Saturday, April 18, 2015

Linden: Easter dinner

In England, we get a four-day weekend for Easter - Good Friday and Easter Monday. On the Thursday leading up to that weekend, me and Chris returned to our favorite restaurant - the Theo Randall at the Intercontinental in London.

This is the kind of place where Papa would say to Mama, "Our children have become accustomed to a luxurious lifestyle", despairingly. It is expensive and fancy, in a restful, luxurious, enjoyable kind of way. It also has the most amazing lemon tart, and amazing chocolate cloud cake, and also the beef ragu that inspired me to find, try, and add to regular rotation my pork ragu. And this time, we happened to be there on the day his new cookbook came out, and Theo Randall came out to talk to us and sign his book for us. (It turns out, his ragu tastes better than mine because he adds a stick of butter at the end.)

Now I don't buy a lot of cookbooks (usually, they are finicky and fiddly and either super fatty, use super expensive ingredients, or lots of simple carbs), but I bought his, because it has all three of those recipes. And it was super worth it, because it had a recipe for leg of lamb that I used three days later for Easter dinner. It called for butterflying, which I had not done before but was pretty easy (plus, it meant we did not have to cook a massive leg of lamb for just three of us. I did cut it into thirds and froze the other two portions). Then I seared it and put it in the oven to finish. We had it with a traditional roast dinner.

Plus Yorkshire puddings (which always seem to come out 3 minutes after you've sat down to eat). Every time I cook Yorkshire pudding with roasts that aren't beef, Chris says to me, "but Linden, why are you making Yorkshire pudding? We're not eating beef." BECAUSE THEY ARE DELICIOUS. And, because it's not like the English have ever been able to accurately and faithfully cook any other culture's food, they have no leg to stand on. And, ALSO, because some midlanders told me recently, that in Yorkshire, the HOME OF YORKSHIRE PUDDING, they make it with everything ever, and this roast beef thing was just made up by southerners. SO I WIN. Yorkshire pudding with everything!
The best thing about Easter was that while I was cooking Easter dinner, he and his mum did the spring gardening, and our garden now looks less like a wilderness.

And then for dessert, I made a french apple tart, which . I had a moment when making this where Chris asked, "Is this hard to make?" And I said, "No, it's pretty straightforward, I'm not sure why I didn't make this years ago" and then had to backpedal - BACKPEDAL - because in the negotiations of how often I cook this, Chris thinking it's straightforward is not in my interest, and in reality, it's not exactly Level 1 dessert making (brownies and cookies); it's more like Level 4 or 5. You have to make the tart crust and chill it, prepare the filling, and peel, core and quickly&regularly thinly slice your apples and then arrange them on the top of the tart. I didn't make it 4 years ago because it would have been really hard then. But it is so worth it, except that it disappears so quickly? And Chris got really upset that I sent some of it home with his mum?

It is SO GOOD that I'm including the recipe here. Set aside at least two hours unless you are an apple peeling ninja. (Modified from here)

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup butter slightly softened
1 egg yolk
3 T cold water

1/2 cup butter, softened at room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 egg yolk
1 T Cognac or calvados or apple brandy (traditionally it's made with calvados, which is a French brandy made from apples, which is different from apple brandy, which is American brandy made from apples. You can substitute cognac, which is what I did because it is more flexible and if I'm going to buy a big bottle of spirits that I'm going to use 1T at a time, I'd rather it work in more than one dish.)
2/3 cup ground almonds
2T all-purpose flour

3-4 medium sweet apples (I used gala) peeled, cored, halved and thinly sliced.
Powdered sugar for sprinkling on top.

1. Pastry: Stir together flour and salt. Add butter, egg yolk and water, and stir until the mixture forms large crumbs. Add water until you can form a ball. Wrap the ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 mins. (Pastry dough easily lasts 2 days in the fridge if you're doing this in advance. Wrap it well, and don't leave it next to bananas or onions, because dough picks up fridge odors.)
2. Frangipane: Cream butter and sugar. Mix in egg and egg yolk. Mix in cognac. Mix in almonds and flour.
3. Roll pastry dough out to a 12 inch circle. Put in 10-inch tart or pie pan. Press into bottom and sides. Prick with a fork and flute the sides. Put back in the fridge and chill until firm.
4. Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Place a baking sheet inside oven while it preheats, on a lower rack.
5. Spoon frangipane into chilled pastry and spread into even layer. Arrange the apple slices in an overlapping spiral pattern. Each slice should have one edge pressed into the frangipane until it touches the pastry base, and then overlap the previous slice. Start at the outside edge, and work towards the center.
6. Place the pie plate on top of the baking sheet in the preheated oven. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the filling begins to brown. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Bake for another 10 minutes, then sprinkle sugar over the top of the tart. Return to the oven for 10 more minutes, or until the sugar caramelizes slightly.

Done! Eat warm.