Spring beef and borlotti bean stew

Spring braised beef, with borlotti beans and red wine

I still feel the urge to cook a ‘proper’ Sunday lunch, even though a full on roast dinner seems a bit at odds with the time of year (although it seems to have done nothing but rain recently).  This tomato-based braised beef feels a bit lighter than my normal beef stew and dumplings, especially with the addition of some spring greens just before the end of cooking.

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baguette pizza

Lazy suppers: baguette pizzas

I have two basic default settings in the kitchen.  The first is ‘all out go-for-it’ where I can throw myself with abandon into making a big roast dinner or a cake with lots of different elements.  The other is ‘nah, can’t be bothered’, which usually coincides with days when I’ve been really busy working or testing recipes and I’ve just had too much kitchen time.

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Spiced lamb puff pastry pie

Weekend baking: spiced lamb puff pastry pies

Continuing with my new menu planning obsession (honestly, it’s saving me A FORTUNE – I’ve got my favourites saved on the online shopping app and I just tweak it every week, then buy the odd bit of fresh stuff from the farmer’s market or my fab local farm shop), I thought I’d share another of my staple ingredients: puff pastry.  I do quite like making puff pastry (well, rough puff), but there’s certainly no shame in using ready made, and a pack of all butter puff pastry is the perfect thing to keep in the fridge to make tarts, pies and much more.

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Toad in the hole

Easy step by step toad in the hole

Oh the rain!  I just think it’s gone away and it comes back again.  The pupster pings around the house like a lunatic if she doesn’t get out an about so it’s wellies and hat on and out into the wet and cold I go.  

Of course, this calls for a comforting, winter dinner (any excuse) and what better than a scrummy toad in the hole with lashings of onion gravy.

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Step by step: how to cook a turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings

So it’s that time again.   The pupster woke me up at 7am this morning, and we’re snuggled on the sofa by the twinkling tree (I’ve just put a piece of tinsel back on after she’s nicked it for the fifteenth time), I’ve got a cup of tea in my ‘Happy Christmas’ mug, and a scented candle flickering.

Lyra snuggle

If, like me, your thoughts are turning to your Christmas dinner (whether you’ve cooked it before or not), my best advice to you is just to think of it as a roast dinner on a slightly larger scale.

Rule 1: it’s all in the planning

You’ll have a much calmer Christmas if you spend a little time beforehand planning and preparing, so grab a pen and a piece of paper, and write down a rough plan.  Start at the time you want to serve the dinner (or lunch) and work backwards.  This means that when Christmas day is in full flow, you can quickly refer to your timings and know exactly what you’re doing.

First things first, weigh your turkey and work out the cooking time.  If you’ve gone for a free range turkey it will often look a bit less plump than those ones you see in all the Christmas adverts (check out the pic of my turkey from last year, below).  This is because they lead a more active lifestyle though, which is a good thing.  They will also be full of flavour and really succulent as they’re allowed to mature slowly (and they’re happier, obviously – happy turkey = yummy turkey).  Free range turkeys also take a little less time to took, so check with the retailer for their recommended cooking times.  In general though, my lovely chums Lean on Turkey, have both cooking AND defrosting timings on their website).  As a general rule:

Turkey under 4kg: 20 minutes per kilo, plus a further 70 minutes

Turkey over 4kg: 20 minutes per kilo, plus a further 90 minutes

Remember, if you’re steaming a Christmas pudding on the day, you’ll need to add this to your timetable.

Rule 2:  prepare as much as you can in advance

Potatoes: peel them, cut them into even sized chunks and blanch them for as long as you dare (the softer they are the fluffier the centre will be when you roast them).  Drain, leave to sit until cool and then pop them into a bag and store them in the fridge.  You can also open freeze them on a tray until solid before popping in a sealable freezer bag and chucking them in the freezer (if you freeze them straight into the bag they all fuse together in one big lump).  On the day they can go straight into the hot oil/goose fat from chilled or  frozen.

Parsnips: peel, cut into quarters or whatever you like and pop the in the fridge.  They don’t need blanching, but DO benefit from a nice little squidge of honey and a sprinkling of thyme before roasting for about half an hour.

Carrots: peel and blanch, cool and pop in the fridge. They can just be warmed up in some butter on the day, or just leave them raw and roast them along with the parsnips.

Sprouts: cut a bit off the bottom and take off any scruffy outer leaves.  Blanch until just tender, cool and pop into the fridge.  On the day, fry some pancetta or streaky bacon in lots of butter in a large frying pan, then add in the cooked sprouts and stir fry until they’re piping hot.  A pack of those shrink-wrapped chestnuts go really well in this dish too.

Stuffing: Again, make this in advance.  It will keep happily for a couple of days in the fridge.

Easy apple and red onion stuffing:

(serves 4-6, double up as necessary):

1 tbsp butter

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 dessert apple, grated (don’t bother to peel)

225g pork sausage meat

100g fresh white breadcrumbs

1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped

Squeeze of lemon juice

Heat the butter in a frying pan, add the onion and fry gently until soft.  Add the apple and cook until softened.  Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.

Stir the sausage meat and breadcrumbs into the onion mixture along with the herbs and lemon juice.  Once well combined, squish it into a buttered oven-proof dish, cool and bung in the fridge.  On the day, it’ll take about 25 minutes (obviously more if you double up).

Free range Kelly Bronze turkey

 

Turkey: Again, do this the day before.  Don’t bother washing it in the sink – the hot oven will kill any germs and you’ll just cover yourself and your sink in all manner of bacteria.  Just unwrap it, take the giblets out (use to make stock or cook for a lucky pet), pluck out any stray feathers (I use fish boning tweezers) and get on with it.

I use one of those massive disposable foil turkey tray things – I know it’s not the most environmentally friendly choice but hey, it’s Christmas.  Just recycle it afterwards.

It’s nice to use a few flavours to enhance the turkey so cut up a couple of  lemons or oranges, squeeze them over the bird and then stick them into the body cavity along with a halved onion and a nice bunch of bay or rosemary or whatever you have and some salt and pepper, then tie the legs together.

For extra moistness and flavour, you can take about half a pack of butter, and mush it up with some of the stuff you’ve used in the cavity – maybe some lemon zest, pepper and a little chopped rosemary or parsley.  Then separate the skin from the breast with your fingertips (you don’t have to be too careful, turkey skin is like leather), then squish the butter all over the breast under the skin.  Now smooth the skin back down, drizzle with a little oil and some salt and pepper.  You can also criss cross the breast with some lovely (outdoor reared please) streaky bacon.

I don’t stuff the turkey, partly because eating something out of a turkey’s innards puts me off a bit and partly because I think it’s better for the hot air to circulate inside it.  I make the stuffing separately and cook it in a terrine in the oven once the turkey’s resting.  If you want to, though, by all means stuff the neck end just before cooking.

Weigh your turkey (remember if you ARE stuffing, you need to stuff before you weigh) and work out the cooking time.  Write it on your timetable then just cover with foil (don’t bother buying that ridiculously expensive turkey foil – just overlap the normal stuff), then leave it somewhere cool until you need it – a plastic box in the garage as it’s nice and cold in there, but if we have a sudden warm snap you’ll need to pack a bit of ice around it (it needs to be less than 4 degrees).

Rule 3: be organised on the day

First thing, fetch the turkey from its hiding place and allow it to come to room temperature.  There’s really no point in putting a very cold turkey into a hot oven – it’ll take ten minutes to even start cooking.

Preheat the oven for half an hour before you need it, then when your carefully worked out timetable says so, just slosh a bit of water in the bottom of the roasting pan, and stick the turkey on at 190/gas 5 (180/gas 4 for fan ovens), set your timer and go and have a glass of champers.  If you want to, you can baste it every so often, but if you forget, don’t worry at all.  Some people recommend cooking the turkey upside down (on its breast) which does result in really juicy breast meat.  I guess it depends on how large your turkey is and if you’re prepared to wrestle it up the right way for the last half hour or so to crisp up the breast (likewise if you cover yours with foil, take it off for the last half hour.)

To make sure the turkey is done you should be able to wobble a leg easily, and a quick stab with a knife into the thickest part will allow you to collect nice clear juices on a spoon), drain the juices into a pan for the gravy, then cover with foil and forget it while you cook everything else.

Cooking a turkey crown:

Cream some butter in a bowl until very soft, then add the crushed garlic, orange rind, parsley and thyme. Beat well, until thoroughly blended. Gently loosen the neck flap away from the breast and pack the flavoured butter right under the skin — this is best done wearing disposable gloves. Rub well into the flesh of the turkey, then re-cover the skin and secure with a small skewer or sew with fine twine. Finally, cover the top of the crown with the rashers.

Place the turkey crown in the oven and calculate your time — 20 minutes per 450g (1lb) plus 20 minutes. Cover loosely with foil, which should be removed about 40 minutes before the end of the cooking time. The turkey crown will cook much more quickly than a whole turkey, so make sure to keep basting.

Again, to check if it’s cooked, pierce a fine skewer into the chest part of the crown, the juice should run clear. When cooked, cover with foil to rest and keep warm.

Rule 4: free up your oven before you start on the trimmings

Remember, once covered with foil and maybe a couple of tea towels, the turkey will keep warm for AT LEAST an hour, leaving your oven free for all your other accompaniments:

For great roast potatoes

You really don’t need a lake of fat to make them lovely and crispy.  Once you’ve taken the turkey out of the oven, whack the heat up high, then just cover the bottom of the roasting tin completely with oil, goose fat or lard.  Make sure the fat is very hot before you add your frozen (or chilled) potatoes.  Spoon the fat over all the potatoes then put the in your nice hot oven.  The turkey will wait until your potatoes are golden and crispy (40 mins to an hour).

Rule 5: great gravy brings it all together

So that’s it.  You’ve got the last half hour to fiddle with all your little extras.  Skim off the worst of the fat from the stuff left in the roasting tin, then add a tablespoon or two (depending on the amount) of plain flour to the pan juices in a saucepan and stir well, cooking out that ‘raw’ flour taste, before adding plenty of stock (you can never have enough gravy).  Bubble until thick and taste.  If it’s at all bitter, a spoonful or two of cranberry sauce will lift it back up.

Get your veg on, stir fry your sprouts (or whatever you’re doing), and don’t forget to pop cranberry sauce on the table (here’s my favourite recipe).

Skip a starter and serve a lovely cocktail: try a Poinsettia – a slug of Cointreau in the bottom of a champagne glass, then up to about half way with cranberry juice, and top up with fizz. Decorate with a little spiral of orange peel if you have time.

If it goes a bit wrong and something gets burned or forgotten, it’s not the end of the world.  Enjoy the day, pour yourself a drink and remember:  it’s just dinner.

If you want wine advice, look no further than my lovely friend Helen’s 40 festive wines guide, and if you want any extra recipes this Christmas, try my glazed and spiced festive hamcranberry and port sauce,  home made mince pies, maybe a showstopping chocolate bundt cake, or some cute little Christmas tree jaffa cakes.

If you get stuck, drop me an email, but mostly, have a glass of fizz, hug your loved ones, dress up, light a candle, say you love it even if you hate it and please don’t drink and drive.  I need you here to keep me company.  So I’ll just say merry Christmas, from us lot, to you lot.  Have a wonderful, wonderful Christmas. Mwah xx

English Towers tree decorating team face pulling selfie 2013

English Towers tree decorating team face pulling selfie 2013

‘And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store?  What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?’

Apple and red onion Christmas stuffing sausage rolls

Apple and red onion sausage roll small

If you’re looking for an easy Christmas eve supper, or something yummy to serve with drinks when you have guests, look no further than very simple to throw together sausage roll recipe.  The filling is my easy apple and red onion stuffing, which can be baked separately and served along with your turkey, but also makes a lovely, moist filling for pies and these easy sausage rolls.  So first, make the stuffing:

Easy apple and red onion stuffing:

(serves 4-6, double up as necessary):

1 tbsp butter

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 dessert apple, grated (don’t bother to peel)

225g pork sausage meat (or you can use the innards of sausages)

100g fresh white breadcrumbs

1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped

Squeeze of lemon juice

375g pack ready to roll puff pastry

Heat the butter in a frying pan, add the onion and fry gently until soft.  Add the apple and cook until softened.  Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.

Stir the sausage meat and breadcrumbs into the onion mixture along with the herbs and lemon juice.

Now, grab a nice pack of all butter puff pastry (life’s too short to make your own, I find, although if you really want to, I’ve got a rough puff recipe here which isn’t too labour intensive).

Roll the puff pastry out to a nice big rectangle (you need the thickness to be about 1/2 cm), then squish your sausagemeat down the middle in a big fat sausage.

Now, brush the edges with beaten egg, then flap the first edge over the sausagemeat.  Brush that one with egg again, then fold over the second flap, so you’ve created one big, long sausage roll.  Turn that roll over so that the seam is at the bottom.  For a supper dish, it’s nice to keep it whole and slice at the table, but if you’re wanting individual bite-sized ones for a party, cut them now with a serrated edged knife, then score the top and brush with egg.

Bake at gas 4/180 degrees for about 25 – 30 minutes until golden brown and crispy.  If you’re cutting your sausage into individual pieces, they’ll only take about 20 minutes.

The Sunday Times Ultimate Cookbook – part 2: Quick Eats

The Ultimate Cookbook - Part 2 - front cover

So following on from my first post about the Sunday Times Ultimate Cookbook, the Sunday Lunch edition, this weekend it’s all about fast, fabulous Quick Eats.  Once again, I got a little sneaky peak of the recipes and there are some absolute crackers in there.  Just because you’re time pressed or busy, it doesn’t mean that you can’t eat well.  I was delighted to see Nigella’s wonderful lemon linguine featuring – it’s a family favourite here, often served simply with some peppery watercress salad for a satisfyingly quick supper.  We keep grated parmesan in the freezer, which is really convenient and means that we avoid that awful moment when you reach for the block of cheese in the fridge and discover it’s gone a pretty shade of blue.

Yotam Ottolenghi has a delicious Jerusalem artichoke soup – a great choice for a quick and easy meal, this soup contains egg and yoghurt and I’m dying to give it a go.  Eventually though, as we love a bit of spice, we decided to cook Ken Hom’s Sichuan prawns in chilli sauce.  I couldn’t find any chilli bean sauce locally, so used our favourite spicy chilli sauce.  It’s such an easy recipe – the hardest thing is chopping up a couple of cloves of garlic.  The sauce is rich, spicy and zingy.  I served ours simply with some buttered noodles and fresh green salad.  Delicious, healthy, fresh and simple.  Who needs ready meals?

Ken Hom Sichuan chilli prawns sma

 

Get your copy of The Sunday Times Ultimate Cookbook: Quick Eats this weekend, the second in a four-part series. Featuring a selection of the finest recipes of the celebrity chef era, The Ultimate Cookbook is part of The Incredible Edibles Food Series dedicated to food and dining.

Upcoming editions in the series are Brunch & Baking on Sunday December 1 and Dinner Party on Sunday December 8.

Visit thesundaytimes.co.uk to subscribe and to find out more details about exclusive Times+ chef events, hosted at some of the country’s best restaurants.

The Lean on Turkey challenge: turkey and chestnut pilaf

Turkey and chestnut pilaf small

If you’re a regular reader, I’m sure you’ll have seen these Lean on Turkey challenges before.  I’ve done quite a few and I’m delighted that the campaign recently won ‘Best Use of Digital’ at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Pride Awards.  The campaign supports British turkey farmers to show you how versatile, healthy and tasty turkey can be.  Of course it’s not just for Christmas, but it’s getting to that time of year and Christmas isn’t Christmas without turkey.  The challenge this time was to come up with a creative way to use turkey leftovers.

This pilaf recipe is based on one I use quite a lot, with the addition of some lovely Christmassy spices and some festive chestnuts.   Bart do a lovely mix that’s all ready to go called ‘Pilau’ which is perfect for this, but if you can’t find it, try 1tsp ground cardamom, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp turmeric and a couple of cloves (don’t forget to fish them out before you serve).  It’s a really easy, tasty one pot wonder.  I do hope you’ll give it a go.

Turkey and chestnut pilaf

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 onion, finely chopped

Generous pinch of salt

3 tsp Bart pilau spice

1 or 2 bay leaves

Leftover roast turkey, shredded

Chestnuts 200g vacuum packed (reserve a couple for garnish)

1 litre chicken stock (or leftover gravy, diluted)

300g brown or white Basmati rice, well rinsed

To garnish:  crumbled chestnuts and a handful of fresh coriander or parsley

Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and gently fry the onion until translucent, adding in the salt at this stage.  Add in the spice and bay leaves and cook gently – you’ll start to get a whiff of the lovely aromas.  Throw in the turkey and chestnuts and stir gently until everything is coated in the spices.

Take out the bay leaves and add in the rice and chicken stock (I use a generous amount as we like our pilaf with a bit of ‘sauce’.  If you like your rice drier, keep to about 750ml stock).  Stir well and cover.  Turn the heat right down and leave to cook for about 30 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender.  Try not to keep lifting the lid as you want to keep all the steam inside.  Fork the pilaf through to fluff up the rice, then keep it covered until you’re ready to serve.  Throw in a handful of frozen peas if you like, for added colour and freshness.

Just before serving, sprinkle over the reserved chestnuts and coriander.

My shopping list:

From the store cupboard:

Salt, bay leaves, stock cube

Purchased:

1 onion, 28p

Bart Pilau spice mix: £4.00 (obviously you’ll get to reuse this)

Chestnuts 200g vacuum packed £2.25

Brown Basmati rice, well rinsed (1kg bag) £2.99

Fresh coriander: 95p

From the freezer:

Frozen peas

Total: £10.19 (slightly over but you can obviously use the rice and spice mix for many more meals)

Cooking time: About 40 minutes including prep and baking time.

For more information on the Lean on Turkey campaign, head to leanonturkey.co.uk

 

 

Palo seared tuna with potato risotto

Seared tuna with potato risotto

One of my favourite moments aboard the Disney Magic was when I had the amazing opportunity for a one to one masterclass with the Executive Chef of the fine dining restaurant, Palo.  Here I am (below, with lovely Jamie the cameraman – he works on the X Factor you know) doing my piece to camera VERY BADLY.  Palo was my favourite restaurant aboard the Disney Dream, so I was really excited  to see how the Palo on the Magic stacked up.  Luckily the experience was just as incredible, and, with the film crew (film coming soon!), I got to see how Chef made his famous seared tuna with a potato risotto.

The Chef’s version was obviously much more complicated, with shaved truffles, artichokes and a beautiful veal reduction. However, he did tell me how to cook the creamy potato risotto and the wonderful seared tuna:

Potato Risotto (serves 4)

1kg waxy potatoes

Butter

1 fat clove garlic, grated

500ml stock (chicken or fish is fine)

Dash of double cream

So firstly, peel all the potatoes and chop them into about 2 cm cubes.  It’s a bit laborious but well worth the effort (as you can see, mine weren’t very uniform – I’m terribly sloppy in the kitchen – what would Chef say?).  As you chop them, pop them into a bowl of salted water so they don’t discolour.  Heat a large knob of butter in a large, heavy frying pan and fry the garlic for a minute or so, then add in the potatoes.  Stir well to cover them in the garlicky butter, then pour in the stock.

Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and allow the potatoes to simmer very gently for about 15 minutes until just tender.  Pour in a dash of double cream, stirring gently so you don’t break up the potatoes, and season to taste.  Keep warm while you quickly sear the tuna.

Seared Tuna

Bring four decent sized tuna steaks, trimmed of any sinewy bits, to room temperature.  Rub the tuna with a little oil and then season with salt and pepper.  Heat a frying pan until it’s really hot, then fry the tuna steaks so that they’re golden on the outside but still retaining some pinkness in the middle.

Serve immediately on the potato risotto.  Drizzle with a little truffle oil if liked.

Doing my 'piece to camera'

 

Tagliatelle with crab, fresh tomato and courgette

I LOVE the sunny weather!  I know it’s not fun for everybody, but it’s like being on holiday at home!    The boys are hoping and praying that it lasts into the summer holidays too.  The one downside about it is that I don’t really feel like slaving over the cooker, so supper has become quick, easy and minimal fuss.  Tonight we had a lovely, fresh tasting pasta dish that takes about as long as the pasta takes to cook:

Tagliatelle with crab, fresh tomato and courgette

Good quality dried tagliatelle (generally you need to allow about 75-80 of pasta per person)

1 clove garlic

Pinch salt

Pinch dried chilli

Good quality olive or rapeseed oil

1 courgette, cut into fat slices

About 1/2 punnet of fresh baby plum tomatoes (or any tomato, frankly)

1 tin white crab meat, drained

Fresh herbs if you have them

So first bring a big pan of salted water to the boil and add in the pasta.  Stir it around and leave to cook.

Next, add a glug of oil to a frying pan (I use rapeseed) and pop in the courgette slices.  Season well – be generous with the pepper.

With a pestle and mortar, bash the garlic with the pinch of salt.  Add in the dried chilli and then a generous glug of oil.  Stir in the crab and set aside.  Don’t forget to check the courgettes and give them a turn so they brown easily.

If you’ve timed it right, your pasta will be al dente just as the courgettes and nice and golden.  Drain it off, reserving a little bit of the cooking liquid in case the mixture is a bit dry

Toss through the oily garlicky crab (also delicious spread on toast, by the way),  the courgette sliced, the halved tomatoes and a generous handful of something fresh like basil or parsley – rocket’s nice with this too.

Carry to garden and stuff into face.  Preferably with a nice glass of rosé.  Cheers!

Easy tapas: spicy garlic prawns

Spicy garlic prawnsSo next up on my easy tapas menu from the Disreputable One’s birthday tapas feast were these beautiful pink spicy garlic prawns:

Spicy garlic prawns

1 kg prawns (we bought shell-on and peeled them beforehand – never again!)

Large glug of olive oil

3 or 4 cloves garlic, finely grated or crushed

2 red chillies, chopped and deseeded

2 tbsp sweet paprika

If you bought shell-on prawns, it’s a really nice touch to leave the tail on – it just makes it slightly easier to pick them up.  Make sure you provide a finger bowl or two with some lemon slices and plenty of towels – eating these is a messy job!  I also left a couple whole just for decoration.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy based pan and add the garlic, chillies and paprika.  Fry gently for a couple of minutes (don’t let the garlic burn), then add in the prawns.  Put the heat up a bit and fry just until the prawns turn pink.  Serve immediately with loads of bread for dunking as the sauce is AMAZING.

Saffron chicken pilaf

Saffron chicken pilaf small

I’ve recently teamed up with Farmer’s Choice, the online butchers, green grocers and deli to help create a new recipe section on their website.  Farmer’s Choice deliver free range, British meat and produce to homes across the UK and they’re keen to provide inspirational, quick and healthy recipes to their customers.

For my first recipe, Farmer’s Choice challenged me to do something creative with chicken, and I’ve started with pilaf, a popular Middle Eastern rice dish that appears in many forms across many countries and cultures.  It’s an easy, one-pot way of cooking and is great for warm weather eating as all it needs as an accompaniment is a green leafy salad.  It’s also an easy way to feed a crowd and you can strew it with golden raisins, or chopped apricots to make it even prettier too.

You can find this, the first of many recipes I hope – on my author page, plus lots more recipe inspiration from my fellow food-lovers!

Click here for my full saffron chicken pilaf recipe.

 

 

Turkey, tomato and pesto open puff pastry tart

Turkey puff pastry pieI’ve done a few of these Lean on Turkey challenges now, supporting our hard-working British turkey farmers and showing you just how versatile turkey is.   The next challenge, just in time for the school holidays, is to create a recipe using fresh turkey that’s perfect for kids and picnics.

The main requirement for a picnic is that whatever you take has to be portable.  We’re lazy picnickers, which generally means we don’t faff about with loads of things in bowls requiring cutlery.  Puff pastry is a brilliant base for loads of different toppings and this turkey, tomato and pesto open puff pastry tart is very easy to transport, slice and eat with the miminum of fuss!  Here, I’ve used pesto, but any leftover sauce will work just as well, so if you’ve got a bit of leftover pizza sauce, try that too.  We’ve also tried this recipe with feta and it was scrummy.

Eggy wash small

Turkey, tomato and pesto open puff pastry tart

500g British turkey fillets

100g baby plum tomatoes

1 ball mozzarella (or 100g feta)

3 tbsp pesto

1 lemon

Ready rolled puff pastry sheet

Cut the turkey into smallish chunks and pop them into a bowl, then halve the tomatoes and add them in.

Chop the mozzarella into similar-sized chunks and pop them in with the turkey and tomatoes.

Measure out 3 tbsp pesto and add this to the bowl along with a good grating of lemon zest and a squeeze of the juice.  Season well (if using feta, go steady with the salt).

Stir it all together and leave to marinate for a while in the fridge while you sort out the pastry.

Unroll the pastry straight onto a baking tray and cut around the edge, gently, about an inch in all the way round (don’t cut all the way through!).

Pile the turkey mixture onto the puff pastry, keeping the edge free.  Brush this edge with a little egg wash if you like, just to give it a nice shine.

Bake at 200 degrees, gas 7 for about 20 minutes until the turkey is cooked and the puff pastry is nice and brown.  Transport to your chosen picnic spot just as it is, covered in foil, or cool, slice and place into a storage container.

Ingredients small

My shopping list:

From the store cupboard:

Pesto

From the fruit bowl:

Lemon

Purchased:

British turkey fillets (£5.35)

275g baby plum tomatoes (£1.99)

1 ball mozzarella (95p)

320g ready rolled puff pastry sheet (£ 1.50)

Total: £9.79

Cooking time: About 30 minutes including prep and baking time.

For more information on the Lean on Turkey campaign, head to leanonturkey.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Easy tapas: baked cod with garlic and oregano for my Dad’s birthday

Baked cod with garlic and oregano small

So it was the Disreputable One’s birthday on Saturday.  As he loves a bit of tapas, I thought I’d cook him a tapas feast fit for a birthday boy.  The menu looked like this:

Olives and spicy nibbles to start (we used these  from Olives et Al - very yummy they are too)

*

Sangria

*

Easy tapas:

baked cod with garlic and oregano

Papas arugadas

Spicy garlic prawns (click for recipe)

Smoky bacon meatballs (Albóndigas) in tomato and pepper sauce

Green salad

*

Raspberry sorbet

*

Selection of cheese including The Birthday Cheese

Baked cod with garlic and oregano

When we were in the Canary Islands last year, we ate a beautiful baked hake dish with garlic and oregano.  Sadly there was no hake at the market this Saturday, but I was determined to cook this dish for my Dad so we picked up some nice, chunky cod, which works equally as well.  Here’s my approximation of the dish.  Use a decent make of dried herb – you don’t want a dry, dusty one. I  like dried oregano from Schwartz, but if you’re using fresh, double up and use 2 tsp.

Serves 6

1 kg fresh cod fillets

1 clove garlic

1 tsp oregano

Olive oil (preferably Spanish!)

Preheat the oven to 190/gas 5.

Pop the cod fillets into a large ovenproof dish.  Bash the garlic with a pestle and mortar, add the oregano, then slowly glug in about 50ml olive oil.

Pour the mixture over the cod, then bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until the fish flakes easily.

I’ll publish all the rest of the recipes for you, but until then, here’s the Birthday Boy, blowing out his cheesy birthday candle.  Happy birthday Dad!

Birthday cheese

Easy spiced lamb kofta kebabs with coriander hummus and tzatziki

Easy spiced lamb kofta kebabs with coriander hummus and tzatziki
This last week of term is such a slog isn’t it?  We’re looking forward to a summer of travel: sunbathing, restaurants, al fresco eating and fun in the sun.  I’ve slightly scuppered Sam’s plans to get away with his friends by booking us back-to-back on various trips right up until September.  Still, not the worst thing a mother could do, I’m sure.  They’re trying to squeeze in a group trip to Skiathos, where one of their friends has family with a hotel, which, judging by the photos, is absolutely beautiful.  To make him feel better, I made him a lovely Greek-inspired dinner:
Easy spiced lamb kofta kebabs
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 level teaspoon sea salt
1 or 2 cloves garlic
2 slices bread, cut into cubes then soaked in a little milk
500g minced lamb
Salt and pepper
With a pestle and mortar, grind the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, salt and garlic into a paste.  Fish out the bread – don’t squeeze it too hard, but too much excess milk will make it a bit sloppy, making it impossible to stick on the skewers – then add it in and squish (technical term)  until combined.
Put the lamb in a large bowl, add the spice/bread mixture and the egg, plus the salt and pepper.
With clean hands, squish the mixture together well.
Squish the mixture around some metal skewers in a rough sausage shape.  Grill (or barbecue) until golden on the outside (the metal skewer will ensure that the middle is cooked through) – about 10 – 15 minutes should do it, depending on the heat of your grill.

Quick and easy coriander hummus

Hummus is quick and easy although I recently saw Simon Hopkinson painstakingly taking the skin off every single chickpea before making it (go ahead if you’re that way inclined!):

1 tin chickpeas, drained

1 clove garlic (I sometimes cut out the garlic and just use a good quality garlic oil instead)

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Pinch of salt

2-3 tbsp olive oil or rapeseed oil

Handful of chopped mint or coriander

Paprika to garnish

So just whizz the chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice and salt up with a stick blender, glugging in enough oil to loosen the mixture.  If you like it a bit runnier, feel free to add a couple of tbsp water.  Stir in the chopped coriander and serve sprinkled with paprika and maybe a swirl of oil.

Easy tzatziki

About 1/2 cucumber, deseeded and grated

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1 pot thick Greek yogurt

Mint leaves, chopped

I don’t mind the peel on the cucumber, but it’s a bit much iFirst, make sure that you’ve

 

Step by step: how to cook the perfect steak

Perfect rib eye steak

Perfect rib eye steak

This morning the postie knocked on the door and handed me a weird, squishy parcel.  Intrigued, I ferreted around, removing several layers of packaging until – finally – arriving at the rather pleasing contents: four beautiful looking (and perfectly packaged) 21 day aged rib eye steaks, courtesy of the lovely chaps at Farmers Choice.

I find that steak is a bit ‘Marmitey’.  You either absolutely adore it, or you’re not really that keen.  Sometimes I wonder if the people that aren’t that keen are the ones that have had a grey slab of chewy, leathery well done steak in their past.  How else could you explain such take-it-or-leave-it-ness about such a cracking, and frankly delicious, piece of meat?

Everyone cooks steak differently, but here’s my guide to cooking your perfect steak.

First things first: start with your steaks at room temperature.  Rub them very sparingly with oil (I use rapeseed – just enough so they don’t stick) and sprinkle  generously with lovely sea salt and black pepper.  Get your (dry) pan really hot – this is an excellent way to get the delicious caramelised crust (the best bit).

Pop the steak into your hot pan (hear that sizzle?  yeah, now we’re cooking) and press it down with your spatula for a minute to encourage that delicious crust to form.  Flip it over and do the same with the other side.

Rare, medium-rare, medium or well done?

I’m not telling you what to eat, or indeed how to eat, but honestly, a well done steak just isn’t brilliant.  If you absolutely love it and you feel your jaw’s happy with the amount of chewing a well done steak necessitates, then go you.

Generally, we aim for medium-rare: not bloody and oozing, but soft and pink in the middle.   Because I don’t pay attention in the kitchen – especially if I’m on the wine – we often end up with steaks of various different stages of doneness and then engage in a  mad plate-swapping thing at the table until we’ve all got our perfect steak.  It’s a difficult thing to judge, but it’s best to do it with your finger.  Keep pushing on it – as it cooks it will firm up.  Very squishy, like marshmallow, and your steak is rare – rock hard and your steak is well done. You need to aim for something in the middle.

Some people advocate that weird thing where you put your index finger and your thumb together and feel the fleshy bit at the bottom of your thumb – the thinking being that as you move through the fingers from index to little finger, the squishiness roughly equates to rare, medium rare, medium and well done being your little finger.  I can’t do that.  Remember, you’re not cooking in a restaurant. If you feel the need to cut into the steak and have a look, do it.  Rather that then get it wrong and waste your beautiful steak.

Resting the meat (the science bit)

Once your steak’s perfect, remove it to a warm plate and cover it with foil to rest.  *Science klaxon* this is the bit that makes it tender as it allows the fibres in the meat to relax, and redistribute all the juices that have been forced to the centre of the steak by the fibres nearest the heat contracting. At least five minutes, but ten is perfect.

A quick pepper ‘pan’ sauce

In the meantime, slosh a bit of stock (it’s really handy if you keep an ice cube tray in the freezer full of stock – you can just use one or two cubes) and a slug of cream into your pan and add a bit more pepper.  At the last minute, add the resting juices from the meat too.

Serve with the sauce and – our favourite – some oven baked sweet potato wedges – add a crisp green salad, or some green beans and it’s really all you need.

And the verdict on the Farmers Choice steaks?  Absolutely spot on.  A good marbling of fat through the meat, a lovely deep red colour and creamy coloured fat at the edges.  They cooked beautifully and were absolutely delicious.

Click here to check out the selection of steaks at Farmers Choice

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Summer grilling: roasted barbecue chicken and vegetable skewers

Barbecue chicken skewers

Barbecue chicken skewers

So summer is finally creeping up on us (I definitely saw the sun at least twice last week), and, with some fabulous fresh veg popping up in our local farm shop (I can’t resist a glossy aubergine), I felt it was time to dust off one of my favourite summer essentials: the barbecue skewer.  It’s handy to have meat in the freezer (I often bulk buy meat online from Farmer’s Choice – the selection is incredible and the packs are very good value) that way, you can take it out to defrost if you wake up and it’s a sunny morning.

I favour the evil, pointy metal variety, especially when cooking meat as they do ensure that the meat is cooked through the middle – something always worth paying attention to when barbecuing.  This barbecue sauce recipe is an old favourite and very easy to make.  Once it’s cooked, split the quantity in half, so you can use half as a sauce at the table and half to marinade the meat as it cooks:

For the barbecue sauce/marinade:

  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • About 1 tsp fresh ginger
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 4 tbsps runny honey
  • 2 tbsps brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsps soy sauce
  • 4 tbsps tomato ketchup
  • Pinch dried chilli
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée

Add the oil into a saucepan, and gently fry the onion until it’s starting to go a bit translucent.  Grate in the ginger (I keep my ginger in the freezer and grate it straight in), then just add in all the other ingredients.  Let it simmer and thicken slightly, then reserve half for serving at the table.

Brushing on the marinade.

Brushing on the marinade.

For the skewers:

2 large chicken breasts

1 aubergine

2 sweet potatoes

1 red onion

I find it’s best to give the sweet potatoes a quick blanch first, otherwise you can find that they’re a bit hard to thread onto a skewer without breaking.

Cut the rest of the ingredients into big chunks, then thread them randomly onto the skewers – pushing everything together so that everyone gets a generous portion.

Brush the skewers well with the marinade, on both sides, then place onto the barbecue or under a medium grill.  Keep basting and turning until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are starting to char.

Serve with the other half of the barbecue sauce (throw the remaining marinade away) and fresh salad.  Oh, and if the sun doesn’t come out? A baked potato wouldn’t go amiss.

 

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Jerk turkey (or ‘jurkey’) pizza, with step by step pizza dough and pizza sauce

Jerk turkey pizza

I’ve done a few of these Lean on Turkey challenges now, supporting our fabulous British turkey farmers and showing you just how versatile turkey is.   The first challenge for 2013 is ‘pizza and pasta’ and I just had to go with pizza as, with a houseful of teenagers, it’s a bit of a staple.

This pizza went down so well it’s been requested again already and has affectionately become known as the ‘jurkey’ pizza.  The best thing about pizza is that you can personalise it, so if you want, you can jazz it up with peppers, red onions… even jalapenos if you’re a real spice-fiend.

You can buy pizza bases, but it’s really easy to make your own, so I’ve done a little step by step in case you haven’t done it before.

Likewise with the tomato sauce.  It’s so easy to do, it’s almost not worth buying it.

Here’s how to do it:

For the pizza base:

  • 350g strong white bread flour
  • 1 x 7g sachet of fast action yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2-3 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 225ml warm water

Put the flour, yeast and salt into a bowl.  Mix 2 tbsp oil and the warm water together.  Add the water to the flour, bringing it together until you get a soft dough.  You might not need all the water so don’t just chuck it all in.

Now, you can either roll your sleeves up and knead it by hand (it’ll need about 10 minutes), or you can put it in the food mixer with a dough hook and it’ll take about five minutes.

Rub some oil round a clean bowl and pop in the dough.  Roll it around a bit, then cover it (I use a hotel shower cap, which I nick on a regular basis to refresh my supply) or just use clingfilm.  Pop it in the airing cupboard or somewhere warm for about an hour or until it’s doubled in size.

While it’s rising, make the tomato sauce:

  • 1 red onion
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tin good quality chopped tomatoes

So just chop up the onion and pop it into a saucepan with a slug of oil.  Sprinkle the salt over the onion then cook it gently until it’s translucent.  Add in the sugar, red wine vinegar and tomatoes and cook it gently until it’s thick.  If you’ve got fussy ones you might need to give it a quick whizz in the blender to get it smooth.

For the toppings:

  • 1 pack turkey breast steaks
  • 1 ball Mozzarella cheese, grated
  • Small amount of Parmesan, if liked
  • Smoked streaky bacon, chopped

To make the jerk chicken, just slice the turkey thinly, then fry in a little oil.  Sprinkle over a couple of tablespoons of jerk seasoning and cook until just opaque (remember it’s going to get a good blast in the oven).

Now, get the dough back and punch it down, then divide it in two and roll each one out until it’s nice and thin.  It’s easier to pop it onto a floured baking sheet, then add the toppings from there.  Remember to pre-heat your oven as high as it will go.

Spoon the tomato sauce over, then add your toppings: grated Mozzarella, snipped bacon, pieces of turkey, and anything else you fancy, then just pop into a hot oven.  Watch the pizza as it cooks quite quickly – 10 – 15 minutes should do it.

Serve with a salad and maybe some coleslaw, and that’s all there is to it!

My shopping list:

From the store cupboard:

Bread flour

Salt

Sugar

Red wine vinegar

Jerk seasoning

From the fridge:

Red onion

Parmesan cheese

Purchased: 

Yeast: 98p (for six sachets, so about 16p)

Tin Napolina tomatoes: £1.25

Waitrose Essential turkey breast steaks (450g) £4.59

Mozzarella: £1.25

Waitrose Essential smoked streaky British bacon £2.39

Total: £9.64

Cooking time: 1 hour 30 minutes including prep and rising time.

For more information on the Lean on Turkey campaign, head to leanonturkey.co.uk

 

 

 

 

On test – Asda’s new salmon recipes: salmon en croute and salmon fillets stuffed with cod

Salmon en croute

Salmon en croute

Asda’s Fishmonger, Darren Wrend has created some recipes to give you a bit of inspiration for how to cook a whole salmon.  They asked me if I’d like to have a go and have kindly allowed me to publish their recipes (and turned a blind eye while I fiddled with them too, bless ‘em):

Salmon en croute filled with parsley, lemon and lemon and pepper butter

Our verdict: delicious, easy to do and really attractive to look at – would make a perfect dinner party dish. The boys absolutely loved this and have begged me to make it again - the combination of crisp, flaky pastry and soft lemony salmon is a winner.  I did think the oven temperature was slightly too hot though (see note below):

Dinner is served

Dinner is served

Recipe will serve 6 people

Ingredients needed:

  • 2 skinless salmon fillets (fillets taken from a whole salmon)
  • Bunch of flat leaf parsley
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 lemon and pepper butter ovals (available from the fish counter – I didn’t have these so I used butter with a squeeze of lemon and a grinding of pepper)
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Sea salt
  • Cup of milk
  • 2 sheets ready rolled puff pastry
  • 1 sheet of baking paper

Cooking instructions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 230C/ gas mark 8 (I found 200C/gas 6 was enough here)
  2. Lay a sheet of greaseproof paper on a oven dish/tray, and on top of this lay flat one sheet of rolled out pastry
  3. Place one salmon fillet on top of the pastry, skin down (if the fillet is too long for the pastry tuck the tail under to fit)
  4. Along the middle of the fillet place sprigs of flat leaf parsley, then finely grate the lemon over the parsley, along with some cracked black pepper
  5. Crumble on the lemon and pepper butter ovals for additional flavour
  6. Place the second salmon fillet skin side down on a chopping board and season with sea salt and cracked black pepper
  7. Once seasoned place the second fillet on top of the other fillet skinless side down
  8. Brush the visible edge of the pastry with milk, then lay the second sheet of pastry on top of the salmon
  9. Using the side of your hand go around the edge of the fillet and seal the pastry together, cutting off any excess pastry
  10. Using the excess pastry decorate the top of the en croute and brush the top layer of pastry with milk
  11. Place the salmon en croute on the middle shelf of the pre-heated oven and cook for 30-35 minutes or until the pastry has gone a light golden brown colour
My cod and salmon 'parcel'

My cod and salmon ‘parcel’

Salmon Fillets Stuffed with Cod Our verdict: I won’t lie, this was tricky for me, but I’m not tremendously dexterous and trying to tie up slippery fish wasn’t easy.  I managed it, but my offering was slightly less attractive than Asda’s photo!  The taste, however was delicious and fabulously healthy too. This recipe will serve 8 people Ingredients needed:

  • 2 skin-on salmon fillets (fillets taken from a whole salmon)
  • Approx. 300g skinless cod loin
  • 2 lemons
  • Sprig of dill
  • String
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning

Cooking instructions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C /Gas mark 5
  2. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper
  3. Cut six pieces of string (measure from hand to elbow) and lay along the width of the baking tray
  4. Place one fillet in the middle of the string, skin side down
  5. Season well with cracked black pepper and sea salt, then place five wedges of lemon across the salmon fillet
  6. Place a layer of cod in the middle of the salmon (about three fillets), and squeeze the juice of one lemon over the cod
  7. Lay the second fillet on the work surface, skin side down, season with sea salt and cracked black pepper
  8. Place the second fillet on top of the first fillet so the skin is upwards. To secure the fish take both ends of string wrap around the salmon and tie in little bows, finally season with sea salt and cracked black pepper and drizzle over a little olive oil
  9. Place the salmon filled with cod in the pre-heated oven for 45 minutes, until the skin has gone crispy

Garlic roasted rack of lamb

Asda rack of lambWell, it was a mental weekend, what with the boy’s 18th birthday party, then dinner out with friends on Saturday followed by waiting up until 1am to pick Sam up from doing the bar at a local event.  Knackered doesn’t even cover it.  Sunday dinner, then, was a chilled affair – luckily I’d remembered to defrost the racks of lamb that I took home from the Asda meat masterclass so we had roast rack of lamb, rubbed with a little garlic, just served simply with some veggies and some little rosemary roasted potatoes.

Rack of lamb is the easiest thing ever.  The butcher will trim it all up for you, then it’s just a case of scoring the skin in a criss cross pattern, then squishing some garlic with a pestle and mortar and adding whatever you’ve got handy: rosemary, mint, parsley, anchovies, capers, etc  in with a glug of olive oil to make a thick paste.  Rub this all over the meat and whack it into a really hot oven.  Turn it down to 200/gas 6 and leave it for about 20 minutes if you like your meat pink, 30 if you like it more well done. (If you’re less lazy then me, you can crisp that skin up by pressing it into a hot pan before it goes in the oven, but we don’t eat it, so I don’t bother).

Perfectly pink

If you’re clever, you can boil some cubed potatoes (about ten minutes is enough), toss them in olive oil and rosemary while they’re still hot and chuck them in at the same time as the lamb.  It will all be ready by the time the lamb’s had a little rest. Easy peasy.  Now for a nice quiet week…

Beef, pancetta and shallot pie with black pepper pastry

Beef, pancetta and shallot pie

Beef, pancetta and shallot pie

So if you’re a regular reader (or you’ve just stopped by in search of pie recipes – in which case welcome!), you’ll know that I’ve already published a step by step ‘how to make a pie‘ recipe.  Do have a look at that one as it will give you invaluable tips on how to make pastry.  This recipe kind of skips the basics, just because I don’t want to blab on and on about pastry (hey, it’s just pastry) and also because we’re now moving on to bigger, better, MORE EXCITING PIES!

For the pastry, you’ll need:

200g cold butter

400g plain flour

Pinch salt

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

1 egg

Making pastry by hand:

Cut the cold butter into cubes, and add it to the flour:

Add in the salt and pepper, and then rub in the butter gently with just your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs:

Now add the egg.  It’s less messy initially so use a knife to just stir it around until it starts to come together.  Then, with your hands, bring it together into a dough.  Don’t knead it, remember, just treat it very gently.

Making pastry in the food processor

Chop the cold butter into cubes and add it to the flour, salt and pepper.  Process it until it looks like breadcrumbs.

Now plop in the egg and pulse slowly until it comes together.

If it’s really dry, add a tablespoon or two of cold water, but you don’t want a wet mess, be very sparing.

At this stage, with either processor-made or hand-made pastry, you’ll have a rough ball of dough.  Now just wrap it in clingfilm and chill for about 2o minutes.

Frying off the pancetta and shallots

Frying off the pancetta and shallots

Filling for the beef, pancetta and shallot pie:

Couple of tbsp rapeseed oil

Small bag of shallots, peeled (aim for two or three per person)

1 pack pancetta cubes or streaky bacon, snipped into pieces

1 pack diced beef (400-500g should do it)

2 tbsp plain flour, seasoned

About 200-300ml chicken stock (cube is fine)

So gently fry the shallots and pancetta/bacon in the oil until the onions are starting to colour.  Remove them with a slotted spoon and keep to one side.

Now add in a bit more oil.

Toss the beef in the seasoned flour, then add to the pan a handful at a time, browning it off, then taking it out and adding the next lot.  You might need some more oil.

When all the meat is browned, add a slosh of stock (or red wine if you’re feeling fancy) to the pan and bubble it up to pick up every last yummy bit that’s left in the bottom.  If you’re not using an ovenproof casserole you’ll need to transfer it now, adding all the shallots, bacon and beef and the rest of the stock (you might need to add more later).

Pop a lid on and stick it in the oven at 190/gas 5 and give it an hour.  You can put it straight in the pie at this stage, but the beef won’t be so tender. It’s worth cooking it for a while first.

While the filling is cooking, roll out the pastry.

Retrieve the pastry from the fridge, flour your work surface AND your rolling pin really well.  Divide your pastry into two pieces: one about 2/3 for the base and the other 1/3 for the top (as you can tell by my picture, my 1/3 was a bit small and rolled out a bit thin, hence the cracks in the top of the pie – ah well)

Roll the larger piece out to about 5-6mm thick, moving the pastry around in 1/4 turns as you roll until you’ve got a rough circle.  This will prevent the pastry from sticking to the work surface.

Roll the pastry up around the rolling pin, then unroll it over your pie dish.  Push it down gently, and use little extra bits to fill any holes or cracks.  Don’t worry too much – it’s home made!

Now if you’re using a proper metal pie dish, you shouldn’t need to blind bake (mine is by Mermaid, who do proper hard anodised aluminium tins that you can use on the  hob and in the oven – they conduct the heat really well, resulting in nice, crisp pastry and an even bake) but if  you’re a bit mental about crisp bottoms, it’s worth scrunching up a bit of greaseproof paper, lining your pie bottom, tipping in some baking beans, and giving it ten minutes in the oven.  Not compulsory by any means, although if you have a ceramic dish, I’d definitely recommend it.

Baking blind

Baking blind

Now spoon in your cooled filling.  If you put hot filling into the pie as it will begin to melt the butter and you’ll get the dreaded ‘soggy bottom’ (hence the reason I blind bake – I’m too impatient to let the filling cool).

Now do the same thing with the final third of pastry.  Unroll it over your filling and crimp the edges with your fingers, or a fork so that they’re sealed together.  If you’ve blind baked the bottom, wet the edge slightly so that the top sticks.

If you’re feeling arty, make some letters  or cut out leaves or whatever.  I sometimes write rude messages in pastry – very therapeutic.  Pass swiftly on to the eggy wash department for a brush with beaten egg or milk (grab a passing child if you can) and pop in the oven for about half an hour at 180/gas 4.

 And that’s it.  Now, the world’s your oyster – any pie can be yours. Give yourself a round of applause.

The meat masterclass with Asda’s Head of Meat Quality, Jim Viggars

So this week I was lucky enough to be invited up to Asda House in Leeds for a meat masterclass just in time for Easter, with the amazing (and rather Sean Bean-like) Jim Viggars, 30 year Asda veteran and the supermarket’s Head of Meat Quality.

We started with drinks and nibbles (well, Laura and I actually started by trying to check in to the wrong hotel – turns out there are two Hiltons in Leeds city centre – but that’s another story).  I was impressed by the red wines on offer, both from Asda’s Wine Selection: a rather delicious Argentinian Malbec and a beautiful, deep purple Marques del Norte Rioja, both full of fruit and perfect with roasted meat.  Next, it was in to Asda House’s very impressive new demonstration kitchens for a full-on masterclass on lamb:

Jim demonstrating the French cut rack of lamb

Jim talked us through Asda’s buying process – what they look for in lambs, how old they should be, their quality standards and how they support farmers, etc, before going on to demonstrate a fabulous recipe for a leg of lamb: criss crossed, spiked with shards of garlic, and – preferably – slow roasted with loads of rosemary.  You can buy this leg of lamb in store this Easter for a tenner, which we thought was really good value.  We had a little prep competition – here’s my (ahem) prize-winning leg:

Leg of lamb

Jim also taught us how to prepare a French cut rack of lamb.  Asda trim the bones of these slightly as they add weight but nothing else of benefit, which I thought was a nice touch to keep costs down.  Here’s Laura demonstrating how to cut between the bones, complete with her chainmail glove and EVIL boning knife (I managed to cut myself twice, even with the chainmail):

Laura boning the lamb

Jim also hefted a lump of beef the size of which you’ve never seen before in your life onto the demonstration area, and showed us how you would divide it into different cuts.  I didn’t take any notes, being somewhat hindered by chainmail, a slab of lamb, and a very sharp knife, but you’ll have to take my word for the fact that Asda are thinking creatively and providing meat cut in different ways that prove better value AND quality. They’ve also removed a lot of their products which they thought weren’t giving good value and/or quality for whatever reason.  We were impressed.

Next it was into the demo kitchen to visit Head Inspiration Chef, Mark Richmond, who talked us through cooking the ultimate Easter roast.  Mark had some really clever ideas, including pre-prepping shallots and garlic in oil to make for a easy base for loads of different sauces.  Mark used this base with chopped fresh green herbs and – interestingly – a sprinkle of lavender, which was surprisingly delicious.  He also showed us some easy vegetable dishes to complement the roast lamb, including a luscious carrot and squash mash made with fresh carrot juice instead of water, really bringing out the sweet carrot flavour of the dish.  He also showed us a delicious dauphinoise potato dish and a delicious roast cauliflower with a tomato sauce.  After all this concentration, we were well ready to sit down and feast upon all the scrummy stuff that Mark had shown us.

Indeed, instead of hitting the town as planned, we ended up waddling back to the hotel and conking out.  The sign of a good evening, I’d say.

Massive thanks to Asda for looking after us and for the ENORMOUS delivery of meat I received the next day!  Click here for more information on Asda’s butcher’s selection.

Click here for my recipe for slow roasted garlicky leg of lamb with rosemary potatoes. Perfect for Easter!

 

Buttermilk jerk chicken

Jerk chicken

So when I was in Jamaica on our Royal Caribbean cruise (I’m never going to tire of saying that), we spent a fabulous day riding horses around old plantation land and – amazingly – into the sea.  After we’d dismounted (walking, it must be said, a bit like we’d soiled ourselves), we were served amazing spicy Jamaican jerk chicken, with rice and beans.  Delicious.

The real thing: proper Jamaican jerk chicken

The real thing: proper Jamaican jerk chicken

Keen to recreate it at home, we popped into the little Jamaican food shop at Falmouth port to score some jerk seasoning.  I came away with this little beauty:

Jerk seasoning

Of course this recipe is really going to come into its own once it’s barbecue season again (I’ve got my eye on a new gas bbq from John Lewis for the summer).  Jerk chicken gets a lot of its smoky flavour and deliciously crusty exterior from being grilled over the barby.

I’ve used breast here as I was slicing it into wraps with salad (and mayo mixed with the jerk sauce that I also brought home – too darned hot to use it on its own), but feel free to use the dark meat or, indeed a whole chicken either spatchcocked or cut into portions.

I often marinate chicken before cooking in buttermilk or yoghurt – left for half an hour or so before cooking, it tenderises the chicken and leaves it deliciously moist.  Oh, and if you don’t have buttermilk, don’t despair.  Use milk and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon.  A quick stir, et voila, buttermilk.

You’ll need:

250ml buttermilk (or milk + lemon juice)

Pinch salt

4 pieces of chicken (breast, leg, whatever)

Jerk seasoning

So firstly, if you’re using chicken legs, it’s best to get rid of the skin as you lose half the flavour if you don’t eat it.  With chicken breasts, just drop them straight in to the buttermilk with a pinch of salt.  Leave the chicken marinating for about half an hour.  Preheat the oven to 180/gas 4.

Fish the chicken out and place on a baking tray.  Sprinkle liberally with the spice, remembering to do both sides.  If some of the chicken breasts are very thick, it’s worth slashing them a couple of times with a knife so that they all cook at the same time.

Cook for about 25 minutes (make sure you cut into them to make sure they’re cooked through before you serve).  If barbecuing, I’d probably give them 40 minutes.

Of course if you don’t have jerk seasoning, this recipe works really well with other spices too: look out for different rubs and coatings (Cajun, curry… whatever), or make your own  - there are loads of recipes for spice rubs online.  I have cupboards stuffed with all sorts of herbs, spices and flavourings at the moment but will soon be investing in the convenience of a spice rack to sort myself out.

Oh, and while I’m here, I’d just like to say that if you ever get any leftover Parmesan  going a bit hard or whatever, whizz it in the processor, or grate it and stash it in the freezer.  Do the same with bread, and stash in the same bag.  Then, instead of spices after the buttermilk marinade, you can push your chicken into the cheesy breadcrumbs, bake, and parmesan chicken can be yours.

You’re welcome.

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Cottage pie: step by step

Cottage pie(By all means skip the waffle and scroll down for the recipe)

It’s my fervent wish that when my offspring finally leave the nest and head out into the wide world, they will be able to feed themselves.  I’m not talking pot noodles here either – I’m just talking about good, basic food.  Recently, we were watching the Comic Relief version of the Great British Bakeoff and one of the challenges was lemon meringue pie.  ‘Pfft’, muttered my youngest from behind the screen of his laptop, ‘easy’.  Because the thing is, he’s done it before – yes, with me helping, (and I’m not for one second bigging them up, here – they’re the laziest sods ever, and I tend to be quite stabby in the kitchen, I like my space) but they’ve done enough cooking (even if a large percentage of that is getting the munchies and making themselves chocolate brownies) to know their way round the kitchen and – more importantly – be able to follow a recipe.

So, if you’re kitchen-phobic, new to this cooking lark, or just plain curious to see how someone else makes it, here’s a step by step guide to one of the best basics you’ll learn.  From here, the world is your oyster.

Moving on from cottage pie

Stir in a tin of tomatoes and a tablespoon of tomato purée and you’re well on the way to spaghetti bolognese (and not far at all from lasagne).  With the tomatoey version, add a tablespoon of chilli powder while you’re cooking the onions, maybe a finely chopped red pepper, and a tin of kidney beans five minutes before the end of cooking, et voila, chilli con carne.  Oh, and if you use lamb mince, then you’ve made shepherd’s pie – so there’s another one to add to your repertoire right there.

Personalising your pie

Loads of recipes start by frying the onions, a couple of chopped carrots and maybe a stick or two of celery, also chopped.  But I think the carrots are too ‘mushy’ after the 45 minutes cooking time, so I just serve carrots with it.  Personal preference is king – if you want to chuck them in with the onions, feel free.  You can also add a tablespoon of tomato purée… tomato ketchup… Worcester sauce… have a fiddle until you find the flavours you like.

Buying your mince

As usual, buy the best mince that you can afford, but don’t buy stuff that’s too lean – you need a bit of fat in there for flavour AND texture.

Easy Cottage Pie

1-2 tablespoons oil (I use rapeseed)

1 large onion, finely chopped

500g minced beef

1 tablespoon plain flour

About 300g beef stock (cube is fine)

For the mash:

About 1kg floury potatoes

Butter and milk

First, preheat the oven to 180/gas 4 and sort out an ovenproof dish to hold your pie.

It’s actually easiest to start with the potatoes, so get them peeled, chopped and cut into even chunks and put them in a large saucepan.  Cover with cold water, add a teaspoon or two of salt, and get them on the heat.  Bring them to the boil while you’re cooking the mince, then turn down to a simmer.

Make sure the mince is completely brownedFor the mince, start with a heavy based frying pan.  Add the oil, then pop in the chopped onion (plus carrot and celery if you’re using them).  When the onions start to soften (they don’t need to brown) add in the mince, breaking it up and stirring it around.  Colour equals flavour here so try and get it nice and brown.

Give the mince a season with some salt and pepper, then sprinkle over the flour – this will thicken the finished gravy.  Stir this round to cook out the ‘raw’ taste of the flour.  Add in a few dashes of Worcester sauce here if you fancy it.  Stir in the stock, then transfer the meat to the dish.

Now, drain the potatoes and mash them well, adding a couple of knobs of butter and a good slosh of milk.  Pile the mash on top of the mince and level the top.  Bake for about 45 minutes until the top is lovely a crisp and brown.

Mince really does need this cooking time as otherwise it can be a bit chewy, which is often where people go wrong with a shepherd’s pie – bunging the mash on and serving it straight away.  In fact, English Dad’s famous ‘dad mince’ (the only thing he ever cooks, and only when I’m away) gets a good couple of hours in the oven, and is deliciously tender and savoury as a result.