Archive for the ‘winter warmer’ Category

Like many families, in my house, we used to refer to Cottage Pie as Shepherd’s Pie.  Beef mince was always available from the butchers and was far more economical for a family of seven than lamb would be.  Topped with golden mashed potato that had caught under the grill; everyone coveting the crispy bits and a generous scoop of baked beans on the side.

And as far as I was concerned, everyone called it the same and served it the same way.

It wasn’t until recently that I was served Shepherd’s Pie without baked beans and felt cheated.  “My Granny would never have served it like that!” I snorted in disgust.  Only to find I was not the only one at the table who thought the same – lo and behold, the others also agreed that baked beans were a very acceptable addition to a serving of Shepherd’s Pie.  Emboldened by this camaraderie I decided to come clean and tell all; as a child, my favourite way of eating this was with a squeeze of ketchup over the mash and then mixing everything together into a plateful of dark, pink-brown gloop studded with baked beans.

As revolting as this sounds to me now – as a child, it was a plate of sheer delight.

Click on the link to see my youtube clip on how to make my easy Cottage Pie: https://tinyurl.com/zxp42sa

I don’t tend to make shepherd’s pie (cottage pie) from scratch anymore, as in I try not to have to go food shopping too often, so make this using leftover beef from the Sunday Roast instead.  In the past I’ve used leftover roast potatoes but to be honest it’s so easy to make good mashed potato to top the pie that it’s really no hardship.  Whereas baked beans would have been my staple side dish, nowadays I try and have something green either in the pie or on the side.  Leftover broccoli, peas and beans are very welcome as is a buttery tangle of spring greens or shredded Savoy cabbage.

The good thing about a Shepherd’s Pie (Cottage Pie) is that you can make the components in advance.  I made the beef pie filling on Monday evening as this can sit in its dish in the fridge until you need to top it and heat it – I’m pretty sure you can freeze it at this stage too.  Take the pie out of the fridge whilst you’re making the mashed potato and top the dish.  Place in a moderate oven for 35mins until the filling is bubbling up the sides and the top is golden in colour.

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I don’t know what the allure of cooking lentils at New Years is for me but I always like to start the year cooking a warm bowlful of them.

It’s not as if I’m looking for something warm and filling as the weather has been sunny and mild over the holiday period and I’m stuffed after eating so much.

So what is it that draws me to cooking lentils at this at this time of year?

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Maybe it’s their versatility? Lentils can be cooked by themselves or added to vegetable, meat or fish dishes. They can be served as a side, as with salmon and lentils or as the main component as in a lentil salad or stew.  They come in a range of colours and with it bring their own textures and tastes.  Some lentils such as red split lentils boil down to the consistency of mashed potatoes whereas other hold their shape and retain their nutty bite even after boiling them for 45mins as with green lentils.  My favourite variety are Puy lentils also called French green lentils – which are slate green/blue in colour and have a peppery warmth to them. 

For some, lentils have a hessian weave hippie vibe about them; vegans rave about them whilst for others they are just austere, peasant food.  After all, the original lentil stew, mess of pottage, was biblical in origin.  Now, I wouldn’t necessarily consider lentils austerity food but after the expense of the Christmas foodathon they are very welcome on my pocket!

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Italians, consider lentils to be lucky as their small coin-shaped form invites prosperity.  Perfectly partnered with pork increases their success; the pig known for pushing forwards, makes it a symbol of progress. Lentils with pork sausages are considered particularly auspicious. 

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But perhaps it’s the ease with which the stew comes together.  It’s so personal it’s not really a case of following a recipe it’s more about getting the quantities right of lentils to water and packing flavour.  And lentils are great at taking on flavour.  There is also very little for the cook to actually do.  After mass catering over the holidays and following strict recipes and cooking times, just throwing things into a pot of water is quite liberating and relaxing.  It’s also a great way to use up veg you’ve got knocking about in the back of the fridge.  There are no stages or steps to follow and other than not letting your lentils dry out as they boil, there really isn’t much danger of the dish going wrong.

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I tend to favour lentils cooked with chorizo as the paprika from the sausages oozes out into the stew giving everything great body and depth – maximising flavour with very little effort.  This time I had a rasher of streaky bacon and two sausages leftover from new year’s breakfast that I decided to add to the pot as well as pumpkin and chorizo.  At the very end of the cooking process I wilted shredded spring greens (leftover from Christmas Eve’s dinner) in the residual heat of the pot.

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I often reminisce as to the joys of my Granny’s pea soup with fried bread.

I used to love walking into the house on a cold, bleak day to the smell of gammon bubbling in its cauldron of yellow split peas.  If truth be told, when done well, pea soup is probably one of my favourite dishes of all time.

I remember we’d dry our rain-wet hair and crowd around the dining table.  Snuggled round a small, circular table, elbows touching, necks down plunging spoons into the golden, lava-hot, gloopy, yellow split pea soup we’d share our morning’s routines.

 The delicious chunks of gammon having imparted their flavour and savouriness to the mixture, which falling apart added great flavour and substance to the dish.  Scooping ham and soup on slices of fried bread is what made this soup a meal.

My Granny would shallow fry a slice of white bread per person – crusts and all – and then slice it on the diagonal.   This, dipped into the thick pea soup was utter heaven to me.

I love yellow split pea and ham soup so much, that my shock at once being given green pea and ham soup by my great aunt was an unfortunate disappointment; flavoursome though it was!  But my all time favourite pea soup tale was when I was a vegetarian (now that I’ve told you I may have to kill you!) and I’d returned from university and my Granny had made my favourite dish and assured me that she hadn’t added the ham but you could see the pink gammon flecks throughout the entire bowl!  I think she then tried to offer me a cheese sandwich with a very thin slice of ham…

Admittedly, my Granny was right; there is no point in having pea soup without the gammon.  It’s the gammon that imparts a full on rounded flavour and seasons the soup with great depth.  Sometimes, pieces of the gammon flake off in the cooking and get blitzed into the soup adding to the savoury baconness!

A different kind of meal to be had at this time of year where everything is either a turkey dinner or Christmas table leftovers.

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At this time of year I always like to make a glazed ham (as many of you do too).  As always, I buy a large piece to ensure there are leftovers but there’s only so many cold-cuts with chutneys to be had.   With the rain pouring down outside, I want something warm and comforting instead of cold-cuts, so why not add your already cooked ham to a pot of bubbling yellow split peas to make glorious pea soup with its volcanic ferocity warming you through these cold and dark nights.

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Yellow split pea soup is so easy to recreate you can cook the gammon in the soup itself or add cooked ham pieces to the final soup.  Either way – this is a delicious thick soup that like a hot water bottle warms and comforts you.  Fried bread takes this to another level but pan fried croutons or the healthier oven variety convert this into a satisfying main course.

I keep this really simple:

Ingredients:

1 cup of split peas, 1 medium onion, slice of pumpkin to add colour and sweetness and a stock cube.  Uncooked gammon or leftover boiled ham to taste.

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1st: Cut the onion and pumpkin into pieces and fry in some oil until the onion becomes soft.
2nd: Add the split peas and crumble in the stock cube. Stir well and add the gammon/boiled ham.
3rd: Top up with enough water to cover the gammon – at least 3 times more water to split peas.  Boil for 35mins or until the gammon is cooked.  Season to taste.
4th: Remove any large chunks of gammon and blitz the soup.  Flake any gammon pieces and add them to individual bowls.
5th: Fry slices of plastic white bread in hot oil.  Slice on the diagonal and serve up.

Cottage Pie: Comfort food, easy to make using roast beef leftovers.  Easy Cottage Pie.


At this time of year there is nothing more welcoming and homely than bowl food/soul food.  As the temperature drops outside and evenings close in, a bowl of something warm and full of flavour is just what you need.

Cradling the bowl in one hand (close to your chest for added warmth) and spooning soothing soups and stews into your mouth; hugs you and keeps the chills at bay.

This great one pot wonder of lentils, pumpkin and chorizo is a great winter warmer guaranteed to put a smile on your face with every spoonful.  If you’re worried that it would take ages to prepare and cook, think again!  Chop everything into roughly the same size and put into a pot with the lentils and water.  I put it together straight after work and had dinner ready within the hour.

Lentils, pumpkin & chorizo 


serves 2

Ingredients:

1 onion

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1/8th of a pumpkin

1 cup of lentils

2 cooking chorizo sausages 

2 tomatoes

Chopped parsley 

Water from a recently boiled kettle

Method: 

1st: Peel and chop the onion and pumpkin and add to the pot with the crushed garlic and chopped tomatoes.

2nd: Stir in the uncooked lentils of your choice and top with water.  I used 1 cup lentils to 2 & 1/2 parts water.

3rd: Slice the chorizo and add to the pot.  Simmer gently for 40mins to 1hr. Season before serving.

Shepherd’s Pie, baked beans and ketchup – Oh my God!  Could food get any more comforting?!

I remember as a child I would mix it all together so that every spoonful was a mashed-potatoey, mince-meaty, ketchup-tangy mouthful.

And then came the correction; it’s only Shepherd’s Pie if made with real shepherds – or at least minced lamb!  If made with beef mince it is a Cottage Pie.  Either name, I loved it as much as a child as I do to this day (however as I’m all grown up now, I only mix it up into a potatoey, meaty, ketchupy mouthful at home!)

But even though I make it in the same way that both my Mum and Granny taught me, I recently stumbled across a recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that makes a very decadent shepherd’s pie.

delicious, comforting, familiar, easy to make, and above all, thrifty

The premise is that it uses up your left-over Sunday roast.  And that for me is great as I’m not one to have reheated day old roast lamb.  I can’t make up my mind whether it is the smell or the gelatinous texture that puts me off so this is a brilliant way of exploiting your leftovers.

Hugh’s Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients

  • About 1Kg of leftover roast lamb
  • Olive oil
  • Onions
  • Any leftover gravy or lamb juices
  • Small glass of red wine
  • 2 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 2 tbsp Worcester sauce
  • Mashed potatoes made up to cover the dish
  • Seasoning

Method

1st: Heat the olive oil in a saucepan big enough to accommodate all the ingredients.  Coarsely chop the meat and brown in the hot olive oil – this will render out any excess fat and make the meat crispy around the edges.  Remove onto a plate.

2nd: Sweat the onions (I used a leek that was hidden at the back of my fridge and bunged in diced carrot for good measure!) make sure to scrape any meaty bits off the bottom of the pan whilst turning the onions.

3rd: Once the onions are translucent return the meat to the pan and add the red wine, Worcester sauce and ketchup.  Mix in the left over gravy and season to taste.  Simmer gently for a few minutes and if the mixture looks too dry add a little water.  Simmer gently for 20-30mins.

4th: Have a final taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary – add more ketchup, wine, salt/pepper to taste.  Again add a little water to slacken the mixture if you feel it needs it.

5th: Put the mixture into a casserole dish and cover the meat completely with your mashed potatoes.  (I wanted to use up the left over roast potatoes too so I chopped these up into small dice as I want them to retain some shape.  As you can see from the photo I covered half in mashed potato and the other half in diced small potatoes.)  Bake at 200˚C for 30-40mins until the mash is lightly browned on top and the sauce if bubbling around the edges.

Recipe taken and adapted from http://www.channel4.com/4food/recipes/chefs/hugh-fearnley-whittingstall/hugh-s-mum-s-shepherd-s-pie-recipe

As a meal it ticks all the boxes – delicious, comforting, familiar, easy to make, and above all, thrifty.  With spring warmth having finally kick started but chilly evenings this is the sort of food you want to eat for supper.

This makes a delicious mid-week supper.  If you have left-over lamb that you do not know how to use up I urge you to give it a try – it may seem lengthy but to be honest there really is nothing to it as it is either simmering on your hob or baking in the oven – you are not slaving stove-top for 1hour.  I preferred the diced roast potatoes on-top to the traditional mash and this would take out a whole stage of the process, alternatively using instant mash may also be an option.  What I wouldn’t recommend is that you purposefully roast some lamb to create this as the whole point of this dish is to use up left-over meat so as not to be wasteful.

This recipe should serve 4-6 people but if you need to serve a large number of people you could always add some veg on the side or add minced lamb to make the dish go further.

 

One of my all time favourite restaurant dishes is fillet steak with garlic prawns – served rare! But whenever I order this some diners will always question the whole meat and seafood combo and whether it really works.

So what is Surf and Turf?

Surf and Turf or more commonly ‘Surf ‘n’ Turf’ or better still, ‘Beef ‘n’ Reef’ (Australian); is a restaurant term that refers to a dish incorporating both a portion of meat and a portion of seafood.  The term appears to have originated along the East Coast of the United States during the 60’s.  The “Surf” in the title clearly refers to seafood – usually lobster – but it can be any other type of crustacean.  “Turf” is any type of grass-fed land animal but usually refers to beef in the form of steak.

The steak part is usually grilled with dark brown grill marks clearly showing its proximity to fire!  The seafood is usually boiled, baked or grilled to retain its contrasting purity in both texture and colour.

Whereas sceptics might argue their dislike because of the decadence of the dish with its extravagant ingredients (traditionally fillet mignon and lobster) others will defend the complementary pairings where one item works almost as a seasoning; a vehicle to carry flavour e.g. frying salmon fillets in bacon fat is about boosting flavour, wrapping the salmon in bacon is about insulating the fish from the intense heat of the grill and stopping them from sticking to the pan whilst also continuously basting them in salty, smoky fat that renders out of the bacon!

Here are some of my Surf ‘n’ Turf home favourites:

Salmon wrapped in streaky bacon, Lamb shanks with Anchovy and red wine, Spaghetti with Prawn and Chorizo

Salmon with streaky bacon is very simple to make.  One piece of Salmon fillet per person, wrapped in streaky bacon (OR use lardons should you be cooking with larger pieces of salmon).  Please don’t skip making the mushy peas which add a grassy ‘turf-like’ note to the dish.

The lamb shanks must be cooked for a long time to become fall-off-the-bone tender.  Unless using a pressure cooker or a slow cooker, cook in the oven at a low heat for 2 hrs+.  Do yourself a favour – if entertaining with this do not bother telling anyone about the anchovy in the dish as people have an immediate prejudice against these salty fish.  They dissolve into the red wine meaty juices and add a saltiness that you just cannot get with salt and no one will know that they are there!

Spaghetti with prawns and chorizo is just a pasta version of a stylish restaurant starter: Scallops and prawns / black pudding.

By adding the pasta you can make the prawns go further; the chorizo renders out its smoky, paprika fat which coats the spaghetti.  Substituting the prawns for scallops could make this a more decadent alternative.

So if you you’re a surf ‘n’ turf cynic why not give one of these combos a go?  You never know – you may even make some discoveries of your own…