Locked in

We’re into week five of the lockdown – at least I think we are, I sometimes lose track of time! ūüôā ¬†Last Monday, we had some good news – sort of. ¬†Emmanuel Macron announced that France should gradually come out of the lockdown from May 11th onwards. ¬†There were no indications as to how it could work, but no doubt the details will follow. ¬†Of course, that means that we’re in for a little more than three weeks of staying at home!! ¬†ūüėČ

Last Sunday being Easter Sunday, I had planned ahead and bought a piece of saddle of lamb from Boucherie Gerard, my local butcher. ¬†Along with most food shops, Corinne and Nicolas Gerard have stayed open throughout the confinement. ¬†They’ve been incredibly cheerful, and it’s always been a joy to shop there!

I wanted to roast the lamb, but as the joint was relatively small (700 g) I figured that a traditional roast would be somewhat tricky to pull off successfully. ¬†I briefly considered cooking it at a low temperature (80 degrees Centigrade) for many hours but I dismissed that idea too. ¬†In the end, I hit upon cooking the lamb saddle in a salt crust. ¬†I’ve ¬†cooked things in salt crusts a number of times, and it has always worked well for me. ¬†In fact, I’ve previously written about that way of cooking here. ¬†In an old copy of House Beautiful I came across an article by Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune restaurant in Manhattan, in which she gives directions for cooking beef tenderloin in a salt crust. ¬†I used that as my inspiration!

To begin with, I browned the joint all over in a frying pan. ¬†I started in a ‘dry’ frying pan, i.e. without any fat, and I placed the joint with the skin side in contact with the hot iron first. ¬†It soon started to give up some fat, and that was all I needed to help brown the rest of the meat. ¬†It was quite smoky, so I was glad to have an efficient extract fan above my cooker!

While the meat was browning, I prepared my salt crust. ¬†In a large bowl, I beat an egg white until it was foaming, then I added two kilos of coarse sea salt (kosher salt) and a little water. ¬†The texture was that of sand that’s damp enough to build a sandcastle with. ¬†Below is a picture of the lamb nearing completion of the browning:

I placed a layer of the damp salt mixture on a baking sheet, and put the lamb on top of that:

I then encased the lamb with the remaining salt mixture:

Once it was all covered, I put it in the oven, which I had pre-heated to 130 degrees Centigrade.  Gabrielle Hamilton gave the roasting time for her tenderloin as 45 minutes and I stuck with that.

Here’s what the lamb looked like when it came out of the oven: not all that different to when it went in!! ūüôā

I left the meat rest for about 15 minutes, before I cracked open the crust.  It had set very hard, but a sharp blow with the blunt edge of the cleaver soon made it crack!

There was a fair amount of salt clinging to the meat, so I used a pastry brush to get it all off!

I had prepared some mashed potatoes, pan roasted vegetables and mint sauce while the meat was cooking, so I was ready to carve and dish up as soon as the meat had been ‘liberated’ from the crust!

The lamb was wonderfully tender, with just a hint of pink all the way through, and a great savoury flavour. No salt is needed with this method of cooking, the salt crust takes care of all the seasoning!

Best of all, after this wonderful meal there were enough leftovers for lunch the next day!! ūüôā

Since it was Easter Sunday, there was a little dessert to end the meal.  I cut a few slices from the lamb-shaped sponge cake I had made, and topped them with a little rumtopf, fruit which had been macerating in rum and sugar for some months!  Simple and oh so delicious!!

How was your Easter meal – did you have any special treats??

It’s virtually Easter!

We’re in our fourth week of lockdown in France! ¬†With lockdowns in place in numerous countries worldwide, it will mean that many people will be celebrating Easter this year very differently compared to previous years! ¬†The churches will be closed, large family gatherings are out of the question, and even family walks are restricted. ¬†I’ll be taking it in my stride, but I feel for those whose lives are being disrupted by being confined to their homes!

I’ll be following some of my Easter traditions such as dyeing hard-boiled eggs:

baking Hot Cross Buns:

and baking a cake in the shape of a lamb:

I will probably prepare Easter lunch using lamb, though this time I won’t leave the shopping to the last minute, as I did back in 2012!! ūüôā ¬†You can read my story of that Easter lunch here.

The town of Perpignan won’t be holding its traditional Good Friday procession, but you can have a look at what you’ll be able to see next time you visit around Easter!

Traditionally, families in our area of France (and perhaps in other areas of France too?) will go for a walk on Easter Monday to pick wild asparagus for the Easter omelette. ¬†This year being different, perhaps the omelette may have to be made with bought asparagus, but I’m sure the traditional omelette will be eaten!!

Do you have any Easter traditions you’d like to share?

Eggscellent

For as long as I can remember, I have associated Easter with brightly coloured¬†eggs. When we were children, my brothers and I would decorate blown hens’ eggs in the weeks before Easter. ¬†For several weeks before Easter, ¬†instead of cracking eggs open to use them in cooking or baking,¬†a hole would be pierced in either end of the egg (a larger hole in the ‘flatter’ end), and the egg white and yolk would be blown out through the holes. ¬†The resulting blown eggs would be washed and dried before being decorated. ¬†The eggs might¬†be painted, pasted with cut-outs, drizzled with coloured wax – anything and everything was allowed and encouraged as far as decorating techniques went. ¬†The finished eggs¬†would be hung with a piece of thread¬†on the cut branches of forsythia or other flowering shrubs, and they would decorate the house during the Easter festival.

In the run-up to Easter, the shops would start selling brightly coloured hard-boiled eggs – you would be able to find them right next to the fresh eggs, in virtually every store! ¬†They were always looking so perfect and shiny – as though they had been laquered. ¬†Maybe they had been??? ¬†Those store-bought eggs didn’t make it into our house very often. ¬†Instead, my brothers and I would help mum dye hard boiled hens’ eggs on Good Friday. ¬†It’s a tradition I still keep alive, all these¬†many years later!

There are a number of ways to dye the eggs using various natural vegetable dyes such as beetroot and spinach juice, or dried onion skins.  An easier and foolproof way, is to use  ready-made egg dyes.  One of my sisters-in-law sent me a packet this year Рthank you Veronika!!

It’s best to dye the eggs just after they have been boiled and while they are still warm. ¬†I put all my eggs into one pan (no, not into one basket!! ūüôā ) and covered them with cold water. ¬†When they started to boil I set the timer for six minutes.

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While the eggs were cooking, I prepared the dyes.

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The packet contained five colour papers: ¬†red, orange, green, blue and yellow – a rainbow of colours! ¬†ūüôā ¬†Since yellow does not really change the colour of brown eggs, I added that in with the orange. ¬†Into each cup were put two tablespoons of white vinegar, 250ml of boiling water, and one dye-paper.

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Once the eggs had finished cooking, I briefly ran them under the cold tap, before they went into the dye bath, one at a time for each colour.

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They emerged totally transformed!!

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Bit by bit my egg box was filling up with wonderfully coloured eggs!  Below are the last four:

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This is a picture of the dye I used for this batch of eggs.  You should be able to find something like that on one of the internet mail-order sites or in your grocery store?

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To make them shine, the eggs can be rubbed with a little bit of olive oil.

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Baking a cake in the shape of a lamb is another Easter¬†tradition in my family. ¬†Some years ago, I was lucky enough to inherit my grandmother’s baking tin. ¬†Nowadays, if I am home for Easter, I will bake at least one cake in that mould. ¬†For the cake recipe, I looked at¬†Gaston Lenotre’s¬†Desserts and Pastries. ¬†It’s a wonderful book, full of very precise and easy to follow recipes. ¬†I used his¬†Genoise recipe, a very light sponge cake.

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The ingredients are very simple:  eggs, sugar, flour, butter and vanilla flavoured sugar!

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Three eggs are mixed with 78g of sugar and the vanilla flavoured sugar in a heat proof bowl РI used the bowl of my stand mixer for this.  The bowl is then set over boiling water, and the eggs are whisked for one minute Рno more!  I then put the bowl on the mixer, and whisked the egg/sugar mixture on high speed for two minutes, and on medium low speed for another five minutes or a little longer, until it was cool and very white and thick.

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While all the whisking was going on, I brushed both halves of the mould very carefully with melted butter, and gave them a light dusting of flour, to prevent the finished cake from sticking to the mould.  I also melted 23g of butter for the cake mix.

When the egg mixture was ready, I sifted 78g of flour over it and folded it in gently.  Then I added the melted and cooled butter, and folded that in too.  The finished mix was poured into the mould, and the cake was baked in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees for 30 minutes.  For the first cake I had set the oven to the wrong function (regular convection rather than fan-assisted), so the cake did not turn out from the mould as easily as it should have.

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I baked another one right away, using the fan-assist setting, and it turned out near perfect!

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And here they are Рdecorated with a dusting of icing sugar and some tiny bells hung with red ribbon around their necks, and surrounded by some dyed eggs!

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Do you have a special Easter tradition?  Would you would like to share it with me?

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‚Äôs what!¬† Next thing was to find a recipe for the mutton chops I‚Äôd 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 ‚Äď 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‚Äôs 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 ‚Äúspecial interest‚ÄĚ it‚Äôs 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 ‚Äúmy‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôve subverted that tradition.¬† Not drastically though, but time available meant that baking the buns on Saturday night was not possible, and I didn‚Äôt want to get up super early to have them ready for breakfast on Easter Sunday.¬† A cunning plan had to be devised and here‚Äôs how!¬† Saturday lunchtime I mixed up my dough, using the spice mixture given by Elizabeth David in ‚ÄúEnglish Bread and Yeast Cookery‚ÄĚ (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‚Äôs called good ‚Äúoven spring‚ÄĚ.

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