February 2009 archive

Slow, Low, Wet and Long

One of the ways we're trying to save money is by using cuts of meat that are a little off the beaten path.  Everyone can cook steaks, chicken breasts, pork chops and lamb chops.  But try to find information on lesser known cuts of meat, like lamb ribs and you'll find a lot less information out there.  Lamb is one of the few types of meat that I feel comfortable buying in the grocery store.  Americans eat less than a pound a year of lamb so there's very little incentive for commercial producers to up production using things like CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation).  Granted, I still like to buy as much as I can locally so I stay on the lookout for inexpensive cuts like lamb ribs from places like Laurel Creek Farms but if I see a good buy on lamb at the supermarket, I'll pick it up.  A lot of these cuts of meat benefit from cooking a long time over very low heat with some liquid in the pan.  This takes a normally very tough cut of meat and makes it so tender it almost falls off the bone.

One of my favorite blogs is Farmgirl Fare.  Susan lives on a 240 acre farm in Missouri.  She's a baker so you can find all kinds of amazing bread recipes on her site. She and her husband also raise sheep so out of necessity, she's got several yummy sounding lamb recipes.  The one I tried today was Susan's Slow Cooked Dutch Oven Lamb Shanks.  I made a few adjustments but stayed fairly close to the recipe.

Susan's Slow Cooked Dutch Oven Lamb

1/4 cup olive oil
6 garlic cloves, chopped
3 yellow onions, peeled and thickly sliced
1.5 pounds lamb shanks
1 cup red wine (I used Shiraz)
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf Italian parsley
6 medium frozen tomatoes – chopped up 
salt & pepper

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Sprinkle lamb shanks with salt and and pepper and then brown on all sides (in batches if necessary), using tongs to turn the pieces.  Remove lamb and set aside.

Add onions to Dutch oven and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and starting to brown, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Make a well in the center of the onions and add the garlic. Cook, stirring so that all the garlic touches the bottom of the pot, 1 to 2 minutes. Mix garlic with onions.  Stir in 1/2 cup of the wine, bring to a boil and stir up any brown bits on the bottom of the pot.  Stir in the rosemary and parsley.  Move onions to the side and set the lamb roasts on the bottom of the pot. Cover the meat with some of the onions.  Scatter the frozen tomatoes over the meat and pour on the remaining 1/2 cup of red wine.  Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Put on the lid and set the pot in the oven. Cook for 2-1/2 to 3 hours (or longer), stirring everything around after the first and second hours. If the meat hasn't already fallen off the bone, it should easily come away with a fork. Mix everything together and serve with mashed potatoe, egg noodles or fresh bread.

I served mine with egg noodles.  This was fabulous.  Lamb has to be one of the best smelling meats you can cook and when you add the onions, garlic and wine…. well, just get ready to be driven out of your mind with hunger.  I would make a few changes to it though.  I would add more rosemary and parsley – in fact, I might rub the shanks down with extra rosemary, sea salt and pepper the day before I cooked them, just to give them more flavor.  I would also add even more tomatoes and onions.  Lamb fat is a beautiful thing and it flavors food in an amazing way.  Adding more vegetables would stretch the number of servings as well, making it even less expensive per serving.  I also would make this the day before I wanted to serve it.  I would cook it longer in order to render out as much fat as possible.  I would try cooking it longer too.  Make sure you strain out the juices and let them sit in a fat strainer for a brief period of time.  This reduces the greasiness of the dish quite a bit.

This was so good it's going into regular rotation on our dinner menu.  It's easy, I can already tell you that leftovers will hold well and it tastes great.

Menu planning and cooking marathon!

This weekend, I decided to work out a menu for the week and see what we could do with some of the food we needed to use up.  Here's what I need to use:

Uncle Ben's wild rice mix
Can of sweetened condensed milk
Leftover no knead wheat bread
Leftover no knead olive rosemary bread
Pad Thai Mix

Local Duck breasts from two years ago
9 pounds of local ground pork
Local chicken drumsticks from a year ago
Frozen homegrown sundried tomatoes (might be freezer burnt)
Large bag of cooked chickpeas
Piece of cooked ham
Frozen homegrown tomatoes from last year

Leftover cooked noodles
Leftover cooked sushi rice
Goat cheese
Purple cabbage
A few stalks of limp celery
Laughing cow cheese
Mozerella Sticks
Cream cheese
Sour cream

We have other stuff we need to use up – local cherries we picked and pitted this year, two turkey and a turkey breast we bought on special at Krogers for around 25 cents a pound, bags of different dried beans – but the things in the list above have to be used up and soon.

Here's what I planned to use them up.

Sunday, we had Strata for breakfast.  I made this Saturday and it used up some of the cheese sticks and some of the stale wheat bread.  I added some onions and local pork breakfast sausage.  It was really tasty (a bit too bread heavy) and it's a definite keeper for using up leftover bread.  I want to play around with the proportions more because I made too much Strata and I think for two people, it's best made in smaller ramikens so we don't get tired of it.  We had it again for breakfast this morning and we'll have some tomorrow as well.  As soon as I get a working basic recipe, I'll post it here on the blog.

For lunch we had leftovers from Saturday night.  Marc and I are both a fan of Senor Taco's chorizo tacos so we wanted to try to make our own.  I looked through quite a few recipes online and decided to wing it and make my own recipe.  I didn't measure it exactly but next time I make it, I'll do that and post the recipe.  This uses up some of the ground pork we have lying around and it was very tasty.  We made homemade tortillas to go with this and I made refried black beans.

For dinner, I made chicken noodle soup to use up the limp celery and carrots that were in the crisper. I made a base using a roux and then added chicken stock to it.  I froze half of it and added the egg noodles that were leftover to the half we ate that night. 

The bread was made into breadcrumbs with the help of our food processor and toasted with some olive oil and sea salt.  This makes a nice substitute for cheese on pasta.  I'm eying the duck breasts and the cherries for something delicious for our three month anniversary.  And the leftover sushi rice was simmered with the condensed sweetened milk to make some of the best rice pudding I've ever had.