Weekend cooking – what to plan when the forecast could change

Well, let’s be frank, it’s been quite a week in the forecasting world. Here at weathertrending towers – and elsewhere in the meteorology community – there’ve been days and days of teeth-gnashing and head-scratching trying to pin down this weekend’s forecast. After days of indecision and lack of agreement by the computer models, at least the themes are there; for most, cold and generally dry, but there could still be a few changes, especially in the south of the UK.

Anyway, I have to be honest, even though the nights keep drawing in, I don’t really feel all that cold yet. Yes there’s been the odd moment of car-scraping, and a couple of nights of, “perhaps a bed-sock?” pontification (last weekend). But that’s it. Mid-November indeed.

But there are frosts in the forecast, so this weekend, I want food that will equally sit happily with me whether I’m cold or not, something satisfying but not too stodgy, and options, options, options. I want to be able to play around with the positioning of meals and whether or not I can eat them hot or cold. So I can swap this all around at will, depending on how I’m feeling.

It’s 18/19 November, and I’ll be cooking…

Saturday:

The Weather – A frosty start then most places dry and bright with the exception of some light rain in the south around lunchtime. A few wintry showers in the far northeast. Temperatures around 7 Celsius in the north to 12 Celsius in the south.

Lunch: Pumpkin soup

Supper: Spinach, pine nut and feta pie and tomato salad

Sunday:

The Weather – Another frosty start then dry and bright until cloudy and light and patchy rain edge in slowly from the west through the afternoon. Temperatures for most only in the mid to high single figures. 

Brunch: Huevos Rancheros and Bloody Marys

Late lunch: Leg of lamb and gravy or pulled lamb with mint and pomegranate, treacle sponge

The shopping list (assuming a well stocked pantry):

  • Pumpkins (or save yourself – and your knife – some real hassle and buy a mix of canned pumpkin and prepped butternut squash)
  • Two bags of ready made chicken stock
  • Creme fraiche
  • 500g fresh spinach
  • Feta cheese
  • Pine nuts
  • Mixed baby tomatoes
  • Avocado
  • Lime
  • Lemon
  • Celery
  • Big Tom bloody mary mix
  • Small tortilla wraps
  • Ready made filo pastry
  • 3kg leg of lamb
  • 6 red onions
  • Small bunches/pouches fresh thyme, rosemary, coriander and mint
  • Pomegranate seeds

The plan:

Saturday –

Up on Saturday morning and I’m leaving the troops to it for breakfast. There are enough eggs being used over the next two days that I’d steer clear for now, although a quick bacon sandwich is always welcome. But I want to get on with the prep for this afternoon’s meals, just a little bit of work now to save time later.

I’m not a vegetarian, but I know that some who read this are, and anyway we’ve plenty of lamb coming tomorrow so I’m happy to have a day off meat today (if I’ve resisted the earlier bacon). The first time I tried the spinach pie on my children I thought I’d get a resounding rejection, but actually they quite liked it. The older eaters among us adore it, and it’s equally delicious hot or cold. I’ve tried lots of recipes over my years, but among the easiest is this one from Waitrose. The thing it doesn’t tell you to do is to lose some of the spinach liquid, and I’d recommend you do so after you wilt it (use the back of a wooden spoon to press it), because otherwise the pie really can end up being a soppy mess. I prepare mine in advance and throw it in the oven later at the appropriate moment. I’ll decide later whether we’re having it straight from the oven or not. Meanwhile I’ve made a nice little zesty tomato salad out of the mixed babies. I love the greens, yellows and reds all sat together happily marinating through the afternoon.

I’ve gone for pumpkin soup for lunch because I have some pumpkins left over from Hallowe’en. They’re still in great shape, and I can chop them up any old way with impunity to get to the flesh. I’ll also take the time to clean and then salt-roast the seeds; they make the most glorious popping sound when we eat them, and if I manage to stop the hordes demolishing them all straight out of the hot oven, then I’ll sprinkle some on the pumpkin soup. Speaking of the soup, I’m not going to patronise you with a full recipe… you know to sweat some onions, brown off the pumpkin, cook the lot in some chicken stock and seasoning and then puree and serve with creme fraiche. If you want to add a different dimension, then try adding a bit of apple. Green for tartness, red for sweetness.

Sunday –

Sunday will dawn cold and frosty, and I think when most people finally drag their toes out into open air they actually will want warming up. Huevos Rancheros are the perfect start to a chilly day with their chilli heat which can be dialled up or down according to taste. We’ve no big plans in our house on Sunday so a Bloody Mary is just the accompaniment. I’ve drunk a lot of these over the years, and I have to be honest, I think they’re done best in the US…I shudder when I think of the disappointment of a can of plain tomato juice mixed with shelf vodka and a jar of worcestershire sauce half-heartedly pushed my way: “help yourself”…that is not a Bloody Mary. However, if you can’t be bothered to properly make your own, run, don’t walk, to get a bottle of Big Tom’s. Serve with a celery stick and slice of lemon. Bliss. As for the Huevos Rancheros, Dr Google has a multiplicity of recipes, but this one from the ubiquitous Helmsley ladies is a cracker. I make a less faffy guacamole though, and I serve warmed mini tortillas on the side.

Helmsley and Helmsley’s Huevos Rancheros

 

Probably even before I’ve started the huevos, but certainly after I’ve mixed the Bloody Mary, I’ll get on with the lamb. (Don’t forget to turn on the oven, you know who you are – Ed.) I’m giving two options for the lamb here, depending on how traditional you want to go and how warmed up you want to be. You can’t go wrong with Jamie Oliver’s leg of lamb and gravy, although I prefer potato and carrot mash to celeriac (feels so 90s and Cool Britannia, and did any of us really like celeriac?), and I also mess with his timings. I always want lamb to fall apart like it does in Nigella’s shredded version, plus I love the long, lingering smell as it slowly putters away over the course of the day. So, with either recipe, it’s 5 hours of cooking for my lamb leg (yes I know Nigella calls for a shoulder but a leg works equally as well), but in Jamie’s case I’ll turn up the heat at the end to crisp up the skin. Nigella’s lamb with pomegranate is lighter and and less wintry but the tart and tangy pomegranate seeds work beautifully with the mint and lamb and it’ll be my favoured option on the day. Serve with couscous or mash, and some vegetables, and a bit of the cooking liquor, but don’t make the mistake I did the first time I made it and forget to skim off the fat first.

And finally, to the treacle sponge. I could direct you to Felicity Cloake’s “How to Make the Perfect…” column in the Guardian every single week for a recipe, but her treacle sponge is steamed and really, who has the time? I grant you, it’s the proper way. I understand it’s sacrilege to bake a sponge. I wrestle with my conscience, but the paper, kitchen string and pudding basin remain untouched. This BBC Good Food recipe is the best oven version out there. Enjoy! Happy weekend. x