I can’t quite believe I’m into week six. At the end of freshers’ week, I really couldn’t imagine getting through five days, and now I’m over the hump. In the middle of the week when the work is piling up and I’m shaking from too much Diet Coke it still feels tough. The experience of being able to go home on occasional (okay, most) weekends makes up for it though. All summer I appreciated home, but there is something so special about getting on a bus that is whisking you back to familiarity. Something about suddenly being in Chelsea again, opening the squeaky gate to the apartment block and ringing the buzzer even though you have your keys because its so nice to know there are people waiting for you.
I had said that I would give it a year, and if I still couldn’t find something about being here which made me happy, I would go to catering college instead. I would love the experience and to gain the technical knowledge. But I think in a way it would be horrible to be a chef, because what I love about cooking is the fact that I’m creating something special, and making people I care about happy. I also like to be self indulgent about it, taking my time peeling squash. I think the efficiency of a professional kitchen takes the soul out of food and cooking. Why do we cook from scratch when it is more efficient and sometimes cheaper to buy processed food? From an economics view, it is an interesting question, perhaps just a particularly obvious example of why efficiency isn’t the be all and end all.
I love warm, spicy stews for precisely their inability to be standardised. I had thought this would take at least 2 hours, and the meat was perfectly tender in 1 hour 20 minutes. Thus these timings are a guide, but you can tell when the lamb is ready; it will simply melt in your mouth. I consulted almost all the cookbooks I own, but was particularly inspired by Elise from Simply Recipes Spicy Lamb Stew with Butternut Squash. I was also inspired by my christmas cake, which we made earlier in the day on Sunday.
This recipe serves three people perfectly.
Dice one red onion, and finely slice three juicy gloves of garlic.
Heat a glug of olive oil in a wide, heavy based pan. Add 300g of diced lamb, and brown over a medium heat until you can’t see any pink. Remove to a plate using a slotted spoon, and add the onion and garlic to the pan, frying gently for 7 minutes.
Mix together 1 ½ tsp each of ground cinnamon, paprika, cumin and dried rosemary. Add 1 tsp red chilli powder. Add the herbs and 1 tbsp tomato puree to the pan and stir vigorously for 4 minutes.
Add 1 pint hot vegetable stock and stir vigorously, then add a 227g tin of chopped tomatoes and return the lamb to the pan. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook covered for 55 minutes.
Meanwhile, peel, de-seed and dice 500g butternut squash. Add to the pan and bring the whole thing back to the boil, then simmer uncovered for half an hour, or until the lamb is melt-in-your mouth tender and the squash is creamy.