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Savor the Season

By Chris Aquino, executive chef, Viognier Restaurant

This fall, find some time to slow down and enjoy the pleasures of cooking. Recipes are often chosen for speed and efficiency, so switching to a lower gear with dedicated time can transform your cooking into a regenerative experience instead of a perfunctory task. Time well spent in the kitchen reaps myriad rewards, for both the cook and those so fortunate as to enjoy the meal. Cooking for pleasure helps you develop confidence in the kitchen, build your instincts and be present in the process. No leisurely cooking technique lends itself better to the fall and winter than braising, an uncomplicated approach that yields satisfying, complex flavors. Once you place your pot in the oven, it needs only occasional attention as you putter through other recipes for side dishes and garnishes. Chef Chris Aquino shares his braised lamb shoulder with heady flavors and aromas of herbs and spices, a creation featuring tender lamb accompanied by lemony potatoes, mint sauce and a hearty quick bread.

Braised Lamb Shoulder with Meyer Lemon Potatoes and Mint Sauce
Serves 6-8

For the lamb:
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 stems rosemary, leaves picked and minced
4 tablespoons California olive oil
2 tablespoons sea salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons Madras curry powder
1 whole boneless lamb shoulder (approx. 5 pounds)
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 cups dry white wine
1 quart chicken stock

Combine garlic, rosemary, olive oil, salt, pepper and curry powder to form a paste and rub into the lamb shoulder and its cavity. Truss the meat with butcher’s twine to form an even mass, and refrigerate overnight. The following day, preheat your oven to 325°F. Remove lamb from fridge. Heat a 6- to 8-quart deep pot or Dutch oven over high heat with the canola oil. Add the lamb shoulder and sear on all sides until golden brown. Deglaze with the white wine and add chicken stock. Cover with lid or tight-fitting foil and place in the oven. Roast for 4 to 4½ hours until meat is tender and pulls away from itself. Remove pot from oven and take out the lamb from the pot, keeping the liquid, then remove the twine. Turn on broiler and broil lamb until the outside is nice and crusty. Reduce the liquid in the pot by half, season to taste, strain and set aside. Serve.

Meyer Lemon Potatoes
2 Meyer lemons
4 pounds large fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch chives, minced
4 tablespoons canola oil
Start this in the last hour of the lamb’s cook time.

Zest the Meyer lemons with a fine grater and set aside the zest. Juice the lemons and set aside. Heat a large skillet and sear the potatoes cut side down until golden brown. Once golden, place cut side up in a baking pan. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and fresh black pepper. Place in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Remove from oven, sprinkle with minced chives and lemon zest, and serve.

Mint Sauce
1 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
½ cup boiling water
3½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients and let sit for at least 20 minutes before use. Use immediately thereafter.

Mavericks Rye IPA Beer Bread
Makes 1 loaf
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for preparing pan
3 cups all-purpose flour
1½ tablespoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup brown sugar
12 ounces Mavericks Rye IPA beer
1 tablespoon Maldon salt

Preheat oven to 375°F. Evenly coat the inside of a 1-pound loaf pan with butter and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and brown sugar to evenly combine. Stir in the beer and 1 tablespoon of melted butter. Pour batter into loaf pan, top with remaining butter, and sprinkle with Maldon salt. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.