Monday, 13 July 2009

A lamb obsession

An idle thought that it might be cool to spit roast a lamb one day finally became reality on Saturday night ... not my thought I hasten to add, I merely came along for the ride. I've spoken about this friendly little festival on the blog before, so finally, after what felt like months of waiting and talking, the Brave and I high-tailed it from London on Friday night and made our way to Worcestershire for a couple of days of lamb, camping, music and beer.

Our home for the weekend was a field in Malvern, a little encampment centred around an enormous round marquee. Friday night brought tent pitching, chickpea and spinach stew cooked on the fire ... beer, more beer and heart to hearts. By the time tea arrived on Saturday morning work was a mere twinkle in my eye.

But on the the important stuff. The lamb was cooked over a huge fire spread into a halved oil drum. The spit was elegantly crafted from scaffolding poles ... which were inelegantly rammed into the lambs with a sledge hammer and pure effort of will.

Total cooking time was around 7-8 hours, the lamb was turned on the spit, and basted diligently with all the usual suspects - olive oil, garlic, salt and lemon juice. The scene when the lamb arrived revealed the basest elements of human nature. Take twenty or thirty ravenous revellers and present them with wonderful fragrant meat after several cans of lager, and you can imagine what happens.

My contribution to the weekend was to be Sunday lunch, so after seeing off the Brave we got cracking. There was always going to be far too much food. Numbers for the festival were lower than expected, but though we only fed sixteen in the end, the meal described could easily have fed thirty of us.

I get told off for saying things like this, but cooking lamb stew which could feed thirty is really really not that much more difficult to cooking it for four of you. The principle remains the same ... make stock with the bones of the lamb, remove them, reduce it ... and add lentils, spices, chopped tomatoes and diced cold lamb, then bring the thing slowly up to a simmer again and serve it with hunks of bread.

More details then ...

Lamb stew

2 lamb carcasses
2 heads celery roughly chopped
4 onions roughly chopped
Bulb of garlic peeled and chopped
2 kg red lentils
4 cans chopped tomatoes
40g cumin
20g paprika

Into a very large pot place one of your stripped lamb carcasses, add the onions, celery, carrots and garlic, cover with water and place on the fire for around 90 mins – it should be on a good rolling boil for the last 30. It’s worth mentioning here that our ‘stripped’ carcass in fact included the whole haunch of one of our lambs which had been a little too pink for comfort the previous night.
Set about the rest of the cold lamb from the night before. Our ravening hoards had been less than thorough, and I managed to rescue a very large mixing bowl full of diced meat to add to the stew.

Once the stock is ready, the hard part – removing the bones. On a small scale this is a relatively simple task, involving perhaps some straining, maybe a colander or a slotted spoon ... and perhaps even a second pot. On a large scale it involved four people, a washing up bowl, two cheap kitchen knives and a set of 99p bbq tools form Asda. And a ladle. It’s a miracle we emerged unscathed.

Into the stock then went the lentils, the diced lamb, the chopped tomatoes and the spices. I turned my attention to stripping the stewed haunches of all the remaining meat, before adding this to the pot. If I’m honest there was an awful lot more meat to be had, but the numbers and the awkwardness of dealing with the lamb with very few tools ... not to mention the effects of the previous evening slightly dampened my enthusiasm.

The result? Not a thing of great beauty, but hearty and wholesome enough to make hung over people happy ... which after the weekend we'd had was all we needed.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

≤ten - the bbq edition

Well. We had our first bbq edition of ≤ten this evening, with fair to middling success. Having been delighted at how enthusiastically the bbq was going initially I quickly realised (when my 'blackened' peppers became charcoal in the blink of an eye) that excessive amounts of heat were not necessarily going to be a good thing.

The theme of the evening was home grown. The mint in the lamb burgers was plucked from our hanging baskets, and the lettuce, rocket and potatoes were from Lulu's allotment delivery yesterday. The menu was simple - lamb burgers, green salad, tomato salad and early potatoes. Instead of canapes we shelled fresh peas which had been plucked only 36 hours previously. Luckily my guests are not faint hearted ... I will confess to spotting the odd baby caterpillar in one or two.

The only recipe worth passing on is for the lamb burgers, though this I suspect could be much improved upon - I'm not sure cooking on the run with guests arriving while trying to save charred peppers is the ideal setting for creating new dishes - but they were fresh and tasty, which is surely the main thing.

Enough for 6 hungry people ... or 8 with other things.

1kg minced lamb
1 large red onion finely chopped
large handful of fresh mint finely chopped
2 small eggs or 1 large
salt and pepper (I forgot this)

It's easy ... combine all the ingredients in a bowl, then shape into 15 or so small-ish burgers. Let the bbq commence.

My guests this evening were especially helpful. Jacs's suggestion to put foil on the grill underneath the burgers saved us another charring incident, and Amy's burger tending and liberal interpretation of the three second rule should not go unmentioned.

We ate outside from our laps, drank plenty of rose (tis the season) and covered duck rape, the merits of qualitative research and telepathic / psychopathic exes. All in all, a lovely evening.

summer risotto

My wonderful sister came this evening to help me sort out some long overdue paperwork, bringing with her the spoils from our father's allotment. The parents are on holiday so it is with heavy hearts that we harvest and tuck into the fruits of someone else's labour. In fact role is that of end consumer, even the harvesting is taken care of.

Stashed away and ready for ≤ten tomorrow night are ... a round lettuce, early potatoes, rocket, a hispi cabbage, courgettes green and gold and a bulging bag of peas.

Our supper tonight was similarly summery - it's late, so this is more of an idea than a recipe. Pea and mint risotto. I've written a previous post on risotto basics ... this evening I used the usual formula, substituting a red onion and a glass of Prosecco which needed looking after, then added in two large handfuls of fresh peas, and a large handful of chopped fresh mint from the hanging baskets. Perfect for alfresco dining on a humid evening.