17th Birthday Dinner

Birthdays are special, you only get one a year and you should make them memorabe. We should all be thankful for the lives we lead and for all of the people you get to meet on the journey. For my kids, if they make a request for a meal they get it. My eldest turned 17 today, I am amazed by how fast the time has gone. We celebrated yesterday, my parents and my in-laws were able to make it. He didn’t have a request for dinner this year, so my choice. 

I decided upon a recipe from Bon Appétit that caught my eye three years ago: Braised Lamb Shanks with Gremolata and Baked Polenta. Very early in our marriage I tried to make lamb, unfortunately I was weary of how to cook it, I probably left it in the freezer too long, and my skills were not what they are today … it was not good. After that I stayed away from cooking lamb, it fell into the category of things I only ordered at nice restaurants. It continued to tempt me though, I have a wonderful friend who makes a delicious lamb curry for boxing day every year, and she said I should try. That was almost 3 years ago, and after that I broached it cautiously, starting with recipes that used ground lamb. At some point, well over a year ago, I had a hankering for lamb while out for a work dinner and ordered a rack of lamb; it was cooked correctly, but had no flavor and the craving was left unsatisfied. Within the next few weeks after that I saw them on sale and tackled Mint and Cumin Spiced Lamb Chops, and later a rack. 

As of this week I still hadn’t tried to do anything braised or in a stew … back to the recipe. 

The recipe requires a lot of planning, I had to start on Friday (which was busy enough!). I was not able to find enough lamb shanks so for my first go at this I substituted ½ legs of lamb for about 3/4 of the meat. Both were wonderful, the ½ legs took longer to cook, so you could cut each in half. On Friday, I trimmed the meat, rubbed in the spices, and put it in the fridge.    

 I came back to it Satuday evening, and braised it when it was cool I put it in the fridge again. This is a great part of the recipe; the meat sits in the sauce soaking up flavor while the excess fat rises to the top. When I took it out the next day the fat was simple to remove. 

The polenta was the easiest I have ever made; I made no edits to that portion of the recipe it is perfect. While I cooked I also served appetizers; I cut a wedge of brie in half horizontally and put chopped basil, coarsly ground black pepper, and a bit of strawberry rhubarb jam in the middle then wrapped it in puff pastry and baked it at 350 for 20 minutes. My dad brought a smoked whitefish, which my 17-year  old can’t eat, more for the rest of us!

I did also make artichokes with tarragon drizzle; this was my first shot at artichokes and they weren’t perfect yet so I won’t share. 

My MIL brought a wonderful greek salad to start us off, and dessert was my son’s only request, apple pie. This is what he requests every year for his birthday and as frequently as he and his dad and his grandpa can convince me. My mom offered to do this for me, she taught me so I accepted. 

My son and family said that it was on of the best dinners they had ever had; another reminder to work at home with the ingredients that you love. The recipes follow the pictures.    


Braised Lamb with Gremolata and Baked Polenta

Beef and Lamb, Entrées, Soups Stews etc., Tested and Approved!

makes 8 ∙ difficulty Medium ∙ source Bon Appétit | October 2012


  • 6 lb. lamb, leg or shanks (6–8 shanks or 3 leg halves, depending on size), trimmed
  • 1-2 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 8 cloves garlic, separated
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 large onions, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. paprika
  • ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups tomatoes, diced or crushed
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups (or more) low-sodium chicken broth


  • 1½ cups polenta (coarse cornmeal)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1½ cups finely grated Parmesan
  • 2 Tbsp. (¼ stick) unsalted butter
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  • ¾ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary


Place lamb on a large rimmed baking sheet; season generously all over with salt and pepper. Chop rosemary, fennel seeds, and 2 cloves of garlic in food processor or spice grinder (fennel should be coarse nd rosemary almost minced); massage into lamb. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour or, preferably, chill overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°. Heat oil in a large wide heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, 8–10 minutes.

Mince remaining garlic and add with flour, paprika, and red pepper flakes. Stir vigorously to distribute flour. Cook, stirring often, until mixture becomes dry, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and wine. Simmer briskly, stirring often, until juices thicken and tomatoes begin to break down, about 10 minutes.

Gradually stir in 4 cups broth. Simmer until flavors meld, 3–4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add lamb shanks to pot in a single layer, pushing them down into sauce (add additional broth if needed so that shanks are about ¾ submerged).

Roast, uncovered, until tops of shanks have browned, about 30 minutes. Using tongs, turn shanks over and roast for 30 minutes longer.

Cover and cook, turning shanks occasionally, until meat is fork-tender and almost falling off the bone, 45 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes (time will depend on size of shanks). Remove from oven and skim off fat from surface of sauce. Let shanks rest in liquid for at least 30 minutes.

Do Ahead: Lamb shanks can be made 1 day ahead. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled.

Preheat oven to 350°. Stir polenta, oil, salt, and 7½ cups water in a 13x9x2” baking dish to blend. Bake, uncovered, for 1 hour 15 minutes. Stir in cheese and butter and season with pepper. Smooth top and continue baking until polenta is set and jiggles like custard, 25–30 minutes.

Meanwhile, discard any fat from surface of lamb shank mixture and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer gently, occasionally turning shanks and stirring sauce, until heated through, about 20 minutes. If using large shanks, remove from pot; let cool slightly, then coarsely shred meat from bones. Return meat to sauce. (If you have 8 small shanks, you can serve them whole, setting them directly atop polenta.)

Preheat broiler. Broil polenta, watching very closely to prevent burning, until surface is light golden, 5–7 minutes. Serve immediately for a softer polenta; for a firmer texture, let rest for up to 30 minutes.

Using a sharp knife, mince parsley (make sure it’s dry). Mix parsley with remaining ingredients in a small bowl; toss to evenly incorporate.

Divide polenta among large wide bowls. Spoon meat with juices over. Sprinkle meat generously with gremolata.

Apple  Pie

Desserts, Pies and Tarts, Tested and Approved!, Thanksgiving
difficulty Easy ∙ source Mom


  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • dash salt
  • 3/4-1 cups sugar , depending on the sweetness of the apples
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 6 cups apples , Jonathan or other baking apples; peeled, cored, and sliced
  • 1 pie crust


Mix dry ingredients together, then add apples. Pour into bottom shell of crust and dot with butter. Lightly sprinkle top crust with sugar. Bake at 400℉ for 40-50 minutes.

Pie Crust (double)

Pies and Tarts, Tested and Approved!

difficulty Easy ∙ source Mom


  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup water , ice-cold
  • 2/3 cup crisco , + 1 Tbsp.


Mix flour and salt together. Add crisco and mix with light touch until crumbly. Add water until dough comes together nicely in a ball.


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