I realise that I may have let you down, there – after the passion fruit crepes were so expertly timed to coincide perfectly with Shrove Tuesday, you may have been expecting something slightly more romantic, come Valentine’s Day, than …flatbreads. You would have been forgiven for demanding oysters, perhaps, or quail in rose petal sauce, or at least something – anything! – with chocolate in. Unfortunately for you, I dislike oysters only marginally less than I dislike having a romantic occasion forced upon me, especially in the middle of a month when it is far too cold to take even some of your clothes off. Nor do I care much for pink, fluff, or restaurants full of whispering couples presenting one another with fluffy pink things. I did tell John that he could buy me a bottle of pink champagne for Valentine’s day if he wanted, as long as he provided me with a replacement boyfriend at the same time. Surprisingly enough, he declined.
In the spirit of the thing, though, just in case you have recently found the love of your life, I imagine you’ll be wanting to fatten them up so that a) none of their clothes fit, so that they have to stay inside, with you, and b) they can’t run very far anyway even if they did make a break for it. This was my tactic. If you are after ideas, this pie should do the trick.
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 recently introduced a new system into our kitchen. John received this news with the usual whole-hearted enthusiasm that he reserves for my systems, but nonetheless, I think you will agree, it is an excellent system. Here is how to try it out:
Take one set of post-it note page markers, in four colours, and a selection of recipe books. Mark your pages as follows. Colour 1: “Mmm, this looks delicious”. Colour 2: “I was so right, this was delicious”. Colour 3: “Tried it, not brilliant, but edible”, and Colour 4: “That was dreadful. Let’s never sully our palates with this again”.
Clear winner in the most-used recipe book category turned out to be Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey – which ended up with a veritable forest of post-its (until I ran out of the “delicious” colour half-way through, that is, forcing me to abandon the whole idea until more could be procured).
My intention was to cook one of my favourite recipes from the book, – Indonesian stir-fried rice – take some attractive-enough photographs of it, and then tell you how you, too, can share the joy. However, due to the kind of minor roof-related issue that results in an indoor water butt made from a margarine tub, some hosepipe and a bin, none of the light switches downstairs are currently operational. This means that the only photograph I have to show you is the one above, quite a long way off both attractive and appetising. I promise you better things next time, and a quite delicious recipe (despite everything) this time.