November 22, 2015

Cranberry Sauce with Orange & Sherry

It's that time of year again. Canadians have already had Thanksgiving, Americans are just revving their KitchenAid™ motors and/or checking travel schedules.

Cranberry sauce has a place on many of our holiday tables. In North America, wherever there is a roast turkey, cranberry sauce must not be far behind. For some folks, it's as easy as opening a can and upending the contents into a bowl, and for others, it takes a little more time, but really not by much. Plus, you can make it ahead. Freeze it, if you're really super organized (labeled, of course) or just store it in a sealed container in the fridge for a few days before the big event.

This version is made with a bit of orange juice instead of water, and a splash of sherry (optional) at the end. It takes about fifteen minutes to make. If you like your cranberry sauce sweet, go with the full amount of sugar. If you prefer it tart, use the lesser amount. If you're not sure...well, you can always add more sugar later.

Cranberry Sauce with Orange & Sherry

340 grams fresh or frozen whole cranberries
3/4 cup - 1 cup sugar
3/4 cup orange juice
1 cinnamon stick
zest of one clementine, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons dry sherry (optional)

If you are using fresh cranberries, rinse them in cold water, and discard any that are overripe (discoloured, already squishy), and pick out any bits of stem, if necessary. Drain.

In a large saucepan (do not be fooled into using a small one! You want high sides to keep hot sugar from splashing and burning you) over medium heat, dump the cranberries (fresh, frozen, or defrosted), sugar, cinnamon stick and orange juice into the pan. Using a long-handled wooden spoon, stir it about and let it come up to a simmer. Add the zest, stir through, and let the mixture bubble and spit for about ten minutes, until all of the cranberries have swollen up and split open, and then about five minutes longer, stirring periodically. Taste the mixture carefully, by spooning some onto a cold spoon, letting it cool down, and then tasting. If you want to add a bit more sugar, by now you should be able to tell. If you want more sugar, add it and cook for another five minutes, until fully dissolved.

Take the pan off the heat, and stir in the sherry. Let the mixture cool (it will thicken up a lot as it cools, and the natural pectin in the cranberries has a chance to set). When it has cooled down to your satisfaction, put it in a serving bowl and cover with plastic or a sealable fridge/freezer container, and store in the fridge until ready to serve (or ready to transfer to the freezer). It will set up very firmly, so you may wish to stir it about before serving.

If you prefer your cranberry sauce warm, you can reheat in a saucepan it over low heat, or in the microwave (in the appropriate kind of dish, partially covered, so rogue cranberries don't explode all over the interior).

There you have it: a glistening jewel on your holiday table, and absolutely fantastic on turkey sandwiches the next day.

November 17, 2015

Lamb & Guinness Stew

This delicious stew is built using my base model for meat stew: brown the meat well on at least two sides, braise the meat with onions for a good long time, add vegetables and cook until tender, season to taste.

We had this bread the first night with thick slices of rye bread from our bakery, but just about any kind of bread would be good with this. The remaining half-batch of stew was put into a freezer container to be pulled out later in the month when we're feeling particularly in need of an effortless, homemade meal. Depending on my energy level at the time, I might, or might not, decide to make biscuits or dumplings to go along with the stew.

In Germany, the supermarkets and farmers' markets have a pretty wonderful concept: Suppengrün. Literally translated, it means "Soup greens" and consists of a single bundle containing at least a wedge of celeriac, a few carrots, a section of leek, and some parsley. Some of them will have part carrots and part parsnips, and some of them will add a whole bundle of fresh herbs instead of just the parsley, but that's dependent on the individual character of the vendor. The basic version is always available, and is nicely sized for one pot of soup or stew. This is not only perfectly sized for small German fridges, but also helps keep food waste to a minimum. One package of Suppengrün just exactly what you need for a recipe without having to buy a whole bag of carrots, for example, or an enormous celery root or bunch that you might not be able to use up in time before it gets squishy in the vegetable drawer. It takes care of the crisper portion of the mirepoix in one item, and even the fancier ones are well priced. I hope this idea catches on worldwide.

Lamb & Guinness Stew

Serves 4 - 6, depending on sides

900 grams cubed lamb shoulder, lightly salted
1 tablespoon peanut oil (or other oil for frying)
1 large yellow onion, diced medium
1 small leek, white part only, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup diced celeriac or 2 stalks of celery, diced
3 large carrots (or a mixture of carrots and parsnips)
2 large waxy potatoes
1 can or bottle of Guinness
2 cups lamb or beef broth or stock
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon white pepper, ground
1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup water

Heat a dutch oven over medium-high heat, and when hot, add the oil. When the oil is also hot, add a sparse layer of lamb cubes, and allow to sear on one side, before turning to sear on a second side. Remove the lamb from the pan to a holding plate, and repeat until all of the lamb cubes are seared on two sides. Add the diced onion, the leek, the bay leaves, and the minced garlic to the fond in the empty pot, and add a little splash of water if necessary to prevent scorching. If you are using stalk celery instead of celeriac, add that now, too. Stir and scrape up the brown fond in the bottom of the pot, until the onions are starting to turn translucent. Add the tomato paste, and stir through again, being careful not to let it burn. Add the Worcestershire sauce, the mustard seeds, and the ground white pepper, and stir through.

Then, add the Guinness, and stir through, making sure to scrape up the bottom of the pot very thoroughly. Add the lamb or beef broth or stock (it's okay to use a good quality concentrate that you like the flavour of), and return the seared lamb to the pot. Simmer, covered at a low temperature for 1.5 hours, for meltingly tender lamb.

While the lamb simmers, prepare the remaining vegetables. Peel the carrots and cut them into large bite-sized chunks. Same for the potatoes. The celery root should be heavily peeled, and diced fairly small.

When the lamb is tender, combine the flour and the half cup of water in a small, sealable container, and shake vigorously (holding it shut the whole time) to make a smooth slurry. Pour it into the dutch oven and stir it through. It will not look very appealing, at first, and it won't do much to thicken the stew until it comes up to a full simmer, but it needs to go in now because it takes about a half-hour to cook out the raw taste of the flour.

Add the prepared vegetables, stir through, and bring up to a simmer again (the slurry and the cold vegetables will bring the temperature down very quickly). Turn the heat back down, cover the pot, and simmer for another 30 - 45 minutes (testing larger chunks of carrots for doneness seems to work well). Alternatively, you can put it (covered) in the oven at 350 F for the same amount of time.

Serve with a fat slice of bread, or a bun, or biscuits, or dumplings. Leftovers, should you be so lucky, keep nicely in a sealed container in the freezer for up to a month without loss of quality. Be sure to cool the stew thoroughly before freezing, for best textural results. I like to leave it in the fridge overnight, and then transfer it to the freezer in the morning.