Irish Lamb Stew – a taste of home, no matter where you’re from

Saint Patricks Day - Irish Stew
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!  I confess I don’t know a lot about the real dishes of Ireland; the dishes people grew up eating around their family tables.  I only know that around here, people eat corned beef and cabbage and drink copious amounts of Guiness Stout.  In order to do something a little more authentic than four leaf clover shaped cookies, I consulted my fabulous and too-far-away friend, Elisha Clarke on some of her favorite Irish dishes.  Elisha was born and raised in Ireland and TODAY is her birthday!  I very much feel the luck of the Irish because I know her!  She is an amazing photographer and I hope one day I can go hang out with her in Ireland and see first hand the beauty she gets to photograph every day.
Irish Stew with Country Bread
When I asked her about dishes she grew up loving, she listed five or so and Irish stew actually wasn’t one of her favorites, haha.  But then she sent me a link to a cute, Irish celebrity chef doing this stew on Jaime Oliver’s show and he made it look so simple and delicious, I had to try it!  It came together easily and as it cooked for over an hour, I had time to relax with my family!  As I took the first bite, I was immediately transported to my own dining table as a child.  My mom made beef stew quite often and would let it simmer on the stove while we were at church.  I always loved it and she served it with saltine crackers that we’d crush up into our stew.  Tasting this very similar Irish lamb version made me smile – thousands of miles separate the humble meals of working class Americans and working class Irish, yet we are instantly connected by a warm meal.  Elisha mentioned that her country has very poor origins and so therefore, the traditional dishes are very humble in nature.  I think all the best dishes in any culture originate from people making the best of what they have been given.  My family did it, Elisha’s family did it, and if I were to guess, I’d say that probably most of you could relate to that story, as well.  A simple bowl of warm stew on a cold evening can comfort and connect family and friends, no matter how far apart.
Irish Stew
Irish Lamb Stew*
serves 6

2 TBS vegetable oil
2lb 3oz lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1 inch chunks (could also use beef chuck roast)
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
3 celery stalks, trimmed and sliced
1 bay leaf
4 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 1/2 cups beef stock
2 lbs potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices
3 TBS butter cut into small cubes
salt and ground black pepper to taste
slices of country bread, to serve

Place a large, flameproof casserole pot over a high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and brown the lamb pieces in two batches. Remove and set aside on a plate. Reduce the heat to medium–high, add another tablespoon of oil and fry the onion, celery and carrot for 4–6 minutes or until the onions have softened.

Preheat the oven to 325F. Return the meat to the pot, along with the bay leaf and stock, season with kosher salt and ground black pepper and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and push the slices of potato down into and across the top of the stew, dot with the butter and give a final seasoning of sea salt and ground black pepper. Cover and place in the oven to cook for about 1½ hours or until the meat is tender, then remove the lid and cook for a further 10 minutes until the potatoes have browned.

Serve the stew in deep bowls with crusty, buttered bread to mop up all the juices!  Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

*minimally adapted from Donal Skehan’s beautiful recipe

Rosemary Crusted Pork Chop with Coconut Milk Braised Carrots

Rosemary Pork and Carrots006

This is a good meal for many reasons.  The pork chops were actually a good thickness, and lean, and were buy one pack, get another pack for free (4 really thick chops in each package.  I get ridiculously excited for discounts in the meat department.)   I bought a 5 pound bag of carrots two weeks ago, and so I am currently looking for different ways to prepare them, and found a stunningly simple and flavorful way on one of my favorite blogs, French Foodie Baby.  Say what you will about my French obsession, but those people KNOW their food, and from a very loving depth that centers around family and love of pure ingredients.  Helene, from FFB, is one of the best writers in the myriad of food blogs out there. I literally exhale with relaxation when I read her posts.  She challenges me and inspires me and makes me want to be better at being thoughtful about what I put on the plate for my family.

The braised carrots in coconut milk was from her blog and I just took the concept and did it in a much bigger batch on my stove so that I’d have leftover finger foods for Olive for the week.  And so I could use up the never ending bag of carrots.  I swear that thing is multiplying.

I don’t know much, but I do know that pork and rosemary are best friends.  So when I saw that Helene put rosemary in with her coconut milk to braise the carrots, I thought: instant pan sauce!  And it turned out wonderful!  The extra sauce from the carrots made an amazing garnish for a thick, crispy, rosemary-infused pork chop!  I was happy with this meal and wanted to share its simplicity and comfort-food qualities with you today!

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Rosemary Pork and Carrots005

Rosemary Crusted Pork Chop with Coconut Milk Braised Carrots
serves 4-6

4 boneless pork chops, thick cut, if you can find them (the ones I found were about an inch thick)
1/4 cup flour
Salt and pepper – about a half teaspoon of each
2 tbs chopped fresh rosemary – I would think dried would be fine, but it wouldn’t be as aromatic
4 tbs butter or olive oil for pan frying the chops

For the carrots:
1 lb carrots, peeled and chopped into half inch rounds
1 can of coconut milk
2 cloves of garlic, crushed but left mostly in tact
two sprigs of fresh rosemary
salt and pepper to taste

Get the carrots on the stove to braise first, as they take the longest.  In a deep skillet, heat the coconut milk over medium heat along with the cloves of crushed garlic and the rosemary sprigs.  Add in the carrots and let it simmer on the stove until the carrots are tender, about 20 minutes.  I put a lid on halfway through as to not lose too much moisture.  When the carrots are done, remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

For the chops: pat them dry with paper towels and season both sides with salt and pepper.  Put the flour and rosemary and a few dashes more of salt and pepper in a bowl and toss well to combine.  Coat each side of the chops in the flour mixture and set aside.  Heat the butter or olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat until shimmering (or bubbling if using butter) and add in the chops, cooking about 5-6 minutes per side.  If they are browning too quickly, reduce the heat after you get a good sear/crust on each side of the chop.  If your chops are really thick, you may need to transfer them to a preheated oven to finish cooking.  I had to do this for one of the chops because it was way bigger than the rest and wouldn’t cook through without burning the crust.  At any rate, you need a meat thermometer for this because we no longer have to cook our pork to death to be safe.  Some farmer told me that no one’s gotten sick from pork in years, but everyone is still cooking it like they could.  A pink center is fine – I made sure mine got up to 150-160 and called it good, regardless of how the centers looked.

Place the chops on plates and for the sauce garnish, move the carrots to a bowl, reserving about a 1/2 cup of the coconut milk in the pan.  Taste for salt and season as necessary.  Remove the rosemary sprigs and the cloves of garlic and spoon the sauce over each chop and serve alongside the carrots.  If you don’t cook the chops too much, they will be soft enough for a baby to chew, given she has at least 3 molars, which mine does.  She loved the carrots (she’s 15 months old) and ate a few pieces of pork and called it good.  And lately, that has to be good enough for me!  For smaller babies, the carrots would be IDEAL pureed or just left in tact for finger foods.  They are so soft, sweet and a little salty – perfect! I would have blended up the pork with some coconut milk back in the 6-9 month days for Olive.

Enjoy!

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.

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!