A Bunch of Wins

Every once and a while, I just want to whip up a big dinner and eat like crazy. Okay, not every once and while, more like every other night or so. But I’m not necessarily in a position in my life where I have all kinds of hours in the day to spend in the kitchen. Nor do I have an unlimited budget where I can just buy pounds and pounds of food. Nor do I have the type of metabolism where pounds and pounds of said food just disappear magically hours after consumption.

Such is life, eh?

But sometimes the stars align, and you find yourself with a free weekend night and that urge to cook whittles its way into your brain. It also works perfectly when some of your favorite people also have a free weekend night and want to partake in that same sorta thing – a lot of eating, a lot of cooking, and maybe even some booze-drinking. Alright – always some booze drinking. So that’s what we did.

Also, we learned to play euchre. We are slightly addicted – even taught the parentals how to play during a trip to NC this past weekend.

So. The shanks before your eyes – there’s a quick story. There was a restaurant I wanted to check out while in Sedona last year, but sadly the night we thought about going was a night they were closed. So my in-laws, since they are awesome and super-duper smart, they went there the first chance they got and enjoyed a tasty meal without us, making up for it by picking up a signed copy of the chef-owner’s new cookbook. It was a nice surprise at Christmas, and I’ve been thumbing through the book since, bookmarking the “must-try” recipes.

These lamb shanks won the top honor of being the first tested recipe (I had some garlic scallops picked out for Valentines day, but then I realized garlic was probably inappropriate….) and we roped Liz & Kevin into eating with us (or did we invite ourselves over, bribing them with lamb shanks and Rioja?).

I guess how it happened doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, we had a ginormous amount of food, the shanks were awesome (and easy!) as was the rest of the food, and we have yet another card game to play.

That, my friends, is a win-win. Wait. A win-win-win. A bunch of wins, fair and square.

Lamb Shanks in Adobo Sauce
Adapted from The Elote Cafe Cookbook; serves at least 4

Wine note: we got extra-fancy and did a special wine-pairing for this dish. we tried out two Spanish Rioja wines, and while I can’t remember the names of them, I’ll say this: we bought one from 2001 and one from a 2006 vintage. They were both amazing, especially the 2001, but the 2006 went much better with the food. not too rich, but plenty of heft and spice to stand up to the shanks. a nice Syrah or Malbec would also be really tasty.

one other note: I’m betting this dish would be great with short ribs instead of lamb shanks, too. Really any meat – adobo sauce is versatile like that.

printable version

time commitment: 3-4 hours (1 hour active time)

ingredients
adobo sauce
12 garlic cloves, peeled, whole
3 dried ancho chiles*, stemmed
3 dried guajillo chiles*, stemmed
3 dried chipotle chiles*, stemmed
4 c fresh orange juice
2 T packed brown sugar
2 T dried oregano (Mexican oregano, if you have it)
2 T cider vinegar
2 t kosher salt
2 t freshly ground black pepper
2 t ground cumin
1/8 t ground cloves
1 stick canela (Mexican cinnamon) or regular cinnamon, about 3 in. long
2 dried bay leaves

lamb
4 lamb shanks (about 1 lb. each)
1 t kosher salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper
2 T canola oil

pickled onions
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1 T cider vinegar
2 t olive oil
2 t oregano (Mexican if you have it)

2 T sesame seeds, for garnish
cilantro, chopped, for garnish

instructions
Make the adobo sauce. In a dry, heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, roast garlic cloves, turning occasionally, until softened and speckled brown, ~12 minutes. Remove from pan. Add chiles to pan and toast, turning once, until fragrant, about 30 seconds, taking care not to let them burn.

Carefully pour orange juice into pan. Add remaining adobo ingredients, then add garlic back to pan. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until chiles are softened, about 10 minutes.

Lift out cinnamon and bay leaves and reserve. Cool adobo slightly, then purée in a blender until very smooth. Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Prepare lamb. Sprinkle shanks with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a heavy, large pot (preferably a 6-7 quart Dutch oven) over medium-high heat, then brown 2 shanks at a time, turning occasionally, until golden brown, 7 to 8 minutes per batch. Return all shanks to the pot, or place them all in a large enough baking dish if you don’t have a big enough pot to hold them all. Cover shanks with adobo sauce, and add reserved cinnamon and bay leaves. If the liquid doesn’t come up halfway over the shanks, add some water (or beef broth, if you want) to make up the difference. You’ll probably have plenty of liquid, but it also depends on the size of your pot.

Cover and place in oven and braise, turning shanks every hour, until meat is very tender when pierced, 2-3 hours. (If you want, you can do this part 1-2 days before you’re serving this dish. Let the shanks cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat, scraping fat from the top first, and let shanks heat up, then follow the next instructions.)

Meanwhile, Pickle the onion. (Do this the day of; skip this step if you’re preparing shanks in advance.) Put sliced onions in a bowl and add the pickling ingredients. Let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

Transfer shanks to a platter and cover with foil. Pour adobo into a saucepan if you used a baking dish. Skim and discard as much fat as you can – there will be a film on the top of the pot. Boil sauce over medium-high heat until thick enough to coat meat, about 10 minutes. Uncover shanks, pour sauce on top, and sprinkle with pickled onions, sesame seeds, and cilantro.

*Find in the Latino foods aisle or spice aisle of a supermarket, or at a Latino market

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A Good Start

Chris and I made a resolution of sorts waaaaay back in January. We resolved to get our asses (and the rest of our bodies) out of the house more often, to experience as much of our amazing surroundings as possible, and along the way, to Get Fit. I’m a little on the cheesy side, so I aptly named this “Get Out and Get Fit 20-12”. Yup – lame as can be is me!

But whatevs. My point today is to tell you how awesome that plan’s been going so far.

Living in Northern California is nothing short of amazing – I know I’ve said that a time or two. Having the ability to hike and camp in February isn’t something I’d really considered before – but it’s more than possible here. Of course, if you’re a person of “seasons”, which I thought I was until last year, you’d surely miss the below-freezing temperatures and snows that happen elsewhere in the early parts of the year. If we ever start to miss that, we’ve realized that Tahoe is a weekend away, and loaded with snow and cold-ness right about now. But I haven’t missed it yet, and currently we are more than content with the mild winter, our down coats packed far away in the back of our closet.

So we’ve been going on these hikes around the Bay Area every chance we’ve gotten on the weekends. We hop up early one weekend morning, smoothies in hand, and head in whatever direction sounds good for the day. Chris gets to do his regular research about the area, and I get to figure out how to feed us, which is usually lots of fruit and granola, and a pre-made sandwich from Faletti’s to share. We’ve checked out the redwoods and beaches near Mt. Tam(alpais), we’ve gone down to Half Moon Bay and seen the Santa Cruz Mountains, and we’ve been to Mt. Diablo – twice.

This past weekend, get this, we went camping. Yeah! In February! Sure, it got down to the 30’s overnight, but despite the fact that we were sleeping outside, our sleeping bags kept us plenty warm. There were coyote conversing nearby, owls hooting throughout the night, and weird-sounding birds making strange puffing noises at 6 am. There were gigantic raccoons teaming up to pull open a trashbag left out by nearby campers, and shortly after we got there and started unloading the car, the fog rolled in like nobody’s business, making things look all sorts of horror movie-creepy.

With a little bit of planning, there was good food and plenty of good times. Yes, camping in May or August is sure to be warmer, but the fact that we could camp in February meant we had to camp in February. So we did.

After a night of grilled chicken, sweet potatoes, fire-toasted legit s’mores, a little beer and wine (ssshhhhh…. the park said it was against the rules..), and some tunes, we called it a night and hopped up the next morning to make breakfast, finish off some leftover bloody marys (brought over for Super Bowl fun), and hike on another gorgeous Sunday.

2012 is definitely off to a good start.

Other Bay-Area hikes (Flickr pool):
Mt Diablo – Eagles’ Peak
Mt Tamalpais to Stinson Beach
Purisima Creek & Harkins Ridge
Mt Diablo Summit Loop + Camping

 

Achiote-Marinated Grilled Chicken
Adapted from Rouxbe, serves 4

time commitment: 30 minutes active time (prep & grilling), at least 1 hour marinating

printable version

ingredients
2 oz achiote paste*
1 t dried oregano
1/2 t g cumin
juice of 2 limes
2 T brown rice vinegar
2 T grapeseed oil (or olive oil)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T adobo sauce (from can of chipotle chiles in adobo)
1 chipotle chile (from can), minced
salt and pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 T cilantro, roughly chopped

*achiote paste is essentially ground-up annatto seeds with a few other ingredients. I usually find this on the Mexican food aisle with the Mexican spices. it’s a dark burgundy color, usually sold in small “blocks”.

instructions
mash up achiote paste in a small bowl and add the oregano and cumin. Add the lime juice through the minced chipotle chile and mash/mix until as smooth as possible. season to taste with salt and pepper (1/2 – 1 t of each).

slice three small slits into the top of each chicken breast. place chicken breasts in a large ziploc bag and add half of the marinade to the bag. close bag, shake to mix marinade into chicken. refrigerate for at least an hour, up to overnight (more marinating = more flavor). save the remaining half of the marinade for basting.

heat grill to medium-high. grill chicken over indirect heat for ~5-6 minutes per side, until cooked throughout, flipping once. brush reserved marinade atop while cooking. top with cilantro and serve.