meatball-stuffed zucchini

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I joke about not being good at gardening, but the truth is, it’s no joke. I am not good at it. Every year, at least half of what I plant is a failure. This year, in fact, in one raised bed, it’s exactly half, with two tomato plants and one pepper plant doing quite well, and two tomato plants and one pepper plant not doing much of anything at all.

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This year, I’m having more success with my zucchini plant than ever before. (Keeping with the theme, the beans in the same bed aren’t producing at all.) Maybe the disgusting and destructive squash bugs will move in eventually, but so far, so good. I get about three zucchinis each week, which has been just right for making old favorites like these enchiladas and this pasta, while also providing an opportunity to try a new favorite.

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This has become my go-to zucchini recipe this summer. I like it as a first course, maybe with a pasta dish served afterward, but it would work well as a main dish too. If things keep going well with my zucchini plant – and in my garden, that’s not a guarantee – I might just make this once a week until the season is over.

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Meatball-Stuffed Zucchini (adapted from Dominica Cooks and Cook’s Illustrated)

Makes 4-6 first course servings or 2 main course servings

I’ve used ground lamb for these (which is what the pictures show) because we love it, and I’ve used ground venison because someone gave us a bunch that we need to use up.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced, divided
1 (14-ounce) can whole tomatoes, chopped with scissors in the can
salt
1 slice white sandwich bread (crusts discarded), torn into small cubes
¼ cup buttermilk or 3 tablespoons plain yogurt thinned with 1 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
1 large egg yolk
pinch ground black pepper
½ pound ground beef or lamb
2 large or 3 small zucchini or summer squash, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped out and discarded

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Add the oil and 1 clove of garlic to an 8-by-8-inch (or equivalent size) baking dish; transfer to the oven until the garlic is sizzling, 5-8 minutes. Stir the tomatoes and a pinch of salt into the oil; set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the bread and buttermilk or yogurt and milk; set aside for 10 minutes for the bread to soften. Stir in the cheese, parsley, egg yolk, remaining garlic, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper. Using your hands, evenly mix in the ground meat.

3. Divide the meat mixture evenly between the halved and cored zucchini. Arrange the stuffed zucchini in the baking dish. Transfer the dish to the oven and bake until the zucchini is softened and the meat is cooked through, 30-40 minutes. Let rest for 5-10 minutes. To serve, spoon the tomato sauce over the zucchini and top with parmesan cheese.

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lemon lamb meatballs

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It’s only been the last year or so that meatballs as appetizers have been on my radar, but I’m glad they are. It seems like there’s always at least one meatball option at the many appetizer-themed potlucks around the holidays, and it doesn’t matter how easy the recipe is, they’re one of the most popular options on the table. Mix up a few ingredients in the crockpot, find some toothpicks, and you’ve got yourself a great appetizer that stays warm for hours – and one that doesn’t involve cheese or carbs, which is a miracle!

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I didn’t need the flexibility of a crockpot since I was entertaining at home, so I went with a baked option. Simple and sauceless is best for lamb anyway, so the flavor of the meat itself comes through.  The garlic, thyme, and lemon are just enhancements to what I really want to taste, which is the lamb.

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I served the meatballs, along with stuffed mushrooms, before a meal of salad and lasagna finished off with a tart. Again, the carbless starter was a great choice, not just because of the pasta, but because we started out the evening with three loaves of rustic breads; that’s right, a comparison post is forthcoming. In the meantime, here’s a great addition to my new favorite category of appetizers.

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Lemon Lamb Meatballs (slightly adapted from Primal Palate)

Makes 36 meatballs

1 pound ground lamb
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 lemon, unpeeled, thinly sliced

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Using your hands, mix the lamb, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, and lemon zest until thoroughly combined. Form the mixture into 36 1-inch balls. Transfer to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, arranging the lemon slices around and in between the meatballs.

3. Bake until lightly browned and no pink is evident after cutting into a meatball, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

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prosciutto lamb burgers

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The first place Brady, Nicole, and I went to when we met up in Austin for the BlogHer Food conference was Whole Foods. I love wandering around Whole Foods anyway, but this particular store is a special case – it’s a little ridiculous, in fact, how big it is. I went back on Sunday before I left Austin, and there were cops directing traffic in the Whole Foods parking garage, if that gives you an idea of the insanity.

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Still, on Thursday evening when I was there with my friends, it was a lot more subdued than Sunday afternoon. We spent an hour or so wandering around the store, comparing the selection to our hometown stores and trying every sample in sight. These are the things food bloggers like to do together.

Dave, not so much. Now that he has an interest in cooking fish, he can at least spend a few minutes checking out that selection, but he spends most of the time in fancy grocery stores giving me impatient looks in between playing with his phone. It was a miracle when, on our last visit to Albuquerque to see my family, he went to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, a local butcher, and a giant liquor store with me all in one day, with no complaint.  He’d better be careful of the precedent he’s setting.

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Maybe because he knows that the payoff is really good lamb, one of his favorite foods. I was just a bit concerned about adding so many flavorings to something that tastes great on its own, but I know Elly loves lamb as much as we do, so I put my faith in her. And in fact, the prosciutto complements the lamb nicely, adding its hint of funk to the lamb’s. And this is why I love food shopping so much, gathering riches that will eventually turn into Sunday night burgers, cooked in the backyard on a hot summer night.

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Prosciutto Lamb Burgers (adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis via Elly Says Opa)

Serves 4

I skipped the parsley and the basil, the parsley because I forgot and the basil because I didn’t have it. Neither were missed. I also used parmesan instead of pecorino, again, simply based on what I had. I made 6 burgers out of this mix instead of 4, just because I like my burgers a bit smaller.

I’ve gotten in the habit of leaving the salt out of the meat mix and sprinkling a generous amount on each side just before cooking, based on this article.

½ cup breadcrumbs
¼ cup freshly chopped parsley
1 large egg, beaten
½ cup (1 ounce) Pecorino Romano
¼ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 pound ground lamb
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
4 slices of prosciutto
4 hamburger buns, toasted
fresh basil leaves
fresh tomato slices

1. Lightly mix together the breadcrumbs, parsley, egg, milk, Romano, sun-dried tomatoes, salt, pepper, and lamb. Form the mixture into 4 patties.

2. In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise, vinegar, and olive oil.

3. Prepare a medium-hot grill. Using a paper towel, grease the grates with vegetable oil. Grill the patties for 5 minutes; flip, add slices of prosciutto to the top of each patty, and continue grilling another 5 minutes.

4. Spread the mayonnaise mixture on both sides of the buns, then place the patties on the bottom of the hamburger buns and top with fresh basil leaves and tomato slices. Serve immediately.

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chocolate oreo blackberry cake

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I know there are bakers out there who are sad when their birthday rolls around and none of their friends offer to bake them a cake, because their friends are all used to the baker making the cakes. Or maybe their friends don’t feel like their cake could ever live up to one of the baker’s cakes. But even if the baker is the one known for their delicious and beautiful birthday cakes, a birthday cake is more than dessert, it’s a gift, so I understand why people are disappointed when no one makes them one.

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But I am not one of those bakers. Without family or a large group of friends nearby, my opportunities to make dramatic layer cakes are few and far between. My birthday is one of those rare chances, and I soak it up for all its worth. For me, letting me bake my own cake is the gift.

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This year, I did have someone to share that cake with, when my family celebrated my birthday on vacation last week on the beach in Mexico. Vacation baking holds its own challenges, but I can adapt. I did as much as possible at home – mixing up the dry ingredients, measuring and crushing the oreos, and making and freezing the buttercream. The cake itself is an easy one to mix up, no mixer required, but the swiss meringue buttercream needed to be re-whipped after defrosting to restore its smooth and airy texture. My original intention was to smooth the buttercream over the top and sides of the cake and coat the cake with a glossy and dramatic chocolate glaze, but with the scalloped edges of the disposable pans I baked the cakes in, that seemed like a messy prospect. Fortunately, I love the look of an open-sided cake like this.

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With eight people to share it with, this cake went fast! It probably doesn’t hurt that chocolate and berries are such a great flavor combination, not to mention that everyone loves moist cake and fluffy frosting. And the best part is that, since my family celebrated early and this cake was gone by my actual birthday, I get to make another cake just for me!

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One year ago: Pesto
Two years ago: Banana Peanut Butter Muffins
Three years ago: Lemon Meringue Cake
Four years ago: Black (and Pink) and White Chocolate Cake

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Chocolate Oreo Blackberry Cake (cake adapted from Dessert for Breakfast; buttercream adapted from Martha Stewart)

Makes one three-layer 8-inch cake

Note that the 8 ounces of blackberries is before straining. You should end up with about ¾ cup (which is 6 ounces both by weight and volume) of puree.

Cake:
2 cups (8 ounces) cake flour
2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
1 cup (4 ounces) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs, room temperature
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk, room temperature
1 cup hot coffee

Buttercream:
8 ounces (by weight; about 1¼ cups) blackberries, pureed and strained
3 egg whites
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
pinch salt
18 tablespoons (2¼ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

For assembly:
18 Oreos, coarsely chopped or crumbled

1. For the cake: Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 8-inch round pans.

2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, and baking powder, and baking soda. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, oil, and milk. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until evenly distributed. Pour in the coffee and mix until smooth.

3. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and let the cakes cool for 10 minutes. Use a knife to loosen the sides of the cakes from the pans, then invert the cakes onto the wire rack and remove the pans. Cool completely before frosting.

4. For the buttercream: Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a heatproof mixer bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Whisk until the sugar dissolves and the mixture registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the bowl from heat and attach it to a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating after each addition. With the mixer on low, add the strained blackberry puree, mixing just until incorporated. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. (Bring to room temperature, and beat on low speed until smooth before using.)

5. To assemble the cake: If necessary, trim the top of each layer to make a flat, even surface. Transfer one layer to a cake plate or large platter. Spread one-third of the buttercream over the cake, then distribute one-third of the crushed cookies evenly over the buttercream. Repeat the layering of cake, buttercream, and oreos twice more. Serve immediately or loosely cover for up to 8 hours.

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pizza with lamb meatballs, caramelized onions, and parsley

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The disadvantage of only working every other Friday is that the longer 5-day weeks seem like an eternity. When will it end? How can it be only Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday? I have to wake up to an alarm again? Torture! It’s not that I don’t like my job, it’s just that I like the weekends so much more.

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I get by by keeping my eye on the prize, and by “prize”, I mean when I come home from work on Friday afternoon, grab my book and a beer, and go sit in the backyard. I plan the rest of my week so that Friday after work is a No Chore Zone. The groceries should be shopped for, the dishwasher should be emptied, the house should not be a pigsty. I don’t want any detours between putting down my work bag and heading out to the backyard to read in the sun.

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An hour or two later, refreshed, I’ll come in to make dinner. These long weeks always call for pizza on Friday. If I lived somewhere with a good takeout option, I would welcome that, but instead, I make my own, which has the added advantage of whole wheat crust and skim milk cheese (I think it melts better anyway). Not to mention – when was the last time you saw lamb meatballs on a pizza menu?

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This pizza, one of the best I’ve made recently, is a perfect example of my pizza formula, with savory lamb, sweet onions, bitter parsley, and the traditional acidic tomato sauce and salty cheese. It’s more work than your average pizza, what with the onions needing to be cooked and, most tediously, the tiny meatballs, but it’s worth the extra effort, even on a Friday night after a long workweek – provided that I get my beer and book in the backyard first.

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One year ago: Marbled Loaf Cake
Two years ago: Corned Beef Hash
Three years ago: Roasted Baby Artichokes
Four years ago: Rice and Beans

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Pizza with Lamb Meatballs, Caramelized Onions, and Parsley (inspired by Bon Appétit)

Serves 6

I tried this with both fresh mozzarella and the firmer type, and while they were equally tasty, the firmer cheese did a better job of gluing the meatballs to the pizza. Lamb meatballs that roll onto the floor to get coated in cat hair are sad.

12 ounces ground lamb
1 egg
salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 onions, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 pounds pizza dough (⅔ of this recipe), fully risen
1 (14-ounce) can whole or diced tomatoes packed in juice (not puree), drained
8 ounces (2 cup) shredded mozzarella
1 ounce (½ cup) grated parmesan
¼ cup minced parsley

1. Use your hands to evenly combine the lamb, egg, ½ teaspoon salt, and a pinch of black pepper. Form the mixture into balls about ½-inch in diameter. In a 10-inch nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add the meatballs and cook until well browned on a couple sides, about 4 minutes, turning about once a minute with a spatula. Wipe out the skillet.

2. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the now-empty skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering; stir in the onions and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions just begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions have softened and are medium golden brown, about 15 minutes longer.

3. Meanwhile, place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Divide the dough in half; shape each portion into a ball. Let the balls of dough relax for 10 to 30 minutes.

4. Pulse the tomatoes in a food processor 10-12 times, until they’re pureed. Transfer them to a fine-mesh strainer set over a large bowl and let them drain, stirring occasionally, for at least 10 minutes. Discard the liquid in the bowl, transfer the tomatoes from the strainer to the now-empty bowl, and stir in a pinch of pepper and ⅛ teaspoon of salt.

5. Flatten the dough, then pick it up and gently stretch it out, trying to keep it as circular as possible. Curl your fingers and let the dough hang on your knuckles, moving and rotating the dough so it stretches evenly. If it tears, piece it together. If the dough stretches too much, put it down and gently tug on the thick spots.

6. Line a pizza peel (or the back of a baking sheet) with parchment paper and transfer the round of dough to the peel, rearranging it to something reasonably circular. Spread half of the sauce over the dough, then top with half of the mozzarella, meatballs, onions, and parmesan. Transfer the pizza to the hot pizza stone. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and the bottom of the crust is spotty brown. Remove the pizza from the oven, sprinkle half of the parsley over it, and let it cool on cooling rack for about 5 minutes before slicing and serving. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

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pasta with tiny meatball sauce

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I haven’t been this excited about a cookbook in a while. This is the type of cookbook that makes me eager to get into the kitchen, particularly because I want to make every recipe in the book. I thought I would start with one of the most involved recipes, one of those “choose your own adventure” recipes that has you page flipping to find all the different components.

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The first is fresh pasta, which I’ve made before, but the recipe in the book differed from my usual with the inclusion of semolina, salt, nutmeg, and, most significantly, oil. Once the pasta was cooked and sauced, I didn’t notice the extra flavorings, but the oil seemed to make rolling easier. I also made a new shape that required less rolling and cooked up pleasantly toothsome.

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The second part is the sauce, which is a slow-cooked meat sauce, but with a twist. Instead of simmering the sauce with ground meat, or with beef meant to be shredded and added back to the sauce, the meat is kept in this sauce through hours of simmering, and then is removed. And not added back in. The meat is not part of the sauce, it’s just there to infuse it with flavor. It’s like you’re making tomato broth.

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The last part, then, is the tiny meatballs. It’s a simple mixture, no bread for tenderizing, just meat, seasoning, and an egg to bind it. The recipe instructs you to form the meatballs “just larger than a chickpea”, but I’m not insane and would prefer to stay that way, so my tiny meatballs were about twice that size, and still plenty tiny for me. Twelve ounces of meat turned into 72 tiny meatballs.

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I loved the tiny meatballs. I can see myself making them again sometime, even though I do not love forming tiny meatballs. I’ve also started to add a dribble of olive oil into my pasta dough, although I skip the semolina, nutmeg, and salt for simplicity’s sake.

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While I enjoyed everything about the sauce – the flavor, the plateful of tomatoey meat we ate as an appetizer, the fun of braising – I’ll make it differently in the future. The original recipe calls for three types of meat, and it’s impractical for most home cooks to buy small portions of a variety of meats. Instead, I’ll just stick to our favorite – lamb – and I’ll use a bony cut like blade chops, because I suspect the bone will add even more flavor to the sauce than the meat did.

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Obviously making a slow-braised sauce, homemade pasta, and forming 72 tiny meatballs is not an insignificant amount of effort. But it was the most fun I’ve had in the kitchen in months, with the added bonus that I learned some new tricks. I can’t wait to choose another recipe from my favorite new cookbook and do it again.

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One year ago: Curry Coconut Chickpea Soup
Two years ago: Baked Ziti
Three years ago: Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread
Four years ago: Deviled Eggs with Tuna

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Maccheroni alla Chitarra with Ragù all’Abruzzese and Palottine, aka Pasta with Tiny Meatball Sauce (completely rewritten but hardly changed from Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Pasta of Italy)

Serves 8

I went ahead and bought three different types of meat for this, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Pick your favorite and buy just that one cut.

I don’t usually cook with veal, so I used 8 ounces ground beef plus 4 ounces ground pork plus ⅛ teaspoon gelatin, dissolved in the egg, in the meatballs instead.

Ragù:
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes with their juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces boneless beef chuck roast, cut into four equal pieces
6 ounces boneless pork shoulder, cut into three equal pieces
6 ounces boneless lamb shoulder cut into three equal pieces
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, finely diced

Pasta:
4 cups (18 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons semolina flour
1 teaspoon table salt
Pinch ground nutmeg
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Meatballs:
12 ounces ground veal
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Vegetable oil for cooking

1. For the ragù: If you have a food mill, press the tomatoes through the disk with the smallest holes, discarding the solids. If you don’t have a food mill, puree the tomatoes in a food processor or blender.

2. Generously season the meat with salt and black pepper. In a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it just starts to smoke. Add the meat and cook, without moving, until deeply browned on one side, about 2 minutes. Rotate the meat and brown on the second side. Transfer the meat to a plate.

3. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens but does not brown, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer. Add the meat back to the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, uncovered, for about 3 hours, until the meat is tender and the sauce is thickened. Remove the meat before using the sauce; reserve for another use (or just eat it right then, because it’s delicious).

4. For the pasta: Place the flours, salt, and nutmeg in the bowl of a food processor; pulse to combine. Add the eggs and oil; process until the mixture clumps together in large crumbs. Form a small portion of dough into a ball; if it’s too dry to stick together, add up to 2 tablespoons more oil; if it’s sticky, add up to ½ cup more flour. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set it aside for 30 minutes to rest.

5. Divide the dough into 8 portions. Work with one at a time, keeping the others covered with plastic wrap or a damp dishtowel. Flatten the dough and pass it through a pasta roller on the widest setting. Fold the dough in thirds, like a letter, and roll it through the widest setting again. Repeat the rolling and folding 3-4 more times, until the dough is smooth. Flour the dough (with semolina flour if you have it) as much as needed to prevent sticking. Adjust the pasta roller to the next-thinnest setting and roll the dough through twice, then repeat on the third-thinnest setting. Thin the dough to the fourth-narrowest setting on your pasta roller. Repeat the rolling, folding, and thinning with the remaining balls of dough. Pass each strip of dough through the thin cutters on the pasta roller to form long noodles that are approximately square in cross section.

6. For the meatballs: Use your hands to evenly combine the veal, salt, nutmeg, and egg. Form the mixture into balls about ½-inch in diameter.

7. In a 12-inch skillet, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add the meatballs, and cook until well browned a couple sides, about 4 minutes, turning about once a minute with a spatula. Transfer to the pot with the ragù; keep warm.

8. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add about a tablespoon of salt and the pasta and cook until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain, reserving about a cup of the cooking water.

9. Return the drained pasta to the pot; toss with about two-thirds of the sauce and meatballs, adding some of the reserved cooking water if the sauce is too thick. Transfer the pasta to a warmed serving bowl (or individual bowls) and spoon the remaining sauce over the top. Serve immediately, with parmesan and crushed red pepper flakes to pass.

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kofta

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A lot of people in my town hunt. I think they expect me to be against hunting, due to my hippie stance on other issues, like recycling and reducing waste. (The blue recycle bin is right next to the trash can, so what possible reason could you have for not recycling paper? And what’s with drinking your daily coffee out of Styrofoam cups?) But, assuming it’s carefully controlled, and in my area it is, I’m pro-hunting. I’d rather eat animals that lived their lives outside doing animal things than stuffing themselves in a feedlot.

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That being said, I don’t want to do it myself. There is the issue of whether I could actually bring myself to kill a beautiful creature, and I really don’t know how that would go. But moreover, I have plenty of hobbies as it is and don’t need to take up another. But if someone wanted to bring me venison, that would be okay.

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And someone has! Twice, my coworker has brought me ground venison. We made burgers with the first pound, and for the second pound, I took his suggestion to make kofta. I’d never had it before, but it was so obviously something I’d like, with the mix of meat, savory seasonings, and warm spices, not to mention tzatziki and grilled pita. (Incidentally, I brought my coworker two pounds of Tartine country bread dough to thank him for the meat – and encourage him to give me more!)

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Lean venison is perfect in kofta because the addition of bread helps the meatballs hold onto moisture. Plus, lamb is the traditional main ingredient, and both meats are often considered gamey. Dave and I love that gamey flavor, and it just gets better when it’s liberally seasoned with herbs and spices. And everything is better with grilled pita and tzatziki. I suspect I’ll be making this meal with lamb in the future, because my desire for kofta will surely outrun my uncertain supply of venison.

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One year ago: Rhubarb Crumb Coffee Cake
Two years ago: Pickled Coleslaw
Three years ago: Sausage and Red Pepper Hash

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Kofta (adapted from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen)

The original recipe includes grilled chunks of marinated zucchini, but I didn’t think they added anything special to this.

Grilling meatballs on skewers is a hair-raising experience, but they turned out great and we only lost one on the grill. Just be careful and try not to move them around much.

I grilled some onions to add to the sandwiches, because you can’t go wrong with grilled onions.

2 slices firm sandwich bread, torn into small pieces
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
¼ cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
¼ cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
16 ounces ground lamb
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon black pepper
⅓ cup pine nuts, toasted and finely chopped
tzatziki

1. Pulse the bread, onion, and herbs in a food processor until finely chopped. The juice from the onion should start to soak into the bread, and the mixture will form a paste. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and mix with all of the remaining ingredients except the tzatziki. With your hands, mix until well blended. Form one tablespoon of the mixture into a ball; repeat with the remaining mixture to make about 24 meatballs.

2. Prepare a medium-hot grill. Thread meatballs onto skewers, leaving about ¼-inch between each. Generously oil the grill rack. Grill lamb, turning over once, until golden and just cooked through, about 6 minutes. Serve warm with tzatziki and grilled pitas.

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yogurt-marinated lamb kebabs

I actually made this back in February, but I figured most of the world was covered in snow in February and thus, not doing much grilling. Haha, suckers, grilling season lasts year round in the desert!

Well, year round unless there’s an extra dose of heat in the summer, in which case you’re huddled inside cozied up with your air conditioner. The spring isn’t so good either, because you have to dodge the shingles that the wind blows off the neighbor’s roof. And when it does rain in the summer, it tends to be right at dinner time. So maybe the desert isn’t any better for grilling than anywhere else.

But the heat, rain, and wind are worth it, because you get meals like this. You just can’t do this with a broiler. The lamb is so tender and flavorful, tzatziki makes everything better, and pita cooked right on the grill is becoming one of my favorite things ever. Forget perfect grilling weather – this meal is worth grilling in the snow for.

One year ago: Experiments with chocolate chip cookies
Two years ago: Comparison of three white cake recipes

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Yogurt-Marinated Lamb Kebabs (from Ina Garten via Smitten Kitchen)

1 pound plain yogurt (regular or lowfat)
¼ cup olive oil, plus more for brushing grill
1 teaspoon lemon zest
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
5 tablespoons fresh whole rosemary leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds top round lamb
1 red onion

1. Combine the yogurt, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, rosemary, salt, and pepper in a large, non-reactive bowl. Cut the lamb in 1½-inch cubes and add it to the yogurt, making sure it is covered with the marinade. Cover the mixture with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for up to two days.

2. Prepare a medium-hot grill. Cut the red onion into 8 pieces and separate each piece into three or four sections. Loosely thread three or four pieces of lamb onto skewers alternately with sections of onion. Sprinkle both sides of the lamb cubes with salt and pepper. Place the skewers on the hot grill and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, turning two or three times, until the lamb is medium-rare. Serve with grilled pitas and tzatziki.

Tzatziki (adapted more liberally from Ina Garten and Smitten Kitchen)

1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, shredded
1 teaspoon kosher salt
14 ounces Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
1½ teaspoons minced garlic
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Place the cucumber in a strainer set over a medium bowl and add the salt. Set aside for at least 15 minutes to drain. Transfer the cucumber to a clean kitchen towel and squeeze dry.

2. Combine the cucumber, yogurt, lemon juice, vinegar, dill, garlic, and pepper.

stuffed butterflied leg of lamb

I got some big news last week. I finally got something I’ve wanted for a long time, and life is going to change drastically. I’m a little worried about when I’ll find the time to do the things I like to do – the baking, blogging, and exercising due to the baking – but I’m sure it will be worth it.

I’m not pregnant.

I do, however, have a job; a real one, with 40 hours of work per week and benefits and a retirement plan and everything. See, I’ve kept this on the down-low because I was embarrassed by it, but since I finished graduate school several years ago, I’ve been unemployed or partially employed. But those days are over now.

This was cause for celebration around here, which means that Dave and I have been drinking generous amounts of our favorite champagne. It also means we had an excuse for a fancy dinner. I got to decide whether that meal would be eaten in or out, and it wasn’t a hard decision for me – we don’t exactly live in area known for its restaurants, and spending Saturday night at home, drinking wine, watching the NBA playoffs, and grilling with Dave is pretty much my perfect evening.

What to make? Lamb, of course. I was deciding between two recipes, and Dave told me to pick the easier one. Yes, the easier option included trimming, butterflying, pounding, rolling, and tying the roast. And then I got to hand it off to Dave to cook…while I worked on the sauce. And the sides.

But in the end, what a great meal. Served with great wine, shared with a great husband, celebrating great news.

Two years ago: Hash Browns with Sauteed Vegetables and Poached Eggs

Printer Friendly Recipe
Stuffed Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Caramelized Lemon Jus
(adapted slightly from Bon Apetit via epicurious; suggested by Cara)

Serves 4-6

You can probably tell from the photos that my lamb isn’t cooked to rare. Oops. Next time.

4-to 4½-pound boneless leg of lamb, shank end removed
salt and pepper
4 large garlic cloves; 3 chopped, 1 sliced
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
20 fresh sage leaves (about), divided
4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta (Italian bacon)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Trim the silver skin and as much fat as possible from the lamb. Butterfly the lamb by making one ¾-to 1-inch-deep full-length cut in each thick portion of the lamb (do not cut through to work surface). Cover the lamb with a sheet of plastic wrap. Using a rolling pin or meat pounder, pound to an even 1- to 1½-inch thickness (lamb will be about 8×19 inches).

2. Remove the plastic wrap and season lamb evenly with salt and pepper, chopped garlic, and lemon zest. Top with 15 sage leaves, spaced evenly apart, then cover with the pancetta. Starting at a long side, fold the lamb in half. Tie the lamb tightly at 2-inch intervals into a long roll. Then, using a small knife, make slits in the lamb and insert a slice of garlic and a piece of sage leaf into each slit. Season the lamb with salt and pepper. (Lamb can be prepared 1 day ahead. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate.)

3. Whisk the lemon juice and oil in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper. Brush the lemon juice mixture all over the lamb and let stand at room temperature 1 hour.

4. Prepare a medium-hot grill. Place the prepared lamb on the grill and sear on all sides, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Continue to grill, brushing with the lemon juice mixture and rotating the lamb about every 5 minutes, until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 130°F for rare.

5. Transfer the lamb to a cutting board, cover it loosely with foil, and let it rest for 10 minutes. Slice the lamb into ½-inch thick slices. Serve immediately with Caramelized Lemon Jus.

Caramelized Lemon Jus

1 large lemon, cut into ½-inch-thick slices
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 large shallots, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
10 large fresh sage leaves
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons sugar
¾ cup dry white wine
¼ cup vodka
2 cups beef broth

1. Prepare a medium-hot grill. Grill the lemon slices until charred, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to plate; chop coarsely.

2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the sage leaves, garlic, and grilled lemon pieces with any juices, then the sugar. Cook until the shallots start to color, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and vodka. Using a long wooden skewer, ignite the liquors and let them burn off, about 4 minutes. Add the beef broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium; simmer until jus is reduced to 3 cups, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Rewarm before serving.)

lamb stew

Whenever I eat lamb, my first whiff of it always seems a little…off. Is lamb like feety cheese – stinky, but in a good way? Or am I just attuned to beef, and I’m surprised when the lamb smells different? Whatever, I’ve decided that I officially like lamb. Stinky or not.

This stew is not any sort of authentic ethnic lamb stew – not Morrocon or Irish or whatever. It’s just lamb stew. It’s what I was in the mood for at the time – chunks of lamb, onions, root vegetables, thyme, and dark rich beer.

My only uncertainty was which type of lamb meat to use. I usually use beef chuck roast for stew, but what is that equivalent to for lamb? Certainly not sirloin, which was one of my few options. I also didn’t want to use expensive rib chops. Leg? Too big. Shanks? Dur…I don’t know. I went with a combination of sirloin meat and loin chops. I think blade chops would be a great option, but my store didn’t have them.

Whatever I did must have worked though, because the stew was just great. So rich and hearty and comforting. And distinctively…lamby. Which is a good thing.

One year ago: German Apple Pancake

Printer Friendly Recipe
Lamb Stew

The type of lamb to use is ill-defined, because a variety of lamb cuts might not be available and a number of different cuts will work. If you can find them, go for blade chops. I used a combination of loin chops and a sirloin steak, and it worked out very well. If the cut you use contains bones, use the higher amount of meat (around 3 pounds); otherwise, use around 2 pounds of meat.

I served this over mashed potatoes, which I really enjoyed. You can also replace the parsnips with potatoes if you want something a little more like traditional stew.

Serves 6

3 tablespoon vegetable oil
2-3 pounds lamb meat, fat trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks, bones reserved (see note)
salt
3 onions, chopped course
1 (12-ounce) bottle of stout
2 cups water
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 2 sprigs fresh)
12 ounces carrots, halved lengthwise and sliced on a slight bias about ½ inch thick
12 ounces parsnips, halved lengthwise and sliced on a slight bias about ½ inch thick
¼ cup minced parsley

1. Adjust a rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. Add half of the meat, with pieces spaced about one inch apart. Cook without stirring for 2-3 minutes, until the first side is dark brown. Turn each piece to another flat side and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the second side is dark brown. Continue cooking and turning the pieces until all sides are dark brown, about 10 minutes. Remove the lamb from the pot and place it on a plate. Repeat with another tablespoon oil and the remaining lamb. (If you use a 7-quart Dutch oven instead of a 5-quart, you might be able to fit them all in one batch.)

2. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the last tablespoon of oil to the empty, unrinsed pot, then add the onions and a pinch of salt. Sauté the onions, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pot and stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, until the onions are softened and browned around the edges.

3. Add the browned meat, lamb bones, beer, water, 1½ teaspoons salt, pepper, and thyme to the pot with the onions. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook for one hour, uncovered.

4. Add the carrots and parsnips to the stew and cook for another hour, or until the meat is tender and the vegetables are softened. Remove the lamb bones, stir in the parsley, adjust the salt and pepper if necessary, and serve.