01 November, 2008

a milestone

I took it astonishingly well, I thought: her friend arrived to go on their Halloween rounds, and it became instantly clear that I was... not invited. How has this happened? They were armed with their torches. Avery had told me her friend Emily intended to go as the devil, and wouldn't it be funny if Avery herself were to be an angel to walk alongside. But as you see, when Emily turned up, there had been a change in plan: two angels instead of one. I was in the middle of producing Orlando's faultless mushroom sauce when the doorbell rang, and put down the spoon when I heard the shrieks. Throngs of little ones rushed up to the door, pushing aside the big girls, grabbing at candy. The air was winterlike with chill and damp, and the girls only JUST let us pose them with the jack o'lantern outside on the wall and take a photograph. Then... they were off. I couldn't do anything about it! They glowed whitely in the night air and I said, "Please be careful," but they were already out of earshot.

We persuaded Emily's mum in for a drink while I cooked and we rattled on conversationally through what I thought was a supreme moment of motherhood: the first trick or treating without me. Emily is the third of three, so her mother seemed impervious and I decided the best thing would be to act the same.

Of course an hour or so later they were back, knocking on the door with hands stiff with cold, happy to take another handful of candy, a kiss, and be off for a sleepover at Emily's. We ourselves settled down for the most perfect dinner. Orlando's instructions for this sauce are minimal, but clear. I think where details are not given, the cook should feel free to improvise. For example, he doesn't specify whether to keep small mushrooms whole, or quarter them or chop them or slice them. That means, do as you like. I myself sliced them, but I think small quartered or halved mushrooms would do as well.

Orlando's Wild Mushroom Sauce
(serves 2, just barely)

Fry 175g mixed wild and cultivated mushrooms in a knob of butter till brown. Add a finely chopped shallot and lightly brown, then stir in 100ml red or white wine [I used a nice Australian chardonnay] and 425g veal stock. Bring to the boil and strain into a clean pan, reserving the mushrooms. Boil to reduce to 150 ml. When ready to serve, keep sauce at a low simmer and gradually beat in 175g chilled butter cut in pieces, till thick and glossy. Add mushrooms, heat through, and serve.


Orlando means this sauce to accompany a roast fillet of veal in a Parmesan crust, which sounds lovely, but I did not have a fillet of veal. I had two lovely, solid-gold escalopes from Whole Foods in Kensington which I slipped into the finished sauce and poached gently till just cooked: perhaps 5 minutes. I was rushed back in memory to nearly 20 years ago in St Barths, back before it was cool to go there for anyone but John's parents, and I was taken there for the first time. At that time there was no point spending any energy planning what to have for dinner: one would simply have what was in the supermarket, which was catch as catch can.

That being said, while sparse and unpredictable, the ingredients were spot on, and for me, endlessly exotic. Triple creme cheeses, goats cheese, avocados, super firm garlic, really good chicken stock, and most unexpectedly, veal. This meat was not part of my childhood, but I felt sure I was up to the task, and one of the first dishes I ever cooked without a recipe, these many years ago, was a very simple saute of veal with garlic, fresh tomatoes, white wine, mushrooms and creme fraiche.

Orlando's sauce was superb and the veal simple and tender. With it we had the most perfect pommes dauphinoise, roasted beetroot. I know it's not elegant, but the cheesy, garlic, pink sort of sludge at the end, on my plate, was a heavenly thing. And just the taste to take my mind off... an unchaperoned Halloween.

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