Tom’s parents were staying in Oxford for a couple of days last week, so there was a trip to Blenheim Palace and a bike ride along the beautifully autumn lit river on the loveliest October day I have ever seen, and a trip to a local gastropub (with a newly acquired Michelin star! Thank you Anne and Richard) and there was also, on the first evening, dinner at our flat. A flick through ‘A Year In My Kitchen’ reveals many sumptuous looking things with the potential to delight guests without looking to have tried too hard (which is what you want, of course), but we settled on the lamb with prunes, chilli, coriander and spice mix, served with the sweet potato puree as suggested. For dessert: well, Tom was eating it too so obviously it had to be the chocolate tart. No matter how often I pointed plaintively to the walnut and honey tart. Or the prune and armagnac tart. Not everyone likes nuts and dried fruit in their desserts as much as me, yes, I get it.
And it was a success! Well, Tom’s mum asked for the recipe, which is generally a good sign (and I’m getting to that soon). This is, essentially, a lamb stew, with the tender meat and brothy sauce you would want and expect from such a thing, but the eastern slant gives it an added heat and depth. I got back late and ravenous and drizzled on from my yoga class on Friday and heated up some leftovers which I chucked some chopped up spinach into and poured over couscous and very restorative it was too.
The sweet potato puree was, well, OK. I generally prefer my side orders to be a bit more structured and less smooth, but it’s my own fault for being such a slave to serving suggestions. And the tart? The tart was more of a baked chocolate mousse with firm edges (making something that needs at least 2 hours to chill as an after work dessert is a risky strategy). The leftovers went in the freezer, where, um, they didn’t last long after we discovered that frozen chocolate mousse with firm edges is very tasty.
And that’s it for AYIMK. Sometimes life does insist of getting in the way of my cooking and not all books get an equally fair hearing – unfortunately for this one, it was a busy week. A shame, because it really is beautifully designed – not one but three bookmark ribbons! In different colours! – and the toolbox concept made a lot of sense. I should add that there were other recipes tackled that I didn’t manage to write up here, some of which were particularly good: baked quinces with honey, cinnamon and vanilla which I still have in the fridge, an interesting take on houmous with yoghurt, mint and those roasted spices again; some less so, including a cauliflower and gorgonzola soup I didn’t like (but then I don’t like cauliflower or smooth soups) and a lentil, cumin and red pepper soup that was just OK.
Lamb with prunes, chilli, coriander and spice mix Serves 6
1 boned medium leg of lamb (I had about 600g meat)
1 tbsp olive oil
large bunch of coriander, washed, leaves and stems separated and stems chopped
3 red onions, peeled and finely sliced
2-3cm piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp tamarind water/tamarind paste (see notes from previous recipe)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 red chillies, with seeds, finely chopped (I used one deseeded chilli for spice-sensitive souls)
2 tbsp roasted spice mix (see previous recipe)
1 litre good chicken stock (I didn’t have any so used vegetable)
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
3-4 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
100ml tamari or soy sauce
75ml maple syrup
200g prunes (without stones)
juice of 1-2 limes
Cut the lamb into approx. 5cm pieces, trimming away any fat. Season it generously with salt and pepper. Place a large, heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat and add the olive oil. When it is very hot, brown the lamb (in batches if necessary so it isn’t crowded). Turn the meat to colour all sides but don’t move it too much. When browned, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate.
Pour off any excess fat from the pan and lower the heat. Add the onions and stir for around 5 mins until softened. Add the ginger, tamarind, garlic, chilli/es, spice mix and chopped coriander roots (you can use the leaves as a garnish). Cook for around a further 5 mins. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the tomatoes, bay leaves and cinnamon and bring back to the boil if necessary.
Put the meat back in the pan, cover, and turn the heat down. Cook for around 45 mins. I’ve reduced the amound of stock called for in the original recipe as I found ours too soupy and took the lid off for the last half of the cooking time – you may need to do the same to reduce the sauce to your liking.
After the 45 mins is up, the meat should be almost tender. Add the tamari, maple syrup, prunes and lime juice. You will need to use your judgment to balance the flavours as you want them – you might need more or less tamari, maple syrup or lime to get the mix of salt and sweet. Stir well, turn up the heat slightly and cook for a further 30 mins. Before serving scatter coriander leaves over if you like, and serve with sweet potato puree and salad, or wilt some spinach into the sauce and serve with rice, couscous or potatoes.
Sweet potato puree with tamari, maple syrup and chilli Serves 4
2 large sweet potatoes (about 750g)
1 small red chilli, halved, with seeds (I used a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper – see spice-sensitive, above)
small bunch of coriander, washed
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
2 tbsp maple syrup
Peel the sweet potatoes and chop into rough chunks, then place in a saucepan with the chilli (if using). Cover with cold water, add a pinch of salt, and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 15 mins until very soft and drain.
Put the cooked sweet potatoes in a blender. Add the coriander (leaves and stems), butter, olive oil, tamari, maple syrup and cayenne (if using). Puree until very smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning. You can gently reheat this if it cools down before you’re ready to serve.
Chocolate ‘tart’ Serves 10
butter, to grease
285g good quality dark chocolate, minimum 64% cocoa solids (Valhrona is suggested, but I’m not extremely rich so I used Divine)
565ml double cream
6 egg yolks
170g caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 130c. Butter a 25cm tart tin (my biggest tin was 23cm so I used that). Break up the chocolate into small pieces and place in a medium sized bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the bowl isn’t touching the water. Allow the chocolate to melt on its own, without stirring (I don’t know why, but I obeyed in case something awful happened if I stirred). Once melted, remove from the heat and slowly stir in the cream. Allow to cool slightly.
Put the egg yolks and caster sugar in a separate large bowl and whisk for 5 mins until the mixture is pale and looks to have doubled in volume. Slowly pour on the melted chocolate, stirring gently.
Place the buttered tin on a baking tray (this makes it easier to get in and out of the oven). Pour in the chocolate mixture and bake for 40 mins until lightly set but still wobbly in the middle. I may not have left mine for quite long enough (smaller tin = thicker mixture) so perhaps err on the side of less wobbly.
Carefully remove the tart from the oven and leave to cool. Once cool, chill in the fridge for 1-2 hours. The consistency should be almost like a set mousse. Ours was chilling for about an hour and was more mousse than set…but still tasted good, if you like extremely rich chocolatey things. Which I gather most people do.
Adapted from Skye Gyngell’s ‘A Year In My Kitchen’.