29 February, 2008

back to normal

Yes, I think we can declare ourselves open for business now, with all the various hurdles of the past months safely behind us and successfully brought to a close. It's no longer 1) exam-prep time, 2) exam-take time, 3) worrying period between exams and results time, or 4) recovery from results time. It's just been an ordinary week, with all the ordinary activities, which for some reason have left me completely drained! But I know in my heart that next week will begin to get better. Even WITH the ongoing, not to say newly-ever-present, spectre of real estate hanging over us.

Now that we know the neighborhood encompassing Avery's school for next year, there's nothing to stop us from choosing a house. Well, wait. There are two things to stop us: the completely unaffordable nature of any of the houses in this or any other London neighborhood, and the complete inability and disinclination of my beloved to make a decision. He just LOVES the search. I cannot concur.

What I can tell you is that a restorative visit to the Wallace Collection and a little snack in their enormous conservatory on a given afternoon after school is a lovely thing to do. I can't pretend that 18th century art or porcelain or ancient armour is really my thing, but it was very pleasant to wander through the rooms, trying to imagine that this all belonged to one family. Dozens of chain-mail suits! Clocks everywhere you turn, the occasional famous Watteau painting, but many more I had never heard of. Avery was particularly halted by the genre called "dead game I have known," lots of bleeding pheasants and deer with arrows shot through them, presided over by smug gun dogs and trailing ivy. Very odd! My favourite, I think: many little carved wax miniatures protected by heavy leather shades that you had to lift up to gaze, then lower again to protect them from the harsh gleam of your eye.

I have no real news to impart! It has been a week of all the usual things, culminating in Jamie coming to dinner and to spend the night last night. She has decided to go to St Barnabas as well, so the two girls were in heaven imagining what it will all be like next year. Avery is busy practicing songs for the "Form Six Entertainment" which will take place next Wednesday: it's a hilarious-sounding send-up of famous Shakespearean scenes (Romeo and Juliet reading Hello! magazine, the three witches from Macbeth singing Christina Aguilera songs, that sort of thing. We've heard the songs perhaps a few hundred times too many, but that's nothing to complain about.

Mostly I need to impart to you a fantastic new lamb recipe, and a side dish that will NOT lower your cholesterol but hey: everyone needs a little double cream now and then. This is so typical me: one of the VERY few ready-made foods that I ever buy is Waitrose's potatoes dauphinoise, because I can pronounce everything on the ingredient list, and they are much better than any dauphinoise I have ever produced. So naturally it was but the work of a moment to decide that I needed to up my game and make MINE just as good, instead of just being grateful that Waitrose were there to make them for me. And guess what: to enable me in this neurosis... mine were better. The secret? Don't just pour cream on the potatoes, make a proper cream sauce, with the judicious addition of a tiny shake of garlic granules and a pinch of nutmeg. Crazy good.

This lamb recipe is taken from the Waitrose Food Illustrated, a truly enjoyable foodie magazine sold at their tills. I always find something good in it, and the commentary is clever. Since I can never leave a recipe alone, we end up with an idea thrice removed, because the food writer Annie Bell has herself tweaked it from an original by Peter Graham, who writes so wonderfully about French village cooking. So feel free to play round with it yourself, why not.

Seven-Hour Leg of Lamb
(serves four for dinner and enough leftovers for another dinner)

1 white onion
15 whole cloves
handful flat leaf parsley
handful thyme
2 bay leaves
1 whole leg of lamb, preferably British but New Zealand is nice too
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
drizzle of olive oil
5 heads of whole garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup white wine
salt and pepper

Begin your preparations about 8 hours before dinner time!

Stud the peeled onion with cloves. Put it with the herbs into a deep casserole with a tight-fitting lid (I had to use aluminium foil as I don't have such a casserole...yet). The casserole must be big enough to accommodate the leg of lamb. Fill half full with water and bring to boil, then cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Scoop the onion, herbs and bay leaves out with a slotted spoon and put the leg of lamb in the stock-filled casserole.

Bring the liquid back to the boil and cover and simmer for another 20 minutes. Then pour the stock down the drain and lay a whole sprig of rosemary under the lamb and another on top. Make sure the lamb is skin-side up. Drizzle olive oil over the lamb, then scatter the garlic cloves around it and pour over the wine. Season with salt and pepper.

Cover the casserole with aluminium foil and seal tightly, then clamp down the lid if you have one. Place in a 140 degree oven (280 fahrenheit) and prepare to leave it there for 7 hours, but you need to be available two hours into it to turn it, and another three after that to turn it again. At this last turning (the leg will be fat side up), remove the foil so the lamb can crisp up. You will notice that the lamb gives off a great deal of juice, and this will be the basis for your sauce. During the last 30 minutes of cooking, turn the oven up to 200 degrees (400 fahrenheit).

When the lamb has cooked for 7 hours, take it out and remove it to a platter and cover it with foil for 20 minutes. During this time, de-fat the juices with the garlic in them, and boil down to about half its original volume. Then whizz in a blender and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve in a gravy boat. The meat will simply fall off the bone, I promise you. Heavenly! Serve with:

Potatoes Dauphinoise
(serves 8, enough for at least two dinners for us)

1 dozen Charlotte potatoes, peeled and sliced very thin
2 tbsps butter
1 tbsp flour
2 cups double cream
1 cup fresh-grated Gruyere cheese
dash of garlic granules or powder
dash of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Spray a 9x9 glass dish with nonstick spray. Trust me, do it!

Melt the butter and stir in the flour and let it cook lightly till it's bubbled awhile. Whisk in the cream and a handful of the Gruyere cheese and whisk continuously till thick. Add the seasonings and taste to make sure the balance is to your liking.

Put a layer of potato slices in the dish and pour over cream sauce to cover. Repeat this till all potatoes are used up, and finish with cream sauce. Scatter the rest of the Gruyere over top and bake for 1 hour at 200 degrees (400 fahrenheit). Half this time can be during the last 30 minutes of the lamb cooking time, then by the time the lamb has rested and been carved, your potatoes will be perfect. If they are getting too browned, simply turn down the heat towards the end.

Serve all this rich food with a good strong colorful veg: we had steamed broccoli, but tonight is roasted beetroot with balsamic vinegar. Enjoy!


Well, my little equestrian has returned tired and filthy (but happy) from her day's labours and fun at the stable, so I will read to her during her bath. We're starting "A Room With a View," and I can relax completely because dinner is... leftovers!

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