Saturday, October 26, 2013

Braised Lamb Shanks Two Ways

Two nights of blow your socks off lamb dinners with one slow cooker meal! This was so fantastic. A rustic but luscious sauce, silky and earthy from the herbs and lambs. Very rich, almost buttery and so satisfying. The lamb is so tender it falls off the bone. Slowly braised in wine, stock, herbs, carrots and shallots. The first night I served the shank and sauce on its own (but had I thought more about it, perched atop some creamy polenta would have been divine). The second night i shredded the remaining meat to make a ragu with the leftover sauce and tossed it with pecorino and egg noodles....a bowl of food for the lamb gods. OMG so good. Seriously. Go make this, now.

Braised Lamb Shanks Two Ways (Slow Cooker Magic)
a girl and her kitchen (adapted from scarpetta dolcetto)
4-6 lamb shanks (roughly 4lbs total)
2 bay leaves
5 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tbsp salt (plus more to taste)
1 tsp black pepper (plus more to taste)
4 c beef stock
1 c red wine
4 shallots, sliced (could replace with one small onion diced)
4 carrots, diced
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 sprigs thyme
1 sprig rosemary
Flour for dusting
Salt and pepper for seasoning shanks
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp butter, softened
2 tbdp flour
Parsley for garnish if desired

Place carrots, shallot, garlic, thyme, rosemary, tomato paste, 1 tbsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, stock and wine in slow cooker and stir to combine.

Season the lamb with a pinch of salt and pepper and dust in flour. Heat oil in a nonstick large pan over medium heat. Add the shanks to the pan and increase the heat to medium-high. Brown shanks on both sides (3-5 mins per side) and then add to the slow cooker. Fit them in tightly so they all are touching some liquid. Cook on low for 10 hrs. 1 hour before they are finished cooking, mix soften butter with 2 tbsp flour into a paste. Stir into sauce and replace lid, continue cooking and sauce will thicken slightly as the dish finishes. Remove rosemary twig and thyme sprigs before serving.

Night #1 – Serve lamb shanks whole with sauce over polenta/rice or on its own with side salad.

Night # 2 – put remaining sauce in a pot and using a fork shred the lamb (removing the fat and bones) and bring to a simmer. In a separate pot, boil ½ a bag of extra wide egg noodles. Add to meat sauce for a thick lamb ragu! Serve hot with pecorino cheese for topping (and some fresh chopped parsley if you have it).

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Chunky Weeknight Beef Stew and Slow Cooker Magic

I admit it, I have historically looked down on the slow cooker. I’m judgey about food, I know. But the slow cooker/crock pot just always seemed so, well like faking it in the kitchen. You throw stuff in and turn it on and poof, you have dinner. No real cooking required. But then I had a baby and realized HOLY COW, all you have to do is throw stuff in and turn it on and poof, you have dinner! Game changer people. Because let me tell you, my days of swaying about my kitchen, making up recipes as I went, spending time shopping and singing to myself as I gently caramelized something on the stove, those days have been replaced by the road runner version of myself, cradling a 5 month old in one arm and zooming about wondering if I’ll even get time to eat let alone cook.  Yea, life looks different on the other side of the bump. So I broke down and bought myself a dreaded slow cooker and the dang thing has saved my life. I’ve already braised lamb shanks (recipe to come), made chicken stock and now beef stew and that’s all in like 7 days! I drank the kool aid folks. Slow cookers rule.

Weeknight Beef Stew
a girl and her kitchen

1.5 – 2 lbs beef stew meat
4 celery stalks, cleaned and chopped into 1in pieces
4 large carrots, cleaned and chopped into 1in pieces
6 red potatoes, cleaned and quartered
1 package frozen pearl onions
3 garlic cloves, smashed (skins removed)
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
 1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp Worchester sauce
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 c beef broth
1 c red wine
 1 tbsp Salt and 1 tbsp pepper (plus more for seasoning meat)
2 tbsp Vegetable oil
1 cup frozen peas
3 tbsp butter, softened
4 tbsp flour + 4 more to dust meat

Put carrot, celery, potatoes, onions, garlic, thyme, bay, paprika, worchester, tomato paste, 1 tbsp each of salt and pepper, beef stock and wine into crock pot and stir to combine.

In a large nonstick pan, heat vegetable oil over medium heat. Meanwhile, toss the beef into a plastic bag (this is the easiest way) along with a heavy pinch of salt and pepper and 4 tbsp of flour. Mush the meat around in the bag until coated with the flour and seasoning. Brown the floured meat in the hot oil on all sides (a few minutes a side, you are not trying to cook it but get some color on it). May need to increase heat to medium-high when you add the meat to the pan.

Add the browned meat to the crock pot and stir again to combine. Set the slow cooker to low and cook for 8-10 hrs. About an hour before you eat, using a fork, mix the softened butter with 4 tbsp of flour so it becomes a paste. Then mix the flour/butter paste into the sauce in the crock pot until most of the lumps are gone. Put the lid back on and continue cooking. The sauce will thicken as it finishes cooking.

When you are ready to eat, stir in the frozen peas (they’ll defrost very very quickly in the hot stew) and serve with crusty bread!

Cooks note: you could also add a cup or two of diced mushrooms with the carrots etc if you like. And if you don't have a crock pot,  you could make this on the stove in a heavy bottom pan or in an over at like 350 for 3 or so hours. Just let it gently simmer away. Also, if using the slow cooker and then leaving the house, just set the butter out before you leave, it will be nice and soft when you get home.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Creamy Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna - It's date night!

This is what food dreams are made of people! Gooey and sinful deliciousness at its best. I kind of wanted to high-five myself over this one. A date night at home was the inspiration, that and the overly large Costco containers of brown mushrooms and spinach wilting in my frig looking for a meal to call home. I'm not sure words can do justice as to how savory and creamy and so utterly satisfying this lasagna was. A smooth and luscious béchamel sauce, spiked with mozzarella and pecorino for that Italian zing, spotted with sweet onions, earthy sautéed mushrooms and bright green tender baby spinach leaves. I threw in a handful of peas (because I was feeling guilty about all the cheese) to help balance out the bacon fat I used to make my rough (oh yea, bacon – side note, if you do not store your leftover bacon grease in a jar in your frig you are NUTS! That stuff is GOLD.) I ended up using no-bake lasagna noodles I had laying around and seriously, I need to stop being so judgey about no-bake noodles….soooo easy and totally delicious people. I will absolutely be making this again, like tomorrow…and the day after that. And every day! It was that good.