Thursday, October 24, 2013

Embrace the Fall

We had a request recently to provide lamb shanks as an entree for a large group of people. Being that this is a specialty item that requires a bit of finesse to get right we decided to order a case and start experimenting on our friends to get our lamb shank groove back. For this particular recipe we decided to go with braised, then slow cooked shanks with plum and rosemary.

 I started by trimming and seasoning the shanks then dredging in a flour and spice mix before searing off in a hot heavy bottom pan in small batches with a good squirt of olive oil. Turn the shanks until browned all over then deglaze the pan with red wine. Reserve the fond and wine mix and continue to brown the remaining shanks in olive oil. This can all be done very successfully in a cast iron dutch oven but I chose to do this version in a clay casserole dish. At this stage I arranged a combo of turnip, baby carrots and yellow onion layering maybe 1/3 on the bottom of the casserole dish then topping with shanks and finishing with the remaining veg mix. I combined the reserved fond with 2 cups of good beef broth, 2-3 tablespoons of homemade plum jam and 1 cup (or more) of red wine. I covered the whole mix so that the liquid came 2/3 up the sides of the dish and sprinkled fresh rosemary and thyme over the whole mess. Cover with foil and pop into a 375* oven for an hour. No need to check progress at this point but lower the temperature to 300* and allow your house to fill with the most phenomenal smells of a French country kitchen. I let mine go for another 3 hours, uncovering for the last hour and adjusting the shanks so the don't dry out on top. At this point they are ready to serve but I recommend doing a quick skim of fat from the top of the dish.

 As far as what to serve it with, the options abound. Mashed potatoes or soft polenta are a couple of great accompaniments but we opted for German spaetzle with fried onions, fresh herbs and Gruyere cheese. Good crusty bread and a hearty red wine are also a must but I encourage you to make this dish your own and experiment with the basic plan.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Crostini Ideas

We tried out a couple of new crostinis recently for my birthday cocktail party and they went a little something like this: Peach, blue cheese and thyme infused honey and goat cheese, roasted squash and arugula braised in cassis vinegar. Both toppings were served on grilled baguette slices since I'm currently obsessed with these tiny toasts. They are dead easy to make and have less of a "gum-cutting" affect that  toasted crostinis can often provide. I use a half and half mix of melted butter and olive oil and lightly brush both sides of each baguette slice. Preheat your BBQ to medium and grill the bread in small batches. The learning curve for this procedure was steep for me with a high loss of burnt toast but once I realized how fast they cooked I got my system down.

This first appy is simply thinly sliced peaches and crumbled blue cheese served on a grilled crostini. The honey was simmered for 15 minutes with fresh thyme then allowed to cool before drizzling over the whole works. Reserve a bit of fresh thyme for a nice garnish.

The second crostini was just crumbled goat cheese and roasted squash cubes with arugula. The squash was diced small and roasted with olive oil and spices. The arugula was seared in a hot pan and steamed very quickly with cassis vinegar to just wilt the leaves. This can all be assembled and served at room temperature and combines some really nice autumn flavors.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Some New Entree Ideas

A short while ago we were asked to cater a dinner for Ziggy Marley and his crew for the evening that they were playing at the Capitol theater here in Nelson. We jumped at the chance to try something new and experiment on Mr Marley and his compatriots since we were given artistic license with the menu.

The first dish was based on the discovery of some really bright, fresh snapper filets. We generally don't offer any white fish like snapper, cod, halibut or sea bass on our menus due to the lack of availability of these products. This of course comes with the territory of living in a small inland town.

We gave the snapper a short (maybe 20 minutes) bath of lemon, olive oil, garlic and coarse salt before grilling it on a high heat BBQ to maybe 70% doneness. The chutney was made with roasted tomatoes, ginger, tamarind, lemon and black sesame seeds. A balance of sweet, salty and tart can be achieved by adjusting the flavor with cider vinegar and brown sugar and sea salt.

The next dish reminds me a bit of a paella without the seafood. It's a slow roast chicken dish that's prepared ahead and almost brined in sweet and acidic ingredients before being roasted in the oven  as a one pot wonder. 

We opted to use skin-on bone-in chicken thighs for their durability and depth of flavor with their dark tender meat. The make ahead part of the recipe includes preserved lemons, caper berries, whole garlic cloves, figs and dates, olive oil, brown sugar and white wine. Combine all of the ingredients in a stainless bowl with the chicken and cover in the fridge overnight. When you're ready to cook the chicken you can display the thighs skin side up in a casserole dish and arrange all of the other ingredients around the little poultry islands. Pour the remaining marinade over the chicken so that liquid comes to about the halfway mark on the thighs. I like to roast this dish on a convection setting @ 325*F. for about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes. The chicken skin should be well blistered and beginning to blacken and the sauce should be well reduced for serving along side. You may want to ladle some of the chicken fat out at this stage but it's not mandatory.

Both of these dishes would benefit from being served with plain aromatic steamed rice, grilled asparagus and a crisp green salad with radish, shredded cabbage and sprouts that you grew in your kitchen window.