Call me a copycat.
It's true; I deserve it. Though, in my defense, they say copying is the most sincere form of flattery.
It all started last Wednesday, when I watched Julie & Julia - http://www.sonypictures.com/homevideo/julieandjulia/ - for the first time (little behind on movie watching, as my budget forces me to wait for Red Box - http://www.redbox.com// - rentals), and experienced a light-bulb moment - as I'm sure many of you did watching that movie...why don't I cook through a cookbook and blog about it?
Por que, no? Maybe the sequel will evolve into "Angie and Julia..."
Now, multiple objectives motivated my cooking/writing endeavor, and mine weren't nearly as endearing as Julie's yearning to follow in the footsteps of the late, great Julia Child.
Objective One - I love to cook, but I struggle with following a recipe. I get too excited, don't adequately prepare and wind up suddenly needing 10 different ingredients that aren't chopped, causing things to quickly spiral downhill. Food overcooks, I get flustered, the kitchen turns into a war zone and I, consequently, drink one too many glasses of wine - which does, however, make my food taste better.
Objective Two - I always write about my fellow bloggers' recipes and cooking experiences, but never my own. I decided, in 2010, I need to take control of my own cooking destiny. No more sloppy seconds.
So, last night I grabbed the trusty garlic Bible - The Garlic Lovers' Cookbook Volume II - http://www.amazon.com/Garlic-Lovers-Cookbook-Vol-II/dp/1587612372 - a compilation of hundreds of competition entries from the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival - http://gilroygarlicfestival.com/ - and officially embarked on my cooking journey.
(All epic journeys need a name, so this one shall be called, "Angie's Quest to Garlic Cooking Greatness.")
My main goals in this journey are to: 1.) Complete every recipe, with a 75% edible-success rate; a new form of scoring I invented, which means a meal one can consume and somewhat enjoy, without contracting any food-borne illnesses. 2.) Not gain the "Freshman 40" in the process - quite risky, as many recipes call for heavy-whipping cream, copious amounts of butter, cream cheese, etc. Hello, saddlebags. 3.) Avoid unintentionally summoning the local fire department. 4.) Have a little fun.
Here we go. Recipe #1 - Manti, a nice, Turkish delight.
The recipe's description, "an easy-to-fix casserole, with the surprisingly rich and unusual lamb flavor," caught my attention with two words; easy and lamb. Easy is good, and lamb meat is even better.
So, I stopped at my local Ralph's - http://www.ralphs.com/Pages/default.aspx to pick up the necessary ingredients, and - I'm slightly embarrassed to admit - I spent arguably more time wandering the aisles in search of the ingredients, than I did in the kitchen.
Apparently, I'm not very store savvy when I venture beyond my cooking comfort zone of tacos, spaghetti and stew. Hello, parsley, nice to meet you; never noticed you there next to the carrots.
Once I entered the kitchen, however, things went surprisingly smooth. The recipe calls for minimal ingredients, the steps were simple to follow, and there wasn't much multi-tasking involved. Total preparation and cooking time was about 1 hour, 10 minutes - the perfect amount of time to sip on a nice glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. For once, I was drinking wine for enjoyment and not frustration.
Manti Recipe (I tweaked a few items, noted with an *, to help keep that 40-lbs. at bay):
- 1 (12-oz.) package large-shell pasta - *whole wheat and jumbo-shell pasta;
- ¾-lb. ground lamb;
- 1-tbsp. oil or butter - *extra-virgin olive oil;
- 1-2 bunches green onions, minced;
- ¼-cups fresh parsley, chopped;
- 4 cloves fresh Christopher Ranch California Heirloom Garlic, minced;
-4-tbsp. butter - *no salt and only used 2-3 tbsp.;
- 1 (10 ¾-oz.) can beef broth - *low sodium;
- 1 (8-oz.) can tomato sauce - *low sodium;
- Handful of low-moisture mozzarella cheese.
- Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and cool.
- On low heat, sauté onions, parsley and garlic in olive oil; add lamb, and combine well. Cook until meat is browned, or completely cooked through; about 15 minutes.
- While meat is cooking, butter the bottom of a 3-quart baking dish (one that has a lid). Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Stuff shells with meat and herb mixture, and place shells in the baking dish. Sprinkle mozzarella on top. Cover, and bake 20 minutes.
- While Manti is baking, combine broth and tomato sauce in small pan, and bring to a boil.
- Once shells have cooked 20 minutes, pour broth/tomato liquid over Manti, and bake 15-20 minutes longer; until lamb is cooked and sauce is slightly thickened.
- Serve hot.
Thoughts on my first recipe....
First of all, I didn't know ground lamb meat existed. Now that I'm aware, it is my new favorite convenience meat - a great middle man between beef and turkey, as it's as rich and flavorful as beef - but leaner - and more robust than turkey meat. Not to mention, the smell of lamb sautéing with the garlic, onions and parsley was a thin slice of heaven.
The finished product was quite scrumptious, and – surprisingly - not too filling. (However, I need to work on portion control. The recipe states 4-6 servings, and I ate seven shells last night, with only seven more awaiting me tonight. Must be a cookbook misprint.)
Baking the sauce into the shells is a good move, as the sauce thickens - evolving into a light marinara - and subsequently moistens and tenderizes the shells and meat. The flavor of the marinara-esque sauce blended perfectly with the bold flavor of the herbal-infused lamb, reasonably tempering the lamb meat, which, for some, can be too overbearing.
Finally, this recipe doesn't actually call for mozzarella - that addition might be my inner fatty emerging - but I feel the creaminess of the cheese synchronizes the meat and shells. That's my excuse, anyways.
The only change I would make is, perhaps, adding some fresh basil, a little oregano and a pinch of pepper to the beef broth and tomato sauce. The sauce was lacking bite, likely due to the reduced-sodium selections for both.
My only complaint is that I could really use a dishwasher - any takers? – but, besides that, Recipe #1 - Manti - in "Angie's Quest to Garlic Cooking Greatness" received an 8 of 10 from Lauren, my unbiased judge/roommate.
As Julia Child would say, "Bon Appétit!"
(Original pictures to come...skipped my mind. I usually avoid documenting what I create in the kitchen! However, the picture above looks just like my dish...)
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