So, this long distance relationship I am in with my very own husband is working alright by most standards. It’s long, afar, with very short weekends here and there but we have, without even saying it outloud, understood that every minute counts. There is no bickering, no wondering, no hint. Just plain us. I am not saying this situation, him in South Carolina until June and me in Alabama now is easy, fun or a learing experience of the "a couple’s journey through discovery and awareness" (seriously. Ugh).
How we navigate and manage the distance and absence is not only revealing of who we are in our relationship but also of what we have been building in the fifteen years we have been together. I am really proud of who we are as a couple but I am even more grateful for having such a strong partner. Call this my two Valentine’s Day paragraph a week later which is appropriate since we don’t really partake in the red and pink celebration. Except…
Except this year. I think the distance made us a little bit softer, a bit mushier than usual when last Thursday came about. He sent roses. I got him a present. We exchanged funny cards and texts worthy of first crushes. And I really wanted to head home and cook him a nice meal. I know. Easy way for Valentine’s Day. What can I say? My husband, after all this time together, still thanks me at the end of every meal. For the thought and care. For the food itself. For the nurturing of conversations and laughs around a warm plate.
It’s the little things.
This past weekend that he came to visit, I decided to splurge a little and come up with a nice meal of Lamb Chops With Blood Orange Sauce, Roasted Okra With Chili Oil and fresh baked bread. It wasn’t complicated and we sat down and caught up. We usually eat meat about once a week, the bulk of our diet being seafood and vegetarian meals. I just could not help thinking about my grandmother who used to tell me growing up how she would always regal my grandfather with grilled lamb chops when he’d come home in between two war campaign. I smiled. I headed out to the store and got natural raised lamb chops, bright red and succulent and started cooking.
A good meal. A glass of wine. Hosting our first get together with new friends and neighbors here in Birmingham. A good weekend. A lazy one too. For once, no moving boxes, no U-Haul to unload, no storage unit to visit. Just cozying up on the couch watching all movies most of the morning. Driving around town and looking at neighborhoods where we might want to live more permanently here in Birmingham.
I have had the images for this post up and ready for words for about a week now. It’s not that I can’t find the words to go along. It’s just that I am ever near long enough the computer to sit down and write.
We had such a great time at the beach with my parents, my brother and his family that diving right back into work mode was a blessing and a curse at the same time. It’s been busy around here but having my parents stay with me here in Birmingham for a couple of weeks shifted the rhythm even further.
It’s good. It’s all good. It’s actually awesome to have them around and see the new house, the new job, the new town. They really get a handle on my new situation and all the questions they had are being answered. My photo schedule, the way we do things, the people I work with, the places I like to go to for dinner, a drink or to shop. Things are about as new to them as they are to me and we share discoveries and new finds everyday.
It’s really nice to come home after a long day and start cooking with my mom. Chopping, dicing, searing, etc… while sipping a glass of wine and watching the end of an old movie or listening to the radio. We have more quiet time for serious talks, or to simply catch up on news about the family at large.
It’s been raining lots lately and we have been enjoying a few comforting and hearty meals. The kind to make you feel instantly better and warm inside after being caught by a heavy rain.
Stews, fish soups, long cooked dishes, and roasted veggie soups have permeated the air around for days now, filling me with a bit of nostalgia. The flavors and spices of my grandmother's stews and roasts come into to our conversation almost at every meal. Her cooking while being so intricately French provincial was so influenced by her life in Northern Africa and encounters with other army wives.
It might be for this reason that I have absolutely loved every page turned in the new cookbook by Ottolenghi, Jerusalem, co-authored with Sami Tamimi. I hear my stomach growl at just about every recipe and my eyes pop out from every stunning picture. I find my family’s cooking in so many of the recipes in the book.
I don’t know if we are atypical or just reflect an era (military, moves, oversea travels, wars, etc…) but some of my most vivid food memories are as much of harissa,Berber couscous and papaya with lime juice as they are of cassoulet and Bouillabaisse.
In that regard, the book completely appeals to me. The way Ottolenghi and Tamimi look at culinary traditions and influences. Understanding that one dish may have the same root but different interpretations in neighboring cultures, civilizations or countries. They understood that cooking is honoring ones traditions as well as sharing common flavors, differences in interpretations. Food travels. It is not one to be of only one people and one culture. It is alive. It reflects peoples, generations and history. It is humanity.
I get that. Especially when sitting down at the dinner table around a plate of Pistachio Crusted Lamb and a side or Roasted Cauliflower & Hazelnut Salad. (recipes after the jump). I get the sharing, the cultural influences, and the roots. The history that brought this plate and the chatter about it, in front of me. I happily grab my fork and ask my mother for one more story about my grandmother. About her own childhood. About mine with her.
Only a few more days and they will be heading back to France. A few more days to revel in the memories and the times we are living in the present. I am grateful for the love and time they give me these few short weeks. It’s been quite nice, indeed…
I hope that everyone celebrating Thanksgiving this past week had a wonderful time doing so. I can safely say this Thanksgiving ranks high in the "best to date" for us. The food was outstanding. The company was delicious. Oh wait. It should be the other way around…As I told B. that evening after a strong cocktail "we had fun and we had fun making fun". That pretty much sums it up.
I live for moments like these. Moments when friends just know that they are going to have a good time, relax and leave their worries behind. When they feel comfortable to dig into the fridge, get out the cutting board and chop away, preparing a delicious meal in a cacophony of pots and pans. I wanted nothing more than great friends around me at the dinner table and I got just that. I’m a very lucky girl.
Thank you Tami, Mike, Broderick and Jack for such a rocking day! As far as time with friends goes, I want days like Thursdays everyday. As far as the food goes, Thanksgiving seems to kick start my desire for comfort food. Perfect for slow simmering dishes such as braises or stews. Perfect for a little ravioli making action on a slower holiday weekend.
I have been meaning to make gluten free ravioli for so long but always found excuses not to. Truth is, I was concerned the taste would not be right and the dough would be too firm and to dry to hold my filling. That was of course until I tried Shauna’s and Danny’s recipe for gluten free pasta dough in their just released cookbook. So easy to make that you can have a bowl of fresh linguine on your plate in a little time and with minimum effort.
I could have stopped at making simple fresh pasta but one of my favorite vendors at the market, Jason from Meat House always takes care of me with something special. This time it was a nice big lamb beck. I scratched my head for a second, and seeing that he had just derailed my cooking plan for the week, he volunteered preparations and applications. When he said the words "ravioli", my ears stopped listening to any other suggestions.
I remembered seeing the picture for Shauna’s ravioli and immediately bookmarking it so once home I started the preparation for the dough and the filling. The beauty of ravioli is that you can fill them with just about everything you like. Right now I am tempted to shred some leftover Thanksgiving turkey with a little spinach and ricotta and do another batch. You could even make them completely vegetarian if you wanted.
We did not peep a word during our meal and ate as slowly as we could to enjoy every bit of it. You know…I might do just that for dinner tonight. Again. The broth is so light and refreshing you’d want to tilt your bowl and slurp…
Braised Lamb Ravioli With Shitake Parsley Broth:
Notes: the combinations of gluten free flours I used differs from Shauna’s as I used what was already in my pantry, feel free to substitute also according to your tastebuds and budget.
I like to mix the vegetables used to flavor the stock (mirepoix of carrot, celery and onion) for a few reasons: I hate to waste perfectly good food and it’s a good way to sneak in more fiber and veggies into my husband’s diet but feel free to use straight meat in the filling.
I know I don’t cut my ravioli the most conventional or easiest way. That’s my brain working right there. It does not matter how you get there as long as you get there. It’s not labeled on the ravioli as you serve them, how they were cut. The taste is what counts.
I did not have a pasta machine to roll the ravioli dough so they were a little thick but still wonderful.
For the braised lamb neck:
2 tablespoons oil, divided (olive or canola)
one 1 pound lamb neck
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 bouquet garni (I did thyme, rosemary, marjoram, peppercorn, coriander seeds in a piece of cheese cloth and dump the whole thing in with the meat)
4 cups beef stock or water
salt and pepper
For the shitake parsley broth:
2 teaspoons oil
1 cup shitake mushrooms thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
Stock from the meat preparation (at least 1 1/2 cups)
In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, heat one tablespoon oil over medium high heat. Sear the lamb neck on all sides and remove from the pot temporarily.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil and add the carrots, celery and onion. Cook until slightly browned and caramelized, about 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Return the meat to the pot, add the bouquet garni and enough of the beef stock to reach halfway up the sides of the meat. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to a simmer, partially cover with a lid and let the meat braise until fork tender (2-3 hours)adding more stock or water if the levels get critically low.
Remove the meat from the pot, let cool on the side. Drain the liquids from the vegetables in a strainer over a large bowl. Discard the bouquet garni. Refrigerate the stock until most of the fat raises to the top to skim it out. In the meantime, shred the meat from the lamb neck over the vegetables and mix well with your hands or a fork. Adjust the seasoning if needed.
Prepare the sauce:
In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium and saute the shitake and garlic for a couple of minutes, add the parsley and the stock. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for about 30 minutes. Keep warm or reheat when ready to serve.
For the ravioli dough, adapted from Gluten Free Girl And The Chef’s recipe for gluten free pasta dough:
2/3 cup millet flour
1/2 cup sweet rice flour
1/2 cup potato starch
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1 teaspoon guar gum
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
4 egg yolks
Sift together the millet flour, rice flour and potato starch along with the xanthan and guar gums. Add the kosher salt and dump the mixture in a large bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolks.
By hand, Make a well in the center of the flour mix and dump the egg mixture. Working from the outside in with your hands or a large spoon, gather the flour over the eggs and work your way in until all the flour mix and liquids are mixed in. Gather the dough into a ball and use right away or keep well wrapped in the fridge until ready.
In a stand mixer, place the flours in first then add the egg mixture and mix with the paddle attachment on medium speed until the dough gathers into a ball. Use right away or park in the fridge, well wrapped.
Make the ravioli:
If you are using a pasta machine, divide the dough into four balls and roll them out to 1/2-inch thickness in between 2 sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper.
Lightly flour the dough on both sides and run through the machine, increasing the setting each time until the dough is almost paper thin.
If you are making the dough by hand, roll each ball as thin as you can in between sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper.
Cut the rolled out pasta into 2-inch square pieces. Add about 2 teaspoons of the meat filling in the middle. Brush the edge of the square with a little water and place another square right on top, press down and drimp the edges with a fork. You can also use a ravioli cutter to make your life easier.
Place a large stock pot of salted water over high heat and bring to a boil, add the ravioli and cook 4 to 5 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoons and place in a serving dish. Reheat the shitake parsley sauce if necessary, pour it over the ravioli and serve.