Aprons, Cast Iron Skillets & Spices Create Valentine’s Memory

By Paula Torrey Mamuscia

Paula is one of five winners of WFAEats’ Valentine’s food writing contest. We asked our readers to describe their most memorable Valentine’s dinner. We’ll be posting all five winning entries this week.

Thanks to my Grandma, the early days of my youth laid the foundation for my adventuresome foray into foods and spending time in the kitchen. It’s that affinity for the explosion of tastes and textures that I look for in recipes today.  I love whiling away the hours in one of her old aprons, they give me the courage and strength to experiment and to keep trying and not ever feel defeated by ingredients and processes.

Braised lamb shanks with kale. Photo by Hans Gissenger

One of the most audacious dishes I’d done in a long time was for Valentine’s Day last year.  Braised lamb shanks with kale out of the latest issue of Bon Appetite – YUM!  The shanks were generously coated with a spice mixture of cinnamon, cardamom, and flour; then seared on all sides in my Grandmother’s old cast iron skillet.  Every time I use it, I know it exudes love into what ever I’m making. I wanted this meal to be special and full of love. The remaining spice mixture was combined with scallions, garlic, tomatoes, golden raisins, saffron threads, ground cloves and beef stock then cooked down to a bubbly, thick sauce which braised the shanks.  Braising takes hours, as the smells permeated the house our stomachs began to rumble.  I swear at one point, when I opened the oven door to check the progress, I saw a rivulet of drool about to escape out of the corner of my boyfriend’s mouth, he vehemently denies it!

Once the meat was cooked, I stirred in Lacinato kale, a very dark, almost forest green, less curly leaf. The taste and meatiness of it was superb, as well as a wonderful compliment to the plethora of spices and headiness of the lamb. The shanks and sauce were succulent with meat falling off the bone. I served roasted, ruby red beets and a simple bulgur wheat to accompany the entree.  It was spectacular and delicious, a real restaurant quality meal.

For dessert, I made an old family recipe –thanks again Grandma!  A deep, dark, sweet, rich chocolate cake that forms a pudding on the bottom while it bakes. Served flipped and warm, topped with fresh whipped cream that oozes and melts into the pudding and large, plump, juicy raspberries on the side.  It is a very orgasmic dessert, perfect for this Valentine’s celebration. The entire meal was one we’ll never forget.

Memories are a wonderful thing… conjuring up images, feelings, and smells of days and decades past. I continue to make new ones in the kitchen for us, wearing my Grandma’s stained, old apron, using her skillet.  It’s those of special occasions that will always be the first to come to mind.  I raise my glass of Petite Syrah and toast my Grandmother and thank her for all that she taught me!  And to my Sweetie, I love him very much!  She passed in 2003 at 91; I hope I have her longevity, in life and in my relationship. Salute!!

Paula and her boyfriend. The soft, romantic glow follows them wherever they go.

Other Valentine’s Contest Winners:


1 Comment

Filed under Food, Holidays

One response to “Aprons, Cast Iron Skillets & Spices Create Valentine’s Memory

  1. Pingback: Dream-Eating for ‘The Dress’ // WFAEats

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