Sunday, January 29, 2012

So Friday's post (especially the awesome on that no one got to read) was about learning about recipes, combining them, and making new recipes.   This is actually a new concept for me.  Sure, I can substitute as well as (and probably better than) the next girl, but it's not very common that I come up with my own recipes.  I tend to just Google until I find the recipe that matches the food I have in my head.  I figure, everything's probably been written anyway.  It's funny.  I probably own 50+ cookbooks, and I hardly ever look at any of them.  Some of them have legitimately never been opened, except at the store when I bought them after looking at all of the pretty pictures.  I like cookbooks for the same reason I keep wanting to go back to school.  I like the idea of knowledge.  It is important to continue to grow, to learn new things, to change your mind, and to move your way of thinking forward.  In theory.  In reality, it's important to get my job done, keep the house clean, do the laundry, and try to find time to work out.  So I buy the books, with the hope of learning in the future, but end up just storing them in my kitchen like a very expensive accent wall.  This is, in my mind, the next step in my culinary journey. 

I want to really learn what works together.  I want to have a meal in my head, and create the recipe without having to find it on the internet.  I can do this with pasta; is everything else really that different?  Or, am I just used to making pasta ala whatever the hell is in my fridge, and I've never given myself the opportunity to do the same with other meals?

Here's a reason to give it a try:

To celebrate the 280th birthday of George Washington, MKEfoodies and Cherryland's Best of Appleton are sponsoring a "Great Wisconsin Cherry Recipe Contest."  The prize: $100 and $100 in cherry products.  Fancy.  But, it says that recipes will be judged on "their use of Door County Cherries, taste, creativity, uniqueness, and their "Wisconsin Spirit" (meaning using local WI products), so I feel like this is just the contest for me.  Why the heck not, right?  I like cherries, and dried cherries in the middle of winter are a nice treat.  Plus, cherries are good for you, so it's a win-win-win!

And, the contest requires original recipes only.  Which makes sense.  It wouldn't be very nice for me to enter a recipe contest using someone else's recipe

I kind of thought my first try would be the winner, straight off the bat.  Mostly because it was lamb, and I love me some lamb.  Delicious.  But it wasn't the winner.  It was delicious, but it didn't really taste like cherries.  I'm taking this contest like an Iron Chef challenge: the cherries need to be the star. Lamb has too overpowering of a flavor (delicious as it is), and the cherries were just overpowered.

I served this with sauteed mushrooms and spinach, and garlic mashed potatoes.

Cherry Braised Lamb Shanks
(Makes enough for two with plenty of leftovers)

  • 4 lamb shanks (about 3/4 lbs each)
  • Kosher Salt
  • 1 large onion, about two cups roughly chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 celery ribs, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup Cherryland's Best Dried Cherries (I'm such a sell out!)
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
-->1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeng
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes (fresh, frozen, canned.  Doesn't matter.  Just make sure they're peeled)
  • 1 cup dark beer
  • 1 cup Cherryland's Best Tart Cherry Juice
  • Coat a large Dutch oven generously with olive oil and bring to a high heat.

    Season the shanks generously with salt and pepper, and brown well on all sides in the Dutch oven.  Work in batches if you feel they are crowding each other.  Once browned, transfer shanks to a plate or pan and set aside.

    While the shanks are browning, puree the onions, carrots, celery, cherries, and garlic in a food processor until it becomes a course paste, about 1 minute total.

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    Discard any excess fat from the pan.  Add olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, then add the pureed cherry mixture and spices, including bay leaves.  Season with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.  (At this point, I tasted, found it a little bitter, and added a handful more cherries.)  Sautee until the puree is very brown and aromatic, about 20 minutes.  They should form a crust on the bottom of the pan but SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO BURN.  Stir constantly.

    Add the tomatoes and cook an additional 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated.  Taste again and adjust if needed.  Add beer and juice and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid has reduced in half.

    Add the shanks back to the pot, along with enough water to make sure they are fully submersed.  Cover the Dutch oven, and place into the pre-heated oven.  Cook 2 ½ to 3 hours, checking every 45 minutes.  If the shanks are uncovered, add more water.  Skim any fat off the top each time you check.

    Uncover the pot during the last 30 minutes of cooking.

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