Lamb’s one of my favorite meats, and (life often being unfair), it’s also one of the most expensive. I managed to get a good deal on a 3 lb leg of lamb, and spent the weekend coming up with ways to use it. Fortunately, lamb’s a popular meat in many cultures. Can you get any more separated than China and Wales?

My first experiment comes from Ken Hom’s A Taste of China: The Definitive Guide to Regional Cooking. I’d been wanting to pick up this book for a while; Ken Hom shows up in one chapter of Garlic and Sapphires and I was interested to see what his cookbook was like. I finally got my chance during a conference in Bethlehem, PA where I found it sitting neglected on the shelf at the Moravian Book Shop. There are a lot of interesting things to try in it, but this one really caught my attention – I’d never even considered steaming lamb before.

Lamb Steamed With Spice-Flavored Cornmeal (from A Taste of China: The Definitive Guide to Regional Cooking)

  • 2 and 1/2 oz yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tsp five-spice powder
  • 2 tsp ground roasted Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 lb lean lamb
  • 3 tsp green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tbs rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tbs light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp sesame oil

Combine cornmeal, five spice powder, ground Sichuan peppercorns, and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Mix and set aside.

Cut lamb into thin strips (about 1/4 inches thick by 3 inches long) and combine with onions, garlic, ginger, wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil.

Coat lamb pieces with cornmeal mixture and gently steam over medium heat for 30 minutes.

This is a good recipe to use on odds and ends of lamb you might have left over, since the steaming softens them nicely. It pays to watch the amount of Sichuan peppercorns you use: they’ve got a strong flavor and they can easily overwhelm the lamb, which comes out mild and sweet. We had ours with some dumplings and dandan noodle.

Steamed Lamb With Spiced Cornmeal

Steamed Lamb With Spiced Cornmeal

My second project is from another castoff from the PA Renaissance Faire: Salmon Publishing’s Favourite Welsh Recipes. This is actually part of a three-pamphlet set: one for England, one for Scotland, and one for Wales. All have worthwhile recipes. Here in the US, we often don’t remember that Wales has a distinct cultural identity as vibrant as that of Scotland or Ireland, and as a West Coast boy raised in the shadow of the Cascades, I found its rugged landscape to boast some of the best sightseeing in the UK (especially Snowdonia). Not only that but it’s a great place for a military history buff, with plenty of well preserved castles, built by Edward I when he “added” Wales to the Kingdom of England (at Caernarvon you get a castle AND a Roman fort), and the regimental museum of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, among whose items is an officer’s coat worn at Bunker Hill in 1775.

All that rugged terrain makes for some tasty lamb (even celebrity chef and general know-it-all Dr. William Kitchiner mentions it in his 1830 magnum opus The Cook’s Oracle). When you combine it with leeks and barley, you get a good solid working class meal.

Monmouth Stew (from Favourite Welsh Recipes)

  • 1 and 1/2 lbs lamb
  • 1/8 cup flour
  • 4-6 leeks (white parts only) washed and cut into rings
  • 1/4 cup pearl barley
  • 4 sprigs parsley, 1 sprig thyme, and 1 bay leaf tied together
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 pint lamb stock
  • butter or oil for frying

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat lamb in seasoned flour and fry in butter or oil for one minute. Add leeks, fry for 1 more minute, and then transfer everything to a casserole dish. Add barley, herbs, and seasoning. Pour stock over all. Cover, bring to the boil, and cook in oven for about 2 hours. Remove herbs before serving.

I found that this is an excellent crock pot recipe. Just pop all the ingredients in and let it cook all day while you get on with your life. It also tastes even better the second day, as Cat’s envious coworkers can attest.

Monmouth Stew

Monmouth Stew


One of the perks of being a university librarian is that occasionally books are donated that are interesting, but not appropriate for our collection. These books end up on our book sale table…and thence into out own collections. It was in this way that I recently acquired Samuel Chamberlain’s Italian Bouquet: An Epicurean Tour of Italy.

Chamberlain was a longtime contributor to Gourmet, and Italian Bouquet was a compilation and expansion of a series of articles he did for that magazine in which he produced combination travel guides and restaurant surveys to several countries. He was sort of a last example of a 19th Century artist/bon vivant/man of many talents (he was born in 1895).

One thing that Italian Bouquet really demonstrates is that what we in America refer to as “Italian” (or when we feel possessive “Italian-American”) is very much a composite of different regional foods – and why not, since our claim to fame is being a “melting pot”? It’s very interesting to see these foods in their original context…it tells us not only something about Italy, but about the Italians who brought these dishes with them to their new homes.

I could actually spend an entire week on this book (and probably will when I reach the Naples chapter, since the Italian part of my family hails from there), but with Memorial Day this weekend and the last days of the grilling season upon us I figured this was a good candidate. It caught my eye because the combination of cooking techniques seems crazy at first:

Chicken Cacciatore Piedmontese (from Italian Bouquet: An Epicurean Tour of Italy)

  • 1 frying chicken, cut in serving pieces
  • 1 large onion, sliced in rings
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2-3 sprigs parsley
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup and 3 tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 egg white, beaten stiff
  • Oil for frying onion rings

Combine 1/2 onion, lemon juice, parsley, salt, egg white, and 1/4 cup olive oil. Marinate chicken in this mixture for 2 hours. Combine flour, 3 tbs olive oil, and water and mix into a smooth batter. Let stand for two hours.

When ready to cook, drain and wipe chicken pieces. Mix egg white into batter and coat chicken pieces. Broil under moderate heat, turning to cook throughly.

Dip remaining 1/2 onion in batter and fry. Serve chicken, surrounded by onion rings, with the following sauce:

Madeira and Ham Sauce (adapted freely from The Joy of Cooking)

  • 2 tbs butter
  • 2 tbs flour
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1/2 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup and 2 tbs Madeira
  • 2 tbs chopped ham

Rub a small saucepan with garlic clove. Melt butter and stir in flour until blended. Add beef stock and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce by half and add 1/4 cup Madeira and chopped ham. When ready to serve, add 2 tbs Madeira.

It sounds like a lot of work, but really 90% of it is chopping things…the actual preparation is very easy. And broiled battered chicken is surprisingly good. If you’re tired of barbecue sauce, you might want to give this one a spin before Summer departs.

The Lardin House Inn of Masontown, PA is one of the best restaurants I’ve never been to. They were generous enough to include their signature chicken recipe in A Taste of Pennsylvania History, and everyone I’ve cooked it for has loved it. Best of all it’s got simple ingredients. While we were in the Adirondacks this weekend, all Cat and I had to do was make a quick trip to the store for mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes.

Lardin House Chicken

  • 4 chicken breasts, skinned and boned
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 2 cups button mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cups portabello mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 tsp garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 and 1/2 cups white wine
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Saute chicken in butter until half done, 2-3 minutes each side. Add mushrooms, garlic, tomatoes, and parsley and saute for 2 minutes. Deglaze pan with white wine and reduce by half. Add cream and simmer to thicken. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

I discovered while cooking this dish for my grandmother in New York over the weekend that it tastes as good or better if you marinate the chicken breasts overnight in olive oil with a little salt and pepper. If you do, just omit the butter and saute the chicken in the olive oil.

Sometimes you find interesting cookbooks in unlikely places. Having been coerced (well, strongly encouraged) by my girlfriend and my friend Scott to attend the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, I was hiding in the Faire’s tiny bookshop from the many, many people dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow (this was right after the last Pirates of the Carribean movie was released) and discovered A Taste of England, by Josy Argy and Wendy Riches, sitting on the remainder shelf. It’s essentially a British version of A Taste of Pennsylvania History, but unlike Elliott and Nunley’s later effort, A Taste of England got government support from the English Tourist Board.

There’s an ongoing effort in Britain to rediscover national and local foodways, proud traditions which went into hibernation with the advent of the Empire, the Industrial Revolution and processed foods. This book’s an early (1979) example of the movement, and has a lot of really interesting recipes.

After proudly consuming some very American 4th of July barbecue items on Friday, what’s an Anglophile to do to in repentance but cook something with “Britannia” in its name?

Chicken Britannia (from A Taste of England: Traditional English Food – Where to Find It and How to Cook It)

  • 1 chicken, quartered
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 4 tsp made English mustard (Colman’s)
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • fresh breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Mix salt, pepper, and cumin and rub into chicken pieces. Spread with mustard and cover with breadcrumbs. Place in baking pan and add stock. Bake for about an hour, until the crumbs and mustard have set into a crunchy coating. Baste and return to oven for another 30 minutes. Serve with savory rice (Near East garlic rice pilaf works well) and pan juices.

This recipe produces a tender, faintly mustardy chicken. The book said it’s also good cold for picnics, and I believe it. It was contributed by the Shant Hotel in Kent, near Maidstone. Apparently the historic building was gutted by a fire in 2002, but it’s still listed as in operation on several current travel websites so perhaps the establishment and the chicken still survive, in name at least. UK readers, please enlighten!

I found my copy of Chinese Cuisine from the Master Chefs of China languishing on the used book shelf of Auntie’s Bookstore while home in Spokane for the holidays a few years ago, and it quickly became one of my favorites. No other Chinese cookbook I’ve encountered has ever been so…aggressive about its Chineseness. It’s focused around many of the State-run “court” restaurants which have been oft-reviled in travel literature as overpriced tourist traps: this means complicated dishes and exotic ingredients. What other cookbook would dare include six recipes for sea cucumbers and feature the ferociously complex Dragon and Phoenix Cold Dishes as its first appetizer?

I think it’s because China Pictorial‘s editors meant the book to be just as much a “brag book” as an actual useful cookbook. China’s always been (justifiably) proud of its culinary traditions; when they sent their first Taikonaut into orbit, the PRC’s propaganda ministry made sure to let the world know that his space rations would be the tastiest ever carried by a space explorer.

Still, nestled in amongst the elaborately sculpted court dishes are some real gems, one of which is Taiyuan-Style Braised Beef (the recipe was contributed by Beijing’s Jinyang Restaurant). It’s easy, fast, and very tasty.

Taiyuan-Style Braised Beef (from Chinese Cuisine from the Master Chefs of China)

  • 3/4 lb beef, sliced thin
  • 8 scallions, cut into 1and 1/2 inch pieces
  • 2 tbs cornstarch paste (mix 2 tbs cornstarch with 2 tbs water)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tsp rice wine
  • 1 anise star (this is the big star shaped kind, not the little seeds. You can find them in Asian or Mexican food stores – it adds a definite liquorice flavor)
  • 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns (you can substitute black peppercorns in a pinch, but the flavor will be different)
  • 1/2 cup clear chicken/duck stock (the original recipe calls for a mix, but you can use just 1/2 cup chicken stock and preserve most of the intended flavor)
  • 1/2 cup sesame oil
  • pinch shredded ginger

Pour 1 tsp boiling water over peppercorns and let steep 5 minutes. Combine soy sauce and cornstarch paste in a bowl. Add beef and scallions and mix. Heat sesame oil in a wok over high flame. Add anise star, then beef/scallion mixture and stir-fry for 15 seconds. Add stock, rice wine, and 1 tsp of the peppercorn infusion. Cover and cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle ginger on top and serve.

I have returned from my conference in Bethlehem, PA two cookbooks richer courtesy of the Moravian Book Store.

Another Bethlehem landmark I was hoping to investigate in detail was The Sun Inn, which has been a part of the local townscape since 1758 and has a lengthy 18th Century celebrity guest list. I had found out about The Sun via Debbie Nunley and Karen Jane Elliott’s A Taste of Pennsylvania History, which I picked up back when I moved to the Philadelphia area five years ago. Time has not been kind to this book…when I showed it to some other librarians at breakfast they went through it and pointed out all the places which had burned down or gone out of business since.

The Sun’s still there and still intact, but the restaurant aspect of the site is defunct, and if you want to eat there you need to rent it out and hire a caterer. It’s still a beautifully restored building, however.

Denied my chance to dine by proxy with Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and the Marquis de Lafayette (one day I need to find out where Sir William Howe, Lord Cornwallis, and Lord Hugh Percy had dinner…the imagined conversation would be much more congenial), I was left with the two recipes the Sun had provided for the cookbook. My girlfriend’s allergic to shellfish, so Gouvernor Morris’ Crab Soup was out and Benjamin Franklin’s Almond Trout was in. 

I ended up not being able to get the almond menthe the recipe called for (in Pennsylvania we are at the mercy of the State Liquor Control Board), so I crossed my fingers and tried Amaretto instead. This worked so well that I named my Almond Trout variant after Franklin’s Loyalist nemesis, Pennsylvania’s own Joseph Galloway.

Almond Trout Joseph Galloway

  • 2 tbs butter, divided
  • 2 tbs sliced almonds
  • 2 8oz rainbow trout fillets, boned
  • 3 tbs Amaretto
  • 1 cup heavy cream 

Heat 1 tbs butter in skillet. Add almonds and trout and cook for 2 minutes. Place 1/2 tbs butter on top of each trout fillet and broil for 7-10 minutes. For sauce, light Amaretto in a medium saucepan. When flame goes out, add cream and simmer to thicken, stirring constantly. Place one fillet on each of two plates and top with sauce.

This is actually a tremendously fast recipe…the longest part of it is waiting for the sauce to thicken and even with that it took me only about 25 minutes to get it all prepared, so it’s good for a work night.  

Potatoes are a natural side for fish. This is my new potato cheat.

Very Easy New Potatoes

  • 6-10 new potatoes
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp Italian Seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp paprika or to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a small baking pan with foil. Add olive oil to pan and sprinkle spices on top. Roll pan to coat evenly. Cut potatoes in half and place cut side down in pan.  Bake for 45 minutes or until tender.

I’m at a conference this week, so I won’t have much chance to experiment. Here’s something to tide you over: 

Like many gaijin, I am a big fan of katsu. When the Portuguese missionaries showed up in Japan in the 1500s, they brought along both the Roman Catholic Church, and their mastery of fried foods. Catholicism ended up not being a permanent fixture, but nobody could debate the tastiness of the frying. Tempura and pork and chicken katsu have remained a vital part of japanese cuisine, and a refuge for westerners on whom the flavors of raw fish and edamame are lost.

This particular katsu recipe has the double virtues of being fast and easy. I’ve seen other recipes that advise marinating your chicken or pork with a little soy sauce, sake, and sliced scallions before frying. These are tasty, but less convenient for a work night.

Chicken Katsu (from Hiroko Shimbo’s The Japanese Kitchen)

  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 3 eggs beaten  with 1/3 cup water
  • 2 cups panko crumbs
  • oil for frying
  • 1/2 head cabbage shredded

Put the flour, egg/water mixture, and panko crumbs into separate bowls. Dip the chicken breasts into the flour, then the egg wash, then back into the flour, then back into the egg again, and roll in panko crumbs. Heat oil for frying (about 2 inches) and fry chicken breasts about five minutes on each side, until golden brown. Serve with shredded cabbage and tonkatsu sosu.

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