Saturday, February 23, 2013

of crock pots and childhood

I've been enjoying my crock pots a lot lately. Possibly the best part for me is having hot, moist, long-cooking sorts of meals that take only minutes of my attention.

I love, really love, hanging out in the kitchen and spending all day on a sauce. I truly do. But I absolutely, positively do not enjoy coming home tired and hungry and grumpy after a day of work and hoping for a creative impulse. I'm not going to find creativity then not matter how hard I look. So instead, especially in winter, I try to keep something simmering and ready. Something that satisfies on all sorts of levels. Winter is serious comfort food time.

My favorite food memories are almost all of Syrian or Lebanese meals, the food my grandmother cooked (and my mother, though mom was always a southern girl at heart.) I don't make many of these dishes anymore, unfortunately. Many, if not most, use grains as a mainstay and gluten is abundant. Still,  I long for those flavors.

 One of my favorites was a long, slow cooked dish we simply referred to as green beans and rice. It started with ground lamb or beef (most often beef during my childhood years due to relative costs) that we browned with chopped onions, salt, and pepper. Next we added lots of green beans, fresh or frozen, and a can or two of tomato sauce and an equal amount of water. This simmered, covered for hours and hours and hours. Seriously. The green beans almost, but not quite, melted into the sauce. This was then served over mounds of rice, first browned in butter (probably margarine when I was a child) and steamed. I loved it, still do to this day, though when cooking in my own kitchen I made it with diced lamb or beef more often than ground. These days, of course, I don't eat rice and I also can handle only the tiniest amount of tomato. In reality, I should probably stay as far away from any tomato as I possibly can, but every once-in-awhile I use a little. Just a little. Still, that means no tomato sauce at all, since it's pretty darned concentrated.
A few tomatoes in a large pot of food can add the flavor without so much tomato.

While trying to find a good lazy-day plan for a leg of lamb from Lava Lake Lamb, I inadvertently discovered an easy dish that is becoming one of my favorites. I love their lamb, and while I was not in the frame of mind for hours in the kitchen, I was sure as heck not going to waste that lamb. I decided to put the lamb in the crock pot and hope for the best. Then those green bean thoughts started dancing in my head. What if I put a couple of pounds of green beans in the bottom and layered the other ingredients? Now, when I say layer, I mean toss in randomly for the most part. They just end up in natural layers. I used what I had. Not wanting to chop an onion, seriously I was feeling that lazy, I used frozen pearl onions. I grabbed 3 small Roma tomatoes from the freezer and tossed them on top. Then I plopped the lamb on top of the veggies. I figured with that many watery vegetables, I would not need to add any more moisture. Good call, since there was plenty of broth produced without the addition of liquid.
What a delightful surprise. It was far better than I ever expected. The flavors were wonderful and even reminded me a bit of stuffed grape leaves, another childhood favorite. I have made this dish since, evening starting with a piece of frozen meat. I did mention the lazy part, right? It's virtually foolproof and not time-sensitive. It can cook 6 hours or 10 without issue.

I still love to spend hours in the kitchen when I have hours to spend, but it is utterly delightful to come home to dinner that's hot and ready and a house that smells like childhood.