PROJECT RECIPE: Lamb Stew with Butternut Squash

Have you ever been to Food52? You should bookmark it if you don’t have it already. Or better yet, subscribe and you get a weekly email. It’s pretty much a genius concept. Each week, the lovelies who run the website ask readers to submit their best recipes based on a featured seasonal ingredient. They try the ones they really like and select a winner. And you can go onto the website and get the winning recipe with notes from Amanda and Merrill.  Sorta like my PROJECT RECIPE idea. The website is so popular, it has grown to include a shop for cooks and foodies, a weekly column, guest posts and tons of tips and advice for home cooks. If I ever need inspiration for an ingredient that I find myself with and I just don’t know what to do with it, I always go there. Tons of ideas. Just search by your ingredient.

I found this recipe for Lamb Stew with Butternut Squash on the website a while back and it just called me in like a dinner bell. What’s not to love? A hearty one pot dish for a chilly night’s dinner. Winter squash. Lamb. I’m in.

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Project Recipe Verdict: Keeper. This recipe did not disappoint, obviously. Lamb gives it a bit of an unexpected twist. This lamb stew meat was luscious with just the right amount of fat marbled through it. I figured the stew would be bland as the recipe doesn’t call for much spice or seasoning, but is was dynamite. The lamb and tomato flavors don’t need much here because they marry so well.

How I changed the recipe: I didn’t have any butternut, but I did have a gigantic hubbard squash in the garage that I had been storing since last October. They will store in the right conditions for seemingly forever. I figured I better not push my luck too much with it though since the weather (hopefully) will be getting warm soon. It tastes almost like butternut. Maybe not as sweet, and definitely harder, so I braised it longer. About an hour total with the squash, and it was nice a soft. I checked the lamb after about an hour, and it seemed like it was close to done, so I added the squash then and gave it another hour. It’s really hard to overcook something like this. I also used vegetable stock instead of beef because I didn’t have any beef stock.

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The key here is to get a nice brown crust on the meat before you add all the rest of the ingredients. It really brings up the flavor and protects the meat from just becoming gray mush when you braise it. Don’t be afraid to turn the heat up high and really get it sizzling. If it sticks a little, no worry. You end up scraping up all the browned bits with the stock anyway, which helps build the flavor.

This was an easy (but not fast) one-pot meal. Definitely nice for a Sunday evening, since you can put it in the oven on a late afternoon while you do other things around the house. Since the hubbard I cut up to use for this has yielded about two and a half gallon bags of squash, which I’ll put in the freezer, I’ll definitely have to make it again.

Fancy Beef Noodle Soup

I love making soup. I love eating soup, for that matter. I especially love bringing it in my lunch to work.

There aren’t a lot of options for buying lunch where I work. And, hello? That’s one of the first things in all the articles about personal finance that is recommended–brown bagging it. It saves a pile of money.

Besides, who would want to buy lunch from the nearest fast food joint, when you can have a warm hearty bowl of this?

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I used to work at an office that was right beside of a bar. The bar had pretty good food, and did a pretty steady take-out operation for lunch. They had the best beef noodle soup. It was pretty simple, too. I’ve made my own version a few times with deer meat that we’ve canned. Canned deer meat is good for soups because canning it actually cooks the meat, and sometimes it can be a little chewy. The Hubs isn’t real big on soup for lunch like I am though. And he especially isn’t big on the “beef” noodle soup that I make. So this time I decided to spiff it up a little. A little something extra never hurts.

White wine and fresh rosemary kick this soup up a notch or two on the fancy meter.

Fancy “Beef” Noodle Soup (makes 7 generous servings)

  • 2 + 2 Tb. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Tb flour
  • 1 lb. beef or venison stew meat
  • 1 quart + 1 pint beef or venison stock
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tb. steak seasoning
  • 3/4 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 Tb fresh rosemary, chopped fine
  • about 3 handfuls dry egg noodles

Heat 2 Tb. of the oil in a large pot. Add the onion and carrots. Turn heat to low and put a lid on the pot. Let the vegetables sweat about 10 minutes, checking occasionally.  Once the vegetables are soft, take the lid off and turn the heat up to medium high. Cook, stirring often, until they begin to turn golden brown–about 4 minutes. Add the garlic when the onions and carrots are starting to get a little bit of golden brown to them. Don’t let this burn! Add the other 2 Tb. of oil and sprinkle the 3 Tb. of flour over the vegetables. Stir well until they are all coated with the flour. Add the beef/venison.  (If it is uncooked, turn the heat down a bit and cook it for a few minutes until it begins to brown on all sides. Make sure to stir often so the vegetables don’t burn) Stir well and add the stock and wine. Add about another 3/4 to 1 quart of water. Add the mushrooms. Cover the pot and bring it up to a boil. Turn it down to low and let it simmer with the lid on for about 25 or 30 minutes–enough time for all the flavors to get together and for the alcohol to cook out of the wine. Bring the pot back up to a boil and add the egg noodles. This is the tricky part–getting the noodles to just the right doneness without overcooking them. You want to err on the side of slightly undercooked noodles, as they will continue to cook as a the soup cools. I boiled the soup about 5 minutes and tested the noodles. Slightly underdone-perfect! Remove the pot from the burner and serve immediately. As soon as the pot cools enough to put it in the fridge, do so to keep the noodles from getting too mushy. I waited about 30 minutes.

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Speaking of soups and bone broth, this couldn’t have been more timely. I wrote most of this post Sunday evening, but this week, my friend Jodie, shared an article on Facebook from Dr. Mercola about the benefits of bone broth, that I wanted to pass along. It really is an unsung superfood. Got a touch of the sniffles? Reach for bone broth instead of the cold meds. It really is truwhat they say about chicken soup when you’re sick–but only if it’s made with real bone broth, not the stuff that comes from a can.

Here is the link to the article on Dr. Mercola’s site. The compounds and minerals present in bones are anti-inflammatory. It’s important to eat foods with anti-inflammatory properties because so much of the Western Diet is made up of food that CAUSE continuous low-grade inflammation throughout our body. Over the years, this chronic low-grade inflammation leads to common diseases and afflictions that we suffer from today like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. One thing I didn’t know about bone broth that I learned Dr. Mercola’s article, is how beneficial bone broth is for your gut. Even more of a reason to get this superfood into your diet, since the health of your digestive system has a ripple effect through the rest of your body.

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Bone broth is so easy to make, and if you make a lot of soup like I do, you’ll want to have plenty of it on hand. I started  making my own for economic reasons. Ever had a chicken or turkey carcass leftover that you just threw out? That’s all you need to get started (well, and maybe some aromatics). Toss those leftover bones (you can do this with just about any kind of bones, beef, chicken, turkey, deer, even fish, but that’s a different post…) in the crockpot and add a splash of white wine (or red if you’re making beef broth). The acid in wine is necessary to extract some of those beneficial minerals out of the bones. If you don’t have wine, you can use a little cider vinegar.  Add some aromatics like carrots, onions and celery. I keep a gallon ziplock bag in my freezer of vegetable scraps like carrot peelings, stems of kale, root ends of onions, etc. So I just toss in some of that. (when the gallon bag is full, I use that to make vegetable stock–another money saver). Add a little salt and pepper, or spices like thyme or rosemary. Fill the crockpot to just below the top with water and cook on high for at least 12 hours. I usually have to add some water. The longer you cook it, the more of the minerals that will break down in the broth. I’ve cooked it on low in my crockpot for over 2 days before! I usually break a turkey carcass in half and cook each half separately since my crockpot isn’t that big. This will yield about 4-5 quarts of stock. It freezes beautifully, and you’re always ready to make your next batch of soup!

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Duck, duck, goo… er, Tikka Masala!

I mentioned earlier this week that I was making dinners based on what I had in the freezer that needed to move.  A couple of the Hubs’s coworkers are avid duck hunters, and sent us several packages of duck breast from their last hunt of the year. I was tickled to death that they thought of us when they were thinking about  who might like some of the meat from the ducks they’d brought home.

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There are a handful of packages, each with one or two breasts in them. Skinned. Most recipes for duck hinge on duck breast with skin still on, showcasing that delicious crispy, fatty, beautiful thing that is duck skin. But my Afield cookbook has a number of recipes for duck breast without the skin. Seriously, that cookbook is quickly becoming indispensable to me. I’ve used it a lot since I used it the first time last spring.  Any by the way, look how beautiful these cuts of meat are. Gorgeous.

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Okay, maybe I’m the only person who thinks that uncooked duck breasts lying on a cutting board a gorgeous. But they are.

I’ve mentioned before, that we’re fans of Indian food. There are a couple good places to eat here in town that we like to visit, but I also make it at home frequently.  So, the Duck Tikka Masala recipe was a no-brainer for me when I was searching for duck recipes.  This recipe was a little strange in that, it said to marinate the meat overnight (ok, no prob) then, broil it on a sheet pan for about 8 minutes under the broiler (hmmm… odd, but I’ll try it). You made the tikka masala sauce separately in a skillet, and added the broiled duck meat after it was done and beginning to brown. This worked okay, actually. The meat got a little browned and a nice crust on some of the pieces. We tried one as we took the pan out of the oven. A little gamey, but really delicious–there’s not really another type of meat to compare it to.

One thing that I’ll likely do differently next time is use less cayenne. The recipe called for 2 teaspoons, in addition to the garam masala (which I made myself–it’s easy). It was a little on the hot side. I like my food a little spicy, but this was a bit much.

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I have another recipe–Duck Yakitori– from this cookbook flagged for later this month as I continue to work my way through some of the packages from the freezer. I can’t wait to try that one.

Cleaning Out the Freezer and Saving Some Dough

A few weeks back, I was looking for something in our deep freezer, and I kept coming across packages of long-forgotten frozen food think “Oh, I need to make this soon…” I guess I have a tendency to put stuff in there and forget about it. And one thing that would absolutely kill me is to waste food. I would hate to have to throw it out because it was in the freezer too long.

About the same time, the Hubs and I were talking about vacation plans for this summer. We need to start saving up some money for whatever we decide to do, and I got an idea. I would spend as little as possible at the grocery store for a month, which would force me to clean out that freezer for planning meals. It would be a win-win since it’s time to start cleaning it out anyway to make room for for this seasons spring and summer bounty to put away. And I could put into our savings account the money I would have spent on groceries.

 

Just look how much I had to work with.

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It’s ridiculous. So much meat. Beef, deer, pike the Hubs brought back from Canada. Pureed winter squash. Blueberries. And stock. So much stock.

Don’t get me wrong, I count myself lucky. It’s nice to have a big deep freezer to fill up with so much good food.

So far, this month, I’ve made a good bit of progress. Of course, I can’t skip buying stuff like coffee and yogurt at the grocery store. But the grocery bill was lower for my first trip (I try to only make two big trips per month). Another month of doing this, and I should have made a good bit of progress getting stuff out of the freezer from last summer and fall, and hopefully have a nice little chunk of change for vacay.

A couple nights ago, I was planning to make Duck Tikka Masala (for a later post), but I realized I needed to marinate the meat overnight. I didn’t have something lined up for Plan B, so I peeked in the freezer, and found a cup of arugula pesto I’d frozen after the ridiculous explosion of arugula in my garden late last spring. I seriously had so much I didn’t know what to do with it. An easy way to use up a bunch of any green or herb is to make pesto. You can make it with mint, kale, chard, arugula or whatever you have on hand–in addition to the classic, made with basil. It freezes well, and is perfect to bring a burst of warm summer evenings to a cool night dinner in late winter.

My no-fail, favorite cookbook, The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper, has a a great recipe for pesto risotto. Dinner was done and in a bowl in about 30 minutes. And another two containers were out of the freezer–(one for pesto and one for turkey stock).

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The deliciousness will continue all month long, I’m sure. It’s hard to tell what kind of goodies I’ll find when I start digging out the freezer.

Signs of Life

I’d like to deeply apologize. This blog has had to take a backseat to my “real” job for the last few weeks. You know, the one that pays the bills? The one that I’ve spent between fifty and sixty hours a week at for the last seven weeks? I’ve had little time to do much else than come home from work each night, have a  glass of wine for dinner and collapse into bed only to do it all over again the next day.

And, it seems like winter is never going to end. We had a nice little teaser of temperatures in the 60s a couple weekends back, but pretty much the rest of the time it’s been snowy and icy and in the high 20s. Since November, I think.

So, when I did get those two glorious unseasonably warm days a couple weekends back, I couldn’t stay away from my backyard. And looking at my garden.

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I was thrilled to see something green coming in under a nice warm layer of leaves in my vegetable garden. It is the garlic I planted last fall. I actually thought the Hubs weed-eated it the last time he did yard work last fall.

I hope it won’t be long before spring comes back. I’m really getting antsy. More so this year than ever before. Time to get my hands in the dirt!