Happy belated Labor Day! I hope you all had a wonderful long weekend. Work (bless them) closed the office Friday so we could have a four-day weekend, and I cannot tell you how happy that made me. For once, I had no plans – I wasn’t going anywhere, or doing anything, beyond celebrating my mom’s milestone birthday. (Hi Mom!)

This lack of plans let me do whatever I felt like – and blissfully, that meant LOTS of cooking. I made pomegranate-braised lamb; three-berry crisp for the birthday; and apple-blackberry crisp.

I’ve not worked with lamb before, and it was an experience, for sure. Little did I expect that it would smell like corned beef while cooking (identity crisis, perhaps?), and since I used a lamb shoulder (or some such cut) rather than the lamb shanks the original recipe called for, it didn’t cook quite evenly: one side was tougher than the other. But, for my first attempt at making lamb, who am I to complain? I still ate and enjoyed.

Pomegranate-merlot braised lamb shanks

Pomegranate-merlot braised lamb shanks

I also don’t think I’ve mentioned my utter obsession with couscous. It’s not something I routinely ate growing up (whether due to its close resemblance to tabbouleh, which I detested as a child, or something else altogether); regardless, I stumbled upon it via a Real Simple recipe and voila! An obsession was born.

This particular recipe is adapted from and courtesy of the seasonal Williams-Sonoma magazine; I got it in the last issue and noticed it’s still featured in the newly-released early fall catalogue.

[recipe title=”Pomegranate-merlot braised lamb shanks”]
4 1/2 lb. lamb shoulder (try with lamb shanks as the original recipe suggests for a more even cooking procedure)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 Tb. each minced garlic and tomato paste
1 tsp. each chopped fresh thyme, ground cinnamon and cumin
1/2 tsp. allspice
1 bay leaf
1 c. each Merlot (i.e. Red Diamond 2011 – something you can serve with the finished dish) and pomegranate juice
2 Tbs. honey
1 c. chicken broth
6 carrots, peeled and halved lengthwise
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/3 c. pomegranate seeds, optional
Cooked whole-wheat garlic and olive-oil couscous for serving

1. Season lamb with salt and pepper. In a large fry pan, heat 2 Tbs. oil over medium-high heat. Brown lamb.

Transfer to slow cooker. Lightly wipe interior of pan to remove most (not all) grease.

2. Heat 1 Tbs. oil in pan. Add the onion and cook until tender while stirring occasionally, 7-8 minutes.

Add the garlic, tomato paste, thyme, cinnamon, cumin, allspice, and bay leaf. Cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Add the wine and pomegranate juice. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the honey, broth, salt, and pepper, and pour all contents into slow cooker.

3. Cover; cook on high for 2.5 hours. Add the carrots; cook about 1 hour more, or until the lamb is tender. Transfer the meat and carrots to a large platter. Pour the sauce into saucepan and skim off any fat. Bring to a boil over high heat, allowing liquid to thicken, about 10 minutes. Stir in the vinegar. Pour sauce over lamb. Garnish with parsley and pomegranate seeds. Serve with the couscous.

This also makes GREAT leftovers, like as a sandwich for lunch. Give it a shot with some mayo and mustard.