Lamb Stew (Alentejo-style)

My bargain shopping got me a butterflied leg of lamb that was on special. Rather than roast it whole, I decided our chilly, grey, damp weather needed stew.

I cut the lamb leg into 3 cm cubes; I decided that I wanted some variety in my stews so since I had two pounds of lamb so all I needed to do was halve the recipes.Since I’ve not done much Iberian cookery I got out The Food of Spain & Portugal: The Complete Iberian Cuisine by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz (page 152).  

pimenton-de-la-veraThere are a lot of lamb stew recipes in this book. I finally made a decision based on seasonings that sounded interesting: garlic, parsley, pimenton de la vera (smoked), cayenne, and cloves. (The recipe only said “paprika”–which I’m sure would work fine, but I particularly like the smokiness of the pimenton de la vera, but I used the amount called for.)

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Carneiro à Alentejana

Ingredients

  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 900 g (2 pounds), lean, boneless lamb, cut into 3.5 cm/1-1/2 inch pieces
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil or lard
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 175 mL/ 3/4 cup dry white wine

Preparation

  • Mix garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper. Add the lamb to the garlic mixture and marinate about 2 hours. (I left mine overnight)
  • In a large skillet, heat the oil or lard and brown the lamb pieces all over.
  • Transfer lamb to a flameproof casserole.
  • In the remaining oil and sauté the onion until soft and add to the casserole.
  • Add paprika, cayenne, cloves to the casserole. (I like to “bloom” dry spices in oil before adding liquid so I added the paprika while sautéing the onions)
  • Bring to a simmer on the stovetop.
  • Cover and put in a moderate oven (180ºC/350ºF) and cook until the lamb is tender (about 1-1/2 hours).

The author recommends serving with a light red wine (red Vinho Verde or Dão, and notes that in Portugal meats are usually served with both potatoes and rice.

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I halved the recipe above and used the other pound of lamb to make my favorite lamb and cabbage stew (Fårikål) with the other half. I considered being very energy conscious and making both at the same time; however, my hedonism won and I made them on different days because I love to luxuriate in the aromas of cooking–that’s part of the anticipation and enjoyment of cooking and eating. I just didn’t think I would get to enjoy them in the same way if I were to cook both at the same time. I would have missed some of the pleasure of cooking had I done that. The smell (especially of the pimenton de la vera) was particularly appetizing.

The combination of the pimenton, cayenne, and clove was wonderful. I don’t often use the “sweeter” spices with meats but that little dash of clove has made me wonder why I haven’t used them more with meat. I need to broaden my perspective on the “appropriate” spices to use with meats.

The balance of the seasoning in this recipe (I didn’t change anything) was wonderful–just enough cayenne to give a little “burn” as you eat your way through a serving, but not every getting to the point where you felt as if you had blisters on your taste buds–and the clove didn’t smack you in the face either. All in all a very well-balanced seasoning. I’ll probably try this with lamb shoulder chops–even without cutting them up.

Oh, wine? Well since there was a bottle of my “house wine” already open, I used that–it’s one of the things I like about that wine: it’s very versatile. Rice? Potatoes? Nope–garbanzo beans.

There is one modification I think I’ll make next time–I’ll add more onions they were luscious after cooking with the lamb and seemed just right with the pimenton.

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Homemade skyr

41ktixxzjwl-_sx425_I finally got a yogurt maker. I didn’t go for the Cuisinart with all the bells and whistles–just opted for the Dash which seems to do the basics.  I didn’t order hot pink, but that’s what I got; I can deal with that–I’m not going to be sitting around contemplating it–so long as it works–and it does do what it’s supposed to. I got the “Greek” because it has a strainer with it and it does bulk yogurt instead of little itty, bitty jars.

Of all the commercial yogurts I’ve tried, the Icelandic Products Skyr is my favorite. I looked at the cultures used in that: Streptococcus thermophilus Icelandicus™ and Lactobacillus bulgaricus bifidobacterium. These are noted as heirloom cultures. Since this is my favorite store-bought yogurt I decided to use that as my starter culture.

Most of the recipes that I found for skyr called for rennet but that’s not listed as in ingredient in the Icelandic Products skyr, so I’m not using it. The ingredients did say skim milk but since I’m still working on the Always Hungry? plan, which calls for whole milk products, I made mine with whole milk.

I used 8 hours 30 minutes for my first batch. The texture after straining was great but for my taste, it needs to be just a bit more tart so I’ll try using 10 hours next time. Perhaps after I get off the Always Hungry? program, I’ll try skim milk and see how that works.

I’ve used the whey that was strained off to thin the consistency of the power shake just a bit instead of pouring it down the drain since I’m adding whey protein powder to the shakes. Though it’s a bit richer tasting than most commercial yogurts, it seems to work fine in all the uses called for in the meal plan.Certainly much cheaper than buying Greek yogurt–and I know exactly what is in it.

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A little food history

I do enjoy Facebook! Because my friends have such diverse interests, I get to read articles that I might never have encountered were it not for perusing Facebook posts. In this case, I’ve been overwhelmed with work (love that) which cuts into my skulking about the internet looking for fun stuff.

Here’s a link to an article from NPR on the Eastern and Western use of spices that I just read (no it’s not new–only new to me) and enjoyed.

Labneh

I finally got around to making some yoghurt cheese or labneh! I don’t know why it has taken me this long to do something that simple–it’s practically effortless. After reading David Lebovitz’s post on Labneh I finally did it. Now that the weather is getting warmer I’ll be looking for lighter things to eat with fresh vegetables.

After googling “labneh recipes”, I had a plethora from which to choose. Variations include some calling for full-fat plain yoghurt, some for Greek, one for adding lemon juice, and others for herbs. All called for some salt.

Greek yoghurt cheese

Labneh

For my first trial, I used full-fat plain that was lingering in the fridge since I’ve found that I really prefer skyr (even to Greek yoghurt). I added a healthy pinch of salt, then set the yoghurt to drain for 15 hours.

Tasting the labneh I discovered that it wasn’t quite as tangy as I had hoped–I’ll try adding lemon juice next time.

I suspect that this is going to become a “fixture” in my fridge instead of the usual cream cheese. I am a fan of radishes so adding those and other vegetables to labneh sounds like a great summer treat, and I’ve many other interesting recipes for using it. Some found its way into my omelette with sautéed kale as an improvised breakfast with the Always Hungry? meal plan inside the omelette, rather than as a topping, or have berries without the skyr  or yoghurt.

It’s such fun to discover new foods!

omelette with labneh and kale

Greek Lamb Casserole

In the chilly, grey, damp weather we’re having now, I see this in the near future! Making the shopping list for tomorrow.

MY LITTLE ROCK

ROCK

My Little ROCK – Reliable Organised Cooking Kitchen

Greek Lamb Casserole

– Greek Lamb Casserole –

This greek lamb casserole packs a punch with flavour!!! It’s got a rich tomato sauce that zings with lemon and fresh oregano. Its a perfect dish for a cold winters day and what’s even better is that it can be on the table in less than an hour. You can serve it with rice or some fresh crusty bread that can be used to mop up the delicious sauce from the plate. I found this recipe in The Australian Women’s Weekly Pressure Cooking – The new way to cook fast cookbook.

Serves:

4

Preparation Time:

15 minutes

Cooking Time:

25 minutes

Time to Table:

45 minutes

Number of Ingredients:

14

Equipment:

Pressure Cooker – I used an electric pressure cooker

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons plain flour

1kg diced lamb

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium brown onion thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic sliced

410g…

View original post 328 more words

Ratatouille (slow-cooker)

vegetables for ratatouilleDuring the summer abundance of eggplant, squash, and tomatoes  we’re often in the OMG-what-can-I-do-with-these-zucchini mode. Ratatouille and caponata  provide some good eating even when the hot weather has rather killed the appetite. I thought that being able to do this in the slow-cooker instead of stove-top would be an advantage in sweltering weather that is already taxing the A/C without adding more heat.

It’s easy to find ratatouille recipes–a quick search on the internet will provide a plethora.  The question:  are they  “good” recipes”?  I’m not sure I can tell you what (specifically) tells me “good”, “passable”, or “oh yuk”.  Most likely past experience, and reading a lot of food science, and (from America’s Test Kitchen) “why this recipe works”.

Here is a ratatouille recipe given by a friend, from Food.com, reproduced below. I’ve never made ratatouille in a slow cooker so I thought this was worth trying. In reading the recipe, I had only a couple questions, so I decided to make the recipe as directed–well, almost–as much as I can–I’m just a compulsive tinkerer, and constitutionally unable to follow a recipe strictly, but almost.  ratatouille ingredientsLooking at the recipe, I knew I’d want more garlic. Had I not been using part frozen peppers (from a Kitchen Disaster), I would not use green peppers–I prefer ripe (red, yellow, or orange) like them. I’m changing the herbs to thyme and oregano,  rather than basil (for reasons explained below in Cook’s notes).  My other question about this recipe had to do with that quantity of tomato paste. Why?

When I started the prep, I was still undecided about the tomato paste.  My inclination was to leave it out because this is an “all fresh” dish, and (to me) tomato paste tastes canned and cooked. Since this does not call for the tomato paste to be added until later, my obvious solution is to wait and see how it tastes, especially since these are summer tomatoes. If  I were wanting to supplement the “tomato” part of the flavor I would likely add some sun-dried tomatoes, rather than tomato paste–unless there is a dearth of “umami” (which is one of my reservations about slow-cooker dishes).

Slow Cooker Ratatouille (Food.com)

The modifications that I made on this recipe on the first round are shown in parentheses after the ingredient. These were just to meet my seasoning preferences, not for any other reason.  Don’t hold this on “warm”–it just doesn’t do well.

Serves: 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • salt
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes–about 3 medium
  • 1 large green bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch squares
  • 1 large red bell peppers or 1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch squares
  • 3 medium zucchini, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons dried basil (substitute 1/2 teaspoon thyme and 1/2 teaspoon Turkish oregano)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed through a press (4 garlic cloves)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper (held until end as I think it gets bitter with long cooking)
  • 1 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
  • 1 (5 1/2 ounce) cans pitted ripe olives, drained and chopped coarsely (oil cured black olives)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (substitute chopped fresh oregano)

Directions

  1. Sprinkle the eggplant with salt; let stand in a colander 1/2- 1 hour to drain.
  2. Press out excess moisture.
  3. Rinse the eggplant with water and pat dry with paper towels.
  4. Place the eggplant in crock pot.
  5. Add onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, olive oil, basil, garlic, pepper and 1/2 tsp salt.
  6. Mix well.
  7. Cover and cook on high setting about 3 hours or until the vegetables are tender but still hold their shape.
  8. Stir in the tomato paste, olives, and the fresh basil.
  9. Serve hot, room temperature or chilled.

Notes:  Being of scientific orientation, I decided to do an experiment–half the recipe is cooked as above; and the other half cooked separately, with modifications after I had tasted the results of the original method. First, I had to cook for an additional hour–I thought my rice cooker/slow cooker ran rather hot, but not according to this.  After tasting I did add the tomato paste as the tomato flavor was not at all pronounced, but I think the tomato paste (unless browned before adding) doesn’t add the depth I want. I needed more salt (which kind of surprised me because I don’t usually need to add much. Oregano and thyme needed to be bumped up as did the garlic. Those minor things were done to the first batch. So far the onions  have stayed crispy and I think I’d prefer them a bit softer so maybe microwave them before putting into the slow cooker (that had to wait because they were already mixed with the other vegetables). This came out with more juice than I’d expected.

Now for the second batch. I’m adding more olives, more garlic (sliced rather than pressed), some red pepper flakes (about 1/8 teaspoon) for a little zing (but not a lot of heat), and sun-dried tomatoes (instead of tomato paste), a bay leaf, and increasing the oregano and thyme. Instead of increasing salt, I’m going to add just a touch of nam pla (fish sauce)–or an anchovy fillet mashed would work. This is not intended to make it at all fishy just more flavorful. This needs to be stirred after an hour so that the bottom veggies don’t mush and the top be a bit undercooked. Check for doneness–don’t just trust the time. I prefer my veggies cooked but with a little “tooth” to them, so in my slow cooker this finishes in about 2 hours. I like this one as there’s no added liquid, except the dash of nam pla and what the veggies give off. Minced fresh oregano added the last 15 minutes of cooking leaves it very fresh tasting.

Bottom line: this is quick and works if you want a very light ratatouille, not complex ratatouille.  I don’t want my ratatouille over whelmed with herbs and garlic, but I’d like to make it a bit more complex, or layered flavor–maybe it needs a little more umami It has the advantage of being very quick to assemble.

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As you likely know if you’ve read other posts, I’m somewhat partial to recipes from America’s Test Kitchen.  When the published Slow Cooker Revolution I had to check it out.  I was hoping that those recipes would improve my attitude to (and increase use of ) my slow cooker. There’s no denying it’s convenience, but generally I’ve simply not been happy with the results when compared with oven or stove-top methods.

A comparison of America’s Test Kitchen recipe with the one above is interesting. One of my “complaints” is that their recipes sometimes  seem more complicated–though they do increase flavor.  The recipe below is from the Slow Cooker Revolution (Kindle edition). This is the recipe that inspired me to try the one above.  The cooking instructions are quite extensive so I’m only going to summarize them for purposes of comparison. I’m trying to find a compromise of best flavor and easy preparation.

Slow-cooker ratatouille (America’s Test Kitchen)

Serves: 10 to 12

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 eggplants (2 pounds), cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 3 zucchini (1-1/2 pounds), cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 onions, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Preparation

  1. Brown eggplant, half at a time, in olive oil (5 to 7 minutes), and transfer each batch to slow cooker.
  2. Brown zucchini, half at a time, in olive oil, transferring each batch to slow cooker.
  3. Cook onions, bell peppers, garlic, and thyme until softened and lightly browned (8 to 10 minutes), stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in reserved tomato juice, scrape up browned  bits, and smooth out lumps, and transfer to slow cooker.
  4. Stir tomatoes into slow cooker, close and cook until vegetables are tender (4 to 6 hours).
  5. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

Notes:  The time it takes to brown the vegetables really is not that long, so it’s worth the extra flavor. It’s a drastic difference, even when you add some umami-hyping ingredients to the Food.com recipe.

The differences here are, notably, the use of flour to thicken, the lack of tomato paste, and the preparation of the eggplant. One of my reasons for trying the recipe from Food.com is the handling of the eggplant, with the idea that salting to remove fluid might eliminate the need for flour–I doubt that you’d know there was flour in this recipe simply by tasting.

After tasting the first batch of the recipe from Food.com with the adjustments noted in Notes, it’s a keeper for simplicity. The America’s Test Kitchen is a bit richer since you’ve browned the veggies. Either is good–depends on the time and effort you want (or have) to invest.

. . . a son goût

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cooked ratatouille

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