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.


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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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.

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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Quiche equipment located

I love poundshops.

Say you need a quiche dish. You’re not going to makes quiches all that often, you just want to have a go at it. So you go to your local cookshop and look at the flan dishes and they are nine of your English pounds. NINE. Then you go to your poundshop. And they are ONE of your English pounds. That is a rip-on, not a barg-out. And now I can proceed with the quiche-making.

My Kitchen

I thought you might like to see my kitchen. Here it is.


A great food day

cooked breakfast

This is how the day began, with a full cooked breakfast. Alex had sausages and fried potatoes, I had mushrooms and grilled tomatoes. We both had bagels and scrambled eggs with parmasan and Heinz baked beans. It’s a good way to start a saturday.

Then there was the Saturday farmers market, where I found some deep red neck of mutton. That’s Irish Stew ready to go. Mutton’s becoming more fashionable lately, which explains its appearance at the farmers market. My nan, who was from Tipperary, used to make me Irish stew often when I was little. I wish she was still around so I could ask her how she made it. As it, I’ll have to work it out for myself.

And then, the highlight of my Saturday, the oysters from the fishmongers. And today, they were free. That’s oysters, the bestest food ever, for NO MONEY. The man before me had ordered a dozen and the fishmonger misunderstood him and opened two by accident. So he just gave them to me. TOO COOL.

Then, Mr B and I spent several important hours reading the saturday papers in the pub.

This evening, I made a roast chicken dinner. If I thought about it too much, a roast chicken dinner would intimidate me. As it was, I was a cookery dynamo and pulled together the main elements in half an hour.

I slathered the smallish chicken in olive oil, salt and pepper and put in it the oven at 200C and set the timer for an hour. I peeled the parsnips and parboiled them for 15 minutes, then put them in the oven with the chicken. I put an entire head of garlic in a little Le Crueset thing a friend got me for my birthday (you can see it in the photo below). I peeled potatoes and put them in a pan ready for later boiling.

When the oven timer had 20 mins left, I put the potatoes on to boil. Unsurprisingly, they boiled. When they were reasy I got the roasting garlic out of the oven, smushed it and then Mr B made an excellent mash, as he always does.

The parsnips needed moving around a couple of time. They were ready at the same time as the chicken.

roast chicken

Mr B made the gravy. I won’t even begin to describe how to make good gravy, because that’s entirely his area.

I boiled up some frozen peas. On the table it looked like this:

roast chicken dinner

A darling dinner for two on a Saturday. This photo doesn’t do it nearly enough justice.