Category Archives: Savoury dishes

Full of Beans

Autumn container 2020

As I planted the rest of last year’s container tulips up at the allotment at the weekend, the remains of this year’s bean plants on their now perilously leaning wigwams reproached me for not harvesting the beans inside those blackened pods – if only to save for next year, as I doubt there will be enough to make a meal. Back in September, despite picking the French beans every other day, the harvest was so prolific that I inevitably managed to miss some and ended up with beans that were too big to eat as French beans, pods and all. Cue an experiment: I’d always wondered what it would be like to use the actual fresh beans inside the pods, rather than drying them for winter use. They were actually very good: cooked in boiling water for 20-30 minutes with garlic, parsley stalks and a bay leaf until tender, then added to a favourite bean casserole. I will get around to harvesting what’s left and see if I can salvage any…

dry beans

I’ve been meaning to share some of my favourite bean casseroles here for a while: they were all the rage back in the brown food days of the 1970s/early 80s, when vegetarian/wholefoods first came to prominence. I still tend to use dried beans, soaking overnight and pre-cooking, but you can equally well use canned, which are widely available these days. The only problem with cans is that you miss out on the delicious bean cooking liquor, which I often use as a stock in the finished dish. Vegetable stock can be used instead, of course, but won’t give quite the same depth of flavour or unctuousness as a good bean stock.

 

One of my favourites is this Beany Cheese Crunch, adapted from a Sainsbury’s wholefood recipe book from the 80s. It does have added bacon for a savoury note, but just leave it out if you want to go fully vegetarian – you could add chestnuts or mushrooms instead. You can also add or substitute chorizo if you feel so inclined. For a vegan alternative, omit the cheese from the topping, or use a vegan substitute. If you have fresh shelled beans, omit the soaking and pre-cooking phase for these and add them before transferring to the oven. You can use any combination of beans, depending what you have – and you can also use canned, again omitting the soaking and pre-cooking steps, but remember to adjust the amounts as dried beans soak up water and become heavier as they cook. I tend to assume you need double the weight of canned beans to dried.

Beany Cheese Crunch – serves 4-6

Beany cheese crunch

75g kidney beans (or black beans)
75g black-eyed beans (or haricot beans – I’m finding it hard to get the dried black-eyed beans at the moment for some reason)
75g butter beans
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, roughly chopped
2-3 sticks celery, chopped
50g bacon, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 leeks, sliced (optional)
1 red chilli, finely chopped (seeds in or out depending on your heat capacity!)
1 can of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato purée
300-450ml vegetable stock (or reserve bean cooking liquor)
handful of herbs of your choice (thyme, rosemary, parsley or basil – all of these work well, in isolation or together)
seasoning

Topping:
75g wholemeal breadcrumbs
125g mature Cheddar, grated
1 tbsp parsley (optional)

Soak the beans in a pan of cold water overnight. The next morning, drain, then cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil and cook on a high heat without a lid for 10 minutes. You might want to open the windows and shut the doors to the rest of the house at this point as cooking beans have a particularly pungent aroma! Then lower the heat, cover and cook for 30-45 mins or until tender – test with a fork. The actual cooking time depends on the age of the beans, so in some cases you might need to extend this to an hour. Top up the water from the (hot) kettle if necessary. When tender, drain, reserving the cooking liquor in a jug for later.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pan or ovenproof casserole – I use my trusty Le Creuset so it can go straight in the oven afterwards. Add the chopped onion, celery, garlic and bacon, and cook until starting to soften and turn golden. Add the chopped carrots, red pepper, chilli and leeks and continue cooking for 5-10 minutes. Then add the tinned tomatoes with their juice, 300ml of the reserved stock (save the rest in case you need it) and season. Stir well and bring to the boil. Adjust the liquid content if you feel it might need more: much depends whether you’ve added extra veg! Cook on the hob for 10 minutes or so, then transfer to the oven pre-heated to 160°C (fan) or Gas 4 for 45 minutes.

Turn the heat up to 200°C towards the end, then sprinkle on the mixed breadcrumbs, grated cheese and parsley and return to the oven for the last 15 minutes.

Serve piping hot with a green salad – so tasty! This also freezes perfectly, so well worth making the full quantity even if you’re only cooking for one or two. You can also ring the changes with the vegetables – anything goes, really. Fennel works particularly well, as do other root vegetables. It’s a very flexible dish.

Aduki cass serving

Another of my favourite bean dishes is this Aduki Bean & Leek Casserole with herby dumplings. As with many of my vegetarian recipes, this came originally from my friend Bridget, a home economics teacher. Still as delicious today as when I first cooked it in the 80s! The dumplings are divinely light too – not at all the stodgy accompaniment you might imagine.

Aduki Bean & Leek Casserole with Herby Dumplings – serves 4-6

Aduki cass landscape

150g aduki beans, soaked overnight (or use 2 cans)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
450g leeks, washed, trimmed and sliced into rings (4 or so leeks)
3 large carrots, diced
250-350g mushrooms, quartered
1 red pepper, diced (optional)
1 red chilli, finely chopped (and deseeded if you don’t like it too hot)
1.5 tbsp paprika
3 tbsp wholemeal flour
450 ml vegetable stock (or use reserved bean cooking liquor, or a mixture of the two)
1 vegetable stock cube or 1 tsp bouillon powder
1.5 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp tomato purée
1 can chopped tomatoes
seasoning
chopped parsley to garnish

Dumplings:
150g wholemeal self-raising flour (or add 1 tsp baking powder to plain flour or spelt)
35g butter
75g Cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp chopped parsley
seasoning
75 ml milk (plus extra if needed)

Drain the soaked beans and cover with fresh cold water. Bring back to the boil and cook until tender – 45 mins to 1 hour. Drain, reserving the cooking liquor for stock as above.

Heat the oil in a large casserole and gently cook the chopped onion for 10 minutes or so until softened. Then add the garlic, leeks, carrots, chilli, red pepper, (if using) and mushrooms. Cook for a further 5 minutes or so, then stir in the paprika and flour. Add the stock cube (or bouillon powder), stock, soy sauce, tinned tomatoes, tomato purée and season to taste. Stir in the drained beans and mix well. Bring to the boil and allow to cook on the hob for 10 minutes or so before covering and transferring to the oven, pre-heated to 160°C fan or Gas 4. Cook for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the dumplings: put the flour and salt in a bowl, then rub in the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the finely chopped parsley and grated cheese. Add the milk gradually until you have a firm dough – you may not need it all, or you might need a drop more, depending on your flour. Divide into 12 round or oval dumplings.

After 40 minutes, take the casserole out of the oven, gently arrange the dumplings around the edge and return to the oven with the lid on. Cook for a further 20-25 minutes or until the dumplings have puffed up and cooked through. They should be firm to the touch. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with a green salad. Again, this freezes beautifully, although without the dumplings – I must admit there are never any left!

Leo climbing tree

 

The rainy season

Cotinus Grace on a grey day
Cotinus Grace in all its autumn glory – despite the grey skies

Oh dear, nearly 6 weeks since I last wrote here – how on earth has that happened?! I can only blame dreadful weather, pressures of work and another trip abroad, this time to Split, in Croatia, for a translation conference and one last opportunity to top up on sunshine for the year. Since getting back at the beginning of October, we’ve hardly seen the sun here in this south-eastern corner of the country. Inevitably, that means I’ve barely had chance to go down to the allotment, or do anything in the garden at home. I did manage to mow the lawn (or should that be meadow?!) one day this week after a couple of dry, but mainly grey days, having not touched it since before I went away at the end of September. My summer containers are still flowering away, as it has been fairly mild apart from one sharp frost which put paid to the courgette plants – begonias are clearly tough specimens. Just as well, as I really haven’t had the time or the weather to plant my bulbs yet for the winter/spring display. Surely we’ll get a dry weekend some time soon?

Leo Oct 2019 in the ferns

Today it’s been so vile, with heavy rain and gale-force winds, that even the annual village fireworks display has been called off – first time I’ve known that happen since I moved to the village 14 years ago. At least the time feels right to start cooking winter stews and warming casseroles, hence tonight’s comforting venison shank dish. I’d forgotten I had the joint in the freezer, but unearthed it today when deciding what to cook this evening. Perfect for a miserable November day when all you want to do is snuggle in front of the fire with your knitting or a good book. I adapted a Mary Berry lamb shank recipe, but this is basically a straightforward casserole, browning the meat, then the veg, adding liquid of your choice and leaving to simmer in the oven until the meat falls off the bone – delicious. I just used one shank and will definitely have plenty of stew left over to freeze, but it’s easy to scale up as you require, allowing one venison shank per 2/3 people.

Venison Shanks with Rosemary & Redcurrant Jelly – serves 2-3

Glug of olive oil
1 venison shank
1 red onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1/4 swede, diced
1 generous sprig of rosemary, leaves finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp plain flour
1 generous tbsp redcurrant jelly (preferably homemade)
400 ml chicken or vegetable stock
200 ml red wine
salt and pepper
chopped parsley to garnish

Brown the venison shank all over in the olive oil in a large casserole, then set to one side. Add the prepared onion, celery, carrot and swede to the oil and cook gently for 10 minutes or so, or until starting to soften. Add the chopped rosemary and sprinkle over the flour. Mix in and cook for a minute or so, then add the stock and red wine. Season and stir in the redcurrant jelly and the bay leaf. Bring to the boil, then transfer to the oven, pre-heated to 150°C fan/Gas 3, and cook for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until the meat falls off the bone. You might want to turn the venison shank(s) every hour to make sure all sides are exposed to the liquid, and you may need to add more liquid towards the end, depending how hot your oven is. Serve with creamy mashed potatoes and vegetables of your choice. (I tossed roasted beetroot in butter with finely chopped baby leeks, adding a touch of allspice and cream at the end.) Winter-warming wonderfood.

Venison shank casserole

I’ve not even been able to bring much produce back from the allotment recently, although I have harvested my apples in dribs and drabs, picking what I could when the worst of the weather held off. The calabrese, which had been infested by whitefly under its mesh pigeon and butterfly protection in September, seems to have come to a halt and the kale I would normally expect to be harvesting now has been stopped in its tracks by caterpillars (even through netting!) in the mild, wet weather. Sigh. I dusted them with organic pyrethrum powder, and they do look happier, as do the flower sprouts (kalettes), so fingers crossed they recover soon. Fortunately, I have been able to harvest leeks, rocket, spinach and chard on damp, late afternoon dog walks to the plot, and last year’s parsley is doing amazingly well, so there’s no shortage of herbs. I’m still picking dahlias and chrysanthemums (bought as bargain cuttings from the village open gardens plant stall back in June), but they are so sodden that they don’t last long in the house. I’m just enjoying them while I can, as they will soon be curtailed by the inevitable frosts.

Chysanths late Oct 2019

 

In praise of the humble chickpea – and goodbye to a very special dog

It’s been a strange and sad few weeks: I returned from a much-needed post-op holiday in the Austrian mountains at the end of February to unprecedented high temperatures in the South-East of England and a very sick dog. I’ve written her story on my other blog, so I won’t go into it again here; suffice it to say that I had to say my farewells to her soon after arriving back from the airport and the house has been indescribably sad and quiet without her ever since. RIP, Poppy – we’ll miss you enormously… and Leo will miss his partner in crime.

Poppy and Leo something's up

Inevitably, life must go on, and although I’ve managed to immerse myself in piles of work since getting home, I hadn’t had time to go to the allotment. I’m still not supposed to walk on rough ground after my ACL operation at Christmas, and am restricted to pavement walking. However, I figured that, since it’s been dry recently, and if I was very careful, I could walk Leo down to the allotment on Sunday afternoon and just see what was growing. Imagine my surprise to see everything doing very well indeed: purple-sprouting broccoli busting out all over, the first spindly pink sticks of rhubarb already up to a foot tall, and fresh spinach and kale in abundance, plus the usual late winter / early spring suspects of leeks and parsley.

Allotment haul Mid-March 2019

After the excesses of Austria – far too much Kaffee und Kuchen in the afternoon and a five-course dinner every evening – I’ve been yearning for salads since I arrived home. Not doing my usual quota of exercise and activities, and a relatively sedentary lifestyle since Christmas, have also meant I’m having to be much more conscious of what I eat for the first time ever. Ho hum – I’m definitely cutting down on cake and desserts for the time being, although I did experiment with a healthy banana & date flapjack at the start of the week as an alternative snack. I tweaked the recipe (see link above) with maple syrup instead of honey and added 75g dates, but although they were tasty the first day, the flavour seems to diminish on subsequent days and they just taste rather worthy! This recipe for fridge fruit & nut bars is a tasty sugar-free treat in the meantime – and I’ll report back when I eventually find a healthy flapjack that really hits the spot. A friend also posted a recipe for vegan tiffin, which sounds worth a try, but certainly isn’t low-calorie or sugar-free if that’s what you’re after.

Salads, on the other hand, are easier to get right. I wrote about delicious winter salads a few weeks ago, and another I’ve made a couple of times recently is a Sarah Raven recipe from the Christmas issue of Good Housekeeping. It was intended as a vegetarian alternative for the Christmas feast, but I’ve tweaked and experimented with it a couple of times since and found it to be a fantastic and filling main course salad for any time of the year. Chickpeas and lentils are such comforting ingredients, and mixed with a spicy dressing, nuts, dried fruit and peppers, they really fit the brief. The original recipe served 6, and I’ve cut it down considerably for one, but still find it makes about three meals – always a bonus to have leftovers for lunch!

Warm Puy Lentil & Chickpea Salad

Chickpea & lentil salad
2 tbsp sultanas, soaked in 2 tbsp dry sherry or white wine
50g Puy lentils
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic
1/2 can chick peas, drained
Olive oil
1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cut into bitesize chunks
1 large red onion, peeled and cut into eighths
1 sprig rosemary, woody stem removed, chopped
1 red pepper, cut into chunks
Handful of cherry tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1″ piece of root ginger, grated
1 red chilli, finely chopped
2 tbsp dried cranberries
50g cashews, toasted
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
1/2 tsp sugar
Handful of kale or cavolo nero leaves, thick stems removed, shredded (young calabrese or purple-sprouting broccoli leaves work just as well)
50g feta cheese, diced
Seasoning
Handful of fresh coriander or parsley to serve

Pre-heat oven to 180°C (fan)/gas 5. Put the squash, onions and garlic in a roasting tray with the rosemary leaves, drizzle with olive oil, season and cook in the oven for about 20 minutes. Then add the chunks of red pepper, chillis, root ginger and cherry tomatoes, toss everything together, and cook for a further 20-30 minutes until nicely soft and roasted.

Meanwhile cook the Puy lentils, bay leaf and 1 clove garlic in just enough water to cover for about 20-25 minutes. Drain off any excess water and remove the bay leaf and garlic. Place in a large salad bowl with the drained chickpeas and season.

Stir in the sultanas and sherry, add the contents of the roasting tin and the toasted cashews and dried cranberries. Make a dressing to taste using three parts olive oil to lemon juice, plus 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp wholegrain mustard and seasoning. Stir into the salad. Finally add the chopped kale or cavolo nero leaves and sprinkle with diced feta, then garnish with chopped coriander.

Good served warm, but equally delicious served cold the next day. You can also add cooked chicken for extra protein if you feel so inclined, or throw some chorizo into the roasting tin for the last 20 minutes or so – it’s an extremely flexible dish.

Of course, this recipe leaves you with half a tin of chickpeas, not that this is in any way a hardship! I like to use them in a tomato & chickpea pasta sauce with or without spicy chorizo and paprika, but last Tuesday, which just happened to be Pancake Day, I used a variation on the sauce as a tasty filling for pancakes. Extremely good it was too. If you’re only making enough pancakes for one or two, keep back half the sauce to serve with pasta for another day, with added feta and coriander, or just with the traditional Parmesan.

Tomato and chickpea pasta

Tomato, Chickpea & Fennel Pancakes – serves 4

Pancakes:
125g plain flour
pinch of salt
1 egg
300ml milk
Butter for frying

Sauce:
I onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
Glug of olive oil
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tbsp paprika
1/2 can chickpeas, drained
75g chorizo or bacon lardons (optional)
Red wine (to taste – or use water if you prefer)

To assemble:
200ml natural yogurt
1 egg, beaten
Seasoning
Cheddar cheese (or Parmesan) grated

Chickpea, tomato and fennel pancakes

First make the pancakes in the usual way by sifting the flour and salt into a roomy bowl. Break the egg into the centre, then gradually beat in the milk and incorporate the flout until all mixed and little bubbles start to form on the surface. Leave to stand for 30 minutes or so if you can, but it’s not critical if you can’t. This mixture should make at least 8 pancakes in an 18cm frying pan. Stack the finished pancakes on a plate as you make them and set aside until you’ve made the sauce.

Cook the chopped onion, garlic and chilli in olive oil in a frying pan until starting to soften and turn golden, than add the chopped fennel, red pepper and chorizo (or bacon), if using, and cook for another 5-10 mins. Stir in the tomato purée, canned tomatoes, fennel seeds, chickpeas and seasoning and simmer for 30-45 minutes until nicely reduced. If it starts to reduce too much, you can add some red wine or water to stop it drying out.

Assemble the pancakes by putting a generous spoonful of the sauce on one edge of each, rolling up and placing in a rectangular ovenproof dish. Then mix the natural yogurt and the beaten egg and spoon over the top of the pancakes. Sprinkle over grated cheese and cook in a hot oven 200°C (fan)/gas 6 for about 25 minutes until nicely browned.

Serve with a green salad and enjoy!

Poppy sad

Winter salads – definitely not a contradiction in terms

Salmon en croute and salads

Salads in winter? As the snow begins to fall outside, you might be forgiven for thinking that a salad is the last thing you’d want on a cold winter’s day, but I beg to differ. Grain or pulse-based salads can be surprisingly good in dreary weather – and of course they’re packed full of goodness too, with plenty of potential vegetable variations and tasty dressings. I often serve them just warm too, which makes them even more tempting – although, like most things, they’re usually even better left overnight in the fridge for the flavours to mature. Inspired by the ‘salades tièdes’ you find in France, you can add cooked chicken or duck, or any meat of your choice, but vegetarian options are excellent too. Mediterranean Chicken salad is one of my all-time favourites, although definitely better in summer when the tomatoes and basil are at their peak.

This weekend I hosted another family gathering as a belated Welcome Home party for my younger son and daughter-in-law, and a chance for some of the wider family to say their farewells before they disappear off to the States in February. We’ve been eating a lot of meat recently, so I opted for a Salmon en Croute (with kale pesto) as our main dish, but prepared a couple of substantial salads to accompany it: one with Puy lentil and squash, and the other based on quinoa, with nuts, seeds and herbs. Both delicious and very well received, especially by my student niece who said it was just what she fancied for student lunches on campus rather than the boring sandwiches usually on offer. As my son commented, also great to make ahead at the weekend and take for packed lunches to work, saving a fortune on equivalent bought offerings on the high street – and twice as nice!

Leo in snow garden Jan 2019

Puy Lentil & Roast Butternut Squash Salad – serves 8-10

250g Puy lentils
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic
sprig of parsley
sprigs of thyme
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tsp sugar
juice of half a lemon
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 butternut squash
1 yellow pepper
2 red onions
2 cloves garlic
sprigs of thyme
sage leaves
seasoning
handful pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted in the oven or in a pan
100g feta cheese, diced

Peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds (if you have time, you can wash and dry the seeds, coat in oil, season, then put them on a tray in the oven at 200°C/gas 6 for 5 minutes until they start popping, then add to the finished salad below), cut the flesh into large chunks and place in a roasting tin with the quartered onions, 2 roughly chopped garlic cloves and chunky slices of yellow pepper, plus a handful of sage leaves and the leaves from the sprigs of thyme, then add a generous glug of olive oil and turn to coat thoroughly. Season well. Roast for 45 minutes – 1 hour or until the vegetables are soft and starting to brown at the edges. Remove from the oven.

Meanwhile put the lentils in a pan, cover with plenty of water, bring to the boil, simmer for just one minute, then drain. Return to the pan and just cover with more water or vegetable stock if you have it. Add the bay leaf, sprigs of thyme, garlic and parsley. Bring back to a simmer and cook gently for about 20 minutes, until just tender. Drain the lentils, and discard the herbs and garlic. Make a dressing with 5 tbsp olive oil and the juice of half a lemon juice, then add 1 tsp wholegrain mustard, 1 clove garlic (crushed) and 1 tsp sugar, whisk (or shake if using a jar) and season. Taste to check acidity and adjust if necessary. Pour over the warm lentils and place in a large bowl.

Add the roasted vegetables to the lentils, draining off any excess oil, and stir gently to mix. Stir in the pumpkin seeds (your own, prepared as above, or bought seeds) and finally sprinkle with the diced feta cheese. Good served warm or chilled.

Herby Tomato, Rocket & Quinoa Salad – serves 8-10

300g quinoa (I used red and white quinoa with added bulgar wheat from Waitrose)
Vegetable stock (or water)
Olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Seasoning
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tsp sugar
1 clove garlic, crushed
200g cherry tomatoes, halved
Good handful of cavolo nero leaves, stems removed and finely sliced
Bunch of spring onions, finely chopped (or lightly cook some sliced leeks, if you prefer)
Bunch of coriander, roughly chopped
Handful of cashew nuts, toasted
Handful of pine kernels, toasted
100g dried cranberries
1 small bag of fresh rocket

Cook the quinoa according to the packet instructions: mine suggested rinsing first, then cooking in boiling water or vegetable stock for 12 minutes and draining. Place in a large bowl.

Make a dressing with 5 tbsp olive oil and the juice of half a lemon juice, then add 1 tsp wholegrain mustard, 1 clove garlic (crushed) and 1 tsp sugar, whisk (or shake if using a jar) and season. Taste to check acidity and adjust if necessary. This is exactly the same dressing as the previous recipe, so if making both salads, it’s much easier to double the quantities and make it all at once. I find the jar method the easiest: simply add all the ingredients to a large jar and shake to mix. Any left over can be left in the fridge for a week or so.

Add the chopped tomatoes, finely sliced kale, coriander, rocket, dried cranberries, chopped spring onions (or leeks) and toasted cashews and pine kernels to the quinoa and mix well. Season to taste, pour over the dressing and mix well. As before, serve warm or chilled.

Poppy and Leo snow Jan 2019

Guinness in the kitchen

Faded asparagus

There’s something rather nice about when the clocks have gone back and you can start thinking about comforting casseroles and sticky cakes on those dark afternoons and evenings. This weekend was no exception: I managed to get out in the garden both days, planting the last of my tulip bulbs and cutting down my yellowing asparagus stems, despite torrential rain overnight, but it’s definitely winter-warming weather now. My lunch of choice is soup, more often than not, and a rich casserole really hits the spot after dark.

One of my favourites is a Beef and Guinness casserole inspired by a Good Housekeeping recipe leaflet years ago. I don’t particularly enjoy Guinness as a drink, but its flavour transforms when cooked long and slow in the oven with delicious shin of beef from my local farm shop and seasonal vegetables. This particular recipe is served with herby dumplings as a change from potatoes, but I like to make very light, cheesy wholemeal dumplings (originally intended to accompany a vegetarian aduki bean casserole – I really must revisit that recipe too!) rather than the heavier and more traditional variety mentioned in the original recipe. Here’s my version:

Beef and Guinness Casserole with Cheese & Herb Dumplings – serves 3-4

Beef and Guinness casserole

2 tbsp olive oil
450g beef shin, trimmed and chopped into small chunks (or stewing steak)
2 medium onions, finely sliced
2-3 sticks celery, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
300g swede, peeled and diced
2 tbsp plain flour
250ml Guinness
300ml hot beef stock
2 tsp dark brown sugar
1 tbsp Worcester sauce
1 bay leaf
leaves from a few sprigs of fresh thyme
Dumplings:
125g wholemeal self-raising flour
pinch of salt
30g butter,diced
60g Cheddar cheese, grated
Chopped herbs – (parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme – or your choice!)
50-75ml milk

Preheat the oven to 140ºC, Gas 2. Put 1 tbsp olive oil in a large pan and brown the chunks of beef, then set aside. Add the remaining oil, and brown the onions, carrot, celery and swede until starting to soften – about 10 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute or so, then add the Guinness and the stock, stirring as you go. Add the sugar, Worcester sauce, bay leaf and thyme, then bring to the boil.

Cover and cook in the oven for 3 hours, stirring every hour or so. Add more liquid (stock, Guinness or just hot water from the kettle if that’s all you have) if you think it’s drying out. Ovens vary so much that it’s hard to predict.

A few minutes before the end of the 3 hours, make the dumpling mix: put the flour and salt into a bowl. Rub in the butter until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the herbs and grated cheese. Add the milk gradually until you have a firm dough. Divide into 8 pieces and place onto the surface of the casserole after 3 hours. Replace the lid and cook for a further 20 -25 minutes until the dumplings are cooked.

Serve with green vegetables of your choice (I used pan-fried cavolo nero with sesame seeds) and enjoy!

Freezes beautifully (without the dumplings – but you won’t have any of those left anyway!)

Having used half the bottle of Guinness in this recipe, I was left wondering what to do with the rest. I can’t stand waste and I don’t drink the stuff, as I said, or any beer really – the only exception is an ice-cold shandy (or Radler in Austria – the cyclist’s drink!) when walking in the heat of the summer. When I was in hospital having my first son nearly 30 years ago, lunch one day was a ploughman’s lunch with a bottle of Guinness – for the iron presumably! I gave mine away, much to my then husband’s disgust when I told him later….

This time, I vaguely remembered a recipe for Chocolate and Guinness Cake, so had a little search online and was directed to one of my favourite Nigella books: Feast. Result! I made it in a 20cm x 30cm deep rectangular tin rather than the 23cm round tin Nigella recommends, mainly because I knew there was no way that I would eat a whole round cake that size! With a rectangular tin, I could freeze half and just make half the quantity of frosting for the rest. As it was, I ended up taking the iced half to my parents when I called in for lunch last week, then got the other half out of the freezer and iced it for this week, so I could probably have made the whole thing anyway! But this worked extremely well. I ended up using yogurt rather than sour cream as my local Coop was fresh out of the latter on a Sunday afternoon. I adapted the frosting too, as Nigella’s uses double cream, which I thought might be a problem if it wasn’t stored in the fridge – and the weather is still quite mild, so not ideal for a creamy topping to be sitting at room temperature. Here’s what I did:

Chocolate & Guinness Cake – serves 12
Chocolate Guinness Cake

250ml Guinness
250g butter
75g cocoa powder
400g caster sugar
150ml natural full-fat yogurt (or sour cream)
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
275g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Cream cheese frosting:

100g butter, softened
100g icing sugar
grated rind 1 orange
1 tbsp orange juice
200g full-fat cream cheese

 

Preheat the oven to 160°C Fan/Gas 4, then grease and base-line a 20cm x 30 cm deep rectangular cake tin.

Pour the Guinness into a large wide saucepan, add the butter and heat until the butter has melted, then remove from the heat and whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Beat the yogurt (or sour cream) with the eggs and vanilla and then pour into the Guinness mixture in the pan. Finally whisk in the flour and bicarbonate of soda.

Pour the cake batter into the greased and lined tin and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Leave to cool completely in the tin before icing.

Make the frosting by whisking the soft butter and sugar with a hand mixer, or in a stand mixer if you prefer. Add the orange rind and juice and mix again, then whisk in the cream cheese until smooth. Chill in the fridge, then use to ice the cake.

Delicious 🙂

 

 

 

Bean Feast

Bean feast

I can’t quite believe that I haven’t included any French (or runner) bean recipes on my blog in the nearly five years I’ve been writing. What an oversight! It’s not as if I don’t grow enough of them: every year I usually have more beans than I know what to do with, although I often start off with slow germination, or growth setbacks of one sort or another, and worry that I won’t have enough. They always come good in the end, leaving me overrun – and this year is no exception.

I stopped growing the coarser runner beans a few years back, when my sons had left home and I was essentially just cooking for one. I’ve always preferred the finer, tastier French beans, and the fact that they are less hardy than the runners really isn’t a problem now I’m living in the milder South East of England. In Scotland we used to start them off in the unheated greenhouse in late spring, but down here I’ve found they do better planted direct in the soil in early to late June, even as late as early July if the first sowing doesn’t come to anything like this year. Planted so late, they follow on neatly from the broad beans and peas, and don’t compete with the heady courgette rush in mid-summer. By late July/early August, when they start to form those long, elegant pods, we’re just about ready for a new summer crop – perfect timing. And they keep on going well into September, or even October in a good year.

This year I had a mixed pack of bean seeds, containing three different varieties: yellow (Monte Gusto), purple (Carminat) and green (Monte Cristo). I’m favourably impressed so far, although the yellow seem to be by far the most prolific (and easiest to see and harvest).

So how come I haven’t written any recipes for them before? I have no idea! I can only think it’s because this is such a busy time of year in the garden that I’m too busy cooking, harvesting and freezing to write. Definitely time to put that right and jot down a few of my favourite ways of using all those beautiful beans….

My first suggestion is a recipe I’ve been cooking for over 30 years, originally from my home economist friend Bridget in Cheshire. It makes an extremely flavourful vegetarian lasagne, or you can use the bean filling as a pasta sauce without layering and oven-baking if you prefer. I used to make this with runner beans, but French work just as well, if not better.

French Bean & Nut Lasagne – serves 4-6

Bean and nut lasagne

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 red (or green) pepper, chopped
3 sticks celery, chopped
250g French or runner beans, chopped into 2cm long pieces
1 large can chopped tomatoes (or 450g fresh, peeled and chopped if you have them)
2 tbsp tomato purée
Handful of basil or oregano
2 tbsp pesto
150ml red wine
50g walnuts, chopped
Seasoning

45g butter
45g plain flour
500ml milk
125g Cheddar cheese
1 tsp mustard
Grated fresh nutmeg

175-200g dried lasagne

For the bean sauce, cook the onion and garlic in the olive oil for 4-5 mins until starting to soften. Add the pepper, celery and beans, stir well and cook for a further 5 mins. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato purée, basil or oregano, pesto, wine and walnuts, season well and simmer uncovered for 30-40 mins.

Make the cheese sauce as usual by melting the butter, stirring in the flour, cooking for 1 minute then gradually adding the milk, stirring until it thickens and is smooth. Season, add half the cheese and the grated nutmeg and set aside.

Soften the lasagne sheets in a bowl of boiling water, or follow the instructions on your packet (this is a very old recipe!). Assemble the layers in a lasagne dish, starting with the bean sauce, then lasagne, then cheese sauce, ending with cheese sauce. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and cook at 180°C / Gas 4 for 25-30 mins. Serve with a mixed salad.

Next up is another recipe adapted from my old favourite Dairy Cookbook from the early 1980s. Patched, chewed (puppy!) and bespattered it may be, but I still have certain recipes that I turn to now and again, and this is one of them: a comforting pancake dish with a delectable bean, apple and ham filling, finished off with a hint of wholegrain mustard and a velvety cheese sauce. True comfort food for those early autumn days… You can use chopped bacon in this dish, but I usually make it with chopped cooked ham from a weekend gammon joint, which marries perfectly with the melting tenderness of the apples and onions. It’s not unlike an English take on cannelloni, but using pancakes rather than pasta.

Bean, Ham & Apple Pancakes – serves 4

French bean, ham and apple pancakes

Pancakes:
125g plain flour
pinch of salt
1 egg
300ml milk
Butter for frying

Filling:
25g butter (or 1 tbsp olive oil if you prefer)
2 medium onions, chopped (or leeks if you prefer)
175g chopped bacon or home-cooked gammon or ham if you have it
225g apple (cooking or eating), peeled, cored and chopped
225g French or runner beans, chopped into 2cm lengths
1 tbsp French mustard
Chopped parsley or thyme leaves

Sauce:
25g butter
2 level tbsp plain flour
300ml milk
125g Cheddar cheese, grated
Seasoning
Freshly grated nutmeg

First make the pancakes in the usual way by sifting the flour and salt into a roomy bowl. Break the egg into the centre, then gradually beat in the milk and incorporate the flout until all mixed and little bubbles start to form on the surface. Leave to stand for 30 minutes or so if you can, but it’s not critical if you can’t! This mixture should make at least 8 pancakes in an 18cm frying pan. Stack the finished pancakes on a plate as you make them and set aside until you’ve made the filling.

For the filling, melt the butter in a large frying pan, then fry the onion until softened. Steam or microwave the beans for 4 -5 minutes until just tender, then drain off any liquid. Stir the ham, apple and beans into the pan and cook for a further 4-5 minutes (if using uncooked bacon, you might need to add it with the onion at the start). Stir in the mustard, seasoning and chopped parsley or thyme leaves. Set aside to cool slightly while you make the cheese sauce.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, then stir in the flour and cook gently for 1 minute, stirring. Gradually stir in the milk, then bring to the boil and cook until it thickens, stirring constantly. Add grated nutmeg and seasoning, then finally 75g grated cheese.

To assemble, fill each pancake with a generous spoonful of the bean and apple mixture, and either roll up or fold carefully into quarters. Place side by side in a rectangular ovenproof dish, pour over the cheese sauce, sprinkle over the remaining cheese and bake at 180°C / Gas 5 for 25 – 30 minutes. Serve with a green salad.

Both of these recipes are rather heavy on the washing-up, with several stages and pans, but well worth the effort – and the cooking time in the oven means you have enough time to wash up while the dish is cooking if you don’t have a willing sous-chef on hand to clear up as you go along 🙂

One last recipe, which only uses one pan and makes a super-tasty side dish for sausages, chops, or even a roast, was inspired by a recipe in an Italian cookbook I’ve long since lost. I think it originally went under the name of Fagiolini di Sant’Anna, but I’ve tweaked it over the years, as usual. Although the beans are cooked for much longer than if you steamed or boiled them, they remain deliciously tender and take up all the flavours of the cooking liquid. Try it and see. Just don’t drop the salt grinder in it as happened to me this weekend……

Italian French Beans with Tomatoes – serves 2

French beans in tomato sauce

Glug of olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
200g French beans, chopped
2-3 tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
Chopped basil
Dash of white wine
Boiling water
Seasoning

Heat the oil in a small frying pan, then add the garlic and cook gently for 1 minute. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for a further 3-4 minutes, then add the beans and toss in the sauce for a minute or so. Add a dash of white wine and the chopped basil, then just cover the beans with boiling water. Bring back to the boil, then simmer gently, without a lid, for 25 – 30 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced. You may need to turn up the heat or cover the pan depending on your hob. Season to taste and serve with the meat of your choice.

Basket of produce

Another weekend, more progress…

Allotment evening sun

Another weekend comes around, very different from the soaring temperatures of last weekend, but dry at least today, so I’ve finally ventured out into the allotment to do something other than harvesting. My gardening helper came in again on Thursday and did the heavy weeding and lawn mowing, which meant it was a much easier proposition to go up today and get started with the interesting bits! As it was, I still spent over two hours up there, preparing beds and soil – all very enjoyable, but I can certainly feel it in my knee now…

Carrots, parsnips and beetroot are duly sown, along with salad crops: spinach, Swiss chard, rocket, lettuce, oriental mustard, parsley, coriander, dill and chives. I also planted red onion sets around the outside of the bed where the leeks are due to go: currently still containing healthy-looking parsley and chard/spinach that’s about to go to flower, but should be good for a few more pickings. I had intended to plant my peas too, sweet and mangetout, but common sense prevailed and I’ll save that until tomorrow – weather permitting!

I returned home with vast amounts of rhubarb – clearly loving the typical April weather of sunshine and showers – and yet more purple-sprouting broccoli. Most of my meals this week have featured broccoli one way or another, not that I’m complaining. It’s a real delight to have something so fresh and tasty at this time of year, before the asparagus and the broad beans come into their own in a few weeks’ time.

Tonight I simply had it steamed served with salmon fillet, a cream and herb sauce, paprika-dusted chunky chips and a garlic mushroom. So good. Other uses during the week were my standby broccoli and anchovy pasta, a tuna, leek and broccoli pasta bake, and a broccoli and feta frittata. Nothing very taxing, but nice to ring the changes by cooking the broccoli in different ways. And just think of all those vitamins! A and C for starters, but it also contains calcium, iron and folic acid, to name but a few of its nutritional goodies. Let’s hope it goes straight to the knee….

Broccoli & Feta Frittata – serves 2

Broccoli frittata with sorrel mint salad

1 onion, chopped
1 medium potato, diced and parboiled for 5 minutes
1 handful of purple-sprouting broccoli, steamed or microwaved for 2-3 minutes
8-10 cherry tomatoes, halved
a glug of olive oil
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
100g feta cheese, cubed
4 eggs
Salt and pepper

Cook the chopped onion gently in the oil for 10 minutes until starting to soften. Stir in the cooked potato, cherry tomatoes and thyme, and cook for a few more minutes.

Meanwhile beat the eggs, add salt and pepper, then stir in the cubed feta. Tip in the onion, potato and tomato mixture and finally add the drained, cooked broccoli. Pour the mixture into a greased 7″ square roasting dish and make sure everything is evenly distributed. Cook for 12-15 minutes in a pre-heated oven (200°C / Gas 6) until just set to the touch.

Leave to cool for a few minutes and then cut into quarters to serve, preferably with a fresh green salad: mine was fresh red sorrel and mint, as they are both plentiful in the garden at home at the moment, with a handful of red grapes. The frittata re-heats beautifully the next day for lunch if you have any left over.

This next recipe isn’t a looker (are pasta bakes ever?), but it is a really tasty and comforting way of serving broccoli when you have it coming out of your ears… It also contains leeks, another vegetable I’m trying to use up at this time of year, before they flower, and to free up the beds for next month’s courgette and sweetcorn plants. You can still eat them when they go to flower, but they start to develop a hard central tube, so best to use them before if at all possible.

Broccoli & Pasta Bake – serves 2

1 x 160g tin tuna, drained
60g pasta (I used penne, but use whatever you have)
1 generous handful purple-sprouting broccoli
1 large or 2 small leeks, sliced into rings
25g butter
1 heaped tbsp plain flour
250ml milk
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
Freshly grated nutmeg
100g Cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp breadcrumbs (I keep a bag in the freezer and use from frozen)
Salt and pepper

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside. Steam the broccoli over the pasta for the last 3-4 minutes.

Meanwhile, gently cook the leeks in the butter until starting to soften. Stir in the flour and cook for a few minutes, then gradually add the milk. You may need to add more milk if the consistency is too thick – this is a matter of personal taste, so use your discretion! Grate in some fresh nutmeg, and stir in the chopped parsley and half of the grated cheese. Then stir in the flaked tuna and season to taste.

When the pasta is cooked, stir the pasta through the sauce, add the cooked broccoli, and turn into a greased ovenproof dish. I use a 20 cm round Pyrex dish. Mix the reserved grated cheese with the breadcrumbs and sprinkle on top. Bake at 200°C / Gas 6 for 25 – 30 minutes until golden brown. Serve with peas or a green salad.

Finally, to use up the feta left over from the frittata, I turned to yet another pasta dish, featuring one of my favourite pasta sauces and one my boys took away to university as easy student fare. I find it’s only too easy to forget about half a packet of feta in the fridge once you’ve opened it, so this is a delicious way of using it up before it goes off. I think the original recipe came from renowned Italian food writer Anna del Conte, but I’ve tweaked it over the years as usual. You can add sweet peppers, or omit the onion: it’s always good.

Spicy Sausage Pasta – serves 2-3

Sausage pasta_rotated

1 x 400g pack good sausages (I like to use Sainsbury’s Sicilian sausages, but any will do)
200g pasta (penne or rigatoni)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato purée
2 tbsp capers, drained
12 black olives
120ml white wine
2 tbsp parsley, chopped (or basil in season)
100g feta cheese, crumbled
salt & pepper

Cook the chopped onion gently in the oil in a frying pan. Use scissors to cut the skin off the sausages and discard. Chop the sausage meat into chunks and add to the frying pan after 5-10 minutes, then add the chopped garlic and chilli. Cook until the sausage is no longer pink, then add the tomato purée and the wine. Let it sizzle and die down, then add the tinned tomatoes, capers and olives. Season to taste. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile cook the pasta in boiling salted water for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside, reserving a few tbsp of cooking water to add to the tomato mixture if it looks to be getting dry. Alternatively add more wine!

After 15 minutes, add the pasta to the sauce, toss thoroughly and serve topped with the crumbled feta cheese and the chopped parsley.

Poppy in bluebells 2018

Here we go again…

Snow again

I had intended to do some serious spring gardening today, distributing last year’s compost, cutting back lavateras and roses, and weeding the allotment beds before the onslaught of spring, but Nature had other ideas… A bitterly cold wind and more snow from the East made gardening a rather uninviting prospect, so I’ve spent the day doing much-needed admin in the warmth of the house instead. This is clearly going to be a very late start to the gardening year! You can’t fight the elements, though.

At least my sons had managed to take down my rickety old wooden arch last weekend and erect the new, elegant Gothic arch. The climbing roses Ginger Syllabub and Bouquet d’Or have had to be cut back extremely hard, as they were intertwined in the old trellis, but fingers crossed they’ll shoot again when the growing season starts. Likewise the clematis, both late-flowering viticella varieties (Kermesina and Black Prince), were cut back in February as usual and should grow strongly once the weather warms up. I just need to wire between the uprights to give them some more support before the roses provide them with a woody framework. This was the perfect Mother’s Day treat for me: solving one of my garden problems 🙂

New arch

Back to winter today, and a chance to jot down some spicy fish recipes I’ve been meaning to share for quite some time. One, a tuna curry, is another of those store cupboard standbys that I’ve had in my repertoire for years. It came originally from a fellow translator when I worked in-house in Cheshire many moons ago and it always goes down well – and freezes well too, developing even more flavour after a spell in the cold. My sons both took it to university as part of their arsenal of easy recipes, and it’s certainly ideal hearty, yet tasty student fare. It’s one of those recipes where you can vary the vegetables and spices, but I’ll write down the basic, oh-so-easy recipe and leave the rest to you.

Tuna Curry – serves 4

1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, sliced
1 green or red pepper, chopped
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped
2 tbsp tomato purée
seeds from 8-10 cardamom pods, crushed
1 red chilli, finely chopped
2 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp garam masala
2 tsp sugar
seasoning
50g desiccated coconut
50g sultanas
2 160g tins tuna (drained)
chopped fresh coriander to serve

Cook the chopped vegetables in a large deep pan for one hour, stirring in the spices after 10 minutes or so once the vegetables have softened and started to turn golden. Add the chopped tomatoes, sugar and seasoning, swilling the can around with water and adding that too, to make sure the mixture doesn’t dry out. After an hour, stir in the drained tuna, coconut and sultanas and cook for another 5-10 minutes until heated through.

Serve with basmati rice, mango chutney and chopped fresh coriander to serve.

Simple, yet delicious!

My second spicy fish dish is adapted from a Sophie Grigson recipe, discovered in a magazine many years ago. While it’s called a biryani, I make no claim to its authenticity, but love the end result of a gently spiced oven-baked rice dish. I often make this with leftover rice, or indeed make twice as much rice one night, with a view to making this the following evening. Just stir in the spices with the cooked rice if you decide to follow suit, as the original recipe cooks the basmati from scratch with the turmeric and cinnamon stick.

Smoked Salmon Biryani – serves 3

Smoked salmon biryani

150g basmati rice
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 cinnamon stick
6 whole cardamom pods, seeds removed and crushed
3 tbsp rapeseed oil (or oil of your choice)
2 tsp black mustard seeds
2 large onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 leek, sliced
1 red or green pepper, deseeded and diced
1 or 2 red chillis, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
100g frozen peas
250g smoked salmon, roughly chopped
juice and zest of 1 lime
1 tbsp chopped dill (or coriander or parsley!)
50g butter, diced
seasoning
halved cherry tomatoes to serve (optional)

Start by cooking the rice in boiling water with the turmeric and cinnamon stick for 8-10 minutes. Drain and set to one side.

Meanwhile cook the onions, garlic and chilli in a large frying pan, or an ovenproof shallow casserole if you have one. When the onion is starting to soften and turn golden, stir in the mustard seeds, crushed cardamom, cumin and coriander, then add the pepper and leek. Continue to cook gently for another 5 minutes or so, then stir in the frozen peas and cook for another couple of minutes. Finally stir in the smoked salmon, juice and zest of one lime, the cooked rice, and seasoning.

At this point, you can either transfer the mixture to an ovenproof casserole, or just dot the biryani with the butter in situ, cover with a lid or with foil, and transfer to an oven pre-heated to 160°C, Gas 4 for 30 minutes.

Serve with chopped dill (or coriander/parsley) and cherry tomatoes to garnish if you feel so inclined.

Roll on Spring!

Spring bulbs

Winter warmers

Front garden

This week’s unexpected late snowfall brought the deepest snow to the village that we’ve had in 6 or 7 years. Leo the labrador was a puppy last time we had snow on this scale and consequently very overexcited to see all this lovely white stuff last week! Poppy likes it too, but at 12 1/2, she sometimes finds it a bit cold on her paws, and especially dislikes the patches of salt on the roads.

While I’m extremely glad I work from home at times like this, so don’t need to venture out in the car, I do find that snow brings out all my survival instincts. Despite having a freezer full of soup and casseroles, I have the urge to make more! There’s nothing like a big pan full of simmering soup to warm you up when you get back from a snowy dog walk in the winter wonderland… The suspension of my usual evening activities means I have more time to cook in the evening too, so warming hotpots are definitely the order of the day. The freezer casseroles can wait for another day; the aroma of slow-cooked vegetables and meat is just heavenly on those days where the thermometer is well below zero all day long…

Last week’s soups included old favourites such as tomato & lentil (a good store cupboard standby if you have beef stock in the freezer, as it really only needs red lentils, a tin of tomatoes, a chilli, onion and celery – so good!), and Scottish Country Soup, a true winter warmer chock-full of vegetables with barley flakes and milk for extra nutrients.

Scottish Country Soup – serves 6

Scottish country soup

25g butter or 1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 carrots, diced
2 sticks celery, sliced
1 leek, sliced
Handful kale or Savoy cabbage, shredded (I use Cavolo Nero from the allotment)
125g frozen peas
50g barley flakes
sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
1 bay leaf
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
500ml semi-skimmed milk
seasoning

Melt the butter (or oil) in a pan, then gently fry the onions, celery and carrots for 10 minutes, until golden. Add the leeks, peas and cabbage (or kale) and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. Stir in the thyme, bay leaf, barley flakes, stock and milk, then bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer and cover. Cook for 30 40 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Remove the bay leaf and serve.

Hotpots are proper winter fare, especially to a Northern lass like me. My tried and trusted recipe is my mum’s and she in turn had it from her mum. I suppose it’s a variation on Lancashire hotpot (although without the sliced potato topping, and always with beef not lamb in my book) or even lobscouse, that traditional Liverpool stew. I’ve always known it simply as hotpot, preferably with a delicious flaky crust and made with skirt steak if you can find it. Traditional butchers should have it and it’s well worth hunting down – it has a flavour and texture all of is own, but you can use shin of beef instead if that’s all you can find). The aroma of a hotpot in the oven, slowly building over the afternoon, takes me right back to my childhood and is just what I fancy on a cold winter’s night….

Hotpot – serves 6

350-450g skirt steak (or shin if you can’t find skirt), diced
4 onions, chopped
3-4 carrots, diced
2 sticks celery, sliced
1/2 swede, diced
4 large potatoes, chopped into 2cm chunks
handful of pearl barley (or red lentils)
1-2 shakes of crushed, dried chillis (or omit if you prefer)
seasoning
1l hot beef stock (using 2 stock cubes is fine)

Crust:
125g self-raising flour
40g lard
salt

Place the diced meat into a large casserole or traditional ceramic hotpot dish. Add the rest of the vegetables, pearl barley, chilli and seasoning, then pour over the hot stock until everything is covered with liquid. Stir well, and place in the oven at 140-150°C. Cook for 4-5 hours, stirring after one hour, and check towards the end that there is still enough liquid. The idea is for everything to become incredibly tender and to “fall”.

Half an hour or so before you’re ready to eat, turn the oven up to 200°C. Make the crust by rubbing the lard into the flour, then adding water until a soft dough forms. Handle as little as possible, but quickly roll out into a rough circle the size of your pot and place on top of the cooked hotpot. Slash two cuts in the top to allow the steam to escape, then return to the oven for 20 minutes, or until just starting to turn pale golden. Serve in ladlefuls with red cabbage, peas, beetroot or winter relish. The taste of home, for me at any rate 🙂

A variation on the hotpot theme from Jamie Oliver’s “Jamie’s Dinners” uses a more newfangled range of ingredients, including squash and red wine (unheard of for cooking in my grandmother’s day!), but leads to a similar comforting result. Jamie calls this Jools’ Favourite Beef Stew, but I call it posh hotpot. The basic recipe is very similar, and like my family recipe can be cooked without browning the ingredients before cooking, which makes it very simple to prepare once you’ve done all the chopping. I remember my mum dashing home from work in her lunchtime to prepare the ingredients for a hotpot and put it in the oven for later that evening. I don’t suppose we had timers on ovens in those days! You can use any root vegetables you like in this, mixing and matching to suit what you have in the fridge/vegetable rack. Our local Coop’s shelves were bare when I made this last week, so I used carrots, squash, celery, potato and sweet potatoes as that’s what I had – it isn’t a fussy dish. Jamie’s recipe browns the vegetables (but not the meat), but I really don’t think it’s necessary, By all means do if you prefer.

I broached the last of my Crown Prince squashes from last autumn for this, and a veritable monster it was too! I used barely a sixth of it in the hotpot, but it should keep well in the fridge while I work out what to do with the rest..

Jamie’s Posh Hotpot – serves 4-6

4-500g diced stewing steak (I like to use skirt again, but shin or just stewing beef is fine)
2 onions, chopped
3-4 carrots, peeled and diced
2 sticks celery, sliced
250g squash, diced into chunks
2 parsnips, peeled and chopped (or sweet potatoes or swede)
1 potato, peeled and diced
1 leek, chopped
handful sage leaves, chopped
2 bay leaves
800ml – 1l hot beef or vegetable stock (again, use cubes if that’s what you have)
1/2 bottle red wine
1 tbsp tomato purée
salt and pepper
grated zest 1 lemon
few sprigs of rosemary , leaves only
1 clove garlic, crushed

Pre-heat the oven to 140-150°C. Place the diced meat and all the chopped veg in a large casserole or hotpot dish with the bay leaves and chopped sage. Pour over the hot stock, seasoning and tomato purée, then add the red wine and stir well. Place in the oven and cook for 4 hours or until tender. Check the liquid carefully towards the end and top up with more water, stock (or wine!) if necessary.

Just before serving, mix the grated lemon zest, chopped rosemary and crushed garlic together and stir into the hotpot for a hint of je ne sais quoi. Serve with crusty bread, or you could make a pastry crust again (see above) or even herby dumplings.

Jamie's hotpot
The snow has all but gone now, as I write, and we’re coping with the aftermath in the form of no water (or in my case, barely a trickle) as water leaks spring up all over the village as part of the big thaw. Ho hum. It was nice while it lasted.

The next morning

A mixed bag for February

A mixed bag of a weekend, and one in which I’ve been up to London to a delicious wedding food tasting, bought part of my wedding outfit (hurrah!), had a frustrating time on the ‘phone to Apple to try to resolve my quick-draining phone battery, squeezed in some shopping (20% off at the local garden centre!) and household chores, and finally managed to catch up in the garden before next week’s forecast big freeze.

Seed potatoes

Part of my garden shopping haul included some seed potatoes for chitting: I’ve been looking for a few weeks, but most of the local garden centres only seemed to have the same old varieties, and as I now only grow one bed with 10 plants of 2 varieties, I do like to trial different ones each year. These were Colleen, a first early, and Bonnie. a second early, both with good disease/pest resistance and sounding promising. I’ve also discovered one of the nicest potato varieties I’ve ever grown down here in the South-East at an online nursery in Doncaster, so intend to order those too to see if they are as good as I remember. The variety is Ulster Sceptre and I haven’t been able to find them since trialling them from T&M some years ago. It transpires that these used to be widely grown in Cheshire, which probably explains why I liked them so much – they reminded me of the potatoes of my childhood. My mum always said you couldn’t beat new Cheshire potatoes (sorry, Jersey!), although I suspect the good loamy soil has a lot to do with it too. Not entirely sure where I’ll put them, but they come in 5s, so too good to miss….

It’s been a particularly beautiful, cold but sunny weekend, so all the more galling that I wasn’t able to do quite as much gardening today as I’d anticipated. Still, it would have been even more annoying if I’d tried to sort my ‘phone out on a work day, I suppose. No matter, I eventually (by dint of eking out the very last hours of daylight until the sun finally disappeared beyond the horizon and the final rose-orange rays of the stunning sunset faded away), did what I’d set out to achieve: cutting down the autumn raspberries at the allotment, and pruning the late-flowering clematis to a foot above the ground, plus finishing cutting back the perennial grasses and Michaelmas daisies at home. All of which took a surprisingly long time, probably because I allowed myself to become rather side-tracked pruning roses (intermingled with the clematis) and pyracantha (likewise).

Wonky arch

Mission accomplished in the end, though – and another task set up for next weekend: I’ve been aware for a while that my rose arch near the front gate has been leaning at an increasingly drunken angle. Closer inspection as I clipped the roses yesterday showed that the wood has simply rotted in the ground and the whole thing will have to come down. It’s been in situ some 10 or 11 years, so I suppose I can’t complain – and if it’s going to go, far better to happen now, rather than later in the season when everything is in full bloom. New metal arch duly ordered, but the task of unravelling the existing climbing roses and removing the old arch will have to wait until another time – here’s hoping this week’s predicted snow doesn’t do the job for me!

After a busy and successful day in London on Saturday, and lots of delicious food to sample at lunchtime, I only fancied a light meal when I got back home. I hadn’t anything planned, but a small Harlequin squash in the storage basket in the conservatory was just asking to be used. Cue one of my favourite simple suppers: an oven-baked frittata with squash, leeks, feta and sultanas, served with cherry tomatoes quickly roasted in the oven with rosemary, garlic and thyme at the same time. So tasty.

Squash, Leek & Feta Frittata – serves 2

Squash and leek frittata_cropped

1 small round or butternut squash, peeled and deseeded
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 leek, washed and sliced
olive oil
knob of butter
salt and black pepper
few sprigs fresh thyme
1 tbsp sultanas
1 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
50g feta cheese, crumbled
4 eggs, beaten

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/Gas 5. Chop the squash into chunks and place in a small baking dish. Sprinkle over the thyme leaves and chopped garlic, then season with salt and black pepper. Roast in the hot oven until golden – about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, sauté the sliced leeks gently in the butter until softened. Stir in the sultanas and toasted pine nuts. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and season. Stir in the leek mixture and crumbled feta. When the squash is cooked, drain off any excess oil, and combine the squash with the egg mixture. Return to the roasting dish, distribute everything evenly and return to the oven for 10-12 minutes or until set and golden-brown. Cut into squares or triangles to serve warm with a green salad or with roast tomatoes. Also excellent cold (or reheated) the next day for lunch.

I’d made a similar dish, although probably more akin to a Spanish tortilla, last weekend, this time with potatoes, caramelised onions, thyme and cheddar. Served just warm, at a barn dance at the local school where we’d all been invited to bring a dish, it went down a treat. And proves that simple vegetarian food often hits the spot too.

Potato, Onion, Mushroom and Thyme Tortilla – serves 4-6

3-4 potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
2-3 large onions, peeled and sliced
150g mushrooms, sliced
pinch of sugar
large knob of butter
seasoning
few sprigs of thyme
6 eggs (or to taste!)
100g mature Cheddar cheese, grated

Sauté the sliced onions gently in a frying pan until very soft and tender – about 10-30 minutes. The longer you cook them, the more caramelised they become. Add the mushrooms for the last 10 minutes and a pinch of sugar towards the end.

Meanwhile, place the potatoes in boiling salted water and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until just tender. Drain and leave to cool slightly.

Pre-heat the oven to 200180°C/Gas 5. Whisk the eggs in a separate large bowl, season and stir in the grated cheese, thyme leaves, caramelised onions and mushrooms, and the cooked potatoes. Mix well to combine and pour the mixture into a greased 24cm round ovenproof dish (or you can use a rectangular dish if you prefer). Add more beaten eggs at this stage if you’re using a bigger dish or it doesn’t look enough! Make sure that everything is distributed evenly, then cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

Best eaten lukewarm, but you can eat it immediately or leave until cold. The Spanish often take their tortilla on picnics, cold, where the flavours really shine through. I hasten to add that this is by no means a traditional Spanish recipe, merely my take on a combination I adore 🙂

Poppy at Tapsells in frost