Sunday, March 29, 2015

Lamb tagine, in a crockpot. A stolen/modified recipe. Plus broth!

In recent years, I've tried to expand my spice repertoire in the kitchen to include a lot more Middle-Eastern/Mediterranean flavors. Thanks to Melissa Joulwan, and her Well Fed series of cookbooks, I've found myself using things like cinnamon, allspice, turmeric and cumin to flavor roasts and pans full of ground beef or lamb (both always from grassfed animals.... always!). It's crazy delicious and it deceptively makes the kitchen smell exotic, and like I know what I'm doing in there.

I also love crockpots. They help me get shit done. And I am all about getting shit done. Spend hours in the kitchen cooking, stirring, etc. or... throw a bunch of ingredients into the slow cooker, go do all the other things I have to do for ten hours and then enjoy? That seems like an easy choice. But there are definitely texture issues with crockpot cooking that make it more appropriate if you are looking for something more on the sloppy/stew/pulled-pork end of things than something drier and more well-defined. There are some (OK, many) recipes that just don't convert well to a crockpot, unless you are willing to deal with a major texture change in the result.

But then there's this one. Russ Crandall has a great blog called The Domestic Man, and I recently ran across his recipe for a stovetop lamb tagine. Lamb tagine is a Moroccan lamb stew. It's flavored with a lot of the spices that I have already been experimenting with in the kitchen. It is stupidly delicious, at least in the versions that I have had in restaurants.

But Russ's recipe frankly involves more time than I want to spend in the kitchen. There's a marinade in his. That would require me to remember to marinate the lamb in advance. You may recall that I have shit to do. That advance-marinating stuff? It's not going to happen. I know me. Quite well, actually.

Then his recipe involves "browning" the lamb in "batches." I don't brown in batches. I have shit to do.

So.... I thought to myself, "Self, if his recipe ends up with a pot of stewy deliciousness, and that's what my crockpot always provides me, why oh why, self, are you contemplating driving yourself batshit crazy with marinades and browning and other chef-y hoohah when you likely will be immensely satisfied if you just turn this thing into a slow-cooker tagine?"

I find it counterproductive to argue with myself when I'm making this much sense. So I decided to crockpot-i-fy this recipe.

(And let me digress for a moment and say that if I were Russ Crandall and someone took my beautifully constructed stovetop lamb-tagine recipe -- which, seriously, just has to taste seventy-five times better than what some drummer in New Jersey threw into a crockpot -- and turned it into a 15-minute exercise in "get me out of the kitchen as fast as possible" meal prep, I'd likely regard it as savagery that has no actual relation to "cooking" at all. And I'd be right. Or he'd be right. Or something. But my recipes, or, in this case, my conversion of his recipe into something much easier, is not for frou-frou occasions, or attempts to impress someone that you really want to dazzle with your inner Anthony Bourdain. My recipes are all about easy. Just so we're clear.... New hot person you are just getting to know and are trying to impress with kitchen skills so you can move onward to deploying another skill set in the less-clothed department? Use Russ's recipe. Feeding your family on a Tuesday when you have other shit to get done? You might want to try this.)

This is really easy.

 I went to Whole Foods, because they have grassfed lamb, to the portion of the counter labeled "Viking cuts of meat" and pointed to a five-pound-ish slab of bone-in lamb leg that would have made Thor tremble in anticipation of deliciousness. I asked Meat Dude if he would cut it in half so it would actually fit in my crockpot. He did. (Thank you, Meat Dude. It was kind-of crowded, and I appreciate it). I put the lamb into the crockpot. I assembled all the spices from Russ's recipe, except no paprika because my wife still mostly follows the autoimmune protocol. I doubled most of them because I find that crockpot recipes just need more spice. Because science (or something).

I added extra apricots and dates because that sounded delicious. I added extra carrots for the same reason. I used his amount of broth because I didn't want it to get too soupy. I skipped raisins. Because raisins are stupid. Or maybe because I forgot to buy them.

So my ingredient list looked like this:

Giant hunk o'grassfed lamb leg.
2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp cinnamon
2 tbsp turmeric
1 medium onion, diced
6 medium/large carrots, diced
6 ounces dried apricots, diced
3 ounces pitted dates
2 tsp raw honey
1.5 cups chicken broth (I think beef would be fine too)

Next, if you're like me, say, "Shit, I forgot to buy lemon." Really, I forgot to buy lemon. I didn't miss it.

Put all the ingredients in the crockpot on top of/around the lamb. It looks like this:

Turn the crockpot on low for 10-12 hours. It'll look like this when it's done:

Make appropriate noises of joy when eating it. It is that crazy delicious. Oh, and eat some vegetables with it too. Six carrots is not enough.

Thank you, Russ.

Now, the next thing I did was bold. After we ate some lamb, and put the rest in the fridge, I made broth out of the bones and the remaining crockpot effluvium.

That means I filled up the crockpot, that already had the bones and slop in there, with water. I cooked it on low for another 24 hours. The resulting broth, after appropriate straining of bones and goop, looks like very black coffee. It is strong-tasting enough that if it were listed on a menu, you would find it somewhere on the pages labeled either "badass" or "foolish." If you are one of those people that gets his or her babypants all in a knot over how "strong" beef broth is and you can only handle chicken broth, do not even bother with this lamb broth. It is some serious Viking shit. It will scare you and your children. It's also a bit on the sweet side, so I might not want it first thing in the morning. It seems more like an evening sort of sipping substance.

I firmly believe, with no scientific evidence to prove it, that this broth cures many illnesses and prevents even more from ever starting. Germs run from this broth with fear in their little germ eyes.

Sadly, you may too. It's that strong. Caveat emptor (eator?) and all that. Enjoy. Or don't. Your call.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Review: Sleater-Kinney live in Philadelphia, Union Transfer, 2/28/15

I'm not one for regret. I don't spend a lot of time thinking, "If only I had...." It's counterproductive. But let's indulge in one tiny detour of regret for a brief moment:

I am a complete fucking idiot for never having seen Sleater-Kinney prior to last night.

In 1996, I bought Call the Doctor. I loved it. It was post-riot-grrrl angular feminist punk that reminded me of the Gang of Four mixed with the Runaways. I loved it so damn much that when Option magazine (R.I.P.) asked readers to submit their Top Five lists for the year, CTD was on mine and my list got published in the January 1997 issue (which, if you happen to have that lying around, I'd love to get a photo of that readers'-review page, but I digress. Hit me up).

And the next year, Dig Me Out floated my boat pretty damn well too.

But I didn't go to see Sleater-Kinney back then. And I mostly have no idea why. I was distracted? I have no clue.

Worse, I didn't really pay attention when The Hot Rock, All Hands on the Bad One, and One Beat were released to critical raves. "I'll get back to them," I must have thought.

Which brings us to The Woods. Holy balls, Batman. The Woods. By the time a simple thought crossed my mind to maybe check in on the women of SK to see what they'd been up to, they had released The Woods in '05, announced their impending split, done a final tour, engaged in said breakup and, oh, quite a few more years had passed. It was 2010 (maybe even 2011) when I finally bought my copy of The Woods. Let's go back to that moment and tap into Steve's brain on The Woods:

[Song 1 ("The Fox") plays]. Brain says: "I like it. Sounds like what I remember SK can do. Corin is really wailing. Nice"

[The rest of record plays. Steve's brain nearly explodes with that joy you get when an album just means the whole freaking world to you]. "Ohhhhhhhhhh wow. Somewhere along the line, they became a proto-feminist punk version of the Who live at Leeds, and.... I'm an idiot for missing all of this."

The whole damn album just slayed me. While I was doing something else, Sleater-Kinney had become a force of nature, a thundering beast of a cross between their old punk days and a Big Rock Band that had it all.... urgency, tension, guitar tones that tore my head off, and a drummer -- Janet Weiss -- who somehow perfectly balanced her attack right in the middle of an axis that invoked both the precision of George Hurley and the "I'm driving this boat right off the cliff in a glorious thundering cascade of awesome" approach of Keith Moon. She played with a strength and aggression on The Woods that blew me away. And the band broke up before I had noticed what they had become.

Regret. It was present in droves. I could have opened a store called Regrets 'R' Us.

So yup, timing is everything in life. Post-breakup.... that's when I, in the role of Genius Boy, got mightily obsessed with this band. I checked out live videos of what I had missed. I bought those three albums between Dig Me Out and The Woods that I had skipped. I was a major fanboy.

My highest priority as a music fan became, and remained, swearing to see Sleater-Kinney if they ever got back together.

In the meantime, when Carrie and Janet played Philly with Wild Flag, I saw them. They were great (twice!). I loved Wild Flag, but, as I said to a friend last night as the final chords of "Dig Me Out" rang out and Sleater-Kinney said goodbye to Philadelphia after their first show here in nine years, "Wild Flag were amazing, but that was something way past amazing."

Yeah, there's a concert review in here. It starts now.

Last night, at Union Transfer in Philadelphia, from the opening notes of "Price Tag" -- the lead track of SK's brilliant reunion 2015 album No Cities to Love -- the band was on fire. The Gang of Four analogies fit. The Who? Yup. Them too. Hell, SK even worked a Stones-y swagger straight out of Sticky Fingers into "Sympathy." They are fully and completely at the top of their game -- guitars slashing and burning and running circles over, under and around each other, vocals wailing and snarling, and drums? Oh those drums. I'm a drummer. Little in my life makes me as happy as seeing a fellow drummer just owning the freaking drum kit, quarterbacking the band, steering the ship, driving the truck in complete control; pick your metaphor, kids.... I watched the whole band last night, but there were times when I was transfixed with Janet Weiss' playing to the exclusion of all else.

The set list? Here it is. It was all nearly perfect, but the trio of "Sympathy," "Entertain" and "Jumpers" to close the set was one of those jaw-droppers that you want every band to pull off, but so few do. Other highlights for me -- the highlights of the highlights, if you like, because, really, the whole damn set just flowed perfectly -- were the swagger (there's that word again) of "What's Mine Is Yours," the understated tension of "Get Up" and "Start Together," the sinewy grit of "Ironclad" and that moment in "Light Rail Coyote" when it all kicks into high gear and Carrie snarls away at her vocal part. Yessss.

But really, I repeat: it was all nearly perfect. In fact, had they completely blown my mind and done my very favorite song of theirs -- "Let's Call It Love" -- which they played the night before in New York, my head might have exploded with just too much joy.

Sleater-Kinney. They are so fucking back. And I am really happy about that. Because otherwise there'd be a lot of regret.