Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Best Part of A Lamb Dinner is The Way The House Smells When You Make Stock the Next Day, Don't You Think?

So, the word is out. But fear not, because Food on the Dole has never been about anything but the food, and it shall continue that way. We'll still think about everything we eat, and do it in a way that makes sense to the majority of us--not gilded with truffles and foie gras (except when possible), but kept down to earth with roasted meats and whole ingredients and a minimum of the boxes and packages that have infected our cabinets.

To that end, this weekend's Lamb Dinner was a great success. A baker's dozen of guests braved Chicago's burgeoning cold season to come to the Food on the Dole world headquarters (a.k.a. my tiny Edgewater apartment), bearing side dishes, desserts, wine and tables and chairs to complete the scene. Some were old friends, some new; some joining us for the first time, some "three-time offenders" from the first potluck and the summer's pie-off.

I rubbed down the leg of lamb I scored at Paulina Meat Market with some olive oil; scored the meat a bit and rubbed it even more with chopped rosemary and garlic and gave it a good shower of salt and pepper. It was placed on a bed of onions, celery, carrots and garlic in a sheet pan, and I added a touch of white wine (a glass for me, a glass for the leg) and chicken stock to the pan, and blazed it around 450 degrees for a half hour or so. Rotated it and turned the heat to a low, slow 325; a total of about 90 minutes or so later, the leg's temperature was about 130 degrees and the outer layer of fat was sizzlingly crisp; I took it out of the oven and let it rest while we got all of the sides ready. There were slow-cooked lentils and a really nice jalapeno-manchego beer bread; Brussels sprouts well-charred and so delicious, responsible for a few "I never thought I liked Brussels sprouts until now," comments; a hearty Kale salad much like the one brought to the first potluck; gorgeous stuffed pumpkins, bubbly and filled with gruyere, chunks of crusty bread, and emmenthaler--roasted so tender that when the gooey fondue-like inside was scooped out, a nice chunk of soft pumpkin flesh came with it; some boiled red and purple potatoes simply finished with whole grain mustard and butter. I scooped the vegetables out of the pan the lamb was roasted in--they were soft and slightly caramelized and covered with the lamb juices, the rest of which I used to make a gravy.

The table was full of food and glasses of wine and people; the air with the aroma of roasted lamb and music and conversation. Each new guest brought in with them a gust of that crisp, clean winter air from outside, and we moved on to desserts--a stunning almond-cranberry-caramel tart that was given a full day's attention (so refreshing to know people still make their own pie and tart crusts!), which I am enjoying the remnants of while writing this post; chocolate cookies so soft and decadent and seemingly made of 200% chocolate; show-stopping brown butter cookies (and I realize that this entire post is starting to seem full of hyperbole but I am not kidding about these cookies), and a tart cherry lambic sorbet to cut through all the richness and bring us back down to earth.

Everything was top-notch, and really what we were going for here at F.o.t.D. It's simple: community + thoughtful food - the glare of the restaurant scene = a warm, memorable evening. Thank you to all who participated, or at least intended to (thank you for your understanding, Lorna!). We'll do this again, and soon, and hopefully we can keep this grounded food community growing and merging with other ones.

And before signing off, and speaking of food communities, remember the Soup and Bread thing from last year? Well, the ever-active Martha Bayne over there has put together a cookbook from last year's participants, and will be holding it's release party Wednesday, December 5 from 5:00 - 9:00pm at The Hideout. No soup this time around, just the books--a portion of the proceeds (along with all of last year's collections) will go to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. If you've got spare time and some snow boots, trek on over! Otherwise, see you at the next Food on the Dole dinner, yes?