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Jenny is in perpetual search for easy, weeknight recipes to attempt to feed her family. When they balk, she just eats more.
Like many Americans, or humans, I do not find work the best part of my week.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy spending my days trying to suss out exactly who is trying to end Medicare as we know it, or pondering the relative merits of the 16 individuals running for the second Congressional seat in Utah. But all things considered, I’d rather be planting Thai basil.
Exception alert! Once every other month or so, a group of us get together at the office for a lunch time potluck. Sometimes we exchange cookies (December) or cook dishes composed of three ingredients picked blindly (March). Or, we just cook whatever.
There is zero professional hierarchy at food club -- the big boss was once shut out because he failed to make his dish, and the youngest colleagues often make the meanest soups. People who fight bitterly over semicolons and filing times during the rest of the month are the warmest of buddies when bonding over proper pie crust methods.
During these all-too-infrequent lunches, my colleagues and I discuss what we are eating, what we once ate, and what we hope to be eating someday soon. Work life, for an hour, fades to blue.
A newcomer once attempted to rehash the McCain campaign of 2008, and was shown scorn. Food club has no room for office gossip, or chatter about current events, because we could all be doing that back at our desk, with a sad bag of ginger snaps from the vending machine.
This month, we all were charged with making a dish inspired by a book. Pressed into the reading The Hunger Games by my 13-year-old, I happened upon lamb stew. As the title indicates, people are hungry in this novel, and those who are offered hearty stew become exceedingly pleased.
While the book’s stew involved plums, I chose my inspiration from New Mother's Magic Elixir (Lamb Stew) because the recipe just read satisfying and warm, something I’d probably fortify myself with before running off to the woods to ice my peers.
If you start with the very best lamb you can get your hands on, you’ve won half the game. Sear your meat, not crowding it -- I doubled this recipe and you should too because you will want some to freeze. Then come the veggies, and then your herbs complete with the secret, magical ingredient: star anise. You must have this to make it. No. No. You can’t substitute. Stop asking me.
I did use a Chianti instead of Cahors if that makes you feel better. But you should probably use whatever wine MrsWheelbarrow says. She knows things.
If you run out of time after you’ve been cooking for a while, add the potatoes later, as I did. I also threw my peas in the hot mix and they “cooked” in the dutch oven in the back of my car just fine as I made my way to work.
When lunch time rolled around and we settled into our seats in the well-worn, dank conference room, S.S. and J.C. began by reading from Moby Dick. We all tucked into their respective chowders and deadlines, smart phones and pests of all nature faded.
A young news clerk told us about her delicious chocolate chip cookies, inspired by a favorite childhood picture book and served with ice cold milk. A.P. waxed about E.B. White and H.C. served up a Bloody Mary (at lunch! during the week!) and read dramatically from Twilight. S.M. spoke of Russia. We ate eggplant and curry and banana jam and apple crisp and a thick toffee pudding. We read some more.
And then, we washed our dishes and went back to work.
3+ tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds lamb, cut into 2" cubes, preferably from the shoulder
1/4 cup flour
4 tablespoons butter
18 pearl onions, peeled (or use frozen)
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
4 medium carrots, cut in 1" dice
2 celery stalks, cut in 1" dice
6 stalks thyme
2 stalks rosemary
10 stalks flat leaf parsley
1 bay leaf
1 star anise
1.5 cups red wine (I like to use Cahors)
4 cups rich broth, preferably from roasted lamb bones, but chicken stock can be substituted
2 cups Russet potato, cut in 1" dice
1 cup freshly picked peas, or frozen petite peas
Salt & pepper
Garnish: preserved lemon rind, fresh horseradish, minced flat leaf parsley
Photo by Nicole Franzen