Roast Leg of Lamb: A Greek Easter Dish

I’ve never made roast leg of lamb before. My friend Erma offered to come over and make it, so I figured why not, we’ll try something new.

No one in my family is a huge fan of lamb. Gran Fran, my mom, pretty much despises the smell and taste of it. We have said in the past that it tastes like static and that we’d rather not eat it. When my friend Erma asked if I’d like to learn to cook a leg of lamb, I immediately said yes. Even though I wasn’t thrilled about eating it (which I committed to as we were going to all of the trouble to make it), I was excited to learn how to make something new. With the amount of cooking that I do, it’s rare occasion when I find a dish I’ve never made.

The leg of lamb was very simple to make. Erma went to a great butcher shop and got us a really nice leg of lamb. The recipe calls for just a few simple ingredients, but in large quantities. The flavors of the garlic, lemon and oregano really permeates the meat to give it a really fresh flavor against the very strong meatiness of the lamb.

 When it was fully roasted, I gave it a taste. I have to say, it’s the first lamb I’ve ever eaten where I took a second bite by choice. It’s still not my favorite, but I could see myself making this for a crowd sometime.

 

Click here to see how to cut a leg of lamb

Greek-Style Roast Leg of Lamb

Ingredients:

  • 1 large leg of lamb
  • 6 loves garlic
  • 3 lemons, juiced
  • 1 cup oregano
  • 5 tablespoons salt
  • 5 tablespoons fresh ground pepper

Method:

Prepare the Lamb: The day before you plan to serve it:

  1. Cut slits through the fat of the lamb, each one big enough for  a clove of garlic.
  2. Stuff garlic cloves into the slits, pushing garlic well into the meat.
  3. Pour lemon juice over the lamb, rubbing it all over both sides of the meat.
  4. Coat with oregano and salt and pepper, again making sure to cover as much of the surface area of the meat on all sides with the spices.
  5. Cover and refrigerate over night.

note: if you don’t have a whole night to marinade the meat, 2 to 10 hours in the fridge will work.

Cook the Lamb:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F for at least 25 minutes.
  2. Cook for 30 minutes, making sure the oven rack is in the middle of the oven.
  3. Reduce heat to 325 degrees F and continue roasting for about an hour.
  4. Remove the meat from the oven when a meat thermometer reads 135 degrees.
  5. Let rest for ten minutes and then carve (see above for a link to a carving video)

 

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Slow Cooker Chicken Stew

Well, I guess it is still winter, so let’s make slow cooker chicken stew.

What I love about the slow cooker (a statement I never thought I’d make) is that you can really throw any combination of meat, broth and veggies in it and end up with a lovely satisfying meal with little to no effort. At the end of the day (literally) you can serve up a wonderful meal that satisfies both young and old alike.

I’ve added a ton of root veggies, some porcini mushroom stock, and lots of garlic for a very tasty and hearty stew. The veggies and mushroom stock add an earthy sweetness to the final product.

My neighbors have a ten month old baby. I offered some of this stew to him and he went crazy. He was eating with two hands, the meat, the stewed fennel and the carrots. He made all sorts of appreciative noises, too, and kept reaching for more. I couldn’t ask for a better endorsement of the tastiness of this stew.

Well, I got one. My 14 year old daughter was skeptical at first, based on the not-so-pretty-ness of the chicken itself. Once I shredded it up and convinced her to give it a try, she was hooked. The meat was juicy and sweet and tasted of all the great veggies that surrounded it while it cooked.

If this slow cooker chicken stew can please kids aged ten months to 14 years old, then I think it’s well worth making. Oh, and of course, the adults loved it, too.

Slow Cooker Chicken Stew

serves 8

Ingredients

  • 6 strips bacon, cut up into small pieces
  • 3 onions, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into thick rings
  • 1 bulb fennel, fronds and hard ends removed, cut into chunks
  • 1 bulb garlic, skin removed, cloves crushed
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 sprigs fresh sage
  • 2 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 20 oil cured olives, pits removed
  • 6 chicken thighs
  • 1/4 cup rice flour
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil (or bacon grease, if you have it)
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 to 2 porcini mushroom boullion cubes (or you can replace the 1 cup of water with wild mushroom broth)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Method:

  1. Dry the chicken thighs and coat each piece thoroughly in the rice flour.
  2. Put the diced bacon in a small saucepan and over with water.
  3. Boil the bacon in the water for ten minutes, drain, dry and set aside.
  4. Heat a large skillet over medium to high heat.
  5. Add the bacon fat (or olive oil).
  6. Place each chicken thigh in the hot pan, skin side down. Do not crowd the thighs, you may need to cook them in batches, to make sure there is enough space in the pan.
  7. Cook on the first side for 5 minutes, then flip the thighs over and cook for an additional five minutes. Remove to crock pot and set aside.
  8. Once all of the chicken has been browned and removed, add the root vegetables and the boiled bacon to the hot pan. Brown on all sides, making sure to scrape up all the flour onto the veggies.
  9. Add the vegetables and bacon to the slow cooker, arranging the chicken to rest slightly on top of the veggies.
  10. Add the chicken stock and the porcini boullion cube to the hot pan, cooking long enough to dissolve the boullion.
  11. Pour the stock over the chicken and vegetables in the slow cooker. Add water to cover, if you haven’t got enough liquid to get to the minimum fill line.
  12. Turn the slow cooker on to low and cook for 6 hours.

 

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Pizza Rustica: Gran Fran’s Epic Easter Pie

 

I’m at my desk, working. A package arrives. It’s from N.Y.C. I don’t even need to look at the address, due to the way it’s packed, I know it’s from Gran Fran.

Her typical packing-box style requires a recycled box from Amazon, or some other online retailer, and a piece of 81/2 x 11 printer paper with my name and address written on it in large black Sharpie. The final touch, which is the real reason I know it’s a Gran-Fran delivery, is the copious amounts of packing tape she uses. I think she believes someone will tamper with her precious cargo, whether it’s books, food or toys. The tape is layered on so thick and tight you can’t get into the box without a very heavy duty box cutter. No scissors can make a dent in her packaging.

What is in the box this time is well worth protecting, with as much packing tape as one has available. Gran-Fran has sendt her yearly Easter package complete with bread baskets with Easter eggs nestled inside, chocolates for Iz and little trinkets. Oh, but the best food in the package are the Italian pie.

Gran-Fran’s Pizza Rustica is like nothing I’ve ever tasted. And, I can re-create the pie (see the recipe below), but it is oh-so-special to receive these in the mail every year. It’s like a little gift just for me, since Iz does not like either of the pies.

The Pizza Rustica is a savory pie, which most will refer to as a heart-attack-on-a-plate when they hear what’s in it, but well worth throwing caution to the wind to experience the salty goodness. It involves not one, not two, but FOUR kinds of meat, three kinds of cheese, ricotta and six eggs. Not good for those of us with high cholesterol (me) or high blood pressure (salt-tastic), but again it only happens once a year, so I make sure to eat light when I know the box is on its way.

Okay, back to the present day. Once the package arrives, and I spend hours removing the packing tape, I reach in and smell the goodness. Each pie is wrapped in its own wrapper. Again, in true Gran-Fran fashion, the pies are placed in waxed paper (2 layers, thank you very much) then wrapped in aluminum foil, then snuggled into plastic bags. She then scotch-tapes them closed with a small scrap of white paper identifying which pie is for which daughter. Again, the unwrapping begins, and once I have made it to the actual pie, I am in heaven.

To be clear, Gran-Fran is the reigning queen of freezing fresh goods and sending them across country. She once made several hundred cupcakes for a party here in SF, froze them, wrapped them in the above fashion and shipped them out. They got lost in the mail, arrived about a week later, and were still frozen. So, there is no need to fear the freshness factor of her shipped pies, since they are likely to still be slightly frozen, if not very cold, upon arrival.

I am back at my desk, with the box open, the pies unwrapped and a napkin on my lap. Even though they taste better heated up, I don’t bother. I just eat them out of the box, Homer Simpson-style right there and then. So good! And, no sharing, either. I can make these pies last for two to three weeks, even though it’s usually just a quarter of each pie.

So, a big thank you to Gran Fran for fulfilling my Easter wish of meat, eggs, cheese and deliciousness.

Buona Pasqua!!

PIZZA RUSTICA (also known as Pizza Chiena)

recipe courtesy of Fran Claro, The Italian Pantry

Crust:

If you prefer, you can use 4 store bought 9″ pie shells. Just shaped them into the bottom of your baking dish, making sure there are no holes in the dough.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

* 4 1/2 cups unbleached flour
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 3 sticks ice-cold unsalted butter, diced
* 1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water

1. Combine flour and salt. Use a pastry blender or an electric mixer at low speed to work butter into flour mixture, and form coarse crumbs.
2. Gradually add enough water to form a dough that just sticks together. Wrap dough in waxed paper and refrigerate while preparing filling.

PIZZA RUSTICA FILLING

(All meats and cheeses should be thickly sliced and diced into 1/2 inch cubes.)

* 1/4 pound prosciutto
* 1/4 pound Genoa salami
* 1/2 pound soppresatta salami
* 1/4 pound Sicilian salami
* 1/2 pound conventional mozzarella, or scamorza
* 1/4 pound fontina cheese
* 1/4 pound asiago cheese
* 2 cups whole-milk ricotta, drained well
* 6 eggs
* Freshly ground pepper to taste

For Glaze

* 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon milk

Preparation

1. In a large bowl, combine all meats and hard cheeses; set aside. In another bowl, beat together ricotta, eggs, and black pepper; set aside.
2. Divide dough in two, with one piece slightly larger than the other. On a lightly floured board, roll out larger piece of dough, and gently fit it into a 9 x 12 (approximately) nonreactive casserole dish; leave an overhang of an inch or two of dough. Roll out second piece of dough to fit over top; set aside.
3. Pour combined meats and cheeses into pastry-lined dish; pour ricotta-egg mixture over the filling.
4. Moisten the edge of the bottom crust with water. Add top crust. Roll edges of top and bottom crust together; flute edges.
5. Brush top crust with egg/milk glaze. Cut a circle in top crust to allow steam to escape.
6. Place casserole on baking sheet. Bake for 75 minutes or until the tip of a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
7. Place on cooling rack; allow to come to room temperature before slicing. Serve at room temperature or cold. Refrigerate any leftovers.

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Remedy for What Ails You: Ginger, Lemon, Garlic, Honey and Cayenne Teas

When you have a sore throat and are coming down with a cold, ginger and cayenne tea is the way to go. Add lemon, garlic, and honey and you’ll be fixed up well quickly.

The strong taste, the heat from the cayenne and the warmth of the garlic will help you sweat out whatever ails you.

Oh, and if you so desire, add a bit of bourbon or whiskey for a little something extra.

Ginger and Cayenne Tea

Ingredients

  • 1 lemon, cut in half, juice squeezed into the pan
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (if you must, you can use 1/8 tsp ground ginger)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3 cloves garlic, skin removed, cut into chunks

Method:

  1. Put everything in a small saucepan.
  2. Bring the brew to a boil, reduce to medium and heat for five minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Strain through a funnel into a cup or bowl.
  4. Drink while still piping hot.
  5. Wrap up in warm blankets and sleep the night away.

 

 

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