Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lamb Stew Recipe

I love lamb. It's not something that we ate in my house when I was growing up, so it wasn't until university that I tried lamb and I have been hooked ever since. I cook it pretty much every chance I get.

My other new love this winter has been the slow cooker. I've been making all kinds of soft, melt in your mouth meats in the forms of roasts, soups and stews. So it was only a matter of time before I learned how to make a delicious lamb stew. And here's the recipe so that you can make it too!!

I actually ended up making this on the stove rather than the slow cooker, but you could do it in the slow cooker as well. I managed to get some really fresh, wonderful, stewing lamb from my local butcher, and because of it's strong flavour, the stew needed very little seasoning compared to a beef stew for example.

It was a little on the expensive side to make. I spent about $22 ($15 for the meat, $3 for beef broth, the rest for veggies) but it made enough to feed BF and I for three days so I'm still well within my $60 a week food budget goal with this recipe. And it turned out incredibly rich and hearty and delicious. It's truly a wonderful comfort food. The recipe is one that I've adapted from for Irish lamb stew.

Recipe: Lamb Stew


2 Tbsp canola oil
1.5 lbs stewing lamb, cut into bite sized chunks
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 large onions, chopped
1/2 cup water
3 cups beef stock
2 teaspoons white sugar
4 carrots, sliced
3 potatoes, cut into bite sized dice
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
¾ cup red wine

Put lamb, salt, pepper, and flour in large mixing bowl. Toss to coat meat evenly. Heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat and brown the lamb.

Place lamb into stock pot. Add the garlic and yellow onion to the frying pan and saute till onion begins to become golden. Deglaze frying pan with 1/2 cup water and add the garlic-onion mixture to the stock pot with the beef stock and sugar. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
Add carrots, potatoes, thyme, bay leaves, and wine to pot. Reduce heat, and simmer covered for 30 minutes until vegetables are tender.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Surprise Cookies Recipe

Usually when I need my baking fix, I make whatever I like and send anything we can't eat into work with BF. For the longest time, that meant cupcakes every week. He's moved to a different department though so for now, big, beautiful cupcakes aren't really appropriate for him to bring in.

To sneak around that, I've started making more discreet snack packs. Rather than big, ostentatious foil trays with neat rows of colourful cupcakes, I've switched to decadent cookies and squares that can be stacked in tupperware containers and hidden in plastic bags (Don't worry, I still make cupcakes every chance I get! This is just random midweek baking we're talking about).

When I saw this recipe by Martha Stewart for Surprise Cookies, I knew they would be perfect. Like cupcakes, they are big, cakey and coated in frosting and each one has soft, gooey marshmallow hidden inside. As far as cookies go, this is the closest thing to a cupcake I've ever seen.

This is a fabulous recipe, I definitely recommend it. Despite their plain appearance, these didn't last long! Luckily, I made a double batch.
Recipe: Surprise Cookies


For the Cookies

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • About 15 marshmallows, halved crosswise

For the Frosting

  • 3 cups icing sugar
  • 6 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tsp cocoa
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla

Make cookies: Preheat the oven to 375. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl; set aside. Cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about three minutes. Mix in egg, milk and vanilla and mix for an additional minute. Mix in flour miture, 1/2 cup at a time until combined.

Using a 1 3/4" ice cream scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing 2" apart. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until firm, 8 to 10 minutes.

Immediately press a marshmallow half onto the top of each cookie. Return to the oven and bake until marshmallows begin to melt, about 2 minutes more. Let cool completely on sheets on wire racks.

Make the frosting: Put icing sugar in a medium bowl, set aside. Melt butter with the cocoa in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Add butter mixture to the icing sugar. Whisk in milk and vanilla.

Spread about 1 Tbsp of frosting on top of each cookie to cover marshmallow. Let stand until set, about 10 minutes.

Have I mentioned how much I love frosting on cookies? Love, love love it!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Thai Vegetable and Noodle Soup Recipe and Some Thoughts on Meal Planning

I'm totally into meal planning these days.

BF and I have been trying to cut back on the restaurants. I'm a little embarassed to admit that for a while we were eating out an average of three nights a week + Sunday brunch with an average meal costing around $60. At the same time, produce in the fridge would go bad because we weren't cooking at home.

One of my new years resolutions was that this needed to stop. First I looked at why it was happening and came up with two reasons:

  • We love delicious food made from fresh ingredients and refuse to settle for processed convenience foods.
  • When we were hungry we found it easier to go to a restaurant than to think about what we were going to make and then cook. i.e, lazy and disorganized.

So I got organized!!

The new routine is that every Sunday, I plan out our meals for the following week. I look at what we already have for groceries and make a list of everything we need and then on Sunday afternoon we pick up the groceries.

Now, each day I have a plan. Knowing exactly what I want to make and knowing that I have all of the ingredients makes it really easy for me to get motivated to start cooking. And knowing that if I go to a restaurant rather than make dinner means that the ingredients allotted for that night don't get used up and will probably end up going bad is a good motivator to keep us from going out.

Here's a quick run down of how I plan out my meals:

At the top of a piece of a paper, I write out the names of the days of the week.

Throughout the week, if I stumble upon any recipes I want to try out, I write them under one of the days, ensuring that each day has no more than one main source of protein and one source of carbs. I also try to have at least two veggies in each meal and usually a dessert because that's my favorite part!

On Sunday I pull out my recipe books and start filling in the gaps. I try to include meals from at least three different ethnicities (My favorites are Japanese, Italian and Thai, but BF likes me to include Indian as well) and one "meat and potatoes" meal. If there are still gaps after all of that, I look to see what carbs are missing (I usually try to use rice, sweet potato and whole wheat pasta each week and use white potatoes, breads or Asian noodles if I still need more ideas), and what proteins are missing (Beef, pork, lamb, eggs, chicken, tofu, fish) and look up recipes specifically containing those ingredients. For any remaining veggie gaps in the menu, I buy whatever is on sale that week.

With all of the dinners planned, it's easy to just make the lunches from leftovers and any extra fruits,veggies and meat we have on hand. For breakfasts, I stock a box of cereal, a carton of eggs, a block of cheddar cheese and some frozen blueberries for pancakes. I make a lot of breakfast carbs from scratch, like pancakes, waffles or crepes. If I do everything right, I won't have to buy any more food for the whole week, not even to pick up a carton of milk.

It's a little complicated to explain, but it's really easy and intuitive to do in practice. I've been doing this for three weeks now and it's made a huge difference in how we eat. Trying new recipes every night means that I have been learning so much about different cooking techniques and flavour combinations which I have found to be very rewarding. We eat a very balanced diet with nutrients coming from all different kinds of sources. The cost savings have been huge, we're now spending about $70/week to feed the both of us (and BF has a big appetite) and we've greatly reduced the amount of food we end up throwing out because we no longer buy groceries we don't need. Also, I think BF appreciates being able to come home and eat in about 25 minutes and then get on with the evening rather than taking an hour and a half to go to a restaurant and eat.

And the food has been awesome! I have been making all kinds of things from scratch using fresh ingredients, like soups, homemade pasta and lots of different sauces. I'm really having a lot of fun with this.

I wanted to share a recipe for a Thai curry soup that I made last night. It is loaded with noodles and vegetables, so I just paired it with some baked chicken thighs for a well rounded meal. The recipe comes from a cookbook that my Mom gave me for Christmas, entitled simply "Thai Cooking".

Recipe: Thai Vegetable and Noodle Soup


2 Tbsp vegetable or peanut oil
1 onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 large carrot, cut into thin sticks
1 zucchini, cut into thin sticks
4oz/115gm broccoli, cut into florets
1 3/4 pints / 1 litre / 4 cups vegetable stock
14fl oz / 400ml / 1 3/4 cups coconut milk
3-4 Tbsp Thai soy sauce
2 Tbsp Thai red curry paste
4oz / 110g wide rice noodles
4oz / 115g / 3/4 cup mung or soy bean sprouts
4 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet and stir-fry the onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes. Add the carrot, zucchini and broccoli and stir-fry for 3-4 minuts,until just tender.Pour in the stock and coconut milk and bring to a boil. Add the soy sauce, curry paste, and noodles, and let simmer for 2-3 minutes, until the noodles have swelled. Stir in the bean sprouts and cilantro and serve immediately.

It's pictured in a bento here if you would like to see it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Greatest Pulled Pork Recipe of All Time


Thanks to a recipe shared with me by some online friends, I now make the greatest pulled pork in existence.

This recipe is easy as punch. Just throw it in the slow cooker and wait. It uses one of the cheapest cuts of meat I've ever seen and turns it into pure deliciousness. Last time I made it, I think I paid $10 for 5 lbs of solid meat.

If you have a slow cooker, you definitely should try it out. If you don't have one, it's actually worth purchasing one just to make pulled pork in my opinion. Make this whenever you have a big group of guys to serve (for example, while watching the 'big game') and serve it on kaiser rolls with some barbecue sauce and little cheddar cheese. They will love you forever. For real.

Recipe: Pulled Pork


2 Onions, sliced thin
2 Tbs brown sugar
1 Tbs paprika
2 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1 (4-6 lb) boneless pork butt or shoulder
¾ cup cider vinegar
4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 ½ tsp sugar
½ tsp dry mustard
½ tsp garlic salt
¼ tsp cayenne pepper

Place onions in crock-pot. Combine brown sugar, paprika, salt and pepper;
rub over roast. Place roast on top of onions.

Combine vinegar, Worcestershire, red pepper flakes, sugar, mustard, garlic
salt and cayenne; stir to mix well. Drizzle about 1/3 of vinegar mixture
over roast. Cover and refrigerate remaining vinegar mixture.
Cover crock-pot; cook on low 12-14 hours. Drizzle about 1/3 of reserved
vinegar mixture over roast during last ½ hour of cooking.

Remove meat and onions; drain. Chop or shred meat and onions. Serve with
remaining vinegar mixture

Sorry for the lack of pictures. I made some this past Saturday and it quite literally disappeared before I had a chance to take any pictures. I did manage to hoard a little bit though to put in the bento lunch I made today, which you can check out here.

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