My good friend B1 has been out of town a lot, for personal reasons that I won't go into on this blog. Recently she was back, and hinted shamelessly at me about lamb shanks and creme caramel. So what could I do but comply? I even managed to put this together on a weeknight by dint of moderate planning ahead.
I didn't quite manage enough forward planning to get market lamb, so I had to get the shanks from Woolworths, who sell them as whole bones, not the easier to manage French trimmed version. They're not particularly cheap - they averaged about $4.50 a piece, which for the actual amount of meat makes it's cheaper to buy a hunk of rump steak.
I do actually remember when they were cheap - the offcut bit, good for a soup, or a cheap family meal, but not fit to bring out for company. That was before the revival of the slow cooked homestyle food in fancy restaurants. My Mum hasn't kept up with the trends, and a while ago was horrified when some visiting friends chose to eat lamb shanks at a fancy restaurant. To her generation, it sounds like ordering spam. But really, it's good - I remember trying to bags the shank end of the lamb roast whenever possible. Sticky, tender and full of flavour.
I more or less followed this recipe from allrecipes.com.au, which involves browning the meat & veg, then a slow cook in red wine, tomatoes and stock, with lots of herbs, and in my addition, some strips of lean bacon. For six lamb shanks, that's two tins of tomatoes and a whole bottle of red, then stock to top up. Then it's overnight in the huge cooking pot in a very slow oven (120) - my slow cooker was too small to take them. Simply reheat for dinner. I served it with mash, which I enriched with a little leftover cream, and frozen baby peas. Half the shanks minus bone, and most of the veg and sauce went into the freezer, to be a ragout later on. With the Italian tomato, garlic and rosemary flavours, it should go well with pasta.
I had leftover cream, of course, from the creme caramel. This is another easy one to cook ahead, I made the caramel on a Monday night, baked the custard on Tuesday and served them on Wednesday. In this case, I used a Maggie Beer recipe, from the Maggie's Harvest book. I looked up several to get the proportions, and decided to use the one with the whole eggs. I have too many egg whites in the freezer already.
The importance of numeracy comes in here. Check the recipe and see if you can spot the problem!
Recipe: Maggie Beer's Creme Caramel
4 large eggs
125g caster sugar
1 vanilla bean
First, make the caramel. Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat until sugar is dissolved. Continue to heat until it turns into a dark amber colour - watch carefully when it first starts to turn, because it can be quite quick to change. Pour the hot caramel into 4x120ml capacity individual ramekins, and swirl a little to get it around the edges. Leave to set.
Heat the milk and cream together with the vanilla bean and scraped out seeds. Bring to just off boiling, then remove from heat and let cool. Overnight is fine. Later, make the custard by beating the eggs, sugar and re-warmed vanilla infused milk together. Strain this into a jug.
Prepare a large roasting tin with a folded tea-towel on the base, then the caramel ramekins. Pour the custard into the ramekins in situ, then gently pour hot water around them to soak the tea towel. Fill up as high as you can manage around the edges of the ramekins, without getting water into the custard when you move it.
Bake in a 180 degree oven for 25 minutes, or until set. Allow to cool in their water-bath, then refrigerate until ready. To serve, run a knife around the edge of the ramekin and invert it onto a plate. The caramel will mostly have dissolved into a sauce, though if you've done a thick layer there may be some left.
Notes: Actually I reduced the sugar in the custard from the 145g in the recipe, and slightly changed the milk/cream balance because I had low fat milk in the house. (Hers: 375ml milk, 190ml cream.)
And did you spot it? If the eggs make up about 200ml, then what we have here is about 650ml of custard. This is not going to fit into 4x120ml ramekins! I spotted the need to get more ramekins - I used six. I also increased the caramel amount by half, which I think was unnecessary, since the caramel layer came out much thicker than it needed to be.
Making the caramel dark gives it a bitter-sweet sharp edge, which makes the dessert more interesting and less cloying. You can make it a bit lighter, if you prefer.