Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Greetings!

The Resurrection of Christ
(Image from

We wish everyone a Blessed Easter!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pan-seared lamb chops: a great way to fire up the appetite without making a big fuss

We've fallen out of lamb-chop love in recent years for a couple of reasons.
One is the fatty, chewy and generally sub-par chops available at most of our local stores. The other is that I've always been an open-fire lamb cooker. I like my chops charred over a real flame, just the way Dad made them.

But we don't fire up the grill much when we're cooking for just the two of us, as is almost always the case these days. We try to keep things simple, which translates into stove-top prep. That generally entails few sacrifices, but lamb chops, sadly, have become one of them.

Until the other day, that is, when I spotted three particularly nice shoulder chops that looked perfectly marbled and nicely trimmed. My first thought was to head for the charcoal aisle but I'm happy to report that the thought passed quickly.
Instead, I decided to pan sear the lamb along with the fixings. 
Preparation stage

I started by making an Armenian-style side salad and getting my bulgur pilaf on the stove. I set the salad aside to dress right before serving and let the pilaf fluff up in its own juices, with the pan's top firmly in place. 
Ready to serve!

Then I put a 12-inch Teflon skillet on the stove and turned the heat up high. While the pan warmed up, I cut up a large onion and two fat, red bell peppers just as I would if I were barbecuing. I tossed them in a bowl with two crushed cloves of garlic, my usual kebab seasonings (use the ones you like) and just enough olive oil to coat it all.

The peppers and onion went into the hot pan to sizzle while I rubbed the chops with the same seasoning mix and then added just enough oil for a similar coating. As the veggies were starting to brown, I added the meat to the pan.
The only exception to the stove-top portion of the menu resulted from my running out of room on the stove: Robyn broiled a few tomatoes in the toaster oven while I monitored the lamb chops.

Before I tell you how it all turned out, here's today's quiz: 
How long does it take to cook lamb chops? The answer varies. 
If you're not Armenian, it takes about four to six minutes per side.
I know because I heard this from a professional chef on the television. I made a mental note of the time, and a second note never to eat in this guy's restaurant.

If, however, you are Armenian, cook the chops until they're actually done and then cook them some more. For me, that's about 15 minutes total but be my guest to keep going. 
I got a nice, even char on both sides that won the ultimate compliment from our kitchen's executive chef, who happens to be my wife: She said the meat looked and tasted grilled.
What turned out looking like an elaborate meal was actually quick and easy to prepare --- and so satisfying that the outdoor grill may stay cold a while longer. 
PS: This menu is perfect for an Easter dinner for 2 or 3.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Palm Sunday is ACYOA Day

Palm Sunday is synonymous with ACYOA Day. (Armenian Church Youth Organization of America) 

According to the official ACYOA website, its purpose is “to focus attention on the vitality of the organization, its members, its accomplishments, and its role in the local parish community. It is also an opportunity for the ACYOA to promote its programs and honor individuals who have made an impact on youth in the Church. ACYOA Day is primarily celebrated in the local parish.”
ACYOA recollections:
As teenagers, my sister and I – and later my brother - belonged to St. Leon Armenian Church (NJ) ACYOA. As members, we were taught leadership skills; sponsored dinners, dances, you name it - we spent all of our free time together, creating life-long friendships.
When our children were old enough, they became members of their respective church’s ACYOA- following in our footsteps. 

For the five years my daughter belonged to St. David (FL) ACYOA Jrs., I co-sponsored the group alongside a childhood friend of mine. As small as the St. David youth group was, they were an active, integral part of our then relatively new parish. Members participated in various aspects of the church –assisting with Sunday School, serving on the altar, and singing in the choir. In addition, they sponsored successful church-related fundraisers, and even provided babysitting services while parents attended parish events. 

Traditionally, at the conclusion of Palm Sunday church services, ACYOA members host a luncheon and program for family and friends to enjoy. 
My special (food-related) recollection:
Photo from

Our annual Palm Sunday luncheon was highlighted with a very special fundraiser - a cake-lighting ceremony - at the conclusion of the program. We had a huge sheet cake – which ultimately became dessert – set on a beautifully decorated table. Guests were invited to come forward to light a candle, in honor of – or in memory of - a loved one. Each name was announced. The guests made a donation, selected a candle, lit it, then placed it in the cake. It was heart-warming to see the cake completely aglow.

Today, ACYOA chapters flourishes thanks to the Armenian youth who are dedicated to their church community, and their supportive clergy, parents, and parishioners. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Getting Ready for Easter

It’s never too early to start planning for Easter – arranging baskets of treats for the children (and certain grown-ups I know!), baking plenty of chorag, making special desserts (paklava, for instance) – but most important, coloring hard-cooked eggs for Easter Sunday.

I posted directions for dying Easter eggs Armenian-style, a while back, but felt it necessary to repeat the instructions. 

Special Note: You must start gathering onion skins now – gather as many as you can because the more you have, the more intense the color will be.

This time around, I’m also including several natural egg-coloring recipes compliments of ‘Better Homes and Gardens’. You’ll find the recipes below.

Image from
Here’s what to do to color Easter eggs Armenian style – it’s very easy:

Hard cook eggs as you normally do, but add the onion skins to the water before you start the cooking process.
You’ve never hard-cooked eggs before? Here’s what you do:
1. Gently place eggs in a deep pot.
2. Add enough water to come one inch above the eggs. (Add onion skins now if you’re coloring eggs for Easter.)
3. Cook over high heat until water comes to a boil.
4. Immediately cover the pot and remove it from the heat.
5. Let the eggs stand in the hot water for 15 minutes.
6. Discard the onion skins, if used.
7. Remove the eggs from the hot water and cool them immediately in a bowl of cold water. (This stops any further cooking, makes eggs easier to peel, and helps prevent a greenish ring from forming around the yolk.)
8. Pat the eggs dry, and refrigerate them until serving time.

Image from Better Homes and Gardens
Now for the All-Natural Easter egg dye recipes from Better Homes and Gardens:
Use these all-natural dye recipes made from household ingredients to create Easter eggs in beautifully subdued shades. Leave eggs soaking in the dye in the refrigerator overnight for the richest colors.

Mix 1 cup frozen blueberries with 1 cup water, bring to room temperature, and remove blueberries.
Cut 1/4 head of red cabbage into chunks and add to 4 cups boiling water. Stir in 2 Tbsp. vinegar. Let cool to room temperature and remove cabbage with a slotted spoon.
Jade Green:
Peel the skin from 6 red onions and simmer in 2 cups water for 15 minutes; strain. Add 3 tsp. white vinegar.
Faint Green-Yellow:
Peel the skin from 6 yellow apples. Simmer in 1-1/2 cups water for 20 minutes; strain. Add 2 tsp. white vinegar. Simmer 4 oz. chopped fennel tops in 1-1/2 cups of water for 20 minutes; strain. Add 2 tsp. white vinegar.
Take the skin of 6 yellow onions and simmer in 2 cups water for 15 minutes; strain. Add 3 tsp. white vinegar.
Faint Red-Orange:
Stir 2 Tbsp. paprika into 1 cup boiling water; add 2 tsp. white vinegar.
Rich yellow: Simmer 4 oz. chopped carrot tops in 1-1/2 cups water for 15 minutes; strain. Add 2 tsp. white vinegar.
Mustard-yellow: Stir 2 Tbsp. turmeric into 1 cup boiling water; add 2 tsp. white vinegar.
Various shades: Steep 4 bags of chamomile or green tea in 1 cup boiling water for 5 minutes.
Pale yellow: Chop 4 oz. goldenrod and simmer in 2 cups water for 20 minutes; strain. Add 2 tsp. white vinegar.
Faint yellow: Simmer the peels of 6 oranges in 1-1/2 cups water for 20 minutes; strain. Add 2 tsp. vinegar.
Simmer 2 Tbsp. dill seed in 1 cup water for 15 minutes; strain. Add 2 tsp. white vinegar.
Add 1 tablespoon vinegar to 1 cup strong coffee.
Faint pink: Chop 4 oz. amaranth flowers and simmer in 2 cups water; strain. Add 2 tsp. white vinegar. Simmer the skins from 6 avocados in 1-1/2 cup water for 20 minutes; strain. Add 2 tsp. white vinegar. Mix 1 cup pickled beet juice and 1 tablespoon vinegar.
Dark pink: Cut 1 medium beet into chunks and add to 4 cups boiling water. Stir in 2 Tbsp. vinegar and let cool to room temperature; remove beets.
Mix 1 cup grape juice and 1 tablespoon vinegar.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Lenten Peanut Butter Balls

I have been remiss in posting Lenten desserts, so here’s a truly simple, tasty, and relatively healthy choice to satisfy your sweet tooth. This no-bake recipe is somewhat reminiscent of the Tahini-Chocolate Truffles I made for my friend's Christmas cookie exchange party last December.
Lenten Peanut Butter Balls

Lenten Peanut Butter Balls
Yields approximately 2 dozen

1 cup peanut butter, natural, chunky or creamy – the choice is yours
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup rolled oats, ground in a food processor or blender
¼ cup unsalted nuts, ground (walnuts, peanuts, pecans are suitable options)
¼ cup currants or chopped raisins (optional)
Options for coating: powdered sugar, unsalted chopped nuts, toasted sesame seeds

 1. Place peanut butter and honey in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat on high power for about 15-20 seconds. Stir until blended. 
 2.  In a separate bowl, mix oats, ground nuts, currants or raisins, if using. Stir until well-combined. If mixture seems a bit dry, just keep on mixing!
 3.  Take a heaping tablespoonful of the combined mixture and shape into a ball; place on a plate.  Repeat until all mixture is used. 
 4.  Roll each ball in your coating of choice. Place each in a mini muffin paper cup. Chill the peanut butter balls in the refrigerator for at least an hour, or overnight. 
Robyn's suggestion: To avoid messy hands when shaping, wear non-powdered gloves. You'll be glad you did!