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A GOOD DINNER > Lamb Two-Fer

Lamb Two-Fer

I take my frugality quite seriously, having needed to rely on it on more occasions than I might have liked. Scotch broth is one of those truly brilliant frugal foods, using up lamb (or in an earlier time, mutton) scraps.  It’s one of those virtuous dishes that makes you feel clever for not having wasted a thing.  Never mind that like everything else Scottish he encountered, the 18th-century curmudgeon Samuel Johnson had nothing good to say about it.  It’s filling, cheap, and easy.  Good grub for hard times.

I’ve been hording lamb bones in my freezer for awhile — one part the leftover bone from the Easter leg of lamb and several parts shoulder bones from kebabs I do with shoulder chops.  And since it’s been a blustery grey day here in New England, it seemed the perfect time to pull it all out and post a two-for-one recipe deal.

First, the Scotch broth.  This is heavy duty stuff, lots of the sort of thing Fergus Henderson at St. John calls unctuous potential. Though not strictly Hendersonian trotters and offal, the fat and sinews left on a shoulder cut give you lots of chances for thick, gooey broth.  

Start by tossing the meaty lamb bones in a large pot and covering with water.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for a good 60-90 minutes until the meat is falling off the bones. (This will vary since my leg bones was already roasted but the shoulder bones are raw.) Skim the scum that floats to the top on a regular basis.  Remove the bones and when they’re cool enough, pick off the meat, chopping up an any larger bits.  Add a nice big leek — thinly sliced — to the pot and simmer a bit more, 15 minutes or so.  Add a good amount of barley — enough that once it’s cooked, you’ll have a thickish stew in the pot.  The barley will need about 40 minutes total of cooking time.  About 15 minutes after you’ve added the barley, add some chopped root vegetables — I’m going for the purity of just carrot tonight, but rutabega and turnips are classic additions I use in the depth of winter.  When the barley’s done, add salt and pepper, dish it up, and served with handfuls of crusty bread for dunking or wiping the bowl.  Just to make sure you loseWeight Exercise every last bit, don’t forget to compost the veggie scraps and give your dogs the bones. 

And second, the lamb kebabs. Here’s a quick an easy dish I’ve been serving a lot lately with affordable lamb shoulder chops.  As a kind of spicy Mediterranean (from the eastern and southern shores of the sea, not the usual Italian) warm day dish to counter balance the cozy, heartiness of the Scotch broth, it shows off lamb’s great versatility. 

Cut the meat from lamb shoulder chops or a shoulder roast, creating something approximating 3/4-inch cubes. (Reserve the bones for Scotch broth.)  Toss and coat the lamb cubes with your favorite spice mixture.  I usually use the Ras al Hanout from p. 177 of Eat Feed Autumn Winter (below), but this North African spice mixture is pretty flexible so make your own combination to suit your creativity.  Any old curry mix with a bit of extra cinnamon, pepper, and salt would do nicely too.  Arrange on skewers and cook on a preheated grill or under the broiler, about 3-4 minutes per side.  (If you don’t have any skewers, spread on a cookie sheet and place under the broiler.)

You could just eat it right off the stick but a really nice way to serve this is as a filling salad.  Take your favorite mixture of farmers’ market lettuces and spinach — and toss in raisins and whole almonds.  Dress with a vinaigrette made from twice as much olive oil as lemon juice, a drizzle of honey, and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve the spicy grilled lamb on top and warm buttery pita bread on the side.  It tastes even better if you can manage to eat outside and pour a glass of white wine to toast the pleasure of how affordable and quick dinner was.  

Ras al-Hanout spice mixture

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 1/2  teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

Ice Cream and Remembrance

With Mother’s Day coming up in the US, this is the first entry on a series I’m starting as a memorial to my own mother.  It’s about ice cream and mothers and grandmothers and most of all, remembering the people we love through food. And perhaps explains a little about the insanity behind the scenes at Eat Feed over the past year.

June 12th A hot and muggy summer evening.  No food in the house for dinner and no desire to cook in the 90+ degree nonsense and a car that won’t start and a sweaty, impatient 8-month-old baby who won’t be cheered or placated by anything but movement and lots of it.  So out the door in search something we all went.  As we sat down to some Vietnamese take-out and a bowl of rice cereal in a nearby park, the phone rang.  It was my mother.  And the news wasn’t good. She had just been diagnosed with cancer.  Lymphoma.  This was on top of the multiple sclerosis she had struggled with for nearly 20 years.  Not to mention countless other problems that come with being a single mom at 18 and having the lion’s share of grade-A crazy-making relatives.  Despite it all, she was uncharacteristically upbeat and reassuring, especially about her granddaughter.  “Don’t worry,” was all she said. “I’m going to be fine.  I’m going to be around to take Oona for lots of ice cream cones.”  It was the kind of concrete if odd fantasy always propelling her forward in the face of impossibility.

July 5th the hospital rang to say my mother was in a coma, or really, septic shock from a bacterial infection.  What they didn’t say: contracted somewhere in the healthcare system.  A week later she came out of the coma and for 3 days we talked with our eyes and hand squeezes and made plans for her rehabilitation and move in with us.

July 16th my mother passed away, just two weeks shy of her 56th birthday.

Of all the ways I ranted and raved and grieved out loud and deep inside, I kept obsessing that Oona who was, as much a cliché as it sounds, the absolute pride and joy of her grandmother, would never get to have those ice cream cones with the one person in the world I had planned on indulging her more than any other.  While I cried about a lot of missed opportunities, it was always the ice cream cones I kept compulsively, symbolically coming back to.

Until one friend after another began to volunteer to take Oona for an ice cream cone.  They acknowledged that they couldn’t possibly do half the things the grandmother of an only daughter of an only daughter might do to spoil a child, but they could at least fulfil one of her last wishes.  Thus, this series starts.

With my friend Emily Bauman, who in addition to being a brilliant scholar at New York University is a truly generous soul who always knows just the right thing to say whatever the cause of your grief.  Visiting up north this weekend, she took Oona for an 18th-month birthday treat at Lizzy’s Ice Cream in Harvard Square.  That’s Oona with a kiddie scoop of cinnamon ice cream in a wafer cone and Emily with raspberry chocolate chip frozen yogurt in a sugar cone.  (I’m behind the camera with a Charles River Crunch.)

I hope it will encourage others to step in when there’s a death and try to fulfil just a little of the role left behind.  Whether it’s taking someone for an ice cream, reading a bedtime story, sharing a movie on a Friday night, or keeping up some other ritual.  I also hope it will encourage you to remember those you love by celebrating their life with foods they loved.