As this week draws to its close, I’ll be in the midst of four days (and nights) in Glasgow for work. Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Four days and four nights of no cooking. That’s the sort of very simple stat that makes me realise just how much I enjoy my weekends in the kitchen these days.
And so it was with that at least partly in mind that I planned the weekend just gone to be a downright kitchen binge.
The first thing on the agenda was a spot of preserving. Specifically, since it’s January and the season of Seville oranges, a spot of marmalade making.
My mother used to make marmalade: when very young, I considered it quite clever to alliterate madly and describe it as ‘mummy-made marmalade’, which also flowed rather nicely. Well, as I said – I was very young.
But with it being the time of year for Seville oranges, my mind had been turning that way for some time.
It seems to be some sort of modern seasonal disorder. No, not making marmalade.
But for the last two Januaries at least, someone has been predicting the impending death of marmalade. Put it another way: some supermarket has been predicting the demise of that lovely stuff.
Through various searches, I found Dan Lepard’s 2010 Guardian article on the subject, in which he rather adroitly responds to this annual hysteria – and then offers up a recipe for Seville oranges.
But then my eye was caught by his footnote about other flavours. I have long liked lemon marmalade – even though, as far as I can recall, my sole experience of it has been the mass-produced stuff. My mind started moving in that direction.
So, on Saturday morning, off I went to Broadway Market – a visit that included a lovely chat with Andy at the game stall about Scottish food in general and Glasgow restaurants specifically; a passionate exchange with Richard at Wild Dartmoor Beef about proposed mass factory dairy farms; a conversation with Vicki about the prospect of David Beckham actually playing for Tottenham, and a gab with Max at La Bouche about … well, about all sorts of things.
At the organic stall, the lemons had some pale green splotches, so I asked the man whose stall it is (I’m afraid I don’t know his name, even though we’ve chatted many times and he's been enormously helpful), whether they’d be good for marmalade.
With a stony face, he informed me that they would be wonderful for lemon curd but that if I wanted to make marmalade, then the Seville oranges were there (pointing). Suitably chastised, I bought 540g of the oranges and a large lemon, and made my way home.
It takes little time to peel all the fruit using one of those y-shaped potato peelers. Then the fruit is roughly chopped and bunged in a large pot with a litre of water. Simmer gently for two hours, then pop a colander on top of a bowl, line with muslin and tip all your fruit and liquid into it.
The recipe says to leave for an hour – and not to squeeze. I didn’t squeeze, but I did leave it overnight. Tasting the liquid the following morning – I don’t think I’d realised just how bitter Seville oranges are.
First thing on Sunday (by “first thing”, I do mean when I eventually got up and after I’d had coffee – this was Sunday, after all) I measured the liquid and topped it up to 750ml. I weighed out 800g ordinary granulated sugar, popped this and the liquid into a big pan and brought to the boil.
As per the instructions, I watched for a temperature of 104˚ – oh, the joys of finally having a jam thermometer! – and gave it five minutes. Then, while I was waiting to see if a splodge set on a chilled saucer, it got another five minutes and, using the same method, another five as I tested a second dollop.
It was beginning to wrinkle, so the hob was switched off. You leave the pan for 20 minutes and then decant into sterilised jars. This really isn’t difficult stuff.
By the evening, it had cooled completely and set softly. I spread a bit of bread with some butter and tried a bit. Absolutely scrummy.
But man cannot lived by marmalade-making alone. So on Saturday afternoon, continuing my heavy-duty kitchen weekend theme, I made petits pots de crème. One of that vast range of French set custards, I flavoured this with chocolate.
For our main course in the evening, I’d bought some cod and grilled that: a good 10cm from a hot element and brushed with butter (that had been melted in one of those miniature copper pans – so there, Other Half: they have a use) and given about 10 minutes.
By that time, I’d taken three anchovies from a pack, dried and then blitzed them in my little Cuisinart, then added softened butter, mixed it all together and rolled it in foil to go back in the fridge to chill.
Grilled cod with anchovy butter: sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet the idea was from The Complete Escoffier, which makes it sounds considerably posier! Sticking with Escoffier, I served it with plain boiled potatoes, and then added some sautéed/steamed leeks on the side.
After I’d set the marmalade cooking on Sunday, it was back to desserts. This time, to celebrate the year's first forced rhubarb from Yorkshire’s ‘Rhubarb Triangle’, three sticks were cut into thumb-length pieces and gently cooked in orange juice, with star anise and cardamom pods until soft but still holding together.
These were popped into glasses and the remaining liquid boiled to a syrup, which was poured over. Leave to chill.
Later, some double cream was whipped with caster sugar and a glug of the remaining Banyuls until stiff, then popped on top of the rhubarb mix and put back into the fridge. This is a Sarah Raven recipe from her Garden Cookbook (apart from the Banyuls, fairly obviously), and I’m rather fond of it.
Our main course was shoulder of lamb, roasted with olive oil, garlic and lashings of thyme. When the meat is resting, decant a drained and dried tin of new potatoes (it’s a cheat, I admit – when the real new potatoes are out, I’d use them, par-boiling first), a tin of cannellini beans and four halved artichoke hearts into the oil, lamb fat, garlic and thyme. Pop back into the oven, turn the temperature up a tad and then leave until the meat is rested and carved.
Phew! But before that, there’d been lunch.
Ever since I’d got that batch of Michel Roux books over the festive season, I’d been building myself up to trying one of his pastry dishes. More to the point – trying some of his pastry.
Roux gives details for a flan pastry – but also for a pâte brisée, which he describes as more delicate and slightly harder to use than the other form of shortcrust. But I wanted to give this a go, since it sounded wonderful and was a new challenge: something slightly beyond what I’d done before in the pastry realm.
It was easy enough to mix with the Kenwood (which really is already coming into its own – thanks, Other Half). Plain flour, diced and lightly softened butter, an egg, a little fine salt and a pinch of sugar are creamed, before a very little milk is added to bring it together.
Once that's happened, you use your palms to push it forward just four or five times to smooth it. Then either use – or wrap in cling film and pop in the fridge or freezer. It'll keep for a week in the former and three months in the latter.
I rolled it carefully, nice and thin, and lined my tart dish, carefully pushing the pastry into each indentation on the side. That was then lined with scrunched parchment paper and filled with baking beans, before chilling in the freezer while the oven heated.
Blind baking done, the beads and paper are removed and it’s returned to the oven for a few minutes more for the base to dry out and cook.
At this point, I realised that it had shrunk a little and I had to patch at one point where I had clumsily managed to put my finger through into the space behind caused by the shrinkage. This needs to be remembered for future attempts. I trimmed the excess pastry from the rim of the dish at this point.
For the filling, I thinly sliced a large onion – the mandolin got another workout – and cut up some streaky bacon. These were cooked together and then spread carefully in the pastry case. A couple of eggs and some double cream were mixed up with seasoning and poured over the bacon and onion mix.
It had around 25 minutes in the oven. Tasty in general, the pastry was a dream of buttery crumbliness. Wikipedia may claim that pâte brisée is ‘just’ shortcrust pastry by another name, but on the basis of this, that’s far short of the point.
One thing that the weekend also illustrated was that it’s no wonder that I struggle with my oven at times. I’ve also got an oven thermometer after such a thing was recommended in the Roux brothers’ French Country Cooking.
It made its debut for the lamb – and I discovered that the temperature barely came actually close to what I had set it for.
I’ll keep testing – if only to make sure that I was not misreading something – but it does explain a great deal.
But that was the one ‘downside’ on a weekend that, if it didn’t quite leave me ready for my Glasgow adventure, did leave me with a very great deal of satisfaction and achievement.