An independent sort of lunch

Spring Spring is here.

On Sunday, I arranged to meet Katy at the flower market at 11 and I’d invited a few friends to join us for lunch afterwards. I needed an independent sort of recipe, one that would allow me maximum bouquet bothering time, something I could nudge into being with a little light prep and then bung in the oven to become lunch all on its own.

Seven hour leg of lamb is a good candidate on such occasions. I’ve been wanting to try the one from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook for ages. (I have a weakness for a bad boy with a batterie de cuisine and he has to be the very best of that genre.)

The ingredients

Now if you try this recipe, don’t do what I did and buy a joint so big it won’t fit in your largest pot, thus requiring your husband to go around to the neighbours’ to borrow a hacksaw. ‘You doing a bit of DIY?’ asked Kev. ‘No, sawing through bones,’ said Séan. ‘Oh right, we’ve got plenty of black bags if you need any later.’ I love living next door to a very, very dry Scot.

Along with the lamb, I needed a side dish with an equally self-sufficient spirit. Step forward, AB’s gratin dauphinoise. The oven time is shortened because he simmers his potatoes in cream to part cook them first, so all I had to do when we got back from the market was pop the potatoes simmered in cream (it makes me happy just typing those four words) into the oven with the lamb while we sipped chilly glasses of fizz, nibbled olives, salami and roast cauliflower, read the papers and swapped gossip.

Mel Mel asks ‘Just how big is the leg of lamb?’

Judy Judy, surrounded by the papers.

Tom, Beth & Richard Tom, Beth and Richard

Cauliflower Roast cauliflower

Salami Salami

Barney Barney sat on Stuart’s lap to make sure he didn’t miss anything.

Tom checks his iPhone Tom and Stuart

PS A huge, huge thank you to those of you who sent me first anniversary good wishes. I had no idea when I began my blog how much fun it would be. Pressing ‘publish’ for the first time was a strange feeling, much stranger than seeing my work in a magazine or newspaper. More intimate, somehow, and much more personal. But I’ve loved it. I love the quirky imperfection of it. And I love it most of all when you share your own stories, too.

Gigot de sept heures

Gigot de sept heures Plated up

Look, it’s not going to win any beauty contests but it’s tender, intensely flavoured and delicious.

Serves 8

1 leg of lamb, about 2.7kg/7lbs
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced, plus 20 whole garlic cloves
55ml/1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 small onions, thinly sliced
4 carrots, peeled
1 bouquet garni
250ml/1 cup dry white wine
225g/1 cup plain flour
250ml/1 cup water, though I think you need less (see below)

Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas mark 2. Using a paring knife, make many small incisions around the leg. Place a sliver of garlic into each of the incisions. Rub the lamb well with olive oil and season it all over with salt and pepper. Place it in a Dutch oven or large casserole and add the onions, carrots, bouquet garni, unpeeled garlic cloves and wine. Put the lid on the Dutch oven.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and water to for a rough ‘bread dough’, mixing it well with a wooden spoon. Now, Anthony B suggests an equal amount of flour and water which was a bit too sloppy to stick to my pot. Just add enough water to make a rough paste – don’t worry you’re not going to eat it. Use the dough like grout or caulking material to seal the lid onto the pot so no moisture can escape. Put the pot in the oven and cook for 7 hours.

Remove the pot from the oven, break off the dough seal and breathe. It’s intoxicating. At this point, you will be able to carve the lamb with a spoon – not for nothing do the French sometimes call this dish ‘gigot d’agneau à la cuillière’.

Gratin dauphinoise

I must have made hundreds of dauphinoises in my life, but never one like this, where you simmer the potatoes in the cream before putting them in the dish. I rather like it – great if you’d like to do all the chopping and simmering ahead and just slip it into the oven an hour before lunch. I added the Gruyère, as instructed, and though it was good I think I prefer it in its naked, unadorned, uncheesy state. Obviously, leaving out that 115g of Gruyère almost makes it into health food.

Serves 4 – so I doubled the quantities here.

8 Yukon gold potatoes (I couldn’t get hold of these so I used Desiree), peeled and cut into 6mm/1/4 inch slices
500ml/2 cups double cream
5 garlic cloves, slightly crushed
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
Salt and white pepper
Freshly ground nutmeg (go easy)
1 tbsp unsalted butter
115g grated Gruyère cheese

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4. Place the potatoes in a large pot and add the cream, 4 of the garlic cloves and the herbs. Season with salt, white pepper and a little nutmeg. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer. After 10 minutes of simmering, remove from the heat and discard the garlic and herbs.

Use the remaining garlic clove to rub around the inside of the gratin dish. Butter the inside of the dish as well so that is evenly coated. Transfer the potatoes and cream to the gratin dish and sprinkle the top with the cheese. Place in the oven and cook for 40 minutes, or until the mixture is brown and bubbling. Remove from the oven and rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

The usual suspects

The Lake
I’ve been cooking food that doesn’t belong to me. No, I’m not confessing to a shoplifting habit. Part of my job is developing, testing and writing recipes. Though they mess up my stove, bubble and spit in my pans, colonise my fridge and – shameful admission time – sometimes fill up my bin, though they’re coaxed and soothed and occasionally bullied into edibility by my own fair hand, they aren’t mine to share until they appear, weeks, months, later in their designated newspaper or magazine. As well as my regular gigs, I’ve also been working on recipes for my friend Mark’s book which will appear in the autumn. So though the Spoon stove has seldom been cold these past few weeks, I’ve made very little I can share with you yet, dear blog readers.
This isn’t helped, either, by the stolen camera situation. Or the hours spent dealing with the insurance company. Or the endless, torpor-inducing discussions of new technology to replace the nicked stuff.
I felt as sprightly as a week-old loaf as I folded myself into the passenger seat last Saturday. We were heading north to the country and Victoria’s fabulous fortieth birthday weekend. This was a big deal. We’ve been hearing about it for months. Something special had to mark this milestone, so a dozen of us abandoned our concrete comfort zone of the city for the opalescent skies and high hedgerows of North Norfolk.
We stayed at Fritton House, where barmen and waiters and chambermaids indulged every whim and fancy of kids and dogs and overexcited townies with charm and humour.
This was the perfect antidote to weeks of double shifts at the stove and desk. Victoria is my dearest friend, the one whose judgment I trust in all things and in whose company I’ve spent most of the happiest times of my life, as well as some of the saddest. And the rest? Well, these are our ‘top table’ the ones who, when my mother calls to ask who’s coming to lunch and I begin reeling off their names, she replies ‘Oh, the usual suspects’.
Back in London on Monday, even the heavy skies couldn’t dampen my spirits. Mark’s recipes are within a within a ping of a kitchen timer of being done. I have my eye on a new camera. Normal service will be resumed.
Oh, and another thing, Mark told me I have to Twitter and I always do what the cool kids tell me. Usually three years after they tell me to do it when they’ve all moved on to something else. So if you’re the Twittering sort, do please tweet along with me at @lickedspoon.

Debora & Lady de B Lady de B and I cling onto each other for warmth, and onto our wine for dear life.
The DenThe Den & Luca Luca and Leo’s den in the woods.

Drinks The birthday girl, with Damian and Brian.

The Table Having dinner.

The Birthday Girl Victoria proudly sporting the banner Kim bought in Peckham market.

Just Zac Stuart. Yes, I know he’s our own personal Zac Efron.

09 Barney & Patrick Barney takes off across the sofa, pursued by Patrick.

After dinner drinks Sunday, 2am. Both the food groups, caffeine and alcohol.

Sunday papers Essential Sunday morning reading.
Leo in the HAT OF TRUTH The next day, Leo tries on his mummy’s hat, also bought by Kim in Peckham Market. The night before we christened it The Hat Of Truth, as we all took turns in trying it on and telling a secret.
13 The Usual Suspects The usual suspects, getting ready to go home.

I’ll raise a tart to that…

The table's set By the way, we never eat anyone’s health, always drink it. Why should we not stand up now and then and eat a tart to somebody’s success?

Jerome K. Jerome

So I’m still picking glitter out of the floorboards and suspect I will be for some time.

We returned from my parents’ just in time to prepare our New Year’s Eve party, planned as an elegant dinner for six – all (bar one heavenly Portugeezer) people we’d spent Millennium Eve with. I was looking forward to it, rather loving the fact that in a world where things change at a terrifying pace, some friendships remain constant. Those who were dear to us then are dear to us now, their presence woven like the weft through the (time) warp of our lives. But then, over the course of the morning, the party grew to twelve adults and four children. More linens, more glasses, more food, more fun. More angels at my table.

Sean and I spent a happy day getting everything together. We chilled champagne, roasted meats, peeled vegetables, whisked dressings. I made a delicious chocolate cake, but given our increased numbers I needed a second pudding I could pull together from things in the larder.

I made some mincemeat in November. Not just any mincemeat either, the world’s best mincemeat, from Pam Corbin’s River Cottage Handbook No2: Preserves, fat with fruit and fragrant with brandy. I’d used up half the jar making mince pies for the highlight of my social calendar, The Dog Walkers’ Christmas Party in Clissold Park, but I still had quite a bit left.

Mince pies in the parkA cold party......with warm mulled wine At least someone dressed up!The dog walkers’ party in Clissold Park

I threw together a quick tart, with pastry from the freezer, a couple of thinly sliced apples and a walnut-y crumble topping. If you have any mincemeat left over, it’s a great way to use it up.

At 4am, surrounded by a flotsam of plates and glasses and ends of cheese, I sat at our marble counter with my dearest friend in the world sipping the last of the champagne as our husbands and her children dozed in beds and on sofas around the house. We’ve known each other for almost twenty years. Our lives have changed a lot. But the one thing that drew us together in the first place remains constant. Neither of us ever wants the party to end. We may not be dancing on the speakers any more, we may have swapped the night bus for taxis and (sometimes) cava for premier cru, but we’re always there, ‘talking nonsense’ when less doughty, more sensible souls are tucked up in their beds. How lucky I feel to be entering a new decade doing the very thing that has brought me so much happiness over so many years. So here’s to nonsense, here’s to old friends and new ones, here’s to constancy and here’s to change. I’ll raise a tart to that.

Happy New year!The spreadA bit of beefHoping for some beef... Damian's new motto

Mincemeat crumble tart

Mincemeat crumble tart

1 sheet of ready-roll all-butter shortcrust pasty
2 crisp eating apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
About 200g mincemeat, enough for a nice thick layer
180g plain flour
70g caster sugar
100g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
50g finely chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Butter a 22cm loose-bottomed flan tin.

Line the flan tin with the pastry, letting the excess hang over the sides, and place on a baking tray. Line with baking parchment filled with baking beans and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the paper and baking beans. Brush some egg wash over the base and put it back into the oven for eight minutes. Trim off the excess pastry with a sharp knife.

While the tart shell is baking, make the crumble. Whisk together the flour and sugar. Rub in the butter until it is the texture of coarse crumbs. Stir in the walnuts.

Line the tin with a layer or two of sliced apples, spoon over a good thick layer of mincemeat and sprinkle on the crumble topping. Bake until golden, about 35-40 minutes. Serve warm or cold with custard, cream or crème fraîche.

Happy endings

Lemon Possets When I brought these to the table, Beth instantly took a picture and sent it to her husband Tom. As he was on stage trying to make people laugh at the time, I’m sure he was thrilled.

It was my turn to host my book club. Normally, we have a wild and wonderful smörgåsbord, with everyone bringing a dish, but what with it being at my house and me being a control freak and everything, I couldn’t resist making the whole meal.

Some of us had been to see Julie and Julia together, so I decided on a simple French feast which would give me a chance to make Julia’s Boeuf Bourguignon again. (Do you do this too? If I love a dish, I often make it a few times in quite rapid succession so that my hands and eyes can ‘learn’ it.)

Dining Table Reading is thirsty work.

Figs

As a nibble to go with drinks, I made warm Rosemary Cashews from Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris. They’re so simple, they’ve become a staple in this house – as essential to the cocktail hour as ice and good vodka. I scattered 500g of unsalted cashews on a baking sheet and toasted them at 180C/350F/Gas mark 4 for eight minutes or so until they were golden and then tossed them in a tablespoon of melted butter, a tablespoon of flaky sea salt, two teaspoons of light Muscovado sugar, two tablespoons of finely minced rosemary and half a teaspoon of sweet, smoked paprika (Ina uses cayenne, but I didn’t have any in the drawer, so paprika it was). Serve warm and watch them vanish.

To start, I made a quick salad of leaves dressed in mustardy vinaigrette and put a couple of little toasts topped with grilled goat’s cheese and some finely sliced pickled sweet chilli peppers scattered over the top. For our main event, of course it was the glorious boeuf bourguignon with boiled fir apple potatoes and buttered peas (thank you, Louisette Bertholle).

As a sweet finale, I made lemon posset, that most traditional of English puddings. To create a little entente cordiale on the plate, I served them in those little glass yoghurt pots I hauled back from France in the summer and David Lebovitz’s flawless Lemon-Glazed Madeleines on the side. Just like the boeuf bourguignon, they were so meltingly delicious, they sent me into obsessive-compulsive overdrive and I couldn’t resist making them again the next day. I took a batch to the park as a Friday treat for my 9am dog walking posse (pack?) and they vanished quicker than you can say ‘fetch’.

Madeleines 2 My second batch of madeleines in two days.

PS We read Raymond Chandler’s Farewell my Lovely. By some miracle, when Séan came home from the football (Arsenal 2 Olympiakos 0 – come on you Gooners!) at 10pm, we were actually talking about the book.

Lemon Posset

Lemon Posset ‘It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.’

I made 75 of these for Paula and Jack’s wedding a few weeks ago. They’re the perfect dessert in my opinion, tart and sweet, rich but refreshing, so simple to make and yet they taste as though you’ve spent hours in the kitchen. Also, you can make them the day before, which is always a good thing.

600ml double cream
150g caster sugar or vanilla sugar
The juice of 2 large lemons

Serves 6

Pour the cream into a large saucepan (it will bubble up very enthusiastically – you have been warned) and add the sugar. Warm gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then bring to the boil and boil for exactly 3 minutes, without stirring. Remove from the heat and whisk in the lemon juice. Strain the mixture into a jug then pour into 6 small glasses. Cool, cover then refrigerate for 4 hours before serving.

Lost Postcards from the edge: Part III

All SetAll set…

Hallloooo out there. Did you think I’d fallen into a vat of butter, flambéed myself to ashes, run off with the groom? A combination of work crises and computer meltdowns and, oh, life has kept me away from you all these past two weeks and I’ve been a very bad blogger. Smack me then read on.

The wedding was heaven – ankle-swelling-bone-achingly-exhausting heaven. The sun shone, the bride looked ravishing, the guests glamorous and the band’s tunes drifted over the trees into the woodland late into the night.

If you’ve ever asked yourself ‘Can you get a wedding for 140 into a mini?’, I’m here to tell you, you can. Lady de B picked me up at 5am the day before the Big Day in her shiny blue car. (When Sean was ill , she used to drive me back and forth to the hospital so often, we christened it ‘The Glambulance’, now I think it needs an altogether more festive name – ‘The Marriage Mobile’ perhaps?)

The passenger seat was pushed so far forward to accommodate pans and plates, wooden spoons, newly-sharpened knives and plastic spatulas, heart-shaped cheeses and wooden trugs of French butter, I had to take out my hair slide to give me a little more room. But this wasn’t all. We had to stop off at New Covent Garden Market to pick up the fresh produce. As we pulled up, the man at the gate did a double take and laughed. Laughed so hard he had to wipe his eyes. You can hardly blame him – the Marriage Mobile is about the size of one of the tyres on the huge refrigerated wagons he normally ushers into the market. Somehow, we managed to load trays of raspberries, boxes of herbs and two litre bottles of cream into every spare crevice. But we still had two trays of lemons. In the end, we crammed them into pans and bowls, tucked them into baskets of tea towels and jammed them into the glove compartment. But it still wasn’t enough. We were reduced to throwing them into the back and hoping the dear little things would find their own cosy nests. I’m convinced, months from now, Lady de B will be driving along and the last little citrus will roll forward into the foot well.

We arrived at Paula and Jack’s at 9am and the following 48 hours were some of the most exhausting, exhilarating and blissfully exciting of my life. I didn’t sit down for two days. It was wonderful. I loved it. Everyone else seemed to love it too. When can we do it again?

Here are some snapshots of the day. I just hope I didn’t get too much butter on the lens and they’re not too out of focus – there wasn’t much time for pictures in the middle of assembling all of the deliciousness, so I hope you’ll forgive me. In the coming weeks, I’ll share with you some more of the recipes, but for now I give you…

Paula and Jack’s Wedding Menu

Canapés

Three crostini:
Potted mackerel, crème fraîche and dill;
Goat’s cheese, figs and Parma ham;
Roast butternut squash with feta and thyme

Muhamarra, roast red pepper and walnut dip, with crudités

Persian lamb meatballs with a mint and yogurt dipping sauce

Spinach, ricotta and pine nut filo parcels

~

Dinner

Spit roasted hog and lamb

Marinated aubergines with tahini sauce and oregano

Roasted beetroot salad with feta and chervil

Green bean, mange tout, orange and hazelnut salad

Roast butternut squash with apricots and couscous

Green salad with vinaigrette

Sweet potato gratin with sage and crème fraîche

Minted new potatoes

~

Pudding

Lemon posset with blackberries and lemon shortbread biscuits

Chocolate, raspberry and almond brownies

~

Cheese

Cropwell Bishop Stilton

Heart-shaped Neufchatel cheese

Hawes Wensleydale

Pears, grapes and figs

Paula and Jack’s apricot and ginger wedding chutney

~

The marqueeBunting ahoy…

Mismatched vintage china Mismatched vintage china.

The top tableGorgeous scabious, roses and stocks mixed with herbs in little posies. Note the olives in vintage teacups and you can just see the jars of wedding chutney on everyone’s seat.

The kitchen Getting ready for the wedding. Our little army of helpers and ‘waiters in waiting’ in Paula and Jack’s kitchen.

The meat roasts The hog and lamb roast.

The buffet The buffet.

 Green bean, mange tout, orange and hazelnut salad Green bean, mange tout, orange and hazelnut salad.

 Marinated aubergines with tahini sauce and oregano Marinated aubergines with tahini sauce and oregano

 Roast butternut squash with apricots and couscous Roast butternut squash with apricots and couscous

 Roasted beetroot salad with feta and chervil Roasted beetroot salad with feta and chervil