|Nigel Slater's braised neck of lamb with apricots and cinnamon|
So yet again, Nature gives us two delightful days of late spring weather - the kind that poets dream of, to be replaced in typical British contrary fashion with bloody gales!
As I was walking back home from the market, a large tree heavily laden with fluffy white blossom exploded as I walked past, showering me in a thick pelt of blossom confetti until all you would have seen were my slightly manic beady green eyes peering out confusedly from my new costume. A white van man tooted his horn with laughter, so at least someone was happy. I was feeling a little unsettled.
I tottered shakily home leaving a trail of crushed flowers, only to discover, while looking out of the kitchen window onto my back garden, that the large rug that I had wrestled onto the washing line for a good old-fashioned beating, airing and general spring clean had flown off like a somewhat demented magic carpet and was now lying askew on the dusty vegetable patch at the bottom of the garden. At this point there was a loud thump as a pigeon, possibly blown off-course, flew headlong into the kitchen window, scaring the bejaysus out of both me and the cat. Well I jumped backwards, the cat paused from stuffing her gob for at least 30 seconds (which means something is up) and the poor pigeon limped off looking a little dishevelled. It was turning out to be a rather odd day.
Despite the day's peculiarities, my thoughts and concerns turned, as ever, to what I should cook that night. I hadn't forecast frosts, gales and cold-comfort food. I was ready for a warm weather Mediterranean-style feast and salads; now my plans were coming undone because what I definitely needed was the best type of comfort food but my mind was blank as I was still feeling a little shell-shocked by circumstances.
Which is where Nigel came bounding to the rescue in my hour of need and inspiration, yet again. Such a dear man!
Nigel Slater is always coming to my rescue in the kitchen. I am beginning to think of him in the affectionate light of one those enormous fluffy Alpine rescue dogs; you know the ones with red barrels of brandy around their necks, who plough through terrible terrain and awful weather to help the lost and the lame. In my mind, a trim Nigel has a bright red bandana tied around his neck (possibly a bit retro or I am channelling some kind of Victorian costermonger). Nigel removes his red bandana with a flourish, on which is printed a lifesaving recipe, which he now presents to the bewildered cook, before bounding off in search of more cooks in their hour of need.
The more I think of it, the more I think that this could be the basis of a really good cartoon series. What do you think? A cartoon chef is sorely neglected category - I can only think of one! You think not? An idea perhaps ahead of its time? Just a very bad one? Oh well, it keeps me amused and out of trouble.
But in my mind, Nigel has just waggled a recipe in front of me, saying "I think you may need this" and off he bounds. Thank you Nigel, for pointing me in the direction of page 62 of your fabulous Kitchen Diaries II (and to The Guardian for printing your Braised Neck of Lamb with Apricots and Cinnamon. It ticked all the right boxes for me - it was thrifty and pretty indestructible (lamb neck is one of the cheaper cuts that can endure long, slow cooking - frankly the day I was having I really didn't want to try anything too complicated), a trip to the Mediterranean is always welcome and I adore a good lamb tagine or stew, with the bright fresh flavours of dried apricots, lemon zest and fresh coriander, and the soothing of warmth of a big fat stick of cinnamon.
I was well and truly saved (another hallelujah moment from a Nigel recipe) and not a snifter or barrel of brandy in sight. Although I have to confess that I had liberated a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape from my dear papa the previous weekend (not the sort of wine I can usually afford) and a couple of glasses went down a treat with this gorgeous lamb stew which I served with fat couscous (mograbiah). All now seems rather settled in the Kelly household; the forecast is feeling rather mellow!
Since this is a Nigel Slater recipe, I am entering into Janice at Farmersgirl Kitchen Nigel Slater Dish of the Month challenge, jointly hosted by Sue at A Little Bit of Heaven on a Plate. Janice and Sue are challenging you to cook a Nigel Slater recipe every month. As usual, it is an absolute pleasure. It is never a hardship to cook from one of Nigel's books; his recipes are beautifully written and photographed and an absolute pleasure to read, cook and eat!