28 April 2011

Bournemouth Echo "Jenny's Week" blog : Easter Sunday lunch : I'm getting better at it!

The Bournemouth Echo have posted my newest blog, so at last I can tell you all about the Easter Sunday lunch!

The following post can be seen in situ here

It’s not so much that last Easter Sunday’s lunch was a disaster (in truth, I can’t remember last Easter!), but more thinking back to the last time I cooked for anyone other than immediate family, it was a long, hard old slog.

I’d arranged for my parents to come over on Boxing Day last year.  I wanted to have a special celebration dinner, so I’d been cooking for a couple of days previously and the cooking on the day seemed to take FOR EVER.  I can remember pots steaming on the cooker top, me sitting peeling quail’s eggs for what seemed like an aeon and hubby washing up the pots as quickly as they appeared, only to have them dirtied again in a second.  It wasn’t chaos, but it was very close to it.

A rather hurried and particularly poor, snap of the assembled dinner!

So, when I invited my parents over for Easter Sunday lunch, I resolved that this time I’d learn from the previous time’s lesson – and not over face myself.

I’d decided, fairly early on, that we’d have a piece of pot-roasted brisket of beef, as not only is that gorgeous, but it almost guarantees a piece of tender, flavoursome beef with the added bonus of some lovely stock with which to make a superb gravy.

Hubby placed a request for another of the Ottolenghi Fennel & Cherry Tomato Gratin, and I decided to do some Boulangere potatoes, as I could prepare them ahead with the Gratin and both could go in the oven and be forgotten about until they were done.

The accompanying vegetables went from steamed curly kale, through tender stem broccoli to what we settled upon, which was stringless runner beans (because they’re forgiving to cook) and some British asparagus – because if you can’t eat asparagus at such a time as Easter, when can you?

The preparations began early on Sunday morning, when I seared the Beef almost before I’d had a cup of tea.  Through bleary eyes I turned it this way and that, making sure every side had a good colour, whilst trying not to get in the way of the exploding fat.  Having made a complete mess of the cooker top, I chopped up a couple of carrots, a leek and some celery, bashed a couple of garlic cloves, added a handful of fresh parsley plus some dried sage and crumbled in an oxo cube to a stockpot full of water.  Into its bath went the piece of brisket (with some seasoning), on went the lid and I sat and waited for the whole lot to boil.  Once it was boiling briskly, I turned down the heat to the minimum required to keep the pot simmering – and went for that cup of tea.

A little while later – and in a much improved frame of mind – I set to on the preparation for the two oven-bound dishes.

Half-way through, just added crumble & tomatoes
First thing was to make some crumble for the Ottolenghi fennel dish.  That done, I was able to use our Mandolin food slicer (after a cautionary word from hubby about how having to go to Casualty at that stage would seriously put the dinner back) to slice up the three fennel bulbs and the potatoes for the Boulangere.

The finished article - ready to be served
The fennel gratin is true testament to the magic that Ottolenghi brings to their dishes.  Cooked with garlic, thyme and cream, the fennel stops tasting like fennel and tastes utterly different.  With the sweet crumble on top, together with the oven-roasted cherry tomatoes, every mouthful takes on a character all of its own.  It’s a gorgeously rich but light, creamy but crunchy, sweet but sharp delightful flavour and texture combination.  I heartily recommend it to you!

The Boulangere potatoes couldn’t have been easier to put together, now I’d got the Mandolin to help out.  Previously, the long old process of attempting to slice potatoes to even thicknesses – and all without cutting your fingers off – would have been enough to make me think twice.  However, with the Mandolin I just pop a peeled spud into the holder and slice away knowing that my fingers are safe from harm and lovely evenly sliced spuds await.

Just butter the baking dish and add sliced onion & chopped garlic in layers with the potato.  Pour over just enough stock to keep everything moist, add the obligatory knobs of butter to the surface and cover over until you’re ready to put it in the oven.

As for the fennel dish, it can be prepared up to just before the adding the crumble stage, whereupon it will wait, covered, until you’re ready.  Then just add the crumble and pop in the oven.  You just need to remember to put the tomatoes on top somewhere near the end of cooking, so that they will be baked nicely.

After that, it was just decanting some of the stock from the beef pot to make the gravy and preparing the beans & asparagus.

I’m really not sure I did manage to carve the meat – it just sort of fell apart, rather than stayed in lovely carved rounds.  However, it was deliciously unctuous and beefy – and went so very well with the lovely horseradish cream.

Yes, I think I got this one right.

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