Lamb Kebabs

We seem to be having a lamb “moment” these days, cooking it much more often than we ever have in the past.  So far, our favorite ways of preparing lamb are Guinness-glazed and Mediterranean-style.  Who could blame us, really, when perfectly grilled lamb is so tender with just the right amount of richness.  We also enjoy kebabs of many kinds (including beef, shrimppork, and more pork), so when we found Ina Garten’s recipe for lamb kebabs, we knew we had a winner.  The lamb marinates in a simple mixture of garlic, thyme, rosemary (or oregano if you don’t prefer rosemary), red wine, red wine vinegar and salt for 8 hours or up to 2 days.  Grill the lamb on skewers with onion and tomatoes, then serve over a bed of couscous with a lemony sauce on the side.  The result is a surprisingly sophisticated meal, considering how easy it is to make.  The marinade imparts complex flavor with minimal effort, and grilling the lamb kebab-style allows for uniform cooking to just the right doneness (the rare side of medium-rare is how we like our lamb.)  The sauce requires all the skill of boiling a pot of water, and grilling skewers of onion and tomatoes with the meat incorporates vegetables without having to come up with a separate side dish.  Couscous (or some other, similar granule-sized pasta or grain) provides nice texture, and the most basic version of it is as easy to make as the sauce (a/k/a bringing liquid to a boil.)  You can fancy up the couscous with sauteed shallots, toasted pine nuts and chopped fresh parsley if you want (as Ina does), but the kebabs and sauce provide enough flavor that plain couscous works just as well.  Looks like we’ve got ourselves another “keeper” lamb recipe.  Too bad I won’t let us eat red meat more often!

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The English translation of this recipe for Braciole di Manza is “Italian beef rolls in tomato sauce.”  Braciole (pronounced “bra-jule,” loosely and inexpertly if you are me) is a dish that Dan orders just about every time we go to one of our all-time favorite Italian restaurants in the town where he grew up.  When researching recipes to attempt to recreate braciole at home, we found that while the cooking method is consistent across nearly all recipes — thinly pounded beef topped with filling ingredients, rolled up and tied, then slowly cooked in a simmering red sauce — the filling components vary widely (other than breadcrumbs and cheese, which are pretty standard), with everything from prosciutto, parsley and rosemary, to spinach and mushrooms, to pine nuts and raisins.  Interestingly, my mom makes a similar style of dish, but with roots in Germany rather than Italy and totally different ingredients.  Her “rollfleisch” as we call it (I found related recipes called “rouladen” online) uses bacon, celery, onion and bell pepper for the filling, then the rolled and tied beef is cooked in gravy (or broth, wine or water.)  For our own, inaugural version of homemade rolled-meat-with-filling-cooked-in-liquid, we went with a basic braciole filled with breadcrumbs, Parmesan, garlic, parsley, oregano and Provolone, cooked in a simple red sauce.  The finished dish was anything but basic or simple, with rich, beefy goodness that complemented and infused the sweetness of the tomato sauce.  We’ll definitely make homemade braciole again, and maybe next time we’ll add prosciutto to the filling for another layer of meaty flavor.  But first, we plan to try our hand at a FoodieLawyer interpretation of rollfleisch.  Even better, we could take this slow-cooked, stuffed and rolled meat thing global, with versions inspired by all different types of cuisine — Mexican, Asian, Greek, Indian, French — so many possibilities!

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Slow-Cooker Italian-Style Pot Roast

Pot roast isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when we think Italian food.  (Come to think of it, neither is “slow-cooker.”)  Instead, and perhaps stereotypically, our go-to Italian dishes usually involve some sort of pasta:  lasagne, bolognese, meatballs and vodka sauce, to name just a few of our Italy-inspired comfort food favorites.  Not surprisingly, creating richly complex dishes like those requires a fair amount of effort and time in the kitchen.  We certainly don’t mind spending time in our kitchen, especially when the end result is so worthwhile, and we particularly enjoy how the cooking part of the meal becomes an event on its own when we make these dishes on the weekends.   (It’s no coincidence that two of the recipes include the word “Sunday” in their names.)   But we also appreciate easy weeknight meals that have all of the flavorful, comfort-food goodness, yet less of the work.  So we were intrigued to try this recipe from the book “Slow Cooker Revolution” for pot roast that cooks (without any help from us) all day in the slow-cooker, with Italian flavors from red wine, oregano, tomato, red pepper flakes and dried porcini mushrooms.  The recipe’s “Italian spin” goes right along with our philosophy that everything is better in Italy (or inspired by it.)  If an Italian grandmother had a handed-down-through-generations recipe for pot roast that she lovingly spent hours in the kitchen preparing to serve as the secondi (main) course at a long and festive Sunday lunch gathering of multiple generations of family, we imagine it would taste a little something like this.

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Mediterranean Grilled Lamb Chops

Hello?  Is this thing on?  Anybody out there?  I seem to remember that, a long time ago, this used to be a place where we would write about some of our favorite recipes, including photos, instructions and maybe a little funny or interesting (to us) commentary.  Now nearly two months after uprooting our entire lives starting a new adventure in Chicago, we hope to return this Internet space to all its former glory, and by “glory” I mean maybe one semi-decent recipe post per week, if we happen to get around to it.  Although the current frigid temperatures here and around the country (keep it to yourselves, Hawaii and Southern California) don’t make for the most grill-friendly conditions, this lamb chop recipe is good enough to make us want to bundle up in a parka, clear a path through the snow and fire up the grill.  The simple marinade made with basic ingredients of lemon zest and juice, olive oil, garlic, oregano and pepper yields surprisingly complex flavors when the lamb is grilled.  If you’ve never cooked (or eaten) lamb before, this is a great introductory recipe because it’s so quick and easy, yet so delicious that it tastes like a fancy entree that took hours and hours to prepare.

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Rib Eye w/ Goat Cheese & Lemon-Honey Mustard

Goat cheese on a steak?  We too were a little skeptical, at first.  But the recipe comes from Bobby Flay’s latest cookbook, “Barbecue Addiction,” so we felt confident that the combination would be more delicious than disaster.  We own several of Bobby’s cookbooks (we’re on a first-name basis because we met him once, for 25 whole seconds at a book signing) and we’ve learned that he has a great knack for pairing rather unusual flavor profiles, as well as creating unique sauces and garnishes to perfectly accompany various grilled meats.  And this rib eye recipe is no exception.  Don’t just take our word for it, take it from Bobby himself:  “This dish may sound like a crazy combination, but I have to tell you, it works.”  Chef Flay is absolutely correct that the tangy goat cheese and bright lemon-honey-mustard sauce come together to complement the rich beefiness of the marbled rib eye.  It’s a match made in steak heaven.

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Beef & Broccoli Stir-Fry

Back in the fall, after our summer garden bounty ended, we went to our local plant nursery in search of a vegetable that might do well during the fall/winter season in our area.  We planted a couple of broccoli plants, and were quite pleased to see them thrive and yield several harvests in February and March.  Because I have the palate of a child when it comes to veggies (a child who hates vegetables), I don’t like cooked broccoli when it has a strong vegetable flavor.  For that reason, we usually cook broccolini (when we can find it) instead of broccoli — broccolini has a more mild, sweet flavor than broccoli.  It also has thinner stalks and smaller florets and looks like it could be young (early harvested) broccoli, but it’s actually a hybrid of broccoli and Chinese kale.  (And neither should be confused with broccoli rabe, which is a leafy green from the same subspecies as the turnip, and isn’t related to broccoli at all.  Thus concludes our “The More You Know” PSA, Vegetable Edition.)  Upon realizing that our home-grown broccoli was actually broccoli, and that we couldn’t turn it into broccolini simply by picking it early, we decided to use our first harvest in a dish incorporating a sauce, just in case the broccoli had too strong of a veggie taste for me.  So we adapted this recipe for “broccoli beef,” stir-fried with an Asian sauce.  Turns out that home-grown broccoli has a pretty mild flavor (or at least ours did) that works equally well in a stir-fry as it does simply sauteed with olive oil, white wine, red pepper flakes, garlic and a bit of lemon juice.  But stir frying the broccoli with thinly sliced, marinated sirloin in the spicy, tangy Asian sauce was probably our favorite use of our broccoli crop.  It was so good that we plan to grow twice as many broccoli plants this coming fall.

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Guinness-Glazed Lamb Chops

Every once in a while, we have a meal or even just a bite of something at a restaurant that is so good, we are compelled to try to recreate it at home.  I was at a wine tasting recently, and had one of the best bites of lamb I’ve ever had.  It was an appetizer of tiny lamb chops that had been cooked in some sort of savory glaze.  Usually, the first place we start when attempting a restaurant dish at home is the restaurant menu, which hopefully lists at least some of the ingredients in the description of the food.  But, unfortunately, the lamb I had that night is not on the menu from the restaurant that hosted the tasting.  Despite that, and the fact that he wasn’t there and didn’t taste it himself, Dan managed to come up with a deliciously similar version, based solely on my feeble description of the dish and his excellent grilling skillz.  The best part about these lamb chops that taste fancy enough to be served at an upscale wine tasting?  They are ridiculously easy to make at home.

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Slow-Cooker Beef Burgundy

This is one of the more elaborate slow-cooker meals we’ve tried from the book “Slow Cooker Revolution” — the recipe involves a lot more prep work than the typical set-it-and-forget-it crock pot meal — but it’s well worth the time and effort.  Beef burgundy (also called “beef bourguignon”) is a stew that originated in the Burgundy region of France (hence the name.)  Its claim to fame is beef chuck roast (or similar cut of beef that lends itself well to braising) cooked slowly for hours in a red wine broth, then finished with a decadent sauce made with more red wine, mushrooms and pearl onions.  Cooking a little bacon to provide the fat for sautéing the carrots and onions and toasting the aromatics (garlic, tomato paste and thyme) makes for a hearty and flavorful base of the stew, even before adding all the wine and beef.  Although beef burgundy tastes similar to “company pot roast,” we found it to be more sophisticated (and even more worthy of company) with the rich sauce, earthy mushrooms and delicate, braised pearl onions.  Both dishes are comfort food at its best, but we like to think of pot roast along the lines of a comfy jeans or sweatpants casual family dinner, while beef burgundy is more like the dressed up, serve with china and crystal for the fancy guests kind of a meal.

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Taco Mac (w/ leftover taco meat)

We have a crispy beef taco recipe that we absolutely adore, so much so that we purposely make the full recipe — even though it yields way more than enough for a two-person Taco Night — just so that we will have leftovers.  The question is what to do with the extra taco meat.  More tacos are good, easy and convenient.  Nachos are a delicious and fun dinnertime alternative.  And of course, there is the casserole — a layered, catch-all medium for transforming leftover protein into a one-dish wonder complete with pasta (or some other starch) and melted cheesy goodness.  Channeling the (literal) king of all casseroles, king ranch chicken, and taking a nod from its East Coast casserole cousin, Johnny Marzetti — we adapted this recipe that uses tortilla chips for crunch and refried beans for a creamy layer and added enchilada sauce for extra Tex-Mex flavor and pasta to help bind it all together.  We love the end-result casserole as much as (if not more than!) the original beef tacos and can pretty much guarantee that a “Taco Mac Night” will follow most of our Taco Nights from here on out.

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Beef Barley Soup with Mushrooms

We make (and eat) soup year-round, but appreciate it most during colder months, especially when it’s a soup that involves homemade broth and takes time to simmer away on the stove.  This is not a quick and easy weeknight meal, but it’s perfect for a lazy Saturday or Sunday when your most pressing concerns are making this delicious soup, tending a fire in the fireplace, and maybe finding a good TV show or movie to watch while the soup cooks.  The key to this soup is the homemade beef stock, recommended in the original recipe found in  Cook’s Illustrated’s book, “The Best Recipe:  Soups and Stews.”  You could probably make beef barley soup with store-bought beef stock, but simmering the meat and bones with onion, red wine and water for several hours creates a rich and meaty broth far superior to the stuff available at the store.  So if you have the time and inclination, homemade beef stock is worth the effort for this hearty, beefy soup.

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