Braised Lamb Shanks with Polenta

braised lamb with polenta

As a new cook, I thought this dish was spectacularly difficult and incredibly refined. I have kept it in my repertoire for many years and when I saw beautiful lamb shanks at the market recently, I pulled out this old friend. Although I now view it as a fairly simple recipe, it is nonetheless delicious and heartwarming.

Recipe for Lamb Shanks

6 lamb shanks

2 T olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped

3 large carrots, peeled and cut into rounds

10 minced garlic cloves

1 bottle of dry red wine

28 oz can of diced tomatoes with juices

14 oz can of chicken broth

14 oz can of beef broth

5 t chopped fresh rosemary

2 t chopped fresh thyme

2 t grated lemon peel

Season shanks with salt and pepper. Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Working in batches, add shanks to pot and cook until brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Add onions, carrots and garlic to pot and saute until golden, about 10 minutes. Sitr in all remaining ingredients. Return shanks to the pot, pressing down to submerge. Bring liquids to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low. Cover and simmer until meat is tender, about 2 hours.

Uncover pot and simmer until meat is very tender, about 30 minutes. Transfer shanks to platter and tent with foil. Boil juices until thickened, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve over shanks and polenta.

Recipe for Polenta

2 3/4 cups chicken broth

2 cups water

1 1/2 cups milk

3 minced garlic cloves

1 1/2 t chopped fresh rosemary

1/2 t salt

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal

8 T grated or shredded parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter 2 Q dish. Bring first 6 ingredients to boil in a heavy, large saucepan. Gradually add cornmeal, whisking until smooth. Reduce heat to low and cook until cornmeal is soft and the mixture is thick and creamy, stirring occasionally for about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and add 6 T parmesan cheese. Season with pepper.

Transfer to prepared dish. Sprinkle with 2 T parmesan over polenta. Bake until heated through and golden on top, about 30 minutes.

So Many Restaurants, So Little Time

Over the holidays and into the new year, I have been partaking in many of the wonderful eateries that Los Angeles has to offer. Cases in point:

Pedaler’s Fork

This somewhat unconventional restaurant lies on the outskirts of the city. The cuisine is definitely farm to table and the decor is creek-side, serene, country, rural and warm. It actually incorporates a bike shop, artisanal coffee shop, hopping bar and restaurant with beautiful indoor and outdoor seating.

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The Forbidden Rice Salad with black rice, marinated tofu, cucumber kimchi and miso-ginger vinaigrette. The 5 Grain Salad with quinoa, cous cous, rice, millet, farro, dates, avocado, carrot, beet, and baby kale in a balsamic vinaigrette.

Father’s Office

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This has been on my restaurant list for some time. The Father’s Office burger is legendary in Los Angeles. I finally had the opportunity to try it. And I was not disappointed. Juicy with scant gourmet touches of blue cheese and arugula, there was nothing generic nor wimpy (in character) about this burger. The chef is known for not allowing ketchup or refinements to his masterpiece and I finally understand why. It is right unto itself. The accompanying fries are magnificent and the garlic aioli is perfect.

Plan Check

Another gastropub-style eatery that has been on my list. While in the area, I made the effort to try it. First impressions: great outdoor seating with clips to attach your dog leash – love that! Service friendly. Menu full of amazing alcohol choices if you’re into that – beers, whiskeys, gins and the like. They are also known for their burger so that was a must.

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When it arrives, there’s a pinkish, reddish looking piece of paper in the middle of my burger. Did the chef forget to take the paper off the raw burger before serving? What is that? Not willing to chance it, I call the server over to ask. Aha! Of course. It’s ketchup leather. Like fruit leather but with ketchup. Turns out, the chef doesn’t want ketchup to soggy your bun so instead he made ketchup fruit leather that melts as you eat the burger. Genius.

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The fries are delicious, as is the kale caesar salad with miso-glazed salmon.

Stir Market

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A new outpost open merely weeks into the new year, Stir Market is part gourmet market, part restaurant/bakery and part beer/wine bar. Backed by the well-known local chef Jet Tila (amongst others), this European market features farm-to-table style food with worldly influences.

The Tangiers Quinoa Bowl: chickpea, shredded carrot, zucchini, pepitas, dried apricots in a tahini yogurt dressing. As gorgeous as it was flavorful.

So Many More To Try

In a bustling city like Los Angeles, restaurants are opening (and closing) every week. I try to keep track of the ones I want to try but it is a challenge. Here are some of the ones I’m looking forward to trying soon:

Pok Pok Phat Thai: Chinatown

Starry Kitchen

Chego: Chinatown, by Roy Choi

The Gadarene Swine: Studio City

Petit Trois: Ludo Lefebvre

Commissary: DTLA by Roy Choi

Barrel and Ashes: Studio City

Squirl, Republique, Eggslut, Bill & Hiroko’s, The Anchor, Gus’ BBQ, Superba Food & Bread, Little Fork, Szechuan Impression, Wildcraft Pizza, Hollywood Pies, Silver Lake Ramen, Alma, Chi Spacca, A Frame ….

Science Behind Health

With the start of each new year come many health claims. Frequently they promote this diet or that: low carb, no carb, high protein, no fat and so on. What has started to change is incorporating science into these trends. Here’s some of the latest from David Zinczenko, the author of the, “Eat This, Not That” series and of the new book, “Zero Belly Fat”:

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Take a brisk walk before breakfast: exposure to sunlight in the morning reduces weight gain by synchronizing your metabolism. You’re also burning calories in a fasted state.

Start the morning with oatmeal. It contains insoluble fiber which reduces cholesterol and helps control hunger. It also produces butyrate, which reduces inflammation.

Choose red fruit over green. The higher level of flavonoids calm the fat storage genes. Add avocados to your diet: they add healthy unsaturated fats, fight hunger and prevent the storage of belly fat. Make protein shakes with plant protein, which reduce hunger and supply ample nutrients without the inflammation issues associated with commercial shakes.  Add eggs to your diet. They contain choline, which fights your body’s trigger to store fat.

Drink lots of water embellished with citrus fruit: anti-oxidants which help flush toxins out of your body.

Make your own trail mix. Many health benefits from fruits and nuts and seeds. Without additives from commercial products.

Mini workouts can be as effective or more than trying to find hours to commit to exercise.

Try to get as much of your vitamin and mineral intake from food rather than supplements. Mega-dosing can trigger fat genes.

For dessert: try blackberries and chocolate. Anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories.

Eat wild salmon over farmed. Mostly omega 3’s and minimal less-healthy omega 6’s. Eat real peanut butter over commercially processed brands. Contains genistein, reducing the body’s ability to store fat.

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Eat a big, green leafy salad before a meal. It fills you up with the good stuff so you eat less of the not-so-good stuff.

Fad trends and diets are becoming a thing of the past. Good advice based on science is becoming more vocal and in the forefront. Seems sensible and about time.

Mistral

There is a restaurant that I am very fond of. It has been around for quite a few years. That in itself, is an accomplishment.

Mistral. A upscale french bistro in the heart of Sherman Oaks, CA.

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Disclaimer: this meal was expensive. Very expensive. That being said, the meal was excellent. Service, food quality and atmosphere: all 5* (in Yelp lingo).

This restaurant has stood the test of time. And for a reason. They do what they do VERY WELL. For starters, they treat all diners with french gougeres. They are light, airy and have a hint of blue cheese.

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We recently visited for a birthday dinner so we were willing to splurge. Filet mignon and other steak choices range from $40 to 50. Chicken around $30. Add escargot, wine and easily we’re into $300 for 3 people.

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But here’s why it’s worth it. These people care. They float around the room, making conversation with each table. Making the experience very personal. That’s not easy to find anymore.

And the food, wine and service are consistently good. The ambience is authentic cozy french bistro. There are no airs or pretentiousness. The service is friendly. Neighborly. As if you visit every week.

Bravo, Mistral. I’m not sure how you get away with charging what you charge. But it works. The place is always packed. And the diners seem genuinely happy. Qualities not to be taken for granted in this very dynamic and often changing restaurant culture in the city of Los Angeles.

Cleaning Up

As we begin the new year, one project I’m really looking forward to is cleaning up. What I really mean is de-cluttering. Lightening our load. Mostly giving things away but also throwing some away. Because lately I’ve been feeling like we have a lot of stuff.

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The Inspiration

Around the holidays when there is so much consumerism, I look around and think – do we really need more stuff? Where are we going to put it? In addition, having two recently grown children who now have their own places but still have rooms full of stuff in our family home, it feels like enough belongings for five although there are really only three of us here.

Into my life came a book I discovered sometime in the middle of the holidays and it spoke to my malaise: “the life-changing magic of tidying up/the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing,” by Marie Kondo.

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I am not one who generally needs inspiration to de-clutter. I do it regularly and actually enjoy it. However, I think of it as more of a necessary or focused project (as in, “I’m going to clear out this one closet!”) Ms. Kondo’s approach, coined, “The KonMari Method,” focuses on a category by category method of assessing which items “spark joy” and which, of course don’t. Her three-month waiting list to consult on her method speaks to her popularity in Tokyo where space is at an all-time premium. And the additional benefits of a tidy home include the inspiration of a calm, motivated mindset.

Testimonials

I just started reading this book but was struck at the beginning by the testimonials.

“After your course, I quit my job and launched my own business doing something I had dreamed of doing ever since I was a child.”

“Your course taught me to see what I really need and what I don’t. So I got a divorce. Now I feel much happier.”

“Someone I have been wanting to get in touch with recently contacted me.”

“I’m delighted to report that since cleaning up my apartment, I’ve been able to really increase my sales.”

“My husband and I are getting along much better.”

“I’m amazed to find that just throwing things away has changed me so much.”

“I finally succeeded in losing ten pounds.”

WHAT? I’ll take any of those! It sounds kind of silly but I think I get it. All that stuff we carry around that feels like extra weight, weighs us down in more ways than we know. That rings true for me. And I assume many of the other 2 million people who have purchased this book.

The Progress

Well, Ms. Kondo – I am happy to report that although I am not too far along in your book as of yet, I did make some progress on my clutter today.

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I tackled a few boxes of mine and found many craft projects and supplies. They date back to my youngest son’s first Halloween costume and he is now sixteen! Although I don’t have most of your methodology in my arsenal yet, I did keep in mind to think if each item brought me joy. That was tremendously helpful.

I realized I often keep things out of guilt:

I didn’t wear it enough.

There’s nothing wrong with it.

I can use this someday.

There are starving children in Africa …..

Realization

That last message … “there are starving children in Africa …” was so revealing. This is where the guilt comes from! Lessons taught as a child. To eat everything on your plate. To waste nothing. And the intent of the message is not bad but the execution can be. To overeat. To hoard. I rethink the lesson as: is it not better to give away things we’re not using? And donate both time and resources to the causes we believe in? Because how is keeping objects that we’re not using out of guilt helping anyone?

I will document my progress as I go forward in this process. And I look forward to spending more time with Ms. Kondo and her potentially life-changing philosophy and to sharing it with you.

Kauai, Hawaii

I noticed this holiday season that there was a lot of press about the Obama’s holiday retreat to Hawaii. The President is from Hawaii and so am I, originally. Although I have never been to the islands during the winter holiday, I have been many, many times and thought it was a good time to share my love of one of the quieter islands: Kauai.

The Garden Isle

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It is evident why Kauai is known as “The Garden Isle.” It is lush, tropical and green. It is a quiet island, more noticeable for what it is not than what it is. It is not the hustling, bustling Honolulu. It is not the towering hotels or towering anything. There is a building code that limits buildings to three stories. It is not a party mecca. It is not a city crammed on a small island. It is a beautiful natural landscape with gorgeous beaches, jungles and coastlines. It is an island of small, local towns where everybody knows everybody. It is a place where you never need take off your flip-flops nor wear long pants. It is a place I could see living out forever.

Where To Stay

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The island of Kauai has distinct weather patterns – the north part being much wetter than the south. The favorite place to stay on the south side of the island is Poipu Beach.

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There are many accommodations of many types: condos, small hotels, homes, luxury beach hotels. Our go-to is The Kauai Grand Hyatt which has everything you could ever need and is large enough to offer a range of arrangements and prices. It combines old Hawaii charm with modern facilities, numerous pools, gorgeous gardens, a luxury spa, sports facilities, beachfront and a central location. The service is impeccable.

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Resources

An indispensable guide to Kauai is, “The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook/Kauai Revealed.” It takes you to the noteworthy sites but also the less-known and unique places Kauai has to offer. From waterfalls to natural slides in the jungle, this book is a great investment in making the most out of a trip to this unique island.

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As a foodie, I would be remiss not to mention a truly noteworthy restaurant for this small island that could be put up against any worthy establishment in the biggest cities in the country: The Beach House. Consistently crowded (tip: you need a reservation) but always mind-blowing – the atmosphere literally takes your breath away. Waves crash next to you in the open-air dining room. The staff are quintessentially, genuinely old Hawaiian who know their food and their culture. The food is locally sourced and clearly indicated by boat, name and captain on their menu. And the food is not only delicious, it’s beautiful. My picture does not do it justice.

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Do Not Miss This Island

Kauai is a must-see if you are visiting the Hawaiian islands. It is the perfect antidote to Oahu, which I equally love. It is what most people who have never been to Hawaii envision. It is the place to relax and regroup. It is heaven on earth. Paradise.

Delicious Roast Chicken

This is the best roast chicken recipe I have ever tried. It comes from The Canal House and it’s really based on a few simple techniques. I’m not sure I will every try another roast chicken recipe – I will just work on variations from this.

1 T kosher salt

1 whole approximately 4 lb chicken, giblets reserved for another use (I use organic)

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

Rinse chicken. Rub salt all over chicken and place in a resealable plastic bag. I double bag mine for insurance against messy leaks! Place breast side up in the refrigerator for 8 hours and up to 2 days. This dry brining technique works with other meats as well (turkey, pork) and I first discovered it from Judy Rodgers of Zuni Cafe in San Francisco.

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Arrange oven rack in upper third of oven. Preheat to 500 degrees. Set a wire roasting rack in a large roasting pan. Pat the chicken dry, but do not rinse. Place the chicken in the rack, breast side up. Loosely tie the legs together with kitchen twine and tuck the wings under. Brush the chicken all over with butter. Pour 1 cup of water into the pan.

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Roast the chicken, brushing with butter after 15 minutes, until the skin is light golden brown – about 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Remove the chicken, brush with butter and let it rest for 15 – 20 minutes.

Return the chicken to the oven, adding more water to the pan if it is dry and roast, basting with butter about every 10 minutes – until the skin is golden brown and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees. This will take approximately 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken. Let chicken rest for 20 minutes. Carve and serve with pan juices.

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Enjoy the moist and delicious rewards of your efforts – Yum !!

Note: you may want to turn on your overhead fan while the chicken is cooking in the first phase at 500 degrees. Smoke alarms will thank you.

Mochi

I didn’t grow up with dogs. I did have a cat and I loved that cat like there was no tomorrow. So when we lost my husband’s older two dogs that predated me and our children, and then several more years had passed, I had forgotten how important having a pet was.

Then one day, my youngest son convinced me to go with him to a local pet shop where he saw a puppy in the window. I knew it was a bad idea but I thought I was strong enough to just say no. “We’ll just look,” he said. WRONG.

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This is my son’s face several days later when I surprised all three of our kids with our new puppy. And here is my daughter naturally holding him. Maternal instincts.

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And here he is on day #1. Trying to get three kids to agree on a name is quite the challenge. In the interim I named him “Mochi.” Japanese for soft, sweet rice confection. It stuck.

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Ever since, not a day has gone by that this little bundle of fur has not been loved to the greatest degree imaginable.

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He has been dressed up in holiday costume, kimonos, fur coats, sweaters and the like. He has been the best sport through all of it.

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He has been crated, play-penned, leashed, trained, walked and finally accepted as partially-trained but not trained well-enough dog. BUT LOVED.

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These last two pictures really say it all. He is such an important family member. Especially to our youngest child who had his two older siblings leave for college six years before he was eligible. Mochi was his comrade in arms. The love knows no bounds.

Mochi, like me, is now middle-aged. In fact, just recently he surpassed me. He seems to be slowing down a bit and gave us a scare recently with a severe left limp. We worried about arthritis or something worse but were relieved when the vet thought it was not serious. I’ve never seen my youngest son so concerned.

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Our sprite, feisty, sparky young pup is beginning to look a little more regal. More contemplative. More serene. He likes to sit by the fire. Sleep. Snuggle. Cuddle.

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We’ve all gotten older, wiser and perhaps slower as well. But I realize how lucky we are, how much we’ve gotten from our little wonder ball of fur. So much wisdom, so much love, so much caring and nurturing. We would not be anywhere near the same people or family without him and we are so blessed and grateful for him coming into our lives.

We love you, Mochi.

Travel Books

At this time of year, travel is a double-edged sword. It’s busy/chaotic and weather-sensitive. For me, not inspiring.

Where I can be inspired is to travel through books. I recently read, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” which reminded me of my amazing trip in India. It made me want to jump on a plane and spend another 3+ weeks there, immersed in the people and culture of India.

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Another book that I received as a gift from my daughter was, “The Travel Book.” I love looking at the pictures and all of the places I have yet to go.

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When I travel, I like to read guides and novels about the places I’m about to see. For instance, when my children and I were on a road trip through the South, I reread and we all watched, “Gone With The Wind.” For my recent trip to Japan, I recalled the book,  “Memoirs of a Geisha.” Before traveling to India, in addition to reading Salman Rushdie’s, “Midnight’s Children,” I watched the recent films, “Water,” “Fire,” and “Earth.”

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There are many, many examples of how travel writing and films enhance our experience before, during and after our travels. However, they cannot replace the actual experience. Truly, the travel would not be the same without the supplement, however the supplement would never suffice for the real thing. Let’s get out there and travel and see our world in 2015. Bon voyage!

Tamales

Living in southern California with it’s sizable Hispanic population, tamales have become synonymous with the holidays and especially Christmas. I’ve often heard stories of families gathered around the kitchen making these unique pouches of goodness while laughing, singing and sharing memories on Christmas Eve.

Here is a recipe for very tasty little tamales that I adapted from Sunset magazine. Because it is a labor-intensive process, I have added shortcuts along the way to reduce the time required. There are two filling variations here.

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Make The Filling: Roasted Poblano Chile and Cheese

1 1/2 pounds poblano chiles

kosher salt

18 oz monterey jack cheese

Cover a cooking sheet with foil and broil the chiles in the oven until blackened all over, about 10 minutes. Turn frequently while broiling. Place the chiles in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam for 20 minutes.

Peel skin off the chiles, stem and seed them. Slice into 1/2” strips, about 3” long. Season with salt.

Cut cheese into slices approximately 3” long and 1/2” wide.

Note: for a shortcut, buy mild green chiles already prepared in a can.

Make The Filling: Chicken and Green Tomatillo Salsa

Chicken:

1 1/2 white onions, quartered

4 large garlic cloves, crushed

1 t kosher salt

3 lbs chicken breast, with skin and bones

2 bay leaves

Salsa:

11 firm tomatillos, husked, stemmed and rinsed in warm water to remove stickiness

2 to 3 jalapeno chiles, stemmed and halved lengthwise (optional: remove seeds for milder flavor or use fewer chiles)

3/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro, stems and leaves

1 t kosher salt

1/4 t pepper

Poach chicken: put onions, garlic, salt and 4 cups water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add chicken and bay leaves and lower heat to a simmer. Cook chicken, partly covered until no longer pink inside, about 20 to 25 minutes. When chicken is cool, tear into bite size pieces, discarding skin.

Remove bay leaf from pot. Add tomatillos and jalapenos and cook, covered over medium heat until tomatillos are soft, about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain tomatillo mixture, saving the broth to make the tamale dough. Transfer the tomatillo mixture to a blender. Add cilantro, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth.

Bring salsa to a simmer in a saucepan. Add chicken and simmer together for about 5 minutes to meld flavors. Season with salt and pepper.

Note: you can substitute cooked chicken breast and store bought salsa verde to save time.

Make The Tamale Dough

3/4 lb pork lard

5 cups masa harina (Maseca)

2 t baking powder

4 t kosher salt

4 1/2 cups hot chicken broth

Make dough: whip lard on low speed of a mixer with the whisk attachment, gradually increasing speed to high, until lard is fluffy like frosting, about 5 minutes. Whisk masa harina, baking powder and salt in a bowl. With mixer on low, add 1/3 masa mixture to the lard, incorporating fully. Scrape bowl and add another 1/3 masa mixture. Slowly add broth to the lard/masa mixture. Beat in remaining masa mixture one spoonful at a time until dough is soft and fluffy without being sticky (you may not need to use all of the masa mixture). Test the dough by rolling a small ball of it over the back of your hand to see if it rolls easily without sticking. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel and rest between 10 minutes and up to 1 hour, or chill up to 2 days.

Fill The Tamales

8 oz dried cornhusks (50 to 60)

Soak cornhusks by submerging them in hot water, weighted down with the lid of a pan for about 30 minutes.

Place 4 upturned ramekins in the bottom of a tall stockpot and set a steamer basket on top. Pour water in the bottom to about 1 1/2” but below the steamer basket level.

Drain cornhusks and pat dry. If you are not using them immediately, chill them in resealable plastic bags for up to 2 days.

Set a cornhusk, smooth side up, on a work surface. Spoon about 2+ T of dough onto the wide top of husk and smear over top half of husk, leaving a 1” border from top and sides. Add 1-2 T of filling down the center of the dough (or 2 chiles and 1 piece of cheese for the chile cheese tamales). Bring the sides of the husk to meet over the filling, then fold both sides of the filling in the same direction. Turn tamale seam side up and fold the narrow bottom of the tamale up to close it.

Set the tamales, open side up in the steamer, packing them loosely. Cover the pot with foil and a tight fitting lid. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce heat to maintain a steady low boil. Check the water at 30 minutes, adding more as necessary. The tamales should be done at about 1 hour, when they separate easily from the husk but are still somewhat soft (open one to check). Remove pot from heat and let tamales cool in pot for about 20 minutes to firm up.

Serve with salsa of your choice, though they are delicious on their own.

Tamales can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. To reheat, place them on a plate with a damp paper towel over them and plastic wrap covering the plate. Microwave them on high for approximately 1 to 2 minutes if frozen, less if not. Adjust time according to your specific microwave.

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Note: although this is an involved process, it is a joyful one – especially in the creation of the tamale dough and the filling and folding of the tamales. And the results are better than any tamale I have ever tasted – proving what we already know: that nothing beats homemade, and that love can be shared through the food we prepare. Enjoy.

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