A Ridiculously Delicious Challenge

Here we are at the 2nd part of my first Marx Foods challenge of the year. The Ridiculously Delicious Challenge is divided into multiple rounds. The first one was to choose 3 ingredients we would like as our prize should we win the final. My chosen 3 were Wild Boar, Heirloom Potatoes and Saffron Strands. I really hope I get a chance to play with all of those.

This is the second round: create an original recipe using 2 of the ingredients sent to us in the mystery box we received as a gift when we made it through the first round. It was an interesting choice of ingredients, as usual. It included things like Iranian saffron, several types of chilies, juniper berries, dried cherries, grains of paradise and dill pollen. Several of the ingredients were a first for me, which is exactly why I love participating in Marx challenges.

I wanted to make sure I used the ingredients in a recipe that would highlight my Latin heritage. I really had to think about it: sweet, savory, sweet, savory. In the end, I settled on savory, a play on Arroz con Pollo. I wanted to use something more exciting than chicken, though. In the absence of duck, I went for lamb. As for the mystery box, juniper berries, grains of paradise and dried cherries would be the other willing participants.

This was an easy dish to put together, but it doesn’t taste or look like it. WOW! So much flavor. First let me tell you about the mystery ingredients. Grains of Paradise taste like herby peppercorns. Then there is the Juniper Berries, biting into one is like sniffing good gin, they have an inherent¬†briny taste. Finally, Dried Tart Cherries. Exactly what they sound like, sweet and tart, perfect substitutes for raisins and prunes. I picked lamb shoulder chops, I wanted the flavor the bones would add to the broth and also a cut of meat with some fat. OK, let’s cook!

Arroz con Cordero (Lamb & Spicy Rice)
6-8 servings

Approx 2lbs lamb shoulder chops
For marinade:
12 juniper berries
1-1/2 tsp grains of paradise
1-1/2 tsp sea salt
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp cooking sherry
I put all of these in my grinder then rubbed it on the lamb and allowed it to sit for about 20 minutes or so while I prepared the rest of the vegetables needed to braise the lamb.

Braising broth:
2 tomatoes, quartered
2 carrots, quartered
1/2 cp cilantro, coarsely chopped
3 green onions, coarsely chopped
about 1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cp sherry

Heat a medium-sized Dutch oven over medium high heat and brown the lamb on both sides. Once all the lamb chops have been browned, deglaze the pan with the sherry, scraping the bottom to loosen the bits that are stuck. Add the vegetables and lamb and enough water to cover everything. Bring to a slow boil, lower temperature to a simmer and cook until the lamb is tender. Remove the lamb from the broth and allow it to cool.

Run the broth and vegetables through the blender to get everything smooth. Debone the lamb and chop it into bite-size pieces. Set aside.

For the rice:
3 cps long grain rice
1 cp baby carrots, halved
1/2 cp olives, pitted and chopped
2/3 cp dried cherries
1 roasted pepper, sliced
1/2 cp cilantro, finely chopped
3 tbsp vegetable oil
Reserved broth

In the same dutch-oven, add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Rinse and drain the rice before adding it to the hot oil. Stir well, making sure the oil coats all the grains and they turn from translucent to chalky white.

Add this time you can add 5 cps of broth, check the seasoning and adjust as necessary. Once the broth has almost completely evaporated, layer the remaining ingredients. DO NOT disturb the rice, don’t stir it or you’ll end up with unevenly cooked, mushy rice. Top with the lamb, carrots, peppers, olives, 2/3 of the cilantro and the cherries. Reduce the temperature to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid and allow it to cook/steam UNDISTURBED for another 20 minutes.

At the end of that time, remove the lid and mix in all the ingredients. Serve with a salad and top with fresh cilantro. Enjoy! Be sure to stop by MarxFoods.com¬†to see the other contestants throwdown. Also, I’ll keep you posted, but you’ll get to decide which of the yummy recipes move on to the next round. Yep, it’s voting time…, soon. Not yet.

Cookingly yours,


NOT your usual Carne Guisada

A guiso¬†is one of those universal, one-pot dishes that exists¬†in every cuisine/culture I can think of. Stew, cassoulet, kho, cocido, caldeirada, goulash–whatever the name and the main ingredient, it is a hearty soupy¬†dish, slowly braised until the various ingredients are incredibly tender. There’s usually a meat/protein involved, though not always, as is the case in ratatouille. Stews or guisos will usually have a beef base, but lamb, chicken and seafood are common ingredients depending on the culture.

In this case, I decided to switch up my usual beef version or carne guisada and opted for lamb instead. I was at Phoenicia Market, my local grocer for all things Middle Eastern, when I spotted some beautiful lamb roasts. They were calling my name. I swear it! I could hear them say ‘Anamaris! Cook me. Eat me. Love me.’ And being the softy that I am, I did.

Instead of using the customary spices that accompany lamb, I went for my Latin roots. I introduced that roast to achiote, comino and habanero paste. The end result was delicioso. A rich, gamey, earthy and vibrant dish that seemed to waltz around our little kitchen as the aroma wafted around the room. As a good Panamanian, I served it with white rice and beans. The rice was the perfect backdrop to the saucy lamb, allowing us to savor the flavors from the guiso even without a bite of lamb.

This is not to say that the rice was boring, remember my feelings on that subject. I’m just saying that the rice was a perfect partner for the very flavorful and soulful lamb guiso. And check out the beans too, I made it my mission to combine ingredients that don’t always meet each other. Guess what? It worked!

Lamb Guisado (Cordero Guisado)

3 lbs boneless lamb roast (shoulder or leg), cubed
Achiote (annatto seeds)
Vegetable oil
1 tsp garlic, crushed
2 tsp sea salt
1-2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp Jugo Maggi or Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp cumin powder
1-1/2 cps broth or beer
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper (or green), chopped
2 – 3 ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 cp cilantro, finely chopped
5-6 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
2 medium potatoes, cubed
1 large carrot, cubed
1/2-1 tsp habanero paste

Achiote¬†or annatto seeds are common in Latin-Caribbean cooking. It is the poor man’s saffron, used to infuse a similar color to dishes. It has a sweet peppery scent and taste, earthy; quite unique. To render its flavors and colors, we warm vegetable oil and add the seeds, then allow it to steep for a few minutes. In Panama, you’ll find a little bottle with this oil, seeds and all, sitting next to the stove. Every so often, it gets topped off with more oil until the seeds stop coloring it. Then you start over again.

You can make enough achiote oil for this recipe (about 3 tbsp vegetable oil + 1 tbsp achiote seeds) or a big batch as I do (about 1 cp oil to 1/4 cp seeds), or you can skip this altogether and just use plain or extra virgin oil.

After you’ve cubed the lamb, season it with 1 tbsp achiote oil, salt, pepper, garlic, Jugo Maggi, and cumin. Mix it all in and set aside while you get the veggies and aromatics ready.

Add the rest of the achiote oil to a large pan, preferably one with a fitting lid, and get it hot enough to sear to cubes of lamb. Brown the lamb in batches, trying not to crowd the pan so that you sear and not steam the meat. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Next, you will sweat the aromatics–add the onions, bell pepper and cook until the onions have soften and are translucent. Add the tomatoes after a few minutes, stir them in before adding the mint and cilantro.

Deglaze the pan with the broth or beer, use a wooden spoon to scrape off all the yummy bits that have gotten stuck to the bottom of that pan. This will not only enhance the flavor of the dish (so long as it isn’t burnt), but it will add an incredible depth of color to it.

Stir the lamb back in, then add the habanero paste, potatoes and carrots. Reduce the heat so that it simmers slowly. Allow it to cook covered for about 45 minutes or until the lamb is very tender. If the juices seem too runny at this time, remove the lid and allow it to cook down for another 10-15 minutes. Serve with rice and beans.

That’s one happy little lamb!

Cookingly yours,

Lamb Chops and Three Chili Chutney

The hubbz¬†and I both love lamb, but I don’t have a lot of experience with it. Actually, this was my 2nd venture into lamb world. I love the mildly gamey taste of it and I especially love how easy it is to prepare. These were a hit served with the Calabacitas.

Grilled Lamb Chops

For this dish I kept the lamb pretty simple. It was marinated with crushed garlic, sea salt & black pepper, I made a little rub of it with a bit of extra virgin  olive oil. Marinate for how long? As short as 10 minutes or as long as a few hours like I did here. Remember this was part of the 24, 24, 24 event, so I did as much prep work as possible.

Once ready to cook them,¬†preheat the oven to 375¬į and¬†heat a skillet with a bit of olive oil and seared the chops on all sides. Once browned, leave them in the skillet and place them in the oven, allowing them to¬†roast for about 15 minutes for rare lambs.

Remove and allow them to rest at least 10 minutes before carving. Serve with the chutney and Calabacitas.

Three Chili Chutney

1 poblano peppers, roasted
2 Anaheim or Hatch peppers, roasted
1 canned chipotle chile, seeded & minced
1 granny smith apple, unpeeled & diced
1/2 cp sherry vinegar
1/2 cp water
1/2 cp light brown sugar
1/4 cp granulated sugar
1 teaspoon garlic, minced

Roast the poblanos on a grill or under a broiler. After they have cooled, peel off the charred skin, seed and dice.

Combine the chilies with the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and cook over a moderately low heat for about 25 minutes (until the apple is tender and most of the liquid is evaporated).

Cook until the apples are tender and the chutney has thickened.

Lavender for Spring

Casey, Casey, Casey. I have to say thanks, even if begrudgingly. Edible flowers…, WTH!!! I don’t think I’ve ever eaten any or had any on something I’ve eaten. I mean fresh edible flowers specifically. Nev.Ah. So when you threw those in as one of the ingredients for this month’s¬†Top Chef It Yourself Challenge, you threw me for a huge loop. And that’s exactly what this challenge is about. Stretching comfort zones, thinking outside the boxes. Exploring. Testing. Challenging. So really. THANKS. Gracias, Merci, Grazie, Danka and all other languages I don’t know.

I tried, really I did. I Googled, Yellow Paged, emailed, did all the researching things one does in order to find something. Finally, a contact mentioned they had edible flowers through their organic market association thing and they could get me some. So I got them…, they weren’t labeled. I still don’t know what they are. They didn’t taste like anything *insert VERY pregnant pause here* even remotely special. They just tasted sorta *pause* green.

In the end I feel I copped out a bit, I went with dried lavender. In my defense, I’ve never cooked with it, unless you count Herbs d’Provence. The other ingredients were shallots and our choice of beef, pork or lamb. Since I’m trying to challenge myself, I opted for lamb. I had only cooked it twice and both times I cooked chops. To recap: lavender, shallots and leg of lamb–those were my ingredients.

I had a very clear idea in my head. I once saw Gordon Ramsay prepare lamb chops that he crusted in a parsley-breadcrumb¬†mix. They were beautiful. The green was bright and vibrant. And that’s what I envisioned, except I was hoping for purple. I didn’t quite get that effect. Not sure if it was because my newly purchased food processor didn’t grab the lavender buds or if it’s just because the lavender was dry and thus didn’t spread its lovely hue. No matter. The result was out of this world deliciousness.

Lavender tastes slightly sweet, not minty but slightly so. Maybe like very mild rosemary? There’s a certain smokiness¬†to it. It paired incredibly well with the lamb’s gamey taste, almost spotlighting it. It was divine. I crusted the lamb with lavender and breadcrumbs¬† and served it with a turnip & potato mash with fried shallots and brown butter sauce. That’s a mouthful, and it was oh so good. Here’s the scoop.

Lavender Crusted Leg of Lamb
Serves 4

1 leg of lamb, deboned (approx 2lbs)
2 tsp garlic, crushed (about 2 cloves)
2 tsp sea salt (I used my Mediterranean salt)
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 tbsp lavender buds
1 tbsp thyme, fresh
1-1/2 cp panko crumbs
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Mix the garlic, salt, pepper and 2 tsp oil and rub it on the lamb to marinate. Truss the lamb, this will help cook it evenly. Set it aside for now, this is a good time to prep the turnips or whatever side you plan on serving with this. Combine the lavender, thyme, panko and the rest of the oil, set aside.

Heat an ovenproof skillet over high heat and swirl a few drops of olive oil. Sear the lamb on all sides, cooking for about 2-3 minutes per side. Preheat oven to 375¬į.

Cover the leg with the panko mixture on all sides, pressing it onto the leg of lamb. Put it back on the skillet and pop it in the oven to roast for about 40 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 170¬į. Once it reaches this temperature (for rare lamb), remove it from the oven and allow it sit for at least 15 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute.

Now let’s talk about the turnips. I’ve only had them twice before this time, I noticed they seem to retain¬†a lot of water. Since I wanted to mash them, I wanted to make sure there was some creaminess, that’s why I added the potatoes. The other thing I did was steam instead of boil them, that kept them nice and dry.

Turnip Potato Mash with Fried Shallots & Brown Butter Sauce

2 cps turnips, peeled & chopped
2 small potatoes, peeled & chopped
Sea salt
3 tbsp butter
I have one of these little steam baskets, I put it at the bottom of a medium sized¬†pan and added enough water to create some steam. The water shouldn’t come through the basket. Combine the turnips and potatoes, add about 1-2 tsps of sea salt and place them on the basket. Cover with the pan’s lid and cook at a medium boil for about 20 minutes or until fork tender.

Once the potatoes and turnips are tender, drain the water and return the turnips to that saucepan (without the basket). Add the butter and mash roughly. Adjust seasoning as desired, set aside and keep warm.

For the Brown Butter Sauce: In a small pan melt 3 tbsp butter over medium low heat.

Continue heating the butter until it begins to change color to a deep golden brown. At this point add 1/4 cp of sherry and flame it to burn off the alcohol. Keep warm.

For the Fried Shallots: Thinly slice 2 shallots. Heat about 2 tbsp of oil on medium high heat. Add the shallots trying to keep them in a single layer. You’ll want to keep your eye on this, as the shallots with brown fairly quickly. Once browned, drain on paper towels.

Bring it all together. To plate it, place a couple medallions of¬†the lamb on a plate. Spoon some of the mash next to it and top the mash¬†with a couple tablespoons of the butter sauce. Top the sauce with the fried shallots. Eat it!¬†Add the shallots last so they’re still crisp when you eat them.

Doesn’t that look just AWESOME?!

Cookingly yours,

What’s in the bag? Part 1

I admit it. It was Sunday, I couldn’t decide on dinner and I was slightly bored. My dear friendster Cindy had given us a gift card to Whole Foods when we got married (we’re still newlyweds!) and so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to make use of those plastic dollars.

I cozied up to hubby, batted my eyelashes and said, in my most sultry voice: ‘Let’s play a game. You go to the store with this money and buy anything you want and I’ll cook it. I get no input. I’ll cook whatever you bring, even if I’ve never tried it before’.

Yes, I was feeling brave and daring. I imagined myself a contestant in my show: a cross between the Next Food Network Star, Chopped and Top Chef. ¬†When he wasn’t back almost an hour later, I began to worry. Then he showed up with 2 HUGE bags from WF…! yeah, it was time to panic.

He produced lamb chops (virgin territory), pears, long-stemmed artichokes (never seen those before), potatoes, NY strips, ciabatta bread YUM! bok choy, pasta, and some other goodies. Definitely more than one meal. I paced, drank wine, paced some more and finally came up with a menu!

I would try my hand at the lamb chops and I would serve them over pasta with a Putanesca-ish¬†sauce. I would also try making a pear tart. The deal was I had to do as much as possible without looking for recipes. I was able to do so except for the tart; baking is, after all, science. Here’s how the chops went down.

Arent they beautiful?

Aren't they beautiful?

Grilled Lamb Chops
1 lb of lamb chops (whole)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp pepper
2 garlic cloves, crushed
First we scored the fatty side of the rack, then we marinated it.
Marinate: Then I threw the rest of the ingredients into a Ziploc bag, got the salt incorporated and added the chops. I let them hang out there for about 2 hours, turning them every so often.

Preheat oven to 375
Cook: In a very hot oven proof skillet, heat up some olive oil and place the rack fatty side down. You want to sear it about 3 minutes on each side (be sure not to burn it). Keep turning until you get all sides browned, then turn it so the fatty side is on top, and put it in the preheated oven for another 15-20 minutes depending on how you prefer to cook it.

After searing before hitting the oven

After searing before hitting the oven

Salsa Putanesca-ish
3 slices of bacon, cubed
1 white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
8 crimini mushrooms, diced
1/4 cp Italian parsley, chopped
3 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 can roasted tomatoes
1/2 cp assorted olives, chopped
2 tsp anchovy paste
2 cp good beer
salt & pepper to taste

Saute the bacon to render some of the fat, but keep it soft. Add onions and cook until translucent; then add garlic and mushrooms. Once the mushrooms begin to soften, add the tomatoes, parsley and olives, stir in. Then add the anchovy paste and beer, bring it to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Allow the flavors to cook in for about 30-45 minutes, stirring constantly. You may not need to add salt, but check at the end of the cooking time and adjust seasoning.

Serve: Remove chops from oven and allow to rest for about 10 minutes before slicing. In the meantime, cook, drain and serve your pasta onto a plate. Top with sauce and place a few chops over that, sprinkle with fresh parsley if desired.