• Cumin-Spiced Lamb Burgers

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    Cumin Spiced Lamb Burger.

    This time of year, with the holidays swirling around us, we sometimes find it hard to make a regular weekday dinner. 5-course extravaganzas? No problem. Cocktail party? Sure thing. Cookie exchange? Bring it on. But we can, and do, plan for the big stuff. Daily dinner for the family with work, sports, parties, exams and constantly shifting schedules is often more tricky. But over the years we built up a few recipes that are very, very good, but don’t take up a lot of time and have a few easy ingredients (and usually don’t involve a ton of cleanup). Cumin-Spiced Lamb Burgers is one of these dishes. Just a few ingredients, one pan, a little time and a lot of flavor.

    lburger2lburger6And flavor really is the big benefit of using lamb. Lamb usually has more flavor than beef, and if you use the right cuts the flavor isn’t too “gamey”. Most lamb used to be imported from New Zealand and Australia, but these days there are many local grass-fed lamb suppliers (all over the USA) and the quality of the lamb is outstanding. With bright, clean flavor and juicy texture, lamb is worth a try. And this burger is a perfect introduction to lamb (our kids love all sorts of lamb, this was the “gateway” dish).

    lburger8lburger9Our recipe is based on the world-famous lamb burger from the Breslin gastropub in New York City. A veritable who’s-who of food writers and celebrity chefs have waxed poetic and “foodgasmed” on TV over April Bloomfield’s burger (clearly all Food Network auditions require the ability to foodgasm on command). But to be fair, this is one fine burger. And just to top it off, the Breslin sources their meat from famous butcher (and self-promoter) Pat LaFreida. Pat has a special blend just for the Breslin. Sadly, Pat doesn’t do California. Happily for us, our local butcher gets a lamb in every week or so, they break it down on site and then freshly grind the trimmings. And their blend will do just fine for us. (We also get great local beef and lamb from Stemple Creek Ranch, so good.)

    lburger12lburger7As for the recipe, it is incredibly easy to make these burgers. The Breslin’s recipe features a char-broiled rare-to-medium rare lamb patty, feta cheese, thinly sliced red onion, olive oil and seasoning on a warm Ciabatta roll. Good stuff. They also serve the lamb with cumin mayo, but we prefer to add salt and cumin directly to the meat. Cumin and lamb play very well together, but cumin is a strong flavor and you can omit if you like. We also use a cast iron skillet or grill pan on the stove (but boy would we like an indoor grill). The only real tricks in this recipe have to do with technique. You must rest the lamb burgers for 5-10 minutes after you cook them to let the juices settle in the meat, rather than running all over the plate. And if you put the slices of feta onto the patties while they rest, the cheese slightly melts on the burger. Yum. You really don’t need any sauce other than the olive oil and juices from the burger, but if you make a quick raita or cumin mayo, it will certainly taste good. And if you add a dash or two of Sriracha on top of the burger, we won’t tell…..

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  • Basler Laeckerli: Spiced Honey Cookies

    honeybar7If there is one constant in our kitchen during the “holidaze”, it’s sweets. We have a number of birthdays, Hanukkah and Christmas to celebrate, and somehow candy, cakes, cookies and donuts seem to pop up all over the place. As our designated baker, candy maker and kitchen chemist, Carolyn is very busy this time of year (I help clean up….and eat too much). But Carolyn isn’t too busy to try new things, and this year for a cookie exchange Carolyn made these Swiss spiced honey cookies. And they turned out to be a very tasty, and relatively easy, treat. So good that they will be a regular holiday item for us, and as we include Putney Farm honey in the recipe, something we can share with friends that includes a little of our “farm”.

    honeybarhoneybar8Basler Laeckerli cookies (really more like a bar or blondie, but whatever) include honey, sugar, spices, nuts and candied citrus peel with a dash of Kirsch, a clear cherry brandy. Most recipes include a glaze to add sweetness and for better presentation. We adapted a King Arthur Flour recipe, because their recipes rarely let us down. Recipes vary a bit in the spices, lemon vs. orange peel and hazelnuts vs. almonds, but if you follow the general recipe you can adapt the final ingredients to fit your tastes. And these cookies taste delicious. The dense bars feature a full blast of honey sweetness followed by spice and citrus notes, the nuts add just a little crunch. If you eat one of these, you are likely to eat three…or four…or five.

    honeybar9honeybar3Making the cookies is an easy process, but somewhat untraditional. After combining dry ingredients (flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda) you cook the sugar and honey until they dissolve and then add the Kirsch, candied citrus peel and nuts (we use orange peel and almonds). Then you stir in the dry ingredients and let the mixture cool into a firm dough. To bake the cookies, you press them into a parchment or foil-lined pan and then bake for about half an hour, and enjoy how your kitchen smells. After cooking and cooling the cookies you make a quick glaze to brush on the cookies. The one big trick here is to use very hot glaze and work rapidly, the glaze cools quickly and will not spread well if you dilly-dally (Carolyn’s words). Once you get the glaze on, just cut and serve.

    honeybar2honeybar5As for the history of Basler Laeckerli, the name tells you most of the story. The cookies originated in Basel, Switzerland and the name lecker means “delicious”, and the cookies are indeed delicious. The recipe dates back at least 700 years and supposedly was a way for spice merchants to promote their product. And if the streets of Basel were filled with the smell of these spiced cookies in the oven, we bet that it wasn’t a hard sell. When you make these cookies and their aroma fills the air, you may find your family lined up in the kitchen.

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    Basler Laeckerli: Spiced Honey Cookies:

    (Adapted from King Arthur Flour)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • The recipe suggests almonds and candied orange peel, but you can substitute hazelnuts and / or candied lemon peel.
    • The recipe suggests a 10 x 15 baking pan, but you can use a slightly larger or smaller pan, but adjust cooking time up / down with thickness.

    What You Get: A unique and very tasty honey and spice cookie / bar.

    What You Need: A 10 x 15 baking pan is recommended. No other special equipment is required.

    How Long? About 1 hour, with 20 – 25 minutes of active time. An “anytime” dish.

    Ingredients:

    (Makes about 40 cookies)

    Dough:

    • 3 cups (12 3/4 oz.) all-purpose flour
    • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 cup (12 oz.) honey
    • 1 cup (7 oz.) granulated sugar
    • 2 tablespoons Kirsch
    • 1/2 cup candied orange peel, finely chopped
    • 1 1/2 cups almonds, chopped fine but not ground
    • Butter or cooking spray for buttering pan

    Glaze:

    • 1 tablespoon water
    • 1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz.) granulated sugar
    • 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

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