R. T.’s mother used to make a leg of lamb baked in a paper bag for Christmas Eve. He believed she brought the recipe with her to the United States from her native Greece.
Several readers were familiar with the dish he described. “My family has made this for every holiday for as long as I can remember,” said G. Papadoulus. “You just put the lamb, rubbed well with olive oil and lemon juice and sprigs of fresh oregano in the bag and cook it till it is done as much as you want. There’s no real recipe we follow.”
Pamela Suarez sent a recipe from a Greek cooking website that actually has measurements and timing, but I was dubious since it calls for no treatment of the bag or for putting water in the pan you set the roast in.
Sara L. suggested the recipe here, from the website About.com. In the Greek food section Nancy Gaifyllia uses parchment paper rather than paper bags, and this made sense to me. Parchment paper is sanitary and burn-resistant.
I was also fascinated by an accompanying explanation for why paper is used: “Arnakis Kleftiko (pronounced ahr-NAH-kee KLEF-tee-koh) is an adaptation of a dish fixed in the mountains by guerrillas (bandits) who needed to cook without being seen. They placed the meat on coals in a hole, covered it up, and let it cook for up to 24 hours. No trace of any stolen animal, and no smell of cooking meat to give them away.”
Grace Arapakis adds the juice and grated zest of a lemon to basically the same recipe, and I found that a great addition. Arapakis also says you can use lamb shanks and make individual packets using the same method and seasoning ingredients.
Q. Back in the late 1970s, right after I was married, I learned how to make baked Brie in pastry. It was exotic for the times and looked a lot harder to make than it was. I stopped making it when kids came along and our parties were of the cupcake and lemonade variety. My husband mentioned the Brie lately and I can’t find the recipe I used. Although there were many available they were all very complicated. Can you help?
I’ve always used the recipe from the box of frozen phyllo dough, and I’ll bet it is the one you’re remembering. It seems to me in the 1970s the recipe called for a jar of hot pepper jelly warmed and placed on the side, while today’s version from athensfoods.com has a festive compote made with red bell peppers that is perfect for New Year’s parties and bowl games.
Q. There was a recipe for French sugar cookies in The Herald a while back that I have lost. The dough was rolled into 1-inch balls and then flattened. I would love to have the recipe.
This recipe has forced my old sugar cookie recipe to the side. As the readers who sent it in said, it tastes “kind of like shortbread, but is crisper” and “kind of like a sugar cookie but more buttery.” When I made them this year, I came up with a shortcut by rolling the dough into a 2-inch tube and then simply slicing and baking. Because the ingredients are so simple it is absolutely essential that you don’t shortchange on the ingredients: Use real butter and a good quality real vanilla extract.