This Mother’s Day, being unable to go to a restaurant because of the virus plaguing the world as we speak, I decided to cook the mega-est Mother’s Day Meal I could think of. And, why not learn some cool new cooking skills along the way? Of course, none of this could have been possible without my family’s personal chef and all-around legend, Gale Lawler a.k.a. my mum. She held my proverbial hand the whole way (not my literal hand obviously, as rolling pasta would have been pretty tricky without it); passing on her cooking wisdom, tips and tricks to a novice like me.
Now, for the menu. Thankfully, I managed to procure all the ingredients from the supermarket. A tricky task in these panicked stock piling times but I did have hope that people probably wouldn’t be stocking up on duck or sea bass fillets. However, these are unprecedented times so everyone’s meal times could be morphing into the middle class’s midweek dinner table. To start. Duck ragu with homemade pappardelle. For main. Sea bass on Provençal lentils. To finish. French strawberry tart.
The idea for the Mother’s Day meal starter actually came from arguably one of the most entertaining food shows on our screens – Come Dine With Me. One of the contestants made a duck ragu with homemade pasta. Somehow, seeing a woman drape her homemade pappardelle on a clothes horse finally gave me the push I needed to try and make homemade pasta for the first time. And, what a joyous experience it was.
For the pappardelle I used good old Gordo (Gordon Ramsay’s) recipe for saffron pasta dough (this time just minus the saffron) from his book ‘3 Star Chef’. This of course was per mother’s recommendation. Feeling the dough come together in my hands while kneading was so satisfying and to finally get to the point where the dough bounced back when prodded was a joy to behold (well at least for me). I was most nervous about rolling out the pasta dough as so many times on TV and in videos you see people become tangled in the long strands of golden dough (I bet you thought I was about to trail off into the fantastical tale of Tangled, rest assured I am more of a Frozen fan). However, with my mum’s guidance this process became easier and easier with every roll through the machine. Gale’s tip: The quicker you roll the pasta through the machine the less time there is for things to go wrong or for the pasta to get stuck.
This was possibly my favourite course to serve to my diners as it arguably looked the most impressive. With an artful drizzle of the cream and chive sauce around the bed of lentils topped with the sea bass fillet the only thing missing was the garnish, the seemingly pointless but oh so necessary bit of green (cue the chive strands atop the fish).
I must say, this recipe was truly faultless. For the lack of work involved the flavour was phenomenal. This especially applies to the sauce. Consisting of four ingredients, the sauce was as easy as pie and could be paired with many other fishes and alternative sides such as a fillet of baked salmon with new potatoes and steamed asparagus (see my previous post ‘Simple fish dishes: the ideal midweek meal’). Erin’s tip: season the sauce with plenty of cracks of black pepper, don’t add salt as the stock provides more than enough.
I was definitely most excited to prepare this course. My mum is the Queen of desserts (me not so much) and I wanted to impress her. Not that I am a perfectionist or anything. How many times have we been on holiday to France, strolling down a quaint cobbled street only to stumble upon what looks like the warmest and most inviting bakery? This is always followed by what me and my dad think is window shopping only to find out that mum drags us in just to grab a couple of things for after dinner. Cut to us walking out of the shop ten minutes later with a collection of macarons, three different fruit tarts an éclair and some other choux filled loveliness. This is why this course meant so much as in these times of isolation I thought I would bring the twee Parisian bakery to her with my French strawberry tart.
For this delight of a dessert I had to make my own sweet shortcrust pastry (having never made any kind of pastry before) and homemade crème patissiere. However, having the guidance of a woman who has been making pastry and custard for tens of years I somehow wasn’t fazed by this prospect.
The first step was to make the sweet pastry. The recipe I used was from the Pieminister cookbook ‘A Pie for all Seasons’ by Tristan Hogg and Jon Simon. After combining the ingredients in a free-standing mixer and kneading the pastry for a few seconds until it came together it was time to chill (the pastry of course, I still had another two courses to make). As this was a rich dough which could prove tricky to handle the recipe recommended chilling for at least 4 hours. I can tell you that at the end of the 4 hours the chilled pastry was more of a pastry brick so we had to wait for it to thaw a little in order to roll it out. With my mum’s help we rolled the pastry onto a rolling pin and then onto our pastry case tin but not without casualties. Half the tin came out lined with the pastry but the other half had to be patched up. However, once baked it was thin, tasted exactly like a shortbread biscuit, as the recipe stated, and was well worth the work. Gale’s tip: don’t be too fussy. If it crumbles you just patch it up. It’s not the end of the world.
The next step was to make the crème patissiere. Something I had always wanted to make but which is normally Gale’s job and which I have to say she is a bit of a legend for in our household. My dad has even been known, after a glass of wine or two, to stand over the bowl late at night greedily spooning it into his mouth. The process went smoothly and it was far easier than I had anticipated, just be patient when waiting for it to thicken. The tart as a whole looked beautiful and tasted so. Not too sweet because of the genius addition of some lemon zest into the custard. Gale’s tip: keep whisking the custard constantly when it’s on the heat. The bottom can catch quite quickly.
I hope this inspires others to take on a few new cooking tasks while they spend more time at home in the coming weeks. I would encourage you not to be so scared of tackling the shortcrust pastry you’ve always wanted to make for that pie or of wrestling with those seemingly never-ending sheets of pasta to ramp up your lasagne. Mostly, I learnt to listen to my mum more (as we all probably should) because she certainly knows her stuff. Happy (belated) Mother’s Day mum.