The best-laid plans of Mice and Me. (No, this is not a recipe for mouse)

These little lamb cutlets remind me of synchronised swimmers with their legs in the air.

So, I was completely taken by surprise by the long weekend we’ve just had.

This isn’t really something one should be taken by surprise by, it’s slightly more normal to be surprised by guys with knives and rubber masks, potholes, unfortunately-timed burping, or caterpillars in a salad (which happened to me at boarding school, we kept him and called him Lazarus. True story).

The thing was, quite simply, that I didn’t know that there even was a long weekend – and so hadn’t done any of the things that one generally does for long weekends – like plan a trip to Warmbaths.  And then when one discovers that everyone you know is going to Warmbaths and that you’re faced with three days in an empty city, where most of everything is going to be shut and the rest will be absolutely bananas full of the few people who are not in Warmbaths, it’s suddenly a bit depressing. Which is not the point of public holidays or long weekends.

So, in preparation for this longer-than-usual weekend, I started a list of things that could potentially fill up my time, which started to look something like this:

  1. Wake up with cat on face.
  2. Remove cat.
  3. Have a bath.
  4. Go to shops. Realise they’re mostly closed and/or full of people who look like they’ve been feasting on the warm remains of their own young.
  5. Come home.
  6. Eat toast with marmite.
  7. Go back to shops to buy loo-paper.
  8. Try rent a DVD, but discover that the only thing that hasn’t been taken out is Land Before Time XI: The Invasion of the Tinysauruses (this is real, look it up).
  9. Go home without DVD.
  10. Have another bath.
  11. Realise it’s only 10am.
  12. Shoot myself.

Which, I think everyone can agree, is a crappy plan.

I clearly needed a bold strategy to take this weekend and show it who’s boss. Which is how I came up with this alternative:

  1. Go to pub.
  2. Drink and watch sport for 48 hours.
  3. Spend Monday crying from hangover.

This felt way better. It was direct, it was simple and drew heavily on my perceived healing power of beer.

In reality, the idea of reverting to a mental, self-centered, alcohol-fueled idiotface, similar to when I was an incredibly strange-looking BA student at Rhodes, was appealing. The last couple of years spent trying to do a vague impression of a grown-up had meant neglecting the casual reprobate in me, and so it was nice to feel like a special weekend had been set aside for me to act like a giant moron in.

Which is how I learned the following (yes, another list):

  1. Drinking for two days is a lot harder than it looks. Seriously. It’s harder than re-packing electronic equipment into the box that it came in, with all the special polystyrene holders that are meant to make it easy and convenient but somehow make everything take up seven times more space.
  2. Bar-stools are really tough on one’s ass after a while.
  3. Reading The Economist in bars attracts the wrong kind of attention.
  4. It’s difficult to feel positive about life when all your teams are rubbish and lose.

Because of this, Monday wasn’t the recovery day full of weak-but-satisfied groaning that I thought it’d be, but … just another day really. Which meant, obviously that it was time to pop in Land Before Time XI: The Invasion of the Tinysauruses, fire up the oven and spend a bit of quality time with my kitchen and a bottle of something or other.

Just a quick aside, I’m planning on changing the look of this page, it’s waaaaay overdue for an update. So, if anyone has suggestions for a couple of simple, clean layouts that could work, please let me know!

Purple Basil Pesto crusted rack of lamb with cheesy, wet polenta

I’d popped by one of the organic markets that cling to their existence in the suburbs of Johannesburg, and found that one of the stalls had a supply of purple basil – which you don’t see everyday, that meant of course that I had to buy it.  Purple basil is not all that different from regular basil, perhaps just slightly more peppery in its flavour. The major difference is that it’s purple, which is great for looking superior in front of your friends.

This is a recipe that relies very simply on the quite strong, not-to-everyone’s-taste flavours of lamb and polenta. I didn’t want to oversauce it or drown it in mint or rosemary as is usually the case with lamb recipes – I wanted a more subtle accompaniment to the meat  that would lend it a fresh, herby quality without overstaying the welcome. As such, this isn’t probably going to be to a lot of people’s taste – lamb is tricky that way – but I will say that this did produce some of the most delicious tomatoes I’ve had in a while.

Ingredients (for 4)

1 tspn minced chili (whatever your favourite happens to be)

2 cloves of garlic

2 big handfuls of purple basil

1 handful of pecan nuts

olive oil

salt

pepper

1 rack of lamb, trimmed

2 large handfuls of rosa tomatoes

2 cups of water

3 quarters of a cup of polenta

a big handful of grated pecorino cheese

What to do

In a pestle and mortar or a blender, add the basil, chili, garlic, nuts, and a healthy pinch of salt and pepper and start to bash/blend the crap out of it.  As you go – keep adding olive oil so that it retains a loose/wet quality – you want this to be fine and slightly runny, rather than thick and pasty. Keep bashing/blending until everything has been completely reduced to a fine herb-porridge, adding olive oil as you go. This should also make more than you need, and just pop whatever you don’t use in a jar and put in the fridge. It’ll keep nicely for about a week.

Rub the rack of lamb with a bit of olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Get a compact, high-sided roasting tray, and place the rack of lamb in it, skin/fatty-side down, then put the tray directly onto your stove-top on one of the large plates, and turn it to a medium heat. Let the lamb sizzle gently away for about 4 or 5 minutes letting some of the fat melt into the dish and the skin begin browning. Then turn it over and let it brown on the other side.

Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees celsius. Remove the lamb from the tray onto a cutting-board, and then with a sharp knife, slice down in-between each rib about three quarters of the way. Then just start packing the pesto into those cuts and rubbing it over the rest of the  lamb as well. Another sprinkle of salt and pepper, back into the roasting tray and you’re good to go. Before you slap it back in the oven, scatter the tomatoes around the lamb (you can slice them in half if you prefer – I find they soak up more flavour that way…) and cover with a tiny dash of olive oil.  All that’s left is to let it all roast up in the oven, for about 30 minutes or so if you want it medium-done and pinkish, about 40 minutes if you’d prefer it well-done.

Pour the two cups of water into a small pot that has a tight-fitting lid, add a sprinkle of salt and bring it to a rolling boil. Now – this is the tricky bit. In one hand have a hand-whisk ready, and in the other – your polenta. Start whisking away at the water, and as you’re doing so, add the polenta in a steady stream. DON’T STOP WHISKING, that’s how you get lumps. The second it looks like it’s starting to thicken, whip the pot off the heat and add the cheese, whisking all the while. Once it’s thickened to the consistency of dense cream, get the lid on and let it steam for about 5 minutes.

Once the lamb is done, get it out the tray and onto a chopping board and let it rest for about five minutes. There should be a lovely little bit of lamb fat in the tray – so shake up the tomatoes in it, and put it back in the oven for another 7 minutes or so. All that’s left is to slice between the ribs completely, separating them into individual portions, spoon the polenta onto a plate, and scatter them with the tomatoes that have roasted in the lamb-fat.

Happy long-weekend.

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