Archive for the ‘Meat and Poultry’ Category

Springtime Irish Stew

9 March 2009


A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.
We still have a lot of snow in the hills of western Massachusetts, but I know spring is on its way. 

The sun shines in on my bed a little earlier every morning, delighting my cat Lorelei Lee. (I don’t have to look out the window or feel the sunlight. I can identify the exact moment the rays land on the quilt because I suddenly hear purring.) Of course, losing the hour of sleep this past weekend was a little hard on both Lorelei and me, but we love having more light in the evening.


Maple syrup taps have begun appearing on neighborhood trees, and sugarhouses are starting to boil down the sap to make New England’s best known elixir.


Best of all, new baby animals are making their way into the world. Erwin and Linda Reynolds in Charlemont reported the other day that they had THIRTY-ONE little lambs at their Erlin Farm! Naturally, my mother and I had to pay them a visit.


(Courtesy of Leon Peters)

(Courtesy of Leon Peters)


I think my mother may have been more excited to see our friends than the lambs. Erwin and Linda embody the extended meanings of the terms shepherding (guidance) and animal husbandry (love). They have within them huge stores of common sense and heart. My mother is as sensitive to those qualities as the lambs seemed to be.


The lambs we saw at Erlin varied in age between six days and five weeks. The oldest were just learning to use their little knees to leap into the air. One would suddenly execute an awkward jump on all fours; then a couple of others would try and ALMOST manage. I’m sure within a day or two many will be airborne.


My mother and I fell especially in love with one of Erwin and Linda’s “bottle babies,” Bandit. Erwin explained that sometimes the ewes have too many lambs to feed or just don’t come up with enough milk. At that point, Erwin and Linda take over with formula. They have take extra care of the bottle babies since these lambs don’t get the natural immunities that come from drinking mother’s milk. Bandit looked pretty happy and healthy—and utterly darling. I’m hoping she gets to be a mother next year instead of being turned into lamb chops.


It makes me a little sad to think that most of these adorable babies will someday become food. Nevertheless, I’m happier cooking and eating lamb from Erwin and Linda or from my neighbor Paul Cooper than I am consuming lamb from far away. I know that these lambs led happy lives in a beautiful place. (I also know that they were fed a healthy diet.)


Erwin and Linda gave me a bunch of recipes from the American Lamb Board, some of which I’m sure will make their way into these pages soon. Meanwhile, in honor of spring—and Saint Patrick!—here is a recipe for lamb stew.


The recipe gives the potatoes and carrots maximum flavor by mixing them in with the lamb from the very beginning of the cooking. Its drawback is that by the time the stew is done the pieces of potato and carrot have become very small. If you like, you may wait until after the first hour to add them to the stew pot. They will have more integrity that way.


I like a crazy mixed-up stew so this method suits me just fine.


Erwin and Linda with Baby Bandit

Erwin and Linda with Baby Bandit


Springtime Irish Stew




1 head garlic

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (for roasting the garlic)

salt and pepper to taste (for roasting the garlic)

1-1/2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder

8 baby potatoes, cut in half

1 onion, sliced

6 carrots, cut into chunks

a handful of parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried)

salt and pepper to taste (I use a generous teaspoon of salt and 10 turns of my pepper grinder)

2 cups (possibly more) stock—lamb if you have it, but beef or chicken will do




First, roast the garlic. (If you are disinclined to roast, you may skip this step and chop up a couple of cloves of raw garlic for the stew instead. I think the roasting is rather fun.) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pull the outside skin off the head of garlic, but leave the individual skins on the garlic cloves.


Cut off the tips of the garlic cloves. (See photo.) Place the garlic head in a small baking dish. (An ovenproof ramekin does nicely.) Drizzle oil all over the exposed parts of the garlic, using your fingers to make sure the oil touches all the visible garlic. Sprinkle salt and pepper overall. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. 




Bake the garlic until it feels soft, about 30 to 40 minutes. Allow it to cool until you can touch it; then squeeze the individual cloves out of their skins and into a bowl. Mash the garlic with a fork. Set it aside while you prepare the lamb.


Trim off any excess fat you can from the lamb, and cut it into small chunks.


Place about 2/3 of the potatoes in the bottom of a Dutch oven. Arrange the onions and garlic over the potatoes; then put the carrots on top of the onions and garlic. Place the meat on top. Sprinkle at least half of the parsley and all of the rosemary on the meat, plus the salt and pepper. Top with the remaining potatoes.


Pour the stock over all, and place the Dutch oven on the stove top. When it boils, turn it down and cover it. Simmer the stew for 2 hours, stirring occasionally to keep the food from sticking to the pan and adding more stock if necessary.


Just before serving sprinkle the remaining parsley on top of the stew to give a hint of fresh green.


Serves 4 to 6.



Amy’s Award-Winning Super Chili

30 January 2009


A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.

The Big Game is just around the corner. (Apparently, unauthorized people are not allowed to combine the words “Super” and “Bowl” into one phrase lest they violate copyright and get raided by the Football Gestapo. So we’re calling it the Big Game. You know what I mean.)


The traditional dish for this event is chili. I usually make my standard beef chili, but this year my college roommate Amy MacDonald has offered something more unusual. Her chili was tied for first place in a chili cook-off last year. She says she was inspired by a class she took years ago with chef/instructor Pat Kapp.





Amy sent me her recipe in narrative form. In her words, “It’s not really a recipe—it took three days—it’s practically a way of life.” I love her attitude and her writing because they illustrate the improvisational way in which we all really cook (yes, even cookbook authors!). I hardly ever follow a recipe from start to finish. There’s too much tasting, thinking, and running out of ingredients along the way.


In the interest of making this blog more or less coherent, however, I have translated her essay about making the chili into a semi-standardized recipe. I’ve left in several of her observations because they reflect her personality and that of her chili.


I should add that my family ran out of time and turned the three-day chili into a two-day chili. We just basically kept it in the slow cooker overnight and thought it was ready to serve after 24 hours, just after we added the brown sugar and jam. The end result was quite delicious and definitely prize worthy. So don’t worry if you don’t have three days before the game.



Amy's son William wanted to add barbecue sauce to the chili.

Amy's son William wanted to add barbecue sauce to the chili.


The Chili






2 chicken breasts (or 5 drumsticks, which I happened to have in the house)

2 4-inch sticks fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 teaspoon fresh

salt to taste

1 cup red wine, divided (Amy says, “if you happen to be drinking it at the time. I say, “Drink.”)

1/2 pound kielbasa (I mixed kielbasa and locally produced chorizo), plus more if desired

1 large red onion, chopped

5 cloves garlic, minced

butter and olive oil as needed for sautéing

2 cans black beans

2 cans other beans (NOT garbanzos; I used pinto and kidney)

1 can pureed or chopped tomatoes

1 tablespoon soy sauce (or tamari—even better—if you have it in the house)

3 serrano chiles, seeded and minced

6 ounces dark beer or ale

2 heaping tablespoons chili powder, plus more as needed

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 ounces barbecue sauce

vegetable or chicken stock if needed

1/3 cup apricot jam

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
hot sauce to taste (optional)



Day I: 

Poach the chicken in a little water along with the rosemary and thyme, plus a little salt. Throw in 1/4 cup wine.


Slice the kielbasa into pieces “about the size of a very thick quarter,” and brown them in a frying pan.


In a separate frying pan, brown the onion and garlic in butter and oil. “I don’t know why both butter and oil,” says Amy. “Just do it.” (Actually, the combination adds flavor and keeps the butter from burning.) “The critical thing here is the browning part. Searing everything adds depth.”


Open the cans of beans. Throw them into a pot. “Heat them to a really good simmer.” While they are heating up, take the chicken meat off the bones. Put that meat and the chicken’s cooking liquid in a large slow cooker.  Add the beans, vegetables, sausage, tomatoes, soy, chiles, and beer.


“[T]hen start worrying about whether there is enough meat,” says Amy. If you’re concerned (I was! I love meat!), brown another 1 /2 pound at least of sausage in a frying pan. Deglaze the pan with the remaining wine, and add the sausage and wine to the slow cooker. If you don’t use more sausage, just throw the wine in by itself.  Stir in the chili powder.  Cook overnight on low heat.


Day II:


On Day II Amy’s son announced that the chili needed some barbecue sauce.  Amy didn’t actually add any, but I misunderstood her explanation of his request, and I put some in. Not bad! Taste for flavoring, and if you want to add more chili powder. If you think you want more liquid in your chili, add some stock. Stir in the brown sugar and jam; then cook for a few more hours on low heat. Remove the chili from the crock pot, and refrigerate it overnight.


Day III:


Return the chili to the crock pot, add the cilantro, and cook it for several additional hours on low heat. Taste it a couple of hours before you’re ready to serve it. If you think it needs more seasoning, feel free to add some chili powder, salt, red pepper flakes, or even hot sauce. If you think it just needs more cooking, increase the heat to high.


If you’re entering a chili cook-off, lobby avidly and look cute. (Amy always does.) If you’re just watching football, dish the chili out.


Serves at least 10 football fans.


Our Michael is ready for the Big Game.

Our Michael is ready for the Big Game.

Avenaceous Meatloaf

11 January 2009


A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.

          Knowing that this blog and I are currently celebrating National Oatmeal Month, my college roommate Amy MacDonald recently sent me’s word of the day for January 5. The word was AVENACEOUS. It means relating to or like oats.

           Amy, known to her college friends as “Our Amy” (we like to take credit for her), is one of my favorite people in the world. She’s smart. She’s funny. She’s musical. And she’s as practical and loving as they come. She has a terrific family, from matriarch Kathleen and the seven(!) MacDonald siblings down to her own kids, Caitlin and William. Until recently I was under the impression that Caitlin and William were still extremely young. Last time I saw them they were sipping drinks of such an intense blue that only children under ten could digest them–or would want to try. According to Amy’s most recent missive, however, they have somehow become teenagers.

Our Amy (wearing Kathleen's glamorous earrings)

Our Amy (glamorous earrings courtesy of Kathleen)

          Obviously, Amy and I don’t get together as often as we’d like. Unfortunately (from my point of view), she lives in California. Whenever we do, we talk for hours, just as though we were still sitting on our beds at Mount Holyoke. Even when we’re apart, we think of each other often. I’m convinced that no one else would have found the term avenaceous for me. If you’d like to see Wordsmith’s full tribute to this highly appropriate word, look at

          I was going to call the dish below “Your Basic Meatloaf with Oatmeal,” but I think the new name is much classier. Classy or not, this comfort food is a staple in my home in winter. My mother Jan never uses breadcrumbs to fill out her loaf. Oats are much tastier and more nutritious as well. If you’re feeding small children, chop the onion and bell pepper into very small pieces to disguise them a bit. Adults seem to like larger chunks.

          To keep from chilling your hands, take the ground meat out of the refrigerator about an hour before you’re ready to put your loaf together. Enjoy your avenaceous meal!

Avenaceous Meatloaf


2 pounds good-quality ground beef (or a combination of beef with pork—or beef, pork, and veal!)

1 large onion, chopped

1 medium or 1/2 large bell pepper, chopped

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

lots of freshly ground pepper

1 or 2 eggs

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats plus a bit more if needed

1/2 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard


          Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the ground meat, onion, bell pepper, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. (Your clean hands are the best tools for putting them all together.)  Blend in 1 egg and the 1/2 cup oatmeal. If it’s hard to get everything to bind together, add another egg and/or a few more oats.

          Fashion the meat mixture into a rough log, and place it in a baking dish. In a small bowl, combine the ketchup, brown sugar, and mustard, and spread them over the meatloaf.

          Bake the loaf from 45 minutes to 1 hour. Serves 8.meatloaf-ingredients-web1

A Snappy Christmas (or New Year’s!) Menu

25 December 2008


A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.

          A few years ago I taught a recipe-writing workshop during reunion weekend at my college, Mount Holyoke. The participants worked during the workshop on linking memories to recipes. After the workshop ended, they were all supposed to e-mail me their finished recipes so that I could share them with the whole group.

          The weekend (and life!) got busy, and hardly anyone sent in the recipes. One exception to this rule was Mary McDowell of the Class of 1971. (Mary, I hope you don’t mind my giving away your graduation year!) I fell in love with her brisket recipe, possibly the easiest dish I’ve ever made! Chop onions, pour some stuff into a pan, and you’re done.

          Of course, I tinkered with it a bit. I do have trouble making recipes without tinkering. Mary bakes her brisket, covered, in a 250-degree oven for 8 to 10 hours (or more!). My sister-in-law Leigh and I were anxious to try out the All-Clad slow cooker, and the brisket seemed an ideal recipe for that pot. It was! We also cut back on the recipe. Mary originally called for a 10-pound cut of meat, but we have a small family. We used the full amount of beer and barbecue sauce she called for, although we might cut back on those a bit in future; the brisket was strongly flavored!

Mary wrote that this dish is a Christmas Eve tradition for her family. She caps it off with brownies topped with peppermint-stick ice cream, hot fudge, and crushed peppermint. We stopped after the ice cream, but the brownies à la mode did make an ideal (and snappy) finish. Add some noodles and a little green salad or vegetable, and the meal is just the thing for busy cooks who are tired from shopping, baking, partying, wrapping presents, and trying to be extra good for Santa!

I know I’m posting this too late for readers to prepare my menu on Christmas. I recommend it for New Year’s Eve as well, however. The tangy brisket and extra chocolaty brownies will keep you warm and start your year off deliciously.

Merry Christmas!


Mary’s Cousin’s Overnight Brisket (Adapted by Tinky and Leigh)

1 3-pound slab beef brisket

2 onions, sliced into rings

12 ounces beer

12 ounces high-quality barbecue sauce

1 pound carrots, cleaned and sliced in half


          The evening before you wish to eat the brisket, place it in the bottom of a slow cooker. Throw the onions on top, and top with the beer and barbecue sauce. Cook on the low setting overnight.

          The next morning, stir the carrots into the stew. Continue to cook all day, still on low. Two hours before you want to eat, turn the heat up to high. Serve with noodles.

          Serves 6 to 8. 


Fabulous Fudgy Brownies (Adapted from King Arthur Flour)

1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter

2 cups sugar

2/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon vanilla

4 eggs

1 -1/2 cups flour

12 ounces (2 cups) chocolate chips


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with foil, and grease the foil.

In a good-sized saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. (The saucepan should be big enough so that it can double as your mixing bowl.) Add the sugar, and stir to combine.  Return the mixture to the heat briefly—until hot but not bubbling.  (It will become shiny looking as you stir it.)  Remove it from the heat, and let it cool briefly while you assemble the other ingredients.

Stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder, and vanilla.  Add the eggs, beating until smooth; then add the flour and chocolate, beating well until combined.  Spoon the batter into your pan.

Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry (it may have a few crumbs). Remove them from the oven.  After 5 to 10 minutes, loosen the edges of the foil.  Cool completely before cutting and serving.

Makes about 2 dozen brownies, depending on how large you cut them.


Michael REALLY likes these brownies!
Michael REALLY likes these brownies!