Monday, July 23, 2018

Whole Lamb Roast

On a warm July day, it was time to roast a whole lamb.  The lamb sandwiches at our neighborhood Greek festival at St. Demetrios has long been a Chris favorite.  This spring, we visited another area festival, Bite of Greece at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, and had their fantastic lamb sandwiches.  Talking with one of the event’s organizers, we were immediately hooked on the thought of doing our own lamb roast.  Thus began the month’s long pondering, internet surfing, and recon mission on how to set this dream in motion. Based on what we were told, the initial plan was to rent a rotisserie and purchase the lamb at Costco. 

Costco carries frozen whole lamb from New Zealand at their Business Centers.  I drove out to the closest one to us and confirmed this was indeed the case.  If you go online, they also ship them to certain parts of the country.  The problem with this was how to defrost the lamb.  I thought of borrowing a super large boat cooler and using ice to slowly defrost it or even putting it in our bathtub with ice.  This caused me a lot of consternation for all that could go wrong, so I continued my search for a fresh lamb.  I contacted Rainshadow Meats, a local butcher. A general lack of response and common courtesy, never mind customer service, pushed me into a different direction. I then called Bob’s Quality Meats, who took my order and had my lamb the following Friday.  A lovely 35 pound lamb.

On the rotisserie spit front, Chris did the research and we decided to purchase a Party Que from Optimal Automatics. I had found that renting one for two days would be equivalent to the cost of purchasing this one. Did we need yet another outdoor grill?  No, we already have three – a Weber Gas, Weber Charcoal and Weber Smoker which also converts to a pizza oven.  A fourth really jeopardizes the aesthetic of our roof deck, if the previous three had not done so already.  We thought, when not in use, the legs could be taken off this one and perhaps it could be concealed behind one of the other grills.

So, lamb, check.  Rotisserie, check.  Date, selected. I had planned to pick up the lamb first thing Friday morning.  I called Bob’s on the Wednesday before just to confirm there were no issues with getting the lamb.  I was reassured all would be well.  On Friday morning I arrived at the butcher and no lamb.  Well, not yet.  10:30, I was assured it would be there by 10:30. Not the end of the world, but now I was already one hour behind schedule.  All the research I had done said it would be five hours to roast the lamb.  We planned to get the lamb on by 11:00am, but then decided 12:00 would still give us enough time should any mishaps occur. We put the lamb in the back seat of my car and I was off.

Back home, I skewered the lamb and used the forks to secure it to the skewer.  I then stuffed the lamb with sea salt and pepper, lemons, onions, garlic cloves, fresh parsley, rosemary and oregano, and bread soaked in red wine and sewed up the belly.  

At 12:15, the lamb was ready to go on after a few adjustments with the forks to make sure the lamb would not move around on the skewer.  Chris and I carried the lamb, each holding one end of the skewer, up the stairs and onto the deck.  

The roasting started with the lamb in the top position on the rotisserie.  Coals were placed on each side of the lamb, but not right underneath.  I brushed the lamb about every half hour with a vinaigrette.  After about an hour, we moved the lamb to the middle rung.  It stayed there for the next few hours.  

We used thick plastic sheeting to cover our wood deck under the spit.  I figured there would be some oil splatter as the lamb cooked, and there was.  I covered the entire bottom / inside of the spit with many layers of aluminum foil in an effort to keep it clean for easier storage after use.  This worked out really well because all Chris had to do the next day was to pull out any warm coals and put them into a metal bucket and then roll up the foil.  Underneath, a perfectly clean spit.

I had made a vinaigrette with olive oil, red wine vinegar, crushed garlic, rosemary, oregano, pomegranate molasses, salt and pepper to brush the lamb with.  With sprigs of fresh rosemary, oregano and parsley I made a brush to do the basting.  I also bought an injector to inject some of the marinade into the lamb.  Well, the injector got clogged, and while trying to free it, I knocked over my bowl of vinaigrette onto our wood deck.  It left a lovely giant oil splatter.  And then I had to remake the vinaigrette.  Argh!

Taking the opportunity here to grill the calamari for my salad

About four hours in, we thought we should take a temperature reading.  Hmm, concerning… it was only 80 degrees.  This seemed wrong given the pliability of the lamb, and as it turned out, it was. Our thermometer was broken. Another thermometer confirmed the lamb to be at 120 degrees.  

Over time, as the lamb cooked, the stuffing inside began to drip and ooze, which was not making Chris happy.  Eventually, a hole developed and the stuffing fell out.  He was much happier.  We lowered the lamb to the bottom rung, closest to the coals for the last hour and half of roasting.  The best part of the lamb were the pieces Chris cut off while it was still on the spit.  Those hot juicy pieces with the crispy outer were delightful.  Total roasting time, about 6 hours.  Total charcoal briquettes used, 74 pounds.  Total lamb, oodles and oodles. 

We took the lamb off and set it to rest on a side table we had set up next to the spit.  The side table was covered with plastic and then foil.  It was there that I broke down the lamb into large pieces to be brought down to the kitchen to carve.  Wow, did we have a lot of meat!  

Dinner was served buffet style: 
roasted whole lamb
warmed pita and soft buns 
basmati and wild rice with chickpeas, currants, fried onions and herbs 
fattoush salad
grilled calamari salad
and from Vios Café: grilled vegetables, falafel and tzatziki

It was a blur of lamb haze for me.  I felt quite calm and easy until the last flurry of getting the lamb served.  It was a perfectly beautiful day for a lamb roast.  Not too hot, mid 70’s, and cool breeze.  If there was one thing that could have been better was it not being so cool out when we ate, as it chilled the food down quickly.  The lamb was better hot off the spit.  Next time, perhaps I would carve it table side.  What to do with all the leftover lamb?  I’ve already made one dinner of lamb ragu and pasta.  I’ll be taking a break from lamb tonight, but tomorrow… who knows what lamb delight will arise.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Brussels Sprouts, Shiitake Mushroom and Bacon Pot Stickers

Chris recently stated that we should start our meatless Mondays again.  Did I hear correctly?  He had read about the “Impossible Burger”, a revolutionary meatless burger, and had become obsessed with trying it.  Okay, revolutionary is my word, but it is pretty amazing.  The Impossible Burger is currently only available in restaurants and after trying it, Chris decided he could go meatless Mondays if it tasted like that.  What does this have to do with these pot stickers?  Now that I’m writing this, the answer seems like, nothing, because somehow bacon made it into the mix, thereby making it meated. I did start with good intentions of using brussels sprouts and mushrooms as the filling rather than the usual ground pork. But then what’s with the bacon?  Well, I do enjoy a good roasted brussels sprouts with pancetta or bacon, so it seemed like a good idea.  

Makes about 50 pot stickers:

For the filling:
1 lb Brussels Sprouts cut in half and thinly sliced, discard the stems
½ lb Shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced and depending how large they are, cut in half
4 oz bacon or pancetta, finely diced (use a bacon that is not too smoky)
2 Shallots, minced
1 Tbsp minced ginger
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper and white pepper
3 Green onions, finely sliced
1 Egg, beaten
Pot Sticker / Gyoza Shells

For the sauce:
Soy sauce (I use Yamasa brand)
Vinegar - I used a mix of white vinegar and rice vinegar
Finely minced ginger
Chili oil
I didn’t provide any measurements as I always make it fresh and never measure.  I would say it’s about 2 parts soy sauce to 1 part vinegar, 1 part sugar and just a bit of ginger and chili oil.  But you should experiment and taste to see what you like.

To make the filling:
Sauté the bacon or pancetta until crispy.  Add a little oil to the pan if your bacon is lean, like mine was. Then add the shallots and ginger and sauté until softened.  Add the brussels sprouts  and the maple syrup and turn heat to high and sauté until the sprouts are softened and then add the mushrooms, salt and peppers.  Continue to sauté until the sprouts are starting to carmalize and the mushrooms are softened.  Remove from heat and let cool to room temp.  Add the egg and green onions and mix well.

To wrap the pot stickers, I used store purchased pre-made shells.  I purchased two different brands to compare and decided on the “Dynasty” brand as they were slightly thinner.  Normally, with a meat filling, I would choose a thicker shell, but for a more delicate filling, I chose to go with a thinner shell.  It’s really up to you on whatever your preference is.

Get a little bowl of water and a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.  
Take a shell, dip your finger into the water and put a rim of water around the edge of the shell.
Place a small spoonful of filling in the middle.  If you’re like me, I like to try and squeeze as much filling as possible into the shell.  Sometimes not a great tact, but I can’t help myself.
Fold the shell over and pinch the top middle together.  
Then crease and fold a little bit of the back side of each side of the shell and pinch it so you have a little half moon shape.  
You can probably Google how to wrap a pot sticker and get a video tutorial.  It’ll be much easier than trying to figure it out based on my description.
The filling is a little difficult to handle as it does not stick together like a ground pork filling.  So, it’s not as fast moving on the wrapping side.  

To cook, heat a heavy skillet or non-stick pan over medium to medium-high heat.  Add a little oil and place the pot stickers on top.  Add water to the pan until it covers about ⅓ of the pot sticker. If you are cooking them from a frozen state, add just a  little more water.  The filling is cooked, so you really just need to cook the shell and heat the filling. Cover the pan with a lid.

Once water is evaporated, you’ll start to hear the pan sizzle.  Remove the lid and let the pot stickers fry until they are nicely browned.  Serve with dipping sauce.  They were quite delicious and I’d say, you could easily skip the bacon.  In fact, next time I will and really make it meatless.

This made a batch of 50 pot stickers.  I always choose to make a bunch and freeze them because if I'm going to go to the work of making the filling, it's not that much more work to wrap a large batch. They freeze really well and I love it when I can just pull out a few and cook them whenever a craving or need arises.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Japanese Souffle Pancakes

Woke up this morning and decided to work on a quick cooking project. One food item we did not get to while we were visitng Japan was the beautifully fluffy and light souffle pancakes.  We came close in Yokohama passing by Flipper’s on Motamachi, but had just eaten lunch, so could not justify waiting in line and having a meal of pancakes. We tried the togo option, trying to buy just one to try, but they would not do it.  After making them today, I know why.  These should be eaten hot, right off the pan. Today, for Easter, I thought I would surprise Stella and try my hand at making these for a breakfast treat.  

4 large eggs, separated
½ tsp cream of tartar
1 tbsp milk
1 tbsp Japanese mayonaise (I used Kewpie mayonaise) 
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp sugar
¼ cup flour
Butter for cooking

In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks with the milk, mayo and vanilla.  
Sift in the flour
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar adding the sugar a bit at a time until stiff shiny peaks form.
Carefully fold in the egg whites, 1/3 at a time, into the yolk and flour mixture.

Combine egg yolk and flour mixture

Beat egg whites with cream of tartar
Fold in egg whites 1/3 at a time

Heat a non stick pan over medium low heat.  Add a little bit of butter.  
Using a round silicone spatula or spoon, drop a round mound onto the pan.  
Cover with a glass lid if possible or regular lid and let cook for a few minutes.
Flip and cover and cook for another few minutes.
Turn heat off and let rest for a bit before uncovering.  They will deflate a bit.  
Serve with your favorite pancake toppings.  

Cover and watch the pancakes rise

These were delicious and for me, someone who does not generally like pancakes, I thought they were excellent.  Light and fluffy, a touch of sweetness and a touch of saltiness.  Add a little lightly whipped cream and pure maple syrup, yum!  To read about our latest trip, to Tokyo, go to my new blog:!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Something New - Decade Five

Well, hello there.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted on the Buffet.  It was a good run for a while there and I was hooked, but I eventually got distracted and fell off the routine of blogging our meals.  Other things took over and then I realized how much brain power, time and energy I spent each day working on the blog.  My family still uses the site to look up recipes and past meals, especially our kids.  This makes me happy as this is why I started this blog.  I do plan to return to it from time to time to make additions, but in the meantime, if you are inclined, please visit me at

Decade Five will share our travel, eating and other life adventures.  I find as life goes on, my memory gets worse and worse.  I wanted to continue to chronicle our travels and other life adventures in order to return to them from time to time.  It’s also a great way for me to get some of our travel photos in some sort of logical order.  I’ve also moved over past posts of travel from this site. Chris has always been our travel planner and I will do my part in keeping our journal.  Maybe when he retires, we can travel and write books together!  Until then, come share our journeys at

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Fried Tofu Skin Rolls

My mom and I meet for lunch quite often and nearly always meet at a Chinese restaurant next to a Chinese grocery store which are somewhat equidistant between our two houses.  The restaurant serves dim sum at lunch, and though we each normally order one of their 'lunch special' items, I am always tempted to get one dim sum item to share.  A steamed tofu skin roll is a favorite and is something I had never made before.  In looking for new things to try for this Chinese New Year, I decided to make a fried version thinking the kids and Chris may prefer that to steamed.  This roll can either be steamed or fried, so the preparation of it is the same, and once rolled, you can decide whether you'd prefer to steam or fry them.

Makes approximately 16 rolls:

1 ¼  pound ground pork
6 ounces small shrimp, shelled, deveined and finely chopped
5 dried shiitake mushrooms
5 ounces water chestnuts, finely chopped
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tsp finely minced ginger
2 tablespoons tapioca starch
1 egg white
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tsp sesame oil
½ tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
¼ tsp ground white pepper
4 tbsp reserved liquid from shiitake mushrooms
tofu skin

1 egg beaten for wrapping the rolls

Rinse and soak the shiitake mushrooms in boiling water until softened. Squeeze excess water from mushrooms, reserve soaking liquid and cut the mushrooms into tiny pieces.  Combine all ingredients, except tofu skin, in a large bowl and mix well.  Cover and refrigerate for an hour or so or overnight.

Unless you can find fresh tofu skins, they are dried but are found in the freezer section.  Per my mom, if left just dried and not frozen, they would easily break apart.  To prepare the skins, defrost them in the refrigerator.  They defrost rather quickly.  The package of skins I had were large round pieces which I quartered, cutting them with scissors.  Soak each piece in cold water for about 30 seconds or until softened. Gently squeeze out the excess water.

Form a small roll of the ground pork mixture at the base and center of the tofu skin.  Roll over twice and then fold one side of the skin over onto itself, roll again, and fold the other side of the skin over onto itself.  Then finish rolling to the end and brush the edge of the skin to help seal the roll.  

The tofu skins felt wet and since I rolled these ahead of time, I let them sit in the refrigerator, uncovered, until ready to fry.  You don't want to drop a wet roll into the hot oil as you will have a lot of splatter.  

Heat a pot of oil until it reaches 350f.  If you are only frying a few, you can use a smaller pot, therefore having to use less oil and you only need oil deep enough so that the rolls will not touch the bottom of the pot when frying.  But keep in mind, if you overcrowd the pot, the oil temp will drop a lot and therefore take longer to get back up to heat.  This will cause uneven frying.  I gave some uncooked rolls to my mom and froze the rest and will try steaming them next time.  But these fried ones sure were delicious!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Chinese Daikon (Turnip) Cake

Chinese New Year, the year of the rooster, is this Saturday, January 28, and I am in prep mode.  I pulled this recipe out from a post from a few years ago and made a few minor edits and added some photos. I made a 1.5 batch of the below recipe this time around and am posting this ahead of the final step of frying before eating so that you can use the recipe if you'd like before the weekend.  I'll be adding the finished product photo later this weekend.  

This recipe contains a lot more of the flavor bits; the Chinese sausage, shiitake mushrooms, dried shrimp and scallion than I've had at our local dim sum restaurants.  I think it probably contains more daikon as well as the daikon being more substantial in the cake.  I used my food processor with the grater attachment to grate the 3 pounds of daikon, so the size of the grated daikon is thicker.  In comparison, this daikon cake will not be as smooth and doughy than what you might get at a restaurant.  I favor the extra flavor bits and daikon strips.

2 lbs Chinese daikon
1 oz small dried shrimp
1 1/2 cups dried shiitake mushrooms
5 oz Chinese sausage
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, finely minced
3 tsp sugar
3 tsp rice wine
2 tsp light soy sauce
1/4 tsp Ground white pepper
2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
1 2/3 cups rice flour
2 cups of liquid reserved from turnip, shrimp and shiitakes
oil for pan frying

Grate the turnip using a coarse grater into a large bowl, or use the grater attachment on your food processor.  Cover the turnips with salted boiling water and let sit for 5 minutes.  Drain using a sieve or colander, reserving the liquid.  When cool enough, squeeze out as much excess water as possible and squeeze the water into the reserved water.  Loosen the daikon so it is not stuck together. 

Rinse then soak the dried shrimp in boiling water until soft.  Drain, adding the liquid to the turnip liquid.  Chop the shrimp into very small pieces.

Rinse then soak the shiitake mushrooms in boiling water until softened.  Drain and add the liquid to the turnip liquid.  Squeeze out excess liquid from the mushrooms, remove stems and finely chop.

Steam the Chinese sausages for about 10 minutes and finely dice.

In a large wok, heat 1 tbsp of oil.  Fry the sausages for about a minute and then add the shrimp and mushrooms and fry for another couple of minutes.  If you have very lean sausages, you may need to add additional oil. Add the scallions, garlic, sugar, wine, soy and white pepper and stir fry for another couple of minutes.  Then add the turnip, cilantro and rice flour and toss to combine well.  Add the reserved liquid and mix well.  

Put the turnip mixture into a greased square pan, 10" x 10".  Or split up into two smaller pans depending on the size of your steamer or wok.  Steam for 75 to 90 minutes, adding water as needed to steamer.  I am now the happy owner of a convection steam oven, so I used that this time around.  But a large wok or other steam contraption will work just fine.

Let cool slightly, cover and refrigerate overnight.  Remove the cake from the pan and cut into small squares.  With our below freezing temps, I just put my pan outside for a few couple of hours and it was ready to go.  

Pan fry the turnip cakes in a little bit of oil over medium heat until heated through and just slightly crispy on the outside.