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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lamb and Guinness Stew

St. Patrick’s Day is one of those holidays that everyone can celebrate. No need for cards, or high expectations and there will be no dashed hopes. St. Patrick's Day is simply a time to celebrate life with good friends. While the origins of this day begin in Ireland and the Irish everywhere take exceptional pride in celebrating this holiday, they don’t seem to mind if the rest of us celebrate with them.

I made this recipe inspired not so much in honour of St. Patty's Day but as a result of our first shipment of our “meat” share from a local farm around Toronto. It is a small scale farm that celebrates the return of values of environmental responsibility, non-commercial farming, and preservation of heritage livestock breeds. And that's definitely something we can buy into. Moreover, they naturally raise heritage breeds of beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkeys and ducks without use of antibiotics and the result is incredibly delicious and flavourful meats. This week's shipment included Shropshire lamb chunks and farm fresh Jersey Giant eggs.

As soon as I opened the package of lamb, I could tell the difference. The meat had a fresh clean smell to it and felt fleshy and firm. As I sauteed the meat, I expected it to exude that characteristic gamey "lamb" smell, instead that strong gamey smell gave way to a slightly more subtle aroma. It was distinctly lamb, but not overpowering or heavy. I sampled a tiny piece as I browned the meat and found that it had a delicate texture that practically melted in my mouth. It could be eaten right now! No braising required. But several hours in the slow cooker transformed the lamb and the other ingredients into rich, earthy stew that warms the belly and the soul on an unexpectedly cold March night.

The rich, earthy aroma of the stew wafted throughout our house and we had to go for a walk in the afternoon to stop us from slipping bowls of stew out before our guests arrived.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Lamb Stew with Guinness

1 large onion, cut into large chunks
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 ½ c beef stock
¼ c pearled barley, washed
1 large can Guinness less a quarter cup
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into ½ inch coins
3 celery stalked, trimmed and cut into ½ inch half moons
1 tsp rosemary minced finely
1 lb lamb, cut into chunks (shoulder or leg may be used)
2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

1. Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat & slowly cook onions.
2. Meanwhile, add celery, carrots, barley, beef stock, rosemary, brown sugar and Guinness into a slow cooker.
3. Once onions have softened, add onions to the slow cooker. Season lamb with salt and pepper.
4. In the same sauté pan, over medium high heat, sear the lamb. Turn meat and brown on all sides. Add to the slow cooker. Cook for 6 hours.
5. At the six hour mark, add potatoes, stir and cover. Cook for another 2 hours. Serve.

*The alcohol in the beer evaporates leaving a rich, dark flavour.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, that’s okay, too. You can slowly cook this in a Dutch oven under low heat, for less time, add potatoes in about an hour before you plan to serve. The late addition of potatoes leaves them their shape a toothy feel.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Fully Loaded Grilled Cheese: Meet Croque Madame

Note: What To Do With.... will return. I promise. I sat down to write this week's post and I couldn't quite do it justice. So I will save it for another day.

Sandwiches can be a marvellous thing. If you have lunch with me regularly, you know this already. I like them alot. They can be as simple as the peanut butter sandwiches I used to eat when I was a schoolgirl. Or with time permitting and a well-stocked fridge, they can be as flavourful and complex as you like. These days, I like thick juicy Ruebens, Cajun chicken on a toasted kaisers, BLTs, Montreal Smoked Meats, and Turkey Avocados... (and there is always a thick smear of spicy Dijon mustard.)

However, I woke up the other morning with a craving for something else... I've had France on the brain lately and started to think about a bistro we stumbled upon in the third arrondisement in Paris several years ago. Then I remembered my lunch there, a Croque Madame with a salad frisee.

The Croque Madame is a variation of it's slightly more famous spouse, le Croque Monsieur. The Croques are crispy, crunchy, savoury and oozy. Despite its fancy French name, the Croque at a basic level is a grilled sandwich. The Croque Monsieur is traditionally layered with deli-sliced ham and Emmenthal while his Madame boasts the addition of a fried or poached egg. The egg may be tucked in between the slices of bread or it may lay on top of the sandwich.

In this version, I have used smoked turkey and mozzarella and added sauteed mushrooms for a woodsy flavour. (Mozzarella has such a delicate flavour, the mushrooms bump up the flavour abit.) It's optional but I think it makes this sandwich a little special.

Breakfast Grilled Cheese

2 tbsp butter
5 button mushrooms, sliced
2 slices of bread (I like multi-grain these days)
1 egg

pinch of salt, pepper, chili flakes
1 1/2 tsp of chives (to taste)
50 grams of your favourite cheese (I like mozzarella, old cheddar or Gruyere)
50 grams of sliced turkey, ham, pastrami, etc. (or a couple slices of bacon)

1. Heat a panini maker.* Heat a pan over medium heat until butter melts and foamy. Saute mushrooms and season with chili flakes until they sweat down. Season with black pepper and salt. Remove from heat and set aside.
2. Crack an egg into the hot pan and cook over easy.
3. Carefully lay one slice of bread on the panini press, add meat, sauteed mushrooms, chives, egg and cheese. Top with the second slice of bread and lay down the press on top of the sandwich.
4. Toast until you have nice grill marks on the bread and the cheese begins to melt.
5. Slice in half and serve.

*If you don't have a panini-maker, you can still make this sandwich. Heat a non-stick pan with about 1/2 tbsp of butter, once you have assembled the sandwich, place it on the heated pan to crisp up and turn golden. Carefully flip and brown on the other side. Serve immediately.

Since I started working for a British headquartered company, I have developed a strong affinity for "brown sauce" aka HP Sauce which has a strong presence in our staff cantina. Brown sauce is great with this sandwich.
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