Monday, 19 November 2012

Christmas comes every two weeks: Lamb, celeriac and kale stew

Ever since we moved to a new flat, I have noticed that our meals at weekends have been tastier. I definitely think it has something to do with living near the local greengrocer and butcher - potatoes covered in mud are definitely better than the ones washed and prepared at the supermarket. Apparently there's a reason for this - something about the potatoes losing some of their starch in the stuff they wash them with - but I do wonder whether it's just 'cos it makes you feel like you're cooking in a country farmhouse.

Anyway, I was moaning away to George the other day about not being able to go to the greengrocer during the week because of work, and he had this BRILLIANT idea. I swear it was all him and absolutely nothing at all to do with me. He even managed to get hold of the other half's bank card to punch in the numbers with his hooves. Amazing.

So, now every two weeks on a Friday, I get home to find a box waiting outside the door to our flat, full of lovely organic local veg - it's like Christmas for me every two weeks. Yes, George signed us up to a veg box scheme from Riverford Farms - - and we get a medium box every two weeks. I chose the 'seasonal' option, which means you don't get potatoes and onions (and these keep  if I buy them at the weekend anyway) but you get whatever is seasonal and local. It's brilliant and I love it, even if my Mum will ask me when I got to be so middle class.

My only problem is with what you do with stuff you don't know how to cook. It might just be me, but I swear a celeriac looks like one of those cartoon monsters you get in mobile phone games. Not that I play at breeding monsters on the train to work in the morning. Not at all (George mimes coughing fit). But as the other half had paid for the priviledge of getting seasonal veg delivered to our door, I braced myself just in case it grew fangs and jumped at me, and went for it.

The result was this stew, which was most enjoyable and very easy to cook. The celeriac gives it a much lighter feel than potatoes as do the leeks rather than onions, and the kale gives a lovely fresh bite at the end. I also don't use flour to thicken my sauces which helps if you're wanting something not quite as heavy as a big winter stew.

George was worried but I told him there was no need to be scared of celariac after it had been well and truly cooked

Lamb, celeriac and kale stew

1. Saute 2 chopped leeks and 2 cloves of chopped garlic in a casserole pan
2. When the leeks have softened, add a little cumin and cayenne pepper before some diced stewing lamb.
3. When the lamb has browned, add 4 or 5 carrots and 1 celeriac, chopped to around the same sizes as the lamb chunks.
4. Stir the mixture for a minute before adding a tin of tomatoes and enough water to cover the meat and veg in the pot. Season generously - celeriac is like potato with salt - it slurps up loads of it.
5. Bring to the boil before putting in the oven at around 180c for 1 hour 30 minutes.
6. Add a big bunch of chopped curly kale before popping back into the oven for another 20 minutes.

You could serve this with crusty bread for the non-gluten-free people to soak up all the juices - but because I'd just spend my whole meal staring at it, I didn't, so we stuck our noses in and snuffled the broth up out of the bowl instead.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Now this sounds like the way to do it: Vodka Christmas Cake

Courtesy of my friend and pub-buddy Michelle, who has just supplied this recipe via email, here's how I'm making my Christmas Cake this year.

"Once again this year, I’ve had requests for my Vodka Christmas Cake recipe so here goes. Please keep in your files as I am beginning to get tired of typing this up every year! (Made mine this morning.)
1 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1 cup water, 1 tablespoon salt , 1 cup brown sugar, lemon juice, 4 large eggs, nuts, 1 bottle vodka, 2 cups dried fruit.

Sample a cup of vodka to check quality. Take a large bowl, check the vodka again to be sure it is of the highest quality. Repeat.
Turn on the electric mixer. Beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar. Beat again. At this point, it is best to make sure the Vvdka is still OK. Try another cup just in case.
Turn off the mixerer thingy. Break 2 eggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit. Pick the fruit up off the floor, wash it and put it in the bowl a piece at a time trying to count it. Mix on the turner. If the fried fruit gets stuck in the beaters, just pry it loose with a drewscriver.
Sample the vodka to test for tonsisticity. Next, sift 2 cups of salt, or something. Check the vodka. Now shit shift the lemon juice and strain your nuts. Add one table. Add a spoon of sugar, or somefink. Whatever you can find. Greash the oven. Turn the cake tin 360 degrees and try not to fall over. Don't forget to beat off the turner. Finally, throw the bowl through the window. Finish the vodka and wipe the counter with the cat."
Stocking the beer cupboard for George and the other half. Should
keep them entertained whilst I'm 'making a cake' in the kitchen...


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A miracle - it only took me half an hour!: Chicken szechuan stirfry from scratch

We have a slight problem with our freezer at the moment - well, not the actual freezer, but with its contents. I seem to have managed to freeze a load of meat - which is great, but it's all stuff you have to cook slowly - oxtail, lamb shoulder, beef shin, chicken legs.

This would be wonderful if I was a lady who lunched, but unfortunately I have to go to work, and if George wants his dinner before midnight I have to think of stuff that cooks a little more rapidly.

So, a couple of days back I admitted defeat and bought chicken breast, a packet of mixed veg and some beansprouts from the supermarket on the way home. I also dithered around the stirfry sauces for five minutes before deciding that really was chickening out - sorry, sorry, couldn't help that one - and purchased some szechuan peppercorns instead.

Anyway, I'm dead chuffed I did - it worked a treat. I have always been scared that making a stirfry sauce myself would result in dry chicken and a heap of noodles tasting of soy, but it didn't... and as an extra bonus we were eating by 8pm and George was a happy giraffe.

George is still struggling with chopsticks, so used his hooves for the noodles.
Who needs children when you've got a messy giraffe?

Chicken szechuan stirfry from scratch

Ingredients (serves 2): 2 chicken breasts, a bag of pre-cut veg (or do it yourself!), 2 big handfuls of beansprouts, 2 beef tomatoes, szechuan peppercorns, lemongrass, 1 shallot, chili, garlic, ginger, soy sauce (gluten-free version if you need it), groundnut or vegetable oil for frying. Noodles to serve.

1. Heat a wok - and I mean heat it, it needs to be hot hot hot. If it's a proper wok the meat won't stick, especially if you oil it nicely. (This has always been my first mistake with stirfrys - if you also grew up with ancient definitely-not-non-stick frying pans you'll know why.)

2. Whilst that's going on, crush a handful of szechuan peppercorns (in a pestle & mortar or mini blender) and add some lemongrass (I use the Lazy stuff - it keeps for much longer), a shallot, a chili, a clove of garlic, and an inch of ginger. Crush or blend together.

3. Chop two chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces.

4. When the wok is really hot, give it a decent glug of groundnut or vegetable oil. The oil should smoke. Add the paste and fry for a minute before adding the chicken.

5. When the chicken has browned (should be around 2 minutes), add a bag of chopped veg (or if you're being good, veg you've just chopped yourself) and 2 big handfuls of beansprouts. Add two big beef tomatoes, chopped fairly small. Splash on some dark soy sauce and carry on frying for another 3-4 minutes. Don't be tempted to fry the chicken for hours, because it really does cook quickly and you don't need to cremate it to ensure it's cooked - it'll just go dry and chewy.

7. Serve with noodles - I used some dry green tea noodles I had in the cupboard, and splashed them with light soy sauce to ensure they didn't stick together.

8. Enjoy an evening sat on the sofa without George pointing rather obviously at his growling stomach.... Ah. That's just me then.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Eating for a broken ankle: Grandma chicken soup

Now that the other half is home from hospital, I have spent the last week trying to make sure he is fed with something other than frozen waffles and microwave burgers when I'm at work. Not that there's anything wrong with frozen waffles and microwave burgers... well, actually there are a million things wrong with them, but even so, neither are going to assist in the speedy recovery of a boy with a broken ankle.

So, I decided to have a go at making what we call 'Grandma Soup' - a traditional Jewish chicken soup which is Hill family legend. We used to drive over after church and sniff as we walked up the driveway to see if she had made it for Sunday lunch, and if she hadn't we'd sulk for the rest of the afternoon. Obviously noone can actually match the way Grandma makes it (Dad tried a couple of times but opted for fishing out the bones rather than straining the liquid, earning it the rather unappetising title of 'body part soup') but I thought I'd give it a go.

Usually you would start with a broiling chicken (Grandma roasts it off afterwards), but I had a bag in the freezer containing the crown and wings of two chickens left over from the butchery course, so I used those. The result was fairly close to Grandma's and very yummy - and hopefully helped the other half a little in his efforts to recouperate. It certainly helped me for lunch the next day.

George correctly noticed I'd put far too much rice in. Pah.

Grandma chicken soup

1. Take a broiling chicken or the crown of a chicken which has had the legs and breasts removed, and put in a big pot along with an onion chopped in half, a few carrots chopped into chunks, some fresh herbs - parsley, thyme - whatever you have, a couple of bay leaves, a handful of peppercorns, and if you're me and can't help yourself, a clove of garlic and a chili. Cover with water and simmer for 3 hours.

2. Remove the bones and strain the liquid through a fairly fine sieve. Put back on the heat and add some rice and chopped cabbage, and if you like you could also add the carrots back in. Don't do what I did and go mad with the rice - it's supposed to have a bit of rice floating about, not resemble a watery risotto. Grandma often adds some pasta or dumplings instead of the rice - I don't think it really matters, as long as there's something to bulk it up a little.

3. Heat through until the rice is cooked and serve.

I am going to send Grandma the link to this blog - oh yes, I have a very technologically advanced Grandma - and I'm sure she'll correct me on where I've gone wrong, but I was pretty proud of myself. There's something very grown up about making your own soup from scratch. *Pats self on back and grins smugly*...

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Hospital antidote: Potato, cauliflower and tomato curry

I am aware that one is really supposed to treat one's other half to treats and nibbles when they are in hospital, and I did do my best with Haribo, Pringles and the obligatory grapes (only seeded purple ones mind, the other half isn't half fussy)... but the main problem as I saw it was the hospital food.

Now, I'm not going to go on a big rant about the quality of NHS hospital food. Firstly, I'm actually a great supporter of the NHS and think that we are lucky that we don't have to shell out bucket loads for healthcare insurance as in the US and various parts of Europe. Secondly, the complaint has been made before by many patients, visitors and even celebrity chefs such as James Martin, Heston Blumenthal and of course the champion of all government-issued nosh, Jamie Oliver. We all know it's pants and we all wish it wasn't. However, what really offended me wasn't the look, taste or the fact it was served half-cold - it was the smell. I actually wouldn't have been surprised to see old ladies fainting on entering the ward during serving-up time and for a couple of hours afterwards. I don't know what the smell is - but I do remember something similar in school canteens. Maybe it's just the vast quantity of mushy vegetables, or the smell of powdered egg mixture in stainless steel containers. Whatever it is, it definitely doesn't encourage you to slurp up whatever has come your way.

So, I decided to cook up some alternatives so that the other half had something that smelled more like our kitchen at home to gobble out of sight of enquiring nurses. I had to think hard - it's over an hour's drive from our house to the hospital so it had to keep hot - but I came up with a cottage pie, which went down nicely, and then this vegetable curry dish, which went down even more nicely (I know - I shared it. Yum.)

Potato, cauliflower and tomato curry

This is a fairly dry curry (I couldn't have it slopping over the sides of the dish on the drive there!) so would work really well as a side dish to your main, or as a simple evening dinner on its own. This recipe makes enough for 4-5 sides and 2-3 mains.

1. Pour a generous glug of oil into a medium-hot pan
2. Add a heaped teaspoon of each of the following spices: cumin, black mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, coriander seeds and garam masala
3. When the mustard seeds start popping (they literally jump so you can definitely tell), add two cloves of chopped garlic, a chopped onion, about an inch square of chopped ginger and a chopped chili to the pan, and fry for five minutes or until the onion and ginger are soft.
4. Add 8 or so new potatoes, chopped into fairly large chunks, a curry leaf and two crushed cardomom pods, and stir
5. When the potatoes are coated in the spices and onion mixture, add a tin of chopped tomatoes and a pint of vegetable stock.
6. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes, before adding the florets of half a cauliflower to the pan.
7. Simmer for another 15-20 minutes or until the cauliflower has cooked, stirring occassionally as by this time the water level will be fairly low.
8. Remove the curry leaves and cardomom pods before wrapping in several layers of foil and two teatowels, and driving to hospital
9. Enjoy the appreciative snuffly sounds coming from the other half with his nose in the pan, and dig in.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Sunday breakfast: Chorizo, potato and asparagus omelette

I would have called this a tortilla as something akin to dishes I have eaten in various Spanish restaurants, but a well-known celebrity chef told me recently, "don't call it a tortilla if you can see the egg", so I'm calling this an omelette. Even though I think it's kind of like a tortilla. Or a frittata. Or whatever. Do I care? Not particularly, as it was one of the tastiest breakfasts I have ever cooked - so stuff the culinary political correctness, and here's the recipe...

Oh, and by the way - us gluten-free people have to be creative with our breakfasts, so I know you wouldn't necessary serve asparagus with your bacon and baked beans, but trust me, it works in this!

Even James Martin would be proud of the 
amount of butter in that pan... oops

Chorizo, potato and asparagus omelette

1. Melt some butter in a pan and fry up 2 small chopped shallots, 8 or so small round slices off a chorizo ring and 3 cubed new potatoes on a medium heat for about 8 minutes, or until the potato cubes are cooked through. If you're being a purist, the potatoes should be sliced - but seen as I'm not being a purist in any other way, I fancied cubes this morning. Season generously whilst cooking.  

2. Add 2 asparagus spears, chopped up at the same size as the potatoes, and fry for another minute.

3. Add 2 beaten eggs, seasoned with chili flakes, salt and pepper, plus a handful off fresh chopped parsley, and cook for a couple of minutes to settle the egg on the bottom of the omelette.

4. Pop into the oven or under the grill for 5 minutes to cook through (this is probably cheating but it helps to avoid a brown crispy bottom).

Serve with some soft lamb's lettuce and laugh smugly at those still waiting for their burnt sausages and cold toast. So much easier to not want theirs when you have something much tastier. Well, most of the time, anyway...

How can you tell if there's a giraffe in your fridge?
There's hoofprints in the butter

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

When one is left at home on one's own: Chicken, mushroom and vegetable fried rice

Unfortunately the other half is languishing in hospital with a broken ankle (and I mean languishing - a private room, TV, breakfast in bed... he won't want to come home) but alas, a hungry little giraffe still demands to be fed. I find this slightly unsympathetic - after all, the other half is at this moment being operated upon - but at least it gives me something else to concentrate on.

I stopped short at actually going out to buy ingredients though, so here's a lovely quick lunch or worknight dinner recipe that's easy to make with stuff lurking in the fridge. You can substitute any of the vegetables for whatever you have - or use frozen peas, sweetcorn or prawns. It also proves how rubbish I am at cooking for one (only George fancied eating... I'd got so hungry I'd scoffed two scotch eggs an hour before) but as per usual the leftovers will be rather helpful for lunch at work tomorrow.

Chicken, mushroom & vegetable fried rice

Hooves aren't really designed for chopsticks but George had a go anyway

1. Cook some long grain or basmati rice. The general rule is to use twice as much water as rice, and it should be completely done in 10 minutes on a medium heat without having to strain the water out at the end. However, this only works about once in 10 tries for me, so good luck...
2. In the meantime, fry off a chopped shallot, half a chopped clove of garlic and a diced carrot in some groundnut (or vegetable) oil. 
3. Add a teaspoon of miso paste and stir in before adding some chunks of chicken (I chopped up one chicken breast into bite-sized pieces).
4. When the chicken has browned (this should only take a minute or two) add some chopped sugar snap peas and mushrooms and a teaspoon of mirin. 
5. Fry until the chicken is just cooked (should only take 3 or 4 minutes, don't be tempted to give in to the old wives' tales and cremate it cos then it goes horribly chewy), and add the rice and a generous splash of light soy sauce.
6. After mixing in the rice and frying for a minute, add an egg and stir in. 
7. Cook for another 3 minutes before stirring in chopped coriander and serving. 

You never know, if the other half gets home tomorrow he might even get to taste some. George won't admit it, but he misses him really...

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Never go shopping when hungry: Baked garam masala seabream with vegetable pilau rice

The other half and I made the fatal error at the weekend of going to Sainsburys when we were hungry. It's something I'm sure that major supermarkets have missed out of their marketing plans, as we always seem to spend twice as much when we're hungry than when we've just eaten.

One counter we can never seem to resist, hungry or not, is the fresh fish. There's something amazingly edible about the array of shiny seafood just waiting to be cooked and eaten. I don't normally like messing around with fish, especially whole ones, as I believe they really are best simply cooked with lots of seasoning. However, as we'd given in and picked up two delicious looking seabream (two for £7 - bargain!) I decided last night to do something a little different.

Firstly, though, let me introduce you to Eric. I'm sorry for those of you who are a little squeamish about such things that I keep naming my food, but whilst I was wiggling this one around the kitchen ("swimmy swimmy swimmy fishy!" Doesn't everyone do that? No?... ah, ok...) I noticed that he bore a startling resemblance to a certain famous French footballer-turned-actor.

Eric hoped the monobrow stare would save him from the oven

Baked garam masala seabream with vegetable pilau rice

I love making my own pilau rice. Although I very much doubt this is particularly authentic (I've probably committed a cardinal sin akin to putting jam on a scone before cream... or is it the other way round...?!) it tastes really fresh and is a great accompaniment to fish.

1. Melt some oil or ghee in a hot non-stick pan with a thick bottom, and add a teaspoon of each of the following: fenugreek seeks, coriander seeds and cumin seeds for a minute, until the seeds start popping.
2. Add a finely chopped onion, 2 diced carrots, a chopped chili and a clove of chopped garlic and fry for 5 minutes, taking care not to burn the garlic.
3. Add a teaspoon of garam masala and two chopped tomatoes to the mix before pouring in basmati rice - with this recipe I made enough for 4 side-servings (perfect take-to-work-for-lunch leftovers!)
4. Add a few strands of saffron or a teaspoon of tumeric, and enough vegetable stock to cover the rice plus a centemetre on top
5. Turn the heat down to very low, put a lid on the pan and cook for 25 minutes.

When the rice has finished it should have absorbed all the water, and if you use a non-stick pan and put it on the lowest heat possible, you shouldn't have any stuck to the bottom. Rice is a funny thing though and it's not that easy to get perfect (I rarely do) so it's a good idea to check half-way through to see if it's gone bone dry - and if so, add some more water. Try not to add so much water that you have to drain it at the end, but if you do it's not a disaster - it just tends to lose a little of the flavour, in my view.

In the meantime, clean out your fish if the fishmonger hasn't already done so, season generously with salt and pepper, and rub garam masala into the skin of the fish. Drizzle with olive oil, wrap in foil and bake in the oven for 25 minutes at around 200c.

Before serving, rescue the cardamom pods from the rice as they are definitely not edible. I served mine with some chopped iceberg lettuce and lemon - I know it's a bit 70s but it's the only time I actually love iceberg, as the crispness of the lettuce and sharpness of the lemon compliments the heady coriander, fenugreek and garam masala flavours.

I reckon Eric wouldn't have minded too much...

Saturday, 20 October 2012

I called him Jack: Oxtail and Dorset Naga Chili stew

One of the spoils I managed to snaffle from the amazing butchery course I went on last week was a whole oxtail. When the instructor handed it to me, I gave it a little swing and announced my decision to call him Jack. Bearing in mind it was only me and four guys on the course, I think they ended the session convinced I had been let out for the afternoon and my carer had somehow escaped. Ah well, they weren't far wrong. 

Learning how to slice the oxtail up was one thing (you have to find where the 'knuckle' is and they're not easy to spot) but cooking it was another. I'd never cooked oxtail before, and the only thing I knew was that if we wanted to eat before midnight I'd probably better wait for the weekend.

However, fate stepped in and gave me a stinking cold, so I decided to stay at home rather than generously give it to all my colleagues, and out came half of Jack the Oxtail from the freezer. After he had thoroughly defrosted, in he went with a couple of sliced Dorset Naga chilis to marinate. I still have a drawer full of these extremely hot (hotter than Scotch Bonnet) chilis in the fridge, as I got very excited about the Sea Springs Farm chili stall at the RHS Autumn Harvest Festival a couple of weeks ago, and bought two bags full of them. 

George started worrying about his tummy...

Oxtail and Dorset Naga chili stew

After marinating Jack for an hour in the Naga chilis and some black pepper, I fried up a big sliced onion in olive oil in a casserole pan, and added a big shake of cumin, 3 chopped cloves of garlic, the chopped chilis, some chunky sliced carrots, potatoes and mushrooms, followed by the oxtail, half a tin of flagolet beans (leftover in the fridge otherwise I probably wouldn't have bothered), half a bottle of red wine, a tin of chopped tomatoes, loads of seasoning, two bay leaves and a litre of hot water. I brought it to the boil and chucked it in the oven for 4 hours, then finished off with some fresh spinach at the end. 

We have now learnt that just because Dorset Naga chilis are grown in England does not mean they are any less hot than their equivalents grown in more equatorial climates, and I drank an entire pint of milk after finishing dinner. However, I can tell you that they gave the dish the most beautiful woody flavour. As for the oxtail? Well, it was so good that we ended up picking up the bones to try and scrape the tiniest last bits of meat off them... so we're rather glad that Jack has more to give. God bless whoever invented the freezer. Oxtail curry, anyone?

Friday, 19 October 2012

Best 'leaving work' pressie ever: Butchery course at Allens of Mayfair

Around this time last year, when I left the lovely folk at Cruse Bereavement Care to explore pastures new, they had a whip round and bought me a voucher for a butchery class at Allens of Mayfair, which is in... well, Mayfair.

I know that a few of my colleagues there thought it was the weirdest idea they'd ever heard of, but luckily the fantastic Caroline persuaded them that it would be a great pressie for me. I was a happy bunny, and here's a little picture to prove it.

Anyway, imagine my embarrassment when about two weeks ago I got a text message from Caroline to say that she'd received a letter saying that I hadn't used my voucher, and that she hoped I'd be able to use it soon before it expired.

Now, I blame George and George blames me, but somewhere during one of three house moves we have achieved during the last year, the voucher went 'missing'. Obviously I couldn't own up to this fact, so I shamefully hid my head and hoped it would turn up. Luckily for me, Caroline is one of those amazingly forgiving persons and hopefully won't mind that I was so horrendously careless... (and I'm going to take her out for at least ten drinks to say thank you and sorry...)

The thankfully happy ending to this story is that when I phoned and explained the situation, Allens couldn't have been more helpful. The class was absolutely incredible, set in their 120-year-old butcher's shop, only five of us, with a great instructor. I learnt butchery skills with lamb, chicken, oxtail and beef, even got to use one of those massive saws (yay!), and took home an incredible amount of the highest quality meat I've ever seen. My freezer is stacked full and we're going to be treated to some lovely dinners for at least the next month.

George was glad there was no giraffe on the menu
In conclusion, the George's Dinner Award for the Most Original Ever Leaving Present and a massive THANK YOU goes to all those lovely people at Cruse Bereavement Care (which, by the way, is a brilliant charity, do have a look at their website -, and a massive recommendation goes to Allens of Mayfair for a brilliant afternoon.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Crusting it up without breadcrumbs: Rack of lamb with a Moroccan bean crust

After spending the majority of the last five years flicking through various celebrity cookbooks and looking longingly at stuff I can't eat, one gluten-free alternative I have always been desperate to find is how to make a 'crust' on a piece of meat without using breadcrumbs. Online resources suggest polenta as an alternative but I can't eat the stuff without thinking of something unnamed and sloppy dumped on a primary-school plate. Semolina, I think. Well, I'm sure there's plenty out there who love it, but I think it's minging. And so does George. So, nuh-nuh-na-nuh-nuh. 

Avoiding the temptation to regress any further into the playground, I tried to think of something that would stick but keep its shape on the meat, even when carving. Randomly opening kitchen cupboard doors, I spotted a tin of borlotti beans that had snuck its way to the back in hope of being forgotten. Ah ha, I thought, gotcha. A quick trot across the road to the shops found me in the possession of a lovely rack of lamb and a few vegetables, and 45 minutes later, voila! Celebrity chefs, eat your heart out. 

George likes his lamb rare, and yes Mum, that is cooked!

Rack of lamb with a Moroccan bean crust

This recipe is served two hungry people and a small giraffe, so double if cooking for four... 

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180c. 
2. Prepare the lamb, if the butcher hasn't done so already - if the skin has been left on the fatty side, take it off but try to leave as much of the fat on as possible, and strip the meat and fat away from the rib bones. I don't usually bother going in between the bones (I think that's the best bit to eat!) but if you're going for Michelin-star presentation, then that's what one is supposed to do.
3. To make the crust mixture, whizz half a tin of drained beans (borlotti, butter bean, cannelini - doesn't matter, as long as they are already soaked and aren't the Heinz variety) together with a clove of garlic, a small shallot, half a fresh chili, 1 tsp of grated ginger, 1/2 tsp of lemon zest, some cumin, pimenton, paprika and white pepper. Or, cheat and use a tagine paste or ras el hanout spice mix, which is what I would have done had I not known I'd probably blog about it.
4. Brown the lamb on both sides for about 2 mins each side, then rest for 5 minutes.
5. After the lamb has rested, spread thinly with the bean paste (I spread mine too thickly as you can see from the picture - it didn't need that much) and pop in the oven. For rare, cook for 5 mins then take out, cover with foil and rest for another 5 mins. For medium, cook for 10 mins and rest for 5. For cremated, pop down to the local fire station and ask to go with them on their next trip.
6. Cut the lamb into one-rib pieces to serve.

Personally, I think this easily stacks up to a breadcrumbed version - the beans give a really earthy flavour which compliments the lamb, especially in winter. You could also use the same basis for a rocket and watercress crust, one using pesto, a garam-masala version, whatever you fancied. 

I served mine this time with some spicy rice (saute shallots and chili in butter before adding cooked rice and seasoning liberally with paprika and black pepper) and some corn-on-the-cob boiled for 20 mins and smothered in more butter and black pepper.

Next time, George says he wants less of the butter as he's on a diet. I told him where to go. If he wants to go back to eating bug-ridden leaves and drinking water from a communal pond, he's welcome to it...

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

A work night fridge meal: Bacon, mushroom & asparagus pot pie

I don't know about you, but my going-home-from-work routine tends to be fairly similar if I have nothing planned for the evening:

6pm: Leave work. Start walking to train station. Try to stop thinking about work
6.15pm: Get on train and realise the strange looks from people around you are because your tummy is grumbling. Start thinking about dinner.
6.15pm: Realise that you can't remember what's in the fridge.
7.15pm: Get off the train at the other end, still trying to remember what's in the fridge
7.20pm: Pass Sainsburys. Do a 'will I, won't I' dance at the front entrance.
7.21pm: Look in wallet. Shake it. Pray. Give up. Decide on the 'won't I' option and walk home...

Now I'm one of those people who finds it really difficult to throw food away, especially vegetables (for this I blame my Dad, whose fridge resembles a tupperware nursing home), so I often end up making pies, stews and curries which disguise the fact that you've cut the brown bits off the cauliflower or taken a machete to sprouting potatoes. On the plus side however this does usually mean there's something vaguely edible in the fridge.

Last night, I found woody asparagus (cut a good two inches off the end and no-one'll know), the inevitable floppy carrot, a leek that had doubled in length since purchase, two massive mushrooms on their own in a plastic tray, some assorted potatoes covered in mud, and a packet of bacon (which I hasten to add I only bought the day before - I wouldn't recommend the 'chop-the-mouldy-bits-off' method with fresh meat...)

Turning up the radio and turning on the oven, this is what I ended up with.

Bacon, mushroom and asparagus pot pie

George wasn't fooled by the 'put potatoes on top
of it and it'll look great whatever' method
Fry a chopped leek in butter on a low heat, before adding some diced carrots. When softened, add a packet of chopped bacon rashers. Then add chopped asparagus and big chunks of mushrooms, and stir to cook for 5 mins. Season to taste.

In the meantime, make a bechamel sauce (double the recipe on this blog). If you're using rice flour like me, try to be clever and add enough flour in the first place so that you don't have to whisk it in at the end and risk the sauce splitting in the oven. That's exactly what I did didn't do yesterday. Oops.

Add paprika and a little vegetable boullion powder to the sauce, and season.

Pour the bacon and vegetables into a dish, followed by the sauce. Mix together and top with two layers of thinly sliced waxy potatoes. Add lots of salt and pepper to the top plus a shake of paprika, and bake in the oven for an hour at 200c.

Serve with some salad dressed with a squeeze of lemon to offset the creaminess of the pie whilst catching up on The Great British Bake Off. Perfect!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

A Saturday night in: Pork belly with chili crackling, potato boulangere and apple sauce

Last night George counted up the coppers left over from the trip to Ireland and decided to impose a ban on going out for the next month. Well, he has a point - and if we go out, he gets very lonely in the flat all on his own, but more importantly he doesn't get fed. I also took the plunge and decided to defrost the freezer, which after an hour of dripping water decided to reveal a pork belly and some lamb shoulder steaks, hidden at the back. Now, I know it's not exactly cordon bleu cooking, but lack of funds meant that the meat actually looked fairly welcoming. The lamb went in a stew today with onions, carrots, potatoes and mushrooms (and is also being heated up right now with the addition of some lentils - we still need to eat tomorrow!) but the pork belly and catching up on Downton Abbey went some way to reducing my not-going-out-on-a-Saturday-night sulk. 

Pork belly with chili crackling, potato boulangere*, apple sauce and butter-tossed carrots, green beans and radish

*must learn how to insert accents on letters. Still can't work it out.

1. If you've just rescued the frozen pork belly from the freezer like me, defrost and then treat the skin to a blow-dry with a hairdryer - quite seriously, moisture is the enemy of pork crackling, so the drier it is the better. Massage with sea salt, getting the salt into all the scores on the skin, cover with kitchen towel and leave for a couple of hours.

2. I'm attributing the idea for this dish to a fab recipe book called POTATO that my friends Chris & Cathryn bought me for a birthday a couple of years ago when I found out I was gluten-intolerant. I think their words were something along the lines of "well, you can't exactly eat many other carbs now, can you..." It's actually saved my life (or my dinner) on several occasions. This isn't exactly their recipe but I definitely tried their version when I got the book, and it's migrated to this since.

Chop floury potatoes, onions and garlic all into thin slices. Layer up a dish with potatoes, onions and garlic, paprika, salt and pepper until you have three or four layers (depending on the deepness of your dish). Press down and pour hot vegetable stock until it's at the top of the potatoes, and finish with more paprika, salt, pepper, and some dried rosemary. If you've overfilled the dish like I always do, stick a baking try underneath to prevent a serious cleaning job on the bottom of your oven, and bake for 2 1/2 hours at 170c, or if it's a fairly large dish you might even need 3 or 4 hours - to be honest, the more the better, it really doesn't matter. The potatoes should be crispy on the top and the ones on the bottom should have absorbed most of the stock, and be really soft. I know this sounds really simple but I have never eaten potatoes that I love more. 

2. Pat the extra salt (and moisture that the salt has extracted) off the skin of the pork, and rub in more salt and a generous pinch of chili flakes. Oil and season the bottom of the belly, and pop on a roasting tray above a dish of water. Roast for 2 hours at 170c until the crackling is crispy. The water helps the belly meat not to dry out whilst the skin shrivels up into crackling heaven. 

3. Make an apple sauce - for 2 people, 1 very large or 2 small-ish chopped cooking apples (I like Bramleys) will do, with 3 or 4 tablespoons of sugar, a star anise, and 1/4 litre water. I like to season mine with white pepper, but it depends on how sweet you like your sauce - I should imagine that this is fairly unusual, but I like it with a bit of a kick.

4. Steam some thinly chopped carrot slices and some green beans until almost cooked, then add finely sliced radish, toss in melted butter and season. I like the addition of radish to this, as it gives a little bite to the buttery carrots and beans. 

5. Serve! 

I'm feeling smug cos my crackling was perfect for the first time ever, but if it isn't crispy enough (as usual with me), cheat and separate from the meat before whacking the crackling in the oven for 5 or 10 minutes on the highest heat before putting back on top of the meat. No-one will know - it's meant to look that way, isn't it?! 

The other half also commented that the apple sauce mound was bigger than the piece of meat. Look, I love apple sauce, alright? And no, I'm not American, so it's apple_space_sauce...!

Saturday, 6 October 2012

George Goes Camping: Lamb sausage & bean stew; Chorizo, chickpea and mushroom salsa with fried potatoes

Here's a little message from George:

"So chaps, I'm back from camping in Ireland. Whilst I was there I got very dirty and came back stinking of campfire, but I also got fed some yummy food. I made the bloke Sarah calls 'the other half' take a few photos, and she said she'd put them up here, but only if I had a little run in the washing machine first. Well, to be fair I was scaring off the rest of the family menagerie with my pongyness, so I reluctantly agreed..."

Cooking up a storm... in a storm. 

Lamb sausage and bean stew with curly kale

After a 6 hour drive across Ireland over 400 miles, including an incredible trip through the Connemara Mountains (seriously, I'm not one for looking at 'views', but they really do take your breath away), we ended up at Acton's Beachside Camping Park, in Clifden, County Galway. I have to admit, I have never camped in so much wind, but at the same time have never camped anywhere you can't actually see one other person, tent, animal, house, boat.... anything! Amazing site, camping between the dunes by the beach, fabulous, helpful owners, and a place I would highly recommend. Anyway, popping into Clifden we found a very friendly local butcher who sold me some delicious lamb sausages, which I stewed (in the wind, rain and dark) with onions, garlic, chili, carrots, cumin, mixed spice, paprika, chicken stock and butter beans, throwing in some local curly kale at the end. Best eaten, in our experience, piping hot in the driving rain by a spluttering campfire just before running like Usain Bolt into the tent and the warmth and safety of bed...

The white plastic plates (which, by the way, have Winnie the Pooh on them), just add to the taste experience...

Chorizo, chickpea and mushroom salsa with fried potatoes and a fried egg

I'm not sure whether to call this breakfast, brunch, or lunch, as we ate it at about 11.30am but had already had a slice of toast at 8am, and ate again at around 4pm. Ah well, it was a definite camping larder meal, using the stuff I'd brought with me or acquired throughout our trip, and eggs that the chickens of our next campsite, the brilliant Pure Camping in Querrin, Co Clare, provided in the morning. It's fairly carb-heavy and bathed in oil, but that's what you need at the beginning of October, outdoors, in Ireland!

Let's go and lay eggs for George's breakfast, and then make lots of mess in Sarah's tent.
Egg still in pan when other half took photo!
Fry some chorizo and chopped shallots in olive oil, before adding a chopped fresh chili, a chopped clove of garlic and 5 or 6 chopped chestnut mushrooms. Wait until the shallots and garlic are coloured by the chorizo paprika, add a tin of chickpeas with a mug of vegetable stock, and season. Leave to bubble down until most of the moisture has gone.

In the meantime, shallow fry last night's already-cooked potatoes, chopped up, in whatever oil you have (mine was olive oil but it would be better in vegetable oil or nut oil, especially when you haven't got state-of-the-art washing up equipment to get the stuck potato off the pan), then fry an egg at the last minute and serve on top of the salsa and potatoes so that the yolk runs out. Yummy.
The other half knew he shouldn't have moaned so much
about how packed the car was...

And finally...

Get the other half to wash up in the state-of-the-art camping kitchen sink. Don't laugh, it doesn't half help your back!

Monday, 17 September 2012

Family Sunday lunch: Lamb tortillas with all the trimmings

Very excitingly, the little sister (she's 22 but still my little sister) has just moved to our end of the world to start a new job, so is just round the corner from us and ten minutes drive down the road to the brother's place. So I decided to cook a nice family Sunday lunch for us all to welcome her back Daarn Saaf. (Say it phonetically. It works, I promise.)

My nephew (the brother's son), who by the way just happens to be the cutest most adorable two-month old  in the world (but I'm biased I suppose), decided to be even cuter and more adorable and go to sleep so that we adults could stuff our faces with food.

In honour of the occasion I decided to stretch myself and even make my own flour tortillas and a pudding, even if afterwards the flour and eggshells all over the kitchen made the other half think that two small but very determined trick-or-treaters had turned up a couple of weeks early. The pudding wasn't great so I won't bang on about that, but here's a tip for you: don't use a plastic spoon to stir caramel. 

If the wooden spoons could have rolled their eyes at me, they would have.

Anyway, on with the main event...

Lamb tortillas with roasted peppers; butternut squash, aubergine & rocket salad; spicy rice; and roast tomato & garlic sauce

1. In honour of the occasion, raise yourself out of your nice comfy warm Sunday-morning bed at 8am, and massage olive oil, cumin, paprika, chili, garlic and salt & pepper on to a whole leg of lamb. Pop it into a big deep casserole dish (so that you can cover it with a lid later) and roast for 30 mins on 220c so that it browns a little and the skin begins to take on the flavour of the spices. 

2. Add a glass of white wine to the casserole dish, put the lid on, and roast for another 2 1/2 hours at 150c.

3. Drink rest of the bottle.

4. Realise it's only 9am. Oops. 

5. Panic, look for a good gluten-free dessert in a recipe book, and persuade other half to drive you to Sainsburys. Get "you know you can't bake desserts so why are you trying?" look from George. Ignore it. 

6. Get back from Sainsburys, make dessert, melt favourite blue plastic spoon. Throw said spoon at window and then clean gloopy mess off glass. 

7. After 2 1/2 hours in the oven, add 5 whole peppers, 3 whole large tomatoes and 4 cloves of garlic (peeled but left whole) into the casserole dish with the lamb. Put it back in the oven for another hour.

8. Make tortilla bread mix. Do not, I repeat, do not use 800g of plain flour instead of 200g, unless you want to end up with the mountain of tortillas that I did. Instead, mix 200g plain flour, 2 tablespoons baking powder and a pinch of salt. Add a glug of oil (vegetable or groundnut), then half a pint of boiling water. Mix with the stick end of a wooden spoon if you're not posh enough (or old enough to have the 1970s version) to have a Kenwood Chef with a dough hook. When the dough has come together, leave to cool down. When cool, knead for 5 minutes to make it elastic and stretchy, then divide into balls - around tennis-ball sized if you want nice big tortillas and have a big enough frying pan.

9. Take lamb out of oven and leave covered on the side to stand. Put the peppers and tomatoes back into the oven on a baking tray, seasoned with salt and pepper, and turn the heat up to 200c. Cook for 30 minutes.

10. Cook long-grain or basmati rice, drain, and fry in a knob of butter, shallots, chili and garlic. Add some crunchy salad and coriander at the end, season (and a bit extra chili if you like it hot) and cover so that you're serving it warm but not boiling hot. 

11. Cut butternut squash and aubergines into large chunks, douse with olive oil, salt and pepper, and pop into oven for 20 minutes.

12. Strain the rest of the juice from the casserole into a pan and put on a high heat to reduce - it needs to reduce by about half. After 20 minutes it's ready for the tomatoes from the oven to be diced up and added to make a chunky sauce.

13. In the meantime, take the meat off the lamb - it should just come off the bone and shred apart easily. Pop in a bowl and cover. 

14. Start frying your tortillas - roll out into flat, large round disks and fry in a tiny bit of groundnut oil in a large pan. I find that this makes stops them going dry as they are cooking, which means you can wrap them around the filling without them cracking. I have to admit only finding this out by the last couple of tortillas, and thanks to my sister-in-law who came up with the idea after I was bemoaning the hard, cracked state of the first couple. Probably a good thing I had the whole mountain in the end... (Next time I'm trying the gluten-free version so that I can eat them too).

15. By this time you're ready to take the peppers, butternut squash and aubergines out of the oven. Cut the peppers into strips and mix the squash and aubergines with rocket, olive oil and season. I also cut up some spring onions and cucumber to go into the tortilla wraps.

16. Serve! Everyone really enjoyed making their own tortillas, it's kind of like Chinese duck with pancakes but... well, but not really. And if you're not too exhausted yourself, eat!

Go forth and wrap while the baby is still asleep!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

An alternative Saturday night dinner: Layered beef moussaka with an avocado, rocket and parmesan salad

Leaving to help my sister move yesterday I stupidly fell down my own stairs, totally ruining my chances of going to a friend's birthday party up in Laandon Taan. Very annoyed, so decided to put energy into cooking instead, albeit limping. Good thing my kitchen's not very big.

All the books tell you that moussaka should be topped with a bechamel sauce, and you're really supposed to make it with lamb. However, I had some beautiful beef mince bought from the local butchers, and wondered whether to make a lasagne - but being gluten-free this was a slightly stupid idea (sorry people but gluten-free pasta just ISN'T the same). I had also paid a visit to the local greengrocer earlier in the day and had some lovely big heavy aubergines - so a moussaka was the obvious choice. The problem is, I don't like moussaka. Well, not the way you're supposed to make it - all that gloopy bechamel sauce on the top of mince and aubergine. So I decided to make it like a lasagne, just substituting the pasta for aubergine.

It was absolutely gorgeous - seriously the best thing I've made in ages - the aubergine was thirsty and had drank the bechamel, creating lovely soft chewy cheesy layers. In the morning, the other half had said 'just cook, and follow your instincts... that's when it tastes amazing'. And he was right! So, here's the recipe.

Layered beef moussaka (serves 4)

Cut 2 aubergines into slices lengthways, sprinkle with salt and leave for half an hour, then rinse and dry off on kitchen roll. This helps to relieve the aubergines of some of their moisture and make the dish less oily. 

Make a ragu, just how you like it - I use 2 onions, 3 gloves of a garlic and a chili, and saute them in olive oil on a low heat until the onions have gone translucent. Add lots of cumin and cayenne pepper, a pound and a half of mince and brown, before adding 6 large fresh chopped tomatoes and a pinch of sugar to help, a pint of chicken stock, a splash of worcestershire sauce (gluten-free version obviously!), salt and pepper, and my secret ingredient, a big squirt of HP sauce. Season and leave to simmer for at least an hour, by which time the tomatoes will have broken up and incorporated themselves into the sauce and the mince will have soaked up the spices. 

Make a bechamel sauce (gluten-free version - melt a knob of butter and mix in a couple of tablespoons of rice flour to form a roux, then take off the heat and gradually add half a pint of milk, stirring all the time to ensure there's no lumps, then put back on the heat until it has thickened), then add in grated parmesan, leaving some to scatter on the top of the completed dish. 

Layer up a dish - first the ragu, then a layer of aubergines, then a thin layer of bechamel sauce. I made two layers but my dish was quite large, and I think it would probably be better with three layers in a smaller dish. End with a sprinkling of parmesan, black pepper and dried rosemary on the top. Cook in the oven at 200c for about 40 minutes.

I served mine with an avocado, rocket and parmesan salad, which balanced the hearty meat with fresh peppery flavours. 

Should have taken a picture of it in the dish just as it came out of the oven, it looked much more impressive... Ah well!

By the time I'd eaten my share and polished off three large glasses of red wine, my grump at having to stay in was over. Am trying to stay this way, so am not going to look at pictures on facebook of all my friends enjoying themselves... I'm not. I'm really really not...

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Cooking whilst 'merry': Chana daal and rice flatbread

It was the other half's birthday this week, so we went off to the pub with a group of friends to celebrate, and as is the norm with my friends decided to pretend we were still in our early twenties and carry on the party back at our flat. So, whilst Singstar action was going strong at 2am (sorry neighbours) I decided it would be a good idea to feed everyone. 

The result was a tray of roasted rosemary potatoes and celeriac, and a surprisingly delicious chana daal, which I kept to have for dinner the next night. I'd forgotten I had nothing else in the fridge to go with it though, and as neither of our definitely-not-early-twenty-something bodies were particularly up to rushing down to Sainsburys after the day at work, we ordered in a couple of main dishes from the local Indian takeaway to go with the daal. 

Another prime example of gluten-envy... naan bread. I LOVE naan bread, and don't even speak to me about the 'free from' versions which are minging. So I decided to make some rice bread to go with our curry, inspired by a recipe I saw in Anjum's New India. However, the recipe calls for fresh or frozen coconut, neither of which I could find in the supermarket, so I've doctored it a little, and the result is a yummy rice flatbread which is warm and pliable and great for scooping up chana daal and chana masala and lamb korai and pilau rice... or anything else for that matter.

Oh, I haven't included the recipe for the chana daal here because... well, to be honest I can't really remember how I made it. But it was nice.

Got too hungry to make them all, so left some to make today instead

Rice flatbread

Bring 300ml of water to the boil in a pan on a medium heat, then add 100g of coconut milk. Pour in 200g of rice flour and 80g of dessicated coconut. Stir with the stick end of a wooden spoon (adds a bit like a dough hook) until the dough comes together. Take off the heat, cover and leave for 10 minutes to cool down. (Don't do what I did and cover it with foil, which of course keeps the heat in and then burns your hands.)

Drop out of the pan onto a work surface covered with rice flour, and knead for 5 minutes. Break mixture into small balls (about 12 or so). Heat a flat griddle pan or frying pan, roll out each ball into a thin disk (should be a small plate-size) and fry for 25 seconds or so each side. The brown spots that appear should show you when it's done, but if you taste it you'll see if it's cooked or not - uncooked flour and water definitely has a distinctive taste!

Next time I make chana daal, I will post the recipe...