Here’s the Boeuf…

Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon

On my first trip to Paris, I stood in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles staring into the foxed glass. I imagined not my 12-year-old self gazing back, but some be-wigged and be-jewelled courtesan, the weary face of a servant or, who knows, perhaps the Sun King himself? It was as though all the faces that had ever stared into the glass were still captured there and I could see them as long as I looked hard enough. That morning, I felt the flimsy barriers of time and place dissolve.

On Sunday, as I stood in my kitchen, patting fat cubes of beef with kitchen paper, I felt a kinship with my brothers and sisters in spoons. I knew I was not alone. Up and down the country, at that very moment, I knew many of us were slicing onions and carrots, browning mushrooms, enjoying the sizzle as we tipped whole bottles of red into scorching hot pans.

I got an email from my darling friend Richard on Tuesday. ‘I went to see Julie &Julia on this inclement afternoon in the lowest of spirits and came out skipping. I can’t imagine a film that will resonate more with you both, even if at times it is a little sad. But c’est la vie, and that’s what it celebrates – that, and a beautiful, enviable, treasured coupling which, if I know you both as I think I do, it will be like looking in a mirror.’

I’d already planned to see Julie & Julia with Christine and Daphne that evening, but I quickly booked two more tickets for Séan and me on Friday night. I knew he would adore it too. (Food, France, Meryl and Stanley – what’s not to love?) And besides, he’s scarcely left the house for two weeks so he could do with a bit of a cheer up. (A long and itchy story involving an allergic reaction to antibiotics, since subsided, which is a relief to us both as it presented him with the longest ‘get out of washing up’ card in living memory.)

One of my favourite sequences in the film comes when Julia Child’s editor, Judith Jones, pours a bottle of red into the boeuf bourguignon, speckling Julia’s precious manuscript with booze and fat. It’s rather exciting to think of the moment when the recipe that launched a thousand (a million?) dinner parties had its first outing.

What I love about Julia Child’s recipes is that they are so long. The current vogue for short, fast, easy is a deceit, a conceit. Instructions are cut down to the barest bones to give an impression of ease, of simplicity, and the results disappoint because – without a considerable amount of knowledge and experience – the home cook has no chance of reproducing the glossy image they see before them.

There is an elegant, scholarly precision about Julia Child’s recipes and a comforting assurance that if you do as she says, the results will be perfect. Pat the meat dry, don’t crowd the pan, sauté for 2 to 3 minutes…these are the instructions you’d give a friend if you were cooking side by side. She is holding your hand. Peering from a considerable height over your shoulder.

As I did as she said and the ingredients behaved as she promised they would, I felt a connection that ran from her little third-floor kitchen on the ‘rue de Loo’ to mine in North London, on a cool September evening, half a century after the recipe was first written.

Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon close-up

This is from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume One. I really, really can’t wait to make it again.

Serves 6-8

A 6oz chunk of bacon
1 tbsp olive oil or cooking oil
3lbs lean stewing beef, cut into 2 inch cubes
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
2 tbsps flour
3 cups of full-bodied, young red wine such as Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhone, Bordeaux-St Emilion or Burgundy
2-3 cups brown beef stock
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 cloves mashed garlic
½ tsp thyme leaves
A crumbled bay leaf
18-24 small white onions, peeled
1 ½ tbsp butter
1 ½ tbsp oil
½ cup brown beef stock, dry white wine, red wine or water
A bouquet of 4 parsley sprigs, 1 small bay leaf, 1 small sprig of thyme tied together with kitchen string
1lb mushrooms, quartered
4tbsps butter
2tbsps oil
Parsley, finely chopped

Remove the rind from the bacon and cut it into lardons, ¼ inch thick and 1 ½ inches long. Simmer the rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1 ½ quarts of water. Drain and dry. (Actually, and I hope it isn’t woefully impertinent, I simmered the rind but I couldn’t bring myself to simmer the bacon. I understand the reasoning behind simmering the rind – you make it tender enough to melt into the stew, but my bacon, bought from the Learmonth brothers at our farmer’s market is so delicious and not over-salted, and I couldn’t bear to lose any of its delicious flavour.)

Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/Gas mark 8.

In a 9-10inch fireproof casserole, 3 inches deep, warm the oil over a moderate heat then sauté the bacon for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set the casserole aside. Reheat until the fat is almost smoking (you may need to add a little more oil at this point; I did.) before you sauté the beef.

Dry the beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.

In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out any sautéing fat. Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set the casserole uncovered in the middle position of the preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to the oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove the casserole, and turn the oven down to 170C/325F/Gas mark 3.

Stir in the wine, and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato puree, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate the heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 2 ½ to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside until needed. To prepare the onions, warm 1 ½ tbsps butter and 1 ½ tbsps oil in a 9-10 inch frying pan (you need to use one with a lid), add the onions and sauté over a moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect to brown them uniformly. Pour in the ½ cup of stock or wine, season to taste, add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet.

(Here is Julia’s note on preparing the mushrooms: Successfully sautéed mushrooms are lightly browned and exude none of their juice while they are being cooked; to achieve this the mushrooms must be dry, the butter very hot, and the mushrooms must not be crowded in the pan. If you sauté too many at once they steam rather than fry; their juices escape and they do not brown. So if you are preparing a large amount, or if your heat source is feeble, sauté the mushrooms in several batches.)

To prepare the mushrooms, warm 2 tbsps butter and 1 tbsps oil (keep the rest back and use it as the pan gets a little dry) over a high heat in a 10 inch frying pan. As soon as you see that the butter foam has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add the mushrooms. Toss and shale the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. During their sauté the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2 to 3 minutes the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove them from the heat.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.

Skim fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 ½ cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables. The recipe may be completed in advance to this point.

FOR IMMEDIATE SERVING: Cover the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in its casserole, or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles, or rice, and decorated with parsley.

FOR LATER SERVING: When cold, cover and refrigerate. About 15 to 20 minutes before serving, bring to the simmer, cover, and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.

All gone...

Fin.

Postcards from the edge: Part II

Herbs Herbs from the garden, ready to go into the
pork and chestnut stuffing.

In the countdown to Paula’s wedding on Saturday, I’m going to be cooking at all hours, fuelled by caffeine and panic, stirring as I scribble down essentials needed on our voyage to the country. So there’ll be little time for pretty pictures taken in natural light. But I do hope you’ll keep me company as I chop and sauté late into the night, trying to remember to breathe and wondering when I’ll have time to have my roots done so I don’t look like the oldest caterer in town.

The centrepiece of Paula and Jack’s wedding feast is a lamb and pork roast. Even 130 greedy guests can’t devour a whole sheep and a whole pig in one sitting, so our brilliant bride had the inspired idea to serve hefty sandwiches made up of the leftovers at 10.30pm to fuel enthusiastic dancers, steady the drunk and keep the band on top doh. Of course, Lady de B and I want to make these the best late-night treat any of the guests have ever tasted. We’ve already made a mountain of apple sauce to go with the pork and jars of sparkling mint jelly to accompany the lamb. For the very hungry, we’re making stuffing too, to create sandwiches so generously proportioned, they would make Homer Simpson proud.

This recipe for pork, apple and chestnut stuffing is a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall one. In the interests of full disclosure, I have to confess I work down at River Cottage sometimes, but it is a bloody good multi-purpose stuffing – herby, with a lovely zing from the lemon zest – so I feel no obligation to apologise for my bias. It’s great with Sunday roasts, for Thanksgiving celebrations or Christmas feasts. And weddings, don’t forget weddings.

Pork, apple and chestnut stuffing

All Packed up

50g butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 stems celery, plus leaves if possible, finely chopped
500g pork shoulder, coarsely minced
The liver of the bird you are stuffing (optional), finely chopped
200g peeled, cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped
1 large dessert apple, peeled and finely chopped
The finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
150g soft white breadcrumbs
2 tsp each thyme, sage and rosemary, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pork, apple and chestnut stuffing Ready for the oven

Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the onion and celery, season and sweat gently for about 15 minutes, stirring from time to time, until soft and translucent. Leave to cool, then combine with the other ingredients for the stuffing. Season well with salt and pepper. Break off a bit and fry it off to taste for seasoning, add a bit more if necessary.

Bake the stuffing in a shallow, lightly buttered dish, or roll it into balls. Cook at 190C/375F/gas mark 5 for 35-45 minutes, depending on thickness, until cooked through.

Postcards from the edge: Part I

Lamb meatballs with minted yoghurt

If you are one of the rather lovely and incredibly discerning people who have followed my blog from the beginning, you may remember back in April when Lady de B and I took on the terrifying (did I say terrifying, obviously I meant exciting) task of catering for our friend Paula’s wedding . Well, the happy day has almost dawned. It’s next Saturday.

The last few weeks have been a blur of bunting and ribbon, table linen and vintage plates, cocktail try outs and canapé platters. And now the cooking is starting in earnest. This week, I’m going to be typing and prepping at breakneck speed, to share with you some of the dishes we’re hoping will launch Paula and Jack deliciously into married life.

If you are the praying sort, I’d be very grateful if you could throw up a few good wishes for a couple of more hours in a day and sunshine on September 5…

Lamb meatballs with minted yoghurt

Dipped

I first made these tasty meatballs for my best friend Victoria’s thirtieth birthday and I’ve made them a million times since. They’re simple and delicious, full of the Middle Eastern flavours I love. I found them in the October 1995 issue of Gourmet and I’ve tinkered with them just a little bit. In the original, they’re rolled in black and white sesame seeds which makes for gorgeous presentation, but one of Paula’s guests is allergic to sesame so I’ve left them out. In the past, in a hurry, I’ve simply mixed the sesame seeds in with the meat rather than rolling them and they were great, too. So sesame, sans sesame, I hope you’ll get rolling and try these out yourself.

Makes about 50.

The Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1kg minced lamb
1 tbsp dried mint
1 tsp salt
½ tsp allspice
A good pinch of cinnamon
2 cups of breadcrumbs, about 140g
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 tbsps currants
Freshly ground black pepper

For the yoghurt dip:
About 300ml whole milk Greek yoghurt
A good handful of fresh mint
A generous pinch or two of salt

Warm the olive oil in a small frying pan over a low heat and fry the onions, with a good pinch of salt, until very soft and slightly golden, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and fry for a couple more minutes.

Transfer to a large bowl and cool slightly before mixing in the mint, salt, allspice and cinnamon – it’ll smell heavenly at this point. Add the lamb, breadcrumbs, currants and eggs and combine gently but thoroughly. It’s best to do this with your hands as you’re less likely to over-mix. Overmixing makes the meatballs a bit heavy, which is not what you want at all. At this point, break off a small piece of the mixture and fry it in a little oil until golden and cooked through. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and some black pepper if necessary.

Mixing Mixing…

Testing Testing…

Rolling Rolling

Ready Ready.

Take tablespoons of the mixture and roll them gently into balls. You can do this up to a day ahead, cover and chill them in the fridge, or you freeze them at this point as I’m doing.

You need to get the yoghurt dip going a few hours before you want to serve the meatballs. Line a sieve with muslin or kitchen paper and set it over a bowl. Tip the yoghurt into the lined sieve and let it drip, drip, drip away in the fridge for at least four hours or overnight. Just before serving, discard the liquid in the bowl and stir the mint and salt into the creamy yoghurt.

Preheat the oven to 220C/450F/Gas mark 8. Place the meatballs on a baking tray and bake for 8-10 minutes (15 minutes from frozen), rattling the tin half way through, until lightly browned and just cooked through. Serve warm with the yoghurt dipping sauce.

It takes a village …

Patriot jellies
Our friend Stuart could be the sweetest person I know. He has a supernatural ability to divine whether an occasion merits a cup of tea or a stiff gin, he remembers birthdays, charms small children, sends puppies and kittens into paroxysms of joy just by his gentle presence. He’s also gloriously handsome, a quality he wears as carelessly as an old overcoat. Stuart’s always taking care of everyone else so we couldn’t let his 30th birthday pass by without, for once, taking care of him, fêting his fortuitous presence in our lives in a fittingly exuberant manner.
Lady de B and I decided a few weeks ago that we would host a party for him in her garden. He’s Australian, so we thought a posh surf and turf barbecue would be appropriate, a late lunch starting at three o’clock. Simple.
Lady de B and I spent days connected by the umbilical cord of telephone, email and Blackberry discussing the merits of raspberries over passion fruit, marinades or rubs, platters or bowls. We knew we couldn’t do it alone, so we called in the troops. Helder and Steve wired the garden for lights and sound; Kim sent over a restaurant’s worth of white china; Séan got up at 5am to collect flowers and fruit from New Covent Garden market; James spent Saturday morning blowing up inflatable kangaroos and hanging them from the trees along with enough flags and bunting to do an ocean liner proud; Paul ran around town collecting loaves, meringues and prawns; Sarah graciously served up lychee martinis and elastoplasts into the early hours; Alex and the beautiful seňoritas washed a mountain of dishes. We ate and drank and danced until three in the morning.
P1160281Sunny startTime to stop taking pictures!
And then, on Sunday, we did it all again. Ten of us assembled to tidy up and rehash the scandals of the night before. It was a beautiful day so we laid the table in the garden and served up a banquet of leftovers and gossip. By seven o’clock, as we sipped reviving glasses of Sauternes and spooned soft Valençay cheese onto slices of walnut bread, I think we all felt very lucky indeed, blessed in the friendships that have steered us through heartbreak and triumph to find us all together, sitting in the dappled sunshine on a Sunday afternoon in July.

Feet up the next day…All relaxed
Stuart’s birthday menu
Stuart’s birthday spread ~
Bellinis and Kir Royale
Champagne
~
Muhamarra ~
Muhamarra
Bagna Cauda
Radishes with butter & sea salt
Marinated olives
Roasted Chickpeas
~Rib of beef with mustard & horseradish crust ~
Rib of beef with mustard & horseradish crust
Roasted Carliston chillies
Hard core prawns
Director & Lincolnshire sausages
~
Sweet potato gratin
Roasted aubergine & tahini salad
Roasted beetroot & feta salad
Mange tout, green bean, hazelnut & orange salad
Minted new potatoes
Green salad
~
Pavlova with summer fruits
Patriot jellies
Chocolate dipped strawberries
Lychee martinis
~
Colston Bassett Stilton
Parmesan
English & Irish goat cheeses
Homemade de Beauvoir pear chutney
Figs and sultana grapes
Saturday’s pavlova becomes Sunday’s Eton Mess, eaten from one big plate in the middle of the table, with ten spoons.
Eton messEton Mess going.......gone

Summer on a plate

Roast chicken with potatoes

Summertime, and the eating is easy. Crisp frisée lettuce glistening with mustardy, garlicky vinaigrette, mussels in every way, almost every day, merguez on the grill, earthy Puy lentils tossed with last night’s leftovers and transformed into lunch. These are the things I love.

And now, I have an accomplice. My lovely nephew Angus is here in France with us and he wants to learn how to cook. He is 16, sweet, clever, funny, kind. He is also a keen rugby player, over six feet tall, and tells me he has to eat no fewer than 4,000 calories a day. Apparently not all of these can be in the form of Nutella. This is a new challenge for me, as I spend most of my time trying to figure out how I can stop myself from eating 4,000 calories a day. At least he’s strong enough to help me carry mountains of food up the hill, (almost) without complaint.

We spend our mornings reading the regional newspaper, the Midi-Libre, together. This is of mutual benefit. He’s improving his French and, as we always seem to start with the sports section, I’m improving my knowledge of rugby. Want to know anything about the French back row? Ask me. This is not something I ever thought I would say.

By the time the newspaper is folded away, we’re on to the really big issue of the day: what shall we have for lunch? If it were up to Angus, it would probably be roast chicken. This is the recipe I’ve promised him will impress the girls. I hope you like it too.

Angus’s perfect roast chicken

We buy most of our meat from M Greffier’s Boucherie Artisanale on the rue Jean Jacques Rousseau. I asked M Greffier for a nice, roasting chicken and he enquired how many it was for. I said five, but explained that the towering teenager beside me was included in that number. He raised an eyebrow and came back with the plumpest bird I’ve ever seen, which he wrapped in pink checked paper and then placed in this highly appropriate bag.

J'aime mon boucher!

All wrapped up

200g unsalted butter
1 small bulb of garlic
A good handful of herbs – tarragon, parsley, chervil
A nice, plump, free-range bird of about 1.5-2kg
A bay leaf
A small onion, peeled and cut into quarters
2 lemons
A small glass of white wine
Salt and pepper

You will, if you read this blog, almost certainly want:
Some potatoes

The fiery dragon herb, Tarragon

Take the chicken out of the fridge a good 30 minutes to an hour before you want to roast it. Preheat the oven as high as it will go.

Chop most of the herbs and two cloves of the garlic very finely and pound them into a paste with about two thirds of the butter. Carefully loosen the skin of the bird with your fingers and stuff most of the butter underneath it (save a piece about the size of a large walnut), massaging it between the breasts and the skin. Season the inside of the bird with salt and pepper and place the remaining herby butter inside, along with a few sprigs of parsley and tarragon, the bay leaf, onion and the rest of the head of garlic, unpeeled but cut in half horizontally to expose the centre of the cloves. Spread the rest of the butter over the skin of the chicken, season with salt and pepper and place in a roasting tin. Cut the lemon into quarters and squeeze them over the bird. Place the squeezed-out quarters inside the cavity too. Pour the glass of wine into the roasting tin and put the bird into the oven to sizzle for 15 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4 and cook for about an hour – Remember to baste it every 20 minutes or so – depending on the size of the chicken, until the juices in the thigh run clear when pierced with a knife. Squeeze over the juice of the remaining lemon, cover loosely with foil and leave to rest for 15 minutes or so before carving. Any you do not eat at the first sitting will remain perfectly flavoursome and moist for leftover sandwiches and salads.

A little bit of butter Mixed with herbsStuffed under the skinThe cavity ctuffingDrizzle with lemon juice 

If you want to make some roast potatoes to go with the chicken (and let’s face it, why wouldn’t you?), peel about 1kg of potatoes, cut them into quarters and parboil them for five minutes in lightly salted water. Drain them and let them steam for a bit in the colander so that they lose some of their moisture. When the chicken is about 25 minutes from being cooked, remove the tin from the oven and place the potatoes around the bird, turning them over in the fat. Return to the oven and when the chicken is done, squeeze over the lemon, put the bird on a warm plate to rest and put the lemon pieces in with the potatoes. Turn up the oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6 and cook until golden, giving the tin a rattle once or twice. These potatoes won’t be as crisp as the ones I describe in my classic roast potato recipe but they will be deliciously lemony and bathed in the chicken’s herby juices.

Green beans with onions and garlic

Ready to eat

It’s a common misconception on our side of the Channel that in France, all vegetables are served crisp, al dente (an Italian expression, sure, though I’ve found no greater love of crispness there, either). Certainly, when I’m adding French beans to a salad I want them still to have some bite to them, but when I’m serving them hot as a side dish, there’s something very comforting about cooking them until quite soft and allowing them to take on the flavour of some good stock. Even the queen, Elizabeth David, advocated boiling them in lightly salted water for 15 minutes and then tossing them in about an ounce of butter per pound of beans.

This is not a French recipe exactly, rather one made by me from the contents of our French larder and they went rather well with the chicken.

1 large onion, finely diced
2tbsps olive oil
A knob of butter
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
About 400g green beans, topped and tailed
About 350ml chicken stock
About 50ml crème fraîche or whole milk Greek yoghurt
Small handful of toasted pine nuts or flaked almonds
Some finely chopped mint (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Warm the olive oil and butter in a large pan over a medium-low heat. Fry the onions gently, with a good pinch of salt, until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and fry for another minute or two before pouring over the stock and simmering, partially covered, for about 10 minutes. Add the green beans and simmer, with the lid on, for about 5 minutes. Remove the lid and boil vigorously for a further 5 minutes until the beans are soft and most of the liquid has evaporated.

In a small bowl, whisk together the crème fraîche or yoghurt with a good pinch of salt (you can add some finely chopped mint at this point if you like). Pour a few spoons of the hot liquid remaining in the pan into the crème fraîche or yoghurt and whisk until smooth. Pour back into the beans and stir to coat and warm through. Stir in the toasted pine nuts or almonds and serve immediately.

Angus Robertson

Dinner, step by step

Jacob's Ladder

If there’s a person to whom Oscar Wilde’s quotation ‘I can resist anything except temptation’ applies more than it does to my husband Séan, I’m yet to meet him. It is possibly why he asked me to marry him after we’d known one another for only six weeks. It is also why, when I sent him to the farmer’s market to pick up a chicken, he came back with a chicken and a cut of beef called Jacob’s Ladder. He’d heard the butcher discussing a recipe for it with another customer and was intrigued. He is also a person who, when presented with two tempting options, he’ll take both. Just wrap ‘em up, thanks, I’ve got a bag (he’s an eco-hedonist after all).

Jacob’s ladder is a small rack of ribs from the forequarter flank extravagantly marbled with fat and richly flavoured. It’s also known as ‘short ribs’ or, more dramatically, ‘oven buster’ because it swells up when you cook it on the bone, giving you something which looks bigger once you take it out of the oven than when you put it in – not something you can say for grander, more rafinée cuts.

Layers of flavour

The Learmonth brothers from Stock’s Farm in Essex are always great with recipe advice, even when the queue is longer than the one outside Top Shop when Kate Moss introduced her first collection. I knew this was a great braising cut, though I have to admit I was a bit sceptical when Sean explained that to cook it à la Learmonth, we needed to sizzle it at 220C/450F/Gas mark 8 for 20 minutes then turn the heat down to 160C/325F/Gas mark 3 for THREE HOURS. Still, I do like a cut of meat that – with the introduction of a bit of seasoning and heat – does all of the work for you, so I was in. It’s also cheap (our bit cost less than £5), which appeals to my northern thriftiness.

Simple IngredientsRub the paste in wellReady for the oven

I made a quick paste by grinding up some peppercorns, salt, chilli flakes and English mustard powder and mixing it with a slosh of olive oil then I massaged it into the meat. I put it bone-side down in a roasting tin, bunged it in the oven and gave it a little baste every now and again. When I lifted it onto its warmed platter to rest, the flesh was thick and tempting, raised high around the bones which had protruded from the flesh, flaring elegantly at the ends like heraldic trumpets. And it was delicious, meltingly tender, deeply savoury. Though I would say enjoying it at its fullest requires quite a bit of gnawing on bones, so it’s not for those who, as kids, didn’t jump up and down with delight when the Flintstones came on the telly.

How to make perfect roast potatoes

Mr Learmonth also promised Jacob’s Ladder yielded the best fat for roast potatoes. Obviously, in the interests of research, I had to put this to the test as there are few things in the world more wonderful. This is my technique for creating a perfectly crisp, golden exterior and a yielding, fluffy interior. It’s foolproof. It could actually be the reason why Séan wanted to marry me after six weeks.

Peel the potatoes and chop larger ones in half or even quarters if they’re huge. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, toss in some salt then the potatoes and parboil for 5 minutes. While they’re bubbling away, put a roasting tin into an oven preheated to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6, and put a ladle of the beef fat into the tin – you could use goose or duck fat instead if you like.

Drain the potatoes in a colander and allow to steam a bit so they lose some of their moisture. Next, put them back into the saucepan with a good sprinkling of semolina, fine polenta or cornmeal (thank you, Nigella, for this tip), hold the lid firmly on the pan and give them a good rattle to roughen up the edges a bit. Carefully remove the hot roasting tin from the oven and tip in the potatoes – they should sizzle as they go in the pan. Quickly give them a stir so they’re coated in the fat and space them out well in the tin. Return to the oven and bake for about 40-50 minutes, turning once or twice during cooking, until crunchy and golden. Sprinkle with a little flaky sea salt and there you are – potato heaven

Sautéed oyster mushrooms

Pearl & chocolate oyster mushrooms

Séan also found these great coral and chocolate oyster mushrooms at the Gourmet Mushroom stall. I simply sautéed a chopped onion in butter until translucent and soft, raised the heat and tossed in the mushrooms – adding a pinch of salt at this stage, encourages them to lose their moisture quicker. When they’d given up most of their liquid, I threw in a couple of finely chopped garlic cloves and stirred in a good dollop of mascarpone – this is what I had in the fridge, you could use double cream or crème fraîche. Then season with salt and pepper and throw in a few tablespoons of finely chopped herbs – parsley is good, dill is even better, but then I love dill.

Sautéed oyster mushrooms