Sunday, March 25, 2012

Lamb Stew with Barley, Spinach, and Beans

Early spring is a good time to eat your greens. Local farmers are still producing them in greenhouses, and probably ramping up production as the weather warms up a bit. But if you still have a stash of root vegetables left, you could use some of them here, too. Balsamic vinegar and a handful of raisins add an unexpected sweet and tangy note to the stew, which plays nicely off the lamb and nutty barley.

Olive oil
1 lb stew lamb, cubed
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar, more to taste
Chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2-2 cups cooked kidney beans
1/2 cup barley
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 lb spinach, stemmed and coarsely chopped

Heat a little olive oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven. Add the lamb and brown well over high heat. If there's a lot of excess fat, pour it off. Add the garlic and onion and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add the 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar and enough chicken stock to generously cover what's in the pot. Deglaze the bottom of the pot with the liquid, scraping up all the stuck-on browned bits. Add salt and pepper, kidney beans, and barley, and lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer the stew for 45-60 minutes, until the lamb is tender.

When the lamb is tender, add the raisins and spinach and simmer another 5 minutes or so. Taste and add another splash of balsamic vinegar if desired. Serve hot.

Serves 4-5.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Chipotle-Garlic Braised Pork Chops

These are easily in the running for the best pork chops I've ever made. I've been playing with the idea of braising them for a while now, something I've not tried before, because when pan frying or grilling I often have trouble hitting the right level of doneness; so often they seem to go from not quite done to dry. Braising solves that problem by finishing the cooking process in a flavorful sauce so the chops stay moist.

This is best made in a braising pan, but a large skillet will do the job as well. Just make sure to use a nice heavy pan for good heat distribution.

Try serving these with Sorrel Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, or Goat Cheese Polenta.

3 good sized pork chops
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp chili powder (not cayenne, something milder)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, seeded and minced
2 cups chicken broth, warm

Get out the chops an hour or so before you plan to start cooking them, if you can manage it. Combine the salt, chili powder, and black pepper and mix well. Sprinkle this all over the chops and let sit for a while.

Preheat your braising pan over medium heat for a few minutes to get it nice and evenly hot. Add just a little olive oil and turn to the heat to medium-high. Place the chops in the pan, close together but not overlapping. Cook without touching for 2 minutes, until nicely browned on one side. Turn over and cook on the other side for another two minutes. Remove the chops to a place.

Add a little more olive oil to the pan, then add the garlic and onion and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add the chipotle and the chicken broth. Deglaze the pan, scraping up all the browned bits stuck to the bottom, which will be full of flavor. Simmer the sauce over medium heat until reduced somewhat, then add the chops back in. They should be no more than about halfway covered with liquid. Turn to the heat to low and simmer for 10-12 minutes, turning the chops once halfway through. Remove from liquid and let rest for a few minutes, then serve.

The braising liquid is delicious, if slightly spicy. Spoon a little over each chop when serving, and if desired, also over mashed potatoes, polenta, or whatever other accompaniment you have.

Serves 3.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sorrel Mashed Potatoes

The first, small harvest out of the garden is pretty much always baby sorrel leaves, with the first chives ready a few days later. These are both perennials that come up first thing in the spring. Sorrel has a bright, lemony flavor that works both raw and cooked. I put some in the salad and chopped a bit more for the potatoes.

2 lbs potatoes, cubed (peeled only if desired)
1-2 Tbsp butter
1-4 Tbsp milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup finely chopped sorrel leaves

Cook the potatoes in a pot of salted boiling water until tender (about 15-20 minutes). Drain and return to the pot. Mash well, adding the butter, milk, salt and pepper as you go. When the potatoes reach the desired consistency, stir in the sorrel. Serve hot.

Serves 4-6.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pasta Soup with Ham and Beans

A simple, peasant style soup, quick and easy to throw together when you don't have much in the fridge. Feel free to substitute cooked sausage, a bit of bacon, or even shredded chicken for the ham. And you can always toss in more vegetables if you like, maybe carrots or tomatoes or perhaps some chopped greens at the very end. A Parmesan rind would also add nicely to the flavor if you have one in the freezer.

Olive oil
8-10 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 - 2 cups cubed cooked ham
1 1/2 - 2 cups cooked white beans (or kidney beans)
Chicken stock (or ham stock if you have it)
8 oz. uncooked pasta (shells, gemelli, or macaroni are good)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a little olive oil in a soup pot. Add the garlic and onion and saute for 3-5 minutes, until tender. Add the ham and beans and enough stock to generously cover, bearing in mind you'll need to cook pasta in the liquid. Bring to a boil, then add the pasta and cook until tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4-5.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ham with Apple Cider-Dijon Glaze

Every so often I send my husband to the farmers market on his own, and I never know what surprises he is going to bring home. A couple months ago it was a 5-lb ham. Delicious no doubt, but not exactly something to cook up on a Tuesday night for the three of us. So it's been sitting in the freezer ever since. Yesterday I decided it was time to use it and we invited some friends over to help with the eating. I made a tangy-sweet glaze to go with it from some of the season's last apple cider.

1 5-6 lb bone-in cured ham
2 cups apple cider
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 cup brown sugar
1-2 tsp ground cayenne (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Place the ham flat side down in a roasting pan. Make criss-cross cuts about 1/2-inch deep across the top and sides. Place the ham in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.

While you start cooking the ham, put the glaze together (all remaining ingredients) in a wide bottomed pan such as a braising pan or Dutch oven (this is important; it will not reduce fast enough with a regular saucepan).  Whisk them together, bring to a boil, then simmer until much reduced. Turn off the heat and let it sit; it will thicken somewhat.

After the ham has cooked for the first 30 minutes, pull it out and baste it with some of the glaze. Return to the oven for 20 minutes, then add more glaze. Cook the ham for another 20 minutes, then insert a thermometer into the middle of the meat. The ham is done when it reaches 135-140 degrees. Try not to overcook as it will start to dry out. If it needs more time, glaze again and return to the oven until done. (For a larger ham it may take 2 hours or so total.)

When the ham is done, let it rest for 10 minutes or so, then slice and serve. Pass remaining glaze at the table as a sauce.

Serves 8-10.