Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Braised lamb shanks with feta and sweet peppers

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Up until a few years ago, my idea of a slow cooker was bland, mushy, overcooked food. I don't know quite where the misconception came from. My mom never had a slow cooker when we were growing up so I had never actually had food made in one. Nevertheless, when it came time to create a wedding registry, I put one on the list: an inexpensive model because I figured I wouldn't use it much. My how the times change. My basic Crock Pot is a true workhorse and has become one of my favorite kitchen tools. I've just added a 4th slow cooker cookbook to my collection and these lamb shanks are the first thing I tried.

The book - The New Slow Cooker: Fresh Recipes for the Modern Cook - recognizes that slow cooked food can be a bit lacking in texture. But it drives home how much flavor it can have if done right. Plus, each recipe has some sort of fresh addition, something added at the end that freshens everything up and adds more texture. In this recipe it's the peppers and feta. Others add a salsa or salad.

As my maternity leave nears an end, I love my slow cooker even more. I can throw a meal into it while my baby sleeps so that I can play with her while she's awake. Once I'm back at work, I'll be able to have meals ready so I can spend every precious minute with her when I get home in the evenings. Few other kitchen tools can give me that! So, please, if you have a favorite slow cooker recipe, share it. I'll need plenty as my daughter grows.

Braised Lamb Shanks with Sweet Peppers and Feta
adapted from The New Slow Cooker: Fresh Recipes for the Modern Cook

4 lamb shanks, about 1 lb. each trimmed of fat
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
3 bay leaves
1 tsp. dry oregano
1 tsp. cumin
3/4 cup beef stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 small yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley
1 cup crumbled feta cheese

Season the lamb shanks generously all over with salt and pepper. In a large heave frying pan over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons of the oil. When the oil is hot, working batches if necessary, sear the shanks and brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate.

Pour off most of the fat from the pan and return it to medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, bay leaves, oregano and cumin and saute until the vegetables are golden, 6-8 minutes. Pour in the stock and wine and stir to dislodge any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Transfer the contents of the pan to the slow cooker and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Place the shanks on top. Cover and cook on the low setting for 7 hours, basting once or twice with the braising liquid if possible.

Carefully transfer the shanks to a platter and cover to keep warm. Strain the braising liquid into a small saucepan. Let stand a few minutes then skim away the fat with a large spoon. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

In a frying pan over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Add the peppers and saute until just beginning to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Remove from the heat, stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper.

Divide the shanks among plates and drizzle with the braising liquid. Top with some of the peppers and then sprinkle the feta over the top and serve immediately.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Morning Glory Muffins

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Many of my most loved recipes come from my mom. When we were kids she cooked for us all the time (she still does!) and we've come to love a lot of the dishes. We also love to recall some of the kitchen mishaps as I'm sure my family will one day do with my little blunders (I can't wait!). We never fail to laugh about the time she put cinnamon in tacos or how my older brother karate chopped her pumpkin roll as it rested on the counter.

These particular muffins made numerous appearances throughout our childhood, though none quite so amusing as a cinnamon taco. They're chock full of flavor with carrots, coconut, cinnamon and more. Plus, they stay moist for days.

On the day I made them, "Morning Glory" seemed the perfect name too. Up with Claire at 5, I saw the sun come up on what turned out to be a perfect September day. A few puffy white clouds speckled the sky, but the sun was bright and a cool breeze was blowing. Perfect weather for a warm muffin and a hot cappuccino on the deck.

Morning Glory Muffins
2 c. flour
¾ c. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
2 c. finely shredded carrot
1 c. finely chopped apple
½ c. currants or raisins
½ c. chopped walnuts
½ c. shredded coconut
3 eggs
¾ c. cooking oil
2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°.

Lightly grease 18 2 ½-inch muffin cups, or line them with paper bake cups.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. With a wooden spoon, stir in carrot, apple, currants, coconut, and walnuts.

In a separate bowl, stir together the eggs, cooking oil and vanilla. Add mixture all at once to flour mixture and stir only until moistened.

Gently spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups until each one is almost full.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until the top of a muffin springs back when lightly touched. Cool in the pan set on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove muffins from pan and cool on the rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Make 18 muffins.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Is it a muffin or is it a doughnut?

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Now that I've adjusted (more or less) to rising in the wee hours when our wee one is hungry, I find that the early morning is a fabulous time to cook. My husband also seems pretty happy about it. Last weekend, Saturday morning found me up at 5:30. With the sun just rising and cool temperatures, it seemed like the perfect time to make muffins.

Often on Saturdays, we visit the local bakery in Scotch Plains: the Suisse Pastry Shop. They have the BEST old-fashioned glazed donuts and really good apple fritters, among countless other tasty delights. These muffins taste a bit like those donuts and they're super easy to make. I'm also hoping they're a bit healthier! Another benefit: they make your house smell almost as good as the pastry shop.

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Donut muffins
adapted from Williams-Sonoma Muffins

7 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the topping:
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 9 muffin cups with foil liners, or grease 9 of the cups.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and beat until pale and smooth.

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. Add half to the butter mixture, then add the buttermilk, combining well after each addition. Add the remaining flour mixture and stir until just evenly moistened - the batter will be lumpy.

Spoon into the muffin cups and bake for about 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 5 minutes. Remove from pan and continue cooling until cool enough to handle.

To finish, stir together the cinnamon and sugar in a dish and melt the butter in a separate dish. Dip each muffin top in the butter then press it in the sugar.

Makes 9 muffins.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cilantro Lime Shrimp

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To me, shrimp and chicken are like blank slates - they adapt to so many flavors and cooking styles. Both make frequent appearances in my house since they're easy to keep in the freezer and they're relatively inexpensive. Needless to say, I'm always on the lookout for new recipes for both - especially ones that will work on the grill. My friend Sarah is in a cooking club with several of her friends and she told me about this recipe for Cilantro Lime Shrimp. She'd made it for her group and said it's one of her new favorites. The original says to cook the shrimp on the stove, but I skewered and grilled them. The sugar in the marinade caramelized a bit and they were delicious: sweet, salty and just a little bit spicy. Jeff's verdict: make them again! Easily an appetizer or a main course, it comes together quickly, which is just perfect with my little one getting more playful every day. (Fortunately she also naps leaving mommy time to blog.)

Note well: the marinade can be made ahead, but don't add the shrimp until about 45 minutes before you cook them. The citrus in the marinade will start to cook the shrimp and will make them rubbery if left too long.

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Cilantro Lime Shrimp

¼ cup orange marmalade
½ cup fresh lime juice
3 large garlic cloves, minced and mashed to a paste with 1 tsp salt
½ cup fresh cilantro sprigs, chopped fine
2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs soy sauce
½ tsp dried hot red pepper flakes
1 pound large shrimp (about 24), shelled and deveined, leaving tail and first shell segment intact

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In a small bowl whisk together marmalade, lime juice, garlic paste, cilantro, oil, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste and reserve 1/3 cup in a ramekin for dipping sauce. In a large sealable plastic bag combine shrimp with remaining mixture and marinate, chilled, tossing occasionally to coat shrimp, 45 minutes.

Drain shrimp and thread onto skewers.  Grill until cooked through, a couple minutes on each side.

Garnish shrimp with cilantro sprigs and serve with reserved dipping sauce.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Olive and goat cheese tart

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Lately I've been seeing a lot of fabulous recipes on other blogs - I've been bookmarking them like mad and have actually found time to try a few. The ingredients in this one should leave no guesses as to why I decided to give it a try: olives, goat cheese and rosemary. Need I say more?? Oh and it's also from Todd English. Several years ago, we dined at Olives in New York. Thus began my love affair with Todd English. I will never forget the olive tapenade that was served at the start of the meal-  everything was delicious (including the martinis!).

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The tapenade features in his recipe, but would be just as good slathered on bread, sandwiches, etc. The original recipe, which I got from Kate's Kitchen, calls for anchovy filets. I substituted anchovy paste because I had it on hand. And I may have bumped up the amount of goat cheese...

Served with grilled rack of lamb and a fennel, arugula and mixed baby tomato salad, we agreed this was the best dinner we've had since our daughter was born. We finished the leftover tart last night with some grilled chicken and it was still delicious. This recipe will be made again and again in my kitchen!

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Olive & Goat Cheese Tart

1 T unsalted butter

1 large or 2 small onions, very thinly sliced
1 recipe black olive paste (follows)
1 recipe tart dough (follows)
1/2 c kalamata and cracked green olives, pitted and chopped
1/4 c crumbled goat cheese

For the crust:
1 1/8 c flour
1 1/2 t sugar
1/4 t kosher salt
1/4 c cold water
8 T unsalted butter cut into 8 pieces

Black olive paste:
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. fresh rosemary
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp. anchovy paste

Make the dough:
Pulse the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add the water through the tube and pulse again. Keep the processor running and add the butter one piece at a time until the dough forms a ball. Refrigerate at least 20 minutes.

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Make the black olive paste:
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it forms a paste.

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Make the tart:
Melt the butter in a pan and saute the onions until caramelized.
Preheat oven to 450F. Press the tart dough into the bottom and up the sides of a tart pan. Spread the olive paste evenly over the bottom, then top with the caramelized onions. Sprinkle the chopped olives over the onions and finish by crumbling the goat cheese over the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the crust is golden and the cheese is beginning to brown.
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