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Bicultural Friday Dinner

October 17, 2008

I had some lamb cubes in the freezer — grass-fed, organic, local lamb, straight from the farmers market. What to do with lamb cubes? Around here, there’s really only one answer. Irish stew:

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I started with the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated‘s The New Best Recipe, #1 Son’s bible. We gave it to him after his bar mitzvah in 1995, and almost four years later it’s still his go-to cookbook for just about everything. (He made a cheesecake yesterday to take to a gathering of teenage homeschoolers today; he used it for a class on the science of cooking.) But the CI recipe called for shoulder chops, and I, of course, had the aforementioned cubes. So I played around with the proportions, but the technique is basically theirs.

Irish Stew (adapted from The New Best Recipe)

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound lamb cubes, cut into whatever size you like
2 medium onions, chopped into whatever size you like
a little less than 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
2 cups of water, divided
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
3 medium potatoes (the book recommends Yukon Golds, but you can also use reds)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Sprinkle the lamb cubes with salt and pepper, to taste. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pot over medium-high heat and brown half the lamb on all sides. Remove to a bowl. Add another tablespoon of oil and brown the other half of the lamb on all sides. Remove to the bowl. Turn the heat down to medium-low, add the last tablespoon of oil, and cook the onions till they’re softened, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and stir till the onions are coated evenly. Add one cup of water and stir, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the thyme and the salt. Gradually add the other cup of water and continue to stir until the stew begins to simmer. Put the meat back in and bring the stew back to a simmer. Put the stew in a Dutch oven or covered baking dish and bake for one hour. Remove from the oven, add the potatoes to the top of the stew, re-cover, and bake for another hour or so, until the meat is tender. Stir the potatoes into the stew, let it stand for a few minutes (it’s really, really hot), and enjoy.

And if you’re having Irish stew, you must also have Irish soda bread. Again I turned to The New Best Recipe, and again it didn’t let me down.

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Irish Soda Bread (adapted from The New Best Recipe)

3 cups (15 ounces) lower-protein (read, not King Arthur) all-purpose flour
1 cup (4 ounces) plain cake flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1½ teaspoons cream of tartar
1½ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus 1 tablespoon melted butter for the crust
1½ cups buttermilk

Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and preheat the over to 400 degrees. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Work the butter into the dry ingredients (with a fork or your fingers) till the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the buttermilk and stir with a fork just till the dough begins to come together. Turn it out onto a floured work surface and knead just till the dough is cohesive enough that you can form it into a loaf. The less you mess with it, the better. Pat the dough into a round about 6 inches across and 2 inches high; place on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. I used a round stoneware pan. Use a serrated knife to cut a cross shape in the top of the dough; each cut should be 5 inches long and ¾ of an inch deep. Bake till the loaf is golden brown and skewer inserted into the center comes out clean (or the internal temperature reaches 180 degrees), about 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and brush with melted butter. Cool to room temperature before cutting.

I’m not really a big fan of soda bread, but Husband loves it, so I make it several times a year. This is the best recipe I’ve tried — I actually liked the bread. If you like soda bread, you’ll love it.

And for a change, dessert wasn’t a Dorie recipe. (This week it’s pumpkin muffins, and we’re having them for breakfast tomorrow!) #2 Son goes to a secular Jewish Sunday school (and #1 Son works there), where they learn all about the history and culture and traditions of Judaism. And apparently one of those traditions is celebrating the harvest festival of Sukkot by building model sukkahs out of graham crackers, pretzels, and frosting. When they did this at Sunday school they used that nasty frosting in a tub. But I don’t roll that way. So …

This afternoon I bought graham crackers, spice wafers, three different pretzel shapes, a couple of different kinds of candy corn, mini M&Ms, big marhsmallows, mini-marshmallows, and probably some other stuff I’ve forgotten. Then I made vanilla buttercream icing, chocolate buttercream icing, and royal icing (for architectural purposes). After dinner, the boys went at it.

#1 Son went with a traditional sukkah, complete with autumn leaves scattered on the ground:

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#2 Son, the someday architect, went for something a bit more modern (and a bit less stable):

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