The problem with photography (and this will come as a shock to you all, I bet) is that there is just no way I can make it convey how fantastic this marinade smells. I have considered the alternatives, and come to the regretful conclusion that it will just not be practical to send you all some – what with international shipping rates being what they are – so you’ll just have to take my word for it, I’m afraid. But really, mentally add cumin, garlic and black pepper to orange and lime juice and rum, and then pretend you don’t believe me, I dare you. I would have drunk it, if it wasn’t full of raw pork.
The food police have taken over in my office at the moment, and my guess is that yours isn’t much different: it’s January, and therefore nice food is Not Allowed. I am plotting the revolution as we speak. Come join me behind the barricades – there will be banana cake (with chocolate bits in! oh, the decadence), and these pies, and of course anything that you fancy bringing along. Be careful which friends you bring, though: no-one will be allowed to gaze covetously at any mid-morning snack while they tuck forlornly into their third Ryvita of the day – these people will be unceremoniously evicted from the brotherhood.
It perhaps does not reflect very well on me as a person that I am entirely intentionally bringing in pies for lunch, while what seems like the whole of the rest of the office munches their way through salad after salad. I could be worse, however – I suspect there are those among us who are actively pursuing the make-everyone-else-fat-so-I-look-thinner school of January dieting, otherwise known as bringing in all the spare Christmas chocolate biscuits for everyone else to eat.
What nobody except you and I needs to know, though, is that these are secretly very healthy pies – you see all those vegetables? Easily enough to cancel out the butter in the pastry, by my reckoning (although I do have a record of not really subjecting these hypotheses to proper scientific analysis. Please don’t do so on my behalf, though – ignorance is bliss, after all). In all seriousness, these are packed with good things: squash, spinach, lentils, chickpeas – the lamb is almost a secondary concern. They include more vegetables than meat, and more pulses than either – perfect for a January weekday lunch. If you want to up the filling-to-pastry ratio, just make the pies bigger, or make pasties instead, or serve this for dinner with rice and pickles. It’s delicious either way.
I had a spectacular recipe fail last night – the kind where you skim through a recipe, thinking about how delicious your dinner is going to be (after all, what could go wrong with the combination of lamb dhansak and shortcrust pastry?) and completely fail to notice that making it will require your undivided attention for several hours.
In this case, it was necessary to chop a mountain of ingredients (including butternut squash, the most unwieldy of all the vegetables), brown the meat, simmer for an hour and three quarters, leave to cool, then encase in pastry and bake. Easily acheivable on a weeknight, no? We had cheese on toast for dinner last night, at 9.30pm, while a pot of delicious-smelling curry simmered away on the hob in the next room, fifteen minutes into its 105-minute-marathon.
I have lots to share with you at the minute – there’s some recipes, and also the benefits of wearing legwarmers to work – but my train was delayed on the way home, and I have spring rolls to eat and an episode of the Bake Off urgently requiring my attention, so instead of writing up one of the recipes that I have already cooked for your reading pleasure, I made a whole new one to tell you about. Illogical? Me? Surely not.
Actually, I might also tell you about the legwarmers now. Mine are a particularly fetching pair of rainbow-striped ones that I bought millennia ago, in my teens, but you can wear whichever style you like (kind, aren’t I?). Underneath trousers would be my recommendation, though, unless your workplace’s dress code is a lot more relaxed than mine.
Snow! It’s quite an event, here in England – put aside any hopes you had of a) travelling anywhere or b) having a conversation with anyone that isn’t about precipitation, and rush to the supermarket for essentials (bread! milk! loo roll! Quick! the thaw isn’t due until Monday!) before heading out with wellies and sledges to career precipitously down a hill towards what would be a busy A-road if normal service was not temporarily suspended.
Or, if – like me – the absolute last thing you want to do is go outside when it’s minus several and the vengeful weather gods are throwing tiny bits of ice down the back of your neck, you could stay in and make this chilli. For very little effort, you could have the best kind of winter food simmering away on the cooker for a few hours, wafting tempting smells through the flat. This leaves you free to huddle under blankets watching Jonathan Creek and laughing at all of the expensively- but inappropriately-dressed women getting out of shopping-laden 4x4s and shouting expert instructions on how best to ascend an entirely frozen 1:8 slope to their husbands (this happens more often than you might think, in Bath).
I know the ingredient list looks a bit long, but odds are you’ve most of it knocking around the house anyway (tinned tomatoes? beans? cumin? And don’t pretend you weren’t more concerned about stocking up with beers than with milk on that last emergency run to Tesco, because I won’t believe you).
You might have noticed already that my flat must be pretty much full of citrus fruit (it is quite a small flat, a few oranges alone can have this effect) between the months of December and February. In between experimenting with how many jumpers it’s possible to put on before movement becomes impaired, leafing longingly through recipes for peach cobbler and barbecued mackerel, and staying inside, this month I have mostly been eating blood oranges. After all, the upsettingly short season coincides perfectly with the time of the year that we most need a mouth-puckeringly tart orange to pick us up, so it would almost be rude not to.
So, when I remembered a recipe for blood orange curd in Diana Henry’s gorgeous new book, Salt Sugar Smoke, – a book I leafed through, with my stack of post-its to hand, until half-way through I realised that almost every page had a marker on, and gave up – I was powerless to resist. After all, what better way to immortalise the taste of these fruit than to make them into a bright, tangy curd? Well, as it turns out, quite a few: possibly even just leaving them in a bowl on the side would be a more effective preserving method than making this curd. Like (I presume) most home-made curds, it only keeps for two weeks in the fridge, and then three days once opened, but this is no reason to eschew its charms.
Straight in today, readers: I am a convert, and so should you be. Not only does sourdough make an excellent addition to your table setting, it tastes far more interesting and keeps better than ordinary bread – not that it ever hangs around long enough in my house for that to be very useful.
You could argue that there is no need for me to be baking my own, as the bakery around the corner from my flat sells an excellent version (this being the bakery that I also go to to create change for the car park whenever I drive to work – this looks bad for my waistline, already), and up until I was handed a plastic tub of sourdough starter at the weekend, I would have agreed. However, it turns out that making it is surprisingly easy, and being the kind person that I am, I wanted to share this fact with those of you who don’t live minutes away from a small bakery.
It requires only faith, and patience. You needn’t worry about your faith being mis-placed, either – according to cutting-edge research (by which I mean John’s brother’s school science experiments, ten years ago), the only way to actually kill yeast is to pour bleach on it. Anything else just sort of …slows it down, for a bit. Add this to the fact that any flour prepared from any grain contains easily enough dormant microbial activity to get your starter going (and this I have on rather better authority: Sandor Katz’s Art of Fermentation), and you will find that it’s pretty hard to do wrong.