Thursday, September 27, 2012

Indian-Spiced Lentils and Lamb Stew

This Indian spiced stew with lentils and lamb is a perfect dish to usher in a little cool weather that many of us have been experiencing. It’s not a heavy winter stew that needs a long simmer and warms your bones. It’s more of what I call a “transitional” dish that bridges the gap between summer and fall.

I completely re-wrote the order of cooking this stew and I’ll tell you why. Lamb can be fatty and leave a heavy after-taste. You’ll hear people say they don’t like lamb. There are many reasons, but I believe that one of the reasons is it's the fatty flavor of the lamb that they don’t like.

The original recipe called for browning the lamb, then adding the vegetables to the skillet, and cooking them together. I reversed the process and cooked the vegetables first, then set them aside. Then I cooked the lamb separately, strained it well with paper towels to remove any fat, and added it to the cooked vegetables to eliminate any fatty flavors associated with the lamb.

And here in lies a question - do you ever make a decision to cook a recipe differently than how it was originally written? I’m not talking about substituting or changing ingredients. I’m talking about actually re-writing the recipe’s instruction. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Regarding ingredients. The recipe called for red curry powder, which I couldn’t find at our local supermarket. I substituted yellow, but I might seek out the red next time. Here’s a link for information about the difference in curry powders. If you don’t like it too spicy, go light on the red pepper. At the end of the cooking time the stew was drier than I liked, so I added the juice from the tomatoes and more coconut milk.

We love lamb and we thought it brought an incredible amount of flavor to this, but ground turkey or lean ground beef would also work. Ordinary brown lentils were called for and I don’t think it’s necessary to use the French ones in this. Save the good ones for when they are the star of recipe, not a secondary player.

Indian-Spiced Lentils and Lamb Stew
Adapted from Cooking Light – serves 4

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 ½ cups chopped onion
¾ cup peeled and chopped carrot
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed, finely diced
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon curry powder, red if you have it
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground red pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
¾ cup brown lentils
2 teaspoons olive oil
6 ounces lean ground lamb
1 cup water
¾ cup light coconut milk, plus more if needed
1 (15 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and chopped, (save juice to use later if needed)
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped plus 4 sprigs for garnish
Reduced fat Greek yogurt or low fat sour cream

Add the olive oil to a 10” non-stick skillet, swirl to coat, and turn heat to medium-high. When hot, add onions, carrot, and jalapeno and sauté about 10 minutes until vegetables soften and begin to brown. Add garlic, curry powder, cumin, salt and pepper and stir well. Sauté 30 seconds, then add tomato paste. Sauté about 2 minutes until tomato paste is well incorporated in the vegetables. Add the lentils and stir for a minute or two. Remove the vegetables and lentils to a stockpot.

Wipe the skillet out and add two teaspoons of olive oil, swirl, and heat over medium high heat. Add lamb, breaking it up with a spoon and brown for a few minutes until done. Strain cooked lamb in a strainer lined with paper towels to remove any of the fat. Add cooked lamb to the stockpot with the vegetables, then add the water, coconut milk and tomatoes and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are done. Take care not to let the stew stick. You may need to add more coconut milk and/or the juices from the tomatoes. (I used both.) Add chopped cilantro and stir to incorporate.

Ladle one cup of the stew into each of 4 bowls and garnish with 1 tablespoon of yogurt and a sprig of cilantro. Serve right away.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper, Food on Friday at Carole's Chatter, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday Musings – a visit to north Georgia wine country

Last month our friends Larry and Bev from Big Dude’s Eclectic Ramblings, along with Bev’s sister Pat, invited us and my BIL & SIL Stuart & Sandy to join them for a tour of north Georgia wine country. They were staying in their RV at Vogel State Park where we met them and headed out on the winding roads for the heart of Georgia wine country.

The wineries are located in the foothills of the Southern Appalachian’s Blue Ridge Mountains. You can see by the pictures why they call these the Blue Ridge Mountains. They look just this blue almost every day.

According to the Georgia Wine Growers Association, the mountains combine the perfect terrain, soil, and elevation necessary to produce wines very much like that of Italy’s Piedmont region, which produces some of the most prestigious wines in the world.

We agree. Their wines are excellent. You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into little Italy. It’s hard to believe these wineries are only a couple of hours north of Atlanta.

The wineries & vineyards are perfect for weddings and family get-togethers. And they are a whole lot closer than Italy if you live in the states. They also make a nice day trip if you’re in the Atlanta area and want to get away from the city and breathe some fresh mountain air while you sip wine and tour the vineyards.

Here’s a link to the Georgia Wine Growers Association website to see more about the eleven different wineries in the area, including Crane Creek Vineyards. I did a post about Crane Creek Vineyards (link here) a couple of years ago.

I’ll keep the words short and let you enjoy the lush vineyards and the scenery.

Our first stop was Blackstock Vineyards. We brought home several bottles of their Viognier, which we thought was excellent.

Decisions, decisions…

We took a break and ate lunch at the Back Porch Oyster Bar in nearby Dahlonega. I’m still bragging about how good the Hatteras style clam chowder was. For more pictures and about our lunch, please jump over to Larry’s blog.

After lunch we headed to Frogtown Winery where their rosé was very reminiscent of the French rosés of Provence.

Cheers from north Georgia wine country!

Our group, L to R – Pat, Bev, moi, Stuart, Sandy, Meakin, & Larry.

Have a great week everyone. 

All pictures may be enlarged by clicking. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Spicy Basil Chicken – dinner in less than 30 minutes

Being a food blogger has made me acutely more aware of food presentation and color on the plate. The picture of this spicy basil chicken shown in the cookbook was very pretty, but it seemed to be missing something. The “something” was more color, at least to my eyes. I prepared it the way it was written and here’s how it looked, see below.

Not bad, but I still thought it needed more color. Perhaps something red? Or serve something red with it.

The next time we made the chicken we added two things – red bell pepper for color and roasted peanuts for crunch. It was much better in our opinion, in appearance as well as more flavorful.

The original recipe didn’t say when to make the sauce. The order of ingredients would suggest that the sauce was to be made while the chicken cooked. I like to do as much prep work in advance as possible, so I recommend making the sauce first, not while you’re stir-frying the chicken. Stir-frying requires attention. If you are a big sauce lover, which we are, double the sauce ingredients, especially if you are serving this over rice or orzo. It’s worth it, even if you have a little left-over.

Lately I’ve found that if you stir fresh basil into a hot dish, sometimes it turns almost black. Maybe it’s just the time of the year, but it’s not good whatever the reason. You’ll see that’s what happened in the picture above when we prepared it without the red bell pepper.  So, learn from me and use the basil as a garnish, not stirred in.

This recipe can be completed from start to finish in less than 30 minutes, making it ideal for a weekday dinner.

Spicy Basil Chicken
Adapted from Cooking Light, Reader’s Top-Rated Recipes 
Serves 4 – Total time about 20- 25 minutes

½ teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 ¼ teaspoons chile paste with garlic (such as sambal oelek)
1 teaspoon water

2 teaspoons canola or peanut oil
¼ cup minced shallots
3 garlic cloves, chopped
6 (4 ounce) skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1” pieces
1 sweet red bell pepper, cored and chopped

Handful of roasted peanuts
1/3 cup julienned fresh basil leaves, or use tiny whole leaves

Combine sauce ingredients in a small bowl, stir well and set aside. Heat a large wok or large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add oil to pan and swirl to coat. Add shallots and garlic to pan, cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant, taking care not to burn the garlic. Add chicken to pan along with the chopped red bell pepper and stir-fry about 13 minutes or until chicken is done, stirring frequently. If you feel the skillet will be crowded, cook the chicken in batches.

Stir the sauce to reincorporate the corn starch and add sauce mixture to the pan and cook for a minute until mixture thickens, stirring to coat the chicken. Remove from the heat and stir in a handful of peanuts. Serve chicken garnished with the basil.

*Double the sauce if you serve this with rice or orzo.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Living, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Seasonal Sunday at The Tablescaper, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Monday Musings – Alpacas at our Farmer’s Market

Quite often our local farmer's market has things other than just food. These two adorable alpacas were there this past weekend from Two Crow's Alpaca Farm. They live on this beautiful farm in the mountains of western North Carolina. Don’t you love their pretty old farmhouse?

Photo from Two Crow's website

According to Two Crow’s Alpaca Farm’s website, alpaca fleece is much lighter and warmer than sheep’s wool. Alpacas are sheared once a year and their fleece is turned into luxurious garments, such as the hats and socks shown on this cute teddy bear below at their booth at the market.

You can see that alpacas are small compared to most livestock breeds. Here one is standing next to the farmer.

If you would like to know more about the alpacas and Two Crow’s farm, click here. If you’re curious about they how got started raising alpacas, click here.

We can't leave without at least one food shot.

Have a great week everyone.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pan-Fried Tilapia with Tomato Basil Sauté – dinner in less than 30 minutes

This is a very easy fish dinner that you can have on the table in less than thirty minutes. I’ve used grape tomatoes, which I find to be reliable year-around. So there’s absolutely no need to save this recipe for summer.

If you happen to have heirloom or homegrown tomatoes, here is a similar recipe you’ll like using salmon that I’ve smothered in heirloom tomatoes & fresh basil. It would work perfectly well for most any fish. Link here.

We always have some fresh basil, either growing in a pot or in our herb garden. This year the basil in our herb garden is still going strong and will be until the first big cold snap; primarily because we’ve kept it pinched back and not let it flower. We’ve also done cuttings and rooted them in water for new plants every couple of weeks. If you buy fresh basil from the store, remember that basil does not like to be cold. Instead of storing it in the refrigerator, I recommend putting the fresh basil in a vase of water just as you would flowers and leave it on your counter and snip as needed.

The colors alone in this dish make it company worthy, whether you use two colors of tomatoes as I’ve done here, or only the red ones. Actually plating the fish on a white platter with only red tomatoes and green basil makes a very striking presentation.  Check out the photo from Cooking Light using only red tomatoes and basil served over trout.

The tomatoes moisten the fish and take away the worries of dry fish. If you have left-over tomatoes, they are wonderful the next day over scrambled eggs. Often we make extra pan-fried fish and serve it the next morning, warmed gently, for breakfast with eggs and fruit.

Enjoy this easy fish recipe year-around.

Pan-Fried Tilapia with Tomato Basil Sauté
Adapted from Cooking Light – serves 4, total time 20 minutes

2 ounces chopped bacon or pancetta
2 cups grape (or cherry) tomatoes, halved, red & yellow combo if available
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup small fresh basil leaves, julienned, plus a few small ones for garnish
4 teaspoons canola oil
4 (6-ounce) tilapia fillets
4 lemon wedges

Heat bacon or pancetta in a medium non-stick skillet over low heat. Cook until it begins to brown and color. If you are using bacon and have too much grease left, pour off enough to leave about 1 teaspoon of oil in the pan. Add grape tomatoes halves, minced garlic, salt and freshly ground black pepper, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring, until tomatoes begin to soften. Take care not to let the garlic burn. Remove from the heat and stir in the julienned basil leaves and set aside.

Put 2 teaspoons of canola in a large non-stick skillet and heat pan over medium-high heat, swirling to coat the pan with the oil. Add 2 tilapia fillets to pan and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook fillets 2 minutes on each side until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Remove fish from pan and keep warm. Repeat the process with remaining 2 teaspoons of oil and remaining 2 fillets. Top fish with tomato basil mixture. Garnish with a few small basil leaves and serve with lemon wedges.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper, On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable, and Food on Friday at Carole's Chatter.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday Musings – On the Farm

Old MacDonald Had a Farm

Old MacDonald had a farm, 

And on his farm he had some chicks, 

With a chick, chick here,
And a chick, chick there,
Here a chick, there a chick,
Everywhere a chick, chick,

Old MacDonald had a farm, 

The farmer was George Vanderbilt III, a member of one of America’s oldest & wealthiest families. In 1895 George Vanderbilt built a French Renaissance style chateau, The Biltmore Estate, in Asheville, North Carolina and it is referred to as “America’s largest home.” The photos are from Antler Farms, part of the Biltmore Estate.

Link to the Biltmore Estates here

Link to Antler Farms and the Inn at the Biltmore here.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Boozy Cherries with Lavender - an easy version of Cherries Jubilee, served on toast

Fresh cherries have been very appealing to me this year and I wanted to use them again before they disappear off of the supermarket shelves. Several weeks ago I made a salad using Rainier cherries with goat cheese and pistachios and it was a real hit, but this time I wanted to use the dark sweet Washington State cherries I found in a dessert.

I call this boozy cherries, but it’s really an easy version of Cherries Jubilee, minus the flambéing and the ice cream. Here the cherries are served over ice cream, which makes an equally delicious dish.

Traditional Cherries Jubilee calls for golden rum, but I’ve used tawny port for a sweeter, softer flavor. You could certainly leave it out and make an equally delicious non-boozy version.

The recipe uses lavender buds, a classic herb of Provence. I found culinary lavender at Fresh Market, but Williams Sonoma also carries lavender. Lavender has many uses in cooking. If you sprinkle a little bit of lavender on a chicken before you roast it, your kitchen will smell divine. Lavender can also be used to enhance the flavor of lamb and a pinch or two is delicious in crème brûlée or in vinaigrettes and sauces.

If you use fresh cherries, you’ll want a cherry pitter. A pound and a half of cherries is quite a lot of cherries to pit, so make your job as easy as possible. A cherry pitter it also a handy tool for pitting olives. I like this one from Oxo Good Grips because it has a splatter guard to keep the juice and pits from spraying all over you, plus the handle is ergonomically designed for a comfortable grip. Frozen cherries would work very well in this if you don’t want to go to the trouble of pitting your cherries or if fresh cherries aren’t available.

This recipe calls for serving the warm cherries over toast. We’ve served it over vanilla ice cream and thought it was just as good with the ice cream and more like Cherries Jubilee. If you serve this to dinner guests, using the toast brings an element of surprise, which I happen to like, to the end of the meal.

Boozy Cherries – an easy version of Cherries Jubilee, served on toast 
Adapted from B H & G – serves 4
Printable Recipe

1 cup pomegranate juice
½ cup packed brown sugar
4 tablespoons tawny port or golden rum
1 teaspoon finely snipped fresh lavender buds or ¼ teaspoon dried buds, crushed
1 ½ lbs fresh dark and/or light pitted sweet cherries, or frozen pitted dark sweet cherries
8 thick slices French baguette or country bread
Softened butter
Toasted almonds (optional)
Garnish with a sprig of fresh lavender from your garden if you have it

In a medium saucepan combine the pomegranate juice, brown sugar, tawny port, and lavender. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Add cherries and stir. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the cherries with a slotted spoon and set aside. Boil the sauce gently, uncovered, to the consistency you wish, striving for fairly thick syrup. Return the cherries to the sauce and set aside for a moment.

Lightly grill or toast the bread, then spread with butter. Place 2 pieces in either 4 dessert bowls or plates. Spoon cherries and sauce over the bread, garnish with the almonds and lavender sprig, and serve immediately.


For an easy version of Cherries Jubilee minus the flambéing, omit the toast and serve the cherries and their sauce over scoops of vanilla ice cream.

This recipe will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Mom on Time Out, Seasonal Sunday at The Tablescaper, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.