The lamb that never was

Imagine Easter Sunday without lamb!  Well, it can happen and it did to me this year!!  Apparently this is the second year running that our butcher did not order enough lamb, and by Easter Sunday morning there was not a scrap of it left.  What to do?  Settle for mutton, that’s what!  Next thing was to find a recipe for the mutton chops I’d bought.  I was tempted to prepare a north African dish, like a tagine or couscous.  Then I logged onto my bookshelf on www.eatyourbooks.com (more about that site below) and did a recipe search for mutton.  In amongst the recipes on the list was Ballymaloe House Irish Stew;  I knew exactly where the book was, looked at the ingredients and decided that it was the perfect dish – it was somewhat chilly outside and a nice stew would be just the thing!   The stew was a doddle to prepare and wonderfully tasty; my misgivings about the potentially strong mutton flavour were totally unfounded!  The herbed goats cheese had sufficiently drained and matured and provided the cheese course, and for dessert I made a peach flan.  Brought back memories of my time in the pastry kitchen at the Meridien Piccadilly!   The flan is very delicious and very easy to make and proved to be the perfect dessert after the stew, not at all heavy (write if you want the recipe).

Now, about http://www.eatyourbooks.com :  I came across the site on a blog called www.larecettedujour.org and was intrigued by the idea, so read through it and decided to sign up.  The unlimited bookshelf is $25 for a year, with a free option of up to five books.  The idea is that you add all the cookbooks you own to your bookshelf, either by author/title search or by ISBN numbers.  Once the books are on your bookshelf you can search for recipes in the books which are indexed.  I found that I had a lot more cookery books than I thought, and by no means all of them are on the site’s bookshelf.  A lot of the older books and the French and German books are not in the library (despite 98,210 titles), and currently about 23% of my books are indexed (49 out of 214).  Considering that some of the titles are only on my bookshelf and others a bit “special interest” it’s perhaps not surprising, but it still gives me access to over 13,000 recipes.   Books are constantly being indexed, so that eventually be more of “my” books will become searchable.  A search for mutton on Easter Sunday brought up 63 results with a good selection of recipes from different books.  Fast, simple and easy, and a great way of using books which would otherwise languish unused, mainly because we all tend to use the same books and recipes over and over again.

Hot cross buns have been an Easter tradition for some years in my kitchen and this year I’ve subverted that tradition.  Not drastically though, but time available meant that baking the buns on Saturday night was not possible, and I didn’t want to get up super early to have them ready for breakfast on Easter Sunday.  A cunning plan had to be devised and here’s how!  Saturday lunchtime I mixed up my dough, using the spice mixture given by Elizabeth David in “English Bread and Yeast Cookery” (highly recommended), and loosely following a recipe by Jamie Oliver for the dough. 

I mixed flour, sugar, spice, instant yeast and raisins in a mixing bowl.  Warmed the milk/water mixture very slightly and mixed with the egg and melted butter.  Made a well in the flour mix and added all liquid, then stirred with a wooden spoon until the dough was formed.  It was soft but not overly sticky.  I put a lid on the bowl and left it in the kitchen (unheated at the time).  This was at lunchtime.  When I got back home, about 11pm, I turned the dough out on to the work surface, kneaded it for a very short time, shaped it into a loaf and placed it in a loaf tin (lined with a bit of baking parchment).  I put the pan in the oven, set to 200 Celsius, and programmed it to switch on at 6.10 am on Sunday morning, and to end at 7am.  When the alarm clock rang so did the timer on the oven, and there was a lovely smell coming up to the bedroom!  I went downstairs to check on the bread and it was just perfect.  Once cooled enough I sliced the loaf and spread it with clotted cream from Cornwall and some home made strawberry and apricot jam – yummy!!  And of course what wasn’t eaten on Sunday made lovely toast!

Starting bread in a cold oven can turn out very good results, and in this case it worked very well as the kitchen was fairly cool and the dough did not over-proof.  You could probably bake the dough straight from the fridge and still get what’s called good “oven spring”.

And since it’s spring, here’s a picture of coronilla, flowering everywhere right now, scenting the air and feeding bees.  Anyone looking for a spring break?  Le Figuier in Bize Minervois is currently available for April 21 to May 19, 2012 at 10% off.  See other special offers here

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