Lamb fillets stuffed with rosemary, garlic and anchovy

stuffed lamb fillets

I use lamb neck fillets quite a lot because they’re a cheap but tasty and versatile cut of meat. I usually use them in curries and casseroles but this is something different and slightly posher. This would also work with pork fillets or chicken breasts.

Ingredients
Serves 2

2 lamb neck fillets
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tbsp rosemary, chopped
1 tbsp anchovy essence or one anchovy, mashed
About 100g breadcrumbs, but use your common sense as to whether you need more or less than that.
1 egg yolk
Salt and pepper to your taste
1 tbsp oil

You’ll also need some string.

The Cooking

Pre-heat the oven to about 180C/350F and cut 6 or so lengths of string, long enough to tie round a fillet.

No faffing about here – just mix together all the ingredients except the lamb. The egg yolk will bind it all together and it should be squidgy but not particularly wet or dry. With a knife, slit the fillet open but don’t cut all the way through. Lie the fillet onto the string and put the stuffing down the middle of it as in the picture above.

Tie the fillets up with the string. Heat some oil in a frying pan until it’s very hot and fry the fillets quickly on all sides. You’re not trying to cook it through, just give it a nice brown colour on the outside. Once upon a time chefs would have told you this was “sealing” the meat but we all know now this is rubbish. You are in fact subjecting it to the Maillard browing reaction.

Once they’ve got a bit of colour, put the fillets into the oven for about 20 minutes. As it’s lamb, it doesn’t need to be cooked through and is nice when it’s a bit pink on the inside. If you’re using pork or chicken, you might need to leave it a bit longer to make sure it’s fully cooked through.

Cut off the string and serve it up. Ta dah. We had ours with couscous.

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Lamb, Bacon and Aubergine Casserole

Lamb and bacon casserole

This was a bit of an accidental creation and the photo doesn’t do it justice at all. It was in fact very tasty indeed. I made it up as I went along in that I’ve-had-a-couple-of-beers style of cooking which can so often result in disaster but on this occasion turned out a triumph. I thought that rosemary and cumin go so well with lamb that it had to work… and it did. Give it a go.

Ingredients

2 lamb neck fillets (or any other cheap cut), cut into chunks
Bacon, pancetta or lardons chopped. I’m not sure how much I used. 2 rashers will do.
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 aubergine (eggplant)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1tbsp plain (all-purpose) flour.
1 tin tomatoes
About a tablespoon of rosemary and cumin seeds, ground or chopped
1tsp anchovy sauce (optional)
3 tbsp olive oil

The Cooking
Serves 3 or 2 plus someone’s lunch the next day

Pre-heat the oven to 160C/ 320F. The oven is on quite a low heat because if it’s too hot the lamb will dry up and be tough.

Do your prep – chop the lamb, bacon, onion, garlic and aubergine. Put 2 tablespoons of the oil in a casserole dish and get it good and hot. Fry the onion and bacon in batches (I did it in two batches because if you chuck it all in at once this will lower the heat and the meat will stew rather than fry) until they get a bit brown – they don’t have to be cooked through, just browned. It’s good to get some of the burnt bits caught on the bottom of the pan.

Set the onion and bacon aside and deglaze the pan by pouring in half a cupful of water and scraping up the burnt bits from the bottom of the pan. The liquid should boil rapidly and reduce quite a lot. Pour out the burnt-bits liquid and set aside for later. Effectively, you’ve made some gravy.

Put 1 tbsp oil into the now-empty pan and turn the heat down to medium. Gently fry the onion and aubergine for 10 minutes until they’re soft but not brown. Add the flour, garlic, rosemary and cumin and fry for another minute or so and then add the lamb, bacon and burnt-bits gravy you set aside. Give it a good stir and add the tin of tomatoes and anchovy sauce if you have it.

Bring it up to a simmer and then put it in the oven without a lid. If it seems a bit dry, add some water.

Stir it every 15 minutes or so for an hour. Have a taste – the bacon should have made it salty enough but if you feel it needs seasoning then add it.

After an hour it should be ready and the lanb will be nice and tender. I served mine with couscous but you could also have it with rice, potatoes or pasta.

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Creamy pork and cider casserole

Pork and cider casserole

This is a very simple casserole, good for the approaching autumn. Pork, apples, cream and sage all have a natural affinity and with fluffy mashed potatoes this is a really comforting dinner.

Ingredients
Feeds 2 hungry people

About 300g diced pork.
About 250ml cider – alcoholic or non alcoholic, your choice. But don’t use sweetened apple juice.
1 small onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
About 3 tbsp cream – I used single cream. If you’re feeling low-fat you can use low-fat creme fraiche.
Sage – either about 1/2 tsp dried or 3 or 4 fresh leaves.
1tbsp oil
Salt and pepper to taste

The Cooking

Pre-heat the oven to about 160C/320F. You don’t want it too hot or the pork will dry up.

First, do your prep. Peel and chop the onion and carrots. Do it quite chunky, this is a chunky kind of dish. Heat the oil up in a casserole dish on the hob (stovetop) on a medium heat and when it’s hot chuck in the onion and carrots. Fry them, stirring occasionally for 5 or so minutes until the onion is soft but not brown.

Throw in the diced pork and turn up the heat a bit and fry it for a couple of minutes. You don’t need it to brown and cook through, you’re just searing it. Add the salt, pepper and sage and pour over the cider and bring it up to a simmer. The liquid should be just up to the top of the ingredients – if it’s not then add some water or pour some out. Put the casserole dish in the oven (without a lid).

Now go and have a cup of tea and watch Corrie (for my Americanadian friends read: have a cup of coffee and watch… Day of Our Lives?). Stir the casserole after about 15 minutes so – the liquid should be simmering gently and have reduced a bit. Leave it alone for another 15 minutes and then stir it again, to stop the pork drying out. If you’re having it with mash, put the potatoes on now.

When the potatoes are almost done (or after another 20-ish minutes), add the cream to the casserole. Stir and return to the oven for 5 or 10 minutes (while you finish off the potatoes).

And that’s it, it’s ready to eat.

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How to sweat onions and mushrooms, etc

The process of sweating food means exactly what you think it means – making them release water. Almost all cooking methods involve releasing water from food, but when you’re given the instruction to sweat something in a recipe, it generally means that you need to keep the released water from evaporating to a certain extent.

For example, when sweating onions or mushrooms, you need to put a lid over the pan in which you are frying them in order to trap the condensation. This means the water doesn’t evaporate, they don’t dry out, and they end up cooking in their own expelled water. As long as you have them on a low heat, they can go on stewing in their own juices for quite a while, intensifying their flavour.

A good guideline as to when onions or other ingredients have been sweated properly is when they’re soft and floppy but not swimming in their own juices. If a massive amount of water is released during the cooking and doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, just take the lid off and let it evaporate, stirring often. It’s not ideal, and if your ingredient is letting out loads of water, you may want to investigate why it’s got such a high water content.

For example, when you fry cheap bacon, you get loads of watery rubbish released from the meat because it’s bulked out with saline solution. But good bacon releases hardly any water, because it’s mostly meat and fat. It’s worth looking out for.

Bacon and Chicken Risotto

risotto

I’m lucky enough that my other half, Alex B, is also a very good cook. There are certain dishes that I will always leave to him, simply because he has the knack of them and does them really well. Also, it means I don’t have to cook every night.

His signature dish is risotto. You can’t beat it. So here I present his recipe, as written by him:

Ingredients
Serves 2 generously

100g streaky bacon or pancetta or lardons, chopped into squarish pieces
100g leftover roast chicken (or raw chicken)
1 red onion, chopped
500ml chicken stock, more or less. Use the best you can get because it’s important in this dish. If you have home-made chicken stock, this is the perfect way of using it.
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
150g risotto rice
100ml white wine
Frozen peas, however much you like
Parmesan, grated
Sage
Olive oil
Butter

The Cooking

Chop the onion and garlic and bacon into whatever sized pieces you would later like to eat. Chop or tear the chicken into small pieces. In this recipe I have used already cooked chicken, but you could also use raw chicken.

Pour the stock into a saucepan and heat until just about simmering. Leave it on a low heat throughout the cooking.

Heat the olive oil in a deep frying pan (some manufacturers call it a saute pan) and gently fry the bacon. (If you are using raw chicken fry this now too.) As the bacon is salty you will not need any other seasoning at this stage. When the bacon is mostly cooked remove it from the pan and put it on some kitchen roll. Add a little more olive oil to the pan and begin frying the onion gently. When the onion has softened nicely add the garlic for about a minute.

After a minute add another drop of olive oil and a small knob of butter. When the butter has melted put the rice in and stir it around to coat it with oil and butter and cook for about 30 seconds. Pour in the white wine and stir. If the wine is cold you might want to turn the heat up to get it cooking quickly – you do not want your rice sitting around in cold liquid. When the wine had reduced to almost nothing begin the add the stock, one ladle-full at a time.

You are now entering the main risotto-cooking process. This can take any time from 15 to 40 minutes, depending on the temperature you’ve got your hob. If the stock doesn’t bubble at all, then it’s not hot enough to cook the rice; if it is too hot then the stock will evaporate without pausing to cook the rice. When you’ve added the load of stock add any herbs you want. I used sage this time, but rosemary and thyme, or any combination of those three, would be good. Add your chicken and bacon now.

Stir the risotto every so often to keep from sticking to the pan (except, see below). Allow the liquid to reduce until you have got a thick, sticky porridge kind of consistency and then add another ladle of stock. Don’t worry about using all the stock, the important thing is to get the rice cooked properly.

Now: sticking. If you don’t stir the rice often enough, it will begin to stick to the bottom of the pan. Stir again and scrape any stuck rice off the pan. This is good, because it releases starch from the rice and helps to make the risotto all creamy and delicious. If the rice sticks too much it will form a sort of burnt layer underneath the risotto, but this doesn’t matter too much.

Continue cooking, adding stock, and stirring, tasting the rice every so often. Risotto rice shouldn’t be as soft as basmati or other kinds of rice. There should still be a bit of bite in it, without actually being crunchy. When the rice is cooked to your taste, add the peas for about 2-3 minutes and turn the heat down. Use as many peas as you would like to eat. Turn the heat off completely and add the grated parmesan and stir it in. Sprinkle some more parmesan over the top if you are greedy (like us).

Serve with some nice bread and salad.

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Pea & Potato Curry (Aloo Mattar)

pea and potato curry

This dish is everything I want in a home-made curry – full of taste, easy to make, and easy on the budget. It’s vegetarian (vegan, even), low-fat, takes half an hour in a single pan and uses only storecupboard ingredients. How much more perfect could it be?

My mother-in-law gave me this recipe and she knows what she’s on about.

Ingredients
Serves 4

4 large potatoes or the equivalent in new potatoes
1 onion
Some peas, fresh or frozen. However much you like.
1 tsp ground coriander
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp ground tumeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp sugar
As much chilli as you like, powdered, dried or fresh
1tsp garam masala
A knob of butter (or oil if you’re vegan)
A pinch of salt and pepper

The Cooking

Chop up the onion really finely, as finely as you can bear with tears streaming down your face. If possible, it should be almost chopped to a paste although don’t worry if it’s not. Melt the butter in a non-stick saucepan on a low-to-medium heat and when it starts to foam, add the onion. Stir it occasionally as you get on with the other stuff, but not too much, it’s nice when it catches a bit.

Now cut up the potatoes into roughly equal-sized chunks. If you’re using new potatoes just halve them.

Mix together the coriander, cumin, cayenne, sugar, chilli, salt and pepper (but not the garam masala). When the onions are golden brown, almost burnt, add the potatoes and the spice mix, give it a good stir so the onions and potato are coated and let it cook for a minute. Then pour in some cold water, enough to almost cover the potatoes.

Bring the whole thing up to the boil and let it bubble away for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and tasting often – if you feel it needs more salt then add it. As the potato softens and the liquid reduces a bit, smoosh a couple of the potatoes into the liquid to thicken it.

If it gets a bit dry, add more water. If it’s too watery, smoosh some more of the potato into it and turn up the heat and reduce the liquid some more. Use the mighty power of your brain.

After 15 minutes, check if the potatoes are almost-but-not-completely cooked. If they are, add the peas (if they’re not, cook them some more until they are, obviously). Once the peas are cooked (about 5 minutes), sprinkle over the garam masala, stir it around for another minute and serve it up with basmati rice and dhal, if you like.

This, as they say on the packets, is a serving suggestion:

curry

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Cornish Pasty Canapes

Cornish pasties

I have made Cornish Pasties before, but this recipe is adapted for little mini pasties. They’re good for taking to parties (dinner or otherwise) as a starter/snack/nibble or for impressing your friends and workmates.

This recipe makes about 35 mini pasties, which may seem a lot but they’ll go quickly. Also, it’s difficult to make them in smaller quantities because even though you’re only using one small potato and one small carrot, you need 225g meat to get meat-to-veg ratio right and a little of the filling goes a long way. If you wanted to, you could make less by using half a potato and half a carrot but frankly, that way madness lies. You’d be left with random halves of vegetables lying around. That’s no use to anyone.

Ingredients
Makes around 35

For the pastry
330g plain flour
175g butter
1 egg
A pinch of salt
A pinch of cayenne pepper (if you have it)
A pinch of mustard powder (again, if you have it)

For the filling
225g lean minced (ground) beef
1 small onion
1 small potato
1 small carrot
1 teaspoon plain flour
Worcestershire sauce
About a cup’s worth of stock – veg or beef
1 egg

The Cooking

People get scared of pastry and think it’s some big mystery, but it’s really not – it’s just flour, butter and something to bind them together. Nothing scary about that. First of all, measure out your ingredients, put the flour, salt, cayenne and mustard powder into a big bowl and cube the butter thusly:

pastry ingredients

Now put the butter into the flour and using your fingertips rub the butter into the flour. Try to do this lightly and be patient, it will get there in the end.

mixing pastry

Yes, those are my hands. What you’re aiming for in a texture like rough breadcrumbs:

making pastry

Now beat the 1 egg and pour it in. With a wooden spoon, give it a stir and the ingredients will start to stick together. Use your hands to bring it all together into a ball. Behold:

pastry dough

Pop it in some cling film (saran wrap) or into a plastic sandwich bag (that’s what I use, less fiddly) and put it in the fridge to chill for half an hour.

While that’s chilling, do your veg prep. Finely dice the onion, potato and carrot. Set a non-stick frying pan on a high heat and when it’s good and hot, tip in the minced meat and move it about, browning it. After a couple of minutes, tip in the diced veg and give it a stir. Splash over a few shakes of worcestershire sauce and some salt and pepper. Be a little more generous with the pepper than you normally would be. Sprinkle over the tablespoon of plain flour, mix it in and cook for a further minute. Now pour over a cup of stock and reduce the heat to a simmer.

After 5 minutes or so the veg should be softening up and the liquid thickening and reducing. You don’t want it too wet otherwise it’ll make the pastry soggy – it just wants to be moist. If there’s too much liquid, turn up the heat and reduce it a bit.

Take the filling mix off the heat and set it aside to cool. Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

Okay, now take the pastry out of the fridge, divide it into thirds and wrap two pieces back up and put them back in the fridge. Sprinkle flour on a large chopping board or just a kitchen surface and sprinkle some on your rolling pin to stop it sticking. Roll out the pastry until it’s quite thin – about as thin as you dare before you think it might tear when you move it. Now cut circles out of the pastry – if you have a pastry cutter, well done and you should use that. I don’t have one, so I use the end of a can of tomatoes which works just as well. Peal away the offcuts of pastry, ball it up and cover it to stop it getting dry.

Now put a small amount of pilling in the middle of each circle like this:

cornish pastie canapes

And fold the circle over. Pinch the edges together and put it pinched end up on a baking try. Do the same with the rest of the circles and roll out the rest of the pastry and repeat until it’s all used up. Beat an egg and if you have a pastry brush, brush the egg over the pasties to glaze them. I don’t have a pastry brush so I used some kitchen roll dipped into the egg and then wiped over the pasties. Works just as well.

Put the baking tray with the pasties into the oven for 10-15 minutes until they’re golden brown. Do it in batches if necessary.

Now, eat! Hot or cold, both works well. Tasty, innit?

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The Perfect Summer Supper

This isn’t a recipe, it’s just a photo of my tea. I went to Borough Market this morning and treated myself to the very best ingredients: hand-sliced San Daniele parma ham, Mozarella di Buffula from Naples, and Sicilian plum tomatoes. The basil is my home-grown.

As smug as this sounds, it was incredible.

Pork tenderloin wrapped in pesto and parma ham with puy lentils

Pork tenderloin

This takes slightly more effort than just bunging something in the oven, but only slightly more and it is worth it. Pork and lentils are such a great match.

Ingredients
Serves 2

1 pork tenderloin
4-ish tablespoons of pesto – either shop-bought or make your own (takes 5 minutes)
4 slices parma ham or proscuitto
Aluminium foil

½ an onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
Puy lentils. Judge for yourself how much you want.
Vegetable stock

The Cooking

Pre-heat the oven to about 180C/350F

First of all, heat up the olive oil in a saucepan to a medium/high heat and chop the onion. When the oil is good and hot, bung in the onion and cook until softened but not browned (about 5 minutes). Add in the lentils and stir it well and cook for about a minute and then pour in some vegetable stock – enough to cover the lentils and then some. Because every time you cook lentils they’re different, you’ll need to judge for yourself if you need to add more stock as they’re cooking. I tend to top the stock up as I go so that it’s neither a big soupy mass nor dried out. Turn the heat down and simmer.

Now smear the pesto over the pork loin all over so it’s well covered. Lay out the slices of parma ham flat and so they overlap slightly. Lie the pork loin on top of the slices and then wrap the ham round the pork so it’s tightly wrapped. If you’ve got some ham left over you can also fold some over the ends. Now wrap the whole thing in aluminium foil and put on an oven tray. Pop it into the oven for 15-20 minutes.

By the time the pork is done the lentils should also be ready. Have a taste and season with salt and pepper if you think it needs it. If they’re a bit bland you can add things like Worcestershire sauce, thai fish sauce, mushroom ketchup. It’s up to you.

Slice the pork and serve it with the lentils. Lush.

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Pork medalions in a white wine and sage sauce

pork medalions

This is a handy midweek supper and takes half an hour to make. Pork loin is quite an expensive cut but this makes it go a long way and makes the most of it.

Ingredients
1 pork tenderloin.
1 or 2 glasses of white wine
1 teaspoon fresh or dried sage
1 knob of butter
Salt and pepper

The Cooking

First of all slice the pork loin into slices about a centimeter thick. Put them cut side down, cover with some cling film (saran wrap) or whatever you have to hand and give them a bash with a heavy implement (or the blunt end of the knife). Don’t smash it to bits, it’s quite delicate, just bash it so it goes nice and thin. Voila, medalions. Sprinkle a little salt and freshly ground pepper over each medalion.

Heat the butter in a frying pan until it’s foaming hot and fry the medalions on each side for around 45 seconds or however long it takes to cook through and get a bit of colour. Do this in batches if necessary.

Set the pork aside and keep warm. I always get frustrated when cookbooks tell me to set something aside to keep warm. Where? How? I haven’t got a hotplate handy. You didn’t tell me to. So I just put it on a plate and cover it with another plate. Works well enough.

Now pour the wine into the frying pan and scrape the pan to get up all the bits that have stuck to it. Add the sage and simmer for a while (say, 3 minutes) to take the sharp edge off the alcohol. Add more wine if it is evaporating too quickly.

Arrange the medalions prettily on a plate and pour over the sauce. As you can see, I served mine with mashed potato. It was very nice. You should try it.

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