Ossobuco and Saffron Risotto – destined to be your next wonderful food memory

Osso Bucco

I feel like this recipe isn’t right for the kind of weather we’re having this week, but you never know – in Lubbock it’s sunny and 70 one day and the next day it snows 4″ (true story).  So maybe by the time you read this, it will be frosty, again.

I had ossobuco for the first time six years ago in our tiny apartment, cooked by Matt, and ate it sitting on the floor, pulled up to a coffee table watching t.v.  I shamefully write that, but at the time, I don’t believe we had a dining table.  Hard to remember why else we’d eat such a nice meal on the coffee table, so dangerously close to our dog.  What I do remember is how amazed I was at the flavor of the braised meat and how strange I thought it was that Matt said you were supposed to sprinkle this parsley junk on top.  The “parsley junk” was actually gremolada and it’s actually really perfect to cut the richness of the dish.  Parsley, lemon peel and garlic cut right through the melting texture of the veal shank.  I instantly loved the combination.  We made a lot of food discoveries in that apartment.  Neither of us grew up with a whole lot of adventurous cooking in the house, but when we got married, the adventure began. Neither of us knew what we were doing (I knew the basics and how to navigate the kitchen and Matt can follow a recipe to a fault) but we had an obsession with the then-better Food Network and cookbooks and chef biographies and eating and really, you need little else in order to get on with your own cooking adventure.

Matt and I have a saying about pizza that there’s really no bad pizza.  Cardboard frozen pizza, pizza pockets, bagel bites – we’ll eat any of it.  And I feel the same way about risotto, ossobuco’s best friend.  We’ve made it too thick and we’ve made it too crunchy and we’ve made it too thin and I’ve even been at a restaurant where they FRIED it, and in the confession booth, I would have to admit that I loved it all.  It’s just…comforting.  It’s a rice dish that could very well be as comforting as mac and cheese, and that’s saying something coming from an American.

Since I’d been to the lovely Ghandi Bazaar a few weeks ago and bought some ridiculously cheap saffron, we decided that for this meal, we’d just do it up right (we’d always omitted the expensive ingredient) and use the saffron.  If you need to borrow a pinch and you live close, drop on in.  Or go see the lovely people at the Ghandi Bazaar on 34th and Quaker.  They keep it behind the counter.

Ossobuco – Braised Veal Shanks, Milanese Style*
(serves 6-8)

1 cup onion, chopped fine
2/3 cup carrot, chopped fine
2/3 cup celery, chopped fine
4 tbs butter
1 tsp garlic, you guessed it, chopped fine
2 strips lemon peel (I just took a carrot peeler to it and cut two, long strips off the length of the lemon
1/3 cup vegetable oil
8 – 11/2 inch thick slices of veal shank, tied tightly with string around the middle (you may need to ask the butcher to cut these, but they nearly always have them in the back)
Flour, spread on a plate
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup beef broth
1 1/2 cups canned plum tomatoes, chopped with juice
1/2 tsp fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp dried
2 bay leaves
2 or 3 sprigs of parsley
Black pepper and salt

1 recipe Gremolada (follows)
1 recipe Milanese style saffron risotto (follows)

Preheat the oven to 350.
In a heavy bottomed dutch oven or stock pot, heat to medium and throw in the onion, carrot, celery and butter and cook for 6 to 7 minutes.  Add the chopped garlic and lemon peel and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes until the vegetables soften and wilt.  Remove from heat.
Put the vegetable oil in a separate skillet and turn on the heat to meium high.  Turn the veal shanks in the flour, coating them all over and shaking off the excess.  Don’t do this ahead of time or they will get soggy.  When the oil is shimmering hot, add the shanks in two batches of four (they should cover the bottom of the pan but not be crowded) and brown evenly on all sides.  Remove them from the skillet and place them side by side over the chopped vegetables in the dutch oven.
Tip the skillet and spoon away all but a little bit of the oil.  Add the wine, reduce it by simmering it over medium heat while scraping loose with a wooden spooon the residues that get stuck to the bottom and sides.  pour the skillet juices over the veal in the pot.
Pout the broth in the skillet, bring to a simmer, and add it to the pot.  Also add the chopped tomatoes with their juices, the thyme, bay leaves, parsley, pepper and salt.  The broth should have come up two-thirds of the way up the sides of the shanks.  If it does not, add a little more.
Bring the liquids in the pot to a simmer, cover the pot tightly, and place it in the lower third of a preheated oven.  Cook for about 2 hours or until the meat feels very tender when prodded with a fork and a dense sauce has formed.  Don’t be in a rush – more cooking is better than not enough.
When the ossobuco is done, transfer it to a warm platter, removing the trussing strings, pour the sauces in the pot over them and serve at once on top of a bed of risotto and garnished (on the side) with gremolada.


1 tsp grated lemon peel (buy a Microplane)
1/4 tsp minced garlic (buy a Microplane)
1 tbs chopped parsley

Mix ’em all up.

Saffron Risotto

Saffron Risotto, Milanese Style*
(serves 6)

1 cup canned beef broth, diluted with 4 cups water
2 tbs diced pancetta
3 tbs butter
2 tbs vegetable oil
2 tbs onion, chopped fine
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 tsp saffron threads dissolved in one cup of broth
Black pepper
1/3 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated fresh
Salt, if needed

Bring the broth to a slow, steady simmer on a burner near where you’ll be cooking the risotto.
Put the diced pancetta, one tbs butter and vegetable oil, and the chopped onion in a broad sturdy pot (we use this one – our go-to risotto pan) and turn on the heat to medium high.  Cook and stir the onion until it becomes translucent, then add the rice.  Stir quickly and thoroughly until the grains are coated well.
Add 1/2 cup of simmering broth, and cook, stirring, until all the liquid has mostly evaporated before adding another ladle.  Keep doing this over and over and over and over, stirring all the while.
When the rice has cooked for 15 minutes, add half the dissolved saffron liquid.  Continue to stir, and when there is no more liquid in the pot, add remaining saffron liquid.
Finish cooking the rice, tasting for doneness.  The rice shouldn’t be crunchy any more, but shouldn’t be mushy, either.  Go for that nice al dente, much like pasta.
Off the heat, add a few grindings of pepper, the remaining butter, all the Parmesan and stir thoroughly until the cheese melts and clings to the rice.  Taste and correct for salt.  Serve with ossobuco!

*all recipes come from the wonderful book, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.  Go buy it!

Baby Food – Creamed Spinach and Basil


Yesterday was one of those days when things just weren’t quite right.  I was getting over a stomach virus so I was getting nothing done and Olive refused to eat any part of a dish I cooked because it had peas (a dish she’s eaten before with much gusto), and thus, ate only orange foods and milk all day.  I really haven’t quite figured out days like that.  I try not to put too much thought into it and move on to the next meal, assuming she’ll eat more at dinner if she didn’t eat much at lunch and vice versa.  It’s hard to remember that babies aren’t little robots you can program as you like.  Some days I don’t feel like eating much for lunch, but I’m ravenous at dinner.  Some days I feel like bacon and eggs and toast and jam for breakfast and some days I’m just in the mood for coffee.  I only assume children are the same (maybe not the coffee part.)  I think it’s important in these seemingly picky-eating times to remain consistent.  Don’t start a bad habit just to get through a rough patch.  If through the picky days, we remain calm and smiling and say, “These two things are for lunch – take them or leave them” I think children will catch on a lot quicker that meal times are directed by mom and dad – and not by them.  A world where a baby dictates what we have for dinner – Lord, help us all…

Today was a little bit better.  Olive ate a two ounce portion of this spinach basil dish, and some leftover mango from yesterday – that was lunch!  Oh, and bits of our chicken, after we thought she had enough to eat 🙂

This is, by far, one of my favorite side dishes, and one of my favorite ways to cook/eat/enjoy spinach.  Matt and I found this recipe from watching an episode of Martha Stewart Living, where the great Jean-Georges Vongerichten cooked his amazing chicken and potatoes (where the potatoes are better than the chicken) and served this spinach on the side.  What a warm, comforting, indulgent family meal!  We have made both of these recipes multiple times over the past few years and each time, they feel new and exciting.  The spinach and basil would be absolutely perfect at Thanksgiving as a side dish.  There’s something about the basil that adds so much depth of flavor to the dish.  The cream helps with that, too…

Today, I didn’t have any fennel or serrano peppers, so I left them out of the original recipe, (which I highly recommend)  but I found it to still be wonderful and ideal for a baby in the 8 month and up range.  To make this for a baby just introduced to solids, simply blend with a couple tablespoons of water or chicken stock.

Creamed Spinach and Basil

serves 4 small portions.  Or 2 and a hungry baby

  • Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
  • 3 cups tightly packed spinach leaves
  • 3 cups tightly packed basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
  • 3 tablespoons very finely chopped celery
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add spinach and basil and cook until wilted. Immediately transfer to an ice-water bath. Drain and squeeze dry; coarsely chop and set aside. (It looks like there’s hardly enough for one person – it spreads out and thickens up with the addition of the other ingredients, promise.)

  2. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and shallots and cook until golden. Add celery and continue cooking until soft and translucent.

  3. Add cream and let reduce until thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add spinach and basil and stir to combine. Cook until warmed through. Season with salt and pepper; serve immediately.


Spinach and Basil 2


A little side note for any moms out there who might have a similar issue to me – Olive eats more…diligently…if she is holding something in her hand.  I am not a fan of letting her try to feed herself, yet, and letting her hold a toy is too distracting.  Most things are too distracting, but if we find that she can’t focus on the meal, I usually offer her one of her “salt and pepper” shakers.  She can hold them in her hands and it almost seems the instant she grabs one, she will happily take several more bites.  So, these are her salt and pepper shakers.  Filled with white and long grain black rice, respectively.  They make a nice shaking sound, the rice stays IN the container, and later, as she develops, she can even pretend to season her food.  Although we will certainly teach her to not season before she tastes, as a courtesy to the chef. 😉

spinach and basil 4


spinach and basil 3



Bye-bye, Papa (said every day after lunch when he goes back to work – she’s going to be one tomorrow – how on earth did we get to this point?)



Cod with Brussels Sprouts and a Garlic Cream Sauce


I ran across a wonderful blog the other day that is an answer to a question I’d been asking myself since I first read Bringing up Bebe and French Kids Eat Everything.  What is a good example of a weekly menu that a typical Frenchie would have in their home, every day, WITH a baby?  Behold, the lovely blog, French Foodie Baby, written by a French woman who lives in L.A.  At the beginning of the week, she posts a menu of what they’ll be eating for lunch, snack (gouter) and dinner.  I love how adventurous she is with her cooking and while she has the luxury of living in a city with tons of markets and options, I have found that I can adapt the recipes pretty well for us.

French kids only have one snack per day and it’s usually at 4 p.m.  We’ve already started this habit in our house with Olive that she doesn’t eat anywhere but the table, and she only gets one snack around 3 or 4.  If she acts hungry 30 minutes before dinner, either Matt or I will go distract her in the other room by playing until dinner is ready.  She is usually quite hungry for lunch and dinner and does pretty well at restaurants because she’s hungry and will eat as long as we do (while turning 360’s in her high chair to check out the scene, of course.) As two moms at a restaurant pointed out the other night, “She’s been sitting here for an hour! Well, just wait till she’s two…”  Ah, the “just you wait” threat.  Moms give it to me on a weekly basis.  I am fully aware that a year old is way different than two, and that we will have to be extremely diligent in our efforts at mealtimes, but I’m confident that starting now, instead of at two, or whenever the eating issues arise, will make things much easier for us in the future.

This fish recipe was taken from the French Foodie Baby blog nearly word for word.  We enjoyed it very much, but I will warn that if this is the first time your baby has had roasted garlic, go easy.  (she suggests the baby be 8-10 months old for trying this for the first time.  We gave Olive’s portion a rough chop so they’d all be bite-sized pieces) Olive’s diaper the next day was…epic.  My fault.  She’d had plenty of garlic before, but maybe it was just too much?  Anyway, I would suggest straining out the garlic clove before preparing a small portion for your baby.


Cod with Brussels Sprouts and Garlic Cream Sauce

Serves 4

1 lb Brussels sprouts

5 garlic cloves
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1 lb cod fillets (this turned into two large filets for me, but I cut it down into 4 portions)
4 thin slices of pancetta (I had proscuitto in the fridge and it worked just fine)
4 pinches of caraway seeds
Salt & pepper
Preheat the oven at 350°F.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Quarter the Brussels sprouts and wash them. Plunge them in the boiling water for two minutes, drain them and cool them off under cold running water. Set them aside on a kitchen towel.
Wrap the garlic cloves (unpeeled) in parchment paper and bake them for 15 minutes.
Remove the skin and mash them with a fork. Combine with the heavy cream in a small saucepan and set aside.
Cut the cod into four pieces, and cut 4 squares of parchment papers.
On each square of paper, place a bed of Brussels sprouts, a piece of black cod and a slice of pancetta on top. Sprinkle with pepper and some caraway seeds.
Wrap the parcels and tie each end with kitchen string.  (Note: you can make these ahead of time and keep them in the fridge until ready to bake)
Place the four parcels directly on the bottom of the oven and bake 12-15 minutes.
Place the saucepan with the garlic and cream over low heat. Add a sprinkle of salt and some pepper. Bring to a low simmer.
Place each parcel on a plate, open it and pour the cream of garlic over the fish.
codsprouts finished

Remembering Paris: Cassoulet


Paris at night


There are some dishes that stay with you forever.  My mind is there right now: evening in Paris. Sitting on the patio of a corner bistro, watching people go by, hearing a street performer play an accordion in the distance, sipping a glass of wine and waiting for our meal to arrive.  I ordered Cassoulet – a rich dish of slow braised sausages, duck confit, bacon, white beans and magic.  Yes, magic.  We had dozens of great meals in our two weeks in France, but this one, as humble as it might appear, was in my top 5.  And that list includes a meal at the #11 restaurant in the world.  I can’t explain the richness of this dish, the depth of flavor, the smokiness of the charred bacon, the sweetness of the sausages and the duck confit, which seems to be one of the most common menu items in France and the first real meal we ordered in France after our first day car wreck fiasco.   Cassoulet is  just a perfect representation of the love the French have for food and for sharing that love with others.  When you taste this dish, you taste soul.  It’s not simply a list of ingredients.  It’s time, thought, care and enthusiasm for ingredients, all wrapped up into one, steamy bowl of goodness.

Just in case you want to go there for dinner tonight. 😉 You don’t need a reservation, but please don’t be an American dummy and show up before 8:30 for dinner: Brasserie de l’Île St-Louis – 55 Quai Bourbon, 75004 Paris, France 33 1 43 54 02 59 ‎

I was happy to try the Bonne Femme’s version of cassoulet yesterday.  I knew, with the spirit of this cookbook, that it probably wouldn’t call for duck confit (thank goodness – we just ran out) 😉 and that I could probably accomplish it in one afternoon.  I was right! This recipe is totally accessible to the home cook and I happily got to serve it to both Matt, Olive, and my parents, who were in town visiting for the day.  My mom sent me a text after they got back home and said, “You need to write about that dish.”  So here you go:


Pork and White Bean Cassoulet Ce Soir*
serves 6

2 cups Great Northern beans, rinsed and picked over
2 to 2.5 lbs bone-in country-style ribs, cut in half (the butcher might do this for you if you ask nicely and have a cute baby with you)
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon, plus 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
3 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces (we like Wright’s)
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced (have you bought a Microplane, yet?)
1/2 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence, crushed
1/2 cup dry sherry
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained
12 oz sweet Italian sausage, pricked with a fork all over and cut into 6 pieces

  • Soak the beans overnight in enough water to cover them about 2 inches deep; drain and set aside.  OR bring them to a boil for 2 minutes, remove from heat, cover and let stand for one hour.
  • Season ribs with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven (a large stainless steal stock pot with a heavy bottom works, too).  Add the ribs and cook, turning occasionally, until brown on all sides, about 10 minutes.  Transfer the ribs to a plate.  Cook the bacon in the pan until crisp.  Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain.
  • Drain off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan.  Add the bell pepper and onion and cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and herbes de Provence and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  • Remove the pan from the heat.  Add the sherry and return the pan to the heat (this is to keep you from burning your eyebrows off, should the sherry decide to ignite on your stove.) Bring to a boil and boil, stirring to loosen all the good stuff from the bottom of the pan, until the sherry is reduced by half, about 1 minute.  Add the beans, bacon, chicken broth, and drained tomatoes to the pan; top with the ribs.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, cover tightly and simmer for about 1 hour (the ribs won’t be done at this point).
  • After the pot has been simmering for about 45 minutes, heat the remaining two teaspoons of olive oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat.  Cook the sausage pieces, turning to brown evenly, for about 5 minutes (the sausage won’t be cooked through, but that’s okay).
  • Add the sausage pieces to the pan, pushing them down into the stew so that they are fully submerged.  Bring back to a boil.  Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the sausage is cooked through, the ribs are nearly tender, and the beans are tender, about 15 minutes more.  At this point, I went to Target with my mom and left the pot on the stove at the lowest setting.  So it bubbled away for probably an extra hour, but not at a simmer. It just stayed warm.  I really think you could do this if you made the dish too early or wanted to leave it on your stove for the afternoon, just staying warm.  I think if anything, it just made the meat more tender.
  • Uncover the pot and increase the heat so that the stew comes to an active simmer.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced, the ribs are tender, and the stew has thickened, 10 to 15 minutes.  Taste and adjust the seasonings.
  • Serve in wide, shallow bowls, with a piece of sausage, a piece of pork and plenty of beans in each bowl.  The Southerner in me made cornbread to serve with cold butter on the side to help soak up the extra juices.

*almost word for word from page 200 of The Bonne Femme Cookbook, except, of course, the part about Target.