February 20th 1940 a very special person was born. A person, who had he not been born, I would not be here writing this post right now. I hear your jokes now “and the bad thing about that is?” That person is my Dad and to celebrate his 70th birthday we (Brother, Sister and me) decided to have a special dinner for him, partly because Arsenal were also playing at home that day and he is a season ticket holder so it was a bit easier to eat at home. It did mean I could be left alone in the kitchen to create.
Much thought went into the meal, even asking on Twitter and Facebook for people’s ideas. In the end we went for this menu:
Slow cooked mushrooms with pancetta and mixed green leaf salad.
Lamb shanks with celeriac & apple mash, braised baby onions, carrots and roast potatoes and a madeira sauce.
Toffee apple crumble.
The inspiration for the menu comes from two men, kings of the culinary world, Richard Corrigan and Michel Roux Jr. All recipes are from just two books and one fo the reasons I went for this menu was the idea of taking two quite differing chefs and seeing if you could put their cooking styles together. The menu actually is mainly Richard Corrigan as only the recipe for the shanks and the onions are from the Le Gavroche cookbook. The rest is from The Clatter of Forks and Spoons.
I went to town on this meal, well actually I went on line. The veg was ordered from Gregg’s Veg. Who is Greg you ask. Well it’s Greg Wallace of Masterchef fame and lately on my blog as owner of Wallace & Co in Putney. It really was an experience getting the veg. It arrived the day before the meal as ordered, so fresh that when I opened the box the smell was amazing. The last time I smelt veg like that was in a farm shop. A great mixture of root veg, fruit and salad. Just for you Greg, “cooking doesn’t get tougher than this”.
The meat also ordered on line from Broadstripe Butchers. Broadstripe is the sister company of Fairfax Meadow, suppliers to some of the best restaurants in the country. You may think that may make them very expensive and well, they’re not cheap. I did shop around but had to have the best quality for the meal and when you consider that including delivery, the shanks were cheaper than the big name supermarkets there was no question as to where I got my shanks from. When they arrived, they looked good, perfect size and already trimmed for me.
Saturday arrived, I go into town for a few last minute forgotten items. Nothing major, oh and I needed an easy brunch so I didn’t have to worry at home. Thank you to the Fudge and Pie Man for yet another great pasty. Big enough for me to get e through to the evening. I get home, Dad almost on his way out, wife just leaving to get her hair done. A quiet house and an empty kitchen awaits so to the cooking. Here is where I tell you that this post is really about how to cook a big meal without having to spend the evening in the kitchen and not with your guests and not detailing the recipes.
I start with getting the shanks off in two batches as there were 7 of them. Braised in chicken stock, carrot, celery, onion, garlic, bouquet garni and peppercorns. Braised for about 2 hours which gave me time to prep the other food. I peeled the potatoes and rested them in water, same with the celeriac, carrots and baby onions. I rest, I tweet, I have a coke. The shanks are ready so they are turned off the heat and left to cool in the stock, this is about 11 a.m. Cooked well before needed. The thing is they are then covered in madeira sauce and roasted in the oven which is why you can do the long part of the cooking so early. While the shanks are on I put the mushrooms in the oven, my god hey look good before they go in, Portobello mushrooms, garlic sliced and dropped on top, thyme, rosemary and olive oil. On the lowest setting at he bottom of the oven for 3 hours. Yes 3.
I make the madeira sauce, basically the wine, red wine vinegar, shalots and stock from the shanks. It simmers, reduces and left to the side to be heated up later. I have another break as I ponder about when to do the rest and start tohe pudding process which I suddenly realise takes longer than planned. So I boil up the potatoes then roast them almost to readiness. Browned and crispy but not quite done. I take them out, leave them somewhere cool and that frees up the hob again. I cook the condensed milk for the crumble. It’s condensed milk, heated in boiling water keeping the tin sealed for about 4 hours. It turns out to be a think caramel which you then coat the apple with.
I make the crumble and almond cream for the crumble while that’s cooking and am quickly onto the onions. These babies are just amazing, I urge you all to try this. Very simple recipe of baby onions, peeled and kept whole. Brown off in butter, add a good measure of port and reduce. Add lamb or other dark meat stock and simmer for about 20-30 minutes until tender. I added another measure of port while they were simmering as personal preference. Another dish you can leave to cool and re-heat later. I slice up cox’s apples, heat in a pan with butter and sugar to caramalise for about 5-10 minutes. Done and left to cool.
I get the celeriac going as this is cooked in butter and soften that way rather than boiling. Sliced Bramleys are added after about 10 minutes. Cover the pan so the juices don’t escape. The apples produce enough moisture to soften the celeriac. It will take about 2 hours though on a low heat. WIth the only things now cooking being the mash and milk, I have time to shower and change, do my hair, ready for everyone to arrive. I have to add that my wife has been doing a great job decorating the table while I’ve been in the kitchen.
Everyone arrives, the house smells great and we open the champagne. Speeches and toasts are made, presents are opened. I sneak off, laying out the starter plates. Mushrooms quickly back in the oven at a medium heat to warm up, pancetta grilling. Mixed leaf salad goes on the plates with a drizzle of aged balsamic and white truffle oil. Mushrooms on top and finished off with the crispy pancetta. Everyone sits and we serve. Just as I take the food in pour the sauce over the shanks and put them in the oven. Carrots in the steamer are started. Note, I’ve only been in the kitchen for ten minutes maximum since everyone arrived.
Room goes silent, we eat and I look around. I like this part. Watching people eat my food. A few mmmmms and then the comments as plates are emptied. It goes down very well. A very simple starter and everyone says it was so good. Mushrooms taste great and it has a feeling of breakfast with the pancetta on top. Also very good for the large main meal to come. I pop out to the kitchen. I take the shanks out and replace them with the potatoes. The shanks go on the hob for the sauce to reduce more and keep them warm. The celeriac and apple is roughly mashed, it smells like apple sauce with a twist. The onions are heated up in the sauce.
I pop back in for some more wine and general chat with everyone. I’m planning to time this well so it’s not too quick but people aren’t complaining they’re hungry before the main turns up. I give the potatoes ten minutes. Run into the kitchen, pile the mash in the centre of the plate, put the shanks on top, carrots and onions round the side. The potatoes go in two dishes for everyone to help themselves. If it tastes as good as it smells I’ll be happy. Finally touch, sauce drizzled over the shanks.
We eat. We go quiet again. Again I love it when food does that to people for the right reasons. My wife is not a fan of lamb and it was a risk, she can’t stop eating it. The sauce I think is the key. My brother in law who isn’t a fan of onions gives them a try. They were just a token addition to his plate really. He tries them so much I should have cooked more. The shanks are so big everyone is stuffed. Just what I planned as the dessert is a bit more difficult to have ready.
I go in the kitchen while the table is cleared. Pastry, cooked earlier and ready made I add (sorry to the perfectionists but pastry is an art and I can’t do it justice). I pour in the almond cream and heat up the apples, coating with the toffee made earlier. They are then poured on top once the toffee has melted fully. I then cover with crumble. In the oven for about 30-40 minutes. Everyone had their choice of topping, vanilla ice cream, double cream or creme fraiche.
We continue to drink and food seems to be a big topic. Jokes of me doing ‘Come dine with me’ or Masterchef. No thanks, I say, not having people poke round my house and they would be out on the first night if they were rude. Masterchef, tempting but I know i wouldn’t do it justice. I need time and planning. Everyone is ready for pudding, It’s good, very sweet but good. Not too many dishes emptied this ime mainly as were all stuffed. The boys finish theirs off.
More wine, port and much lounging around feeling well fed. A great family night for a very special occasion. It’s all gone smoothly, no mistakes, nothing forgotten and not spending all the evening in the kitchen. I spent it with my family. The washing up……………. that was left until tomorrow.
Mushroom starter, celeriac & apple mash, toffee apple crumble all from “The Clatter of Forks and Spoons” by Richard Corrigan.
Braised lamb shanks with madeira and braised onions from the “Le Gavroche Cook Book” by Michel Roux Jr.
Suppliers for this meal
Lamb shanks from Broadstrip Butchers www.broadstripebutchers.co.uk
Veg from Gregg’s Veg www.greggsveg.com