorful liquid, that happens after the initial high temperature searing or browning.  My mother-in-law’s recipe is a little different, as there is no initial browning nor deglazing with stock or wine, but it is still the low, slow cooking – at least 3 hours – that makes the dish.

I have tried one other recipe for lamb shanks and that was Wayne Harley Brackman’s Braised Lamb Shanks with Roasted Vegetables, which turned out absolutely delicious.  The balsamic vinegar really made that dish. There is one other I always meant to try, even had purchased the apricots, but somehow never got to it, and that was Tyler Florence’s Braised Lamb Shanks with Green Olives and Apricots.  Still perusing the Food Network site … found North African-influenced Lamb Shanks with Couscous  from Emeril and Curried Braised Lamb Shank with Three Onion Couscous from Ming Tsai. There are others, of course, but these were particularly intriguing. So many recipes and only eight small lamb shanks defrosting.
(I may not be doing much cooking this weekend, as I slid into a giant flop on the all-ceramic tiled floor.  Ouch.  Nothing broken (I think), but I bruised my right arm, just how badly I don’t know.  Well, I can still type, so it can’t be that bad.) 

I also have an idea that comes from a recipe that has nothing to do with lamb shanks.  It’s another gem from Tyler Florence, and I have made this in its original form using beef short ribs. It was so delicious, I wish short ribs were more reasonably priced!  Trust me, I did not prepare the scallop part of the dish - even if I could find diver scallops I would probably have to take a bank loan to buy them, darn it.  I really think the combination of flavors will work with the lamb shanks.  Besides, there is no way I can get my hands on the kaffir lime leaves in Ming Tsai's version, but if I ever do, I promise I am going to try that recipe!

And to accompany the lamb shanks, a special whipped rutabaga recipe that even my turnip-dissing husband likes.

So assuming my arm doesn't get any worse and my headache stays far away, cooking plans are for "sticky braised lamb shanks", whipped rutabagas with bacon, caraway, and sour cream, and  for baking hamantaschen.

I am also seriously considering making that corned beef that has been hanging out in my outside refrigerator, along with some cabbage and potatoes ... it seems that young men in their early twenties have voracious appetites for Mom's home cooking ... how did my mother-in-law manage to feed three growing boys?  My father had a nickname for healthy eaters like that - "vacuum cleaners with teeth."  That is my son, the taekwando maven. 

Not that I'm complaining, of course.  Far from it.

Cook like there's nobody watching, and eat like it's heaven on earth.

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