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

A Wise Choice

Hopefully, my good friend Jon doesn’t read my blog. Of course, he’s not one to get embarassed easily, so I doubt he’d mind that I’m about to make fun of him anyway.

I’ve tried to avoid it, but for some reason I can’t shake thinking of him every time I open a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Here’s why:

Jon, bless his heart, is an avid Iron-Chef-er-but-never-winner. Yes, he watches the TV show, but I’m referring to the cooking competitions we had back in the day when I lived in Chicago. I think he enjoys the hanging-out more than the competing anyway, but nonetheless he makes a concerted effort to make something that’s tasty. And while he never admits it, he’s actually a pretty good cook who knows a helluva lot about food.

Unfortunately, Jon has a running record of being in the bottom 3 more often than any other competitor. He even started taking pride in it; I think he knew his food was good, and the reason he probably did so poorly was the lack of visual appeal. If I took a picture of every dish he’s made, I guarantee they’d all be housed atop a blue plate with few or no garnishes. His last dish in March was no exception.

But! It wasn’t what he entered into the competition that brought me to tears of laughter (well, and agony…), it was what he tried to make and fortunately tossed into garbage. He had this great idea for Battle Plantains (note that blue dish in the last picture, bottom left!) that involved some sort of plantain-chipotle-saucey-thingie, and in theory it didn’t sound like it could possibly go wrong. Of course, the exception to that supposed theory would be when said competitor loads somewhere between a half and a full CAN of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce into a blender with a couple of plantains. Despite multiple attempts to save the goopy mess, there was no retaliation; the chipotles won fair and square and for a short period of time, I thought I wasn’t going to get the taste out of my mouth.

Luckily, after a few minutes the taste was gone, and after a few weeks I was able to think positively about chipotle peppers again. (ps – yes, I am exaggerating, a little.) I found a recipe from way back when I wrote on recipe cards rather than online that consisted of a potato salad of sorts – a baked sweet potato, opened up, loaded with a shredded chicken salad that’s been tossed in a chipotle pepper vinaigrette. Apparently, it’s not only scrumptious, but it’s healthy too. And while I do tend to go a little on the heavy side when it comes to the chipotle pepper measuring, this time I thought of Jon throwing his dish into the trash, and I cut it back a bit.

It was a wise choice; a wise choice indeed.

Mexican Chicken Salad over Baked Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from Weight Watchers years ago, serves 4

time commitment: 1 hour (20 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
4 medium sweet potatoes
1 T + 2t olive oil, divided
1 lb chicken breast
1 medium red onion, sliced into thin half moons
1/4 cilantro, chopped
1 T chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
2 T fresh lime juice
1 T water
1/2 t sugar
salt and pepper

instructions
Preheat oven to 375 F. Place potatoes on rack in middle of oven and bake until tender, about 45 to 50 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet and add 1 T olive oil. Cook chicken, set aside, and cool. When cool enough to touch, pull chicken into shreds. Put chicken, onion and cilantro in a medium bowl; set aside.

Put chipotle pepper through sugar in blender container or bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Pour dressing over chicken mixture and toss to coat.

Cut a slit in each potato and top each with a heaping 3/4 cup of chicken mixture.