Raising the Braising to a new level.

 

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As the leaves turn magnificent shades of red, yellow and orange, my mind thinks menu change! The cold New England winters make me long for warm, falling-off-the-bone meals. Actually, winter translates to hot and soothing meals that fill the soul. One recent Sunday I couldn’t stop thinking about lamb shanks. Most ladies dream of diamonds but I was contemplating gamey meats. Luck was with me when I nabbed the last three lamb shanks at my local Whole Foods. It can be difficult finding lamb shanks or short ribs. Most grocery stores don’t have real butchers as the meats come pre-cut and packaged. Whole Foods almost always has what I desire.

So humor me as I describe a fantastic way to cook lamb shanks. It involves one of my favorite condiments, balsamic vinegar. When I braise, I plan on staying home. I find a project, or a good movie that will fill the time. I never leave the house with anything running. Braising gives me a perfect reason to be a shut in stay home for a few hours.

 

¼ cup flour

½ tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste

¼ tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. ground cumin

1/8 tsp. cinnamon

3 lamb shanks

2 tsp. olive oil

4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with flat side of knife

1 large yellow onion, diced

3 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

4 celery ribs, cut into hunks

1 tsp. dried thyme

½ cup of good balsamic

1 cup of white wine

4 cups of chicken stock, store bought works great

 

  1. Whisk flour, salt, black pepper, cumin, and cinnamon together. Roll the lamb shanks in the flour mixture until they are coated.
  2. Heat a Dutch oven (4 to 6 quarts) over a medium-high heat and sear the lamb shanks on all sides until browned.
  3. Transfer lamb shanks onto a plate and preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
  4. Scrape any crusty bits from the lamb-searing, off the bottom of the Dutch oven. (don’t discard, just loosen them to prevent them from burning)
  5. Place the Dutch oven over medium heat and add the garlic, onion, carrots, celery and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, about 10 minutes.
  6. Stir in the vinegar and cook until it has evaporated slightly and thickened further, about 10 minutes.
  7. Return the lamb shanks to the pot and pour the white wine and chicken stock over them. If you don’t have wine, water is a fine substitute. Season the broth to taste with salt, cover the pot, and place it in the oven until the meat is very tender and falling off the bones. This will take about 2 ½ to 3 hours of slow cooking.
  8. Remove the shanks from the pot, onto a platter or sheet pan, covering them with foil to keep them warm, and strain the liquid into a saucepan. Discard the solids.
  9. Cook the sauce over medium heat until it has reduced by about half. This should take about 15 minutes.
  • Season the sauce to taste and pour it over the lamb shanks.

I served it with polenta and Parmesan cheese. I like to take the meat off the bone when I serve it. It falls off the bone and your guests won’t even need a knife to cut it. I’ve served it over tagliatelle and butter, which is utterly delicious!

 

I’ve adapted this recipe slightly from Cara Nicoletti’s recipe. I hope you enjoy it! If you prefer, you can cook this the day before you plan on serving it. Braised meats taste even better the next day. Enjoy!

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Bags Abound

Either I’m a slob, or the self-appointed keeper of time capsules. One day I had the notion of reorganizing the living room. What I found were hidden bags of memories. As I moved my chair, a variety of bags collapsed to the rug, tumbling about their colorful contents. I searched through the house for more storage space and all I found were MORE bags: knitting bags, diaper bags, school bags.. ….endless bags. Apparently it’s easier to get a new bag, than clean out an old bag.

Long ago, well into my first job, I splurged on a “designer” handbag. It was love at first shoulder toss. A bag with a pocket for my “T” pass and a rich Corinthian leather exterior helped me pretend Customer Service was a job worthy of my greatness. You look mah-vel-ous! Eventually I left each bag like an old lover, and traded it in for something new.

Later on, with one toddler in tow and another on the way, I found the exciting world of diaper bags. Really. Diaper bags had pockets and zippers and changing pads. They were a mother’s dream come true! Every morning I dragged a bulging diaper bag and my catchall bag to the car. I was a superstar of organization.

One small promotion (and many more bags) I was unceremoniously walked to the door by Security. Head down, bag high, I left the city to a life of providing day care for my kids and other children. It takes a special kind of person to watch other people’s children. I am not that person. But bags and containers were abundant as I organized Legos, Barbies, building blocks, and trains! I tired of this new career of long, thankless hours, being underpaid and battling conflicting values. I decided to venture out again into the work world. But first, I needed a new bag.

Working nights in a Call Center required me to fill my new bag with my snacks, dinner and knitting. Working nights and weekends dragged on for years….and years. I needed a change and maybe a new bag or two.

                                                                                                                                                                                         With full-time kindergarten starting, I found another job that gave me my nights and weekends back and FREE coffee! I needed a bag that would hold a multitude of personal things a former Girl Scout (for 5 minutes) may need: flashlights, books, snacks, cellphone, recipes and knitting. I got a work bag!

As the kids grew, their interests in sports required tight scheduling. I was in need of a bag that functioned as a diaper bag, but carried athletic uniforms, snacks and whatever else four kids may need during a day of relentless soccer fields, basketball courts, and riding rings (flies are extra).  My plan changed and I bought a multitude of bags. Saddle bags for everyone!

The kids kept growing; and needing things. So, off I went to another job with promises of big checks that allowed for many eyeglasses, contacts and, ahem, feminine products. Of course, I needed a new bag for me. Image is everything.

My parents retired to the Cape, building a home near a pond and the ocean. This required beach bags. You saw that coming, right? I packed enough things to spend a week at the beach. We never lasted more than an hour. The first granule of sand in an eye or in a snack ended the fun. Fun?

I am back working nights and weekends, basking in the glory of academia. With this new job came…..a new bag! Okay, several new bags. We do have four seasons in New England ‘ya know. I pack like I am never coming home when I go to work. I bring things just.in.case: knitting, books, snacks, dinner, headphones, umbrellas, tissues, keys and yes, flashlights. I may even have an ice scraper in there…somewhere…

My bags, like time capsules, will be around for a while. I cannot bear to empty them. They are filled with crumpled receipts, sporting venues, admission stubs, long forgotten schedules, yellowed bandaids and other memorabilia of my childrens’ youths. These bags fill empty spaces in my house, and in my heart.

As gravity continues to win the good fight, I decided to get back to working out. My school has a gym that I can use during certain hours for FREE. I have secret competitions with the students, in my head. They’re winning. My knitting bag is too small to function as a workout bag, so you know what I need? GYM BAG!

 

 

 

 

I waffled about this for a while

Buttermilk Waffles

I’ve been on a mission for the perfect waffle. I seriously started to ask myself if they existed. I know, real world problems! But waffle worries are a nice escape from real life worries. I like to give Youngest a good breakfast before sending him off to school. I’ve been buying frozen waffles since the beginning of time, but I needed a change. First of all, I need two boxes to get me through the week and that takes more freezer space than I like to lose. Secondly, they don’t taste that great but are so handy.

The first step towards the perfect waffle was a new waffle iron. I have a Belgium waffle iron but Belgium waffles are just TOO.MUCH. waffle. I enjoyed them for years, but for a 6:00 a.m. breakfast, they are just too much. So, after visiting a few box stores I found a decent inexpensive waffle iron.

The second step was to find a good recipe. I had one from Nana that was good but I wanted something that used buttermilk. After some searching online, I found a Martha Stewart recipe. It’s a good thing.

Ingredients

8 tablespoons melted, unsalted butter
2 cups of flour
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
3 large eggs, separated, room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

1. Heat waffle iron and then grease. I used Pam spray. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. I did not sift and the world did not end.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolks, buttermilk, cooled melted butter and vanilla. Pour into dry mixture and combine.
3. In a medium bowl, beat egg white until stiff but not dry. Fold white into batter.
4. Lade manufacturer recommended amount of batter onto waffle iron. Close lid, and bake according to manufacture directions, usually 3 to 5 minutes, until no steam emerges from waffle iron. I usually take a peak. I don’t like them too browned.
5. Transfer cooked waffle to a baking sheet; place in an oven set to low heat, about 200 degrees, while using remaining batter.

I made these on a weekday, which does take some planning. The wonderful part of this recipe is that the waffles freeze well. I put them on a cookie sheet and flash froze them for about a half hour so they wouldn’t stick together. Then I put them in a freezer bag. Tomorrow, they will be either microwaved or lightly toasted.
I serve them with either warmed maple syrup or honey, with a side of bacon. Everything is better with bacon!

I didn’t take a picture because, frankly, we all know what waffles look like. Luckily, Martha did. Please note how adorable waffles are in a towel-lined wooden box. Not happening at my house! Waffles are for eatin’!

Savoring Federal Hill

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This past Saturday, my adventurous sister took me on a walking food tour of Federal Hill in Providence Rhode Island. Our guide Cindy Salvato is the real deal. The tour is called Savoring Federal Hill. It takes about 3 hours to complete. Those three hours include education, stories and samples. How could THAT be wrong?

It all started at De Pasquale Square, in the heart of Federal Hill. She warmly greeted us at Café Dolce Vita with coffee and wine biscuits. Cindy limits the tour to 14 people. Some people were back for another tour. That’s how good it is.                                                 Our tour started at Antonelli’s Poultry shop. It’s the only live poultry shop in Rhode Island. You can pick the bird you want and they will slaughter it for you. It’s not for the squeamish, but it’s very old school. I’ve heard family stories about this. You can buy roasting bones and feet for chicken stock. They did bring out a live quail and a partridge. They also sell eggs and other products.

Image 3                                                                                              Then we were off to Venda Ravioli on the Square. Cindy educated us about canned tomatoes and other foods. She explained about labeling of foods and certain certifications. We sampled a variety of olives and cheeses. I made a mental shopping list including braciole and Bolognese sauce. They had amazing raviolis including lobster. I forgot to buy olives. They offered different colored and sized olives. Next trip! They also had different counters with fresh meats, cold cuts, olives, and a café.

I was in such a food bliss, that I don’t remember the order of shops we visited, but I remember all of what they had to offer.

Scialo Brothers Bakery sent my sense of smell into a tizzy. The bakery had an apricot tart that called out to me. Carol Scialo brought us into the back for samples and the history of the bakeshop. We got to watch the original ovens blast on. It was amazing. So as to not embarrass yourself to the locals, the name is pronounced “shallow” like water.

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Tony’s Colonial was a short distance down Atwells Ave. I bought a fabulous fig balsamic. In Italy, balsamic vinegar is considered a condiment. My kind of people! They also had many dried pastas and olive oils.

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Across the street at Roma Gourmet we sampled some olive oil and the best salami and cheese I’ve ever had. I went back after the tour and did some shopping. The shop had many imported dried pastas. Cindy told us how the preferred method of cutting pasta is with brass plates. Brass plates give the pasta a rough texture allowing sauce to adhere to it better. She also explained that thick pasta was good with thick sauce, and thin sauce pairs with thin pasta.

Gasbarro’s Wines is a premium wine shop, specializing in Italian and California wines. I loved walking in the cooler, set at 55 degrees and smelling like fresh cut wood. We sampled some wine. Since it was our last stop, I bought some Limoncello and some moscato.

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I’m sure I inadvertently omitted some other shops we visited. I was in such a food coma by the end of our tour. I did go home and cook for hours, dreaming about my next shopping trek to Federal Hill.

I highly recommend Cindy Salvato’s tour. She knows all the shop owners and peppers the tour with stories about Federal Hill Her food knowledge was inspirational. I went back and looked at her website after my tour. She is amazing!

So, book your tour with her. Federal Hill is very easy to get to. I had only been one other time, and walked past most of these shops. My next visit will be much more thorough. Here’s her website: Savoring Federal Hill.

Tell Cindy I said “hi”!