Chilli chicken noodles

Chilli chicken noodle soup

Yesterday, we were wondering what to have for dinner – it never seems right to have a roast on a hot day – when Sam mentioned that we used to have chicken noodle soup all the time, but we hadn’t had it for ages.

Just so happens that I had a chilli, a lime, and some ginger (I keep the ginger in the freezer anyway) and half a pack of noodles, and it seemed the perfect, fresh alternative to full on Sunday dinner, so it was game on.

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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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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 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

 

 

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 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

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Slow roasted garlicky leg of lamb with rosemary potatoes

Slow roasted garlicky lamb

 

Lamb is one of our favourite Sunday lunches.  I think with lamb chops, they’re nice when they’re tender and pink in the middle.  With a leg of lamb, though, especially at this time of year, we all prefer it slowly cooked and really falling off the bone.  I serve mine with rosemary potatoes and some of my apple and mint chutney. Delicious.

Slow roasted garlicky leg of lamb

1 leg of lamb (or a half leg, to be honest – works just as well)

Rapeseed oil

2 or 3 cloves of garlic

Preheat the oven to 160 (170)/gas 3.

In a pestle and mortar, bash up the garlic with a generous pinch of salt and pepper until it forms a paste, then add about a tablespoon of rapeseed oil.  Smoosh this paste all over the lamb.

Pop the lamb into a roasting tin and put it in the oven.   In his 2005 recipe for slow roast lamb with chickpea mash,  Nigel Slater recommends adding about 250ml of water after about half an hour, which works really well and helps to make a lovely gravy at the end of it.  I cover it for the first few hours with some foil, too.

Then, just leave the lamb alone for a good five hours.  If you want to leave it longer, turn the heat down a little.  It won’t spoil.

For the rosemary potatoes

Floury potatoes

Sprig or two of rosemary

Peel enough largish potatoes to feed your crowd.  Cut into quarters and bring to the boil in some salted water. Simmer until tender, then drain and set aside.

When the lamb has about 15 minutes to go, drain off all the liquid into a jug.  Skim off all the fat and pour it into a roasting tin (reserve the rest for the gravy).  You really don’t need THAT much, as the potatoes just need to be tossed in it, not drowning in it, but by all means add a bit of extra oil if you want to.

Whack the heat up to gas 7/220 degrees (the lamb will be fine in there just as the oven is heating up) and put the roasting tin into the oven.  After the five hours, take the lamb out, cover with foil and maybe a tea towel and leave it to rest.  Add the potatoes and a tablespoon or so of chopped rosemary to the hot oil.  Remember to wiggle them about occasionally – they’ll take 30 to 40 mins to crisp up.

For the gravy

2 tbsp plain flour

About 250ml lamb or chicken stock

To make the gravy, pour a couple of tablespoons of the leftover meat juices into a saucepan (there’ll still be some fatty stuff in there).  Add a tablespoon or two of plain flour and mix well.  Cook this pasty stuff for a couple of minutes, then start to add the rest of the juices, whisking them in slowly, then you can add in the stock.  Bubble away so it thickens slightly.

And there you have it.  Delicious, falling apart meat, crispy potatoes and yummy gravy.  Happy Sunday.

PS: If you want an idea for any leftovers, try this lovely lamb tagine from Rubbish Wife.

Slow roasted lamb

… and just to prove that it works just as well with a half leg of lamb…

 

English Mum’s guide to Christmas dinner: turkey, tips, terrific stuffing, timings and other things not beginning with t.

Cake - sparklyThe thing about Christmas dinner is that the thought of it is worse than the actual event.

Just think of it as Sunday lunch but on a slightly larger scale – a turkey is very forgiving and will happily rest for a good hour (and probably more), covered in foil and a tea towel or two, so there’s no need to rush anything.  My one recommendation is that you take ten minutes to scribble a rough timetable somewhere (work backwards from the time you want to dish up), so that when you’re a bit sozzled, you can easily refer back to your timings.  Remember if you’re steaming a Christmas pudding as well you’ll need to time that (but they microwave incredibly well too).

And look, I love Nigella, but will I be brining my turkey in about fifteen quid’s worth of citrus fruits, various herbs, spices and maple syrupy water?  Nope.  It’s waaaay too much effort, and cost. I’ll be preparing as much as I can in advance so that I can have a couple of glasses of champers and enjoy a gentle potter in the kitchen on the big day.

As for prep, here are my top tips:

Sprouts: yumPrepare in advance

Get as much as possible done 1 or 2 days in advance.

  • Peel the potatoes, cut them into even sizes and boil for as long as you dare (the softer they are the fluffier the centre will be when you roast them).  Then just drain, leave to sit until cool and then open freeze 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 frozen.
  • With the veg, just peel and prepare all your carrots/sprouts/whatever and bung them in plastic bags.  Don’t freeze them as this will make them a bit soggy, but store them sealed in the fridge until you’re ready, then just pop straight into the boiling water (or steam) on the day.
  • If you like, you can boil your sprouts until just tender, then cool them before popping them in a plastic bag in the fridge.  Then on the day you can just fry some pancetta or 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.

Free range Kelly Bronze turkeyFor the turkey

Again, do this the day before.  Don’t wally about washing it in the sink – the hot oven will kill any germs and you’ll just succeed in covering 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.

Add a few extras:

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.

To stuff or not to stuff?:

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.

Weighing and preparing:

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.  Mine’s going in a plastic box in the garage as it’s nice and cold in there, but if we have a sudden warm snap (heh, yeah right), I’ll pack some ice round it (it needs to be less than 4 degrees).

On the day:

I take my turkey out and let it come to room temp on Christmas morning.  No point in putting a very cold turkey into a hot oven – it’ll take ten minutes to even start cooking.  Then 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.)

Timings:

If you’ve gone for a free range turkey it will often look a bit less plump than those ones you see being plonked on the table in all the Christmas adverts (check out the pic of my turkey from last year, above).  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

Remove the foil for the last 40 or so minutes to brown the top

Do bear in mind that a free range bronze turkey will often take less time to cook.  Double check with your supplier.  Once your turkey is done (you can 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, so a joint this size should take three hours and 40 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.

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 and make sure the fat is very hot before you add your frozen 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).

For great 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).

Bringing it all together

And 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 cook out before adding plenty of stock (you can never have enough gravy).

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).  I also serve roast parsnips with honey or maple syrup, oh and peas for the fussy bugger who only likes peas *sigh*.

If you want 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 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.  Have a wonderful, wonderful Christmas. Mwah xx

Give us a kiss!

 

‘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?’

 

Boxing Day turkey, ham and thyme pie

This is my fourth Lean on Turkey challenge, supporting our fabulous British turkey farmers and showing you just how versatile turkey is.  In the last three recipes, I’ve told you that turkey’s not just for Christmas,but FINALLY I can tell you that it’s for Christmas too!

This time the chaps have challenged me to create a recipe with leftovers, and it just HAD to be the Boxing Day Pie.  It’s a tradition in our house to bake a MASSIVE leftover pie on Boxing Day. If you’ve got stuffing leftover, pop it in too, it tastes delicious.  Served with a stir fry of leftover veggies, it’s a feast as good as the one on Christmas Day.  Here’s how to do it:

You will need:

1 tablespoon rapeseed oil

1 large white onion

Lots of leftover turkey (a good couple of double handfuls, shredded, depending on how large your pie dish is)

Leftover ham: this can be from a roast ham, or just any ham you have lying around

Any leftover stuffing

Small tub of double cream

About 200-300ml chicken stock (cube is fine, or use watered down leftover gravy)

Herbs: I wanted to use tarragon, but apparently there’s a ‘shortage’ (?), so I opted for thyme out of the garden

Shortcrust pastry (bought or home made)

For the pastry

So firstly, if you’d like to make your own pastry, you’ll need:

200g cold butter

400g plain flour

Pinch salt

1 egg

Cold water

Cut the cold butter into cubes, and add it to the flour.  Add in the salt, and then rub in the butter gently with just your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Keep everything as cool as you can, including your hands.  Add the egg, and a couple of tablespoons of cold water, just enough to bring it together.  It’s less messy initially so use a knife to just stir it around until it starts to form clumps, then, with your hands, bring it together into a dough. Don’t knead it, remember, just treat it very gently.  Now just wrap it in clingfilm and pop it in the fridge to rest while you make the filling.

For the pie

So gently fry the onion in the oil until translucent and add in the shredded turkey and leftover ham (snipped into little pieces, or chopped), season well (not too much salt – the ham’s salty) and then add a generous splosh of cream. Pour in the stock and leave to bubble away and reduce a little (you don’t want too much ‘juice’ in the pie as it will make the pastry soggy).  Add in the fresh herbs and allow to cool while you roll out the pastry.

This is a good time to preheat the oven to 180/gas 4.

In our house, it’s absolutely obligatory that the pie has a bottom, the boys insist upon it, but if you want, you can omit the bottom and just cover the top with pastry.  So 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.

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.

Now spoon in your cooled filling. Don’t put hot filling into the pie as it will begin to melt the butter and you’ll get the dreaded ‘soggy bottom’!

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’re feeling arty, make some letters, then transfer to the eggy wash department (I use a stray child) for a brush with beaten egg or milk and pop in the oven for about half an hour.

And that’s it.  Hopefully it will become a tradition in your house too!

There’s really no pricing with this as most of it is home made or leftover, but it’s definitely cost effective, and delicious.

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

 

How to make a chicken pie (or any pie!): an easy step by step guide (including how to make pastry)

Pastry always seems a bit terrifying.  But honestly, have a think about it: it’s really just a vessel to hold delicious contents, all of which will spill out over your pastry making it all taste yummy anyway.  And if it’s a little thick or a bit uneven, who cares? That’s what home made food is all about.  If you know how to make a chicken pie (or any pie!) it’s such a versatile skill.  So come on, let’s dive in: practice makes perfect!

Pie dishes

A quick word about pie dishes.  By all means use a classic ceramic pie dish but you’ll get a much better result by using a metal tin. I swear by Mermaid, who do proper hard anodised aluminium tins that you can use on the  hob and in the oven (this one’s actually a tarte tatin dish) – they conduct the heat really well, resulting in nice, crisp pastry and an even bake.

How to make pastry

The best tip I can give you about making pastry is to keep everything as cool as possible.  Sweaty hands make for a big gluey mess, so try and keep to just using the tips of your fingers, and use a light touch.

For standard, shortcrust pastry, you’ll need:

200g cold butter

400g plain flour

Pinch salt

1 egg

You can make pastry in the food processor, or by hand.  Here are both versions:

Making pastry by hand:

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

… add in the salt, 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 and salt.  Process it until it looks like breadcrumbs.

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

Every time you make pastry it will be different: flours can have different moisture levels and eggs can be different sizes, but you should find it comes together into a ball quite well.  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.

This is the stage where you can get on with making your filling.  I’ve made a creamy chicken filling, but you can use your imagination and fill it with whatever you like: beef and mushrooms in gravy… fish in a creamy sauce… (or veggies) or, if you fancy a sweet pie (add a tablespoon of caster sugar to your pastry), apple, cherry… the list is endless.  Leftovers make fab pies. We always make turkey and ham on Boxing Day, and leftover curry makes a lovely pie too.

Filling for a creamy chicken pie

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 shallot, finely sliced

2 large free-range chicken breasts (or leftover chicken or turkey)

Couple of slices of nice ham (or leftover gammon, cut into chunks)

Dash of double cream

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

So gently fry the shallot in the oil until translucent and add in your cubes of chicken breast. Fry until just coloured (remember it’ll cook properly in the oven), then add the ham (snipped into little pieces, or chopped), season well (not too much salt – the ham’s salty) and then the splosh of cream.  Pour in the stock and leave to bubble away and reduce a little (you don’t want too much ‘juice’ in the pie as it will make the pastry soggy).  Add in some fresh herbs if you like, too.  Thyme is delicious with chicken, and so is tarragon.

Once your filling is done, leave it to one side to cool while you roll out the pastry.  Oh, and this is a good time to preheat the oven to 180/gas 4.

Rolling out the pastry

Retrieve it 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.

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.  Remember: it doesn’t have to be perfect!

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 spoon in your cooled filling.  Don’t put hot filling into the pie as it will begin to melt the butter and you’ll get the dreaded ‘soggy bottom’!

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’re feeling arty, make some letters (I’m desperate to do a pie that says ‘bum’) or cut out leaves or whatever.  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 yes, sometimes it all goes wrong (this one needed that extra bit of cold water – the patry was far too crumbly) just laugh at yourself and serve it up anyway – it will still taste lovely! (oh, and writing BUM on it is excellent therapy too, trust me).

And that’s it. YOU MADE A PIE!  You’re a genius.

The Lean on Turkey summer challenge: crispy sesame turkey salad with orange honey dressing

So this is my third Lean on Turkey challenge, supporting our fabulous British turkey farmers and showing you just how versatile turkey is.  It’s not just for Christmas, y’know (sorry, but it took me three challenges – I resisted in the first two).  Last time, as you may recall, it was a healthy, low fat turkey recipe and the result was my sticky sweet chilli turkey kebabs.  This time I’m going to wow you with some fabulous crispy sesame coated chicken breast slices, and a delightfully fresh orangey salad.  Of course, if you’re feeling like something more substantial, you can stuff the whole lot into a wrap or pitta too (as demonstrated by my gorgeous assistant, son number 2, who dumped his entire plate onto a wrap – see picture below).  Yummy, and probably half an hour max to prepare.

I must be honest and say that this plateful was just for show – our actual portion sizes were about triple this.  Hey, what can I say?  We’re greedy.

You will need:

1 pack turkey breast (I bought escalopes, but breast would be fine too)

2 or 3 tablespoons plain flour

1 egg

2 or 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Rapeseed oil for drizzling and for the salad dressing

Mixed leaves

1 navel orange

Squeeze of honey

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees/gas 6.   Slice the turkey breasts into strips.  Now arrange your eggy wash department: you need three bowls.

Bowl 1: flour, seasoned generously with salt and pepper (pinch of cayenne wouldn’t go amiss either)

Bowl 2: 1 egg, beaten

Bowl 3: breadcrumbs and sesame seeds

Then just start up your little production line.  Dip each turkey strip into the flour, pat off the excess, then dip it in the egg, then finally into the breadcrumb and sesame seed mix, then on to the baking tray.

When you’ve done this to all your turkey, just give it a little drizzle of rapeseed oil and pop into the oven.

To make the dressing, squeeze the orange into a jug and add roughly double the amount of rapeseed oil.  Season, then add a dash of honey.  Mix well.

To assemble, pile the leaves onto the plate (I added some extra pieces of orange, but don’t worry if you haven’t got the patience for segmenting oranges – I completely understand), pop on the pieces of turkey, then finally dribble over the dressing.  Yum.

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

 

 

 

 

 

The Knorr recipe challenge: roast chicken with creamy tarragon sauce

The very generous and lovely people at Knorr recently sent me a parcel of goodies and challenged me to cook up something lovely using the ingredients and their new stock pots.  The ingredients came beautifully packed from Forman & Field and, amongst other things, included:

1 Rhug organic chicken

2 shallots

Biddenden Ortega white wine (from Kent!)

A bunch of tarragon

A bunch of parsley

I also used a Knorr chicken stock pot and a couple of tablespoons of sour cream.

On to my recipe, then. Frankly the chicken looked so beautiful: plumptious breasted and yellow skinned that I decided to simply roast it, then make a delicious sauce to accompany it from the ingredients.  There were mushrooms in there, but the Death Wish Dude is a mushroom hater, so I had to leave them out.  Feel free to add them in if you like while you’re frying the shallot.

This is a lovely way to serve a roast chicken and different from my normal ‘stick a chicken up its bum’ method,( or ‘poulet avec citron au derrière’, to give it its full title – which, hilariously, Google translates to ‘chicken with lemon behind’).

First, then, roast your chicken.  This one was quite small, about 1.5kg, so I just roasted it for an hour and 15 minutes (see my rule of thumb on the other post) at 190 degrees/gas 5.

By the way, if you’d rather do this with chicken breasts, just roast them in the oven for about 20-25 minutes (check they’re done by pushing on them – they should feel firm – or if you’re worried, cut them in half and have a look – you can always serve them in slices) and prepare the sauce in the same way.

On to the sauce, then.  Drop a knob of butter into a heavy based saucepan and add in a finely chopped shallot.  Fry gently until translucent then add in a glass of the delicious English wine (drink the rest) and about 150 ml stock.  Leave it to bubble and reduce right down to at least half, if not more.  Finally, add in the tarragon (don’t use too much, it’s quite strong – a level tablespoon of chopped leaves is enough), and a handful of chopped parsley, then the sour cream.

Serve with the roast chicken, a fresh green salad and maybe some baby new potatoes.

Many thanks to Knorr.  By the way, if you’d like to win one of these lovely seasonal boxes, leave a comment here or pop over to my Facebook page, where you can enter too.

 

**************THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED – THANKS FOR YOUR ENTRIES! *****************