Italian Grilled Lamb and White Bean Soup

Fri, Mar 27 • 0

So I managed to score just under 3 lbs of lamb shoulder steaks the other day. My intention was to grill them, so when I got home from the store, I put them in a zip-top bag with a couple tablespoons of olive oil, 4 or 5 large cloves of garlic (crushed), a tablespoon of dried oregano, a medium yellow onion, chopped fine, salt and pepper. I massaged the meat and marinade thoroughly, and went back every 12 hours and did it again. I guess it stayed in the fridge for about 36 hours like that.

Unfortunately, last night, the weather was grim … cold and rainy, so grilling was out. So, loosely working with a recipe in one of my cookbooks, I ended up making a a soup with it. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know instantly that I used my pressure cooker, but I’m sure you can adapt it for a normal soup pot. I started out with dried beans, but you could soak your beans overnight, or even use canned, rinsed beans.

The result was possibly the best soup I’ve ever made.

3lbs. lamb shoulder, trimmed of fat, bones removed, and marinated (see above)
1 cup dried cannellini beans or great northern whites
4 cups water, plus another 2 cups
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups chicken stock
1 15oz can whole tomatoes, crushed, plus the juices
3 bay leaves

1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 package frozen string beans (optional)

2 tablespoons dry sherry

Put 4 cups of water, the dry beans, and the salt into the pressure cooker. Heat at high pressure for 5 minutes, and then quick release the steam, and drain the water off. Heat up a stovetop grill pan over high heat. Remove the lamb from the marinate, scraping off as much of the onions as you can, and grill both sides for a total of 5 minutes.

Make sure you turn off your smoke alarm and turn on your exhaust fan for this one!

Move the lamb into the pressure cooker, and stir in all of the other ingredients, along with the onion and garlic marinade. Set the pressure cooker for high pressure, 25-30 minutes. Allow the pressure to naturally release. (Total time, about an hour.) Remove the lid, and spoon off any of the fat that might be on the surface.

Update, Jan 4, 2010 : So I was reading about a new technique for dealing with dried beans, and I remade this recipe tonight because my grocer had a killer deal on lamb shoulder chops. The technique is this : Soak the beans in water for 8 or more hours, but add several teaspoons of salt to the soaking water. Then, drain the beans and rinse off the salt. Your beans will end up being firm yet creamy on the inside. This is what I did for this recent batch of the soup, and it seemed to work exactly that way. I put the beans in water before I left this morning, and otherwise followed the rest of the procedure, and it turned out great. This is how I’ll be making the recipe from now on.

Lamb and Wild Rice with Roasted Autumn Vegetables

Fri, Sep 26 • 0

A good project for a lazy Sunday. It will fill your place up with some great aromas.

This recipe is a mixture of rich, tender roasted pumpkin, flavorful root vegetables, and earthy lamb and wild grains, and is based on something I saw in the October ’08 Everyday Food magazine. In their version, it’s rigitoni instead of rice, and it’s goat cheese instead of chunks of braised lamb shank.

You’ll need to decide what to use for your braising liquid. I chopped up 1 onion, 1 stalk of celery, a handful of baby carrots, 2 crushed garlic cloves, and a tablespoon of fresh rosemary leaves in 2 cups chicken stock, but I bet you could get by with two cups of good red wine. Later, I used a rustic multi-grain rice mix I found in the store, but you could substitute it with your favorite, though I think brown rice would work better than Uncle Ben’s. I made this over the course of 2 days — braising the lamb the first day, and doing the rest the second day. It’s probably not a recipe you want to make after a long day at work, but it would be a good project for a lazy Sunday, or you could make most of it days in advance, and then put it all together for a weeknight dinner.

2 lamb shanks, trimmed of silver skin
some kind of flavorful braising liquid (see above)
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon oil

1 medium sugar pumpkin (about 3 pounds)
3 shallots
1 fennel (anise) bulb
salt and pepper
several fresh sage leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup multigrain rice mixture
1½ cups chicken stock

Braising the lamb shank :

Preheat the oven to 325°. Trim the silver skin off the shanks by slipping the point under the shiny whitish layer that covers the meat, and remove it in long strips to reveal the red meat below. Trim off the really big blobs of fat, too. Season with salt and pepper, and brown them on all sides over medium heat on the stovetop, about 8 minutes. Remove the shanks, and brown your braising vegetables if you’re using any, and add the liquid, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan (aka deglazing). Return the shanks to the pan, cover, and cook in the oven for 1½-2 hours. Remove the shanks, and cool enough to handle, then pull the meat off the bones, removing any fat and gristle, and set aside.

Roasting the vegetables :

While the lamb is cooking, peel, seed and chop the pumpkin into 1 inch cubes. Cut off the stalks and fronds of the fennel, and then slice the fennel bulb 8 ways, diagonally, but so each wedge retains a bit of the core, so they’ll stay together. Peel the shallots, and cut them in half or quarters depending on the size, still trying to keep each part connected to the core. Toss all of this in a bowl with the salt, pepper, sage leaves, and olive oil, and spread on a foil-lined cookie sheet and roast in a 425º oven for about an hour, tossing after 30 minutes, and checking every 5 minutes for the last 15 to make sure nothing is burning.

Putting it all together:

Prepare the rice according to the instructions. (If you did what I did, and made the other two parts of this recipe earlier, you can reheat the lamb and the vegetables in the same pan as the rice by using a steamer basket.)

Combine all, and taste for seasoning.

Mass Consumption

Fri, Apr 11 • 0

I wrote the entry on braising this morning because I made braised lamb shanks the other night. Looking over this weblog, you’d think we eat lamb every night. I guess I’m just on a kick. According to the US Department of Agriculture, I’m apparently making up for the rest of America. (It’s really hard to find precise numbers. Even USDA reports from the same year vary in exact quantities.)

Americans only eat an average of .8 pounds of lamb per year, and that number didn’t vary by much between 1998 and 2005. In England, the number rises to 13 pounds, but we’re all wimps compared to the Kiwis (New Zealanders), who pack away 50 pounds of lamb and mutton per year!

According to USDA statistics, the average American consumes 110 pounds of red meat, including lamb, but beef makes up most of that amount, at 62½ pounds per year. (And animal activists, take heart : we eat less than half a pound of veal, annually.) Americans consume the same amount of chicken per year as pork (46½ lbs.). And we consume only 16 pounds of fish and shellfish a year.

But those numbers are dwarfed by the quantity of fruit and vegetables Americans eat… 687 pounds per person, per year. (It breaks down to about 272 pounds of fruit and 415 pounds of vegetables.)

According to the USDA, Americans consume 1,965 pounds of food per year, or about 9/10ths of a metric ton of food. That’s 5.4 pounds per day, 1.8 pounds per meal. 1,965 pounds is exactly what this Lotus Elise sports car weighs.

(Source, source, source.)

Kefta Kebobs

Tue, Apr 1 • 1

Mix a pound of ground lamb (or ground beef) with finely diced leeks (or onions), 2 tablespoons softened butter, chopped garlic, smoked paprika (I’m addicted to this stuff), chopped fresh rosemary, chopped fresh mint. Form the meat mixture around a metal kebab skewer, about as thick as your big toe. I cooked them on a hot cast iron grill pan, but I’m sure they’d be better on a grill, turning frequently until cooked on all sides. I served it on a whole wheat tortilla, with a little salad mix, some chopped red onion, and mayonnaise, but yogurt and pita bread is much more traditional.

Lamb Hash

Mon, Mar 24 • 2

I started off by dicing a large russet potato and parboiling it for 10 minutes in well salted water. Then I sauteed some sliced onions and shallots. Once they were soft, I removed them to a bowl, and then browned off a pound of ground lamb, and removed it to the bowl. There was quite a bit of lamb fat left in the pan, that I probably should have drained off. Instead, I added a little more butter for browning, and tossed in the potatoes, and let them cook for 5 minutes, stirring every so often. Once they were golden brown on the edges, I poured the lamb and the onions back in. I seasoned it all with a little smoked paprika (which I’m apt to put on just about anything these days, except maybe vanilla ice cream), and a tuscan season blend made up of thyme and sage, as well as some ground black pepper. At this point, the potatoes were starting to break down on me, and a good deal of fond was left at the bottom of the pan, so I added a little chicken stock, scraping the bottom of the pan. Had I had a waxier potato, like a couple yukon golds, I would have used them. In the last few minutes, I tossed in some frozen edamame, popped on a lid for a few minutes, to let them thaw and steam.

I probably didn’t use the lamb to it’s full advantage, but it was fast, and tasty.

Antibiotics in Meat

Sat, Mar 1 • 1

mooSenators Ted Kennedy (D., Mass) and Olympia Snowe (R., Maine) must have read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, because he recently introduced a bill to limit the use of antibiotics in chicken, beef, sheep and pork farms. According to the book, modern industrial cattle farms force the cows to eat something they normally wouldn’t touch — corn. As a result, cows are prone to acquire all kinds of illnesses that normally wouldn’t be an issue, and so industrial farmers feed their animals large doses of antibiotics to keep infections down, even if a particular head of cattle isn’t showing any signs of needing them. Critics claim that this abuse of antibiotics contributes to increased antibiotics in humans. In the book, an industry insider flat-out admitted that if government were ever to step in and ban the use of antibiotics in farm animals, all of the modern industrial farming practices that have been in vogue for the last 30 to 50 years would cease to be profitable, and farmers would have to go back to raising livestock the old-fashioned, but more natural (and humane) way. This would have an impact on consumers at the check-out, doubling the cost of beef.

Other benefits of doing away with the modern industrial farm practices include making the food supply safer from e-coli contamination, and less risk of bovine spongiform encephalitis, aka “mad cow” disease.

Interestingly, corn farmers probably won’t be too upset about the passage of this bill, since the US government pays them a certain amount of money for a bushel of corn, regardless of market prices or demand. You can expect big opposition bill from industrial agrifarm giants like ADM and Tyson’s Food, though. Until the bill’s passage, you should probably stick to only buying meat with the green “USDA Organic” seal.

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