Welcome to the lab, please watch your step...

Welcome to the lab, please watch your step.... I'm a busy young zombie just trying to balance writing, food and life. I love to cook and love to eat even more! And I promise I won't eat your brains—unless they are made from cake, then I can make no promises.
This is where I run my experiments and post the results for your enjoyment. I have a weird sense of humor, so bare with me, I promise the food will be good ;)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Underrated Winter Vegetables and Lamb Stew

After using a gift card my boyfriend and I got this past Christmas, I found myself with a nicely sized bit of leftover rack of lamb.  Naturally I took the bones home and added what other bones I had in the freezer, making some beautiful lamb stock.  This brought me to my favorite thing to do with lamb in the winter.

Lamb stew.

One of the first meals I really mastered, stew is a delicious cold-weather treat.  I love the coming of winter because it means I get to break out my crock-pot and make stews and soups to my hearts content.

As I grow older and more experienced in the food world, I find myself searching for new ingredients to enrich my winter-time favorites.  Frozen corn added into chili to add sweetness against the heat, red wine to braise venison sausage to serve over spaetzle.  But for lamb and beef stew, the players have always remained the same.  Carrots, onion, and potato.  That list grew as of early this winter.

The Story:
I had 1 parsnip in my fridge, leftover from another recipe I had made.  Shrugging, I washed and chopped the white carrot look-a-like, adding it to the pot.  My ancestors in Ireland and Germany used parsnips in soups and stews for centuries—long before potatoes made their way out of America.  I figured it couldn't hurt to try.

I was rewarded with a level of nuttiness I would have never expected.  Paired with the earthiness of the carrots, the sauce gained so much depth from adding just that one ingredient.

Then I started to think "What other vegetables have I been over-looking in the store because I've never tried them?"

The answer came as I was reading a traditional Irish recipe.

Photo from inspiredrd.com


My mother had never used them.  She thought because they were shaped like beets they must taste like beets.  She hates beets. 

My father swears he hates them, but won't try even the smallest bite. (And they wonder why I was so picky as a child!) 

I had always assumed turnips must not taste good, since neither of my parents seemed to like them.  And so I never tried them for myself.  As an adult, I realized how blind I was letting myself be, and decided to take a culinary leap. I bought one at the store one day (it was surprisingly cheap).

I was going to be brave.

I took the cream and purple root home and researched them—wondering what a person did with a turnip.  Did it need to be peeled? cored? Can you eat the green bits at the top?  Should a "white" turnip have purple on it?

The internet was forthcoming with answers and opinions. No they don't need to be peeled, but some recipes call for it anyway.  Nutritionists recommend keeping the skin because it holds a lot of the nutrients.  So just wash it.  No, there is no coring.  Yes, you can eat the greens on top.  They are often served similar to Kale or any other hearty leafy green.  Yes, some white turnips have purple on them. 

So what did I do with that first turnip?
I roasted it alongside some butternut squash, parsnips, onions and carrots.  I liked it more than the parsnips!  Why? Because the flavor is muted.  It's a starchy vegetable—like a potato—with a smooth texture.  It soaks up flavor, but isn't as heavy or dense as a potato can be.  And well, they're good for you! Vitamin C and A, and Calcium and Copper and Antioxidants.

So what's the best part about parsnips and turnips? They are cold weather vegetables.  Winter is their season, so they are cheaper.  And they pack a lot of nutritional punch.  For the monetarily challenged foodie (i.e. Me) you can't get enough ingredients to help stretch your pantry.

So now that I've gone on my "try some new vegetables" rant, let's get onto the stew.

The ZombieQueen's Super Fancy (They won't know it was so Cheap) Lamb Stew
Part 1: Stock, Theory, and Economics
So I mentioned in passing today to cheer up my boyfriend that we were having Lamb Stew for dinner.  My Father, in his infinite need to indicate to me that I am living outside my means, responds that he wishes HE could afford lamb stew.  You see, when people hear "lamb" their minds automatically go to fancy restaurants that charge $30+ for a few lamb lollipops.  So people think lamb is just one of those meats they can never afford.

Which is totally bogus!  You just have to know what you're looking for.  Stewing is one of those applications where you can take the cheapest cuts and make good use of them.  Personally I am always looking through the meat aisle at my grocer for what is on sale.  And you'd be surprised how cheap some things can get.  Today I found some lovely lamb neck bones, about a lb, for $1.67 (Picture is from a later batch—still not bad for $2.60).  I also will use shank cross-sections.  Any cut where there is generally a lot of connective tissue and bone to work around are usually the cheapest (in today's case, even cheaper than beef!).  And the nice thing about lamb is that even the toughest parts are pretty darn tender.

This is what the start of something awesome looks like.
Once you get it home, there is a bit of work involved with separating meat and bones/silver-skin/inedible bits.  NEVER throw the bones etc away!  There is so much flavor packed into such a small amount of scraps.  I keep a plastic baggy in my freezer to store up extra bits of everything (cooked or uncooked) whether it be the leftover chicken bones, pork chops, ham hoks, beef ribs you name it.  Bones go in the baggy.  Once it's full I know it is time to make some homemade stock.  Throw whatever veggies you have roughly chopped into a big stock pot (and yes I use the celery tops and carrot tops as herbs!), let them get soft with some butter and salt and pepper.  Add in your bones and bits, cover with water, bring to a boil and then simmer for hours until it smells so good you just want to hook it up to an IV.

This stock is the elixir of life, you can add it to anything.  Making a roast? Put a little stock in the pan.  People will be asking you the secret to your gravy. Making pasta? Add a little of your stock to a pan and use it to make a sauce.

So now we've discussed the theory and economics, let's progress to the recipe.

Part 2: Recipe (aka What You Really Came Here For)
1 med onion
2 carrots
1 parsnip (do NOT peel!)
1 turnip (Again, no peeling.  Wash only)
1 larger red potato (I like red potatoes in stew b/c they don't get grainy) ((ditto on the peeling for this—really if you wash any of these vegetables you don't need to peel them!))
1 clove garlic (or more if you like)
1 cup frozen veggies (I like green beans personally)
1 package  lamb shank or neck bones (trimmed and deboned) cut into bite size pieces
((Yes I said package.  Why? Well because I usually use the whole thing.  Some days I have more meat  and the stew is meatier, some days I have more bones and the stock is richer.  It's win-win in my book))
Enough stock to cover (if you don't have homemade that's ok.  Canned broth works fine, but taste before adding any extra salt.  Or you can use my favorite secret weapon—1 tblsp Better Than Bouillon)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dry thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1 tblsp cornstarch to thicken


1) Heat some oil in a pan over medium-medium high heat. 
Salt and pepper lamb pieces and then dust with some flour (this will help thicken the stew later).  Once oil is heated, add lamb to the pan.  You just want to brown the pieces, not cook them fully.  Turn over once to brown the other side and add to your crock-pot.

2) Wash and chop vegetables (other than the frozen).  All should be bite size pieces.  Add to the crock-pot.
3) Add stock, herbs, and salt and pepper.
4) Cook on high for 4 hours, or on low for 6.
5) Add frozen veggies 5-10 minutes before serving.
6) Make slurry of cornstarch and a little water.  Add while stirring into stew.
7) Serve with some warm biscuits or crusty bread on a cold night.  Enjoy!

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