Monday, March 29, 2010

How I Cook Lamb

Thank you, JS, for being the catalyst for typing this up! I've needed to do that for a long time!

Mostly I am a "method" cook, not a "recipe" cook. This can annoy recipe cooks to no end! On the other hand, it means that you get to use your old favorite recipes in a new way, by substituting lamb for whatever the recipe calls for.

A few general hints about enjoying Pinwheel Farm's forage-fed lamb: First, it is very lean.That means you pay for delicious, nutritious meat, not fat! It also means that it's easily overdone or dried out. So use low heat and cook it a little longer.

Never thaw lamb in the microwave--guaranteed to make it tough! To quick-thaw chops or cubes, unwrap the meat and put it in a sealed plastic bag with the air squeezed out. Submerge in a bowl of lukewarm water. Keep changing the water and turning the bag. A bowl on top of the lamb can help it stay submerged. Do this while you're peeling the garlic and prepping the veggies (or whatever), and it doesn't take long.

Ground lamb can be thawed/cooked simultaneously, if your goal is to brown it. Use a little oil (olive is great for most cuisines) in a cast iron skillet, on medium heat, and put the unwrapped frozen lump in the middle of the pan. While you are peeling the garlic and prepping the veggies (or whatever), turn it over every few minutes and scrape off the browned layer to the side of the pan. Keep turning and scraping (and stirring the browning crumbles on the edges of the pan) until it's all thawed and browned.

Pinwheel Farm calls it "lamb" if it's less than a year old. Generally this means about 7-9 months old. If the animal was in its second summer, we call it "young mutton"--not quite as tender, but delicious. "Mutton" is anything past its second autumn, and may be richer/stronger flavored and chewier/more tough. There is a "YM" or an "M" printed on the paper package if it was anything but true lamb...the processor doesn't have special printers for "mutton".

Some of my favorite ways to cook lamb:

Festive Leg of Lamb (is there any other kind?)
  • Thaw leg roast in fridge for several days (in a dish to catch any juice that runs out).
  • Have on hand a head of fresh garlic, lots of fresh or dried rosemary, and a large organic (because you'll use the peel) lemon.
  • Slice the lemon crosswise to the core into paper thin slices with a sharp knife. Set aside for now.
  • Peel a bunch of cloves of garlic. Cut lengthwise into pieces the length of the clove and about 1/8 square in cross section. They will look like slivered almonds.
  • Use a sharp, pointed knife (steak knife or paring knife) to stab the leg every inch or so. Insert a garlic sliver in each slit. Takes some time, but well worth the effort.
  • When the entire leg is embedded with garlic, place in roasting dish. Start pre-heating the oven to 325 degrees.
  • Cover the entire surface of the leg with slices of lemon, with the prettiest ones on top and filling in with the scrappy ones on the edges.
  • Sprinkle liberally with rosemary, a little black pepper and salt as desired.
  • Roast until done, using a meat thermometer.

The Joy of Cooking has a nice illustration of the carving method for Leg of Lamb.


Grill, panfry, broil, bake...marinate if you please, season how you wish, there are so many options. Mostly I sell these and eat the liver myself, so I can't give much expert advice.


I used ground lamb just like I would beef in many favorite dishes. Browned crumbles are wonderful in chili, tacos and other Southwestern-style dishes; curries; any sort of red-sauce-and-pasta favorites, etc. For pizza topping and lasagna, I like to saute the garlic and onions along with the browned meat, and add some fennel seed as well as salt, pepper, and Italian herbs (basil, oregano, etc.). The fennel gives a wonderful "Italian sausage" flavor.

You can also make meatloaf, burgers, etc. Because the meat is very lean, patties tend to be more crumbly than beef, so adding oatmeal or breadcrumbs and an egg can not only feed more people but help the patties hold together better. Add seasonings as desired, or simply enjoy the special flavor of lamb.

Kibbee is a wonderful Lebanese dish that blends bulghur wheat with ground lamb and spices. An easy version is at


Cubed lamb makes wonderful hearty soups and stews! It can also be used in chili or curry dishes, and of course kabobs. Use your imagination, and fresh local vegetables in season! Tonight's soup featured Jerusalem artichokes, onions, and carrots, with allspice and other spices.


Well, barbecue them, silly!

OK, seriously, you can grill them or do them in the oven or simmer in a cast iron skillet on the stovetop. Marinate with your favorite flavors first, or rub, or baste.


My favorite for quick and easy. I mean it. No, not everyone loves liver, you don't have to, someone else will gladly buy your share. But if you like liver, lamb liver is delicious. And it thaws quickly in lukewarm water, and reheats well after it's cooked.

I dredge with seasoned flour (whole wheat, salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, and sometimes rosemary) and brown just until done in a little bacon grease or olive oil. Serve warm with bacon crumbles and sauted onions...or put in a bun warm or cold, dressed up with all your favorite hamburger fixings. Oh, so healthy!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Why We Don't Use the Rototiller Much

The rototiller has its uses, to be sure. But I avoid it when possible, for many reasons. It damages the physical soil structure, disrupts the soil ecology and hydrology, is tiring to the operator, hard on the ears, obscures birdsong and conversation, etc. It disconnects us from direct ground contact, and we don't know our soil and its ecology as intimately as when we are down there with our hands in it.
The rototiller can also kill small animals...a gruesome death.

Fortunately, we were digging by hand when CC spotted something odd in the soil. A dark jelly-like blob, at first glance. What...? But--"It's got legs!" she observed, scooping it up.

On unfurling, it turned out to be a salamander.

It's not uncommon to spot a new insect or plant at the farm...or even bird. But today we found a representative of a whole new ORDER! Never before have we found a salamander of any kind on the farm!

Based on comparison with online photos, this appears to be the Smallmouth Salamander, Ambystoma texanum. shows photos that look a whole lot like this precious creature.

We took photos as quickly as possible, and then "replanted" the salamander at the edge of the garden, safe from further digging and from the lime we were about to apply.

Amphibians absorb chemicals readily through their skin. Thus, they are very sensitive to environmental degradation, and serve as "indicator species" in an environment. I rejoice to see more of them, and more diversity, as the years go by and the farm becomes a more balanced ecosystem.

Seeing this salamander, however, makes me question my use of hydrated lime in the garden...a quick, easy and cheap way of raising soil pH for acid-hating crops like spinach and other salad greens. I'll continue to ponder this dilemma.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Swiftly changing seasons

Thursday and Friday were perfect blue spring days, barely a breeze, 60's, frogs calling from the wetlands. We did two huge jobs at once: cleaned out last year's bedding from the barn, and staked out and mulched more than 20 new growing beds in the Northeast Quadrant.

WWOOFer CC arrived Wednesday and really hit the ground running...I think she was part of the team on every single heavy load of wet, half-composted/halt ensiled, manurey hay. KU student gardener LP pitched in on several loads, I helped on some, longtime farm volunteer MW did a bunch, too. New volunteer PM worked two long days with us, helping stake out the new beds (4 corners per bed, 10 beds per block, 3 blocks completely marked...hmmm...120 stakes measured and pounded?!? We also received a delivery of brome--square bales to stack in the barn and big round bales in the barn pen.

The goal was to have the barn floor cleaned in time to get the sheep under shelter for Saturday's shearing, in case it rained or...snowed? As we put finishing touches on rearranging the gate panels, and spread the floor with lime and sawdust and brome hay for bedding, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees. We hastened to run the sheep in, did a few more chores, folks headed home.

CC and I went to a Taize service in town with a friend, pulling out our warm sweaters since it had gotten dark and a bit cooler. A bit cloudy, too. Silly us! An hour later when we left the church, it was raining a light, icy rain. None of us had jackets on.

We went home, ate dinner, went back to town for groceries wearing rain jackets this time. By the time we got out of the grocery store, icy pellets of sleet were freezing on the windshield.

We awoke to a thick blanket of snow on shearing morning! The sheep were snug and dry, though, and the roads were passable so the shearer could get here, even if a bit late. A very odd first day of spring!

It snowed all through shearing, all day, all evening, amounting to about 8 inches of moderately heavy snow. But the streets were mostly clear, because they were so warm to start with.

Today most of it melted away, the frogs were singing again, the grass is greener than ever where the snow has gone, the crocuses emerged largely unscathed.

And we had our first lamb born this morning!

I have photos, but never enough time.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Where ARE We?

Yes, I know I've been awful quiet here lately. Lots going on, though.

Partly we are transitioning to other internet venues. Pinwheel Farm (that's right, NO "s") is now on facebook; it would be really helpful if you could let me know you're a blog reader when you make a request to be a friend.

We are also on the verge of having a web site, TBA very soon I hope. We'll keep a lot of our policies, directions to the farm, etc. there, as well as (eventually) lists of what's available and how to get it from us.

Spring is suddenly here, we got the roof mostly on the west end of the barn, shearing (March 20, 10:00 a.m.) and lambing will be here before we know it, Farmer's Market Pre-Season opens April 10; things are really growing in the high tunnel...such abundance!

We are especially impressed with how well the salad greens came through the winter under the row covers. Lettuce is looking great, and there's tatsoi, mizuna, arugula, etc. still thriving. A few sunny weeks and we'll be harvesting again!

Spring plans include a new washhouse facility, a walk-in cooler, rearranging some sheds (I mean moving the buildings, not just the content), massive garden expansion planned this season so we can supply even more veggies to Lawrence Memorial Hospital than last year....

We're looking forward to seeing all our friends again, whether at the farm for purchases or volunteering, or at Farmer's Market. See you soon!