Wednesday, 12 December 2012

What I had for tea Sunday night…

…and by that I mean dinner. But I’m from the Forest of Dean and dinner has always been called tea and lunch has always been called dinner. Confusing, I know – but that’s just how we roll.

As you know I love frugality and I picked up a rather nice recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage Everyday’.  It’s a lamb breast stuffed with a lemony apricot stuffing and is truly lovely. And to top it all off – the lamb breast cost me £3.70.  The recipe suggested one lamb breast will serve three people, but lets be honest, it’s winter and I need to get my reserves up – so for today at least, it serves only two!

As it’s cold outside, and was a Sunday, I went with some nice crispy roast potatoes, parsnips and butternut squash – and it really good.  Move forward six months however to (hopefully) hotter and sunnier times, and it would be amazing with a tomatoey couscous and a crunchy salad – and perhaps some crusty bread.  Recipe below – though I halved it as there were only two of us eating.

Roast breast of lamb with lemon and apricots
Serves 6 (yeah right)

2 breasts of lamb , boned, any skin and surplus fat removed
A knob of butter
3 – 4 small shallots (or half an onion), chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
125g fresh breadcrumbs
75g dried apricots, chopped
Grated zest of 3 lemons
1 tbsp thyme leaves
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
Freshly ground black pepper

Make the stuffing/ Melt the butter in a small pan, add the shallots (or onion) and garlic and cook gently until soft but not coloured. Mix the breadcrumbs with the apricots, lemon zest, thyme and fried shallots and add plenty of seasoning. When cool, add in enough egg to bind the mixture lightly.

Lay the breasts of lamb flat on a board and season well. Divide the stuffing between them and spread evenly, leaving a little space at the edges and at each end. Roll the breasts up tightly and tie each with 3 or 4 pieces of string (or special elastic bands from the butcher that is safe to cook).  Season the outside with a little salt and more black pepper.

Place the lamb rolls side by side in a roasting dish.  Put into an oven preheated at 200C and cook for 30 minutes.  After this, reduce the temperature to 150C and continue to cook for another hour and a half.

Transfer the lamb to a warm serving plate and leave to rest in a warm place for about 15 minutes. Cut the lamb into thick slices and serve as you wish – two ideas above!


Sunday, 4 November 2012

Objective 1: Lose a chin by Christmas

Ok so maybe I’m choosing the wrong time of year to do this – but it’s time to lose a bit of weight. My objective – to lose one of my chins by Christmas. I currently have three.

I’ve started doing a bit of the old exercise again, but of course that’s only part of the picture. I have to start eating better as well. For me, my main issue is eating rubbish during the working day. We have a tea lady in the office that comes around twice a day (aptly named ‘the angel with the trolley’), serving up everything that I shouldn’t be eating; chocolate, crisps, fizzy drinks and homemade cakes (including ‘The Gloucester Drip’!).

It seems rude not to buy a little something from the tea lady – she works so hard and everything. However – it’s also making me fat. So, reluctantly, I’ve banned the tea lady. It hurts me deep – but it’s got to be done. Instead, I’ve started making a few homemade things that will hit the sweet spot without having to resort to a Yorkie. I would also like to take this opportunity to set a common 1980’s myth straight; a finger of fudge is certainly not enough.

The recipe below is a variation of one taken from Leon ‘Naturally Fast Food’.  It’s essentially a muesli bar – but for me they lacked a little sweetness and a little too ‘seedy’. In fact my colleague at work thought I was eating one of those ‘brill’ things you put in the garden for the birds. Not good. In response, I doubled the amount of honey (from 2 to 4 tablespoons) and reduced the seed content.  My favourite fruit and nut combination is chopped apricots and cranberries with crushed hazelnuts and flakes almonds – but go with whatever you fancy or as is often in my case – whatever you have left in the house!

Fruity, nutty, oaty bars
Makes 16 bars

270g dried fruit (e.g. apricots, cranberries, sultanas, cherries, pears, dates, figs)
40g nuts (e.g. cashews, hazelnuts, almonds)
Small handful seeds (e.g. sunflower, pumpkin)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
100ml fruit juice (e.g. apple, grape)
4 tbsp honey
60 wholemeal flour
120g rolled oats

3x balls stem ginger in syrup, finely diced or half a tsp ground ginger

1. Preheat the oven to 170C, 375F, gas mark 5.
2. If the dried fruit is whole or in large chunks, either place it in the food processor or finely chop by hand. Do the same with the nuts.
3. Warm the fruit juice and honey together in a pan large enough to eventually contain all of the ingredients until all of the honey is dissolved. Add the flour and oats, and stir in the fruit and nuts.
4. If adding stem ginger, add now and stir thoroughly through the mixture.
5. Smooth the mixture into a 25 x 30cm baking tray about 2.5cm deep. I find it useful to line the tray with baking parchment. Make sure you push the mixture firmly into the tray, right into the corners. This will make sure they can be cut into bars after baking.
6. Bake in the oven for around 25 minutes, longer if you like your bars more crispy and crunchy.
7. Allow to cool, and then cut into rectangular bars.  These little lovelies will last for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Autumn lunches

So it’s officially autumn.  It’s getting colder. Salads no longer cut the mustard when it comes to lunch (or dinner, really).  So this morning I put the old thinking cap  on – what can I make for lunch that’s hearty and warming but won’t cost a lot (there are no particular reasons for the last criterion – other than…I get an enormous sense of self-satisfaction when I make something lovely for almost nothing).

As it happens this week has been crazy at work, so I haven’t had much of an opportunity to do much proper cooking.  Consequently, I have quite a few things that need to be used or they will have to be thrown away (refer to comment above: this option is something I fine REALLY difficult to stomach).  I have celery, carrot, peppers, onions, corn in the cob – all need using up.  A quick root through the cupboards reveals tins of mixed beans and tomatoes.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have landed.  See below.

NUMBER 1: Mixed bean chilli

2 x tbsp. vegetable oil
1 x green pepper (plus I added an extra half left over from in the week)
1 x corn on the cob
2 x medium sized onions
2 x sticks of celery
2 x 400g tins of mixed beans
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
2 x cloves garlic
1 x tsp ground cumin
1 x tsp chilli flakes
½ tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 x tsp sugar
Salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper

Finely slice the green pepper, onions and celery.  Put to one side.

Using a sharp knife, place the corn on the cob on its end and slice the kernels off (watch your fingers – danger of slicage). Put to one side.

Heat the oil over a medium heat in a large saucepan and add the green pepper, onions and celery.  You want to sweat the ingredients, so make sure it’s not too hot and browns.  This should take a good ten minutes or so.

Stir in the corn kernels, followed by the tins of tomato, garlic, cumin, chilli flakes, cayenne pepper, sugar and seasoning. (It might sound a bit odd adding sugar, but the tinned tomatoes can be quite harsh and acidic – this takes the edge off).

Place the lid on the saucepan, and simmer for a good half an hour.  Then add the mixed beans, put the lid back on and simmer for a further half an hour – longer if necessary.  You don’t want the beans to start falling apart, but equally you want the sauce to be nicely combined and a little ‘jammy’.

Check for seasoning – and you’re away!  Either eat straight away or place in containers in the freezer.  I managed to get 4 individual portions out of this – ready to be taken out of the freezer the night and reheated at work.  Serve with whatever takes your fancy – rice, couscous, thickly cut white bread and butter.  However, in contrast to what the advert suggests, Rivita is a massive no no here!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The best Bolognese I’ve ever eaten

According to a TV program I watched recently, Spaghetti Bolognese is one of Britain’s most ‘normal’ meals and as such lacks any real excitement.  But it’s become ‘normal’ because everyone likes it so much. In my opinion, if it’s done well, with good ingredients, with care and attention, and cooked slowly – it can be a meal for kings.

I recently came across a recipe from a new cookbook I bought; ‘Leon: Naturally fast food’. The book has a section called ‘slow fast food’, which is all about making big pots of loveliness and freezing them in small tubs for later when time is limited.  The recipe used turkey mince. The idea of this appealed to me, in the sense that it’s cheaper (ermmm, hello?) and it is a way of cutting back on red meat which, unfortunately, I succumb to far too regularly. On the flip side however, I was concerned that it would quite simply taste rather nasty tasting, anaemic and poor substitute for an absolute classic. But I gave it a go nonetheless!

I am happy to report however that it was quite the opposite.  You actually can’t tell it doesn’t contain beef – it’s just an extra lovely, soft textured, delicious Bolognese. This is absolutely one to try – especially if you are a Bolognese doubter or if you think Bolognese is a bit too common.

Becky – I insist you make this within the next week. And please report back!

Turkey Bolognese

2 onions
2 cloves garlic
250g mushrooms
600g turkey mince
½ tsp chilli flakes
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
2 level tbsp. tomato puree
325ml red wine
500ml chicken stock
A large dash Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper

1.      Peel and finely chop the onions and garlic, and slice the mushrooms.
2.      Heat the olive oil in the pan, add the onions and garlic and cook until they are starting to brown. Add the turkey mince and stir until browned all over.
3.      Add the chilli flakes, mushrooms and seasoning and cook for a few minutes.
4.      Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, wine, chicken stock, Worcestershire sauce and thyme.
5.      Simmer gently on the hob with the lid on for an hour and a half, making sure it doesn’t boil. Add more chicken stock or water if it appears to be drying out.

The recipe above is exactly how it appears in the Leon cookbook.  I have also made a version and added a grated carrot and finely sliced stick of celery with the onions and garlic and that was just as lovely (and added a bit more goodness).

Serve with all of the usual trimmings!
I currently have a few tubs in the freezer and used one to make a mid-week lasagne recently – really, REALLY good.

Ps. I promise I’ll accompany posts with photos soon ;-)

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Ermmm the best carrot cake in the world!

I went to a friend’s wedding recently and I was asked, with a bunch of other people, to make a cake or two to bring to the party in the evening. The venue provided the barbeque and then everyone else bought cakes to share – lovely idea! So I set about making two cakes; a chocolate fudge cake and a carrot cake. Before I went I assumed the chocolate fudge would go down the best. As it turns out, the carrot cake was the runaway hit…and I’ve had several requests for the recipe. Somebody even said it was the best cake they’d ever tasted! That’s right. So here you go people.’s taken from ‘Frame-by-Frame baking’...sadly can't take credit myself!

For the cake
6 fl oz sunflower oil, plus extra for greasing
175g/6oz light muscovado sugar
3 eggs
175g/6oz grated carrot
85g/3oz sultanas
55g/2oz walnut pieces, broken up if whole
Grated rind of 1 orange
175g/6oz self-raising flour
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg

For the icing
200g/7oz cream cheese
100g/3 ½ oz icing sugar
2tsp orange juice

To decorate
Strips of orange zest

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a 23cm/9 inch square cake tin (though I used a round one and it worked just as well).
  1. In a large bowl, beat together the oil, sugar and eggs. Stir in the grated carrots, sultanas, walnut pieces and orange rind.
  2. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and nutmeg together into the bowl and mix evenly into the carrot mixture.
  3. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake in the preheated oven for 40 – 45 minutes, until well risen and firm to the touch.
  4. Cook the cake in the tin for at least 5 minutes, then turn out to a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. To make the icing, combine the cheese, icing sugar and orange juice in a bowl and beat until smooth. Spread over the top of the cake and swirl with a palette knife.
  6. Sprinkle with strips of orange zest and serve!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

For the love of lunch!

I get so bored of the standard lunch fare.  It’s so easy to end up eating the same old thing, day in, day out.  Cheese sandwich. Tuna sandwich. Ham sandwich. Alright you can mix it up with a nice bit of chutney or coleslaw or something like that…but it’s essentially a cheese sandwich. I need variety! Don’t get me wrong – sometimes a good sandwich is exactly what the doctor ordered. But sometimes I just need something different.

So I’ve been making a conscious effort to try and change this. Hunt out lunchtime options that don’t take long to make at home and don’t loads to make. So – here are three of my favourites…just for your tasting pleasure.

Cold sausage, potato and tomato box

This is something I found in the River Cottage ‘Everyday’ book. Really simple idea and I usually end up making it if I have sausages the night before. All you need to serve one person is; 3 good quality sausages; handful new potatoes; 5 cherry tomatoes; Mustard dressing (ready-made or make your own). To make, cook everything up, slice the sausages and potatoes into small chunks and slice the cherry tomatoes in in half. If you have some fresh basil in the garden or in the fridge – throw that in as well. With the dressing, you can either mix in with the rest of the ingredients, or take to work in a small pot and mix when you get there. My preference is the latter. You can also make a really nice version of this using a bit of smoked mackerel or haddock…this with this one you might not be too popular!

Crunchy/crispy noodle salad

Perfect summer lunch. Cook a nest of egg noodles per person according to the packet instructions. When just cooked, drain, place in a bowl and drizzle with an oil to stop the noodles from sticking. My favourite is sesame oil, or you could use garlic oil or chilli oil. Recently I made it with a good quality local rape seed oil and that was equally as good.

Add to this two or three of the following vegetables; beansprouts, mange tout, finely sliced green beans, finely sliced spring onion, finely sliced red onion, crispy lettuce, grated carrot, finely sliced green or red peppers, raw sliced mushrooms or baby sweetcorn. With the dressing below, this is really nice on its own. But you could also add some shredded cooked chicken, cooked prawns, smoked tofu or really anything else you fancy.  Even a tin of tuna works well with this! It’s important though that whatever you choose is quite finely sliced – that was it compliments all of the vegetables and noodles and gets a good costing with that lovely dressing.

And on to the dressing. There is nothing wrong with buying a good quality oriental style dressing and using that here. It works perfectly well – especially during the middle of the week when there are so many other things going on. To liven it up – add some fresh herbs – perhaps some chopped coriander, mint or chives – or a mixture of two or more.

If you fancy making your dressing – this is a really good one. Whisk the following ingredients together; 2 tbsp sesame oil; 4 tbsp mirin; 2 tbsp lemongrass; 2 tbsp fish sauce; 3cm piece ginger finely chopped; 2 cloves garlic finely chopped; 1 red onion finely sliced; 4 tbsp fresh lime juice; 2 small red chillis, seeds removed and finely chopped; and a handful of fresh mint leaves. It might sound like a lot of ingredients but the good news is that the oil and acids help preserve the dressing and it will last for a week or more in a sealed jar in the fridge. In fact – I’d suggest it gets better if left for a day or two to blend and get extra lovely.

As with the recipe above, I prefer taking the dressing in a separate jar and maxing together in the office.

Pasta, pesto, feta

So can anyone guess what this recipe involves? It’s REALLY simply but tastes great. You need two large handfuls of pasta per person. It doesn’t really matter what kind of pasta you use but I used penne. Cook according to the packet instructions. Drain the water and immediately add a heaped table spoon of red pesto per person. Then crumble in some feta cheese and mix – about a third of a standard bar per person should do it. When cool, stir in some shredded basil leaves.

As additional extras, I also like to add a good glug of chilli oil and/or a large handful of fresh spinach leaves stirred into the hot pasta until they wilt.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Another money saving tip!

I'm not a big drinker. But I like cooking with alcohol. I was watching Nigella Lawson earlier in the week and it appears she's not a big drinker either (?!).  Often I'll end up opening a bottle, use a glass or two for cooking and despite my best efforts to drink almost always ends up getting thrown down the sink. So what she suggetsed was, when you find you have a third of a bottle of wine left, or cider, or whatever and you're thinking of chucking it out...don't! Pour in into a sandwich bag, or a plastic container, and wack it in the freezer. Next time you need a bit of wine for a stew...just take it out a defrost. You can even defrost it in the microwave! Nice one Nigella.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Money / hastle saving tip

I make quite a few things that require a few breadcrumbs - meatballs, burgers, cripsy toppings for cauliflower cheese - you know the sort.  For a while, I used to crush cream crackers, but then I had an even better idea.  When it came to the end of a loaf of bread, I blitzed it in the blender until fine, placed into a takeaway plastic container and popped into the freezer and hey presto - whenever I need a few, I have a ready supply! Simple and obvious. But I hadn't thought of it until recently so thought I would share...

Been to Italia!

There are times when you just need to get away from home. I had one of those moments recently and just decided to book an impromptu holiday to Rome.

I spent four days over there, taking in all of the normal sites and tourist spots. But of course one of the things that always interests me more than anything is the food. It drives my girlfriend mad - but I explain that it pays dividends for her in the end as she ends up getting really nice food at the end of it!

But, there was one thing that surprised me when I was over there - and you might think it's a bit of strange thing to say...but bear with me. I was amazed at how many Italian restaurants there were. Now, I know I was in Italy, but in every other major City I've been to, there has been a plethora of different cuisines, all available a very short distance away. It was incredibly difficult to find anything other than the standard Italian fair. Don't get me wrong - I really like Italian food - but there is only so much of it I can take until I fancy something a bit different.

I was having a drink in the hotel and explained this to the barman. As it happens he lived in the UK for a few years during the 70s and had the standard 'all British food is rubbish' attitude. He quite simply believed that the reason you can get so many cuisines in the UK is because...well, we need it.

This, of course, I do not agree with. British food has come a long way in the last twenty or so years and its about time everyone else realised that! I've promised to send the barman a couple of recipes designed to change his tune. But I think the fact he hasn't been back since the 70s says a lot. And hopefully his visit will change that attitude.

The one thing that did cheer me up was the lovely receptionist who overheard our conversation. As it turned out, she loves British good and in fact often cooks it for friends of hers. Now that's progress! She asked for a good recipe for a Shepherd’s pie. Boom! to make a lasagne ;-)

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Some things are sooooo difficult to get hold of!

If there’s one thing this years lent challenge has taught me it’s that some things are really difficult to buy when you can’t use supermarkets. Prime example? Teabags. There are a couple of local delicatessens that sell the nice teapigs teabags – but I would see them as being more of a treat than something that can be drunk on a regular basis (in case you were wondering, I drink a lot of tea).  I’ve resorted to buying a batch from the internet where there are a number of different websites selling Clipper tea and such.  You can even buy it on Amazon!

The other particularly tricky item is cooking oil. Again, there are numerous specialists around selling premium extra virgin olive oil, even extra virgin organic rapeseed oil (where did that come from?!), but if you’re looking for a good all round vegetable oil or olive oil, its really difficult to come by. I am though reliably informed there is a good shop in Cheltenham that can provide, but at this point in time I don’t drive and I’m not going to get the train over to Cheltenham for a bottle of oil!

Perhaps the most annoying is pasta. Unless you have a good Italian deli or similar neat by, reasonably priced, good quality dried pasta is really difficult to come by.  I recently went to Cornwall for the weekend and came across a Rick Stein deli.  Brilliant!...I thought. Rick will provide. But alas…he didn’t. Pasta was available…but at £5.20 for 500g…? No thanks.  I decided the best thing to do was to get hold of some ‘tipo’ 00 flour and make my own. And I must say…it’s really good. It takes more time to make, and it more effort – but the end product is kind of worth it. A pasta machine isn’t essential but makes things so much easier. In fact, it’s inspired me to make my own ravioli next week. But I would say it’s been really rather annoying as there are times, particularly at the end of a working day, when quick and easy is required…and when it comes to pasta…FAIL!

Friday, 16 March 2012

A vegetarian dish to convert the carnivore

I’m finding that having a vegetable box means I’m eating a lot for vegetarian meals.  This one came about from looking at what I had left and in the cupboard and I have to say it has a very good chance of becoming a regular on my dinner list! Crusty white bread to mop up the delicious sauce is obligatory.

Spicy Tomato and Vegetable Pasta
Serves 2

2 tbsp olive oil
6 x handfuls penne pasta
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 small courgette, cut in 4 lengthways and then cut into half cm pieces
2 handfuls purple sprouting broccoli
1 400g tin cherry tomatoes (or chopped tomatoes work almost as well)
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
Large pinch of sugar
1 tbsp crème fraiche
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated parmesan cheese, to serve

1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan to a medium/low heat, add the chopped onion and garlic and sauté until translucent. Add the courgette and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes, oregano, chilli and sugar.  Season to taste. Stir to combine, bring to the boil, put the lid on and reduce the heat to low. Slowly simmer for half and hour (the intention being to create a jammy sumptuous sauce).
2. When the sauce has been cooking for half an hour, cook the penne according to packet instructions.
3. When the pasta has 5 minutes left to cook, add the purple sprouting broccoli to the sauce. Cover and continue cooking.
4. Just before serving, add the crème fraiche to the sauce and stir through. Combine the sauce with the cooked pasta.
5. Spoon on to hot plates and grate over the parmesan cheese.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The ultimate conundrum…

So, I’ve given up chain food stores for lent.  Two weeks in and I have to say it’s going rather well!  The first dilemma was where to buy beer?!  I hadn’t really factored this in when I cam e up with the idea.

Luckily for me, a new micro-brewery has recently opened in Gloucester. The Gloucester Brewery began brewing in the autumn of last year and so far has three rather nice beers to offer; Gloucester Gold, Mariner and Dockside Dark (are you getting the theme here?). And I have to say – very good job indeed.

The brewery is located in Gloucester Docks, next door to Coots café. At the moment you kind of had to hunt them out but I’m assured the planning application for signage has been submitted. At the moment they are only open at weekends but I have to say it is well worth a visit to pick up a few bottles of the special stuff.

Even more exciting, the brewery is in the process of creating a special summer beer. They’re asking for members of the public to think of a name…winner takes a firkin of ale! (just to confirm, that’s a whole 72 pints!). Any suggestions can be emailed via their website and must be submitted by 15th March. Chin chin!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

And so lent begins!

So we are good to go. Lent has started and that means I’m giving up chain food stored for lent. One of the things I’ve done in response is to set myself up for a weekly vegetable box delivery scheme. Had two boxes so far and I think it’s great! Not that expensive (£8 a week), gets delivered straight to my door, it’s seasonal…and the thing I like the most – it forces me to think outside the box and cook things I might not otherwise think of.

This week, it appears I have a surplus of parsnips. Time to get create. So I had a think about what I could do with it, other than roasting it or making a spicy soup.  I started having a look through the recipe books and I noticed a copy of the ‘River Cottage Veg Patch’ book. Now if anyone can help me make the most of surplus veg…its Hugh.

To my delight there is a lovely recipe for potato dauphinoise…and it advocates the use of other route vegetables as appropriate! So I gave it a go…potato and parsnip dauphinoise…or potsnip for short. And I have to say, it was really good. Next time I’m going to try a bit of peppery Swede, or maybe some Celeriac. I do think though it’s important to make sure you have at least half potato – otherwise it might start to get a little bit sickly.

So here you go people – definitely one to try out. I served it with a big slab of pork belly (its winter and I need to get my fat reserves up) and some green vegetables.

Potsnip dauphinoise
Serves 6 as a side dish

25g unsalted butter, softened
300g waxy potatoes
300g parsnip
300ml double cream
2 – 3 large garlic cloves
Plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper
Handful grated cheddar cheese (optional)

Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas Mark 3. Rub a gratin dish liberally with the butter.

Peel the potatoes and parsnips and slice them thickly. In a large bowl, mix together the cream and garlic and season well with salt and pepper. Toss the potatoes and the parsnips in the mixture and layer them in the gratin dish, then pour over the remaining cream (if you want to be precise, you can mix of the potato and parsnips and separate bowls and lay alternate layers of each).

Cover the dish with foil and place in the own and bake for between an hour and a half. After an hour, remove the foil so that the top can become crispy and golden. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the top, if using, to make it extra sumptuous. The dauphinoise is ready when the top is bubbling and golden, and the potatoes are soft and yielding when pearced with a knife. Leave to stand for a few minutes before serving.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Here lamby lamby lamby…

You’ll have guessed by now that I love entertaining.  It gives me an excuse to have a go at cooking something I haven’t made before and (as long as everything works out for the best!) I love seeing the smile of their faces when they’re eating.

A few weeks ago my colleague, his wife and babby girl came over for Sunday lunch.  Time to make a bit of an effort I thought – but what to make?  Hints had been dropped the preceding week for lamb. But legs of lamb are so expensive!

I started having a search through my cookbooks and remembered I had River Cottage‘Everyday’ – if anyone can help make a feast out of cheaper cuts of meat, it had to be Hugh!

Within a few minutes I found exactly what I was looking for. Slow-roast shoulder of lamb with merguez spices.  Incredibly simple and the shoulder of lamb cost me just over £18 from my local butcher (around half that of a leg).  A further flick through the book and I found the perfect accompaniments; French beans with tomatoes and flatbreads.  A little yogurt and mint dressing completed the ensemble.

Something to try without a shadow-of-a-doubt.  Word of warning though – it takes around 6 hours to cook so make sure you allow plenty of time!  Well worth the wait mind…

Serves 6 – 10, depending on the size of the joint and how hungry you all are!

1 shoulder of lamb, mutton or hogget on the bone

For the spice paste

1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
½ cinnamon stick, broken up
1 tsp black peppercorns
Pinch cayenne pepper or chilli powder
2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
2 garlic cloves, finely shopped
Leaves from 2 large rosemary sprigs, finely chopped
2 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil

1. Toast the cumin, coriander, fennel seeds, cinnamon and peppercorns in a dry frying pan over a medium heat for a minute or so. Crush to a coarse powder using a pestle and mortar, then combine with the cayenne pepper or chilli powder, paprika, garlic, rosemary, salt and olive oil.
2. Lightly score the skin of the meat with a sharp knife, making shallow slashes a few millimetres deep and 1 – 2cm apart. Rub half the spice paste all over the lamb shoulder, underneath as well as on top and especially into the cuts. Put into a large roasting tin and place in an over preheated to 220C, Gas Mark 7. Roast for 30o minutes.
3. Remove from the oven and rub the remaining spice paste over the meat using the back of a wooden spoon. Pour a glass of water into the tin (not over the meat), cover with foil and return to the oven. Reduce the heat to 120C/Gas Mark ½ and cook for 6 hours, or until the meat is very tender and falling off the bone. You can add another glass of water halfway through, to keep the pan juices ticking along.
4. Transfer the lamb to a warm serving plate. Skim the excess fat off the juices in the tin. Tear the meat into thick shreds and serve with the juices spooned over. I served mine of homemade flatbreads and French beans with tomatoes, both from the same book.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012


My cooker's broken! Bought a new one but it's going to take a week and a half to arrive. Boooooo.

Tonight's dinner consisted of sausages cooked on one of those health grills and chips from the chippy. Ironic, don't you think?

Any suggestions on what I can make over the next week with a health grill, microwave and toaster would be very much appreciated!  Might have to get creative myself - if anything decent comes out of it I'll post it on here...

Dinner party-tastic!

I like entertaining. It gives me chance to cook for loads of people and I relish the challenge.  But what I don’t want is to cook something so complex that I can’t enjoy the main point of the evening; to have a laugh with my mates.

So just before Christmas, I invited some of my old school friends round and set out working out what I would cook.  There were ten of us so I wanted to do something that could be prepared for a lot of people in one go.  So what better I thought, than a curry!

I’d recently treated myself a new book by Madhur Jaffrey, called ‘Curry Easy’. And here’s the plus – it’s brilliant. You know how some curry recipes require something insane like 20 or 30 ingredients and you have to make a special trip to the shops to get half of them?  Well this book doesn’t do that.  It does exactly what it says on the tin, and I haven’t had a bad curry yet. Curry Easy is one of those books you just need.

I’m not going to give you the recipes for everything I made, but there is one dish in particular that I think everyone should try. Even those that claim to dislike curry will thoroughly enjoy this.And it beats anything from a takeaway. So here goes…

Chicken and Spinach Curry
Serves 6 (I doubled it for the dinner party and it worked perfectly)

6 chicken legs, separated into drumsticks and thighs, or any other chicken parts you like (about 1.9kg in total)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
5cm/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
6 medium cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 tbsp sweet red paprika
½ tsp cayenne pepper
5 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
2 x 5cm/2 inch cinnamon sticks
8 cardamom pods
285g spinach, chopped (defrosted and drained if frozen)

- Spread the chicken out in a single layer and sprinkle 1 tsp salt and lots of black pepper on all sides.
- Put the onion, ginger, garlic, paprika and cayenne pepper into a food processor and, using a fast start-and-stop method, chop all of the ingredients as fine as possible, stopping short of making a puree.
- Put the oil into a wide, heavy pan and set over a medium-high heat.  When hot, put in the cinnamon and cardamom. Let them sizzle for a few seconds. Now put in as much of the chicken as will fit easily in a single layer and brown on all sides. Transfer to a bowl, leaving the whole spices behind. Brown all of the chicken in this way and keep in the bowl.
- Put the onion mixture into the pan, reducing the heat to medium. Stir and fry for 4 – 5 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the spinach and ½ tsp salt. Stir and fry for another 4 – 5 minutes.
- Add the chicken, ¼ tsp salt and 120ml/4 fl oz water. Bring to the boil. Cover, lower the heat and gently simmer for 25 minutes, gently turning the chicken pieces a few times. Excess fat may be removed before serving.