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Archive for October, 2010

IN PRAISE OF THE BRAISE, PART II: SLOW COOKING MAGIC!

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

When the Crock-Pot was invented in Missouri in 1960, no one could have foreseen how great the impact of this modern day slow-cooker would be.  It changed the way many women cooked, allowing them to easily prepare early in the day and have a hot dinner magically awaiting them upon their return, hours later!   Indeed, it was a woman’s dream and freed up much time spent at the stove.  From stews to chili, pot roasts to soups, the slow-cooker has enabled the working person to serve up home-cooked food while putting in a full day at the office.  Interestingly, the Crock-pot also transformed the way Jewish women prepared their weekly Shabbat cholent, a dish that was traditionally made and left in the oven or on the stovetop overnight; nowadays, it is pretty much exclusively prepared in a crock-pot.

With slight variation, most slow cooker recipes are quite simple: dump, cover, go!  This simple formula notwithstanding, crock-pot cookery recipes abound, displaying an incredible amount of creativity and ingenuity for what is mostly a hands-off cooking experience.  With that said, here are some helpful guidelines to ensure good crockery cooking:

  • What the crock-pot does best is braising – cooking a food (usually meat or vegetables) in a small amount of liquid at low heat for a lengthy period of time. The long, slow cooking develops flavor and tenderizes foods by gently breaking down their fibers.  The point being:  tough cuts of meat benefit the most from braising (some examples would include flanken, brisket, and shin meat).
  • A tight-fitting lid is very important to prevent the liquid from evaporating. Some people even close the lid over a piece of parchment paper to create a better seal.
  • To brown or not to brown?  Though many crock-pot recipes call for browning the meat as is classically done when braising (see last week’s article!) prior to slow cooking, many do not.  The benefit is that the meat develops more depth of flavor.   Generally, this is a matter of personal preference.  However, browning is a must with ground meat, and enables one to reduce the fat by draining after browning.
  • Spray the inside of your crock-pot with non-stick cooking spray for an easier clean up.
  • Most crock-pots come with low or high settings, allowing YOU to control the cooking time based on your own schedule.  High will cook faster, low will cook slower. The average cooking time for slow cooker recipes ranges between 4-10 hours.  Some slow-cookers have a “warm” setting, helpful for keeping food hot after cooking has completed.

 

With cooler nights upon us, what better way to warm up than by coming home to a hearty stew of Braised Lamb Shanks with Root Vegetables?  Prepare in the morning and forget about it till dinnertime!

Braised Lamb Shanks with Root Vegetables

Serve over a bed of Basmati rice or couscous.

Ingredients

 

1 Tbsp. olive oil

5 meaty lamb shanks

1 large onion, thinly sliced

3 large carrots, peeled and cut in 1” chunks

1 fennel bulb, fronds and stalks discarded, halved and sliced crosswise

1 celery stalk, sliced

1 medium potato, peeled and cut into 1” chunks

2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1” chunks

5 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp. kosher salt or more to taste

¾ tsp. ground black pepper or more to taste

1½ tsp. dried rosemary

1½ tsp. dried thyme

3 Tbsp. flour

3 Tbsp. tomato paste

¼ cup orange juice

2 cups dry white wine

½ cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock

¾ tsp. grated orange zest (optional)

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over high heat.  Sear the shanks on both sides until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes per side.  Transfer to the slow-cooker bowl.  Add onion, carrots, fennel, celery, potato, parsnips, and garlic to the bowl.  Combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl, mixing to blend and dissolve flour.  Pour mixture over lamb and vegetables.  Cover with lid.  Place bowl in slow cooker and turn on “low” setting.  Cook for 8-9 hours.  Skim off fat if necessary, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  

Serves 4-6.

Naomi Ross and the Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross

 

 

 

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In Praise of the Braise

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

When we turned on the heat this past week, the new reality of the cooler weather began to sink in…to my cold hands and feet, that is.  As everyone knows, we are creatures impacted by the seasons, and this applies to our cooking as well.  So it was a natural response when, asked by a friend what recipes I was working on, that I dismissively replied, “recipes for the ‘Braising Season.’”

“The WHAT season?  What was that you said?”

Braising.  Simply put, the perfect cooking antidote for cold wintry nights, bound to warm the body and soul.  Or, if you are looking for a real definition:  Braising is a cooking technique in which the main ingredient is seared, or browned in fat, and then simmered in liquid on low heat in a covered pot.  Also known as “pot-roasting,” this is an essential technique for yielding succulent, tender results from otherwise tough cuts of meat.   By slowly simmering the meat in liquid (often wine or stock), the connective tissue found in more economical cuts of meat (parts of the animal that were well exercised) breaks down and melts into the fabulously flavorful cooking liquid which in turn helps to tenderize the muscle fibers.  The cuts of meat that benefit the most from this cooking method include: brisket, shanks, kolichel and short ribs; however, chicken (bone-in), firm-fleshed fish and vegetables can also benefit from this method with mouth-watering results. 

Beyond the amazing aroma that will fill your home when braising (and jealous neighbors wishing they were eating at your house for dinner!), there’s also some practical benefits to mention.  First of all, one-pot cooking means less clean-up.  Braising is also pretty much hands-off once the meat has been seared and the cooking has commenced.  This means your dinner can be prepared hours in advance and your hands are free to do other things while it cooks away.  

Braising can be done stove-top or in the oven.  I favor a combination of the two – browning the meat stove-top to start, then transferring to the oven for the majority cooking time.  With this approach, a pot that is both stove and oven friendly is particularly helpful – a Dutch oven or LeCrueset type of covered enameled pot/casserole will be great for this.

Comforting and homey, a pot roast will satisfy on the coldest winter night, transporting you back to your grandmother’s kitchen.  In recent years though, some braises have taken the front and center at high-end restaurants.   Here is my take on Braised Short Ribs – perfect for an intimate dinner or a crowd, this rich dish can be prepared in advance if desired.

Braised Short Ribs with Port and Pomegranate Sauce

Serve over a bed of mashed potatoes or parsnips.

Serves 4-6.

2 tbsp. olive oil

4- 4½ pounds beef short ribs

1 cup chopped carrots

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped celery

8 garlic cloves, minced

¾ tsp. kosher salt

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 ½ cups dry red wine (Cabernet or Merlot)

2/3 cup Port

1½ cups (12 oz.) crushed tomatoes 

1 cup low-sodium chicken or beef stock

5 tbsp. pomegranate molasses

1 tbsp. honey (or more to taste)

1 bay leaf

2 tbsp. minced parsley or more for garnishing

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Heat oil in a heavy, large, oven-safe pot or casserole dish, over high heat.  Sprinkle ribs with salt and pepper.  Working in batches, brown ribs, turning occasionally, about 3 minutes per side.  Transfer to plate and set aside.  Lower heat to medium-high.  Add carrots, onion, and celery to the pot.  Season with ¾ tsp. salt and ½ tsp. black pepper.  Sauté for about 5-8 minutes, or until vegetables become tender, stirring occasionally.   Add garlic, stir to blend, and cook for another 3 minutes.  Add red wine, and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add Port, tomatoes, broth, pomegranate molasses, honey and bay leaf, and stir to blend.  Bring back to a boil, and simmer for about 6-8 minutes and until mixture is slightly thickened.  Return ribs to the pot, and boil for about 5 minutes.  Cover and transfer to oven.  Bake until meat almost falls off bone, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours.

Skim off excess fat from surface if necessary.  Using tongs, transfer ribs to a large bowl.  Return pot to stove over low heat.  Season to taste, adding more salt, pepper or honey if necessary.  Add minced parsley and simmer cooking liquid until slightly reduced, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and top ribs with sauce.  Sprinkle more minced parsley to garnish, if desired.

Naomi Ross and the Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross

 

 

 

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