Saturday, March 14, 2015

Friday, March 13, 2015

Lamb for the Holidays

Although Americans enjoy making corned beef and cabbage around Saint Patrick's Day, a more fitting tradition might be cooking a big pot of lamb stew!  You can use your favorite recipe for beef stew and just substitute lamb.  Be sure to add more potatoes after the meat becomes tender, since the ones you added in the beginning will now be part of the nice, thick gravy!  Carrots, parsnips, green beans, and potatoes make a wonderful combination for lamb stew.  You can use any cut of lamb for the stew, but shoulder is probably preferred for a braised dish such as stew.  Lamb shanks or even lamb chops could make a stew. Some even use ground lamb or lamb meatballs to make stew.

Easter is another holiday for enjoying lamb.  Traditionally, a roast leg of lamb makes a fine dinner.  An elegant crown roast of lamb or some french-cut lamb chops make a delicious and memorable occasion also.

Why wait for the holidays to cook lamb?  We enjoy lamb all seasons of the year.  During the winter, it is satisfying to heat up the kitchen with a pot roast of lamb shoulder or a casserole of lamb shanks in the oven.  During the summer, grilling some lamb burgers, lamb chops, or lamb and veggie kabobs is convenient and fun.

Weeknight meals of baked ziti and lamb ragu can be prepared easily by browning some ground lamb and ground beef with chopped onions and garlic, adding some diced tomatoes and a little bit of tomato sauce, seasoning with salt, pepper, and oregano, and then putting the sauce and al-dente cooked pasta in a casserole to bake at 350 F with parmesan cheese (and optionally feta cheese) sprinkled over all.   Lasagna recipes can be adapted easily to use ground lamb, which goes so well with tomatoes, eggplant, green peppers, mushrooms, and cheese!

Now I'm getting hungry,  I hope you will enjoy some lamb this Spring and every season of the year!

Here's a recipe to get you started. (Keep in mind you can substitute creatively if you do not have some of the ingredients on hand. I use parsley instead of mint, for example.)

 This appeared recently in the "Wall Street Journal" online food section. THE CHEF: JOSEF CENTENO   related article by Wall Street Journal Slow-Food Fast blogger
KITTY GREENWALD  HOT FUSION | Winter vegetables and fresh herbs lighten and brighten this deeply comforting cross between Italian baked ziti and a Middle Eastern lamb kebab. PHOTO: JAMES RANSOM FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, FOOD STYLING BY HEATHER MELDROM, PROP STYLING BY STEPHANIE HANES
March 6, 2015 1:50 p.m. ET

Baked Ziti With Lamb Ragù
Total Time: 40 minutes Serves: 6-8
·         Salt
·         1 pound dried ziti
·         2 tablespoons olive oil
·         1 pound ground lamb
·         ½ pound ground beef
·         1 medium yellow onion, diced
·         2 cloves garlic, minced
·         1 medium carrot, diced
·         1 stalk celery, diced
·         1 small bulb fennel, diced
·         1 (14-ounce) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes with juice and roughly chopped
·         1 teaspoon red chili flakes
·         ½ teaspoon dried oregano
·         ½ teaspoon ground cumin
·         ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
·         2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
·         ¾ cup French feta, crumbled
·         ¾ cup coarsely grated mozzarella
·         ½ cup grated Parmesan, plus extra for topping
·         15 basil leaves, thinly sliced
·         15 mint leaves, thinly sliced
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add ziti and cook until just al dente. Strain pasta, reserving 1 cup cooking water.
2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Once hot, stir in lamb, beef, onions, garlic, carrots, celery and fennel, and sauté until meat is cooked through, about 7 minutes. Pour off all accumulated fat and set pot back over medium heat.
3. Stir in tomatoes, chili flakes, oregano, cumin and cinnamon. Season with salt to taste. Simmer until vegetables soften, about 20 minutes, adding splashes of hot water if dry. Stir in vinegar and simmer 5 minutes more.
4. Preheat broiler. Add cooked pasta and reserved cooking water to pot with ragù, stirring until evenly distributed. Turn off heat. In a small bowl, toss together feta, mozzarella and Parmesan. Stir ¾ mixed cheeses and ½ mint and basil into pasta.
5. Transfer everything to a large casserole dish. Top with remaining mixed cheeses and grate extra Parmesan over top to lightly cover. Slide casserole under broiler and cook until browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Garnish with remaining basil and mint

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Use-By Dates, Sell-By Dates, Food Safety and Quality

There is a lot of confusion among consumers regarding the various dates found on food packages in Ohio.  Although many states do not require it, Ohio's food safety law requires that eggs, shellfish, babyfood, and packaged, perishable food be labeled with a date if it has a shelf life less than 30 days.  Also, many food manufacturers put dates on their packaging because they think consumers will find it helpful.  There is no question that a lot of food is wasted because of the confusion over what these dates mean relative to the food safety and quality. One estimate by a food safety expert with NSF, Interational (a public health and safety organization based in Michigan) is that about $161 billion of food is wasted annually due to people throwing out food when it reaches the "sell-by" date.

This interesting graphic and a related article appeared in the Columbus, Ohio, newspaper "The Dispatch" on March 10, 2015. These guidelines are for refrigerated, perishable foods (fresh, uncooked) with a "Sell By" date or no date. (Products with a "use-by" date should be consumed by that date for safety.)

The article states that canned food will last indefinitely due to the heating and canning process creating a sterile environment within the can.   This absence of any air or bacteria would provide a safe product for many years although there may be some slight changes in the quality or appearance. Another fact stated in the article is that, for sell-by-dated foods, usually about a third of the product's shelf life still remains after that date.  One caveat to keep in mind; however, is that if there were any period of time during which the product had been improperly handled, such as wrong temperature, then the food quality or safety could be much less than expected based on the date.

Here is the link to the article