28 February 2015

Rich chocolatey coffee flavours with a Vietnamese Coffee Phin

If you already know what a Vietnamese coffee Phin is, you'll be nodding your head wisely and agreeing already.

I have to admit that at the beginning of this year I had never heard of a Vietnamese Coffee Phin and we were sublimely happy with our Aeropress coffee maker.  Now I'm not saying that the Aeropress has been pushed into second place, but the Phin has very definitely made it shuffle over on the podium for a joint first.

Hubby alerted me to the Vietnamese Phin, his curiosity having been piqued by seeing them in action in a BBC2 programme "The Coffee Trail", presented by Simon Reeve - which was all about how Vietnam has emerged as the largest coffee producer in the world and the shaky future that coffee has there.  He did a bit of research and reading about Vietnamese coffee and the use of a Phin and once we'd discovered they could be had via Amazon, well that clinched the deal.  I bought him one for Valentine's day - along with some beautiful and amazingly flavoured Vietnamese coffee and I'll tell you more about that a little later. 

So, what IS a Vietnamese Coffee Phin?  Well, it is primarily a one-person coffee brewer/maker, made from stainless steel and comprising very few parts - ours has three, the main cup, a lid and a screw down pressure plate.  Already you can tell that it is simplicity itself.

Making coffee with a Phin is not a matter for the hurried.  As with everything good, it takes time, relaxation and a little bit of love.  However, the mechanics of it could not be any easier.  Measure your ground coffee into the bottom of your brewing cup then screw down the pressure plate.  Initially, simply add a touch of your just boiled water which will scald the coffee grounds, causing them to swell and ingeniously form their own filter.  No messy filter papers with this little baby!

If you're doing it authentically, the brewing cup should be placed over a tall glass into which you've added a teaspoonful of sweetened condensed milk.  Now don't go all sharp intake of breath on me, if you take sugar in your coffee you won't need to - and if you don't take it, you're in for a surprise.

Wait for some 30 seconds or so for the coffee to swell, then fill the brewing cup.  Add the lid and then find something else to do for around 5 minutes.  Instructional videos we watched recommended singing, or dancing to your favourite tune.  I applaud this recommendation, although have yet to try it.  We are generally occupied in letting the dogs out in the garden, yelling at them to stop barking at the squirrels and then letting them back in again.

In the meantime, your coffee will have dripped languorously through the last pressure plate and be resting somewhat haughtily on top of the milk, patently refusing to have anything to do with it.  The two colours do look enticing, however!  Oh - and I must add that at this stage, real hard core Vietnamese have been known to drink the coffee neat and black.  Much respect to those die-hards!  In our case, a quick twirl with a spoon sees the two substances combined - and a top up with more boiled water finishes off the process.  Mind you, if you're my Hubby it doesn't stop there.  Out comes the squirty cream and just to finish the process, a dash of sprinkles.  Never let it be said he would spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar.

So okay - that's how you do it.  But how does it taste, in comparison with something like the Aeropress, or more commonly used brewing methods?  Well, the difference between it and any other is that the slow brewing method seems to knock any raw edges off and produces a superbly smooth coffee even with a Force 5 Java going through it.  The contrast is remarkable, notable and unique.

Now - about the coffee we used, which was Mr Phong's Private Reserve Premium from Weasel Premium Vietnamese Coffees.  If you are curious about Vietnamese coffee, this is a perfect starting point because of its seductively velvety, deeply chocolatey complex flavour notes.

Why "Weasel" Premium coffee?  Well, I can do no better than to quote the Weasel website, which says : 

Sharp looking little fella!
"Somehow, it was discovered that certain weasels (or civets, or 'luwak', depending on the country), dine nightly on the best, ripest coffee cherries. At some point in time, some brave person decided to try and make coffee from the partially-digested beans that had passed through the weasel. The result was the amazing transformed coffee that we know as "Kopi Luwak, or "Weasel", with its distinctive rich aroma and smooth, mocha flavor and texture.

So, the reality is that authentic Weasel coffee does in fact exist. It is safe and thoroughly clean, probably cleaner than regular coffee, and it does taste wonderful if you like smooth, mellow, rather sweet coffee that is more like mocha than "cafe Americano".
We picked the Weasel to represent Weasel brand Premium Vietnamese coffees, because he (or she?) represents the best coffee that Vietnam has to offer. Our coffees are blends of the finest, small-plantation, small batch, roasted coffee cherries, selected by the farmers and the Weasels. Our two top prepackaged coffees do contain a small amount of authentic, Weasel coffee. It's what gives them their earthy, smoky, mocha-like flavor and texture".
So there you have it.  Touched by weasels?  A little bit!  Try it and before long, you'll love your Weasel, too.

26 February 2015

Kashmiri Spiced Chicken Pittas

Kashmiri spiced chicken pitta, that worked out even better than I thought it would!

This is an idea that got carried over into this week's menu list, having been bumped from last week's good intentions.  I have done similar things with meat and pitta bread very successfully in the past (see Spicy Chicken In Pitta Bread, Kibbeh Meatballs in Pitta Bread and Minty Aromatic Pulled Lamb Pittas), so I had a good feeling about this one.

As dinner concepts go, it really is simplicity itself.

Good sized chicken breast chunks are marinated in goat yoghurt, lime juice, Kashmiri chilli powder and curry powder, then oven baked.  Easy peasy!  Plus, don't be worried about making too much of the chicken, as it is just as good the following day as a cold sandwich filling.  It is very well worth finding the Kashmiri chilli powder, as it has an interesting flavour being not terribly spicy hot at all but very flavoursome.  It also has an amazing red colour that is particular to the Kashmiri chilli and I've put a link at the bottom of the page to Amazon, where they have a number of different suppliers.  We found our Kashmiri chilli powder in our local ethnic shop (one of these shops that sells all kinds of spices, fruit and tins of things you've never heard of) so do keep an eye out for it.

The wholemeal pitta (it's worthwhile using wholemeal as it adds to the nutty flavour and tend to stay softer than the white versions) has hummus and a home made raita - plus the chicken of course - inside of it.  Serving everything is the work of minutes to grill the pittas, then smear in some hummus, add the chicken pieces (a pair of tongs works very well here), drizzle over the raita and you're done.

I served them with some home made salt & pepper potato wedges and a watermelon & tomato chopped salad with a pomegranate molasses dressing, which provided a nice freshness.

Everyone loved these pittas - the heat of the curry spices, cool cucumber and mint together with the nuttiness of the pitta and hummus was a complete winner.


Ingredients :

3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into large chunks
3 dessertspoonfuls of goat yoghurt (or Greek yoghurt)
2 heaped tsp of mild curry powder
1.5 tsp of Kashmiri chilli powder (or 1 tsp ordinary chilli powder)
half a tsp of Garam Masala
a pinch of sea salt
the juice of half a lime
4 wholemeal pitta bread
8 heaped tsp hummus.

For the Raita :

2 inch piece of cucumber, peeled and seeds removed, chopped fine
1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped fine
pinch of sea salt
pinch of black pepper
2 dessertspoonfuls of goat yoghurt (or Greek yoghurt).

Method :

1.  Mix the goat yoghurt, curry powder, chilli powder, Garam Masala, lime juice and sea salt together in a bowl.  Add the chicken chunks, stir to coat in the mixture and leave to marinate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

2.  To prepare the raita, mix all the ingredients in a bowl and set aside for the flavours to get to know one another.

3.  Place the chicken pieces along with the remains of the marinade, onto a baking tray with sides, as there will be liquid produced as the chicken cooks.

4.  Cook the chicken at 200degC/400degF/Gas 6 for 25-30mins, until the edges are just beginning to char and the chicken is cooked through.  Half way through the cooking time, remove the chicken from the oven and pour the cooking liquid away.  Return to the oven for the remainder of the time.

5.  Grill the pitta bread and slit down one side.

6.  Spread 2 tsp of hummus onto one side of the pitta bread.

7.  Fill the pitta with chicken pieces, then drizzle with raita.

Serve the pittas with a side salad of your choice and salt & pepper potato wedges.

Printable version

23 February 2015

Rabbit & parsnip pie

Rabbit and parsnip pie.  Insert very big grin here.

Many moons ago, we bought a wild rabbit from a local butcher and it turned out to be the mankiest, smelliest, half cleaned and extremely tough bit of ancient rabbit you could ask for.  Perhaps not surprisingly, that put me off dealing with whole rabbits for quite some time.  However, when Farmer's Choice (Free Range) Ltd offered me a chance to have another go with some quality wild rabbit, how could I say no?  After all, I'd had a rabbit pie quietly baking in my imagination for quite some time.

Now I wanted this rabbit pie to be one that anyone could make, made with ingredients that are readily accessible or that could be in anyone's kitchen.  No wild and wacky ingredients, just good honest rabbit compatible flavours that would make this pie acceptable to most people, might even go as far as demystifying rabbit a little - and who knows, perhaps even rabbitophobes might consider giving it a go.

Beautiful rabbit, dredged in seasoned flour and in the pan
The Farmer's Choice rabbit was beautiful.  Clean as a whistle and smelling as fresh as a daisy, it was no more cringe inducing to handle than a fresh chicken - and even easier to joint up into pieces.

Oh and I must add, my three mobile dustbins were VERY interested in it and were there begging for offcuts within seconds of removing the rabbit from its packaging.  However, they were all out of luck as rabbit has negligible amounts of fat on it and they arrive unzipped, undressed and ready to go.  (The rabbit, that is, not the dogs).

The smell that wafted from the cooker as the rabbit slow cooked in the casserole dish was utterly mouthwatering - and we had to suffer that for two hours.
Seared, in the casserole and into the oven for the next 2 hours

Naturally, as a cook it is entirely your responsibility to taste your ingredients as the cooking proceeds ~koff~ and I can confirm that the flavour of the rabbit was sublime.  Everyone says that rabbit is a sweet flavoured meat and I can see that, yes - but it isn't sweetly sweet in a sugary way, it is mild, slightly woodland with a touch of earthy and reminds me very much of the texture of a chicken thigh, but no - it doesn't taste chickeny at all.  It is really lovely and something I would be very happy to entertain regularly on the menu plan.

No spare space for anything other than a bit of gravy
I will admit that this recipe involves a lot of steps.  It took me best part of a day - although I wasn't in the kitchen for the entirety of the day.  First making the pastry, then preparing the meat for the casserole, then a bit of a pause while the casserole did its thing, then it was all go through to the end.  So it isn't a recipe for when you're in a hurry! It would be perfectly possible to split the preparation between two days - make the filling on the first day, then refrigerate it until the following day when you can make the pastry, fill the pie and bake it.  Just remember to get the filling out of the fridge to come to room temperature in good time, or the baking time will be incorrect.

Golden and crisp, a thing of absolute beauty
I'm fairly sure that the ingredients are as economical as possible, with most wild rabbits costing between £5-£7 each (February 2015 prices) and currently £6.71 for a 1kg rabbit from Farmer's Choice (Free Range) Ltd.  Of course, you would need to factor in the delivery charge there, too - but rabbit is still one of those few fairly economical meats.

The pie would serve 5-6 hungry people and go further if children were involved.  So far as I can see, the only expense in the cooking is your time and the power required to fire up your oven.

Now, I have a few Cook's Tips for you.

I have stated to use "strong" stock and by that I mean stock that has rather more stock powder (once again, I thoroughly recommend Essential Cuisine's chicken or vegetable stock) than one would ordinarily use.  In order to gain the intensity of flavour, I made up my chicken stock with 1.5 tsp of stock powder for 500ml of water instead of the customary 1 tsp.  For this reason - and the reduction of the stock for gravy - it is essential to use a low salt stock cube (and Essential Cuisine's stocks are all naturally low salt).  It would be an easy thing to spoil the pie by making the stock too salty. 

My second cook's note is not to work the dough more than is absolutely necessary and certainly do not knead it at all.  The less you work the flour and the smaller the amount of water you use to hold it all together, the lighter the end result will be.  Incidentally, you won't need the egg until much later in the pie making process so keep it standing by!

This was son & heir's first taste of rabbit and he was very happy with it.  Everyone cleaned their plate and gave the dish a big thumbs up.  The leftovers of the pie even stood up well to being microwaved for lunch the following day.  The pastry stayed crisp and the filling was just as yummy.

Rabbits aren't as easy to get hold of as they once were, but if you see some rabbit in the shops - or even better, would like to order one from Farmer's Choice - do consider giving this pie a try.  If I can turn out a fabulous pie like this, anyone can. 

RABBIT & PARSNIP PIE   (serves 5-6)

Ingredients :

1 leek, quartered and chopped
3 tbsp olive oil (each tbsp used individually)
1 wild rabbit, jointed into 6 pieces, or 500g diced rabbit
2-3 tbsp plain flour
half a tsp sea salt
half a tsp black pepper
3 rashers back bacon, diced finely
1 small carrot, peeled & finely diced
1 stick celery, de-strung and finely diced
1 onion, finely diced
3 mushrooms, halved and sliced
2-3 bay leaves
half a tsp dried thyme
1 parsnip, cut into bite sized pieces
500ml strong chicken or vegetable low salt stock
3 semi dried prunes, sliced finely
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped finely.

For the pastry :

300g plain flour
100g Atora shredded suet (I use vegetable suet)
100g butter
120ml sparkling mineral water (although tap water will do)
sea salt
an egg, beaten, to glaze.

Method :

1.  Begin by making the pastry.  Place the flour into a large bowl and add the suet, butter and sea salt.  Rub the fat into the pastry by rubbing it between your fingertips, until you have what appears to be a cross between cornflake shapes and breadcrumbs.

2.  Add the water gradually - you may not need the whole amount, or you may need a little more - mixing with a knife and patting and pushing the dough together to form a ball.

3.  Once the pastry has formed a ball, wrap it in cling film and put it in the fridge to rest.

4.  Take a large, deep frying pan and add enough olive oil - up to 1 tbsp - to cook the leek in.  Heat over a moderate heat and add the leek.  The object of the exercise is to cook the leek without any browning or caramelisation.  You want soft leeks with bright green colour still.  Once cooked (around 10 mins) remove from the pan and reserve.

5.  If the rabbit isn't already jointed, cut it into six joints - the two back legs, saddle, ribcage and two front legs.

6.  Place the flour, sea salt & black pepper into a large plastic bag and shake to combine.  Add the rabbit pieces and give a good old shake about, to dredge the rabbit with the flour.

7.  Add another tbsp of olive oil to the pan and heat over a high heat.  Once really hot, add the first three rabbit joints and sear them until golden.  Remove into a casserole dish and retain.  Repeat the process for the next three rabbit joints.

8.  Reduce the heat under the pan and add the bacon.  Cook until the fat has rendered and the bacon is just beginning to colour.

9.  Add onion, carrot, celery, mushrooms and bay leaves and a little (100ml) water to mobilise whatever oil is in the pan and deglaze the pan base, which will steam the vegetables until the water has evaporated, then fry the vegetables.  Aim for a slight colouring and softened vegetables.  Add the thyme and parsnip and decant the vegetables into the casserole dish.

10.  Pour the stock into the frying pan and heat it through until just boiling.  Decant into the casserole dish, cover the casserole and place into a pre-heated oven at 170degC/325degF/Gas 3 for the next 2 hours.

11.  When the two hours are up, remove the rabbit onto a plate and using a slotted spoon, sieve out the vegetables into a bowl.  Decant the remaining stock into a small saucepan and reserve.

12.  Place the stock onto a moderate heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce the quantity until the flavour of the stock is sufficiently intense - you will probably have reduced it by half and it will have thickened somewhat.  You can then spoon any excess oil from the top of the stock.

13.  Remove the meat from the rabbit bones and discard the bones.  Place the chunks of meat into another bowl and add the leek, prunes and parsley along with sufficient of the casserole vegetables to make up the quantities for your pie dish.

14.  Add two or three tbsp of reduced stock to the pie filling and stir gently to combine.  Set aside to cool completely while you roll out the pastry.

15.  Cut the pastry ball into one third/two thirds and re-wrap the two thirds.  Roll out the one third to the correct size to line your pie dish.  Lay it into the pie dish and make sure no air bubbles are between the pastry and the dish.  Trim to size.

16.  Add the cooled pie filling, heaping it towards the centre of the dish.  Press down lightly as you go, you want to have as deeply filled a pie as is possible.

17.  Using the beaten egg, brush a little egg wash around the pastry edge.

18.  Roll out the two thirds piece of pastry to a size larger than the pie dish, that will cover the filling and comfortably meet the edges of the pastry.   Lay the rolled out pastry over the pie and smooth it down to the edges.  Press the pastry lightly over the egg washed edges, then using a decorative knife point, or fork, or any other method of your choosing, press an attractive pattern into the edge which will not only look nice but will secure the two pastry pieces together.  Trim the pastry neatly and remove the excess.

19.  Neatly cut a hole into the top of the pie and give the pastry a good coating with egg wash.  If you're feeling creative, you can now cut some leaves, or a likkle rabbit, out of the excess pastry to decorate your pie with.  Lay the decoration onto the egg washed pastry and give them their own coating of egg wash.

20.  The pie is now ready for baking!  Place into a pre-heated oven at 180degC/350degF/Gas 4 for 45 - 50 minutes or so.  Keep an eye on the pastry in the last 10 minutes, you are aiming for a golden top with discernibly golden pastry sides (presuming your pie dish is transparent, that is!).

Once baked and when you remove your pie from the oven, remember to take a moment to appreciate your creation.  You've taken enough time to bring it to life, a bit of appreciation before you cut it and destroy its natural beauty, is only right and proper.

Serve the pie with seasonal vegetables of your choice and the remaining stock as gravy.

Printable version

19 February 2015

Weekday beef mince - tasty and versatile

We thought we'd have a trip back in time for dinner today.  Around 15 years ago, we were living in Chatham and I was working at Hampton Court Palace, in Surrey.  Both before and after work, I would care for my donkey, who was also in Surrey.  As you can imagine, I didn't have a lot of time left for cooking, between leaving for stables and then work at around 6am, then returning home at around 9pm.

So, on the days when I did cook - hubby-to-be would often have something ready by the time I got home - it would have to be something easy.  Something really easy.

Common or garden weekday mince was always a favourite.  However, since I've had more time to cook, poor old weekday mince was relegated to history and never seen again.

I was cooking the other day when I remembered a time when some builders were working on the house and I was cooking weekday mince.  They were both like Bisto kids outside the back door and eventually, one came and asked what I was cooking.  They seemed impressed at how good it smelled - for just plain old mince - and we had quite a conversation about how to make it, complete with scribbled notes on the back of a cigarette packet for his wife to peruse!

That memory reminded me of how good weekday mince was, so I resolved to add it to the menu list.  We had it for dinner this evening and it was so good.  Not surprisingly, I have to pass the recipe on to you all.  So here we go!


Ingredients :

1 tsp olive oil
500mg beef mince
1 onion, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 baby red peppers (or half a red pepper), chopped finely
1 tsp dried oregano
1 flat tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of sea salt
quarter tsp of black pepper
1 Knorr rich beef stock pot
1 tsp Bovril
1 tsp HP Sauce
300ml water
3 tsp Bisto Best beef gravy granules.

Method :  

1.  Brown the beef mince in a deep frying pan until all the water has evaporated, then continue until the meat has caramelised on the underside at least three times.  Caramelise it, then turn the meat, then caramelise again and repeat once again.

2.  Use a slotted spoon to remove the meat and reserve.  Remove and discard some of the fat, then add the olive oil.

3.  Add the onion, garlic and peppers along with a little salt and fry until the onion is transparent.

4.  Mix in the meat and add the cinnamon and oregano along with black pepper.

5.  Add the stock pot, the Bovril and the HP sauce.  Add 200-300ml of water and stir to combine.  Bring to a boil and reduce by approximately half.  Stir regularly.

6.  Reduce the heat, cover the pan and simmer for 20 minutes or so.

7.  Add the Bisto best gravy granules, the gravy will thicken, then simmer - stirring regularly - for 10 minutes or so.


Printable version

Lamb and potato pasties - oh yes please!

Here we go then!  The last recipe that takes care of the leftovers from the beautiful rolled lamb shoulder that I used for the Minty Aromatic Pulled Lamb Pittas and the Crunchy Lamb Spring Rolls.  Well, if you discount the socking great - and delicious - cold roast lamb and mint jelly sandwich I had for lunch with the very last bits, that is.  Many, many thanks go out to Farmers Choice (Free Range) Ltd, for providing such a versatile and delicious, top quality piece of lamb.

This was another of hubby's bright ideas, that - in my opinion - worked even better than the Spring Roll recipe did.

Because it was a simple recipe - just the pre-cooked lamb, potatoes and a few small peas - I pondered for a while over how to inject more flavour into the whole thing.  I was concerned that the gentle flavour of the lamb, together with the relative blandness of the potato, would all be too wishy washy to stand up to the pastry.  I'm sure you're all well  aware of how a large quantity of pastry can obliterate even the heartiest of flavours.

Adding flavours to the lamb wasn't a good idea as it had been cooked for a long slow cook originally and had received quite enough cooking time, especially as it was about to go back into the oven in the pasties.  Because of the spicing of the lamb, it carried a good pronounced flavour already.  So that basically just left the potato.  What could I do, to cheer up the potato?

I remembered how, in the past, I would cook new potatoes and add a teaspoonful of mint sauce - the vinegary one, not mint jelly - to them before serving.  I had to stop doing that when my son developed a hatred of vinegar, but I crossed my fingers that just a teaspoonful in the pasty filling mixture wouldn't offend.  It would give a nice background minty flavour, whilst the vinegar would give a high flavour note to broaden the depth of those already there.  Well, it sounded good to me.

I wanted to keep the potato in chunks - cubes, if we're being pedantic - so mixing anything with it that would break the cubes down into mash would be bad.  So the only other route to flavouring the potato was to cook it in something.  The obvious thing was to break out the Essential Cuisine Lamb Stock that is always at the ready.  Providing a lovely lamb stock to cook the potatoes in would ensure that they absorb great flavour and enhance the lamb side of things, which after all was the star of the show.  If you've not been converted to Essential Cuisine's stocks, do feel free to use a lamb stock cube.  I would heartily recommend you use a low salt one, for obvious reasons.

I had always intended to par boil the potato - so as to prevent any nasty crunchy potato crises in the finished product - and this was the perfect answer.

In fact, it worked beautifully.  To eat a cube of potato on its own, the lamb flavour wasn't all that big and "in your face", to quote the vernacular.  However, when put in conjunction with the lamb itself and the mint - which was entirely in context in this use - it all came together in a harmonious and flavoursome whole which stood up perfectly to the domination of the pastry.

The pastry could bear some discussion here, as I chose to use shortcrust pastry.  Just because the only commercially produced sausage rolls and pasties you can buy use puff or flaky pastry, does not mean that it is the only pastry that should be used.

So the long and the short of it is the advice that if you prefer puff or flaky - or any other kind of pastry - then by all means use your preferred type.  So long as it encases the filling satisfactorily, it matters not.

The quantities given below, filled three pasties of approximately 8 inches across.  So if you are intending on making more, you'll need to increase the quantities accordingly.

They really are the most uncomplicated things to make - and if you retain the liquid from cooking the potatoes, then add some gravy granules to it (I heartily recommend Bisto's Best Lamb Gravy), you will have a tasty gravy for those who enjoy gravy with their pasty.  Yes, I know, there will be sharp intakes of breath all around because of the encouragement to use gravy granules - but as a swift and effective means to a tasty gravy, it will forever beat the other more long winded ways of achieving the same end result - that of some tasty gravy.

Now I'm not particularly a pasty kind of a gal, but I really enjoyed mine.  On a scale of one to brilliant, these pasties rate right up there on the brilliant side.  Son and heir gave his the thumbs up too - and even took care of the last one for lunch the following day.  Hubby was out that night and didn't indulge, so I'm afraid we can't ask his opinion on the taste test!  Oh and incidentally, son and heir didn't notice the use of the mint sauce in the pasty beyond suspiciously asking whether I'd used mint jelly (he hates that too) in there.  Once reassured that it was mint sauce, not mint jelly, he was appeased.  Well, he had to have been - he ate two of them!

I served our pasties with oven baked salt & pepper potato wedges and a side of mushy peas.  Well, it seemed fitting to go with humble food.  By all means serve yours with a salad, or with steamed vegetables if that's what you like.  The pasties won't mind!

LAMB & POTATO PASTIES   (serves 3)

Ingredients :

340g shortcrust pastry
1 egg yolk
1 large potato, diced small
1.5 tsp Essential Cuisine lamb stock powder or a low salt lamb stock cube
1.5 tbsp (or thereabouts) Bisto Best lamb gravy granules
250g roasted lamb shoulder, diced
2 tbsp petits pois
half a tsp mint sauce.

Method :

1.  Using just enough water to cover the potatoes in a medium sized saucepan, bring the water to a boil and add the stock powder.

2.  Stir the stock until dissolved, then add the potato and simmer for 5 minutes or so, until the dice are just tender.

3. Using a slotted spoon, remove the potato to a bowl and reserve to cool.  Retain around a quarter of the stock and add just enough gravy grains to thicken it.  Set it aside to cool.

4.  Dice the lamb and place into a bowl with the cooled potato, two spoonfuls of the gravy, the petits pois and mint sauce.  Stir gently to combine.

5.  Roll out the pastry and cut out three 8" circles.

6.  Using the egg yolk, paint a little onto the edge of one half of each pastry circle.

7.  Divide the filling between the three pastry circles, placing it on the un-egged side of the pastry.

8.  Fold the egged side of the pastry over to encase the filling and press down lightly to seal.

9.  Follow around the edge of the pastry with a decorative pattern, pressed in to fix the pastry properly, and cut a hole into the top to let the steam out.

10.  Place onto a baking tray and give the pasties a good covering of egg wash.

11.  Bake at 190degC/375degF/Gas5 for 30-35 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and crisp.

Serve with potato wedges and mushy peas.

Printable version

18 February 2015

Fast brekkie, soupy lunch, divine dinner - works for me!

Today, being Tuesday ... hang on, it's Wednesday.  Well, for circumstances we won't go into here (dull, dull) we didn't get to go shopping until today.  So I found myself outside Asda with a growly tummy of doom and succumbed to a Mcdonald's double bacon & egg Mcmuffin and a cup of tea.  I resolved to make up for it at lunchtime.  LOL  No three course lunch for me, today.

When lunchtime came around, it was a quick scan of the soup cupboard and recourse to good old Heinz soups - Lentil and Bacon, in fact.  Add a few Finn Crisp crispbreads with a smidgeon of goat butter on each (they make fantastic dipping ammunition and carry far less calories than a piece of bread) and a couple of plums for afters and there's lunch sorted.  457 calories for the lot, which was equivalent to the Mcdonalds brekkie - so it could have been worse.

I had one of my favourites on the menu plan for our evening meal - the Sicilian Pork Ragu with chocolate (go to http://jennyeatwellsrhubarbginger.blogspot.co.uk/2010/12/sicilian-pork-ragu-with-chocolate-co.html to find the recipe).  Mmmmn, oh how I adore that dish.  It is so simple to make, so long as you give it time to marry up the flavours and reduce to the correct flavour intensity.  You really can't hurry this one.  The chocolate is just one square stirred in towards the end and although it doesn't make a huge difference to the flavour, it does richen both the colour and the texture along with making a subtle difference to the flavour.

We tried out Asda's fresh egg spinach fettucine for the first time with the Ragu and it was epic.  Really, really good.  I recommend both to you!

For dessert, we had the rare occurrence of a "proper" almost home made dessert which was a real throwback to the seventies.  On Valentine's day, I had received a beautiful box of plums, peaches and nectarines from South African fruit.  I ripened them up in the fruit bowl, then put them in the fridge to await their fate.  Easily assembled, the flan involved a sponge flan case with sweetened vanilla mascarpone smoothed inside, then the sliced fruit (peaches and nectarines) laid on top and secured by lemon jelly.  Fan-flipping-tastic.

It's probably best not to think about the calories for the flan were (404 for a quarter, ouch!) - but the calories for the Ragu were very acceptable at 686, especially considering the amount of red wine that is involved in its cooking.

It was certainly a good day where food was concerned!

17 February 2015

Crunchy Lamb Spring Rolls

Okay, so you remember the lamb shoulder that I slow cooked for the Minty Aromatic Pulled Lamb Pittas?  Well, I only used half of the joint of lamb in the pittas and put the other half into the freezer while I pondered on what to use it for.

Today's Crunchy Lamb Spring Rolls is the first instalment of "making the most of a socking great piece of rolled lamb shoulder - the leftovers".

Now I've never made Spring Rolls before, but I've eaten plenty of them!  As a result, I had a pretty good idea of how they are supposed to taste.  However, I've not had a lamb version of them before, so that was something new.  Plus of course, the lamb had been marinated in about a thousand different spices before being slow cooked, so I very definitely wasn't looking for something that needed a lot of spice, or a lot of cooking.  I wanted to be able to taste the spicing on the lamb and certainly didn't want to dry it out.  All those points ruled out a lot of options that you might classically use when dealing with roasted meat leftovers.

The quarter of leftover lamb, prior to being shredded. Such leanness!
I have to say that the idea of putting it into Spring Rolls wasn't mine, it was my hubby's.  However, I liked the idea immediately and could see how it fitted the short cooking style and capitalised on the spicing of the lamb.

I'd make a rubbish cigar roller!
Before we go any further, I just have to say a few things about the wrapping.  Yes, I used filo pastry and no, I didn't use spring roll wrappers.  Why?  Well because filo pastry is easily accessible from the supermarket and spring roll wrappers aren't.  Simple as that.  I know that, in the past, I've used some bizarre ingredients that aren't generally available but as with the original recipe for the lamb, I wanted everything to be easily accessible so that the majority could have the opportunity of enjoying these recipes.  If, however, you have a shop on your doorstep that sells spring roll wrappers then by all means use them!  I'm all about accessibility, even if not authenticity.

I had 640g of lamb left from the joint (it really was huge!) and a few Spring Rolls weren't going to use all that, so I cut it in half (again) and the remainder is in the fridge awaiting its fate - Lamb and Potato Pasties.  Yum.

As it turned out, the 320g of cold lamb was perfect for 9 of these rather oversized Spring Rolls.  I think in future, instead of cutting the pastry in half, I'll cut it into thirds so as to achieve rather shorter Spring Rolls.  However, the length didn't matter one jot from a cooking point of view - it's simply a visual thing and an ease of eating thing.  Being so long, it did make the dipping of them an interesting operation that was resolved with a paper napkin under the chin - but being shorter would solve that problem rather more elegantly.

The stir fried veggies with shredded lamb and five spice.
I was concerned that the veggies would be cooked sufficiently so as to retain a bite, but not be super crunchy.  After all, there was carrot in there and you know how hard carrot can be.  I didn't want hard pencils of semi raw carrot to detract from the soft gentleness of the lamb.  As such, don't feel tempted to skip the stir frying part of the recipe.  It really doesn't take long (far shorter than prepping the vegetables did!) and is very important in bringing the right kind of texture to your Spring Rolls.

I didn't include the meat in the stir frying, as having been cooked once it didn't need any extra and the heat from the baking would be sufficient to heat it through.

So - cook's tips.  The rolling up of the things didn't go quite according to plan initially, but I did get better as we went on and the last two were perfect.  It is well worth folding the edges in before the last two turns, so as to achieve a neat pocket that prevents the filling from escaping.

Also, don't feel compelled (if you are using filo pastry) to bathe the things in oil once they are rolled.  Just a smattering brushed over the top is sufficient to achieve a nice golden colour and crisp pastry.  Too much oil can result in a greasy Spring Roll and as we're oven baking them, that would be a shame.

Because the lamb I used was quite highly spiced in its original incarnation, I only used a teaspoonful of five spice in the filling mixture.  However, if your lamb, chicken or prawns (all of which would be fab) don't already carry spice, I would increase the five spice by a half a teaspoonful, or perhaps a little more.

If you have one, I can recommend using a mandolin for the carrot julienne.  Makes it so much quicker unless your knife skills are pretty darned hot.

They (spring rolls, not mandolins) really are the easiest of things to produce - and I'll be tempted to use the leftovers from our next roast chicken for the next batch.  I'm sure that would be just as scrummy. I served mine with vegetable & egg fried rice plus a Chinese style dipping sauce, but they would be just as good with a sweet chilli sauce.  Equally, they would be great with salad or as picnic food (when the weather improves!).

CRUNCHY LAMB SPRING ROLLS  (makes 9 large sized, 12 smaller)

Ingredients :

1 tbsp peanut oil
8 good sized spring onions, chopped diagonally and including as much of the green as is possible
Half a Hispi or Pointed sweet cabbage, shredded
1 carrot, peeled and julienned finely
2 big handfuls of beansprouts
1 tsp Chinese five spice
a pinch of freshly ground black pepper
300g cooked, roasted lamb, shredded
200g filo pastry sheets
2 tbsp olive oil.

Method :

1.  Prepare the vegetables prior to needing them and heat the peanut oil in a wok until really hot.

2.  Stir fry the vegetables, keep turning them to prevent from browning in any way, until the carrots are just tender.

3.  Tip the veggies into a heat proof bowl and set aside to cool a little.

4.  Chop and shred the lamb.

5.  Add the five spice, pepper and lamb to the veggies and stir to combine.

6.  Cut the pastry pieces to size.

7.  Brush a little oil onto the edges of the top half of the first sheet.

8.  Place a spoonful (or more if you are making larger rolls) of the filling onto the lower half of the pastry sheet.

9.  Gently start to roll the filling into the pastry, keeping the pastry as tight as possible without splitting it.  Roll up to the oiled section, then fold in the edges to seal the filling into the tube.

10.  Continue to roll until the pastry sheet is taken up.  The oil should help the last bit to stick.

11.  Gently place onto a baking sheet and continue with the next pastry sheet.

12.  Once all are rolled, place into a pre-heated oven at 180degC/340degF/Gas4 for 25-30 minutes or until the rolls are golden and crispy.

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4 February 2015

Minty aromatic pulled lamb pittas

As with the Stellar Slow Cooked Lamb Shanks, the gorgeous (huge!) rolled and boned piece of lamb shoulder came (delivered by courier, still frozen) from Farmer's Choice Free Range Ltd., for me to "play with" and develop a recipe for them to feature on their website.

I spent a week or so thinking about what to do with it.  Yes, I could have just roasted it and had the biggest slap up roast lamb dinner of all time - and it would have been utterly memorable - but you know me, things like that just seem too easy.  If every blogger does that, then how does it demonstrate what joe public could be enjoying?

I don't believe in "fiddling about" with a gorgeous product just for the sake of it - if it is something different, something a bit out of the ordinary to begin with, then I'll honour that and do the simplest thing available, so as to make the product the star of the show.

36 hours of marination is up - time to cook!
Now in this case, in no way am I implying that this gorgeous lamb shoulder was run of the mill.  I mean, just look at it!  No, it was quite the opposite.  I can honestly say I have never had a rough piece of meat from Farmer's Choice Free Range, they have all been quite special in their own right.  The lamb was no different, no more fatty than you would expect a good quality piece of lamb to be and with great muscle development, which gives you lovely lines of lean meat.  However, it was a simple rolled and boned lamb shoulder.  A normal Sunday roast cut of meat.  So, what to do with it, that makes it a little bit out of the ordinary?

I'm sue you won't be surprised to hear that I tossed probably dozens of ideas out before I finally hit upon "the one".

Just an hour of cooking time left to go - and smelling amazing.
Out in foodie circles, there is much talk of pulled pork - which has translated to the supermarkets and burger restaurants.  Even our local pizza chain is now offering pulled pork on their pizzas.  So, how about pulled lamb?  Let's develop a complimentary marinade or rub for the lamb, then slow roast it to render most of the fat - and pull it.  Oooh yes, now this is sounding good.  Serve the pulled lamb in a wholemeal pitta bread (the wholemeal ones have way more flavour), with a minted yoghurt sauce?  Yup.  Maybe some roast sweet potato chips (fries) alongside and a little salad for freshness.  Well there you have it.  The recipe suddenly almost wrote itself.

Why, oh why, can't blogging use smellivision?
I knew that I wanted to include mint in the marinade, because lamb with mint is just the BEST thing.  As for what spices to include, well I knew about the North African spices - Ras al Hanout, Harissa - but I didn't fancy those too much.  After all, Ras al Hanout has rose petals in it.  Rose and mint?  Maybe in a sweet - not with lamb though.  Harissa can be quite harsh and lamb doesn't need harsh treatment.

So I looked at a lot of lamb recipes just to get my head focused more on what I didn't want, rather than what I did want, to put with the lamb.  Then I went to the spice cupboard and started putting spices together.  I wound up with quite a list, but it smelled fantastic.  Added sea salt and black pepper, that was a given.  Now lamb can be quite fatty - so I wasn't pushed to decide upon how much extra to give the joint, just a little olive oil to cheer along the upper layers.  However, the marinade needed (by this time it was definitely a marinade, not a rub) more liquid.  I didn't have any fruit juice in at the time but I did have two oranges.  Mmmn, orange zest and juice!  Yes, that would work!  Oh and garlic - lamb just has to have garlic.  I did contemplate including a couple of anchovies too, but felt that was probably a bit out there in conjunction with everything else.

Quite incredibly moist, soft and tender lamb.  Just wonderful.
My goodness but what a powerful, aromatic marinade it turned out to be.  Even encased in a freezer bag - with the lamb, obviously - every time you opened the fridge door, the marinade reached out (aromatically, obviously), grabbed you by the nose and slammed your head (in a friendly kind of a way) into the freezer compartment.  In the end, for the good of everyone involved (including the milk, because nobody fancied marinated milk in their tea), I had to put the marinated lamb into a second freezer bag, which just about managed to contain the beast.  Containing the beast was very necessary, because I was taking this marinading seriously and had put everything together some 36 hours before I was due to cook the lamb.  I wanted to give those flavours time to really get to work!

Be generous with the lamb, it is too good to leave in the tin!
Amazingly, considering how the marinade had behaved on the way, when it came to releasing the lamb into the roasting dish, it had really settled down!  Mellowed, even.  You know how lamb can smell really lamby, some times?  Well this smelled really fresh and so yummy.  I didn't want the dish to run dry during its long cooking time, so added a little water.  Into the oven it went, swimming around in its paddling pool of flavour.

After an hour or so, even with having sealed it as far as was possible with silver foil, the smell from the oven was just amazing.  There was no one aroma that was dominant (well, apart from lamb anyway!), it had just all amalgamated into a gorgeous whole.  I checked it half way through - just to make sure it had enough water - and gave it a little baste.

By the end of the cooking time, our mouths were watering.

Pulling the lamb was the simplest thing.  If, like me, you have family members who are a bit fat phobic, it is very easy to pick out any fatty bits en route.  The lamb just fell apart and was so moist and juicy - no dry, miserable pulled lamb here.  Two forks and a large dish and in just a couple of minutes the dish was full and I was surrounded by hopeful (but disappointed) dogs.  I recommend adding a couple of spoonfuls of the cooking liquid to the pulled lamb, so that when it has to wait for you to prepare the breads and serve the side dishes, there is no worry about it drying out - and why not capitalise on all the flavours that are contained in the cooking liquid?

Speaking of the cooking liquid, I have kept what was in the roasting dish as I have some (as yet) vague plans to make a soup with it.  Well, it was too good to throw away!  Just set it aside for the fat to set, then you can pour the stock out from underneath with no difficulty.

Apologies for there being no lamb in this picture ...
I served the lamb with a yoghurt, mint, cucumber & caper sauce drizzled over and some yummy mint jelly under (the vinegary flavours of a standard mint sauce would work too), in the wholemeal pitta bread.  Absolutely divine.

The flavours that the marinade brought to the lamb were in no way overpowering.  I was so happy with that!  The citrus juice had helped to tenderise the meat and even though I was expecting some warmth from the black pepper and cayenne pepper, it was so subtle.  Beautiful.

Everyone loved this recipe and there were murmurs of disappointment when told "no, there's none left".  Of course, I didn't tell them about the other half of the joint that I'd put in the freezer.  *wink*  Let it be a lovely surprise one day!

A fantastically easy recipe, the very next time you lay your hands on a piece of lamb - and I recommend you have a look at the Farmer's Choice website, to see what they've got - give this a go.  You can't possibly regret it.  Even if you don't pull the lamb and just go with a roast dinner, the flavour of the lamb won't disappoint.  However, the combination of the lamb, the sauce, the mint jelly and pitta bread is just perfect.  Go on, give it a go!


Ingredients :

1kg boned and rolled, lamb shoulder

For the marinade :

1 bunch fresh mint, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
2 oranges, zest and juice
50ml olive oil
1 and a half tsp ground coriander
1 tsp smoked sweet paprika
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp sea salt
half a tsp cayenne pepper
half a tsp ground cumin
half a tsp ground cardamom
half a tsp ground allspice
quarter of a tsp ground cloves

3 tbsp plain yoghurt (Greek or Goat yoghurt are best)
3 inch piece of cucumber
1 tsp capers, chopped
2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped finely
8 wholemeal pitta bread
Mint jelly to taste.

Method :

1.  Between 48 and 36 hours before you plan to cook the lamb, place all the marinade ingredients into a bowl and mix well.

2.  Take the lamb and pierce 2 inches into the piece repeatedly all over, with a sharp butcher's knife.  This will allow the marinade to really get in there and do its work.

3.  Place the lamb into a large stout plastic freezer bag and pour the marinade over.  Seal the bag and turn over repeatedly until the lamb is entirely covered.  I recommend you then place it into another large stout plastic freezer bag, as I discovered the aromas were very good at escaping!

4.  Put the bagged lamb into a dish - just in case of leakage - and keep it in your fridge until around an hour or so before you plan to cook it.  Turn the lamb over, to redistribute the marinade, whenever you pass by.

5.  Pre-heat the oven to 140degC/275degF/Gas 1, it shouldn't take long!

6.  Line a large roasting tin with a double layer of silver foil.  This will help when it comes to doing the dishes and you'll be glad you did.

7.  Open the bag and tip the lamb together with the marinade, into the lined roasting dish.  Add up to 500ml of water around the lamb (don't wash the marinade off the actual joint though!) and cover it all tightly with more silver foil.

8.  Place into the oven for the next three and half hours.  Check it half way through, just to make sure that the liquid levels are good.  Add a little more water, if necessary.

9.  In the meantime, make the yoghurt sauce by placing the yoghurt into a bowl.

10.  Using a fine grater, grate the cucumber into the bowl and add the capers, fresh mint, a pinch of sea salt and black pepper.  Stir to combine, then set aside in the fridge for the flavours to develop.

11.  Remove the top layer of silver foil from the lamb when there is a half an hour to go.  This will help colour the lamb and develop the flavours.

12.  Once the cooking time is up, remove the lamb from the roasting tin onto a chopping board.  I recommend dealing with half at a time, so cut it in half and return the other half to the roasting tin, cover it with foil, to keep warm.

13.  Using two forks, pull the lamb apart into shreds.  It is fairly easy to remove any large lumps of fat at this stage, if you so require.  Once the first half is pulled, move on to the second half.  Once the lamb is pulled, add two tablespoonfuls of the cooking liquid to the meat and set aside to keep warm while you prepare the pitta bread.

14.  Lightly toast the pitta bread and make a slit down one side of each.

15.  Smooth a teaspoonful of mint jelly (or you could use mint sauce if the sweet flavour of jelly isn't to your liking) onto one side of each pitta bread.

16.  Fill each pitta generously with pulled lamb, then add two teaspoonfuls or so of the yoghurt sauce.

Serve with oven baked sweet potato fries and a small salad.

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