Lamb Neck Braised with Turnip and Sweet Potato

Lamb Neck Braised

Groceries are becoming incredibly expensive, especially meat. When I saw Safeway had lamb neck for only $3.49 a pound i decided to try it. I love the flavor of lamb but have mainly cooked shoulder roasts, shanks or chops. Being neck bones, I knew the meat would probably be tough, the more connective tissue there is, the tougher the meat tends to be. Neck bones are considered offal – the cheap cuts that are often neglected. Sometimes for good reason, but in this case, it turned out to be wonderful. So with tough meat, the trick is to cook low and slow, so I decided to braise it.

I preheated the oven to 300° Fahrenheit.

I put this big skillet on the stove with about 2 TBSP of olive oil and heated the oil. I added 2 pinches of cardamom and a pinch of cumin, 1 small chopped yellow onion and 2 diced gloves of garlic with a bit of salt and pepper.. When the onion was tender, I added the neck bones – about 2/3rds of a pound, added salt and pepper and browned them.

Meanwhile I scrubbed 2 carrots and cut them into big pieces (the more you chop up your carrots, the more nutrients leach out.) Then I chopped up 2 celery stalks. I peeled 1 turnip and 1 sweet potato and cut them into chunks as well. I added to the mix with some salt and pepper and stirred. Then I added 1 can of diced tomatoes and then filled the can with water and added that as well.

Then I popped in the oven and let cook slowly for what seemed like days but was only 2 hours. My apartment was redolent of the aroma of lamb, tomatoes, cardamom and all this goodness that the time passed slowly. But it was so worth the wait!

The turnip and cardamom really make this recipe, the tart sweetness of turnip was exactly what was needed to add a grace note to this hearty meal. The tomatoes and carrots added sweetness, the celery gave it an earthy base and the sweet potato added flavorful substance. It was so delicious I actually used my finger to clean the broth from the pan.

Please note that I added salt and pepper with each new step. The reason is that you should always season what you are cooking in the moment, adding the season again with new ingredients. Not only will it taste better, you are less likely to overseason it.

This made four servings of stew – and with just $2.09 worth of meat. Definitely a rich meal that is not costly. In fact, it’s only $1.42 per serving – excluding the cost of spices.

  • $2.09 Lamb
  • $1.69 Sweet Potato
  • $0.45 Turnip
  • $0.10 Carrot
  • $0.21 Celery
  • $0.32 Onion
  • $0.12 Garlic
  • $0.69 Diced Tomatoes

Warm Mushroom and Kale Salad

Warm Kale Mushroom Salad

This was a fast and easy salad that I decided to have as an entree instead. It makes a single serving entree or two sides. The key to success is not overcooking the kale, letting it darken in color but not cooking until it wilts. That makes the rest seem more like a dressing for the kale and keeps it fresh in taste, texture and appearance.

Warm 1 TBSP of olive oil, add 1/4 cup of diced onions, 1/4 chopped red peppers and sauté until tender. Add salt and pepper. Meanwhile clean and slice 9 small mushrooms or whatever amount you need to make 1 cup of sliced mushrooms. Also mince one clove of garlic. Add the garlic and mushrooms and let cook until tender. Add a bit of salt and pepper. Finally, add 2 cups of chopped, cleaned kale and 1.5 tBSP of Balsamic Vinegar and stir. Keep stirring quickly so the kale heats evenly and quickly without steaming and wilting. Add salt and pepper to taste.

It might sound crazy to add salt and pepper three times, but the secret of good seasoning is to season at each stage of cooking for the amount that you have in your pan. This will make your seasoning more effective and actually end up using less salt and pepper.

This is earthy with a bit of tanginess from the balsamic vinegar. The flavors blended beautifully and would make a great side dish for something like a pork chop or beef steak, but is capable of standing on its own.

Red Chard & Kidney Bean Soup

Red Chard & Kidney Bean Soup

I had some fresh red chard the other day and wanted to make something simple. I decided on a simple soup with some sausage. I had some breakfast sausage so I worked with that.

I diced 1/2 of a yellow onion and two cloves of garlic and sautéed in about 1 tbsp of olive oil. I added salt, pepper and a couple teaspoons of oregano. Then, I added 6 ounces of breakfast sausage and cooked until it browned. I peeled and chopped 2 carrots and 1 potato and added them. Then I added 1 small 6 oz. can of diced tomatoes and about 12 oz of water and left it to simmer.

Meanwhile I cut the red chard leaves in thing strips and about 10 minutes before serving I added the chard and cooked until it was softened. I also added a can of kidney beans. I did not bother straining or rinsing the beans, knowing the liquid will just enrich the broth.

This made a delicious and simple soup that only got better the next day and the next. It made 4 servings.

Red Chard & Chickpea Salad

Chickpea and Chard salad
I made a quick salad using the stems from red chard the other day. I had a bunch of red chard and had removed the leaves and washed them for a soup I was planning to make and though tossing the stems would be a complete waste, so I chopped them up, chopped up 2 radishes, 1 carrot, half an onion, 3 dill pickles and added a can of chickpeas (strained). I adde dome salt, pepper and about 1/2 cup of the pickle juice and then let it marinate in the pickle juice overnight. It was easy and delicious.

Red chard can be very earthy – sort of like beets, but unlike beets they still taste good – and the pickling brine from the dill pickles made a huge difference in mellowing the flavor of the stems. The whole salad was fresh, lovely and crispy. This made about 4 servings.

Green Beans, Onions and Dried Cranberries

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Local green beans are in season, so I had to have some. I made two servings as a side dish, but since they were my supper entree, I ate both of them. I knew I had not blogged a recipe in some time because I am mostly cooking the recipes I have already blogged, so I decided to come up with something new. I think it was a great success.

First I heated about 1 tbsp of olive oil on low-medium (4 out of 9) and added 1/4 tsp of fennel seeds. I heated them until the room was filled with their aroma. Meanwhile, I diced one onion which I added to the olive oil as soon as the fennel was heated and flavorful. I added a bit of salt and pepper. While the onions sautéed, I snapped two cups of green beans. I added them to the onions and added a bit more salt and pepper. After they cooked about a minute or two, I added 2 TBSP of dried cranberries. I sautéed until the moment they just became tender, so they weren’t crunchy, but they were not even in the neighborhood of mushy.

The flavor profile was a wonderful balance of hearty and sweet – the beans forming the base with onions adding sweetness, dried cranberries adding tartness and the fennel seed blending all the flavors into something magical. I will definitely make this again.

I do apologize for the terrible photo, I didn’t actually look through the viewfinder – whoops!

Migas

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I bought a big stack of corn tortillas and was wondering what might be a good way to use them for breakfast. I decided to make migas – a popular dish across the Spanish-speaking world, though not always made with tortillas. In Spain they will uses bread and potatoes and lima beans while in Mexico, you are more likely to get migas with tortilla strips and a lot more heat. I have seen them made with the tortillas cooked with the eggs and with the tortillas cooked in advance and added to the eggs at the end. I decided to make it both ways, cooking them with the eggs yesterday and separately today. While they both tasted good, the second was by far the best – so that’s what I will show here.

So first I took 2 corn tortillas and sliced them into 1 inch strips and then cut those long strips in half. In a skillet, I melted 1 TBSP of butter and pan-fried the strips until browned and crisped. I removed them from the butter and set them aside.

I added 2 tbsp of chopped onion and one minced small clove of garlic and let them sauté in the butter. I chopped up 2 TBSP of bell peppers (red, yellow and green) and 1 thick slice of tomato (about 2 TBSP) and added them to the softening onions. I let them cook. Meanwhile I cracked two eggs in a bowl and stirred them for scrambled eggs. When scrambling eggs, I mix them just enough to mix the whites and yolks but do not beat them. I prefer creamy eggs and over-mixing them will make them dryer. Note I also add no salt while cooking. Salt will make the egg mixture separate and the eggs will not be as creamy and tender.

I added the eggs and let them cook, stirring frequently. When the eggs are just about done, toss in a small handful of grated cheese. Adding the cheese to early will make the eggs runny. I used Pepper Jack for a tiny bit of heat. Just before serving, I added salt and pepper and stirred in the tortillas I set aside.

Cooked this way, the tortillas are crispier and are more evenly browned. There’s not the slightest hint of sogginess. The eggs are rich and creamy and the flavors blend beautifully. Makes 1 serving.

Shuksouka

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I was inspired to try this Middle Eastern egg dish for a mid-morning brunch thanks to friends on my timeline. I am so glad I did. I did not have fresh tomatoes to make it from scratch and used a can of diced tomatoes with green chiles. It was still delicious and incredibly easy.

I put a tablespoon of olive oil in an iron skillet and brought the heat up to medium. I added 1/4 tsp of cumin and 1/4 tsp of cardamom and let them simmer in the oil until the rich aromatics scented the room. Meanwhile, I diced a small yellow onion and 2 garlic cloves.  I added the onion, salt and pepper and let sauté and then added the garlic along with 1 cup of finely chopped fresh kale. The kale is not usually found in Shuksouka but I don’t care. It was what I had on hand and added a delicious grounded earthiness to the flavor.

I then added a 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes with green chiles and some salt and pepper. I filled the can about 1/3 full and added water and let it come to a nice simmer. Then I cracked 6 eggs on top and let them cook. I wanted the yolk a little more done than recommended, so I put the lid on towards the end. I continued to let them poach until completely done.

This made 3 servings You could, if you like, reserve the sauce and poach just 2 eggs at a time. It’s rich, spicy and very filling.

I sprinkled some feta on top but that could easily be left off because with the spicy tomatoes, it was superfluous.

I heated the leftovers for another meal – using very low power so they eggs didn’t freak out and this time, I sprinkled a bit of sumac on top and that seemed to marry the flavors even better.

 

Cucumber Grape Salad

Grape Cucumber Salad

This is a simple, fresh salad that took minutes to prepare.

I peeled and cut one cucumber into small pieces and cut 1 cup of grapes into halves. I added about 1 tbsp of finely sliced onions and 2 tbsp of finely sliced cilantro. Adding a bit of salt and pepper, 1 TBSP of sour cream and 1 TBSP of rice wine vinegar and stirred it all up.

The blend of sweet grapes, tangy onion and the springlike freshness of cucumber and cilantro is fabulous and irresistible. It make  4 servings, but good luck not eating it all.

Sauéed Turnips, Carrots, Brussels Sprouts and Apple with Anise Seed

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I put some olive oil in a skillet and heated it with some peppercorns and anise seed until it was perfuming the air.

Then I added chopped onions (1/2 an onion) and one minced serrano chile and sautéed.

I cut up one small parsnip and 2 carrots into thumbnail chunks and added, with a bit of salt and pepper, and cooked until nearly done. Then near the end, I added about 6 brussels spouts that I had cut in half and an apple I cut into chunks and tossed them in to cook until tender. Tossed a bit of rice vinegar on to finish. Salt and pepper. This made two large servings.

This was the most delicious vegetable sauté I can remember. It was earthy and warm, piquant with the vinegar and parsnips. The brussels sprouts gave it a lovely earthiness and the chile gave it some heat. The sweetness of the carrots and apple added another flavor note.

I served it with a pork loin, but it is a vegan dish that you can serve with anything.

Mushrooms and Red Chard with Barley

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I cooked up some barley for breakfast and decided to make some extra to cook up something for lunch. Of course, barley and mushrooms go together perfectly and were my first thought. I had some red chard that really needed to get used and soon, so I decided to go for it. My favorite spice with mushrooms is paprika, so I thought I would give it a whirl. This made four servings. I figure that if I am going to cook something for 45 minutes (the barley) I am going to make more than one meal out of it. When I cooked the barley, I strained it and saved all the barley water to use in this dish.

I started with eight mushrooms that I cleaned and sliced. I patted them dry with a clean towel. I heated up a sauté pan and tossed them in and let them cook on medium high for about 8 minutes. This dry sauté evaporates out a lot of the fluid and enriches the mushroom flavor. Now when I cook them with the other ingredients, they will not get mushy.

While it was sautéing, I would shake the pan every once in a while to keep them from sticking. Meanwhile I thoroughly cleaned a bunch of red chard, separating the leaves from the stems. Red chard requires several rinses and careful attention to be sure you get all the dirt off it. I hold it under the water and run my finger up and down the stem a few times to make sure all the dirt is gone. No one wants to bite down on some sand or dirt in their lunch.

I chopped the stems into 1 inch long pieces. I also chopped 1/4 of white onions. Chopping up the leaves, I kept two cups and saved the rest for a salad. I set the red chard leaves aside for later.

I added 1 tbsp of olive oil and swirled it around the pan. I added the red chard stems and onions. I added 2 tsp of paprika and salt and pepper. I sautéed everything until the onions were transparent. I then added the barley water I had saved from this morning. I added the red chard leaves and the 2 cups of cooked barley I had reserved. I let this simmer until the chard was done (3 to 5 minutes) and tasted tested it. It was good, but a bit one-dimensional – very umami, but the brightness of the chard stems was missing. So I squeezed the juice of one lemon at the end and that lifted up the chard flavor – giving a multi-layered flavor profile that begins with the heart umami of the mushrooms and barley and ending with a bright, fresh chard tartness. It was delicious.