4th December 2011
Snowed In Sunday
Winter Wonderland

I Went to visit Doctor Jenny in the arctic wastes of Dundee this weekend.
She's been assiduously trying to lure me up there for weeks now with the promise of fine dining in the Bridgeview Station Restaurant that she's discovered. There may be ulterior motives however - Jenny's new cottage has an AARGA and she's been trying to figure out how to actually use it for anything other than burning toast, so I said I'd bring up something to cook in it.

After she told me some horror stories about roasting a chicken for 6 hours, I decided to make a Raan - since it's already marinated in yoghurt to break down the fibres and soften the meat I figured it would be the most forgiving of time and temperature. Jenny bought an oven thermometer and reckons that here AARGA sits sullenly around 180°C, so I figured a good 3½ hour roasting would do for the joint, plus half an hour R&R (for the joint, not for us. Jenny's not that kind of girl).

AARGAs are funny things. Massive iron blast furnaces of undeterminate and uncontrollable temperatures, Jenny's AARGA started off too hot for the slow cooking of the Leg of Lamb, and ended up too cool to simmer beans. Jenny's AARGA also has only two hobs on top that, though large, are not quite large enough to cook more than half of two pans at the same time.
Since most of my cooking involves frantic last-minute frying that became a bit of a problem, so I had to schedule the hob-work more carefully than usual.
Fortunately keeping things warm is the AARGA's speciality.

On Thursday afternoon I bought a nice leg of lamb from a friendly butcher near my work, having clearly forgotten that legs of lamb are now obscenely expensive. Of course I could have bought a leg sealed into heavy duty plastic bag along with a pint of blood and what looks like semen from a not-so-local supermarket for slightly less, but one does what one can for the remaining independent shops.
I made up a quarter batch of tandoori paste, burnt it whilst frying, threw it away, made up another quarter batch of tandoori paste, then smeared up my Raan and sealed it in about 20 plastic bags before putting it in the boot of my car.
Now my car smells like an Indian takeaway.
I also planned a Kalpna Bainghan Bharta which goes quite well with the leg of lamb, and uses up some of the leftover tandoori paste too. So I puréed up a batch of onions, garlic and ginger to take with me.
You can never be sure what you'll find in Jenny's house.

I figured I'd decide what staple (rice/chapatis/naans) and other dishes I'd make when I got there, and I went for rice (Jenny had a jar of long-grain rice) and a dal (Jenny had a jar of green lentil-pea-things).
We got the lamb in the top oven (uncovered) at 4 o'clock (optimistically announcing dinner for eight), went shopping (Jenny loves shopping), Put the pricked and greased aubergines and onions in the oven about 5:30, got the dal simmering about 6:00 and started frying up the Bharta (which took quite a long time).
I cooked up the rice in some ghee to nicely coat the grains, simmered them covered with twice their quantity of water and a little salt, squeezed onto one of the hobs for five minutes or so until the water had disappeared to the level of rice, then stuck it into the AARGA's warming oven at about 7:15.
The lamb came out to rest at 7:30 (so far so on time!), the augergine and tomatoes went into the bharta and I started frying up the tarka to finish off the dal. Unfortunately after so much cooking effort the poor AARGA had cooled off to tepid, so the tarka took rather longer to caramelize the onions than I had anticipated, and the dal wasn't finished until 8:30. Still, the rice, bharta and raan went onto the table at 8:00 sharp.
Another partial success!

For dessert we used some of the meringues I had left over from Stir-up Sunday (and which I had re-baked to try and dry them out some) to make a messy Eton. And we learned that it isn't a good idea to mix in the meringues too early lest they dissolve completely into the cream and fruit.

We had planned a nice balmy 707 sail on Sunday, so we got up at 7:00 to set off in good time.
We had not planned on finding the first snows of winter piling up on Jenny's doorstep and covering all the land, and we had not planned on getting trapped on a steep icy hill with sliding cars blocking our progress ahead and behind. Eventually after a Landrover appeared and towed the cars out of our way, we gave up and returned to Jenny's for a second breakfast.
So we discovered two things:
  1. Jenny was wise to have just bought a 4x4 if she ever wants to leave her home in the winter months.
  2. 4x4 vehicles are not magic, and may still do massive skids narrowly missing trees and drainage ditches if you take icy corners too fast.
I set off out again on my own after second breakfast to try and make the second yacht race at Port Edgar, Jenny having mustered some pathetic excuse about having work to do; but things were still not exactly plain sailing (HA!). I made it as far as the M90 without incident (by a longer but flatter route), only to find that the motorway was closed due, apparently, to an overturned horsebox. So I had to wend my way through the backways and byways down to the marina, consoled only by the thought of a motorway strewn with skidding, sliding horses like baby giraffes wearing roller skates.
Hey - I get my jollies where I can!

curry side veg
Spicy Indian lentil soup
Here's a Dal I made up from the stuff at the back of Jenny's cupboard.
Obviously you can use any legumes you like, with any spices you like - I fancied the small jar of aniseedy powder I found labelled 5 spices though it wasn't any I recognised.
You can also add any vegetables you like to the lentils (cauliflower, potatoes, tomatoes), use any flavoured liquid (stock, coconut milk, juice, wine), and fry tomato purée with your tarka if you fancy.
There are probably as many Dals in the world as there are lentils.
Ok, pans of lentils.

Serves 8

Wash your lentils well and pick over to remove any boulders.
Cover with water in a fairly large pot and bring to the boil.
Skim away any foam which rises, then add the slices of ginger, crushed garlic cloves, chillies deseed a couple of chillies and slice them in if you want the Dal hotter, and simmer gently for 1-2 hours depending on the lentils. You want the beans to be on the verge of falling apart.

To Serve:
Before serving make the Tarka:
Heat a couple of tablespoons of ghee and add the cardamom seeds for a bit, then the smaller seeds until they sizzle and release their aroma.
Add the sliced onions and fry gently until they turn golden and caramalize this can take a while - watch they don't burn!
Meanwhile crush up some of the lentils in the pan to make a bit of sauce, adjust the consistency with more water if necessary,
adjust the salt, add some yoghurt and chopped coriander and stir through.

When the onions are ready, add the powders, stir briefly, then pour the hot Tarka over the lentils so it sizzles, and cover to contain the delicious flavours.
Warn your guest not to eat the whole cardamoms or ginger slices. Unless they want to.
I quite liked the touch of yoghurt to lift the flavours.

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