Sunday, April 15, 2012

I Made Lamb Tagine Twice Last Week

As you may know I’ve been spending some time with a cookbook by David Tanis, Heart of the Artichoke. So far, both recipes I’m writing about have included golden raisins.

Which leads to me think of another good reason to publish The Review Series (of which, by the way, this is part 2.2). When you stick to one cookbook for a week or two, you’ll find the ingredients repeat themselves, which means that you need to skip out to the grocery store less frequently.

Anyway, that being said, I haven’t been skipping out the door to fill the pantry very much over the last few days—or even peeling my miserable self off the couch.  I’ve had the flu. I’ve lost five pounds. Bananas, rice, juice, toast, and repeat. Milky coffee? Nope. NO! Abort, abort!

I’m on the mend though, and I feel better now. But yesterday, I couldn’t even drink one beer, which leads me to believe I’m not quite there yet.

That being said, I tried this lamb tagine recipe last week, when all was well and no one knew that the entire country would be hit by a massive stomach flu. I made this beautifully, heavily spiced and fruity lamb stew—twice. Once with lamb shank, and once with lamb shoulder.

David Tanis is just so lovely. His menus are beautiful, his meals hearty. The photography has an almost dreamy, hazy quality to it. And this particular stew is so warm and inviting that I ate it all week.

I modified his recipe for Fragrant Lamb with Prunes and Almonds, based on what was in my pantry. For one, it became Fragrant Lamb with Prunes and Pine Nuts.

Also, as with my last recipe, if you’re missing one of the many spices, don’t run out to buy it. Either substitute it (sensibly), or omit it.  Looking at the ingredient list, you may think it’s heavy on the ginger (both fresh and powdered). Trust me, it melds in with the other flavours beautifully.

I also opted for a one-pot approach. If you have a tagine, or if you want to make it in a well covered baking dish, you could do as he does:  Only sauté the onions on the stove top, and then pile everything together and pop into the oven. But if you have a Dutch oven, or something large that can go from stovetop to oven, here’s what I did:

Lamb Tagine with Prunes and Pine Nuts
Adapted from a recipe in David Tanis’ Heart of the Artichoke

Serves six, over rice or with crusty bread

6 lbs. lamb shanks (whole and trimmed) or 4 lbs. boneless lamb shoulder (in chunks, and trimmed)
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tbsp. butter
2 onions, chopped into largish pieces
A pinch of saffron
Six to eight cloves of garlic, chopped
A thumb-size of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped into fine slivers
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tbsp. powdered ginger
1 to 2 tsp. cayenne powder (depending on your taste for heat)
1 cup golden raisins
2 cups pitted dried prunes
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup tomato puree

For the garnish:
A small handful of pine nuts, briefly toasted in a dry skillet until golden

Preheat the oven to 325 F.

Season the lamb with salt and pepper, and set aside. Prepare all your garlic and spices and have them ready to throw in all at once.

In a large Dutch oven, melt the butter, and sauté the onions with the saffron gently until they are just soft. This will take five minutes or so.  Now add your garlic and spices, and briefly sauté along with the onions, for thirty seconds. Remove from the heat, and add the raisins and half of the prunes. Give this a good mix, and then tuck in the meat, piling the onion, spice and fruit mixture on top of it. Pour the broth and tomato puree over this.

Cover with a tight fitting lid, and bake for two hours. About half way through the baking time, have a peek, and stir things around a bit to rotate the meat so that any un-submerged parts have their turn in the spicy juices.

When the two hours are up, take the pot out of the oven. Remove the lid, mix in the rest of the prunes, put the lidless pot back into the oven, and crank the heat up to 400 F.  Bake for another 15 minutes.

Remove the stew from the oven, and let it rest for ten or fifteen minutes. To serve, pile onto plates or bowls, and let the guests scatter pine nuts over the stew. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Spice Cake for a Sunday Afternoon (The Review Series: 2.1—David Tanis’ Heart of the Artichoke)

This Sunday was April first, April Fools’ Day. When Andrew had his back turned, changing a record, I splashed soya sauce into his coffee. It was a giggly, silly, rainy afternoon.

It was also a perfect afternoon to have a long, lazy drawn out lunch. We had a friend, Daemon, come over. I made some fat chunks of tuna braised in chickpeas, and a crunchy green salad.

I also made this David Tanis cake. It’s dense and interesting. Works wonderfully with strong coffee and some oranges.

A note on the book: It’s called Heart of the Artichoke, and I love, love, love it. For the most part, it’s built on menus – spring, summer, fall and winter menus, and menus for large groups.  I sometimes use David Tanis’ books as launch pads for my own menus. If, for instance, I already know I’m making roast chicken, I’ll go see what Tanis serves with his roast chicken. It gives me ideas, if not a recipe itself.

Here’s a sample of what Tanis’ menus look like. From his Spring Menus, “Reclaiming Arugula”:

-Fennel Soup with a Green Swirl
-Pork Scaloppine with Lemon, Capers, and Chopped Arugula
-Zucchini Pancakes
-Italian Spice Cakes

There was arugula and fennel in the salad I served that afternoon, but if I was in keeping with this menu, it was accidental. I did, however, serve tangerines.

Italian Spice Cake
Adapted from a David Tanis recipe in Heart of the Artichoke

A wonderful thing about this cake is that you barely get anything dirty. Once you’ve simmered your sugars in a large saucepan, you can mix the rest of the ingredients directly into it. You never end up dirtying a bowl.

The list of ingredients is long, but it’s mostly the spices. If you’re missing one or two, don’t rush out and buy it just for this cake. A small omission won’t make that much difference.

½ cup water
½ cup sugar
¼ cup honey
The zest of an orange
The zest of a lemon
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of grated nutmeg
A pinch of cayenne powder
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup golden raisins
1 cup whole almonds
1 cup unbleached white flour
½ cup almond flour

Pre-heat the oven to 375 F. Grease a 9 or 10 inch tart pan with butter.

In a large saucepan, bring the water, sugar and honey to a simmer for a minute or two.

Take off the heat and mix in the zests, the spices and the cocoa. Now add the eggs, mixing to a smooth, uniform consistency. Now, add the nuts and raisins, and stir. Finally, add the flours, alternating between the two types.

Pour the batter into the cake pan, and smooth in all directions with a wooden spoon. Bake it for 30 to 40 minutes, or when a toothpick comes out dry. After about ten minutes of cooling, unmold the cake, and set on a cooling rack. This cake is good the day after, too.

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