Slow Food in Springtime

Springtime in Edmonton

Hi everyone! It’s time for a long overdue catch up in the Sustenance department of Elevenses! I’m utterly shocked how quickly March has sped by. I recall sitting down with the adult children in October and planning out the next six months of blog topics and posting schedules. We assured each other with solemn vows that we could persevere through the coming months of holidays, the kid’s school demands, my work commitments, the general mayhem which tends to occur when busy lives collide, and STILL meet our Elevenses goals of posting at least four times per month.

BAH HAHAHAHAHA……

“A” for effort I always say☺. The kids have actually far surpassed me in this blog writing and posting arena, and I could not be more proud of them. (Can I get a slow clap, people? Their stuff is so AWESOME!) At any rate, the last couple of months have brought some interesting experiences our family’s way; my multiple visits to New York (where I was born and raised) to help my parents prepare for their move into an adult residence, Jac and Nat’s journey across the pond to Nat’s home in England, and Hunter somehow performing continually in several threatre endeavours at any one time, with incredible dedication and boundless energy. School, travel, art and each other seem to be the variables that keep us all going around here. While tending the home fires in Edmonton over these last months, in between all of these activities and travels, we were never able to cross as many dishes off of our culinary bucket list as we had hoped, but we tended to important things nonetheless; we compulsively BAKED COOKIES, tried out a few new dishes, perfected our roasted wings technique, and, all importantly, watched movies whenever possible. (Ratatouille. Need I say more?) Priorities, I say!

In short, it’s been a challenging but generative time for us, and we’ve emerged with loads of winter memories and some interesting future cooking and blogging plans. For now, I’m ready to make up for lost blogging time. Out of my way! (Runs to kitchen….)

With this sense of renewal, I was hoping to post something reflective of seasonal transition and the arrival of Spring; quicker cooking methods, brighter colours, elements that would entice us to begin dreaming of our grills and gardens. And then….Winter hit us hard here in Edmonton once again.  All of a sudden it feels like January in these parts!  With the return of snow and freezing temperatures, I’m left with no other recourse than to return to the kitchen in search of some kind of solace.  In honour of my renewed cooking mission, I would like to share with you what has become my faithful cold weather cooking obsession, even though it’s technically early Spring. It’s not a specific dish, but a simple technique which honours the slow food tradition and is bound to bring some comfort until the snow once again begins to melt.  May I re-introduce you all to the humble braise? It’s a lovely process; simple yet versatile, and a vital tool to keep safely tucked into your personal bag of kitchen magic. Trust me, once you make braising part of your repertoire, it can provide a blank canvas for a variety of flavour profiles which can reflect your personal tastes and preferences.

One of the biggest lessons I gleaned in culinary school from my chef instructor was that recipes, to my delight and horror, are nothing but guidelines. As an ambitious culinary student, I was dismayed at this, as I was always seeking out the “ultimate” recipe for this or that. After months of learning basic culinary processes instead of specific recipes, however, I embraced how the “ultimate recipe” actually depends upon a myriad of factors; the cut and size of the item you are cooking, the ferocity of your oven, the thickness of the metal which comprises your cooking vessel, etc.  Temper this equation with whatever is seasonal, your cravings at the present time, your willingness to reflect this in your cooking and ….voila!  These are the new perimeters of your “recipe.”

Clear as mud, yes?

Fear not. The answer to fleshing out how you express yourself through your recipe “guideline” lies in getting into the kitchen and, to borrow my absolute favourite line from one of my kid’s childhood shows, the Magic School Bus, “time to take chances, make mistakes and get messy!” In other words, get in there and cook.  You may not produce the dish of your dreams the first or third or even 6th time, but cooking is part art, and we all know art is never truly “done.” I do guarantee you, however, you will know more about “said dish” each and every time you prepare it.  Ok, enough of the motivational kitchen counselling, back to braising….

Here is why I favour braising to crock pot methods: It’s simply the bomb. While a crock pot is fantastic because it provides a safe method to cook items low and slow FOREVER with acceptable results, oven braising knocks dishes out of the park because of CONVECTION; The results of braising in an oven alters the textures of whatever is being cooked in a way that adds variety, as well as added depth and dimension of flavours due to heat continually revolving around your cooking vessel. With stove-top braising or crock pot cookery, the heat source is only coming from below, producing a cooking result which is more moist and “stew-like” than it’s caramelized, beautifully reduced, oven-blessed cousin.

The technique for a braise is simple; sear your items to be cooked, deglaze with an acid and/or stock, perhaps some veggies, always aromatics, and then tuck your covered dish into a warm and waiting oven.  Leave your braise to cook long enough for you to get something else substantial done during cooking time, which can vary from one to four hours on average. You will not be able to leave the dish to it’s own devices as you would with a crock pot, as this technique requires a bit of babysitting to ensure liquids do not dry out, but you will be rewarded with textures and depths of flavours that surpass anything our crockpots can ever deliver. Now, do I ever use a crock pot? Of course! But if I have a few extra hours on hand, I lunge for my Dutch oven, set my oven to cruise control, and prepare for greatness.

A word about the recipe below; I’ve had a long-term relationship with lamb shanks over the last few years, and because of their ease of preparation and stellar presentation potential, these gorgeous red wine-braised lamb shanks are my choice for special suppers that I have limited time to spend preparing. Please take this guideline and make it yours. Give it a try but please add a few personal touches of your own, and then give yourself a pat on the back from yours truly for a job well done. (Take THAT, Old Man Winter!) Are you running to your kitchen yet? Off you go!

Red Wine Braised Lamb Shanks

Prep Time: 45 Mins Cooking Time: 2 Hours Total Time: 2 Hours 45 Mins
Ingredients:
  • 6 lamb shanks, well trimmed
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup fat of choice (I suggest coconut oil or butter, or a mix of the two), plus more as needed
  • 2 yellow onions, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups full-bodied red wine
  • 1 cup canned diced tomatoes with juices
  • 6 cups reduced sodium beef stock, or enough stock to cover shanks
  • 2 Tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
  • 2 tsp. minced fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
  • 2 to 3 Tbs. minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
Directions:
  1. Preheat an oven to 400ºF.
  2. Generously season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Working in batches, brown the shanks on all sides, 5 to 10 minutes total, adding more oil to the pan if needed. Transfer to a platter. Pour off the excess fat from the pan.
  3. Add the onions, celery and carrots to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are golden, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the wine. Return the pan to medium-high heat and bring the liquid to a simmer, stirring to scrape up the browned bits. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juices, the stock, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and shanks and bring to a boil. Cover the pan, transfer to the oven and cook until the meat is almost falling off the bone, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Using tongs, transfer the shanks to a large serving bowl and cover loosely with aluminum foil.
  4. Remove the bay leaves from the sauce and discard. Skim the fat off the sauce. Using an immersion blender, puree half of the the sauce until smooth. Season sauce to taste. If serving right away, pour some of the sauce over the shanks and garnish with parsley. Pass the remaining sauce alongside with a smile. Serves 6.

Hi everyone! It’s time for a long overdue catch up in the Sustenance department of Elevenses! I’m utterly shocked how quickly March has sped by. I recall sitting down with the adult children in October and planning out the next six months of blog topics and posting schedules. We assured each other with solemn vows that we could persevere through the coming months of holidays, the kid’s school demands, my work commitments, the general mayhem which tends to occur when busy lives collide, and STILL meet our Elevenses goals of posting at least four times per month.

BAH HAHAHAHAHA……

“A” for effort I always say☺. The kids have actually far surpassed me in this blog writing and posting arena, and I could not be more proud of them. (Can I get a slow clap, people? Their stuff is so AWESOME!) At any rate, the last couple of months have brought some interesting experiences our family’s way; my multiple visits to New York (where I was born and raised) to help my parents prepare for their move into an adult residence, Jac and Nat’s journey across the pond to Nat’s home in England, and Hunter somehow performing continually in several threatre endeavours at any one time, with incredible dedication and boundless energy. School, travel, art and each other seem to be the variables that keep us all going around here. While tending the home fires in Edmonton over these last months, in between all of these activities and travels, we were never able to cross as many dishes off of our culinary bucket list as we had hoped, but we tended to important things nonetheless; we compulsively BAKED COOKIES, tried out a few new dishes, perfected our roasted wings technique, and, all importantly, watched movies whenever possible. (Ratatouille. Need I say more?) Priorities, I say!

In short, it’s been a challenging but generative time for us, and we’ve emerged with loads of winter memories and some interesting future cooking and blogging plans. For now, I’m ready to make up for lost blogging time. Out of my way! (Runs to kitchen….)

With this sense of renewal, I was hoping to post something reflective of seasonal transition and the arrival of Spring; quicker cooking methods, brighter colours, elements that would entice us to begin dreaming of our grills and gardens. And then….Winter hit us hard here in Edmonton once again.  All of a sudden it feels like January in these parts!  With the return of snow and freezing temperatures, I’m left with no other recourse than to return to the kitchen in search of some kind of solace.  In honour of my renewed cooking mission, I would like to share with you what has become my faithful cold weather cooking obsession, even though it’s technically early Spring. It’s not a specific dish, but a simple technique which honours the slow food tradition and is bound to bring some comfort until the snow once again begins to melt.  May I re-introduce you all to the humble braise? It’s a lovely process; simple yet versatile, and a vital tool to keep safely tucked into your personal bag of kitchen magic. Trust me, once you make braising part of your repertoire, it can provide a blank canvas for a variety of flavour profiles which can reflect your personal tastes and preferences.

One of the biggest lessons I gleaned in culinary school from my chef instructor was that recipes, to my delight and horror, are nothing but guidelines. As an ambitious culinary student, I was dismayed at this, as I was always seeking out the “ultimate” recipe for this or that. After months of learning basic culinary processes instead of specific recipes, however, I embraced how the “ultimate recipe” actually depends upon a myriad of factors; the cut and size of the item you are cooking, the ferocity of your oven, the thickness of the metal which comprises your cooking vessel, etc.  Temper this equation with whatever is seasonal, your cravings at the present time, your willingness to reflect this in your cooking and ….voila!  These are the new perimeters of your “recipe.”

Clear as mud, yes?

Fear not. The answer to fleshing out how you express yourself through your recipe “guideline” lies in getting into the kitchen and, to borrow my absolute favourite line from one of my kid’s childhood shows, the Magic School Bus, “time to take chances, make mistakes and get messy!” In other words, get in there and cook.  You may not produce the dish of your dreams the first or third or even 6th time, but cooking is part art, and we all know art is never truly “done.” I do guarantee you, however, you will know more about “said dish” each and every time you prepare it.  Ok, enough of the motivational kitchen counselling, back to braising….

Here is why I favour braising to crock pot methods: It’s simply the bomb. While a crock pot is fantastic because it provides a safe method to cook items low and slow FOREVER with acceptable results, oven braising knocks dishes out of the park because of CONVECTION; The results of braising in an oven alters the textures of whatever is being cooked in a way that adds variety, as well as added depth and dimension of flavours due to heat continually revolving around your cooking vessel. With stove-top braising or crock pot cookery, the heat source is only coming from below, producing a cooking result which is more moist and “stew-like” than it’s caramelized, beautifully reduced, oven-blessed cousin.

The technique for a braise is simple; sear your items to be cooked, deglaze with an acid and/or stock, perhaps some veggies, always aromatics, and then tuck your covered dish into a warm and waiting oven.  Leave your braise to cook long enough for you to get something else substantial done during cooking time, which can vary from one to four hours on average. You will not be able to leave the dish to it’s own devices as you would with a crock pot, as this technique requires a bit of babysitting to ensure liquids do not dry out, but you will be rewarded with textures and depths of flavours that surpass anything our crockpots can ever deliver. Now, do I ever use a crock pot? Of course! But if I have a few extra hours on hand, I lunge for my Dutch oven, set my oven to cruise control, and prepare for greatness.

A word about the recipe below; I’ve had a long-term relationship with lamb shanks over the last few years, and because of their ease of preparation and stellar presentation potential, these gorgeous red wine-braised lamb shanks are my choice for special suppers that I have limited time to spend preparing. Please take this guideline and make it yours. Give it a try but please add a few personal touches of your own, and then give yourself a pat on the back from yours truly for a job well done. (Take THAT, Old Man Winter!) Are you running to your kitchen yet? Off you go!

Red Wine Braised Lamb Shanks

Prep Time: 45 Mins Cooking Time: 2 Hours Total Time: 2 Hours 45 Mins
Ingredients:
  • 6 lamb shanks, well trimmed
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup fat of choice (I suggest coconut oil or butter, or a mix of the two), plus more as needed
  • 2 yellow onions, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups full-bodied red wine
  • 1 cup canned diced tomatoes with juices
  • 6 cups reduced sodium beef stock, or enough stock to cover shanks
  • 2 Tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
  • 2 tsp. minced fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
  • 2 to 3 Tbs. minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
Directions:
  1. Preheat an oven to 400ºF.
  2. Generously season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Working in batches, brown the shanks on all sides, 5 to 10 minutes total, adding more oil to the pan if needed. Transfer to a platter. Pour off the excess fat from the pan.
  3. Add the onions, celery and carrots to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are golden, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the wine. Return the pan to medium-high heat and bring the liquid to a simmer, stirring to scrape up the browned bits. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juices, the stock, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and shanks and bring to a boil. Cover the pan, transfer to the oven and cook until the meat is almost falling off the bone, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Using tongs, transfer the shanks to a large serving bowl and cover loosely with aluminum foil.
  4. Remove the bay leaves from the sauce and discard. Skim the fat off the sauce. Using an immersion blender, puree half of the the sauce until smooth. Season sauce to taste. If serving right away, pour some of the sauce over the shanks and garnish with parsley. Pass the remaining sauce alongside with a smile. Serves 6.

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