Monday, November 29, 2010

Sipping, Shucking, Slurping, and Reflecting

I try to use Thanksgiving as a time to truly appreciate the year and be mindful of all my blessings. After all, if you can’t be thankful on that day, there’s a problem. I am a big believer in blessings and it’s been a year full of them. My children are healthy, my home is comfortable, and my family is happy. The truly important things in life are all incredibly good.
We have a family oyster roast on Thanksgiving eve each year. We bundle up, head outside, sip on a fun cocktail, and shuck and slurp our way to the satisfaction that only comes from a full stomach. It was during this meal last year that I announced to my parents about having a book contract on the way.
During this same ritual last week, I kept thinking about that night one year ago when I was bursting with the news until the right moment emerged. As I shucked oyster after oyster, I couldn’t help but think how much has happened in one year. The very same book that was news rolling off my tongue has now shipped to the printer. It’s hard to believe. One bushel from the Gulf later (tasting as wonderful as ever, I might add) and it was a night filled with briny simplicity and good memories.Cookbooks have been such a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember. Even in high school, I found comfort in cookbooks. With food, I had a place to fit in. My ultimate goal in college was to work as a food editor of cookbooks as a career. As soon as I started my job as an assistant food editor with Oxmoor House, it’s like I found what I was meant to do.
I’d written two regional books before, but I knew that I wanted this book to be different. I embarked on the traditional journey that so many authors know too well. I started working on getting an agent. Once that hurdle was behind me, I listened and learned from her each step of the way. If a journey isn’t filled with lessons, it’s one that’s not worth taking. I can certainly say this one was jam-packed and I’m a better person because of it today.On the day my agent called with the news that we had a publishing contract, I can’t really describe how I felt. I cried. I laughed. I danced in the kitchen. It was amazing. The closest comparison I can make are the moments I learned I was pregnant with each of my children. I didn’t know the details, but I knew that my life just got better.
With the year behind me, I can only wish that I could kick off the next one standing at the press as the first page rolls off. Quick-Fix Southern (Andrews McMeel) will be released on March 8, 2011.

Pomegranate Tonic

3 cups tonic water
3/4 cup orange flavored vodka
1/2 cup Pomegranate juice
Pomegranate seeds, for garnish

Combine the tonic water, vodka, and juice in a pitcher. Serve over ice in rocks glasses. Garnish with pomegranate seeds.
Serves 6

Monday, November 1, 2010

Vegetarians Beware

All cookbooks that enter the Lang household start out in one place: the bedroom. I have spent many nights in bed, propped on my pillows, reading countless cookbooks.

After tucking in with Jean Anderson’s new book, Falling Off the Bone, I woke to the thought that this book has earned both a spot on the reference shelf in my office and a place on my kitchen counter.

I am not a girl to go long without a steak and I’ve always thought of red meat as a lifelong friend. Just at first glance, this book was right up my alley. I have been a fan of Jean’s for years. Her book, A Love Affair with Southern Cooking, is one of my favorite books of all time. When I learned Falling Off the Bone was being released, I knew I wanted a copy. I find myself impressed again.

Falling Off the Bone takes tough cuts of meat and shows readers how to cook them slowly and perfectly to make meals that are not only economical, but also incredibly comforting. The cooking teacher in Jean comes through so the information is clear and educational. The chapters (beef, veal, lamb, pork) are complete with diagrams of cuts of meat and where they come from on the animal. She also includes a dictionary of ingredients, time saving tips, and a list of kitchen gadgets that make life easier. Each chapter even has information on nutrition, storage, and the best uses for each cut.

Most importantly, the recipes are really good. The recipes are clear, obviously well written, and precise. (As a recipe writer myself, I truly respect a well-written recipe.)

With so many great recipes, I had a hard time trying to decide what recipe to make for my family’s supper after trick or treating. I chose a stew of lamb and peppers. We came home, hands chilled, legs tired from walking the neighborhood, and stomachs growling. With the opening of the back door, the house really smelled like home and dinner was ready, without any last minute work. Perfect.

I thought the stew was so pretty when I pulled it from the oven, I ran for my camera. Jean's recipe is below.


Makes 6 Servings

When I was growing up in the “small-town South,” my Midwestern mother often served lamb to the horror of southern neighbors who wouldn’t touch it. Pork and chicken were their meats of choice with more expensive beef a close third. At long last the South has embraced lamb. Even farmer’s markets sell it, pampered organic lamb grazed on pesticide-and herbicide-free meadows. What I’ve done here is update one of my mother’s hearty lamb stews for today’s tastes. She’d be appalled by the amount of garlic, and to my knowledge, had never heard of prosciutto.

3 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut in 1-inch cubes

1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour mixed with 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon each freshly ground black pepper, crumbled dried leaf rosemary and thyme (seasoned flour)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 ounces prosciutto, finely diced

2 large yellow onions, halved lengthwise and each half cut in 2-inch wedges

2 large red bell peppers, halved lengthwise, cored, seeded, and each half cut in 2-inch wedges

2 large yellow or orange bell peppers, halved lengthwise, cored, seeded, and each half cut in 2-inch wedges

8 large garlic cloves, smashed and skins removed

2 large whole bay leaves (preferably fresh)

2 cups dry red wine such as Valpolicella, Merlot, or Cabernet (about)

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.

2. Dredge lamb, a few pieces at a time, by shaking in a large plastic zipper bag with seasoned flour and set aside.

3. Heat oil in a large heavy nonreactive Dutch oven over moderately high heat until ripples appear on pan bottom—1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

4. Add prosciutto and stir-fry until lightly browned—2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, scoop to paper toweling to drain.

5. Brown dredged lamb in several batches in oil, allowing 8 to 10 minutes per batch and lifting each to a bowl as it browns.

6. Add onions, red and yellow bell peppers, garlic, and bay leaves to pot and sauté, stirring often, until limp—about 5 minutes. Return prosciutto and lamb to pot along with accumulated juices, add wine, and bring to a boil.

7. Cover, slide onto middle oven shelf, and braise until lamb is fork-tender—about 2 hours. Check pot now and then and if liquid seems skimpy, add a little more wine. Discard bay leaves, taste for salt and pepper, and adjust as needed.

8. Serve hot with boiled brown or white rice, buttered broad noodles, boiled or mashed potatoes. I even like this stew ladled over baked sweet potatoes, halved and plumped.

Excerpted from Falling Off the Bone ©2010 Jean Anderson.
Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.