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 has belonged to St. David (FL) ACYOA Jrs., I co-sponsored the group alongside a long-time 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 causesoftheheart.com
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 kanelstrand.com
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.

Bluish-Gray:
Mix 1 cup frozen blueberries with 1 cup water, bring to room temperature, and remove blueberries.
Blue:
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.
Orange:
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.
Yellow:
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.
Brown-Gold:
Simmer 2 Tbsp. dill seed in 1 cup water for 15 minutes; strain. Add 2 tsp. white vinegar.
Brown:
Add 1 tablespoon vinegar to 1 cup strong coffee.
Pink:
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.
Lavender:
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

Ingredients:
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

Directions:
 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! 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Michink (Mid-Lent) Potluck Dinner

The Women’s Guild of St. David Armenian Church in Boca Raton, FL has a special way of observing michink,or mid-lent - with a potluck dinner.  This year our dinner will be held on Wednesday, March 13th in Mardigian Fellowship Hall. Each guild member is asked to bring a Lenten recipe large enough to serve 6 people. Attendees eagerly sample a wide variety of tasty, healthy Lenten recipes, while enjoying the camaraderie of everyone present.
Upon the conclusion of the meal, a brief service is conducted by the Very Rev. Father Nareg Berberian. 
I don’t know what the other members will be bringing, but I’m planning to contribute one of the following green bean recipes; I haven’t decided which yet.

Fresh Green Beans
Option #1: A fresh and delicious way to prepare green beans.

Green Beans with Orange Dressing
Serves 6
Ingredients:
    1 1/2 pound green beans, stems trimmed and cut in half
Dressing:
    2 teaspoons grated orange zest 
    1/2 cup orange juice
    1 tsp. salt
    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Garnish:
    1/3 cup toasted unsalted pistachios, chopped
    3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint leaves (or 1 tsp. dried mint, crushed)
Directions:
1. Steam beans until tender (they should still be bright green), about 5 minutes.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together orange zest, juice, salt and pepper. 
3. Place green beans in a serving bowl; toss with orange dressing.
4.Garnish with a sprinkling of pistachios and mint. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Option #2: A reliable stand-by recipe.
 Lenten-Style Green Beans
Serves 6 

Ingredients:
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ lbs. Italian pole beans or string beans, fresh or frozen (defrosted)
1 cup tomato Sauce
1- 15 oz. can diced canned tomato with its liquid
1 cup water (more if needed)
salt, black pepper, allspice to taste
¼ Tbsp. cayenne pepper, optional

Directions:
1. In a medium sized pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. SautÄ— onions and garlic until the onions become translucent. Reduce heat to low. Add the beans, cover, and cook for about 15 – 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes to prevent burning. (At this point no liquid has been added.)
2. Add the sauce, diced tomatoes, water and seasonings. Mix well; cover and cook on low for 30 minutes till the green beans are tender.
3. Add additional water, and adjust seasonings, if necessary.

Can be served hot or at room temperature.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Lenten Recipe Guide

To help get you through the next few weeks of Lent, I'm re-posting an item we did which reveals some Armenian Church Lenten guidelines and recipe options.


Grape Leaves stuffed with Rice

Recap:
  • The Western Church's less strict Lenten practice excludes meat from the diet. The stricter Lenten diet of the Eastern Church excludes meat, fish, poultry, dairy, dairy products or eggs.
  • To make some of our recipes into a Lenten version, substitute water or vegetable broth for any beef, lamb or chicken broth mentioned.
  • You'll notice that breads and desserts have been omitted from the menu list, but if you're interested in either of these, just look for recipes which use oil or margarine in place of butter.  
Since this was originally posted, we have added a number of Lent-friendly recipes to our list. Feel free to scroll through our 2 sections of Armenian recipes in the right-hand column of this page where you will be led to the story and appropriate recipe. Refer to the points listed above to help determine the recipe's suitability for Lent.

Below are menu options from our original collection of recipes to help you. 


For those of you following the Western Church’s meatless diet, I’ve placed a "W" next to the recipe’s name in the list below. If you are leaning toward the stricter, Eastern Church Lenten diet, you'll find an "E", next to the recipe's name. Those are suitable for anyone to eat.


Use the following as a basic guide to "Mix-n-Match" your Lenten menu:


Appetizers: Hummus (E), Muhammara (E), Stuffed grape leaves (E), Cheese or spinach boregs (W), Dill cheese (W), Cilantro - Tahini Dip (W)

Salads: Armenian chick pea salad (E), Armenian potato-egg salad (W), Armenian potato salad (E), Armenian salad (E), Cardamom fruit salad (E)

Side Dishes: Tabbouleh (E), Plaki (E), Fassoulia (green beans) without meat (E), Jajik (W), Bulgur or rice pilaf (E), Zucchini and eggs (W)

Soup: Cabbage soup (E), Lentil soup (E)

Entrees: Eggplant - zucchini bake (E), Mujadarra (E), Parsley, onions and eggs (W), Tomatoes and eggs (W), Plaki with Fish (W)


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Bulgur and Potato Kufteh ( Musa Daghtsi style)


My maternal grandmother (aka Yeranuhe Nanny) used a lot of bulgur and potatoes in her everyday cooking. In fact, most of her dishes were suitable for a vegetarian diet, thus fitting for Lent. Meat was served in small portions on the occasions it was served at all; larger cuts of meat – either lamb, chicken or turkey – were served mainly for very special meals.

One dish I recall is Nanny's bulgur-potato kufteh  shaped like thin cigars and served with lettuce leaves as a wrap. When grape leaves from her back yard arbor were young and tender, she’d serve those in place of the lettuce leaves.  Nanny made enough of her own red pepper paste (an important ingredient in so many of her recipes - including this one) in late summer to last until the next season.
Such fond memories!

Nanny's Bulgur and Potato Kufteh
Here’s my Nanny's recipe for …

Bulgur and Potato Kufteh
Yield: 8 pieces

Ingredients:
½ cup #1 (fine) bulgur
Water
3 Tbsp. olive oil
½ cup finely chopped red peppers (NOTE: a combination of red and green peppers can be used)
1 cup finely chopped onion
½ lb. boiled, peeled potatoes
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
1 Tbsp. red pepper paste softened with 1 Tbsp. water (tomato paste with a dash of cayenne pepper can be substituted)
½ tsp. cumin
Dash of black pepper
1 tsp. salt

NOTE: This recipe can easily be doubled.

Directions:
1. Place bulgur in a bowl adding just enough warm water to cover it.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Test bulgur to make sure it has softened to a tender, yet slightly chewy texture.  Drain any excess liquid.

2. In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. SautÄ— the peppers and onions until they soften, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

3. Gently mash the boiled potatoes and set aside.

Bulgur - potato mixture prior to shaping
4. Once the bulgur has softened enough and the excess liquid is drained, add the peppers, onions, mashed potatoes, parsley, and the rest of the ingredients. Knead until well-combined. Adjust seasonings, if necessary.

5. Shape as desired –cigars; round, flat patties, etc. Arrange on a platter

To serve:  wrap in lettuce or grape leaves - or simply eat with a fork!