April 20, 2013

What a damn week it’s been.


As a middle school teacher, I hear a lot of bullshit about “kids these days.”  You know: they’re so lazy, they’re so entitled, they’re addicted to their phones, they’re ignorant, they lack the most basic kinds of skills, they always want the easy answer.

These things may be true, at least to some extent, in regards to some kids—but when I look at the way the Boston Marathon bombing played out this week, it wasn’t kids who were guilty of those things.  It was grownups.

I want so many things for my students, and in this world in which they are coming up, I most especially want them to be able to think for themselves.  I want them to be thoughtful consumers of media.  I want them to question; I want them to know what it means to have a reliable source.  I want them to understand the dangers of jumping to conclusions, of lumping people into categories, of not bothering to do the research so you mistake one country for another.

There is always danger, but there is also, always, beauty.  Alongside the speculation and false reports came symbols of defiance and stories of courage; though there were many who reported or tweeted or posted things before checking to see that they were true, there were also many who spoke as voices of reason, who reminded us of how we do things around here, of what gives us the right to sing our national anthem so proudly.

It’s a question, you know, that last line—“O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave / O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”  It’s not a statement.

I discussed this with my kids on Friday.  When people talk about this line, they usually refer back to the fact that Francis Scott Key was literally looking to see if the American flag was still flying over Ft. McHenry during the War of 1812.   And ever since then, we still look for the physical presence of our flag for reassurance, whether it be that famous photograph taken on Mt. Suribachi at the end of the Battle of Iwo Jima or the raising of the flag post-9/11 by firefighters standing amidst rubble.

It means something to us when our flag flies, or when it flies at half-mast.  It is a reflection of us, of our spirit, or zeitgeist.  And when we ask if that star-spangled banner yet waves, we are not simply asking about a piece of fabric; we are asking if we will remain committed to being who we have said that we will be.  We are reminding ourselves and each other to stay true to who we are: the land of the free and the home of the brave.


recipe slightly adapted from Mario Batali via Food & Wine

Osso buco is traditionally made with veal, but we used pork shanks the local meat share we receive once a month from Jolie Vue Farms.  We love our Jolie Vue share for many reasons, but one that I didn’t anticipate when signing up was the way it’s made me a better cook.  Instead of starting with a recipe and going out to buy what I need, I receive different cuts of pork, beef, & chicken each month, and learn to make meals around them.  I’ve learned to cook and enjoy things that I never would have otherwise, including osso buco.

This is an involved dish (more time-consuming than anything else), but the results are pretty stunning.  Braised dishes are great for company, because once you put it in the oven, you’re pretty much done.  Just plan to budget at least 3 hours from the start of your prep to actual serving time (a bit longer if you plan to make your own tomato sauce).

If you plan to make saffron orzo to go alongside, wait until your meat is completely cooked, then remove it from the oven and leave it covered while you cook the orzo.  That way, everything will be nice and hot—but not too hot—and ready to serve at once.  Top the osso buco with the gremolata just before serving, and don’t skip it!  The texture from the pine nuts and flavor of both the lemon zest and parsley add so much to the overall taste.  As you can see, even the smallest member of our household was a fan.

osso buco baby | Blue Jean Gourmet

for the tomato sauce:

This recipe makes more than the two cups called for in the osso buco recipe,  but there are many, many things you can do with the leftovers: make pasta or pizza with it, poach eggs in it for breakfast, gift it in a mason jar to your neighbor, etc.

¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¼ cup finely shredded carrot
1 T finely chopped thyme
Two 28-oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes with their juices

Heat oil in a large saucepan until shimmering.  Add onion and garlic and cook over medium heat until softened and just starting to brown, stirring occasionally.  Add carrot and thyme and cook, stirring, for another five minutes.

Pour in the tomatoes, along with their juices, and break them up with back of your spoon.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer until thickened and reduced in volume, about thirty minutes.  Season with salt.

for the meat:

2 ½-3 lb meaty pork shanks cut into 3”-thick pieces
all-purpose flour
salt & pepper
¼ cup olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375°.

Prep the shanks by drying them thoroughly with paper towels, seasoning both sides generously with salt and pepper, and dusting all over with a light coating of flour.  Heat the olive oil in a large enameled cast-iron casserole until shimmering.  Add the shanks and cook over medium-high heat, turning to brown on all sides.  You want them to get a nice, dark sear, so this step should take 10-15 minutes.

Once browned, transfer the shanks to a plate.

for the braise:

1 yellow onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, sliced ¼ inch thick
1 celery rib, sliced ¼ inch thick
2 T chopped, fresh thyme
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups tomato sauce (use jarred or see below)
2 cups chicken stock
salt & pepper

My shanks didn’t yield an overly large amount of fat, but you can spoon some out of your casserole if you’ve got more than a few tablespoons.  Cook the onion, carrot, celery, and thyme over medium heat, stirring, until softened.  Add the wine and bring the mixture up to a boil, scraping the bottom of the casserole to remove any fond (a.k.a tasty brown bits).

Simmer until the wine has reduced by half, then add the tomato sauce and chicken stock and once again bring to a boil.  Place the shanks back in the casserole, plonk on the lid, and slide the whole thing into the oven.

Braise for between 2-2/12 hours, until the meat is very tender and easily falls away from the bone when pressed with a fork.  Once it’s ready, remove it from the oven but keep it covered while you make the orzo (see below) and gremolata.

osso buco close-up | Blue Jean Gourmet

for the gremolata:

¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, minced
finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Toss the above and sprinkle over the osso buco just before serving.

for the saffron orzo:

2 cups chicken stock
1 ½ cups orzo
generous pinch of saffron threads
1 T olive oil

Heat the stock in a heavy-bottomed pot until it’s too hot for your finger.  Remove from heat and add the saffron, letting the mixture steep for about five minutes.  Return the pot to the heat and bring up to a boil again, then add the orzo.

Stir occasionally until all of the liquid has been absorbed, about 7-8 minutes.  Remove from the heat, drizzle with olive oil, and serve.

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