Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Saturday, 25 April 2009

London and Laduree

or Macarons from the experts.

Last weekend I went into London. I love living somewhere where I can do that with such ease. Although not in any way a 'city girl', London is a city I adore for its beauty, complexity, history, and most of all its food! Obviously Laduree is Parisian, but the London branch on Picadilly is somewhere I've been planning to visit ever since I developed my recent macaron obsession.

Macaron heaven! My Mum and I bought a box of eight macarons between us, but the sheer range of flavours made it very tricky to choose four each. (Although the eye-watering price made it unlikely that we'd buy eight each!)

Finally we settled on: (from L-R) chocolate lime, salted butter caramel, orange blossom, rose, bergamot, lily of the valley, red fruits and coffee.

I am delighted to report that my attempts were pretty much spot-on compared to the 'real thing' - the exact same crumbliness, sweetness, creamy filling, etc. I'll be making these again (with added satisfaction now I know the price of the Laduree ones!) I'm not sure I'll manage the sheer range of flavours, but I have some more ideas now. Watch this space...

I kept the box and bag too. Divine.

Some more highlights of the day - Fortnum and Mason.

Lunch in Borough Market. A Bacon, Egg and Bubble Bap from Maria's Market Cafe.

And Evensong at St Paul's Cathedral sung by the St John Singers, with whom Rob and I used to sing when we lived in Salisbury. The choir sounded absolutely superb. The acoustic is amazing - it must be a fantastic place in which to sing.

Sunlight glinting off St Paul, looking as if he's caught in the act of blessing the cranes.

Eggs of all shapes and sizes

My parents came to stay for a few days last week. On their way here they stopped at my aunt and uncle's farm and came away with a dozen fresh eggs, collected from the hens that roam freely around the farm and garden. And wow... it's enough to make you want to keep chickens! I put one of the eggs into my regular box of 'large' eggs, which kind of made me think that people who sell eggs are labelling them wrongly. I suppose they're keeping all the huge eggs for themselves!

I almost expected to crack this monster open and find a baby ostrich or something inside. But no ostrich, just two gloriously yellow yolks.

I didn't want to bake cakes with these eggs, I wanted to taste them in their full unadulterated glory, so plumped for a simple omelette. I spent years thinking that I didn't really like omelette, but I have recently become a fan. They're so quick and easy. Plain is fine, but grated cheese lifts them to another level, as does the addition of whatever veg is in the fridge. I had some slivers of spring onion left over from the crispy duck we had eaten earlier in the week, so I just sauteed them and folded the omelette around them and with a liberal sprinkling of Maggi seasoning the meal was complete. Simple and delicious. I just loved the sunny yellow; positively spirit-lifting.

Another egg-related subject that is lifting my spirits right now is the multitude of new life appearing on our local canal. The canal itself is disused, but is a haven for wildlife and waterfowl, as well as being the most wonderful walk, practically right outside our door. Look carefully as you walk along the towpath and nests are visible everywhere - ducks, moorhens, swans, dabchicks and coots.

And first out of the eggs this year were the coots! And they call baby swans ugly... they're positively supermodels compared to this lot! However, they are pretty cute with their punky hairstyles, and their parents obviously love them - this pair attentively fed each of the six chicks as I threw them bread.

More Spring-related photos coming soon I'm sure. This season really is England at its very best. I'm glad to live here.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Lamb - Cute and Tasty

Thank heavens that lambs grow out of that 'unbearably cute' phase pretty quickly, otherwise I could never again eat my favourite meat. But cute or not, I always think that sheep have a very nice time. They're not intensively reared, trapped in restrictive pens like chickens and pigs can be, they eat grass, they have what seems to be a simple and carefree life in the fields. A meat to eat with a relatively clear conscience?

Last week was spent in the Lake District, and the fields were full of baby lambs. I think Rob was getting a bit sick of my constant exclamations of "oooh! Little lambs!!!" They were everywhere. I really should have stopped with the excitement, but they just got me every time.

Despite this overdose of cute, I managed to tuck in to a tasty plateful of lamb 3 times during the week...

We were staying in a cottage in the village of High Lorton, and a mere 10 minute walk away was this excellent pub in Low Lorton, the Wheatsheaf. Good food, reasonable prices, great beer on tap, nice ambience, unpretentious - what more could you want in a village pub? (And free books too! They were having a clear-out, I picked up a couple of top quality retro cookbooks to add to my collection). Both Rob and I had the 'Wheatsheaf Lamb' that you can see on the menu. Melt-in-the-mouth tender, with a tasty sauce - although I always prefer a little more gravy with my meat.

Later on in the week we drove to the Kirkstile Inn in Loweswater. This small hotel has become justifiably famous in the area - we had to book a few days in advance just to get a table in the atmospheric bar, the only place worth sitting in in this cosy pub (I don't know about you, but I can't bear the sterile ambience of the 'Family Room' invariably found at the back of a pub, or what is often the style-free zone of the dreaded 'conservatory'. I want to be by the coal fire. And by the bar). The food here was also great value and great tasting - once again I went with the shoulder of lamb, slow-roasted for 4 hours, and this time swimming in rich gravy. The beers, brewed on site, were superb. I was really glad we'd made the effort to book.

We arrived home in Buckinghamshire on Easter Eve and whipped the shoulder of lamb out of the freezer ready for Easter Day! You'd think I'd be sick of it, but not a bit of it. The shoulder is my favourite cut of lamb. Fatty and hard to carve if roasted incorrectly, but done right it's a moist and tender meat that literally falls off the bone. I got the idea of slow-roasting it from Nigella Lawson's gorgeous Lamb and Mint Salad, from Nigella Bites, probably the recipe that I have cooked most from that book. I now use a similar method to this for cooking a traditional Sunday roast lamb:

Slice an onion, placing it in the bottom of a large roasting tin, along with 4 or 5 bruised cloves of garlic (unpeeled) and a spring of rosemary. Place the shoulder of lamb on top and give a generous scattering of salt and pepper.

Pour in about half a pint of boiling water, then tent the tin with foil. Place in a slow oven - about 150C - for between 4 and 6 hours. But no need to worry about setting a timer - it's difficult to spoil the meat using this method!

Remove from the oven when you need to turn up the temperature for the roast potatoes, but place the lamb back in, foil removed, for the final 30-45 minutes before serving. This crisps up the gorgeous skin.

The lamb will have produced lots of wonderful sauce as its juices mix with the onion, garlic and rosemary, and the water will have stopped it burning. It will also have released lots of fat, which I always carefully pour off. What is left can be served as it is, as a flavourful gravy, or thickened slightly with cornflour if desired. The matter of gravy is a very personal one so I wouldn't presume to tell you what to do!

The lamb doesn't need carving, simply shredding slightly as it pulls easily from the bone.

With apologies to the little lambs...