Christopher Ranch’s California Garlic Blog

It’s no mystery that fresh garlic is one of the most popular, versatile ingredients ever. What remains relatively unknown, however, are the distinct flavor, quality and health differences associated with varying garlic varieties. Christopher Ranch, a family farm in Gilroy, Calif., grows a California heirloom garlic that is a leader in each category. All Garlic Is Not Created Equal. We’ll show you why.

Embarking On My Own Julie & Julia Quest; Cooking Through The Garlic Bible

Call me a copycat.

It’s true; I deserve it. Though, in my defense, they say copying is the most sincere form of flattery.

It all started last Wednesday, when I watched Julie & Julia for the first time (little behind on movie watching, as my budget forces me to wait for Red Box rentals), and experienced a light-bulb moment – as I’m sure many of you did watching that movie…why don’t I cook through a cookbook and blog about it?

Por que, no? Maybe the sequel will evolve into “Angie and Julia…”

Now, multiple objectives motivated my cooking/writing endeavor, and mine weren’t nearly as endearing as Julie’s yearning to follow in the footsteps of the late, great Julia Child.

Objective One – I love to cook, but I struggle with following a recipe. I get too excited, don’t adequately prepare and wind up suddenly needing 10 different ingredients that aren’t chopped, causing things to quickly spiral downhill. Food overcooks, I get flustered, the kitchen turns into a war zone and I, consequently, drink one too many glasses of wine – which does, however, make my food taste better.

Objective Two – I always write about my fellow bloggers’ recipes and cooking experiences, but never my own. I decided, in 2010, I need to take control of my own cooking destiny. No more sloppy seconds.

So, last night I grabbed the trusty garlic Bible – The Garlic Lovers’ Cookbook Volume II – a compilation of hundreds of competition entries from the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival, and officially embarked on my cooking journey.

(All epic journeys need a name, so this one shall be called, “Angie’s Quest to Garlic Cooking Greatness.” )

My main goals in this journey are to: 1.) Complete every recipe, with a 75% edible-success rate; a new form of scoring I invented, which means a meal one can consume and somewhat enjoy, without contracting any food-borne illnesses. 2.) Not gain the “Freshman 40” in the process – quite risky, as many recipes call for heavy-whipping cream, copious amounts of butter, cream cheese, etc. Hello, saddlebags. 3.) Avoid unintentionally summoning the local fire department. 4.) Have a little fun.

Here we go. Recipe #1 – Manti, a nice, Turkish delight.

The recipe’s description, “an easy-to-fix casserole, with the surprisingly rich and unusual lamb flavor,” caught my attention with two words; easy and lamb. Easy is good, and lamb meat is even better.

So, I stopped at my local Ralph’s to pick up the necessary ingredients, and – I’m slightly embarrassed to admit – I spent arguably more time wandering the aisles in search of the ingredients, than I did in the kitchen.

Apparently, I’m not very store savvy when I venture beyond my cooking comfort zone of tacos, spaghetti and stew. Hello, parsley, nice to meet you; never noticed you there next to the carrots.

Once I entered the kitchen, however, things went surprisingly smooth. The recipe calls for minimal ingredients, the steps were simple to follow, and there wasn’t much multi-tasking involved. Total preparation and cooking time was about 1 hour, 10 minutes – the perfect amount of time to sip on a nice glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. For once, I was drinking wine for enjoyment and not frustration.

Manti Recipe (I tweaked a few items, noted with an *, to help keep that 40-lbs. at bay):
Ingredients:
– 1 (12-oz.) package large-shell pasta – *whole wheat and jumbo-shell pasta;
– ¾-lb. ground lamb;
– 1-tbsp. oil or butter – *extra-virgin olive oil;
– 1-2 bunches green onions, minced;
– ¼-cups fresh parsley, chopped;
– 4 cloves fresh Christopher Ranch California Heirloom Garlic, minced;
-4-tbsp. butter – *no salt and only used 2-3 tbsp.;
– 1 (10 ¾-oz.) can beef broth – *low sodium;
– 1 (8-oz.) can tomato sauce – *low sodium;
– Handful of low-moisture mozzarella cheese.

Preparation:
– Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and cool.
– On low heat, sauté onions, parsley and garlic in olive oil; add lamb, and combine well. Cook until meat is browned, or completely cooked through; about 15 minutes.
– While meat is cooking, butter the bottom of a 3-quart baking dish (one that has a lid). Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
– Stuff shells with meat and herb mixture, and place shells in the baking dish. Sprinkle mozzarella on top. Cover, and bake 20 minutes.
– While Manti is baking, combine broth and tomato sauce in small pan, and bring to a boil.
– Once shells have cooked 20 minutes, pour broth/tomato liquid over Manti, and bake 15-20 minutes longer; until lamb is cooked and sauce is slightly thickened.
– Serve hot.

Thoughts on my first recipe….
First of all, I didn’t know ground lamb meat existed. Now that I’m aware, it is my new favorite convenience meat – a great middle man between beef and turkey, as it’s as rich and flavorful as beef – but leaner – and more robust than turkey meat. Not to mention, the smell of lamb sautéing with the garlic, onions and parsley was a thin slice of heaven.

The finished product was quite scrumptious, and – surprisingly – not too filling. (However, I need to work on portion control. The recipe states 4-6 servings, and I ate seven shells last night, with only seven more awaiting me tonight. Must be a cookbook misprint.)

Baking the sauce into the shells is a good move, as the sauce thickens – evolving into a light marinara – and subsequently moistens and tenderizes the shells and meat. The flavor of the marinara-esque sauce blended perfectly with the bold flavor of the herbal-infused lamb, reasonably tempering the lamb meat, which, for some, can be too overbearing.

Finally, this recipe doesn’t actually call for mozzarella – that addition might be my inner fatty emerging – but I feel the creaminess of the cheese synchronizes the meat and shells. That’s my excuse, anyways.

The only change I would make is, perhaps, adding some fresh basil, a little oregano and a pinch of pepper to the beef broth and tomato sauce. The sauce was lacking bite, likely due to the reduced-sodium selections for both.

My only complaint is that I could really use a dishwasher – any takers? – but, besides that, Recipe #1 – Manti – in “Angie’s Quest to Garlic Cooking Greatness” received an 8 of 10 from Lauren, my unbiased judge/roommate.

As Julia Child would say, “Bon Appétit!”

(Original pictures to come…skipped my mind. I usually avoid documenting what I create in the kitchen! However, the picture above looks just like my dish…)

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