March Madness

Lamb Ragu Recipe

Spring at British Cottage
Praying for March to end

Some poets say April is the cruelest month but my bet is on March.  Spring finally gets here but all there is to show for it is a few lousy daffodils gasping for life in a tangle of dead leaves.  The only thing to do when it is still too early for cocktail hour is to hunker down with a good book or two and wait it out.  Fortunately I buy coffee table books like other people buy candy so there is usually a large stack just awaiting  perusal.

"Beautiful" by Mark D. Sikes
Mark D. Sike’s “Beautiful”

One I recently enjoyed was by Mark D. Sikes, whose blog, Chic People, Glamorous Places, Stylish Thingswas such a sensation a book deal followed. Beautiful  All-American Decorating and Timeless Style is the result, an engaging glimpse of a master at work.   In room after room Mark starts with pale walls and pale carpets, then adds another layer, then another with a bit more color and structure and the next thing you know there is a profound sense of elegance and comfort.

And I just love that he is totally passionate about blue and white, something we share here at British Cottage, and something that may contribute to the air of harmony you find in his rooms.  Think of faded blue jeans worn with a crisp white shirt and a fabulous navy blue blazer. The look transcends gender and genre, casual yet always stylish, and that is what, I think, we all wish for our decor.

Looking "Beautiful" at British Cottage
Looking beautiful at British Cottage

Fussy feminine rooms with swags and knick knacks, yuck.  All brown leather and mid-century modern, double yuck.  The best way to describe Mark’s ethos is to evoke Nancy Meyers and her Something’s Gotta Give house.  Nancy is crazy about Mark’s style and even wrote the introduction to his book.  What is her style?  Coastal chic?  Country home casual?  I don’t know what to call it.  But I like it.

This book shows you how it is done.  How to style coffee tables and side tables, add pops of color and accessories, arrange your seating–always tricky–and get it to all to work–even trickier.  If you don’t want to buy the book you can always tootle over to British Cottage; we’ve got all the right stuff to pull this look together.

Accessories can make your rooms beautiful
British Cottage Showroom

Lamb Ragu

But before you curl up with a book on this windy and raw Sunday, now would be the perfect time to take a moment to toss a few ingredients together and cook up a hearty stew.   With fresh lamb in the markets what could be better than this lovely Lamb Ragu?  Just four hours later and it’s buon appetito!

You can do this with lamb shanks but I usually just buy a boneless leg of lamb–it is all in one piece and easier to handle.  Salt and pepper then sear on both sides in olive oil in an oven-proof pot.

Remove the lamb from the pan and add about 4 ounces of diced pancetta and quickly fry –you don’t need to do this but I think it adds tons of flavor to the mix.  Put the lamb back into the pot along with two or three onions coarsely chopped and 5 cloves of minced garlic,  some celery and a carrot or two–I like mine finely chopped so it disappears into the sauce. Then pop in one large can of whole tomatoes and one-half can of a decent red wine.  Add a bay leaf, some thyme, a pinch of hot red pepper flakes and put in a 350-degree oven for 3 1/2 to four hours.  That’s it.  Some will say saute the onions, celery, and carrots first but I say–don’t bother.  You have books to read.

Lamb Ragu

Remove the pan from the oven and shred or chop up the meat.  Put it back into the sauce and serve over the pasta of your choice (I like to use pappardelle) and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.  Accompany  with a tossed green salad, a loaf of garlic bread and a couple of bottles of chianti and even the people who for years have been telling you they don’t like lamb will love it.  Trust me.  Hopefully, they’ll leave you with enough sauce to freeze and you are all set for your next Sunday supper–lasagna.



From Farm to Table

Best Pot Roast Recipe

When I was growing up in Rumson there were several rituals that made summer even more wonderful.  One started on the last day of school and lasted all summer long–going to the beach.   Day in and day out our faithful old station wagon loaded with three, four, five and finally, six kids would head over the Sea Bright Bridge.  Just minutes later we would be in the ocean.

We played in the waves for hours on end while our fingers wrinkled and our lips turned blue; swallowing water and eating sand until we became expert and fearless wave riders.  Our sandcastles were legendary, fantastic creations with moats and turrets topped with treasures from the sea: fabulous shells, smooth stones and colorful glass we found while exploring what we called crab ponds, low tide havens for the most marvelous creatures.

But sooner or later the day would end and we would reload our sandy feet and sunburned shoulders into our trusty wagon and back over the bridge, we would go.  But not always straight home.  At least two or three times a week our mother would stay on Ridge Road and drive all the way to Sickles Farm just over the Rumson border in Little Silver.

Seatbelt free (they hadn’t been invented yet I guess) we would literally bounce along the rutted gravel road through the fields and orchards leading to the makeshift farm stand.  There were bushels and bushels of freshly picked corn, peaches that melted into your mouth, down your shirt all the way to your toes, and boxes of blueberries that with a splash of lemon and barely a hint of sugar made the world’s most delicious pie.

Fast forward fifty plus years and the old Sickles Farm is no more. Although I will always be nostalgic for the olden days, its successor–Sickles Market–is a year-round enterprise completely in tune to the needs of the modern family.  Working mom?  Staying at home dad?  Just a little kid?

Who does not love having the freshest fruit and veg, the convenience of quality prepared foods, a butcher selling wholesome meat, a separate cheese department plus a great bakery right on the premises?  The road may be paved now, and some of the fields sprout townhomes, but the heart of Sickles Farm lives on.

Sickles Market

So it is still a long way to go until summer.  Not sure what to make for dinner on one of these cold, wintry nights? Pop into Sickles Market and buy a nice hunk of beef, some great fresh veggies, a beautiful loaf of french bread and in a couple of hours you will have a meal fit for a king–or a carload of kids.  And don’t forget to pick up a fresh fruit pie for dessert!

From Sickles Market to a British Cottage table–perfect!

The Best Pot Roast

Buy a well marbled four pound-ish chuck roast.  Season with salt and pepper, then dredge the whole roast in flour. Brown in an oven proof pan in a few glugs of olive oil.  Try not to fuss with it too much–brown means brown–leave it alone turning only once until you have it nicely seared. Remove from pot.

Then add some more olive oil to the pan and basically whatever vegetables, chopped, that you like. I used two leeks, two carrots, two celery stalks, one onion and five cloves of garlic.  If you happen to have some pancetta in the fridge dice it and put it in the pot.  Cook for about ten minutes until tender and then add 2 cups of decent red wine, a 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes (squish these) and thyme and rosemary and one bay leaf. Put the roast back in and add about one cup of chicken stock so the roast is mostly submerged.

Cook in a 350-degree oven. After three and one-half hours or so partially cook some fresh baby carrots (leave them whole with a bit of green at the top), pearl onions and baby potatoes, then saute in butter until lightly browned.  (If you are lazy you can skip both these steps and just toss them in your pot roast adding more liquid if necessary, but it makes a nicer presentation if the veggies look pretty and colorful).

After you do this take the roast out of the oven, skim off as much fat as possible and most of the cooked vegetables (you can transfer to a blender and puree the sauce or just make a slurry with some flour and sauce and thicken it that way). Surround with your beautiful carrots, potatoes, and onions on a large platter and spoon the sauce over it.  I like to serve the extra sauce on the side in a gravy boat.

Add a loaf of freshly baked french bread, a tossed salad and a nice bottle of red wine and your meal is complete.

And don’t forget the pie!