Tuna Poke

Remember when you used to poke people on Facebook? That seems kind of strange now. Maybe 10 years from now, people will look back on Instagram or Snapchat and be all “What?!??!”.

Anyhoo, this isn’t a blog post about the Facebook type of poke. Nope, it’s poke as in pokē the Hawaiian verb for “section” or “to slice or cut” or “to cube”. Think of bright red jewel-like cubes of raw tuna in a subtle marinade of soy and sesame oil with just a hint of crunchy onion. Mmm, are you hungry now??!? And I should mention, it’s pronounced poh-kay (to rhyme with okay).Ahi tuna poke - sushi grade tuna in a light marinade of soy, sesame oil with scallions by MainelyEating.comLegend has it that Hawaiian fishermen would take the off-cuts of their daily catch, cube them, add a little seasoning and enjoy as a snack (what a job perk – tuna on demand!). Poke seasonings are heavily influenced by Japan (hence the soy and sesame) as well as the local Maui onions. Poke can be made with tuna, salmon and even cured octopus.

Right now, poke is THE food to eat and here are some reasons why. Just a few weeks ago I was in Ohio (of all places), checking out the best places to eat on yelp and I enjoyed the most unexpectedly-delicious bowl of tuna poke by Hai Poke at a pop-up location in the Short North area.

I’ve written before about the wonders of being able to buy sushi-grade tuna from Browne Trading Company and when I stopped by this weekend and saw the beautiful red tuna loin in the seafood counter, I figured I’d try making a poke-inspired dish at home.

Assuming you can get your hands on top quality fish, it couldn’t be easier! Mix up a marinade of soy sauce and sesame oil (Ponzu is my secret weapon for a non-authentic but delicious citrus twist), add the cubed tuna, a handful of scallions and a sprinkling of sesame seeds and you’re done! Add jalapeno, chili flakes or a little sriracha if you’re feeling spicy.

To make your poke into a more substantial lunch or dinner, make a poke bowl which strays into chirashi territory (chirashi means scattered in Japanese and so a chirashi bowl is basically a bowl of scattered/decontructed sushi).
Ahi tuna poke bowl with brown sprouted rice, seaweed salad, edamame and radish by MainelyEating.com

I started with brown sprouted rice which I left to cool to room temperature while I prepared the poke (instructions below) 

Tuna Poke

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Easy
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1lb of sushi grade tuna (allows for 1/2lb per person for a substantial lunch)
2 tbsp soy sauce (low sodium)
2 tbsp ponzu
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp sesame seeds (a mix of black and regular makes for prettier poke!)
4 scallions (sliced) or 1/4 Maui onion (diced)
Optional: red chili flakes if you like it spicy

1. Combine soy sauce, ponzu, sesame oil, sesame seeds, scallions or onion to make marinade.
2. With a super sharp knife, slice tuna into cubes. Discard any sinewy pieces.
3. Place diced tuna into a bowl. Gradually add marinade, you want the tuna to be glistening vs. drowning. Store in refrigerator (covered) for up to 12 hours.

Enjoy! And/or use the poke to top a bowl of your favorite rice and vegetables like seaweed salad, avocado cubes, cucumber cubes, radish, edamame etc

I had a little poke left over so thought I’d try out poke appetizer spoons (read about other tuna appetizers including tuna tartare cones and spoons here), these would be good for a health concious gathering. Make up the poke according to the above recipe and then fill each spoon with a little brown rice, a cube of tuna poke and top with a scallion slice or edamame bean (because I like edamame more than scallion!). Look for shoyu soy sauce without gluten if you have a gluten-free diet.

Ahi tuna poke appetizer spoons with brown sprouted rice and edamame by MainelyEating.com

Fragrant Lamb Shanks

A selection of colorful herbs and spices for a fragrant lamb shank recipe - inspiration from Morocco and North AfricaI recently read that the average American consumes just 1lb of lamb vs. a whopping 61lb of beef each year and up to 50% of Americans have never even tried lamb! I guess if I was a member of the sheep family I’d let out a grateful bleet at this news.

Growing up in the UK, we would quite often have roast lamb for Sunday lunch and my home-town dish of scouse wouldn’t exist without lamb. Here in Maine, we have fabulous local lamb available to us and when I saw the lamb shanks from North Star Sheep Farm I couldn’t resist buying them to make this flavorful Morrocan-inspired Fragrant Lamb Shank Braise.
Fragrant and fork-tender lamb shanks on a bed of lemon cous cous

Lamb is super tasty, rich in iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin B-12 and niacin, AND grass-fed lamb is loaded with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, an important omega-3 fatty acids), in fact lamb contains 5 times as much healthy ALA as beef!

Lamb shanks are one of my favorite cuts of lamb, braise them slowly (similar to beef short ribs), and they’ll transform into fork-tender, melt-in-your-mouth shreds of juicy meat. Lamb also holds up well to bold flavors so I decided to look to the countries bordering the Mediterranean sea – Greece, Turkey, Morocco and North Africa.
Raw ingredients including Maine lamb shanks for a Moroccan-inspired lamb shank recipe

Za’atar (Zahtar) is Middle Eastern mix of up to 90% toasted sesame seeds and dried sumac with the remaining made up of a mix of other herbs including thyme, oregano, marjoram, cumin. Great to mix with olive oil for a tasty dip with fresh bread or coat a chicken before roasting.

Ras El Hanout is a North African spice mix of ginger, paprika, cassia, coriander, cumin, sugar, salt, tumeric, chili, black pepper, cardamom, coriander, rose petals, nigella, allspice, nutmeg, galangal.

I generally like to make this fragrant lamb shank braise the day before I want to eat it, the flavors improve overnight and I can chill, defat and then reduce down the braising liquid but most lamb shanks aren’t too fatty so in a pinch you could make and serve it on the same day. The last time I made these I ended up with ~6 cups of braising liquid (this includes the onions, tomatoes, eggplant etc) which I reduced down to about 3 1/2 cups the next day. Here’s the lamb and the braising liquid after a night in the fridge – you just scrape off the layer of yellow fat:

Cliff notes for the experienced cook: Just brown the lamb shanks for extra flavor, add in all of the vegetables, herbs and spices, and cook until the lamb is falling off the bone. Chill and defat the braising liquid, reduce it for a thicker sauce, add back the lamb and brighten with a little lemon juice. Great to make ahead when entertaining, also freeze well!
Step-by-step guide to making a fragrant lamb shank braise recipe

Fragrant Lamb Shank Braise

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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4 lamb shanks (~3lbs)
1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
1 large onion, half-moon slices
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely sliced
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 tsp each cayenne, ras el hanout, za’atar, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, pink peppercorns.
~3oz medjool dates, chopped
Cinnamon stick
1 large eggplant or 2 small. Peel skin and chop into 1 inch squares
14.5 oz can of Muir Glen fire roasted tomatoes
32 fl oz chicken or vegetable stock (low sodium)
1/2 lemon
Fresh cilantro (or flat leaf parsley if you’re not a cilantro fan!)
Salt and pepper.


  1. In an oven-safe casserole dish over a medium high heat, sear lamb shanks in the butter and oil, remove from dish and set aside
  2. Add a little more oil if dish is dry, over medium heat, add chopped onion, crushed garlic and grated ginger and stir well to combine.
  3. Add 1/2 teaspoon each cayenne, ras el hanout, zaatar, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, pink peppercorns, stir well to combine, cook 5 minutes, your kitchen will start to smell amazing.
  4. Add chopped dates and the cinnamon stick, diced eggplant/aubergine and the can of fire-roasted tomatoes and stir well to combine.
  5. Nestle lamb shanks back in and pour over just enough stock to just cover. If your carton of stock doesn’t cover the lamb, add water.
  6. Cover and pop in a 325 degree oven for about 3-4 hours. Gently turn the lamb shanks every hour or so. The exact time will depend on the size of the shanks and your oven. Check them after 30 minutes, you want a simmering/little bubbling but not frantic boil. Adjust the oven temperature as necessary. If the shanks are particularly large, you might need to cook for up to 4 hours. They’re done when a little poke with a fork makes the meat just flake off.
  7. Take out of oven and put shanks in a shallow dish (handle them carefully, the meat will fall off the bone), pour over a little cooking liquid to keep them moist, cover tightly and pop in fridge. Remove the cinnamon stick. Cool cooking liquid overnight in fridge.
  8. The next morning, remove the thin layer of yellow fat that’s collected on the top of the braising liquid. Put the braising liquid back in the oven (uncovered) at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes until it has more of a sauce-like consistency. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Squeeze in the juice of 1/2 lemon to brighten the flavors.
  10. Reduce oven to 350 and gently add back lamb shanks, cook until piping hot.

To serve, you can take the meat off the bone if you think bones will freak out your guests but I like to serve a whole shank per person on a bed of lemon couscous (cook couscous according to directions, replacing liquid with juice of 1 lemon and unsalted chicken stock, stir in lemon zest and a spoon of butter) or quinoa. Sprinkle over the fresh cilantro or parsley.

This is a very forgiving dish. If you skipped all the herbs and spices it would still be a tasty meaty dish, just not with the same fragrant depth. Although I’d try to at least get your hands on the Za’atar (because you’ll definitely use it again with a little olive oil as a dip).

You can also really make it your own recipe. If you want to add a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas in the last 30 minutes of cooking, go for it! Throw in a bunch of chopped carrots in the last hour – why not? Feel free to substitute zucchini/courgette instead of eggplant/aubergine – try it! It also adapts well for the slow cooker, just reduce the amount of stock as it won’t reduce down as much.

The cooked lamb shanks and sauce will freeze well so I usually make 4-6 servings and freeze half. Just defrost thoroughly and heat in the oven at 325-350 degrees until piping hot.
Lamb shank casserole with North African, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern herbs and spices. So delicious!

Short ribs in Irish stout

I’m a HUGE fan of Adele. I was lucky enough to fly to Belfast to see her perform live in Belfast on the first night of her tour. Adele was the best part of the trip but coming in a close second was the delicious food we got to eat.
Beef short ribs braised in Irish stout

A traditional Irish stew is made with lamb but Whole Foods had a good deal on local Maine short ribs so I decided on a braised short rib in ale this chilly weekend. I’ve previously made this braise with Guinness Irish stout and found it a little too intense and bitter so I plumped for two bottles of local Maine beer. The first is a rich Irish-style black stout and then to counter the richness, a lighter Belgian-style saison ale both from Allagash Brewery. Murphy’s or Boddington beers work well too. Worcestershire sauce and tomato paste boost the umami flavors. The word braise is French in origin and usually involves searing food at a high-temperatur and then finishing in a covered pot at a lowered temperature submerged in a liquid (which may also add flavor).

A braise is best done low and slow with a well-marbled cut of beef – chuck, short ribs, round roast – which will stay moist, become spoon-tender and start to fall apart after an afternoon in the oven. Well-marbled cuts of meat are also more fatty so I like to make this stew the day before to allow time to chill and defat it before serving. Here’s a 15-second video of what happened in the pot:

I love the sweetness that carrots add to the braise but after 4+ hours of cooking they can get a little mushy. If you like a mushy carrot then it’s all good! If you’re fussy about your carrots like me, you can strain the braising liquid, remove the sacrificial carrots, onion and celery and then cook up a new batch of carrots to add back to the defatted sauce with the beef.

You’ll spend a little time up-front quickly chopping the vegetables into hearty chunks (no fiddly dice here!) and browning the meat but then you throw it all into the oven and let the beef gently braise in the beer while your house fills with mouth-watering smells. Short ribs can shrink quite alarmingly during the cooking process so I bank on 2 short ribs per person, this is somewhat excessive but makes for delicious leftovers. How long you need to cook your stew for will depend on the exact cut of meat. My end-point is when I lift a piece of meat from the braise and it starts to fall apart like this:
Fall-apart beef short ribs braised in a rich Irish stout

Braised Short Ribs in Irish-style Stout

  • Servings: 4 greedy people
  • Difficulty: pretty easy
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24 fl oz of beer. I used an Irish-style stout and a Belgian-style Saison
4lb boneless short ribs (~8 short ribs)
4 oz diced pancetta (or bacon)
5 carrots – peeled and chopped into thick slices (plus more for serving if you like)
3 sticks of celery – chopped into thick slices
2 onions – chopped into thick slices
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 oz (half a small can) of tomato paste (I like Muir Glen)
32 fl oz (1 carton) unsalted beef broth
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
Optional: a few sprigs of fresh thyme


  1. Pour flour onto large plate or into baggie. Add 1tsp salt, 1tsp pepper and 1 tsp dry mustard powder (optional). Dredge short ribs in seasoned flour (don’t throw away the leftover flour remaining on the plate)
  2. In a Dutch oven over a medium heat, dry-fry the pancetta until the fat renders out and it starts to turn golden brown
  3. Lower heat, add onions and cook for 10 minutes
  4. Add celery and carrots and cook for 5 minutes
  5. Remove vegetables and pancetta from pot (set aside in bowl), add butter and olive oil to pot.
  6. Increase heat to high and quickly sear the pieces of floured meat. Don’t crowd the pan or the meat will just steam. You’re aiming for a nice brown crust. As each piece of meat is browned, remove to a plate.
  7. With heat still on high, pour in the beer and with a wooden spoon, really put some elbow grease in to loosen all of the brown fond (sticky brown cooked-in goodness) on the bottom of the pan. When the bottom of the pan feels smooth (like you’ve incorporated all of the toasty bits into the liquid), add the tomato paste.
  8. Add a tablespoon of the leftover seasoned flour and whisk until the tomato paste and flour are incorporated into the beer. The sauce should start to thicken up alarmingly at this point.
  9. Add the beef broth, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and pop the short ribs, vegetables and thyme back into the pot. You want the meat to be completely submerged so add a little more broth or water if you need to.
  10. Pop the lid on and cook in a 315 degree F oven for ~4 hours (stir at the halfway point). The exact cooking time will depend on your cut of meat. If you want to speed up the cooking time you could cube the beef at the beginning. I’ll just give the beef a little stir and poke every now and again until it’s literally spoon-tender
  11. Remove from oven, cool and refrigerate overnight.
    Easy option: Refrigerate the whole pot overnight. To serve, scrape off the yellow fat on the top and then cook at 350 degrees until piping hot.
    More fiddly option (my preference): Put the shorts ribs in a baggie with a spoon or two of the cooking liquid and refrigerate. Strain the braising liquid into a jar or container and refrigerate. Throw away the mushy vegetable. When you’re ready to serve, cook the shorts ribs in the strained, defatted braising liquid and add some freshly sauteed, roasted or boiled (non-mushy) carrots. Taste the liquid and adjust seasoning (salt and black pepper). A little dash of balsamic vinegar or squeeze of lemon juice will brighten the flavors.Serve piping hot over creamy mashed potatoes

Pin or save this one for St Patrick’s Day!
Melt-in-your-mouth short ribs in a rich Irish ale gravy

Variations: For a more “elegant” dish you can swap the beer for a hearty red wine and serve with buttered noodles and a crisp green salad. If you prefer to cook without alcohol, use unsalted beef stock.