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Forget a box of chocolates, the best kind of hostess gift is meat!  My soon-to-be In Laws spent the weekend with us and brought me two “cute” lamb shanks (Mrs. W always says she’s going to pick me out a cut of meat that looks “cute,” I agree wholeheartedly with her assessment.) and some farmer’s market veggies.  They just begged to be braised up on my day off.  Plus I got to use two of my favorite pieces of kitchen equipment: the slow cooker and the food sealer.

So, about that food sealer.  My Dad got me one a while ago and I didn’t use it much until I moved up to the mountains.  It’s a great tool for people who buy in bulk but cook in smaller portions.  For example, I go down the hill every few months and get meats at reasonable prices, then portion it up and seal it into what I think I’ll need for one meal and freeze the portions.  It’s also great for when I catch my limit in the summer and need to freeze some trout (but that’s not a frequent as I would like).

The other great use for food sealers is to accelerate your marinading time.  Vacuum sealing your whatever it is to be marinaded with said marinade turns a 6-12 hour process into a 1-2 hour process.  Today, I forgot to marinade my lamb shanks ahead of time, thank goodness my food sealer’s got my back!

Lately, I’ve had a difficult time separating my crush on Middle Eastern flavors from lamb, but today I overcame that urge.  (But just barely!)  I decided to take my flavor inspiration from Greece and Southern Italy, where they have the influences of the rich spices from North Africa and the Middle East as well as the European traditions to the North.  Hopefully, I will get another chance to soak up the Mediterranean sunshine and fill my belly with local delights sometime the future…

Mediterranean Braised Lamb Shanks and Vegetables – served with rice pilaf

Serves 2 – cost approx $1 per serving plus the cost of the lamb shanks.  The price will depend on where you get them, whether they’re fresh or froze, whether they’re organic, etc.  Honestly, the rice and the stew makes more like 4 servings.

Ingredients

  • 2 lamb shanks, any bone-in cut of lamb would be nice.  Maybe not lamb chops, they’re tender and not a stewing cut, but a bone-in shoulder chop would be nice or even lamb stew meat. ($0 because of my fantastic in-laws!)
  • salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1 orange, zested and cut into quarters ($.25)
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 tsp dry oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dry rosemary
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1″ piece of cinnamon stick
  • 3 potatoes, washed, large dice ($.20)
  • 1/2 onion, large dice ($.10)
  • 1/2 head cauliflower, large dice ($.75)
  • 2 carrots, large dice ($.20)
  • 3 Tbs tomato paste ($.25)
  • 1 cup water or stock

Start by combining all the ingredients in the first section and marinade it for 6 hrs to overnight in the fridge, or vacuum seal it all together and marinade 1-2 hours.

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Heat a large saute pan sear the lamb shanks on all sides.  The oil in the marinade will be enough to make it not stick, so no need for extra oil.  Reserve the pan with all the happy crud and lamb fat in it.

Put the lamb and the marinade into a slow cooker, add in the cinnamon stick and enough water or stock to come half way up the sides of the lamb.  Set your cooker on high and let be for 3+ (more time won’t ever hurt braised red meat) hours.

About 1 1/2-2 hours before you want to have dinner, add in your potatoes.  about 1 hour before you want to eat, heat up that pan you seared the lamb in and saute the carrots, onion and cauliflower to just brown them, 3-5 minutes.  Add in the tomato paste and stir occasionally until it gets all happy and crud forms on the bottom of the pan.  Stir in about 1 cup water or stock and scrape all those yummy bits off the bottom of the pan.

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Add the whole shooting match to the slow cooker and let ‘er rip for an hour or so.  Now may be a good time to start thinking of making rice or bread as an accompaniment, if you so desire.  Check the seasonings on your lamb stew and devour!

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