February 18, 2016

Dear friends,

Valentine’s Day was sweet this year, and not just because I got some Malley’s chocolates. It fell on a Sunday, so I finally got to celebrate with my husband. A decade into this relationship (our 10th anniversary is next year), we’re still in love (aww) and he still makes me laugh every day. (His latest malapropism: “I have to go to work early Friday because it’s lentil season and everyone will be coming for fish.”)

We made the most of a snowy Valentine’s Day, with brunch at Wolf Creek Tavern in Norton followed by a movie. That evening we snuggled in with Champagne, Team Ninja Warrior on TV, and the best meal I’ve made in months.

I didn’t have to spend precious time in the kitchen cooking it, either. Meaty lamb shanks in an herbed tomato sauce spiked with beer simmered in the slow cooker while we were out having fun. We came home to a house that smelled fabulous and a dog half-crazed from the delicious aromas. None of us could wait to dig in.

I chose the recipe because I wanted to eat well but I didn’t feel like cooking. Just few minutes of browning and stirring in a skillet is required before the slow cooker takes over. Browning the meat, sauteeing the vegetables and finishing the sauce on the stove develops deep, soulful flavors you can’t get with a slow cooker alone.

By the time we returned home from the movie, the meat on the lamb shanks was falling from the bones. We spooned the rich tomato sauce over al dente rotini and arranged the shanks on top. We ate slowly, flipping a shred of meat and a rotini to the dog occasionally. The snow fell and the Champagne flowed. The dog flipped over on its back, sated and ready for a nap. No, wait. That was Tony.

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SLOW COOKER LAMB SHANKS WITH PASTA
•    2 tbsp. olive oil
•    4 lamb shanks (about 5 lbs. total), trimmed of fat
•    Salt, pepper
•    2 ribs celery, sliced 1/3-inch thick
•    2 large carrots, sliced 1/3-inch thick
•    4 peeled cloves garlic, sliced
•    1 cup beer
•    1/4 cup tomato paste
•    2 cans (14.5 oz. each) chopped tomatoes in sauce
•    2 tbsp. minced fresh rosemary or 2 tsp. dried, crushed
•    2 tsp. chopped fresh oregano or 3/4 tsp. dried
•    1 lb. good-quality rotini or penne pasta
•    Grated fresh Parmesan

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy skillet. Rub the shanks all over with plenty of salt and pepper. Brown the shanks all over in the hot skillet. Transfer to a plate. Cook the celery, carrots and garlic over medium heat in the skillet until they are softened but not brown, about 5 minutes. Scrape the vegetables into a large round or oval slow cooker and top with the lamb shanks.

Add beer to the skillet and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom. Stir in the tomato paste, canned tomatoes with their sauce, herbs, and more salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 5 minutes. Pour over the lamb. Cover and cook on low power until the lamb is fork-tender, about 7 to 8 hours.

Transfer meat to a plate and cover tightly with foil to keep warm. Bring water to a boil for the pasta. Spoon off as much fat as possible from sauce in slow cooker. Transfer sauce to the large skillet and bring to a simmer. While pasta cooks to al dente, simmer sauce until it thickens a bit, about 10 minutes.

Drain pasta and divide among 4 shallow bowls or dinner plates. Top with sauce and lamb shanks. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan if desired. Makes 4 servings.

From “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook” by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann.

HELP U COOK

There’s a science to beating egg whites properly. It starts with beating the egg whites slowly so small bubbles form. Beating at too high of a speed initially produces foam with large bubbles, which break easily and deflate the whites. Don’t increase the speed until an even foam has formed.

Adding an acid after the foam has formed but before the whites hold their shape helps stabilize the egg whites. The acid can be in the form of a pinch of cream of tartar or 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice.

If adding sugar, sprinkle it in just when the whites reach the soft-peak stage. If you add it sooner, the sugar will keep the foam from developing. If added later, it could cause the whites to dry out and lose elasticity, according to “Brilliant Food Tips and Cooking Tricks” by David Joachim.

THE MAILBAG
From Annie:
I, too, wondered about baking soda in a box. I keep mine in a canning jar, the type with the glass lid and a rubber ring. I stack it on the baking powder in the same kind of jar.

The broth bowls continue at my house. Your piece on broth has given me inspiration for an Asian bowl (tofu, bok choy, bamboo shoots, shiitaki mushrooms and more in veggie broth), a Mexican bowl (chicken, avocado, tomato, roasted chilies plus more), and this week’s Italian bowl (chicken Italian sausage, tomato, cannelini beans, basil and roasted peppers). My husband has been slurping them up with no complaints about “JUST SOUP FOR DINNER!?!?” Thanks a bunch for being my muse.

Dear Annie: No, I think you’re MY muse. What great ideas for changing up the broth bowls. Can’t wait to dig out my driveway and get to the store for avocado to make Mexican bowls. My husband is loving the broth bowls, too.

From Dale C.:
What cut of meat do you use for osso buco? Recipes say veal shanks but I can’t find them. Is there a good substitute without driving to a specialty butcher or West Side Market in Cleveland?

Dear Dale: Good question. I’ve never used veal shanks, the classic cut for osso buco. Can you imagine how expensive they’d be if you could find them? I use beef shanks. Shanks that are 3 to 4 inches long are best, but to be honest, I use the inexpensive inch-thick shanks from Acme. They may not look as impressive as larger shanks, but there’s plenty of meat for one person and the price is right.

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