Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Garlic & Sapphires - A Simple Celebration Meal (Cook the Books)

The June/July Cook the Books Challenge (hosted by Claudia of Honey From Rock) was to read and prepare a dish inspired by Ruth Reichl's memoir, Garlic & Sapphires.  By far the hardest part of this challenge was trying to narrow down what to make, as almost every recipe and a great many of the passing references to food stirred a longing to make that... and that... and that!

For me, that is what a food memoir should do - it should create a sense of desire and longing to commune with food and the many ways of relating to one another through the preparation and eating of food.

Garlic and Sapphires centers on Ms. Reichl's tenure as the New York Times Food Critic, and it not only peeks into the world of the New York gourmet food scene, it also offers a peek into the highly competitive world of journalism at the Paper of Record.

And somehow... she handles all this without sounding pretentious and certainly without coming across as overly serious about it all.  You see, the famous restaurants of NYC are on the lookout for the NYT food critic and she wasn't having that!  She knew that the service and food she would get as a VIP would not be what you or I would get if we visited.   So, she began to create a series of disguises and the personae to go with them - upper middle class mom who comes to the city a couple times a year to shop; rather lonely catlady type woman who has saved all year for a nice dinner out; a femme fatale she's shocked to discover she can pull off; even her own flamboyant, somewhat problematic mother who will be very familiar to anyone who has read her other memoirs.

Now, this would not normally be the sort of book I'd recommend to my husband, but as I read about what she had to do to get her story, I knew he'd love it.  His career in journalism spanned decades, and this read like the best sort of investigative reporting... only about meals instead of politics. Or maybe this is the politics of meals? In any event, I urged him to read it, he did, and he loved it.

Nice side effect - now I had a willing accomplice to help me decide what  we should make from it.  He was no more able to pick just one thing than I was, so we wound up choosing based on what we had in our freezer.

There was a good boneless leg of lamb in there I'd had no particular plan for, and there, at the end of the book, there is a final menu - a Simple Celebration Meal intended just for her family.  Roast Leg of Lamb with Garlic & Rosemary, Scalloped Potatoes, and Roasted Brussels Sprouts.  (There was also an amazing Chocolate Cake I can't wait to make - for the two of us, that all just seemed like too much food!)

I'm going to leave you to find the recipe for Scalloped Potatoes - if you don't already have one, I promise you, hers is simple, unfussy, and really good.  The Roasted Brussels are packed with bacon and is another very easy and highly flavorful dish.

Here, I'll share the lamb with you.  It's not a cut we have often, but when we do, we really want to get it right, yes?  This will help do that.  We dined on slices of lamb the first night, and then turned the leftover roast into a curry for the next couple of nights, and it was tender and delicious throughout.

Note: a theme of Ms. Reichl's is how often people change recipes and then wonder why it didn't work - she actually applauds making a recipe your own, while being a bit rueful when the changes are clearly not going to end well.

I confess to being one of those people - although the changes I made still made for a fine roast, it's likely slightly less perfect than hers. First, my lamb was boneless. I didn't trim all the fat as instructed, and I used a bit of dry rosemary rather than go to the store just for a sprig of rosemary.  I think the real key to this recipe is the way the garlic is buried into the meat - it gave it an amazing and succulent flavor and a trick I'll be repeating often.  I cooked this for just about 2 hours.  Below is the recipe as written.

Ruth Reichl's Roast Leg of Lamb with Garlic & Rosemary
Serves 6-8

"The butcher called this a family dinner, but I think leg of lamb is perfect for guests.  It's the most forgiving meat you can cook.  Unlike beef or pork, wich is ruined when overcooked, lambis good in every state: it's wonderful rare and well done, so if your guests are late or you're forgetful, dinner will be just fine.  This recipe is for rare meat; if you like your meat well done, cook it longer." ~ Ruth Reichl

1 small leg of lamb, 6-7 lbs, trimmed of all visible fat
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut into 6 slivers each
1 bunch rosemary
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Remove the lamb from the refrigerator 1 hour before starting.

Preheat the over to 350F.

Make 8 small slits in the lamb on each side, and place a sliver of garlic and a leaf of rosemary in each slit.  Massage the olive oil into the meat and season with salt and pepper.

If you have a rack, place the lamb on the rack on top of the remaining rosemary and garlic. If you don't, simple put the meat on top of the rosemary and garlic in a roasting pan.

Cook uncovered for about 1 1/2 hours, or until an instant read thermometer inserted away from the bone registers 125F.

Remove the lamb from the oven and let it rest for 20 minutes before carving.

Check in Cook the Books and see what other bloggers are inspired to create from Garlic & Sapphires!

Happy eating!


  1. Good review, and I'm so glad everyone seems to have enjoyed the pick this time. Your lamb looks so yummy, and I posted her scalloped potatoes, so it'll be out there!

  2. Thanks for sharing your opinion. Thanks for sharing at To Grandma's House We Go!

  3. Yum!!! I just wish lamb wasn't so expensive.

  4. Right?? I'd gotten a good deal on this cut but had it in the freezer because I was afraid of messing up without a good plan for it! This was simple and I trust Reichl, so gave it a go. And then we used the leftovers in a lamb curry and got three meals out of it, so that offset the cost. But it isn't something I can buy often.

  5. I love a good roast lamb and yours looks yummy. I love potatoes in any form (except raw of course) but brusselsprouts are not a favourite.
    visiting via the BloggersPitStop linkup

  6. I rarely have the opportunity to enjoy lamb, but this looks like a delicious recipe! Thanks so much for sharing with us at Full Plate Thursday and sure hope you have a great week!
    Miz Helen

  7. Great that you pulled in reinforcements for this round! And what a meal! Love the combination. Glad you pointed out Reichl's view on changing recipes, too!

  8. What fun to have your husband join in the planning of this meal. That is cause to celebrate and Ruth gave the perfect meal with which to do so.

  9. I too have a difficult time choosing which recipe to post in connection with Reichl's book. Luckily I had a potluck to go to, and made the gougeres which were a hit with that crowd. Great book and and have already started on the Sourdough selection

  10. I still wonder how the recipe would work with another kind of meat. Your rendition of the recipe looks great. Nice bonus that you were able to share the book with your husband.

  11. I think that either a beef or pork roast would work great with garlic slivers inserted into it - it would just require cooking for the right length of time for the particular cut!

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