Last Saturday, I took a bunch of hamburgers along with some hamburger rolls out of the freezer. It had been a nice week, and I thought I might fire up the grill and pretend it was almost summer. After all, not only were my crocuses up and gorgeous, but so were my little daffodils. I hadn’t seen my lilies of the valley, but it is my birthday flower and, I thought, they would be popping up soon.
Then Sunday happened. By the time I woke up, there had been a little snow but the temp was in the high thirties. I made a chicken soup with carrots and celery and onions, since I was going to drive to Cromwell to see a middle school show directed by Tom Sullivan. His wife, Barbara, and I have become good friends and she mentioned that Tom had a horrible respiratory upset but had been working all week to get the show on the stage. What could I do but make chicken soup for him?
I left the house at 11:30. There had been snow, odd snow, gigantic flakes, maybe hail? I made it to Cromwell, adored the play and, then drove to Norwich to watch the women’s game. No problem driving home and I watched the second game and went to sleep. The cats let me sleep until 9:30. I opened one eye. No, it couldn’t be. Snow! Not one to let a little bad weather stop me, I had to make a decision—would I drive to Connecticut College to hear Bryan Stevenson talk about his book, Just Mercy? Sure, why not? Got there okay but scared myself to death driving home. Once into the kitchen, I tossed the hamburgers and rolls back into the freezer and took out some lamb. Tomorrow I will make lamb stew instead.
Braised Lamb with Spinach
From Gourmet, March 1991
8 garlic cloves
1 ½-inch cube peeled fresh gingerroot
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
7 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
3 onions, chopped fine
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 cup chopped drained canned tomatoes
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon salt
1 and one-quarter pound fresh baby spinach
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted lightly
In a blender, purée the garlic and the gingerroot with 1/3 cup water; set aside. In a heavy kettle, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking, then brown the lamb, patted dry, in batches. With tongs, transfer lamb as it is browned to a bowl. To the skillet add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil, heat until hot but not smoking, and fry the cinnamon stick, cloves and bay leaf, stirring, for 30 seconds, or until the cloves are puffed slightly. Add the onions and cook the mixture over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden. Add the garlic purée and cook the mixture, stirring, for 2 minutes, or until the liquid is evaporated. Add the cumin, coriander and cayenne, and cook the mixture, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and yogurt, simmer the mixture, stirring, for 1 minute, then add the lamb, salt and 1 cup water.
Bring the mixture to a boil and braise it, covered, in a preheated 350°F oven for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until the lamb is tender. The lamb mixture may be prepared up to this point 2 days in advance. Let the lamb cool, uncovered, then chill it, covered.
At serving time, reheat the lamb mixture. In a large saucepan, bring 1 inch water to a boil, add the spinach, and steam, covered, for 2 minutes, or until wilted. Drain the spinach in a colander.
Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Distribute the spinach over the stew and stir it in gently. Transfer the stew to a heated serving dish and sprinkle with the pine nuts.
Nibbles: Coney Island Hard Root Beer
One of the perks of writing about cooking, instead of writing restaurant reviews, is that I can go to restaurant press dinners, since being anonymous isn’t necessary anymore.
Last Friday I went with friend Elise Maclay to Tale of the Whale in Stamford. The food was almost all seafood, from tuna tartare (one of my very favorite dishes) to fish tacos and an edgy bouillabaisse with at least five or six different fishes. Did I need dessert? Not really, but along came a Celebration Sundae (with at least a quart of ice cream and toppings), chocolate cookie ice cream sandwiches and an adult root beer float. I decided against the first two but fell in love with the float. The next day I stopped at a local liquor store and asked if there was such a thing as adult root beer. I bought a six-pack of Coney Island Hard Root Beer. A 12-ounce bottle is 5.8 percent alcohol. I don’t drink hard liquor (or beer) but, in a tall glass with good ice cream and whipped cream, I could be converted.