I got a text message from my baby sister the other morning as I was dressing for the day, "I made gnocchi from scratch!!!", it said. My little sister lives in Halifax in a house filled to the rafters with lovely ladies from her university, all of whom are at various levels of culinary competency. Over the winter holidays, after being asked about cookbook advice for newly independant young adults with some dietary restrictions (one roommate has gluten and dairy issues), I bought my sister a book called The Healthy College Cookbook, by Alexandra Nemetz, Jason Stanley, Emeline Starr, and Rachel Holcomb. The book was a little something I could give her as a gift, and I knew she would get use out of it and keep it for years to come as a marker of this place and time in her life. The book is actually written for students, by students, and is very conscious of budgets, dietary constraints, limited time, and cooking experience. As most of my favourite cookbooks do, it also instructs on terminology relating to method, tools, and the different kinds of spices, and how to keep your pantry well stocked.
I love my baby sister, as I do all my sisters, and I am especially fond of her as I only get one baby sister for whose coolness I may take credit. She is very cool and smart and interesting, and in many ways, much braver than I am. I only attempted gnocchi last summer, and that was in a fully functioning, newly renovated kitchen, complete with granite countertops and convection oven (clearly, it was not my kitchen). People who take chances in the kitchen are inspirations to us all. It takes real bravery to try something new, given the propensity for new efforts to flop in an inedible and somewhat embarrassing fashion.
Little sister came to visit me a few times while I was living away at school. Last time we made devilishly good triple chocolate cookies. I made sure to send her on the plane back to Halifax with most of them. The first time she came to visit, it was the morning after Thanksgiving. The night before I had tried something I had never made before, and was preparing dinner for about 10 people. My very first attempt at a roasted leg of lamb was at times terrifying while at other times completely exhilerating. Cooking meat brings out the scaredy cat in me, likely rooted in my fear of poisoning my dinner guests. But everything turned out and the roast was the toast of the feast.
I like to marinate mine in apple juice, maple syrup, and olive oil with lots of diced sweet potato, butternut squach, onion, whole garlic cloves, rosemary, and apples. Try cutting your onion in half and placing in cut-side down in the roasting pan, resting the meat on top of that, fat side up. This way the juices run down and mingle with the onion, infusing one another with flavour, while keeping the bottom of the roast from burning and getting more heat to circulate around the meat.
Most of the butchers I've met agree at 20-30 minutes per pound is necessary for roast lamb. I keep the oven at a steady heat of 350, and by the time the roast is done and resting on top of the stove, my company is drooling and eagerly splashing their wine about the kitchen, picking at the bits of meat and roast vegetables that are most easily accessible.
Tell me about the most daring thing you've hazarded in the kitchen. What worked? What didn't? What was the occasion? How did you feel afterward?