North African Spiced Lamb and Aubergine Gratin… and Bakey Eggs

Sunday was Mothers’ Day, so I wanted to make something nice for my mum in lieu of a ‘proper’ present. I still made her a card, and I also wrapped up a pineapple in lovely pink tissue paper (it was to hand, and I wanted her to have something to open. Slightly linear thinking there, perhaps, but it got a good laugh, and she does like fresh pineapple, it wasn’t completely out of the blue.). There are a lot of Mothers’ Day cake ideas out there, but I know that my mum (like me) finds it difficult to resist cake once it’s in the house, and I had no wish to sabotage her healthy eating plan. So cakes, biscuits, buns, bars and bakes were all out. I did have a lovely moment of realisation, though, when it occurred to me that four of us would be at my mum’s for dinner and I’d seen a recipe I fancied trying. I asked if my mum fancied a lamb and aubergine dish and she was pretty keen; I think it was Shakespeare who first said it, but the phrase still holds true: I love it when a plan comes together. It also gave me a topic for my next blog post, so it really was a multi-functional kind of deal.

It’s a dish of three layers; rich sauce made with lamb, tomato and spices; sliced and baked aubergine and a mix of breadcrumbs, walnuts and feta, seasoned with parsley and olive oil. The whole dish is then garnished with fresh mint and coriander leaves. I’m a recent convert to lamb, and mostly use it to make curry or moussaka, so I was keen to try it with other flavours. It was well worth a shot, the flavours come together beautifully without anything being overpowering – I especially liked the fresh mint, which I’ve never used before and didn’t think I would like.  I would say though that I found it impossible to present neatly, and also that I thought the lamb sauce shouldn’t have any added water, but it turned out fine when I followed the recipe – I made the sauce a day ahead to let the flavours really get to know each other, forge lifelong friendships, get married and settle down. You know, before we ate them. I also enjoyed the texture from the walnuts, although I’m not a fan of any kind of nuts because I find them squeaky on my teeth. Other foods which are squeaky on my teeth include halloumi and big prawns – although langoustines are fine. Peanuts have the worst squeak factor of the nut family, with hazelnuts having the least. Despite how this sounds, I don’t have a graph of any kind showing nut to squeakiness ratio. At least, not written down.

I never thought I was a fussy eater until it dawned on me recently that, in fact, I am. Well, I say fussy – I choose to believe that it’s not so much fussiness as that I have specific requirements when it comes to food. Hear me out. There aren’t a lot of foods I don’t like in their own right. Big prawns are bad, because of the teeth squeakery, as are peanuts, and I’m allergic to scallops – which is pretty gutting because I really like the taste of them. Not worth it though, upsets my tummy something rotten, but is something to bear in mind for a last meal request:  ‘You can hang me in the morning if you like, but I’m leaving behind a BIG mess in this cell. Bring me scallops! By the bucket load!’. Sorry… Those are the only foods that I don’t like under any circumstances. There are no other foods that I don’t like, just food combos that hit the ‘no’ button in the taste part of my brain. Raisins in savoury food is an example that I gave in my last post. Hazelnuts and almonds are fine when encased in chocolate (of course), but I wouldn’t eat them on their own. Another is coleslaw in sandwiches – I don’t get it. I’ve tried it, it’s not for me. I like boring sandwiches – tuna mayo with lettuce, cheese and tomato, roast beef… They’re classic sandwiches. I once had a Malteser sandwich. It was good at the time, although perhaps not one to be repeated. I also like to put my dinner in a sandwich – mince and potatoes, all mashed together and put on some buttered white bread, it’s the business.

Enough talk of sandwiches. Back to the gratin. There must be a batman joke in there somewhere – to the grat cave? Perhaps not. As I said, I made the lamb sauce the day before, and on Sunday morning I prepared the aubergine slices, topping and cut up some veg to serve with it. I then put everything in separate Tupperwares to take with me – I’m so organised. I even split the sauce so that the smaller container had exactly two cups of sauce in it, so it was easy for me to layer the right amounts up. I did a similar thing at Christmas – I was making a sticky toffee pudding for dessert, so I measured out all the ingredients into food bags, so that when it came to the day and I was putting together three courses, it was easy to mix the cake up and bang it in the oven, then put the sauce together at the last minute. I also made a big Chinese takeaway one night to take to my parent’s for a big old family get together; I made two kinds of chicken wings, ribs, shrimp fried rice, Szechuan-style trout, beef with mushroom and sweet chili-ginger pork, with some fried rice and plain noodles. It was a lot of work, but really worth it and so much less expensive than a takeaway for seven people would have been. Plus I got to buy those foil containers with lids and pack everything in them, which I found oddly satisfying. Of course, I didn’t realise that they would then proceed to spill Chinese food all down my new coat, but that’s another story.

It still took about an hour for the gratin to go together and crisp up in the oven. It would have been quicker if I hadn’t had a Pyrex dilemma. There was the giant square Pyrex, the smaller square Pyrex, the round Pyrex and then, just to mix it up a bit, the giant metal oven tray. I had the gratin and the vegetables to go in the oven, so I only needed two of these, but which two? I tell you what, if I’d been on The Crystal Maze I’d have been locked in to listen to the sounds of Richard O’Brien’s harmonica fade off into the distance. I went for the giant square one for the gratin first, but it was too giant and the aubergine didn’t cover it, but I thought that the smaller one would be too shallow for all the layers. I went for the round one, which I think contributed to the problems that I had with serving the gratin when it was ready. Luckily, there was mint and coriander garnish to cover up the fact that I was basically just serving up a pile of lamb mince with the occasional lost slice of aubergine and some covert feta-walnut-breadcrumb topping. Still, all in all, it was a success. It looked nice when it came out of the oven, at least. The veg was courgette, red and orange peppers and red onion, dressed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, oregano and mint, then roasted for 20 minutes. I also boiled up some new potatoes – it was quite a plateful, but three of us still managed to go for seconds. For the sake of politeness, you understand. Even though I made it… I wanted to be polite to the recipe writer? You can find the recipe in this book.

Another recipe I wanted to try was eggs baked in ham ‘cups’. It’s a novel recipe and a nice brunch item, for those of you who make brunch. Sometimes I *call* it brunch, but it’s breakfast on a day where I’ve been lazy or hungover, let’s be honest. The recipe is here, although I couldn’t fit two eggs into one slice of ham, could be another Crystal Maze type challenge, maybe there’s a trick to it… I also switched it up and tried using feta, which I preferred. The one on the left’s more of a looker – the one on the right is pulling a weird face. Or maybe the one on the left has pinched the one on the right on purpose. Or maybe the tomatoes are bullying the egg yolk – I think that might be it, in fact. Poor thing. I munched those bullying tomatoes right down, you’ll be glad to hear, with a bit of toast.

Still on the hunt for fleur de sel so I can properly make the cupcakes that I had a trial run at, and still haven’t done a big shopping for kitchen stuff. I am also thinking of treating myself to a new Le Creuset item, although I’m not sure which one. I’m down to the black soup bowls with lids, or the mini purple casseroles, also with lids. Or maybe the heart-shaped ramekins. Or any of the other things that they make, I can’t decide. I’m actually nervous about buying any of it for myself, I suppose it’s all down to not truly feeling like I deserve it, or something like that? Or that it’s not really a good way to spend money – you can buy perfectly practical (not practically perfect) kitchen equipment for a fraction of the price, and I’m not into paying for a brand name because it’s fashionable. Le Creuset is a good brand, and produces high quality gear, but so do a lot of other companies. I’m thinking I’ll take a look in TK Maxx, they sometimes have a good bargain on kitchenware. I also want to get some more pretty serving dishes so I can improve the look of my food photos. Also, to that end, a camera might be a plan, and I should probably construct some kind of background that isn’t my wall, work surface or living room table. Maybe a background with a subtle skull and crossbones on it somewhere…

Off to shop.

Tunes: I love this song, and it’s been chasing itself round my head for weeks now. It’s called Shout Bamalama (or Bama Lama, depending) but I’m renaming it Shout Bama Lamb-a to give it a tiny semblance of relevance. Check out more Detroit Cobras stuff, they rock pretty hard.

Movie: A weird film, but a good one. There is a fleeting reference to scramby eggs in it, which I have appropriated and switched around in today’s post’s title. It’s The Cable Guy, featuring what I think is an impressive cover of Somebody to Love by Jim Carrey: I know that Carreys not to everyone’s taste, but this film shows a bit more of his range – we’re not talking Truman Show, but it’s a step away from The Mask, at least. Also, as a cheeky bonus, yet another clip from my childhood, the oft-mentioned Crystal Maze. This was a programme we would watch together in our house, and one of the better ones, too. In fact, when you compare it to Noel’s House Party, Gladiators and Last of the Summer Wine, the best one. Richard O’Brien is a genius, his inappropriate harmonica playing and asides to camera made the programme. Edward Tudor Pole never stood a chance of replacing him, poor soul.


About Rock Salt

Seasoning while rocking out since 1983. View all posts by Rock Salt

One response to “North African Spiced Lamb and Aubergine Gratin… and Bakey Eggs

  • Joan

    I would just like to say that the North African Spiced Lamb and Aubergine Gratin was completely fantastic and it meant I didn’t have to cook so it was even better. Am totally going to try the eggy faces too. x

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