Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent Suppers

We had a great talk at my women's group the other night about how to prepare for Advent, and after reading Jennifer Fulwiler's article about 8 Super Simple Ways to Celebrate Advent, I decided I really wanted Tom and I to start having great dinners on the Sundays of Advent. This is rendered very difficult by his job first of all (he plays all the Masses on Sunday except for the 1:15pm), and by my commitments as well (I help with youth group, which happens directly after the 5pm and includes a meal). What to do? Well we decided to use Saturday nights instead: celebrate it on the Vigil. Growing up, my mother used to set the table and light candles every night for dinner. Every night. Every night it was like we were eating at a romantic fancy restaurant: we had a centerpiece, usually made of flowers and fruit from the garden, used good dishes, and we all sat down together - no tv, phone, or books allowed. Tom and I started off this way, but as our dining room table increasingly became a place for me to organize coupons and Christmas presents, this has deteriorated.

We often eat while watching DVR'd football games: Roll Tide! 

So last week, I decided we would start this tradition. Well...sort of. Since I was going to be at my sister's on Saturday night and Friday night was a work dinner, we would have our Sunday Advent dinner on Thursday. First, I had to decide on a recipe but I wanted it to be really good. So I fished around on Cooking Light's website, and then discovered one that sounded delicious: Lamb Tagine (i.e., Moroccan lamb stew with apricots). Whoo-ee, did that sound good! So I decided to make it. 

Gratuitous picture of my adorable husband painting our master bedroom

I will save you all the story of shopping for what I needed (although I personally think my odyssey for boneless leg of lamb and complementary sides deserves it's own epic poem), and instead show you the process. The recipe ingredients are pretty simple: 

  • (1-pound) boneless leg of lamb roast, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion 
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • garlic cloves, coarsely chopped 
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste 
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots, quartered 
  • (14-ounce) can fat-free, lower-sodium beef broth 

Nothing too crazy. I already had all of the spices, so I just had to get tomato paste, lamb and an onion. However! When I went to buy the lamb, at the butcher counter in Whole Foods, they did not have a 1lb leg of lamb...the smallest they had was a FIVE POUND leg of lamb. I wish I was kidding. So I had to multiply the recipe by five and hope that we really really liked it. But I had a lot of fun buying some of the other ingredients anyway: 

Awesome local honey, courtesy of Whole Foods - buy local if at all possible! Support local farmers!

Probably not kosher, but I find the idea of spending $9 on salt morally abhorrent 

I should have taken a picture of the bloody leg of lamb and the process of trimming the fat off it, cause that was a lot of fun and proves to me that I have no problem being a borderline carnivore, but my hands were kinda yucky. I already had the apricots (they're a yummy snack to have around) so I just quartered them: 

Yummo! This is not half as much as I needed since I multiplied the recipe, but I wasn't going to go out to the store again

I premeasured all my ingredients so I could just cook like those ladies on the cooking shows where they make everything look so easy and fun. 

Tomato paste and honey, plus leftover fall pie dough cutters that haven't been put away yet...

The process is pretty straight-forward too: 

Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
Coat pan with cooking spray. 
Sprinkle lamb evenly with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add lamb to pan; sauté 4 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. 
Remove from pan. 
Add onion; sauté for 4 minutes, stirring frequently. 
Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, cumin, and next 3 ingredients (through garlic); sauté for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in honey and tomato paste; cook 30 seconds, stirring frequently. 
Return lamb to pan, and add apricots and broth; bring to a boil. 
Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour or until lamb is tender, stirring occasionally.

I finally got to break in my beautiful Le Creusett dutch oven, courtesy of Tom's best friend Rick and his wife Erin

Mmm, onions 

While all of this was going on, Blackacre was very excited. I think he was hoping he would get some of the lamb fat I had trimmed off. 

Please? I'm trying so hard to look despondent and starving! 

However, when he realized today was not his day, he gave up and laid down right where I was working.

Although not complicated, it's a little quick for a while. My dutch oven is very sensitive to temperature, so once things got going, they really got going! Thus not a lot of "in the works" pictures, but a very nice picture of it as it simmered: 

Despite a commenter's assurance that the soupiness would go away after an hour, mine stayed pretty soupy. I'm fairly certain this is for several reasons: I don't really worry about measuring very much; I did not have 5 x the onion or apricots that I needed; I don't really worry about measuring at all. I didn't mind it though. Also, the difficult thing about adding honey to a recipe is that it sticks to whatever you've used to measure it and whatever you use to get it out of the measuring cup. so in the future, I'll probably add extra honey after I've scraped out whatever I could from the measuring cup; most commenters said it was a sweet broth, but mine was much spicier (which I didn't mind, but had Tom gasping a little bit). 

Simmering away! 

To make our dinner really nice, I also got some specialty cheese and olives (also at WF). Whole Foods cheese counter has over 300 types of cheeses, which basically means they have over 300 ways to make me happy. I talked to the man at the cheese counter and chose the following: 

This is a hard goat's milk cheese with a bit of a bite to it; it's encased in a balsamic crust and it was absolutely wonderful! I liked that it had a strong flavor, but that meant that we couldn't eat a lot of it (probably a good thing). It went really well with the mixture of Greek olives I got from the olive bar, and the Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet that we got for Christmas last year. Classy! 

It was a great meal, made even more special because we got to use our wedding crystal for the first time, and my grandmother's china for the second time. I adore my grandamother's china, not because the pattern is what I would have chosen, but because it was a gift to her from my grandfather after World War II. He got it while he was stationed in Japan after the Japanese were defeated, and so it is Noritake china from Occupied Japan: 

A similar stamp to the one on the back of my china

It's historical significance is incredible and it makes me wonder about my grandfather during that time of his life. I wish I could have heard the story of how he bought it, to say nothing of how he shipped it back!, and if he got a great price because of the deep depression of the Japanese economy or if he had to pay every cent he had for it. Unfortunately, he died before I was born and my grandmother passed away four years ago and I never thought to ask her until it was far too late. 

I didn't get any pictures of my lovely table or the presentation of the food, all of which was very nice, because at that point, I was pretty tired (I had taken a couple of breaks to do other things) and it was pretty late (I am horrible at timing - I think we ate at 8:30pm and I started this process at 4pm). However, it was great to have a quiet candlelit dinner with my husband, just like the ones I remember having with my parents growing up. 

Happy Advent!! 

Our Willowtree nativity that my mom got us, including former Valparaiso head basketball coach Homer Drew, who Tom insists be allowed to worship the Christ-child 

1 comment:

  1. The other really good thing about buying local honey is that it helps decrease seasonal allergies!


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