Mediterranean-lambI love lamb.  It’s not an everyday food for us, so maybe that’s why I like it so much – it always feels like a celebration.  Especially lamb shanks.  Although lamb does grace our presence every so often, it’s usually in the form of stew or sausage.  The tiny little chops, while delicious, aren’t usually my thing.  Too much work, too little time.

My kids like lamb too, although I’ve always been cautious around the subject of what they’re actually eating.  “What’s this?” is usually answered with a look in the other direction and the short but factual “lamb-it’s-like-beef”.

God forbid they actually mull the concept over in their minds.  I’m nervous that I’ll turn around one day and my daughter is going to shriek “AS IN MARY’S LITTLE LAMB?!!!”.  But for some reason the connection hasn’t been made….that is, until some kid in her class, probably the same one who’s discovered the truth about Santa Claus, is going to blurt out that yes, it’s actually Mary’s little lamb that your mother has been feeding you all these years.  Thank you in advance little one.

Mediterranean-lamb-leeks

But back to that special occasion lamb.  This weekend, I’m cooking for my brothers who are both in town for some well-needed time with their nieces and nephew.  I want a crowd-pleaser, one that will make the house smell like heaven, and is low maintenance to prepare.  I want to hang out when they’re here, not be trapped behind my stove.  Searing the shanks and letting them roast for hours on end tends to be my favorite preparation.  It’s flavorful, foolproof, and gives me tons of flex time in case anyone is running late.  I can just turn the oven down low and let the lamb hang out until their presence is needed.

Instead of my usual polenta, I fell in love with some beautiful springy green leeks that I spotted at the grocery store.  Next to stuffing on Thanksgiving, there is almost no better cooking smell than leeks and butter getting to know each other.   Sautéing them low and slow made them extra creamy, which combined with soft white beans, made the ultimate bed for the lamb.

Mediterranean-lamb-oranges

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Sumo-mandarinI love this big orange.  Whoever decided to combine the easy peel-ability of the mandarin orange with the size and juiciness of a navel is clearly some kind of fruit goddess.  It’s not the prettiest fruit, definitely not the kind you’d want to have on display in your kitchen in a big glass bowl.  It’s like the shar-pei of the fruit world, so ugly that it’s actually kind of cute.  Its deeply textured skin makes it look more like an old man’s nose than something you’d want to eat. But once you get past that gnarled exterior, heaven awaits.

ME: So this crazy thing is called a sumo mandarin.  It’s a cross between a navel orange and a mandarin.

What does it look like?

SAM:  “Round and round and round, like a volcano. On the top it looks like exploding fire.”

LAUREN:  “It looks like a balloon upside down.”

What does it feel like?

LAUREN:  “Thick.  It’s thick when I scratch it.”

What does it smell like?

LAUREN:  “It smells like a real orange.”

Who’s ready to try this real orange?

ME:  “First I take off the volcano top.   The cool thing about it is that it peels like a mandarin orange….”

SAM:  “But inside it’s a real orange!”

ME:  “Do you guys love it?

LAUREN:  “This orange is hairy.”

ME:  “Don’t throw those strings on the ground!”

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Easy-pizzaI’m trying to get my kids more involved with dinner prep, primarily to peak their interest in food, but also to train them.  I figure if I can get them to work a chopping board, I’ll free up some time to kick back on the couch, glass of wine in hand, and catch up on some much needed Downton Abbey.  Seeing that my ambition is still a long way off, I figure an interest in food is still a solid goal, and no better place to start than a quick and easy pizza.

The last thing the blog world needs is a basic pizza recipe, but I actually struggled with this one – making a homemade pizza that my kids could help prepare and that I wouldn’t mind digging into either.  A few months ago we tried make-your-own pizzas with pita bread but it was a huge disappointment.  Somewhere in an exhausted corner of my brain I thought, “hey, they like pizza, I’m feeling lazy tonight, why not this?

After Lauren squinted and picked up a corner of the pita pizza with the edge of her fingernail, I knew the effort was doomed.  I should have known better.  Back in college, pita pizzas were the dirty step-child of the pizza world.  We were always hard-pressed to find alternative lunch options in our dining hall, aptly called “the Ratty”.  Someone would inevitably grab a little of this, a little of that, microwave and voila! “Pita pizza guys!  Yum!” And it was never yum, or anything close to yum.

So despite my desire to lovingly mix together some combination of olive oil, water, flour and yeast and let it gently proof in a warm nook on my counter, it wasn’t happening.  I’d spent the day sprinting from one appointment to the next, in heels, cursing why I hadn’t worn sensible shoes or, preferably, combat boots. No dough for our evening pizza-building activity? No problem, I grabbed the next available thing, which so happened to be a decent all-natural premade crust from the market.  Sometimes I have to let go of my food-from-scratch obsessions just to get the gist across, even if it’s not all out pillowy perfection.  And that’s often what a weeknight dinner is all about.

Quick-and-easy-pizza-making

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StarfruitThe starfruit is interesting to me because it has so much untapped potential.  I generally see it on top of fruit salads to make them pretty, when this is actually the worst thing you could do to this subtle fruit.  Much like eating a delicate goat cheese after starting with a funky blue, once you eat any other kind of fruit, this one tastes like…nothing.  But there are some beautiful apple-banana-pineapple notes that are noticeable when eaten alone. 

What is this?

LAUREN:  “I forgot the name.  But I’ve seen it.”

How many senses do we have guys?

SAM:  “Three!”

RODNEY:  “That’s right Sam!”

ME:  “Let’s pretend Daddy didn’t say that.”

What do you see?

LAUREN:  “I see that they’re like stars.  Like they’re kind of brownish yellow.”

SAM: “I see big stars.”

What does it smell like?

SAM: “Strawberries.”

LAUREN:  “Salad!”

What does it feel like?

LAUREN:  “Wet.”

SAM: “I hear nothing!”

What does it taste like?

LAUREN:  “Like it.”

SAM: “Is it a smashed lemon?

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Black bean soup with fennel sausage side

If I were to free associate for a minute on the topic of black beans, soup probably wouldn’t be the first thing to come to mind.  For some reason, my husband’s stories of growing up in California pop up first,  where lunch was usually a burrito chock full of chicken and black beans.  He or some other unfortunate soul would inadvertently cap a tooth with one and spend the rest of the day ambling around with a tooth that appeared to be decaying, or worse, missing.

Food wedged in teeth aside, black beans have tremendous health benefits, with a magical protein/fiber combination unrivaled by most food groups.  I’m into eating magic, but I’m also a big fan of eating things that taste good and are healthy to boot.  So we eat a lot of black beans around here, especially black bean soup.

I’d grown a bit tired of the usual suspects as heavenly as they are- black bean soup with bacon, sherry and a touch of cream, a Mexican-style soup chock full of cumin and topped with a heavy spray of cilantro.  But with a big bag of fennel pork sausage in the fridge, limited time, and a sense of adventure, I decided to throw my usual repertoire a curveball.  In particular, I needed something comforting and hearty to welcome home R from a 2-day business trip where presumably he sustained himself on Starbucks and airplane peanuts.

Black bean soup with fennel sausage top

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