arni yiouvetsi (lamb baked with orzo)

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Sometimes I enjoy exquisite meals in restaurants that I would never try to recreate at home, that I am happy to experience thoroughly in the moment and then leave behind. Other times I try something I love and then become fixated on figuring out how to make it myself. This recipe – lamb braised in a pot with orzo – fits into the second category. I first had this at the same restaurant in Central Jersey, Pithari Taverna, that inspired these lemon potatoes. When I moved to Jersey City, I thought this meal would be like the first kind I described above, something magical that could only be relived in memory, until I discovered recently that it’s actually a fairly common Greek recipe that could easily be found with a quick Google search.

I knew that the tomato sauce at Pithari had a distinctly non-Italian taste to it, but for the longest time I had no idea what special ingredient gave it such a different flavor profile. The answer? Cinnamon. To people only used to adding cinnamon to desserts or sugary breakfast foods, this might sound like a weird spice to put in a savory recipe – but paired with lamb and tomatoes, it contributes a warm, earthy, and peculiarly Greek flavor.
CIMG3044Unfortunately, I somehow managed not to get any good shots of the lamb itself when I was taking photos. It’s there somewhere in that pile of orzo. After two and a half hours of slow braising in the oven, it is meltingly tender and falls apart if you poke it. Though this meal is baked in a clay pot at Pithari, which I am sure adds some extra-special something-or-other to it, don’t let not having one be an excuse not to try this – I used my stainless steel, and was blown away by how exactly like the version from my favorite far away Greek restaurant this tasted.  Read the rest of this entry »

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greek-style lemon potatoes (patates sto fourno)

So it has yet again been awhile since I posted here. I’m not neglecting the blog out of boredom – I’ve just had a lot of things going on this year. As I mentioned a few posts back, I was on a posting hiatus for awhile because I was preparing for my Ph.D. qualifying exams. After passing them, and spending a lot of time reflecting, I finally decided that I don’t want to be a professor as much as I thought I did, and so I’ve decided it’s time for a career change. I’m not sure what that will be just yet – editing/publishing? Non-profit? Or will I switch tracks entirely and become a savvy business woman in a pencil skirt and power pumps? It remains to be seen. In the meantime I’ve been working odd temp jobs to pay the bills, researching different career options, and polishing the old resume.

I’ve also been cooking a lot. Because most of what I was doing in grad school was very sedentary and cerebral, I always found it relaxing and therapeutic to stand up and do something with my hands that produced nourishing, satisfying results on a much faster timeline than any results ever get produced in academic research. Some kinds of cooking projects – quiche, bread, for example, which I’ve been making a good bit of recently – are still totally magical to me. The finished product is something so completely different than the original pile of ingredients that I’m always surprised it is something I have made. I’ve tried lots of new recipes that I’ve loved in the past few months – bolognese sauce, spaghetti and meatballs, a lovely Spanish method for cooking green beans, an intense chocolate sorbet – all of which I plan to come back to at some point so that I can share them.

But the first thing on my list to share was these potatoes. When I lived in Central Jersey, the wonderful Pithari Taverna introduced me to great Greek food – if you are ever in the area, you should seriously go there. They serve these classic Greek lemon potatoes with many of their main courses, and I finally got around to looking up recipes so I could make them myself now that I don’t live there anymore. The recipe I found is a bit different from their potatoes, but it is so wonderful that I plan to make it every time I want roasted potatoes, whether or not the main course is Greek. These potatoes are everything I look for in a roasted potato – soft and fluffy on the inside, crisp on the outside. I’ve made so many roasted potatoes with hard, chunky insides (blech), but once I made these I realized that of course roasting them with some liquid in the pan, as you do here, would lead to internal fluffiness, because the potatoes soak up the liquids (along with their flavors) as they are cooking. Genius.

They are also very simple to make – one of my silly pet peeves is having to parboil vegetables before roasting or sautéing them. I know this feeling is unreasonable, but I just hate doing it! So for me these potatoes are pretty much perfect in every way, since no parboiling is required – you just chop them, toss them in their seasonings, and leave them to roast for about an hour while you deal with other things. And they are better than any of the much fussier roast potatoes I’ve made in the past. Basically, these potatoes and I were made for each other, and we’re going to go get a room now before everyone gets nauseated by my infatuation with them. Make them yourself and you’ll understand.  Read the rest of this entry »