Monday, October 13, 2008

Running with weasels, and weekend cooking

Sunday morning I went for a run. It was the day after the Autumn Woods Classic, so I took things pretty easy.

I saw an abundance of wildlife that morning. In a mere 5 miles, I encountered a deer (actually saw the same deer coming and going on my out-and-back route), as well as 3 bunnies (.60 BPM ratio).

The funniest encounter, however, was with the American mink. I ran into him near the creek along the lake. As I was running down the trail, I saw the mink scurry across the path. He spastically hurled himself into the tall grasses on the swampy edge of the lake.

If you have ever seen a member of the weasel family try to leap, you will know this is good entertainment. They don't have much of a vertical leap, so this guy landed with a splat when he hit the grass! In all the time I spent out here on the trail, I can't believe I hadn't seen him before. It was fun to see the mink.

Since I didn't get to do any cooking last weekend when I was visiting the family, I made up for it this weekend by whipping up two fantastic dishes.

On Saturday, I made a Thai coconut curry shrimp with rice stick noodles.

Thai coconut curry shrimp



This dish had a curry sauce made of coconut milk seasoned with nuoc mam (Thai fish sauce), red onion, coriander, cumin, dried red chiles, fresh ginger, and lemongrass. I found some beautiful 26-30 count shrimp on sale, so they got cooked up in the curry sauce. I added some frozen peas and fresh basil at the last minute and served it over thin rice stick noodles.

A delicious meal, and SPICY! Whew, my nose was running after eating this one. Incredible flavors, very fragrant, and somewhat exotic. This proved to be a nice treat following my race earlier in the day.

Sunday, I decided to make a stew, since the upcoming week is supposed to be chilly. So I made stew. But not just any old stew. I made a "Black & Tan" Irish lamb stew.

In the past, I have made some version of a Guinness stew, which uses stout beer as one of the liquid ingredients. A black & tan is a drink that is made with a combination of stout beer and either a pale ale or a lager.

There are a few different ways to pour it, but this is the one I am familiar with; the ale is poured into a glass, filling in half way. The Guinness will be carefully poured into the same glass over an upside-down spoon. As the Guinness is not as dense as the ale, it creates two distinct layers, one black, the other tan.

Earlier in the week, I saw a recipe for "Black and Tan" leg of lamb. Inspired, I figured this can be easily applied to my own stew recipe.

My homemade "Black & Tan" Irish lamb stew



So I made braising liquid with a combination of stout and pale ale, along with beef stock and some tomato paste (for body, as well as flavor). I used some excellent lamb stew meat and combined a lot of my usual stew veggies; onions, carrots, garlic, barley, mushrooms, potatoes, and peas. It was seasoned with fresh thyme, bay leaves, and herbs de Provence, and I served it over gemilli pasta.

One of my best stews ever, if I do say so! It turned out fantastic and rich, barely needing anything to thicken it. I will love having this for lunch over the course of the week (as I did today at work). I am not sure if the combination of the two different beers makes all that much of a discernible difference. You can definitely taste the stout in the finished product. If nothing else, it does create some fun "menu poetry," as Mario Batali might say.

Incidentally, I only learned after cooking this that the black & tan probably wasn't even an Irish invention. This was likely a creation of British pubs back in the late 1800's. Oh well. At the very least, I am sure an Irishman would appreciate the spirit for which it was intended! :)

Until next time,

Jean
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