Supper for a chilly evening….

If it were not that my outdoor thermometer is reading 46ºF I’d be calling it a snow day–grey, chilly, misty, damp, dreary. It seems like a day for “oven food”. While the oven is on, the heat won’t be coming on as much. Food and warmth in one.

I’ve hit the time when cleaning out the refrigerator becomes a necessity–not that I had anything about to grow legs and crawl out, just things that should be used, and it’s also time to rotate stuff from the freezer, too. So a browse through the fridge, the freezer and from the counters is making a meal–a one-pot meal. I did have go to the grocery store because this kind of weather calls for potatoes–and I had only a baking potato in the house–and those just don’t do for braises. So, leaving the Romertopf to soak while I   went to do cat care for a friend and got some potatoes and then started to see what would b_shank_crop_20161204_153707happen for supper–it’s a no-recipe event this evening.

I scrabbled around in the freezer and came up with a very large beef shank (with marrow in the bone), the refrigerator gave up some under-cooked collard greens ( I attempted to cook them in the slow-cooker–not recommended if they are older greens). The counter yielded some cherry tomatoes that were getting wrinkly, and there were some sliced shiitake mushrooms loitering in the fridge.

Even though it’s the weekend, it’s a working day for me so I’m doing lazy cooking. All of b-shank-covered_20161204_153715the above-mentioned items went into the soaked Romertopf–with bite-size Yukon gold potatoes added. I did my lazy herb seasoning (herbs de Provence), lots of garlic cloves, and then those cherry tomatoes that had wrinkles. Add a couple bay leaves, salt and water, and put it into a cold oven set for 350ºF–a kitchen happening. Had I soaked the larger Romertopf, I would have added some rutabaga and carrots too–but those looked as if they could linger for just a bit longer in the fridge. Now–to work!

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Today has been one of those frustrating days when I’ve had difficulty really concentrating–even though I didn’t have to attend to cooking supper. For all the true productivity I might as well have been in the kitchen cooking. Even without any attention, about three hours later, I’ve a really tasty meal–quite suitable for the weather tonight.

20161204_200628It may not be styled and truly photogenic, but the beef shank was very tender–but very beefy–it’s one of the things that is great about some of the less popular cuts of the cow.  The smoky, earthiness of the shiitake mushrooms, the mellow flavor of the roasted garlic made a great contrast to the bitterness of the collard greens (these took a lot of cooking to get them really tender). The healthy dose of bay and herbs de Provence really added a lot of flavor. I did finish my plate with a drizzle of herbs de Provence infused olive oil (Bull City Olive Oil). To accompany this casual meal I had a glass of 1999 Domaine Cros Minervois wine. Just the ticket to go with the very “beefy” beef and the collard greens!

 

A great supper for a rainy, damp, chilly evening. A successful kitchen happening without the vestige of a recipe in sight.

A son gôut!

shank_plate_20161204_200706

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Pot roast made for one

beef shankEven though we are getting warmer weather now, there are still some grey, chilly (but not really cold) days here–the kind of day where you want to smell fresh-baked bread or something warm and filling cooking in the kitchen. Even though pot roast is something that reheats well, and freezes well when you make it, I don’t always want a huge batch so I was thinking about alternatives to the usual chuck roast.

Today it’s somewhere between ersatz osso buco and pot roast. I love pot roast, but starting with a huge (for single-serving cooking, at least) chuck roast is just a bit much when you don’t want to stock the freezer for future meals.

I decided that a cut of beef shank would make a great alternative to the chuck roast; just have it cut a bit thicker, and the marrow bone is another benefit.  Since I had this cow shank, I obviously thought of osso buco, though it’s true that  real thing is would be made with veal shanks. Veal shanks (and lamb shanks) are actually too pricey for my budget most of the time–I watch closely for managers’ specials in the butcher case.

browned beef shank I treated the beef shank just as I would a big chuck roast–I dredged it in flour and browned it in a mix of butter and olive oil.  (Smells luscious while it’s browning . The flavor and smell of butter–yum.)  While that was in progress, I got my veggies ready (meaning I got frozen carrots and onions out of the freezer),

(Note that this is in a pan of the appropriate size–not too big, not too small. There’s no plastic so this can go into the oven for a nice low and slow cooking, covered with its tight-fitting lid.

Once the shank was nicely browned, there not really much to do except tuck some carrots, onions, and bay leaves around IMG_8056the edges, a pinch of salt,  add some dry white wine, and some beef stock–just poured it in until it was about 1/3 of the way up the side of the meat. That’s the reason it’s important to have an appropriate size pot–too large and you have to add too much liquid.  We’re not wanting to make soup here.

Cover with a tight-fitting lid; use foil if necessary  to make sure of a tight seal.  Cook in  a low to medium oven (275 to 300 °F) for about 2 hours or until the meat pierces easily with a fork, and enjoy–without having  too much left over! (A dollop of gremolata would be good with this.)

Umami in the slow cooker…

flats of plants on tailgate of truck to be loaded for the farmers' market.

for market

Obviously I’ve not been giving a lot of thought to cooking  things lately–it’s been end-of-term grading, indexing and proofreading, or getting  ready for the farmers’ market, or actually being at the farmers’ market, with more energy going to planting things, both for later harvest and for selling at the market than into cooking.

One of the down sides of working the farmers’ market is that I’m one of those people who wake up like a compact fluorescent bulb–pretty dim at first–so getting to the farmers’ market on time on Saturdays involves getting up before the birds just to give me time to be awake and functional. Even Fridays demand early rising, especially as the weather gets hotter–flowers to cut early in the morning and produce to be harvested before the heat of the day sets in and thing wilt…and just to avoid being out in the worst of the heat.

wagon of flowers in buckets

cutting flowers

I’m getting into the swing of that now but it still takes time for my lights to come on, though less painful now.  That early rising on Friday and Saturday makes me into a really lazy slob on Sunday.  Now that the Spring term is over, I’m not meeting classes during the week so I’m enjoying the summer hiatus from lecturing, but still working at freelance indexing so the absolute laziness has to be confined to Sundays and Mondays through Thursdays are still busy.

All this means that for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday cooking is likely to be focused on one-dish meals, and dishes that are good (or even better) when reheated.  Sometimes Saturday meal is not even something reheated–it’s my treat-yourself day–OnlyBurger for after-market meal before I devote the rest of the day to quality time with the cat!  (This past Saturday the treat was a Texan (burger with braised brisket on it) and a peach ice cream sandwich (handmade at OnlyBurger) after the market.  The evening meal was Carolina Moon cheese and strawberries–both from the farmers’ market.)

packaged cross-cut beef shank

beef shank

This weekend schedule means that I try to do some planning and cooking on Thursday to have reheatable food on Friday and Sunday.

This weekend’s meals are going to feature an absolutely lovely cross-cut beef shank from Meadow Lane Farms (also from the Durham farmers’ market)  in an easy dish that can cook mostly unattended: osso bucco, but with beef shank rather than veal shank. (The osso bucco really just means “bone with a hole” or marrow bone.)

It’s a dish that’s easily adapted for one person–there’s nothing fussy about it–no need to be exact or tedious in measuring ingredients, and to make even more “unattended”, it will go into the slow cooker (also serving as rice cooker and steamer) while I’m out working on the farm.

Krups rice cooker/slow cooker and steamer

Krups rice cooker

I have to admit that I’ve not been a fan of the slow cooker until recently, at least for anything much more than cooking dried beans, or poaching a beef tongue. The flavors and textures just aren’t the same as when the slow cooking was done in the oven where some evaporation, browning and concentration takes place even in a covered dutch oven.

My attitude about slow cookers has changed since I found the Cook’s Illustrated Slow Cooker Revolution (See Bibliography) and learned some techniques for making food out of the slow cooker more flavorful.  I’m not ready to quit slow-cooking in the oven despite that, but in hot weather I’ll certainly use the slow cooker more often with some of the “tricks” I learned from that cookbook.

What I missed most in slow-cooker dishes was that savoriness that comes from browning (Maillard reaction)  when you slow-cook in a traditional oven or brown/sear on the stove-top.  In the slow  cooker, you can make this absence less noticeable by adding ingredients that contribute “umami“.

Some of the most useful things I learned from that Slow Cooker Revolution are ways to use the microwave oven to facilitate the slow cooker, and using some “unusual” ingredients  in recipes–not esoteric ingredients, just pantry staples that boost  the umami flavor:

  • precooking aromatics like onions in the microwave so that they don’t stay crispy-crunchy in the slow cooker,
  • using tomato paste (for umami) by browning it with the aromatics either in a skillet or in the microwave before adding it to the slow cooker,
  • using dried mushrooms to boost flavor (again, umami),
  • using foil packets in the slow cooker to keep some ingredients from over cooking.
  • using soy sauce or fish sauce to add more of that umami that many slow-cooker dishes don’t get without the evaporation and browning as in the traditional oven.
  • using the microwave to precook some ingredients to get rid of excess moisture that would otherwise dilute the dish in the slow cooker.

These are all easy to do–they really don’t add significant extra prep time or effort, and do really make a difference in the flavor.  I expect an easy, flavorful meal (or two) from the braised beef shank that is going to emerge from my slow cooker on Friday evening, thanks to some added umami!