Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mushroom Crostini w Truffle Salt


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Saturday's dinner posed an interesting challenge. Meal time was going to be set by the baby, not by the food, so I needed dishes that could be served quickly or wait a while. In the end, I decided on starters of mushroom crostini, with a touch of truffle salt to elevate the bite, and some asparagus and arugula rolled in prosciutto. The main course was linguine with a rich bolognese sauce enhanced with balsamic vinegar.

The asparagus rolls were the result of mind-bending repetition. I had to watch a silent Mark Bittman make them about 700-odd times. Yes, I flew Jet Blue to and from San Francisco last week and Bittman was dancing all over the screens. I never actually listened to the audio, but it's really not necessary for such a simple and clever appetizer. Here is the Bittman video for those who haven't flown Jet Blue recently!

I boiled the asparagus for 5 minutes, then quickly placed under cold water; seasoned the arugula with the juice of a lemon, a splash of olive oil, salt and pepper; rolled it all up in prosciutto; and sliced into "rolls". I've wrapped asparagus in prosciutto and grilled it before, but really liked the addition of arugula here. Very good.

Mushroom Crostini w Truffle Salt
Serves 4

4 thin slices of ciabatta-like bread, toasted
2 handfuls cremini (young portobello) mushrooms, thickly sliced
3 tbsp butter
olive oil
thyme leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper
truffle salt

truffle saltThis is a simple nibble that just takes a bit of patience with the saute pan. Melt the butter and a splash of olive oil in a pan on low heat, and saute the mushrooms for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the parsley, thyme, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of freshly ground pepper about 5 minutes into the cooking process. If they start to dry out, add a splash of dry vermouth or white wine.

Before serving, toast the thin slices of bread (note: if you are a garlic fan, you might rub a smashed clove of garlic on the top of the slice first). Spoon some mushrooms on top, drizzle some of the melted butter from the pan, and finish off with a small pinch of truffle salt.

Truffle salt? Well, after lunch with the Foodbuzz crew last week, they walked me over to the Ferry building and so raved about this salt that I had to get some. I had been doing SO well resisting the truffle craze, but you know, and I'll say this very quietly, it really is quite yummy. for the rest...

The main course was nothing fancy; I have been experimenting with different methods for making bolognese sauce. I happened upon the Food Network chef Anne Burrel because of a twitter post by Deb of Smitten Kitchen, and the first thing I saw on Burrel's webpage was a video of her making meat sauce. Her technique was very different from mine. She purees her mirepoix in a food processor, browns the heck out of absolutely everything, and uses tomato paste rather than whole or crushed tomatoes.

I did not follow her recipe exactly, but experimented with many of her ideas, finishing off the sauce with balsamic vinegar to add a spin of my own. I rather liked the results, served with freshly chopped parsley and a heaping of grated parmesan. I still like my personal method, but Burrel's ideas make for a richer sauce for the right weather and mood.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pancetta, Chard, Cranberry Bean and Gouda Gratin

cranberry bean gratin

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I spent last week in San Francisco and missed my kitchen, although I did have a few good meals with friends, colleagues and even the Foodbuzz editorial team. Hence today I felt the need to get in the kitchen and prep a civilized lunch for a cool spring day. This cranberry bean gratin emerged out of the available ingredients, and we happily polished it off with a glass of white wine. I decided it is a keeper (even our 3-yr old loved it), so the recipe is below.

Meeting the Foodbuzz team was great fun (that's me second to the left). We ate lunch on the water at La Mar and had some great peruvian-style seafood dishes. I continue to be impressed with the passion of the Foodbuzz team, and they are all super-nice people. I enjoyed our conversation about the food blogosphere, the rise of twitter among food bloggers, and the changing Foodbuzz site itself, and look forward to seeing their business grow and evolve.

lunch w foodbuzz team

Pancetta, Chard, Cranberry Bean and Gouda Gratin

0.15 lb pancetta (one thick slice), diced
1 medium onion, chopped finely
4 small cloves of garlic, minced
large bunch of swiss chard (instructions below)
2 medium tomatoes
1/3 cup white wine
1/3 cup reserved bean cooking liquid
1 tsp tomato paste
1 to 2 cups fresh or soaked cranberry beans
3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
3/4 cup grated gouda cheese
2 tbsp unsalted butter
several sprigs of thyme
olive oil
salt and pepper

Place the cranberry beans in a large pot, fill with water an inch above the top of the beans, and add 1/4 tsp of salt, 1 bay leaf, and 2 sprigs of thyme. Bring to a boil then lower to a gentle simmer. Cook uncovered until tender (start checking around 20 minutes). Reserve about 1/3 of a cup of the cooking liquid, drain and set aside.

Pre-heat oven to 375F.

Prep the chard by washing the leaves and removing the stems, discarding all but two of them (keep the two firmest, freshest stems). Chop the leaves, and thinly slice the two stems.

Grab a big hunk of country bread (stale or fresh), remove the crust, and turn into breadcrumbs in a food processor.

In an oven-ready large skillet (I like to use cast-iron), heat up a splash of olive oil and cook the diced pancetta on medium heat for 2 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the diced onion, and cook until the onions turn translucent. Add the chard leaves, chard stems, minced garlic, a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Cook until the chard leaves are wilted, and then stir in the cranberry beans, chopped tomatoes, white wine, reserved bean liquid, and about 1/4 teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stir in the tomato paste and 1 tbsp of butter, taste for salt, and cook for 10 minutes more.

Turn off the heat. Sprinkle a mixture of breadcrumbs and grated gouda cheese on top. Cut a tablespoon of butter into small pieces and sprinkle around the top. Place in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes. If the top is not browned, you can finish it off with about 30 to 60 seconds under the broiler.

cranberry bean gratin

I am going to submit this to My Legume Love Affair, one of my favorite blog events (run by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook) -- this month being hosted by Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Four Fruit Crumble (or Crisp)

Fruit for crumble

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Due to the new addition to our family, Lisl's mother flew over from Sydney. Over time, I've come to grips with the Australian craving for fruit. My niece consumes it in vast quantities. You actually have to strenuously encourage her to eat something *other* than fruit. She could be a bat, save for the whole sleeping upside-down thing. Needless to say, the first thing I did was pop into Costco for a bunch of mangos and blackberries. A fruit crumble was destiny, helped by the fact that they are so simple to do (i.e. sleep-deprived parents can easily whip one up).

There is a debate over the proper name for this dessert. The Aussies call this a crumble, and Americans call this a crisp. I don't really view either one as right or wrong, any more than I would weigh down on the side of coriander vs cilantro, or eggplant vs aubergine. Open minded, that's me. Unless you're talking about raw sea urchin. Or yams. No yams. Ever. We digress.

Four Fruit Crumble (or Crisp)

1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup oats (the regular kind, not instant)
1 cup brown sugar
8 tbsp unsalted butter, chopped
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 small pinches of salt*

1 mango, peeled, pitted and cubed
4 oz blueberries (small container)
8 oz of blackberries
8 oz strawberries (topped and chopped)

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Wash and chop your fruit and place it in a pie dish or small baking dish. It probably goes without saying, but do not feel beholden to stick to my ratio of one fruit versus another.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Mix it all together with your hands, and break the pieces of butter up with your thumbs and forefingers until they are small-pea-sized.

Spread the oats mixture over the top of the fruit.

4 fruit crumble

Bake for an hour, then let cool for 10 minutes. Serve with some vanilla ice cream. I know the below photo isn't going to win any awards, but really, with a dish like this, it's eatin' time!

4 fruit crumble

* a pinch is the amount you can pick up between your thumb and forefinger.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Provencal Fish Stew

fish stew

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I only like to blog the successes unless there is humor or an interesting lesson in the duds. "Giff is an idiot" doesn't qualify as a lesson. Too obvious. I am pleased to say that last night's meal was an unqualified success. Even I, who tends to be hypercritical of my own dishes (to Lisl's annoyance), loved this. Essentially, you make a really good vegetable stew with provencal flavors, and then finish it off with the fish and serve on a bed of rice. Most satisfying!

wine bottleOur fishmonger had some really good looking tuna, so I had him cut some 1/2 slices adding up to just over a pound. I think a firm fleshed fish like tuna or halibut is best for this recipe. We served this dish with a delicious white wine from the Jongieux region in France called Carrel Vin de Savoie, and some freshly baked bread.

Provencal Fish Stew
Serves 4 to 6

~1 lb raw tuna, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 large vidalia onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 medium zucchini, halved and sliced
1 green pepper, chopped
1 fennel bulb, chopped
7 small/medium garlic cloves (and if you really love garlic, it can take more)
large handful of kalamata olives, chopped
1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup dry white wine (or dry vermouth)
1/2 cup water
handful of parsley, chopped
handful of fennel fronds, chopped
large sprig of thyme (or several, tied together)
1 bay leaf
4 or 5 medium tomatoes, sliced
1 medium red onion, sliced into rings
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper
olive oil
served with 1 cup of long grain white rice

fish stew mise

In a dutch oven or stew pot, heat up a splash of olive oil on moderate heat and saute the onions until translucent. Add in the zucchini and cook for 5 minutes, then add in the chopped celery, fennel, green pepper and garlic, along with a couple pinches of salt (not too much since the olives will add saltiness). Continue to saute for another 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and letting the vegetables get tender.

Finely chop the parsley and fennel frond and add to the pot. Toss in a bay leaf and a large sprig of fresh thyme, along with the 1/2 cup of white wine, 1/2 cup of water, crushed tomatoes, kalamata olives, and juice from half a lemon. Stir all together and cook on a light simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes.

fish stew - in process

Thinly slice the tomatoes and add to the pot. Thinly slice the red onion into rings and stir into the pot. Cover and continue to cook on a light simmer for 20 to 30 more minutes, letting all the flavors meld together. Taste for salt and pepper.

Slice the tuna into rough cubes about 1/2 to 1 inch a side. Start cooking your rice.

When your rice is 5 to 10 minutes from being done, add the tuna to the stew pot. The fish should only need 5 to 10 minutes to become firm and cook through, no more.

Plate by spooning a mound of rice into a bowl, ladle the fish stew on top, and then grind a little fresh pepper.

fish stew

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Carbonnades a la Flamande (Beef and Onions Braised in Beer)

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I wonder, as I stumble through the flurry of activities that inevitably follow the arrival of a newborn, if a slight halo of awe still hovers around me. When our daughter arrived almost 4 years ago, the C section at 34 weeks was mentally intense and nerve wracking, albeit ultimately wonderful. Natural childbirth (and for little James, Lisl chose to go entirely natural, without pain medication), on the other hand, was incredibly intense in a physical way and in some ways very surreal.

I was surrounded by women supporting a woman doing something powerful and fundamental, common and yet never ever mundane. It was amazing. The object of my awe is, of course, Lisl. Such strength and bravery through the 41 hour labor process was magnificent to behold. I know that these are not unique feelings in a husband after the birth of a child, yet the very ubiquity of my emotions is one of the quirks of this thing called childbirth. It is commonplace and continual, and yet so colossal every single time. I never quite grasped that until now.

However, the title of this blog post isn't "ruminations on childbirth". Food! I wanted Lisl's first meal home from the hospital to be excellent, but I also knew that I was only going to have sporadic time available... it needed to be something I could start the night before. Richard Olney has a great recipe for beef and beer stew, but I decided to try merging two different Julia Child inspirations: Onion Soup and Carbonnades a la Flamande (beef and onions braised in beer).

French onion soup gets so much flavor from the long cooking and carmelization of the onions, so I brought that step to this recipe. The sweetness of the extra-carmelized onions complements the beer really well. I did not use any beef broth or water; rather the beef and onions was braised entirely in a "black and tan", i.e. one stout and one pale ale (there's lots of flexibility on beer choice -- it's very personal preference: Julia Child calls for a pilsner-type beer, and this is also really good with a Belgian abbey-styled brew).

I cooked the braise for a very long time on low heat, and the results were rich and delicious. When it received high compliments from both Lisl and my visiting mother, who got me started with a love of cooking, I knew that this was a winner. I do not have a photo of the plated dish, but with new baby and visiting family, I'm sure you will let me off the hook!

Carbonnades a la Flamande (Black and Tan)
(Beef, Onion and Beer Stew)

3 lb chuck steak
5 or 6 medium to large yellow or spanish onions
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp brown sugar
handful of parsley w/ stems
1 bay leaf
1 bottle of a good stout beer (Guinness most common)
1 bottle of pale ale (Bass or Harp)

Pre-heat oven to 300F.

Cut the beef into slices about 2 inches by 4 inches, and 1/2 inch thick. In a dutch oven, heat a splash of olive oil on medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles, then brown the beef in batches, adding more oil as needed between batches.You just want to sear the outside, but not fully cook the beef. Cook the meat in batches so that the beef is not packed in too closely together. Set the browned beef and any juices aside on a large plate or bowl. Deglaze the bottom of the pot with a small amount of water and pour the juices over the beef.

Place the pot back on the stove top. It is now time for the onions.


Peel the onions, cut them in half, and then slice them very thin. On low, heat 3 tbsp of butter and 1 tbsp of olive oil in a dutch oven or stewing pot, and slowly saute the onions for 15 minutes. Stir in 1/2 tsp of salt and 2 tbsp of brown sugar, turn up the heat to moderate, and cook for 30 to 40 minutes until the onions are golden and starting to brown. Turn off the heat and remove onions to the side.

Create a layer of half the beef on the bottom of the pot, then spoon half the onions on top and spread around. Tie the parsley and bay leaf together with kitchen twine and place on top of the onions. Sprinkle a pinch of salt around.

Then create a layer with the rest of the beef, and top with the remaining onions and a pinch of salt sprinkled around.


Pour in the beer until the beef and onions are just covered. For me, it took the full contents of both the bottle of stout (in my case, I used Keegan's Mothers Milk) and bottle of pale ale. Bring the stove burner back up to a moderate flame. When the beer is just starting to simmer, cover and place in the oven.


Cook for 2 hours and then uncover and continue to cook for another hour or two until the liquid has concentrated down somewhat and the meat is completely tender. Skim the fat oil off the top. Taste the remaining liquid, and adjust the flavor with a sprinkle of salt or brown sugar if you desire.


The above picture was actually taken after I had served much of the top layer of beef, which is why the meat looks so shredded because it really falls apart at the lightest touch at this point. However, I wanted to show color and consistency.

I served this with basmati rice and swiss chard sauted with a touch of lemon juice, and my father brought the most amazing red wine. It was a fitting celebration of Lisl and the new baby.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Meet James

James, shortly after birth
James, shortly after birth

James, first morning
His first morning

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pork Pie, Bloggers, and Fritters

colloquial cooking's pork pie dinner

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Claire, author of the Colloquial Cooking blog, invited a few of us over to dinner the other night to try out her pork pie stuffed with berkshire pork shoulder and ham and made with a lard crust. Pork? Pie? Now those are two of my favorite words! I'm looking forward to her posting the recipe because it was magnificent. [UPDATE: recipe is here!] She paired it perfectly with a frisee salad, lightly coated with vinaigrette. I went back for thirds.

Also at dinner were Marc of No Recipes, his lovely partner Liz, and Stephane from Chefs Gone Wild. It is always fun meeting up with food bloggers and geeking out over food. I am always reminded how much I have yet to learn when it comes to food. That is one thing I love about cooking: there is an eternal learning curve and always new challenges around the bend (as long as you're willing to shake things up a bit).

This was also a last outing before the new baby arrives, so I was enjoying my taste of freedom considerably! mmmm red wine. pork pie. red wine. pork pie.

Marc also whipped up a killer sticky toffee pudding, with rum-soaked dates, to go with the English theme. That's him on the bottom left opening a stubborn bottle of vanilla with pliers. There is no stopping the MacGyver power of No Recipes.

Thank you Claire for a wonderful dinner, and get that pork pie recipe up!

Speed Meal: Corn and Zucchini Fritters

The Bill Granger corn fritters recipe, paired with a rice vinegar, jalapeno and sugar dipping sauce, was one of my favorite discoveries last year. A few nights ago, when work required a very fast meal thrown together, I went back to the recipe and was reminded how delicious and simple this is.

The ingredients are listed here [link], and on that page is also a link to The Wednesday Chef where I first discovered it.

This time around, I used a fresh green jalapeno for the dipping sauce. It is not as pretty, but tastes just as good. I also grated up two zucchinis to add to the mixture (squeezing the grated zucchini to reduce moisture), and swapped parsley for cilantro. Loved it.

The recipe is a synch. Toss the dipping sauce ingredients in a pot and let it cook down a bit. Toss the batter ingredients in a bowl and mix, then stir in the vegetables, and then cook in a heavy-bottomed pan (a big cast iron skillet is perfect) with a splash of oil.

We paired this with a simple salad and chilled prosecco. I was one happy camper.

corn and zucchini fritters

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Savoring Spring: Lamb Merguez and Lentil Stew

wine bottle

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Emerging from winter always brings an interesting feeling of renewal. Just the other day, I was sadly mired in longing for real produce. Tomatoes so fresh they are a meal unto themselves. Opening the door to pick a handful of basil and thyme. The flood of zucchinis and Japanese eggplant.

There is still quite a wait to reach those days, but at least yesterday we had deliciously warm weather. In an amusing dichotomy, the kids down the street had a snowball fight in short sleeves and shorts. As for me, I enjoyed an almost French stroll with my dog, walking into town and returning home with supplies from the butcher and the wine shop. If I was not baking my own bread these days, a baguette would have completed the picture. And some cheese. Really good cheese. And why do the carrots you find in French outdoor markets make our carrots look so pathetic? I digress. French markets do that.

I was pleased to see that our butcher had made some fresh lamb merguez sausages, and that became our dinner. I threw together a country stew that was quick to make and complemented the full-bodied Spanish red I had picked up. This kind of meal is cozy and handy when time is short. You want to make sure you like the sausages, since they provide much of the flavor heavy-lifting in the stew.

Lamb Merguez and Lentil Stew

Serves 2
4 lamb merguez sausages, skins removed and chopped
1 onion, diced
14 oz whole, skinless tomatoes, chopped (with liquid)
1/2 cup green lentils
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water
10 oz spinach, washed and chopped
2 eggs (optional)

In a deep saute pan, heat up a splash of olive oil and brown the sausage meat, then remove to the side. Place a tablespoon of the oil back in the pan, and discard the rest.

Saute the onions until translucent, then add in the tomatoes and cook for a couple of minutes. Add in the lentils, wine, water and sausage meat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Stir in the spinach and continue to let simmer for 15 more minutes, or until the lentils are soft. If the stew starts looking too dry, add a little more water (you want it to finish moist but not soupy). Salt to taste -- this will depend on the strength of the sausages.

I served this with the wine and some thickly sliced bread, but if we had not been out of eggs, I would finished the stew off with two eggs baked on top (with a little ground pepper and a pinch of paprika on top, and the pot covered and on low heat). Apparently this is trendy now, but I ignore such things. I just think it would have tasted great. To see what I am talking about, check out We Are Never Full's Eggs Cooked in Ragu.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi

spinach ricotta gnocchi

I love gnocchi. I constantly order it at restaurants and yet until tonight I had not made it in over a decade. However, every time I see a gnocchi recipe my brain sings out, "must make!" I landed myself in a nice bundle of hot water earlier this year after passing on a complicated gnocchi recipe to my friend Becky -- without trying it. She did try it, and let's just say it was not a smashing success.

When I saw Elise's Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi post on Simply Recipes, my brain did the same thing. And I said to Becky, "this one looks much better!" She said, "YOU get to try it first this time." Fair is fair.

I ended up making the gnocchi and serving it with fresh asparagus, pancetta and to try something new, a vinaigrette sauce. However, this post is not really about the whole dish because while I like gnocchi and asparagus, and I like asparagus and vinaigrette, I didn't think all three went together in a blog-worthy fashion. It wasn't bad, but it was not great either. So goes experimentation. (See update below for a better approach)

The good news is that this time, the recipe is a good referral. Making gnocchi is not the fastest process in the world, but Elise's recipe is really quite delicious and I am happy to have half of the dough still in the fridge so I can have another go with a more traditional sauce.

Here is a link to the full recipe, and below are a few notes:

1. Her ingredients call for nutmeg, but I didn't see it mentioned in the description. To me, the logical place for addition would be mixed in the food processor with the egg, salt, spinach and ricotta.

2. I first tried mixing the "dough" with my hands (her step #2) but found it to be near impossible because it was so sticky. I ended up using a spoon for most of the process, and near the end using a spoon and my other hand.

3. While this could be because I had to eyeball 1.5 lb of ricotta, I found that the dough wanted a bit more flour to shift from being a sticky mass to being a bit more dough-like. I used about 2 full cups.

4. I recommend splitting the dough into 4 smaller portions, wrapping each separately in plastic wrap, and placing into the fridge for an hour before commencing with the gnocchi creation.

5. once the gnocchi float, let them cook for a 2 or 3 more minutes before removing to a baking tray to dry

UPDATE: I made a second batch of gnocchi and served with a sauce of mushrooms and shallots sauted in a few tablespoons of butter (yeah I know), with a little salt and pepper, and it was delicious.

Review: A Homemade Life (Orangette)

Orangette's new book

Readers of Orangette all know that Molly Wizenberg can write. Her new book, A Homemade Life, is personal and touching and clever, with words that reflect the soft-focus photographs found on her blog that synthesize honesty and beauty in such an interesting way. The book is a series of delightful vignettes that align biographical anecdotes with recipes. While her stories are interesting and her recall of charming details is impressive, it is really the shape and rhythm and choice of words that won me over so completely.

Molly is willing to bare her humanity, and is as unashamed to write about her quirks and crushes as how much she loves her parents. She is not trying to be cool, and you adore her for it. She gives the reader a heartwarming lense into her life, very different from the "can't look away from the car wreck" titillation so popular in modern tell-all books and reality shows. Her narrative voice is youthful, but not naive nor saccharine.

Above all, you see how much she loves food (in particular, cake -- she's big into cake). We both love comfort food, and while Orangette tends towards the baking/dessert side of things, and I steer towards savory, there are still quite a few recipes in this book that I am looking forward to trying, all clearly explained.

As is most obvious, I recommend the book very highly. I hope you are as delighted as I was.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Braised Lamb Shanks with Orzo

braised lamb shank w orzo

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One thing I love about cooking is the freedom to embrace influences and the cumulative lessons of history. As a cook, one can learn from a rich body of experience built up within and across cultures, while preserving one's own sense of self and style. In other words, derivative doesn't have to be a bad word when it comes to cooking. The global synthesis of culinary ideas is celebrated.

This freedom is more fleeting in art, where there is a stronger fear of being derivative, partially driven by an art economy that places "new" on a pedestal. In food there is certainly a celebration of innovation, hence the fame of E Bulli and Alinea, but perhaps because cooking is as physical as it is mental, there is a greater acceptance, even glorification, of tradition and the merger of past and present. The physical also provides boundaries for how far things can be stretched. If something tastes bad, no amount of curatorial exposition can explain it into a good experience (though no doubt, some try).

So why the long introduction? Well, this recipe was triggered because I dropped by a lovely Greek food blog, Kali Orexi, and saw Maria's chicken baked with orzo. Stopped the mental presses. Slammed on the browser brakes. I knew one thing at that moment: I had to bake the lamb shanks lurking in my fridge with orzo.

Then I spent an enjoyable part of this morning researching lamb shank cooking techniques in order to synthesize my own dish. I traversed numerous cookbooks (Child, Boulud, Tanis, Brown, etc) and many websites/blogs (Epicurious, Cookstr, Simply Recipes, Wednesday Chef, etc), and got some good ideas and discovered some cool things for future recipes.

The end results of this particular meal were fabulous. I do not always love lamb, but the flavor combinations were great, and I was also working with very young lamb carried by Fleishers, my favorite butcher. After flubbing a dinner on Friday night (I managed to create a tasteless pork chop brine, it seems... yes, the talent!), it was quite a relief to believe that I can cook after all! When an Aussie tells you that you did a good job with lamb, I think that means you can feel a sense of accomplishment, even if she is your wife (or should that be, especially?!).

braised lamb shank w orzo

Braised Lamb Shanks with Orzo
Serves two or three

2 lamb shanks (approx 1 lb each)
1 large vidalia or spanish onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, peeled
4 stalks of parsley
1/2 cup of dry vermouth
1 to 2 cups of chicken broth
2 pinches of ground savory
2 pinches of ground sage
2 pinches of dried thyme (or a few stalks of fresh thyme)
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
1 cup orzo

For prep, preheat oven to 300F and heat up your chicken broth in a saucepan or microwave.

Lightly salt the shanks. On a high flame, heat up a healthy splash of olive oil in a dutch oven large enough to fit the lamb shanks, and brown all sides of the lamb shanks, then remove the shanks to the side. Immediately lower the heat to medium-low and place the onions in the pot, stirring for a few minutes, and then add the carrots and celery. Cook for several minutes and add in the tomato paste, and cook for several more minutes.

Deglaze the bottom of the pan with the vermouth, and then place the shanks back in the pot. Add in enough chicken broth to reach about halfway up the shanks. Add in the garlic, herbs, bay leaf, and 1/4 tsp coarse salt.

Cover and place in the oven. Braise for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, turning the meat every hour.

Near the end of the braising period, bring a large pot of water to boil. You will use this to partially cook the orzo before adding the pasta to the dutch oven.

Remove the dutch oven from the oven, and remove the shanks to a side plate. Discard the garlic cloves. Spoon out the fat/oil from the surface of the liquid (this is the most painstaking part of this entire recipe). While you are doing this, boil the orzo for no more than 5 or 6 minutes in your pot of boiling water. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the starchy water (although if there is very little liquid left in your dutch oven, you might reserve a bit more), and drain the orzo.

At this point, you should have skimmed as much oil as you can from the top of the liquid and vegetables in the dutch oven. Stir in the 1/2 cup of orzo-cooking water, and then stir in the orzo itself. Place the shanks back on top, and return to the oven, uncovered, for 15 more minutes.

Finally, remove the shanks to the side, remove the meat from the bones and gristle, and sprinkle with a little salt. Taste the orzo and vegetables for salt and pepper (I found that this dish wanted a lot of ground pepper, but do so to your taste). Serve the lamb on a bed of the orzo mixture.

This dish pairs nicely with a relatively full-bodied red wine, such as a strong zinfindel but a shiraz or cabernet sauvingon would also be nice.