Lamb Stew in Red Wine with Herby Croutons

 Let them eat Stew

I was struck today, yet again, by a fascinating little nugget on human psychology. Perhaps you have found mechanisms to deal with this more effectively that others, and if so, I would love to hear your views.

How is it that despite an already cultivated sense of self worth, many compliments, words of encouragement, great actions by loving people that we experience in our lives on a daily basis, it is sometimes that one trite action or comment from a fairly insignificant person that has the ability to annihilate all of the above? And we tend to carry it with us the longest.

While it is true that hurtful words or thoughtless actions from a loved one can cut the deepest, somehow the mecahanism of forgiveness is the balm that allows us to reconcile, forget and grow stronger in love and friendship.

Yet one biting, callous comment from an outsider can reduce self belief in a instant, or haunt the mind about the cruel nature of man. Sometimes it isn’t even a comment- just a deftly executed snub or an extra long sigh. Freud remains the greatest known protagonist of the psychoanalytic theory, wherein he set out his belief and findings that man is inherently evil or bad, prone to the illogical and hence will always make the wrong decisions. Quite the pessimist was our man, Freud. But look at all that is wrong with the world today- could Freud be that far off?

According to Freud, left to our own devices, we’d all be reduced to a Lord of the Flies fashioned society, the fittest and most popular would rule (with frequent coups staged), the fat kids and spectacle wearers will have to be sacrificed and no one will be able to sleep with both eyes closed.

In comparison to this, the occasional comment from the small hearted or the thoughtless actions of the self-centered seem trivial.

Granted, while it isn’t always easy to be bouncing off the walls with sprightly delight at the success and joys of our neighbours, acquaintances and on occasion, friends and family, surely it demands a lot more energy to conjure up the nasty one-liner? How about the artful roll of the eyes, or the exaggerated arch of the eyebrow with matching wry smirk?

I’ve been staring at my reflection in my compact mirror from my handbag, practicing the eye roll and eyebrow arch and what I thought would look sophisticatedly Veronica -esque, from the comic Archie, rather resembles a doofus with no control over her facial expressions. Alas, it would come in handy to defend against the next sniper who shoots out a blob of sarcastic venom.

Perhaps in writing this (I had no idea where this was going when I started typing), I’ve come to realise that I should not, after 32 (relatively peaceful) years on this earth, be surprised that the meanie exists, and even walks amongst us.

Hands up whoever believes, the better our neighbours, friends, colleagues do in life, the better it is for all of us? Standards set higher give us more to aspire to, goals met prove it’s possible, expectations exceeded means that your life is also about to get better.

I’d like to feel sorry for the hims and hers who find more comfort in retaliation than in trying to understand the other side, or being happy for success that isn’t his/hers.

Who knows what fears and sorrows plague the people who utter unkind words or who find it hard to share? (Haven’t we all battled this too, in some small dose?)

The truth is, we may never know what’s going on in the meanie’s mind. But what I do believe is that Freud, in many ways, was right. He was also very wrong.

When all is said and done, humans (even meanies) are essentially good. I speak now of those who possess all their mental facilities and remain in control of same, naturally. Given the chance, given the option, humans would help rather than harm.

To make sense of my world, I choose to believe this.

Sometimes all we need to bring out our best is a hug from ourselves, a reminder that only we can steer the ship of happy or sad and a big bowl of lovingly prepared slow cooked stew.

Ingredients

Serves 4- 6

2 T butter

2 T olive oil + extra

650 g stewing lamb pieces, cut into bite size chunks

1 1/2 T cake flour, seasoned with salt

1 medium onion, sliced

2 bay leaves

2 cloves garlic, sliced

2 medium carrots, chopped

1 T tomato puree

250 ml red wine, not a sweet variety (substitute with stock)

300 ml lamb stock (I use NoMu Liquid Fond)

salt & pepper, to taste

For the croutons

1 small baguette. sliced thickly

handful parsley, finally chopped

1 clove garlic

few T olive oil

fine salt, to taste

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and spray and cook or grease an oven proof dish and leave aside.

Heat a large bottomed saucepan on medium, add butter and olive oil and allow it to melt.

Wipe lamb pieces dry with kitchen paper towel and add to pan, careful not to crowd the pan. Do this in batches, if you must.

Add the flour, divided amongst the batches, turning to brown the meat.

Remove lamb, and set aside.

In the same pot add the onions and bay leaves, as well as a splash more olive oil.

Cook on low heat until the onions are translucent.

Add the lamb back to the pot, along with any juices, the garlic, carrots, tomato puree and the wine.

Bring the heat up to medium and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the stock and adjust seasoning.

Cook for 10 minutes on high, uncovered.

Transfer to the prepared oven-proof dish. Cover  tightly with foil, make a small gash in centre and cook for 60 minutes in the oven.

In mean while, grind the parsley, garlic and olive oil using a pestle and mortar, till it forms a coarse paste. Add a bit of fine salt and mix.

Spread over on side of each slice of baguette

Remove the stew from oven once the timer goes off and remove foil.

Turn up the oven to grill at 250 degrees Celsius.

Arrange the slices of herbed baguette on top, brushing generously with more olive oil.

Place the dish back in the oven and grill for 8-10 minutes, closer to the top element, until the bread becomes a lovely golden colour.

Keep an eye on it as once the grill element is hot, the dish can burn very quickly.

*Note* My stew contained a few baby potatoes, which are not necessary.


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