Remember the introduction to The Lone Ranger’s radio or TV program? You probably don’t, unless you are close to my age—or are a re-run fan. Anyway, the announcer, in his mellifluous voice, says “Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear.” For me that would be a return to those thrilling winter days of yesteryear. I recall the times I spent on the ski slopes. A late bloomer (well, mid-thirties) when I started skiing thanks to the urging of two other couples and the evening teaching programs at Pinnacle Ski Area in Addison, New York. And I might add that our instructor, Ellen Martin, was patience personified.
I’ve been back to the Pinnacle (now a golf course/hiking area) and find it hard to believe that it was a daunting challenge to our group. What made it a bit easier to take was the pre-lesson drink at the bar up there to give us what I always called “Dutch Courage.” In a way it was Dutch as it involved a gin from Holland, and dry vermouth and bitters. That treasured dry martini—just one—was designed to loosen me (us!) up. I never drank alone. I remember the first lesson. I used borrowed skis and lace-up boots compliments of an old friend. It took the six of us at least two hours to get down the upper part of the hill and snowplow to the tow that brought us back to the hilltop and our cars.
I Have a Theory
I have no way to prove this, but I think the person or persons who invented the slow cooker must have been skiers. I say this because after several hours on the slopes I really need a restorative hour or so at the dining table. Has anything ever tasted better than the fare at the outdoor dining places at the snazzier of the ski areas? Even a mingy piece of meat on a commercial and lackluster roll that calls itself a burger was welcomed.
May I digress? Every year that same group of “beginners,” who were now pretty fair skiers, would save up and journey out to Colorado—specifically Aspen, and often with a stop at Vail on the way. We always went with the week that included St. Pat’s day. No icy trails out there, just wonderful powder, particularly in the early morn. So we were ready to break bread by the time the noon gong hit. It was the middle of the “streaking” craze and sho ’nuf as we munched our fries in the sun, a guy wearing only a ski mask and boots, with a significantly green-painted private part, clambered by our tables. Perhaps that’s a memory I ought to erase, but how? Let’s move on...
Comfort Food to the Fore
When I got home after a full day of schussing, well, as my mother used to say, “Katie, bar the door!” I don’t really know what door she meant, but it was the refrigerator door in my house or rented condo. And to have hot soup, stew, or other homey comestible ready and waiting was something only someone like Lord Grantham could commandeer from a Mrs. Patmore (if you catch my Downton Abbey drift.) Ah, the heady thrill when the cover is lifted off the pot. I used to pull this off by putting a chilled stew made in advance in a large CorningWare pot into a very low oven and let it be. If the Crock-Pot was around (and it probably was), I didn’t know about it. Today, I read, a whopping 85 percent of American homes have a slow cooker!
Everyone into the Pool
Just about all of the food magazines and/or TV cooking programs have now produced books on slow cookers. What started out as a small niche in the cookware business has blossomed into quite a category. I remember when one manufacturer added a CorningWare casserole as an insert for a cooker. Made sense. I succumbed to the slow cooker’s lure a bit later in life when I found a unit with an insert in which you could brown meats and vegetables, etc. before inserting it into its heating womb, dialing the setting, and forgetting it until done and the holding time kicked in. It sits in my laundry cum pantry with an accusatory look as if to say, “Why aren’t you using me?” I do use it occasionally, although I no longer cook for crowds.
So Many Choices
I think, too, of all the ski areas that are within reach of us. A look around you is proof you’re not in Kansas anymore—we’ve got ski areas all over the place, and years ago I skied most all of them: Swain, Bristol Mountain, Greek Peak (ah, the thrill of the last run down the Elysian Field area—truly a skier’s paradise—as the name implies), Labrador (in Truxton), and the late lamented Denton Hill. I never made it to places a little farther afield such as Holiday Valley in Ellicottville, Windham in the Catskills, or Elk Mountain. But they are there.
A Winner—in Fact
My go-to recipes for après ski in those days were Dutch (again) Pea Soup with Ham, featuring a ham bone when I could get it or ham hocks, or perhaps a Lentil Soup just like my grandmother’s with all sorts of cut-up wursts bobbing away plus loads of carrots and celery. You can get lots of recipes for these online.
Continuing the memory theme, I look back to the days when the Corning smooth-top range PR Dept. (me, back then) sponsored a recipe contest. The entry information was sent to everyone who had returned his or her warranty card. We wanted to find out what folks were cooking with the thermostatically controlled range- top. I recall that we got lots of entries, and I persuaded no less than Jacques Pepin (we are the same age), and his mentor, Helen McCully, who was the food editor of House Beautiful, to pick the winners from the finalists I chose. (The fact that we advertised in that book didn’t hurt.)
The winner was a recipe for Lamb with Seven Vegetables and, by golly, I’ve made it about every year since then. It seemed perfect for nowadays and, rather than the range-top, why not use the slow cooker? This is an un-browned stew, so that makes it even more appropriate. Why not give this a try? You could substitute shoulder of pork for the lamb, but I grew up having lamb about every two weeks (mostly chops), so I am a real fan of that flavor.
Slow-Cooked Moroccan Lamb with Seven Vegetables
You can vary the number and type of vegetable, but this selection is a winner, as are the Moroccan spices. The original recipe added peeled and cubed eggplant during the last stages of cooking. I replaced that with parsnips, a better choice for slow cooking. This serves about eight hungry skiers or armchair athletes.
- 2 lbs. boneless lamb shoulder, fat removed
- 1 tsp. turmeric
- 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger root (or 1⁄2 tsp. ground)
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 2 large yellow onions, peeled and cut in half, then sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 1⁄2-2 cups chicken broth (to barely cover)
- 2 red peppers, seeded and cut in 1⁄2-inch cubes
- 4-6 medium carrots cut in 1⁄4-inch slices, on the diagonal
- 2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut in 1⁄4-inch slices, on the diagonal
- 2 medium yellow squash, unpeeled and cut in cubes
- 1⁄4-lb. pound green beans, tailed and cut in 2-inch lengths
- 1 (14 oz.) can drained or (10 oz.) package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed (optional)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Chopped Italian parsley to garnish
Arrange the meat in the cooker and toss with the spices. Add the onion, garlic, red pepper, carrots, and parsnips. Mix well and then add the broth to barely cover the contents. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for about 8 hours or on high setting for about 5-6 hours.
Skim excess fat from the stew, check the meat for doneness, and then quickly stir in the yellow squash, green beans, and optional artichoke hearts. Cover and cook an additional 20 minutes or until the squash and beans are crisp-tender. Taste and add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Sprinkle each serving with a little chopped Italian parsley. I like to serve this with plain couscous.
Why? Cause that’s so Moroccan.
Oh schuss, O’Donnell!