Category Archives: Party food

Braised Lamb with Curry and Cardamom (Dark Days)

When I get invited to parties by close friends, I am often encouraged to bring a dish or to come early help out with cooking. It’s such a pleasure to have the ability to contribute to the meal, and I’m usually happiest in the kitchen, anyway. When the wife of one of my closest friends asked me if I’d be interested in bringing a lamb dish to his birthday dinner, I was thrilled to help out. I remembered seeing a recipe that looked amazing in my copy of Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table, and decided to give it a go. I was (over)due for a Dark Days meal as well, so made sure to use local produce and lamb from a local Sonoma producer.

The recipe looked really interesting–who would have thought of mint, cardamom and curry in a French recipe?  I did end up making a few changes from the original recipe. I started out by browning the meat before cooking down the onions–the recipe called for adding them to the onions and spices instead. There were 3 lbs of meat, so I just wanted to be sure it got that lovely flavor going from the browning. The key to good browning is to keep the meat from getting too crowded, as you see above. For the 3 lbs of lamb meat, I did four rounds of browning. After each batch, just set it aside to rest. One you’re done, remove the last of the lamb and start cooking the aromatics. I also decided to add a few other local ingredients, as I had some local parsnips and sweet potatoes that needed to be used. So I cut the number of fingerling potatoes in half, added a cubed sweet potato and tossed in a few parsnips as well. They were a great addition, and also helped to stretch the stew for a crowd.

One of the nice parts of starting with the lamb is that you have a dark and flavorful fond–the brown crusty goodness that develops in the bottom of the pan–that creates a lovely depth of flavor in the meal when it breaks down into the liquid. All of the spices, garlic and onions go in, and cook down until the onions soften, about what you see above. Then toss in the seared lamb, potatoes and onions, and enough water to cover, and you’re almost there. When I initially read the recipe, I was surprised to see the addition of honey, apples and figs to a stew like this. I was uncertain how I would like those sweet flavors initially, but then I thought of the age-old tradition of pairing lamb with mint jelly, and figured I’d trust Dorie. I’m so glad I did. The sweet was just right, and really paired well with the gaminess of the lamb.

The diced apples went in along with a couple tablespoons of local honey. The recipe called for dried figs, but I didn’t have access to local dried figs, so I used a few tablespoons of local fig jam I had made earlier this fall. The recipe is pretty simple after that. I started it cooking on my stove, closed up the cast iron pan and swaddled it in kitchen towels, and drove it 45 minutes north of Oakland to my friends’ home, where it finished cooking.

My only problem was that the party–as parties often do–didn’t quite start on time, and we ended up eating about and hour and a half later than planned. I was a bit worried, as the pan stayed simmering on the stove that whole time. Though aesthetically it wasn’t as pretty, since the potatoes and apples broke down into the sauce, the dish still tasted fantastic. This was a discerning crowd (a lot of folks who work in the Napa wine and restaurant industry), and I heard many rave reviews for the stew. We served it over the birthday boy’s legendary polenta, and I saw many folks take seconds. This is my favorite kind of party food–prep and begin cooking well in advance, then it’s waiting for you when you are ready to eat. It’s also wonderful for winter weekends like this one!

Braised Lamb with Cardamom and Curry
Adapted with a few changes from Around My French Table

1 small bunch mint (about 6 sprigs)

About 2 tablespoons olive oil (to brown the meat)

3 pounds boneless lamb leg or shoulder, fat removed, cut into 1-inch cubes and patted dry

2 large onions, finely chopped

6 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled

2½ tablespoons curry powder (I used Madras, as Dorie recommended, and it was lovely)

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

4 crushed cardamom pods (optional)

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

3 parsnips, peeled and sliced on a bias

1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 2″ squares

5 small potatoes (like fingerlings) cut in half or quarters

1 cup water

2 teaspoons honey (optional)

3 dried figs, sliced (I used my local fig jam, as I didn’t have local dried figs handy)

2 tart-sweet apples (I used pippins)

Preliminaries: Tie the mint stems in a bundle with kitchen twine. Pull off the mint leaves (reserve the stems) and chop the leaves.

Put a Dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed casserole over medium-low heat and pour in 2 tablespoons olive oil. When it’s hot, brown the lamp in 3-4 batches. Remove the lamb to rest, then stir in the onions, garlic, curry, cardamom powder and optional cardamom pods (I ground mine in a mortar and pestle). Heat, stirring, just until the onions are translucent and soft, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then pour in the water, toss in the mint bundle, and stir in half of the chopped mint, and, if you’re using them, the honey and figs. Scatter the potatoes, parsnips and apples over the meat, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.

Lower the heat to a gentle simmer, put a piece of aluminum foil over the casserole, and cover it with the lid. Braise for 1 hour and 15 to 30 minutes, or until the meat and potatoes are tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of knife. Check at the one-hour to see if it needs more liquid: ideally, the stew will not be watery at all, but will still have a bit of a thick sauce.

Taste the juice and add more salt and pepper, if needed. Sprinkle over the remaining chopped mint.

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Filed under Dark Days, Main Dishes, Party food

The Food52 Potluck

This particular potluck was a gathering to celebrate the Food52 cookbook’s launch, and it included an amazing cast of characters. There was Amanda Hesser, the former food editor of the New York Times, and author of the Essential New York Times cookbook. Merril Stubbs, the co-founder with Amanda of Food52, who is an amazing recipe tester and food writer, was the other guest of honor.

We gathered to congratulate the many local cooks who were included in the recipe collection, and to share food that was lovingly prepared by these fantastic Bay Area cooks. The day was such a joy–I always love spending time with people who are as crazy about experimenting in the kitchen as I am.

I mean, take a look at this charcuterie and cheese basket–this was contributed by our hostess for the day, Lynda of the blog Taste Food. She made pork rillettes, candied bacon, pate, and more. Wow! The day was fantastic, and I took tons of photos. This will be a picture-heavy post, as I’ve not got much time, but I wanted to make sure I could share some of these lovely food photos with you. Here goes!

Pickles, pickles, pickles!

Salad with pomegranate seeds, persimmons, and hazelnuts. Wow. That was one good salad!

This was a sausage and kale dinner tart–so delicious–it was a great combination of salty sausage and healthy kale. Here’s the recipe!

This was a fantastic pot roast served with acorn squash.

Desserts were lined up and ready to be put out for round two. Here are the recipes for the Applesauce Cake with Caramel Glaze and the Tangerine and Almond Shortbread Tart. The tangerine almond tart (on the left) was amazing–crispy and chewy, and the tangerine flavor really marries well with the almonds.

One of the other fantastic cooks being celebrated, Susan of the blog The Wimpy Vegetarian, slices her lovely apple tart.

Susan also brought her Pear & Rosemary Pate de Fruit, which was delicious with cheese!

Tiffany of the blog Still Simmering (shown in the top photo with her camera) brought incredible Pine Nut Brittle with Rosemary, which was actively in a competition on the Food52 website. She later won as the “Best Holiday Confection”, and I understand why. Yum!

We had a great time chatting with Amanda, who is in the center in grey–for someone who is a well-respected author, journalist and food entrepreneur, she is incredibly humble and genuine.

Merrill was also so sweet–she is very pregnant, and was still flitting about and meeting everyone.

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Filed under Dessert, Main Dishes, Party food, Salads, Travels

Pesto Chicken Skewers

I recently was invited to a potluck lunch. I love cooking for friends, and I especially love cooking for foodie and food blogger friends. I’ll share more in a later post about the event, which was a cookbook launch party for the Food52 cookbook, a crowd-sourced cookbook created by the community at Food52.com. Suffice it to say, it was a discerning crowd.

I had another commitment the morning of the event, so was a bit concerned about creating a recipe that would re-heat well and travel well, especially since I had committed to making a main dish. We also had been told that most of the eating at the party would happen in a casual way, mingling and standing, instead of sitting down. So I also wanted to create a main dish that would be portable and easy to eat.

As I mentioned in my last post, I had just cleared out my garden of basil and made pesto. So I decided to use the pesto to marinate chicken and veggies and thread them onto skewers. It would be easy and portable! I began by buying whole chicken thighs, and took the opportunity to use the leftover bones and trimmings to make a quick stock, combined with the carcass from a rotisserie chicken I had purchased earlier in the week. I always like having stock around, and ended up making a quick onion soup with that stock, which I’ll post about soon.

I chose thighs because I knew that I’d be re-heating the chicken, and was concerned that chicken breast pieces would dry out. I also took the time to brine the thigh pieces, just to be sure that they stayed moist. I cut each of the thighs into about 3-4 longish pieces, putting them into a ziploc bag. I then tossed in about a tablespoon of kosher salt and filled it with water, then stored in the fridge overnight. If you have time for the step of brining, it will help the chicken to stay moist and tender, but it’s definitely not necessary.

When you’re ready to cook the skewers, drain the chicken and place it in a bowl. Add a few tablespoons of pesto to the bowl and mix, adding more as needed to lightly coat the chicken. Leave it to marinate at room temperature as you cut up the vegetables. I used mushrooms, red bell peppers, red onions, and asparagus. You just need to cut the vegetables into appropriate sizes for threading onto the skewers. To marinate the veggies, add a few tablespoons of pesto to the bowl, and add enough olive oil to loosen it so that it will cling to them. Then toss the cut vegetables with the pesto to coat.

You can see in the photo above that I had three bowls, and found that effective for sorting and threading the skewers. I typically added a mushroom quarter at the bottom, then the first piece of chicken, and then a couple of other pieces of veggies. It seems to work best to only put one of each item on the skewer at a time, to allow for more even cooking (due to different shapes and sizes). I then add another piece of chicken, then another vegetable or two.

Since I was making a lot of skewers–about 4 lbs of chicken, and an equal amount of vegetables–I decided to start them on the grill pan, cooking as I was assembling the skewers. I cooked until there was some browning on each side (but not cooked through), and then transferred to a large pyrex dish. I then kept all of the skewers in pans until they were done with the initial browning, before finishing all at once in the oven. This kept the early skewers from being over-cooked in the oven if I had placed them in the oven as I went along. I finished them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

If you’re transporting them to a party and will have oven access, they can be chilled before the final oven time, then finished at the event for about 30 minutes (due to the chill of the fridge, they will need more time). They are also delicious cold, so don’t worry if you can’t warm them right before serving. I like to serve with a bowl of pesto on the side, to add a little bit more on the plate, as you can see below.

I should know better than to bring 8 lbs of food to a potluck where 20 people are cooking…It’s a good thing they make great leftovers! I used the leftover (de-skewered) pieces to make a quinoa salad and a lovely Sunday brunch frittata.

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Filed under Main Dishes, Party food