Moussaka

Moussaka3 (2)

One of the highlights of our trip to Greece a few years ago was certainly the food. The smells from cooking Greek classics at home always conjures up memories of that fantastic trip, and so while a bit tedious, we enjoy making this meal for “events.” This time we were cooking for my parents in sunny LA. When I first took it out of the oven there were protestations of “oh my! So much food – it will be enough for leftovers for weeks!” But after seconds… and thirds… there really wasn’t much left. On the other hand, I like to think that when people get thirds, whatever the dish is is *really* good. We found this recipe after using a different one for moussaka, but when we saw this claim to be the “Best ever moussaka” we decided to put it to the test. And sure enough, this really was the best ever that we’ve had, especially when paired with the wine used to make it!

Ingredients

2 medium globe eggplants (or 3 small eggplants)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 pounds ground lamb
2 yellow onions, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon fines herbes
¼ cup minced parsley
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
¾ cup red wine
½ cup plain bread crumbs
¾ pound feta cheese

Sauce
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg yolk, beaten
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Garnish: chopped parsley

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut tops off eggplants and cut lengthwise in ¼-inch-thick slices. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and place on paper towels for 30 minutes to absorb the moisture. Rinse, wipe eggplant dry, and place in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Roast for 30 minutes.
  2. In a large sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat, cook the lamb, onions, and garlic, crumbling the lamb with a fork and stirring frequently until browned.
  3. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain thoroughly in a strainer. Place meat mixture on paper towels and pat dry to further remove fat.
  4. Return the meat to the cleaned pan and add remaining 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, fines herbes, parsley, and tomato paste. Stir well. Add wine and simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Grease the bottom of a 9 X 13 ovenproof baking dish and dust with all but 3 tablespoons of bread crumbs. Reserve remaining bread crumbs for sauce.Sauce
  6. To make sauce, in a medium sauté pan over low-medium heat, melt butter and whisk in flour. Stir in milk, nutmeg, and salt and stir until thickened. In a separate mixing bowl, spoon a little of the hot sauce into the egg yolk and add the 3 tablespoons of reserved bread crumbs. Then, blend the egg-bread crumb mixture into the sauce. Mix thoroughly.
  7. Layer dish first with eggplant, then meat, and then with a generous portion of feta cheese. Repeat layers and top with sauce.
  8. Lower oven heat to 350°F. Top the dish with Parmesan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until top of cheese is golden brown. Cut into square servings. Garnish with chopped parsley. The Wine Lover’s Cookbook by Sid Goldstein  

     

Lamb Shanks with Chickpeas

Lamb shanks with chickpeas1

We love lamb and lamb shank is my favorite cut of meat. Its slow cooking works perfectly with all kinds of pulses and I especially enjoy it with a mixture of beans and some kind of dried fruit with lots of spices. I developed this dish using my experiences cooking both Moroccan and Indian foods and it turned out to be a huge success – perfect for a cold winter night. All it required was some plain Basmati rice, but feel free to add some salads or yogurt accompaniments. I made enough for two with extra chickpeas, but it easily could be increased to serve more. If I had made side dishes (I was lazy that night) my lamb shanks actually were large enough to have fed 4 people (well maybe not if one was my son!) if the meat was taken off the bone to serve. All of my spice measurements are approximate. I tend to be generous when I am actually measuring – never using a level measure when cooking as opposed to when I bake. Just go with it.

Lisa’s Lamb Shanks with Chickpeas

Yield: 2-4 servings

Ingredients

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cold water

Ghee, Grapeseed or Canola oil (or a combination)

2 large lamb shanks (mine happened to have been “frenched”)

1/4 cup besan or gram flour (chickpea flour)

1/2 large onion sliced (or one medium)

2 cinnamon sticks

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)

4-5 large garlic cloves

2 teaspoons ginger paste or grated ginger

Generous 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 teaspoons tamarind paste

Kosher salt and fresh-cracked black pepper to taste

12 -14 whole pitted prunes

About 1.5 cups chicken stock

Directions

  1. Drain the chickpeas. Place in a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Add 4 cups of water or stock and 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt. Bring to a boil uncovered. When the water has come to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan and allow to cook for 45 minutes. Any remaining liquid will be used in the final dish. I cooked the chickpeas in the Dutch oven I intended to use for the entire dish so I had one less pot to clean. I love to cook but I’m less excited about cleaning. The chickpeas can be prepared ahead or they can be used immediately.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. This could also be made on top of the stove, but I used the oven.
  3. While the chickpeas are cooking, take your lamb shanks and using a sharp knife, make several deep slits in the meaty parts. Take slivers of garlic and push them into the slits.
  4. Place the besan flour in a shallow dish large enough to hold the lamb shanks or place in a heavy duty plastic bag. Add salt and fresh-cracked black pepper to taste. Mix through. Add the lamb shanks one at a time and lightly dredge them in the mixture. There will be left-over flour but do not discard it. Nothing is wasted. In a heavy-duty skillet (I like cast iron), brown the lamb shanks on all sides in your choice of oil(s). I used a mixture of ghee and grapeseed oil because they have a high burn factor.  I used about a quarter of a cup of oils; it will all get used.
  5. When the lamb shanks are nicely browned, place them in a Dutch oven along with the chickpeas and their liquid, tamarind paste, cinnamon sticks and prunes.
  6. In the pan used to brown the lamb shanks, add the onions and any unused garlic (chopped) to the remaining oil. If necessary, add some additional oil so that everything is lightly coated and won’t stick to the pan. Cook the mixture until the onion just begins to brown. Then add all of the spices and the left-over flour mixture. Stir for about 3 minutes or until the spices are fragrant. Be careful not to burn the mixture.

    Add everything to the lamb and chickpeas and gently stir through. Now add the chicken stock. Cover the casserole and place in the oven. Cook for one hour. Then carefully uncover the pot (watch out for steam!) and turn the lamb shanks. I did not need to add any further liquid, but if your mixture looks dry, add a little more stock. Re-cover the pan and cook for one hour more. Lamb shanks with chickpeas2This can be made ahead and gently reheated. Serve over plain Basmati rice or serve with naan. Lamb shanks with chickpeas

Lisa’s Au Gratin Potatoes

Au Gratin Potatoes

Chicago has been experiencing bitter cold for the last couple of weeks. But that hasn’t stopped my husband and me from taking long walks. If you know how to dress properly, it can be rather invigorating and I’ll take it over the heavy snow that hit the East coast of the United States last week. The extreme cold, however, does make things very dry despite the use of humidifiers and lotions, so during this weather I allow my cooking to be a bit heavier on fats. This recipe (really more of a guideline than a hard and fast recipe) is pure comfort food. It’s fairly pliable, adapting well to personal tastes and ingredients on hand. Next time I might add some chopped chives and skip the prosciutto. Here is my version.

Lisa’s Au Gratin Potatoes

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ingredients

5-7 medium Yukon Gold potatoes

3-4 ounces prosciutto, cut into large dice and crisped in a frying pan (You can use bacon, if you prefer. This is what I had on hand and it’s also less fatty than bacon.)

8 ounces extra sharp cheddar, grated

1/4 cup grated Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese

About 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1.75 cups of skim milk (You can use whole if you prefer or part skim and part half & half)

2 large eggs

2-3 Tablespoons butter (I used garlic butter because I had Amish garlic butter that we received as a gift from Frances’ parents.)

2 Tablespoons Panko bread crumbs

Hungarian Paprika

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Generously butter an oval or rectangular pan with 2-inch sides. I like my heavy Le Creuset oval gratin pan, but a glass pan will work as well. The pan should be big enough to fit the all of the ingredients. If you are making this for a crowd, you will need a bigger pan.
  2. In a large pot, cover the potatoes with 2-3 inches of water. Bring it to a boil and simmer for 8 minutes. Remove the potatoes after 8 minutes and run under cold water to stop the cooking. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice them about 1/4 inch thick. (I leave on the skins unless the skin starts to come off. In that case, just peel that extra skin away.) 
  3. Line the buttered pan with the potato slices, over-lapping them slightly. After you have one layer of potatoes, take half of the crisped prosciutto and scatter it across the top of the potatoes. Do the same with half of the cheese mixture. Repeat this entire process with one more layer.
  4. Mix the eggs with the milk and add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Whisk to mix well. Pour the mixture over the potatoes. Sprinkle the top with the Panko bread crumbs and the paprika. Dot the top with more butter. Au Gratin Potatoes3
  5. Place the pan, uncovered in the oven and bake for about an hour. This can be made ahead and loosely covered. When you are ready to serve, uncover the pan and place it in a 350 degree F oven for about 10-15 minutes. Ovens vary but you want the top looking browned and crispy and the potatoes to be tender. Au Gratin Potatoes2

 

 

 

Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Arak

Roasted chicken with clementines4 (2)

For many years I led a program that brought Catholic School High School teachers to Israel to give them an opportunity to see the country outside of the very narrow focus that was available to them in the news. The hope was that it would give a more balanced and broader perspective to present to their students. I was fortunate enough to have kept up with some of the teachers even after I had retired. My husband and I hosted one of the teachers along with her husband for dinner last week and as food was always a highlight of the trip, I decided to make a Middle Eastern meal. I had homemade hummus, “burnt” eggplant with garlic, lemon and pomegranate seeds, kohlrabi salad, pita and this roasted chicken served with basmati rice. The chicken essentially is a sheet-pan meal, which is prepped the night before and then cooked an hour before serving. It comes from Jerusalem, A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi that was given to me as a gift by my niece. I made a few changes, mostly in proportions, but the biggest change was in the temperature that I used to cook the dish. Ottolenghi suggests cooking everything at 475 degrees F. but I found that was much too high and would have resulted in burnt skin and under-done chicken. I cooked mine at 400 degrees F. The other major change I made was that I did not cook my chicken in the sauce. I poured the marinating liquid into a saucepan and cooked it separately on the stove. It was much less messy than trying to pour off the hot sauce later to reduce and I knew that the chicken would be moist enough from the marinade that it didn’t need to cook in the liquid, which also allowed my skin to become truly crispy, which I like. The recipe can be made with Arak, Ouzo or Pernod, all of which have an anise base. Arak would be used in Israel, but I had Ouzo on hand and used that successfully. This dish definite qualifies as comfort food and can easily be increased for a crowd. Left-overs warmed in a 250 degree F oven were wonderful so don’t worry if this makes more than you need immediately.

Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Arak

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ingredients

3/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon Arak, Ouzo or Pernod

1/2 cup of EVOO

6 Tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

6 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 cup Dijon or whole grain mustard

6 Tablespoons dark brown sugar

3 large fennel bulbs, trimmed and cut into 8 wedges each

6 chicken thighs, bone-in with skin

4 chicken breasts, bone-in with skin

8 small clementines with the peel, cut horizontally into thick slices (usually 3 slices per clementine)

2 Tablespoons thyme leaves

1 Tablespoon fennel seeds

1 Tablespoon Kosher salt and 1.5 teaspoons Aleppo pepper or to taste

Directions

  1. Mix together the first 6 ingredients. Add the salt and Aleppo pepper and whisk to combine. Using 2 sets of doubled freezer bags (no clean-up!) divide the chicken between the bags. (You can use a glass or stainless bowl if you prefer.) Divide the fennel bulbs and clementine slices between the bags. Pour half of the marinating mixture into each bag. Using your hand, carefully mix everything through, trying not to smush the clementines or break up the fennel wedges. Alternatively you can carefully seal the bags and holding it over the sink, gently massage everything in the bag. Place the sealed bags standing up in the fridge. Ideally this is done the night before, but it can be done a few hours before if that is all the time you have.
  2. When you are ready to cook the chicken, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. and raise the oven rack to the next to top space. I used two pans and two ovens to make this much chicken but you can use one oven rotating the pans as needed.
  3. I covered two sheet pans with heavy duty foil (again – no clean-up!) I liked that these pans weren’t super deep which allowed everything to get really good color and a crispy skin on the chicken.
  4. I carefully opened a corner of the freezer bags and poured the marinating liquid into a small saucepan. I then places the chicken pieces, skin side up on the pans and placed the fennel wedges and clementines around the chicken, but not covering the chicken. I roasted everything for about 45 minutes or until the skin was crackling and everything had great color. This is one time when you really want to eat the skin!Roasted chicken with clementines
  5. While the chicken was cooking, I brought the marinating liquid to a boil, uncovered. I boiled the liquid down by about half and set it aside until I was ready to serve. when the chicken was ready, I brought the sauce to a simmer and spooned it over the top after plating. Roasted chicken with clementines6

Lamb Meatballs with Cauliflower

Lamb Meatballs3

I came across this recipe on the Food52 website and it caught my eye. Lamb is my favorite meat and we eat a lot of it in our house.  Don’t get put-off by the seemingly long list of ingredients. This recipe came together fairly quickly although I did make some modifications from the original. I also added some Basmati rice to make what I considered a satisfying meal. If you prefer to simply serve it with a good pita or naan that would also work. Clean-up was minimal since the lamb and cauliflower cook on the same pan, lined with aluminum foil. And, if like me, you do a lot of Middle Eastern and Indian cooking, you should have the spices, tahini and pomegranate molasses on hand. The tahini-yogurt sauce makes more than you will need, but it is wonderful with any grilled or roasted meat or vegetables and thinned further can be used as a salad dressing.

Lamb Meatballs with Cauliflower by Emily C and modified by me

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

For lamb meatballs

1.5 pounds ground lamb

1 teaspoon each: Aleppo pepper, ground cumin, fennel seed, Kosher salt

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1.5 Tablespoons Greek Yogurt (2% or full-fat only please)

2 teaspoons garlic cloves, minced or crushed

3-4 Tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley or cilantro

Olive oil or Grapeseed oil for greasing the pan

For cauliflower

1 large head of cauliflower (about 2.5 pounds), cut or broken into small florets

About 3 Tablespoons EVOO

2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses (available online and in Middle Eastern grocery stores)

1 teaspoon Kosher salt or more to taste

1.5 teaspoons ground cumin

For Tahini-Yogurt Sauce

1/2 cup tahini

3 Tablespoons Greek yogurt (2% or full-fat)

Juice of 2 lemons

1 Tablespoon pomegranate molasses

Kosher salt and Aleppo pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Tap water for thinning the sauce (How much you use will depend on the tahini that you are using and your own personal taste as to how thin you like your sauce. Start with about 1/2 cup. The sauce will also thicken a bit over time so if you make this ahead, you may add more water before serving.)

2 Tablespoons of pomegranate arils (that’s the good stuff!)

1/4 chopped flat-leaf parsley or cilantro for serving

Directions

  1. Heat broiler and place rack towards the top of your oven. If you don’t have a broiler, you can heat your oven to 425 degrees F. and it should still be fine. Line a large rimmed pan with heavy duty aluminum foil – unless you love doing dishes! Drizzle the foil with the oil.
  2. In a large glass or stainless steel bowl (I always use these when dealing with raw meat.) combine all of the ingredients for the lamb meatballs with the exception of the oil. Use your hands to combine everything. Then shape the meatballs, using about 2 Tablespoons of mixture at a time. Place the meatballs on the greased pan. Gently roll the balls to lightly coat with the oil. Broil the meatballs, turning once, until they are browned and cooked through. This will depend on the temperature you use and the individuality of your oven. They should take about 10 minutes. Mine took a bit longer.
  3. While the meatballs are cooking, toss the cauliflower with the flavorings and oil and set aside.
  4. Remove the cooked meatballs to a platter that has cooked, hot Basmati rice on it (if using). Cover the platter with foil to keep hot while you cook the cauliflower.
  5. Pour the cauliflower in a single layer onto the same pan, in the juices left behind from the lamb meatballs. Return to the broiler and cook for between 6-10 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender and has begun to brown. Lamb meatballs2
  6. While the cauliflower cooks (although this can easily be made ahead and refrigerated) mix together the ingredients for the tahini yogurt sauce. Be sure to stir the tahini well before adding anything else to it. I find a wire whisk works best. Tahini yogurt sauce
  7. When the cauliflower is cooked, add it to the platter with lamb meatballs and rice. Sprinkle the parsley or cilantro and the pomegranate arils on top and serve the sauce on the side.

 

 

Moroccan Style Sweet Potato Stew

IMG_3687

I came up with this recipe about 20+ years ago when my son went through a period of not eating any meat. I was looking for something that screamed “autumn” to me so I could serve it for the holiday of Sukkot, which we recently celebrated. If you do a lot of North African/Mediterranean and Indian cooking, as I do, then you will always have these seasonings on hand. The main ingredients can be varied to taste, substituting cauliflower for the eggplant for example. Just keep in mind textures, colors and cooking times for the different vegetables that you may use. And, of course, this can be doubled or tripled if desired. Left-overs are delicious but keep in mind that after a time some of the vegetables will get mushy with aggressive reheating. I usually serve this over cooked millet, couscous or rice but you can use any grain or bread that you prefer. My husband is not a big fan of very hot/spicy foods and neither was my son when he was little; however, if you do wish to add some heat to this otherwise well-seasoned dish, you have a few options. You can serve harissa on the side for diners to add their own level of heat individually or if you know that your crowd likes it hot, you can add some hot peppers along with the sweet bell pepper and/or add some cayenne pepper to the spice mix. There are no strict rules here.

Lisa’s Moroccan Style Sweet Potato Stew

Yield: 4-6 servings     IMG_3683

Ingredients

1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

2 Tablespoons EVOO or Canola oil

1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into large dice

1 large red bell pepper, cut into large dice

1 long Japanese eggplant, cut into large dice

15 ounce can of chickpeas, drained (save the liquid for aquafaba!)

1 large Granny Smith or other tart apple, cut into large dice (no need to peel it)

14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes with liquid

1/2 cup of raisins

15 ounce can of pumpkin puree

About 1.25 cups of vegetable broth

About 3 Tablespoons apple juice or cider

1 teaspoon each of turmeric and cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon each of curry powder, ground cumin, salt and either freshly cracked black pepper or Aleppo pepper (my preference)

1/4 teaspoon each of ground nutmeg and ground sumac

2 teaspoons of tamarind paste

Optional Garnishes

Chopped cilantro

Lightly toasted pumpkin seeds, cashews, pine nuts or almonds

Greek Yogurt

Harissa (red or green)

Directions

  1. In a 4 quart heavy saucepan or Dutch Oven, heat the oil and saute the onion and garlic until softened. Stir in the spices and add enough of the apple juice to keep the spices from sticking and burning. Stir for about 3 minutes or until the spices become fragrant.
  2. Add all of the vegetables except for the eggplant. Add the tomatoes, tamarind paste, apple, pumpkin puree, broth and raisins and stir through. Bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan and cook for 20 minutes.
  3. After 20 minutes, add the eggplant, re-cover the pan and continue cooking for another 15-20 minutes or until the sweet potato is tender and cooked through. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve over a cooked grain of your choice and with one or more of the optional garnishes.

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Creole Black Bean Soup

Creole Black Bean1

Autumn is truly a transitional season in Chicago. One day it is summer temperatures and humid and the next may be crisp and bright or chilly and damp. I enjoy soup at any time of the year, but this season requires a little more thought when deciding just what soup to make. I clearly don’t want a cold soup if the next time I go to serve left-overs it is now in the 50’s and raining and I don’t want a super hearty soup if the temperatures are climbing into the upper 70’s. This black bean soup seems the perfect compromise. It is rich and satisfying yet not overly heavy. I found the recipe in an older cookbook of mine and with a few adjustments, it was a delicious make-ahead Sunday meal accompanied by a salad and crisp bread. After a long walk along our beautiful lakefront, it was good to come home to this simple and homey meal.

Creole Black Bean Soup from The Peasant Kitchen by Perla Meyers

Yield: 6-8 servings  Creole Black Bean2

Ingredients

1 pound of dried black beans (2 cups)

1 pound of thick-cut or slab bacon (you can use any kind – turkey, duck, lamb, beef or pork; it is the smoked flavor that you want) cut into 2-inch pieces

About 1 pound of smoked meat (I like smoked turkey legs but ham hocks or any other good smoked meat will work)

2 Tablespoons EVOO

2 large onions, peeled and chopped in small dice

5 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

2 large leeks, well-washed, trimmed and thinly sliced (include some of the lighter green)

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground coriander

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

8 cups of chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 cup dark rum OR 1 cup of Madeira (I used the rum) (This is NOT optional!)

2-3 Tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions

  1. Soak the beans overnight. Drain them the next day.
  2. In a heavy stockpot or Dutch oven large enough to hold everything, add your bacon and brown the pieces until almost crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked bacon to a strainer or plate lined with paper towels.
  3. Wipe out the pot leaving just a shimmer of fat. Add the EVOO and heat on medium high heat. Add the onion, leeks and garlic and cook the mixture until it has softened and just begun to brown. Add the herbs, beans and smoked meats. Add the stock and bring the mixture to a boil, skimming any of the scum that may rise to the top. Once you have removed most of the scum (a little bit left won’t matter), reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot tightly. Simmer at a very low heat for 4 hours.
  4. At the end of the four hours and after the soup has cooled enough to easily handle it, remove the turkey leg or other smoked meat and pick out the meat, discarding the skin, bones and any other detritus. Using an immersion blender, coarsely blend the soup in the pot. You don’t want a perfectly smooth end product; you just want to puree some of the soup, leaving chunky bits of bacon, vegetables and beans. Add the meat back to the mixture and taste. Add your salt, pepper, rum and lemon juice.
  5. To serve, gently reheat the soup. DO NOT allow it to come to a full boil! It can be served with cooked rice, but I preferred a fresh, warm country-style bread with a good crust.  IMG_3667