You’ll know by now that a ready-made meal rarely crosses the threshold of the Single Gourmet Traveller’s home. However, there are still times when time is short, life is a little chaotic, and culinary perfectionism has to be thrown aside. Today was such a day. I was in the middle of a rush publishing job (the ‘day’ job), scaffolders were unloading enough poles to string along Hadrian’s wall it seemed, but actually only to cover my (quite modest) house ready for its exterior redecoration. The noise and strange men onsite gave Bella the Cat a minor breakdown, lots of wailing ensued, and she had to be shut in the sitting room. Things calmed down as the day went on. The house resembled something from a Meccano construction but then the scaffolders went, leaving only the lovely Vere, my trusty decorator for 25 years; the cat ventured outside and I took two small lamb steaks out of the freezer for supper. My intention was to griddle them to have with salad but as the day went on … and the central heating went on to keep me warm at my desk … I decided something more autumnal was in order. So, the menu changed to lamb tagine. The dried apricots I had were well past their use-by date so it looked like it would be prunes to accompany the lamb. There was no green salad in the fridge – which I’d normally serve with tagine – but some need-to-be-used courgettes, so that would be my ‘greenery’. Vere was still hard at work in the dying light when I went down to the kitchen at 5 pm to get things going. I wanted the tagine to have time to cook gently, then stand and marinate for a little while before eating it later. All I had to do now was quickly assemble it all and leave it to bubble on the lowest heat for an hour or so while I went back to my desk for a final push on the work.
I fried some onion and garlic in a little light olive oil till beginning to soften. Then I added the spices, about 1/3 teaspoon of each: ground cumin, ground coriander, ground ginger, Ras el Hanout (a wonderful Moroccan spice mix), ground cinnamon and a few strands of saffron.
I cut the lamb steaks into chunks and seasoned with salt and pepper, then added to the pan with the onion and spices. I turned them to colour all over. Then I added a little hot water and let that bubble up, stirring everything well together, before adding a tin of chopped tomatoes. I threw in a handful of prunes, stirred, brought to it all to a simmer, then covered and turned down to a low heat and cooked for about 1 hour. Then I tasted and added a good glug of tamari sauce and about a dessertspoon of maple syrup. And tasted again and decided it needed a little more salt. Remember: taste, taste, taste. Once I was satisfied, I let it all gentle simmer away for about another 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, I prepared some couscous. I put some in a bowl, salted and added a little olive oil then covered it with boiling water and gave a good stir. (Normally, when I’ve more time, I’d steam it after this, but frankly, I couldn’t be bothered tonight and it was OK.) Check it’s tender and add more hot water if necessary. Then add a squeeze of lemon juice and some chopped fresh mint.
I finely sliced my courgette lengthwise, fried in a little light olive oil, then dressed with some extra virgin oil and lemon juice. Now everything was ready to eat.
It was just right. I was glad I’d made a little effort for my supper. It was dark outside and a little wintry. My warming bowl of soothing, spicy tagine with a lovely bite of chilli from the Ras el Hanout was perfect for the end of the day. It may not have been quite as refined as my normal tagines but it was pretty good. Most certainly a lot better than anything ready-made I might have bought (except from The Brula Pantry, of course, after my visit there yesterday!).
And, because it had been ‘that’ kind of day, a girl has to treat herself with a little dessert.
But what seemed appropriate and fabulously easy was a bowl of yogurt with pomegranate and maple syrup: lovely and refreshing after the tagine but with a nice exotic touch from the pomegranate and sweetness from the maple syrup.