Stop! Thief!

Just kidding, everyone steals ideas in the culinary world. Trends are so fluid, it’s hard to keep up sometimes.

Next time you’re at your favorite restaurant, think of ways to steal what they do well and apply those techniques at home. For example, California Pizza Kitchen makes a lovely “pizz’alad” with a honey wheat crust, caramelized pears and onions and toasted hazelnuts, topped with mixed greens in a blue cheese dressing. It’s delightful. Maybe I wouldn’t make the whole thing at home, but that doesn’t mean I can’t steal the flavor profile and run with it. The same flavors combine to make a beautiful caramelized pear, hazelnut and blue cheese panini, with no kneading or heating up the kitchen.

Several years ago, an episode of Mad Men aired that featured Mr. Draper eating a steak topped with a thick-sliced tomato and a fried egg. Yeah, I’ve been known to do that, too. Inspiration can come from anywhere, from fancy restaurants, to period television shows, even fast-food joints. I have to admit I’ve considered making my own version of the McGriddle. We’ll see.

The inspiration for the following meal came from a restaurant week dinner my husband and I shared last year at Saffron in Minneapolis. I ordered the braised lamb, which featured root veggies and orzo, with some wonderful goat cheese nestled into the veggies. I never would have thought to add such a fresh, bright cheese to a braised dish, but it really worked.

It was served in an individual cast iron pan and the orzo was cooked in the braising liquid. That’s a little more work than I like. So I braised the lamb with root veggies in the slow cooker, then reduced the braising liquid to make a sauce. I served the braise topped with feta, scallions and thyme, on a simple bed of couscous. To braise traditionally, without the help of a slow cooker, see my post on braising. Okay, let’s cook.

root veg

Grab all the root veggies you want to use up. I used onions, celeriac, carrots, parsnips and radishes.

cut veg

Cut the onions, and place them separately in a small bowl. Peel and cut the veggies into large chunks. You want them small enough to fit in your mouth, but big enough that they don’t break down after a couple of hours in the braising liquid.

in mesh

Bring in the meat. Boneless leg of lamb usually comes packaged like this. Get rid of the mesh and the pop-up timer. We’re going to trim this thing and cut it into chunks.


Get your knife under the fat cap and trim it off. Trim away as much visible fat as possible without taking off a bunch of meat. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Lots of animals have fat that tastes delicious. Lamb is unfortunately not one of those animals. Toss the fat and don’t think of it again.


Don’t forget to remove the silverskin, too. A thin, flexible boning knife works really well for getting under the thin material and lifting it up for easy removal.


Cut the lamb into 1-2″  chunks.


Toss the meat in a little salt and flour, then brown on all sides in butter, in batches.


Remove meat from pan and set aside.


Add onions and cook until translucent and slightly browned. Add salt to taste and a couple of tablespoons of ras el hanout (Moroccan seasoning). Toss to coat.


Add the root veg and toss to coat.


Return meat to pan, add a couple of (28 oz) cans diced fire-roasted tomatoes, 1 cup of water and a dried pepper or two. Bring to a simmer, then place in slow cooker.


Cook for 8 hours on low. Four hours on high would also work.


It will then look like this.


Strain the contents of the slow cooker. Return solids to the slow cooker, cover, and set on warm while you make the sauce. Place the strained liquid in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce until the liquid is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.


Serve with couscous, orzo, rice or nothing at all. Top with feta or goat cheese and something green. I used scallions and thyme. Chives, parsley or shredded spinach would all be welcome additions.

So whether it’s a braised lamb dish from a fancy restaurant or your favorite fast-food fix, have fun thieving. There is nothing new under the sun, right? Might as well use the good ideas whenever you find them.

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