After reading (and by reading I mean I listened to the audio CD) Michael Pollan’s book Cooked, I was more motivated to cook than ever. He describes in depth how to cook with fire, cook with water, preserve by fermentation, and bake rustic bread. His section on slow cooking tough cuts of meat motivated me to learn more about the technique of braising. The cheapest cuts of meat can be just as flavorful as any expensive cut, but they require careful slow cooking technique to make the meat tender.
The basic science is that the most exercised parts of an animal (leg, rump and shoulder) have more collagen which makes the meat tough and chewy. With enough cooking time at around 150 degrees, the collagen transforms into gelatin, so the meat becomes soft and breaks apart. So it is all about time and temperature – low and slow. It’s time to slow down and cook more.
This brings me to lamb shank. It is one of the cheapest cuts, but it requires some slow cooking. It’s basically the equivalent of a chicken drum stick, which is one of my favorite cuts. Here is my recipe for lamb shank.
- 2 lamb shanks (one per person)
- 2 carrots
- 2 celery stalks
- 1/2 large onion
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock (or water)
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 bay leaves
- Salt and pepper (more than you think you need)
- Add smoked paprika, cumin, salt and pepper along with some olive oil and rub into the meat. Marinate for 1 hour.
- Chop carrots, celery, and onion. Rough chop garlic.
- Saute carrots, celery, onion and garlic on med-low. Don’t let it burn. Add to crock pot.
- Add oil to cast iron or stainless steel pan and brown the lamb shanks on med to med-high until you have brown all over.
- Add wine to deglaze pan. Make sure to get all the sticky brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Those are all good flavor.
- Put lamb shanks on top of vegetables in crock pot and add the wine liquid along with 1 cup of vegetable stock.
- Cook on low for 3-5 hours, or until the meat falls off the bone.
- Garnish with any herb you have. I used mint because it goes well with lamb and I have a ton of it in my garden.
Sorry I haven’t posted in a long time. It’s been a busy season in my life and even though I’ve been cooking a ton, I haven’t posted anything. Don’t worry, I’m not eating out at Applebee’s everyday. That place is…. Anyway, here is my version of chicken cacciatore. I love making this because it is so easy and doesn’t require much prep.
Fresh herbs are key to this recipe. If you don’t grow your own, stop what your doing, go to home depot, and buy some plants. Otherwise, this recipe (and all other Italian recipes) will cost you $5 more than it should. These plants are so easy to grow. Rosemary and thyme are some of the more hardy plants and are very versatile.
Here is one final note about cooking I recently learned from a chef friend. The last thing you put in is the first thing you taste. This means that if you like the taste of garlic, put it in last NOT first. If you like the taste of fresh herbs, put them in 5 minutes before it’s done cooking. You can alter the balance of flavor by timing ingredients to your liking. Try some variations. I’m also not a fan of adding garlic to the oil before I add the chicken because it tends to burn. If you like that flavor, try sauteing the garlic to a perfect crispiness and then taking it out to add in at the end.
Recipe for 4 servings
- 4-5 boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 1 – 24oz can of fire roasted tomatoes
- 5 handfuls of penne pasta
- 3 TBS balsamic vinegar
- 1 zucchini
- 1 teaspoon fresh minced thyme
- 1 teaspoon fresh minced rosemary
- 3 minced garlic cloves
- Add oil to pan on medium heat and bring to temp.
- Add chicken and cook on medium-high. After a few minutes lower temp to med-low to cook for 5-10 min per side. Make sure it is low enough so it gets crispy but does not burn. Don’t move the chicken around until it comes loose on its own. Lower heat is important here so it releases before it burns.
- Puree roasted tomatoes and add to chicken along with herbs, minced garlic, and balsamic vinegar. Drizzle some more olive oil on top and mix everything in.
- Simmer on low for 20 minutes
- Add diced zucchini 3 minutes before serving.
- Add salt and pepper to taste and add to pasta.
Peppers were super cheap, so I bought a ton and roasted them to use in a bunch of recipes. I like roasting big batches, so I can eat some right away and freeze the rest. I love to use them to make tapenades, put in sandwiches, and rough chop them to add in rice or beans. Check out this method of roasting peppers so you can remove the skin leaving you with a smooth and silky sweet pepper.
Here’s how to roast peppers for maximum flavor:
- Toss whole peppers in a large mixing bowl with enough olive oil to coat. Add salt and pepper. You can also add a peeled onion cut into quarters and a whole bulb of garlic broken into pieces if you like.
- Put on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. They taste better if they char black in some spots (but not too black). You will peel off the skin anyway. If they don’t darken, you can add them to the broiler for 5 minutes on high.
- Turn them half way through to get color on the other side.
- Remove from oven and IMMEDIATELY put back in mixing bowl and cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap to lock in the steam. The plastic wrap will start to puff up if you’ve created the seal correctly. It usually takes 2-3 pieces to seal the bowl.
- Let sit in the fridge until cool. They get better after a day in the fridge, but you can move onto the next step as soon as they cool down.
- Uncover and peel the skins off by hand. They should just peel off like butter. Remove the stems and seeds.
- Add to any recipe.
- To freeze, add to a mason jar and cover with the juice left over in the bowl. Fill 70 percent of the way, add cap, and freeze.
Here is a pepper tapenade recipe:
- 4 roasted bell peppers
- 1/2 roasted onion
- 3 roasted garlic gloves
- handful of basil
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Roast peppers, onions, and garlic and peel.
- Rough chop everything with a knife or use a food processor.
- Add olive oil to get the consistency you want.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Eat with high quality bread.
When we were in Hawaii we tried this macadamia nut encrusted mahi mahi, and I fell immediately bought some fresh fish and tried to imitate it. My version is a much more simple and fresh version that requires much less ingredients. We got some epic macadamia nut oil while we were there, so I used that in the recipe instead of olive oil.
- 1/2 lb Mahi Mahi
- small handful raw macadamia nuts
- any veggies
- 1 tablespoon honey
- macadamia nut oil
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Cut up vegetables of your choice and partially boil.
- Crush mac nuts into fine powder by placing them in a plastic bag and bashing them with a bottle.
- Place vegetables in an oven proof dish and toss with some mac nut oil.
- Place fish in center of dish and spread honey over the top.
- Spread crushed mac nuts over top and drizzle a little more mac oil on top.
- Back for 20 minutes or until done at 350 degrees.
Miso paste has been a very versatile ingredient for me over the past three months. It lasts a long time in the fridge, and I love making soups with miso as a base. I’ve even braised white fish in miso and it’s incredible. Here is a quick and easy recipe using miso. Asian markets will have a wide assortment of miso pastes. I always go for a more expensive organic brand, but you only be paying anywhere from 3-6 dollars for enough to last you months. To make the ultimate miso soup, get some dried herring powder. It sounds fishy, but you’ll see that adding a teaspoon of it will give you that classic miso taste. If you can’t find it, then you can use the chicken bullion cubes.
Cabbage Miso Soup Recipe for 2:
- 4 cups water
- 1/2 half savoy cabbage
- 2 tablespoons miso paste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground herring or chicken bullion
- 2 shredded carrots
- soy sauce to taste
- sriracha to taste for spice
- Bring water to boil. Add miso and ground herring.
- Rough chop cabbage and finely slice carrots.
- Add cabbage and carrots. Cook for 15-20 minutes until cabbage is very tender.
- Add soy sauce, sriracha, and cilantro to taste.
My dad’s kale garden was growing like crazy, so he cut me about 5 pounds of prime kale. I juiced a ton of it, but I thought I’d try making kale chips. I used kale and tree collards, and I liked the texture of the collards better. These are super easy to make, and don’t worry because you don’t need a dehydrator. A dehydrator is be optimal way to preserve the nutrient value because you can set it at under 120 degrees. The hotter you bake them, the more enzymes are killed. If you do it in your oven, just turn it to the lowest temp and bake for a few hours. My oven only goes down to 170.
One important thing to note is that these chips are extremely crispy when they come out of the oven, but if you let them sit out they will absorb moisture and go soft quick. Put them in a mason jar and seal them tight to keep them super crispy.
I’ve been obsessed with sriracha chili sauce, so I thought I’d create a recipe using it as a primary flavor. I added a little of soy sauce and grated ginger to balance it out.
I tried some plain and soaked them in salt water. They were good, but I preferred the flavored ones.
- 1 lb fresh kale or collards
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons sriracha chili sauce
- thumb size grated ginger
- break kale into bit size pieces
- add soy sauce, sriracha, and ginger
- scrunch the kale together hard so they kale starts to break down and soften. This will force the flavor in. Let sit for a half hour.
- Dehydrate at a temp less than 120 degrees for 3-4 hours or bake in oven on a cookie sheet at the lowest temperature possible for around 2 hours. Just bake them until they are brittle and crispy.
- Store in a mason jar.
I love cooking complete meals in one pot because they save time, cleanup, and always have the good rustic feel I love about cooking. With that said, I’m starting a new category called one pot wonder. This category will include simple recipes that are great for feeding a ton of people. The great thing about these recipes is that they can be scaled up according to your needs – all you need is a giant pot, and you can cook for as many people as you want. Simplicity is key.
This is a very simple recipe where you braise chicken in your most fancy vintage of Charles Shaw (I used Cabernet Sauvignon because it sounds fancy). Get a bottle from the deepest recesses of your wine cellar, or just drive down to Trader Joe’s. While your at it, grab their raw frozen chicken thighs. For some reason, Trader Joe’s frozen chicken always tastes delicious, and it’s cheap and convenient.
And yes. I am on a lentil kick. They are so cheap and easy that I can’t stop making them. Deal with it.
Recipe for 4-5 large servings:
- 4 chicken thighs
- 3/4 bottle red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon)
- 1 1/2 cups lentils
- 2 carrots
- 1 large onion
- 1 cup water
- 3 cloves garlic
- Rough chop onion. Finely chop garlic. Add both to a large pot with a touch of olive oil. Simmer on Med-low until slightly brown.
- Add 3/4 bottle of wine. Add chicken (it can still be frozen or thawed). Bring to boil then turn to low. Braise for 15 minutes on low.
- Remove chicken thighs and shred with two forks. Add back to pot.
- Rinse lentils really well. Add to pot with 1 cup water and chopped carrots. Mix really well. Bring back to boil then turn to med-low. Cook on med-low for 10 minutes or until the lentils are done. Leave the lid on for half the time and then take it off so the water can evaporate.
- Mix periodically so the lentils cook evenly. If the liquid runs dry before the lentils are done just add a touch of water and mix. You want them to be moist but not soupy when they are cooked all the way through.
- Add salt and pepper to taste
On our way up to Julian last week, Karissa and I stopped for a pre hike power lunch. This was a quick, last minute lentil soup thrown together that morning. It only takes 15 minutes to make, and it is a really filling and warm lunch. I just cooked a whole pot, left two portions in the pot, and cooled it in the fridge. We brought a little propane stove to heat it up when we got there. Super easy and fun picnic.
We enjoyed our lunch with some green tea, and we were ready and fueled up for our hike in the snow. This soup fills you up quick, but also provides long lasting energy.
If you want to summit, you gotta eat your lentil soup.
Here is the recipe for this lentil soup with an Asian twist:
- 1 cup lentils
- 2 carrots
- 1 handful chopped bok choi or chard
- 3 green onions
- 2 celery sticks
- 2 tablespoons of miso paste
- 1 tablespoon chicken bullion
- 1 tablespoon black bean sauce or oyster sauce
- soy sauce to taste
- 1 tablespoon Sriracha chili sauce (good and spicy)
- Add lentils to boiling water and boil for 5-7 minutes.
- Finely dice carrots, celery, bock choi, and onions and pan fry for 5 minutes
- Drain lentil water and add 5 cups of fresh water. Add vegetable mixture. Bring to boil again and turn to low.
- Add miso paste, chicken bullion, black bean sauce, soy sauce, and sriracha.
- Cook for 5-10 minutes more until the lentils are cooked. Done.
My friend Aaron gave me a good idea a few weeks ago because he said he hates recipes that use ingredients you’ll never use again. He said he ends up omitting ingredients that he wouldn’t see himself using in the future. This point is very true, which is why I like to simplify my cooking as much as possible. So now I’m starting a new category – Ingredients you’ll always use.
The first ingredient is one of the simplest things to make, and it’s a perfect staple food to have in the cupboard. Buy it plain in bulk from the bins, and try to avoid the flavored packaged version. Packaged mixes are good, but if you want to control the flavor and have more versatility, then get the non-flavored.
It’s the easiest thing to make. If your smart enough to boil water, then you 100% wont have any problems cooking this. Just bring one cup of water to boil, add 1 cup couscous, turn off the heat, and wait 5 minutes till the couscous sucks up the water.
Recipe for 3-4 servings:
- 1 cup plain couscous
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1/2 tomato
- small handful cilantro
- 2 teaspoons dried chicken bullion
- 2 teaspoons bragg amino acids or soy sauce
- Bring water to boil. Add couscous, chicken bullion, and bragg. Stir. Turn heat off and cover with lid. Let sit for 5 minutes.
- Chop tomato and cilantro. Add to couscous
- Eat warm or cold
This is my new favorite dish. It’s a perfect appetizer. It’s very simple and looks beautiful. The ingredients are inexpensive. It’s super fresh but still bold in flavor. What more could you ask for? I’ve done a chimicurry in the past, but this one is a bit different. I’ve added fresh thyme and oregano, and I think it really changes the flavor.
Try to use fresh oregano and thyme. It’s well worth the extra cost. If you don’t already have a plant of each growing in your garden or in your window, just use the two dollars you would have otherwise spent at the grocery store buying cut herbs and buy a plant. They are only three dollars at the home depot. They grow like a weed and you can’t kill them. Having herbs fresh at your fingertips is well worth it.
Recipe for 4 servings:
- 1 pound calamari steak
- Handful of cilantro
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 packed teaspoon fresh oregano
- 1 packed teaspoon fresh thyme
- 1 red chili finely chopped
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon ground bay (optional)
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- lemon zest
- Cut calamari steaks in thin strips. Add salt and pepper
- Warm pan on medium heat WITHOUT OIL. When pan is warm, add oil, wait a few minutes, and then add calamari. Starting with medium heat avoids spitting oil and allows you to cook the calamari with a nice crust. After adding to the pan DON’T touch the strips. Just set the temp on medium low and let cook. They will stick at first, but they will lift off when the crust forms. Cook for about 5 minutes on medium low on each side. Remember medium low. Cook them slower and they will be more tender. It’s the slow down cook more philosophy.
- In a food processor, add the cilantro, garlic, oregano, thyme, and bay powder and pulverize. If you don’t have a food processor your can do it the old school way like I do. Just finely mince all the ingredients with a knife and bash it up in a pestil and mortar. Then add the oil and lemon juice to the mixture and stir it together. Add salt and pepper to taste. This can be made a day ahead of time if you want.
- When the calamari is crispy and delicious, just combine it with the chimichurry and top with more chili and lemon zest. Eat warm or at room temp.