Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Recipe LXXXIV - Slow Roasted Lamb in a Rosemary and Red Wine Sauce

Making Christmas dinner for everyone is my yearly task and every year I try and outdo the main course from the year before. If I think of something new, I try to add to the other courses. At the weekend, I tried out my new enamel roasting tin, to see if it gives me inspiration for this year. And you know what? It wasn't bad. Here are the results.

500g-700g lamb (leg, shoulder, etc.) with the bone
A slice of butter, kneaded with rosemary and whole black peppercorns
Half a bottle of red wine (Greek or south Italian, for a fruity, less acidic taste
4 tomatoes (fresh or tinned)
8-15 potatoes, fairly whole
4 large carrots
2 bay leaves
3 onions, quartered

Turn the oven on to about 150°C. Take your roasting tin and coat it in a layer of butter. Although it is enamel and self-basting, this will make sure, as producers are a little over-confident in their own products' capabilities. So, peel your potatoes, cut your carrots. You can parboil them or you can leave them unboiled and put them later straight in the roaster. Anyhow, take the butter, rosemary and peppercorns, and grind into a consistency. Spread it out on the top of your lamb and put it in the roaster, alone, for 15 minutes.

Put two of the onions, the carrots, the potatoes and bay leaves in the roaster and cook for a further half and hour to 45 minutes.

Before you remove it from the oven, get your tomatoes and red wine, plus more rosemary and the last of the onions. Give them a good blitzing in the mixer.

Pour the liquid around the outside of the roaster, leaving the lamb untouched.

Put it back in the oven for at least an hour, removing the lid for the last 20 minutes and serve the meat thickly sliced.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Recipe LXXXIII - Venison Steaks in Brandy Sauce with Spätzle

German food. In terms of oxymorons, it ranks alongside French self-deprecation, Scandinavian beach resorts and beautiful Belgian scenery. What is Germany's greatest contribution to food? The hamburger? Not in the least. The schnitzel, maybe? That was stolen from the Czechs. The frankfurter, possibly? If you can find any meat in it. The apple strudel? Strong contender if it wasn't originally Czech too.

No, amongst all the stodge, the greatest contribution the Germans have made to food is their cakes. The Black Forest gâteau being exhibit number one. But amongst all the cream and fruit, there lies an alternative German cuisine that never raises its head above all the commercial stuff: their pasta. German pasta? Yep. And it's quite good. Spätzle is like short linguine, but unlike the Italian version, it can also be fried and is much more satisfying to the stomach. This recipe is one of my own, although I am sure variants exist.

Ingredients and instructions for the venison:
500g venison, cut into steaks or medaillons
2 tablespoons of cinnamon in a bowl with 4 tablespoons of flour (1:2 ratio, depending on your need)
10 peppercorns, black, ground
Salt the venison a little.

Put the flour, cinnamon and pepper into a flat bowl and mix until homogeneous.

Roll the venison in it, then set the meat aside (fridge) for a while, whilst you cut up the vegetables.

Ingredients for the sauce:
4 shallots or small onions
Some porcini mushrooms
Some whole black peppercorns
Some currants, sultanas or raisins
2 apples, diced
Some red berry confit (blackcurrant, redcurrant or something similar)
Some old-style mustard (seeds included)
Some thyme
A glass of brandy

Fry the steaks and onions/shallots in butter for a few minutes, then remove the meat. Add the whole peppercorns, and stir until they puff up. Then add the mushrooms, raisins and apples, and stir for a minute or two before you add the brandy, which will hiss and bubble with an aroma that should make small animals pass out, so put a lid on top and reduce the heat. About 5 minutes later, add a spoonful of mustard and confit, and some thyme. Keep on the lid and allow the liquids to run. You can put the venison steaks back on top, to integrate. Do not fear, the cinnamon exterior remains.

While that is going on, boil your spätzle. This takes between 10 and 12 minutes. Don't believe the packets in Germany which tell you to boil pasta for 2 minutes longer than necessary. Germans like soggy, runny pasta apparently.
As a nice touch, when you serve, why not put the spätzle all round the outside and fill up the middle with your sauce, putting your venison on top?

This goes well with a young, tart red wine from Navarra or northern Italy.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Recipe LXXXII - Homemade Burgers and Potato Wedges

One thing I really appreciate in the UK is proper unassuming pub food. Burger, potato wedges and mayo please my taste buds far more than anything from a fancy restaurant. And that's not only because of the food, but because of the atmosphere of the place. The people there are far more accessible, the service is (usually) with a smile and the food is filling. Plus you don't get stared at if you eat your short pasta with a spoon. This recipe is so simple and takes twenty minutes to prepare and half an hour to cook.

Ingredients (for 2 people)
500g minced beef
1/2 an onion (finely chopped)
A spoonful of thyme
A spoonful of oregano
5 cloves of garlic (chopped - optional)
10 peppercorns (crushed)
Some salt
1 egg
A tablespoon of flour
10 smallish potatoes, cut into wedges

Put your beef in a mixing bowl. Add the salt, onion, herbs and peppercorns, and give it a really good mix. Then add the egg, which acts as a binding agent.

Once everything is mixed in well, divide them into two balls and put them on a lightly-floured plate and put some flour on top. Flatten them with a spatula or the ball of your hand to the thickness you require. I like mine thick, so I cook mine for longer, but it's up to you.

Put it in a buttered, non-stick pan and fry until done. I like mine slightly burnt on the outside, so for the last ten minutes I turn up the heat.

For the potato wedges, I'm sure you know how to do them, but anyway - heat up some oil in a deep pan. While it is getting nice and hot, cut the potatoes into fairly large pieces. Wash and dry them. The easiest way to dry them is to put them on a towel and dab them. Pick them up to put them into the frying basket, then deep-fry them for five minutes. This is the 5-4-3-2-1 method. Remove the basket for a while and put it back in for four minutes. Remove again, then three, repeat, two, and just before serving, one minute. They will be lovely and crispy by then!

I served it with a mix of fennel and onion, plus a good spoonful of mayonnaise.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Recipe LXXXI - Potato, Carrot and Leek Stump

Today is Stir-up Sunday and I've been busy making this year's Christmas Pudding (see Recipe XXXV), so this week's recipe is very simple. I'm going through a side-dish period - last week was red cabbage, this week potatoes, carrots and leeks. If you want to get your kids to eat their vegetables, don't chuck it on the plate having boiled the Bejayzus out of it: put a little love in there. All you need is a bit of thought and attention to detail. This is a typically northern English recipe, but it is very well-known in other northern European countries. In Flanders, it is called Stoemp. You can replace the leek with swede (rutabaga), which is the purest northern English recipe.

6 potatoes
4 average-sized carrots
1 leek
50g butter
75cl milk
A hardish yellow cheese, like Cheddar or Grimbergen, cut into cubes (optional)
Some more butter for frying + olive oil
Salt & fresh ground black pepper

Cut the potatoes into boiling size, so a little bigger than the circle created by your thumb and forefinger. Slice the leek into rings and then in half. While the potatoes are boiling in salted water, fry the leek gently for ten minutes in some butter and olive oil with the sausages, which will give it some flavour, adding some salt and pepper.

Once the potatoes are nicely boiled, put some butter and milk in it, and mash it up into a consistency.

Then add the leek, mixing well. At this point, you can slip in some small blocks of cheese if you want. Serve with sausages and a nice sauce like mayonnaise, pickle or mustard.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Recipe LXXX - Czech-style Braised Red Cabbage with Roast Pork, Brussels Sprouts and Carrots

On 28th December, I will be returning to my true home, the place I feel most like me, the place that loves me like a favourite aunt, Prague. I will only be there for six days, but the knowledge I will return to Base Camp is what keeps me going every day through the dark hours. The Czech Republic is one of Europe's best-kept secrets when it comes to food. I decided to recreate one of the dishes that will fill my stomach when I arrive.

Ingredients for the cabbage:
1 red cabbage
1 piece of fennel, sliced, but not too small
10 peppercorns
2 apples, chopped
1 onion, cut into rings
1 glass cherry schnapps
1 litre beef stock, warmed up
1 knob of butter
(Sultanas are also good with this dish! You are also welcome to add other things that would suit it: red onions or shallots, parsnip, pumpkin,  whatever...)

Take a large saucepan and melt some butter in the bottom on a medium-low heat. Add the fennel, a little salt and stir until it sweats. Then the onions and peppercorns. Finally, add the apples 2 minutes before you put in the red cabbage. Stir continuously.

Add the cabbage and continue stirring for a good 5 minutes. This allows the vegetables to get softer without burning.

Put in a good 20cl of fruit schnapps. I used cherry, as it's also a red fruit. Allow it to bubble in the bottom, then continue stirring.

Add the beef stock and put on the lid. Turn the heat right down and allow everything to run for as long as two hours, always checking the liquid level. With the right saucepan, nothing should escape, and you should end up with a truly delicious jus.

I served it with roast pork belly with crackling, roast carrots and Brussels sprouts.

To get a hard roast pork skin:
All you need to do is put the oven on at a low 150°C, cut your pork skin at each end a couple of gashes (this hardens it more easily), not forgetting to rub salt over it, baste your pork in the oil, put the pork in the baking tray with the skin facing upwards, leave some butter on top of it and allow it to melt in the oven. After 45 minutes, you can add the sliced carrots and baste the pork a little more. After an hour, turn the heat up to 200°C. For extra crackliness to the skin, spread some honey or caramel on it 10 minutes before removing it from the oven.

To get a tasty Brussels sprout:
After boiling in salt water, pour out the water and put a knob of butter in the pan. Once sizzling, add the sprouts, stirring constantly. Put in some ground black pepper and grate some nutmeg over it.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Recipe LXXIX - Irish Stew

The great comedian Spike Milligan once wrote:

"You must never bath in an Irish Stew.
It’s a most illogical thing to do.
But should you persist against my reasoning,
Don’t fail to add the appropriate seasoning."

And who could argue with that? This particular dish is too tasty to bathe in - I can't think of anyone who has ever eaten the contents of his/her bath, but it could be a new trend...
The ingredients of this dish are, like a lot of things Irish, a matter of hot dispute. The purists maintain that there is very little in it except lamb, onions and potatoes. But this is the 21st century and we can make our dishes a little more interesting, if just for the flavour.

A cut of lamb, usually the neck, but I used the shoulder because it had a lot of meat on it.
3 carrots
1 onion
1 fennel
4 potatoes
2 handfuls of green beans
500ml beef or lamb stock
500ml (or less) water
A sprig of rosemary

Take the lamb and cut it into manageable pieces - I cut them into 2-bite-sized pieces. In this way, you get to chomp off a bit of it later on the end of your fork. I love that.
Salt it and fry it in some oil in a casserole dish on a medium temperature. Once the lamb is sealed, add some rosemary to it. Then add the vegetables. Salt them and pour over the stock. Add some water if necessary.

Boil for between 90 minutes and 3 hours, checking every half-hour.

Serve in a wide, flat bowl.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Recipe LXXVIII - Spiced Pork Ribs

Supermarkets and food companies have one thing to thank for their success over the last 50 years - that the human being is inherently lazy. They know this, and that's what makes them able to control profits and sell you all kinds of stuff that you could easily make yourself. There are rows upon rows of ready-made foods: canned, packaged, frozen, even put in a bag for you and sold for a higher price than if you put it in your own bag. If you go to the meat counter, they'll even sell you a lump of meat with its own marinade. In Germany, this amounts to three flavours: brown flavour, orange flavour, or red flavour. Goodness knows what they taste like, but they're pretty distressing to lok at. I feel sorry for the poor animal who sacrificed its life only to find itself painted a gaudy luminous colour and sold for a ridiculous price.
For this healthy recipe, you need very little, and it's so cheap. For the same amount as the supermarket's price mark-up, you'll have enough of this stuff to last the rest of the year: and unlike its supermarket counterpart, it doesn't have a use-by date. Firstly, pay a visit to your local spice merchant - the local merchant deserves your business much, much more than any vast food wholesaler ever did.

Pork ribs, however many you need
33% cumin
33% ground coriander
33% tandoori massala
2 onions
Carrots, potatoes and other veggies
1 freezer bag
You need no salt for this recipe, as the spices provide the savoury flavours for you.

Switch on the oven to a low temperature of 150°C and put some oil in a baking tray.
Take the spices and mix them well in a bowl. Put a proportionate amount in the freezer bag, take one of the pork pieces and slide it in, giving the bag a good shake.

Massage the spices into the meat until it is totally covered. This has a second effect, tenderising the meat.

Halve the onions and put them in the baking tray. Lay the meat on top of the oil and onions. Put it in the oven for a minimum of one hour.

You can add parboiled carrots and potatoes to the roast a little later on. For the last 10 minutes, turn up the heat to 180°C to give it a crisp finish.

Serve with steamed vegetables and a nice bottle of Gewürztraminer!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Recipe LXXVII - Stuffed Beef Olives with Roasted Vegetables

This is an easy recipe, and a tasty one too. It requires about 45 minutes' preparation, but the results are really worth it. There's something about roasted veggies that give them extra special powers of tastiness.

2 long pieces of thinly-sliced beef (any cut should be fine)
4 carrots
1 leek
1 courgette
But I'm sure you'll choose your own vegetables!

For the stuffing:
About two hands full of yesterday's bread, broken into very small pieces
1 onion
4 cloves of garlic
Some fresh herbs (basil, thyme or oregano should be good)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A binding agent like lemon juice or white wine

Turn the oven on to about 160°C. Put the stuffing ingredients (except the bread) into a mixer and give it a thorough blitzing.
Then add the bread and turn it into a pâté-like consistency.

Spread it out over the beef, making sure not to get too close to the outeide. Once rolled up, it will spread out itself.

Cut up some vegetables. I used carrots and leeks, and later on I added some courgettes. Pour some oil in a baking tray, put your vegetables in it and the beef on top, making sure most is covered in the oil.

Put it in the oven for about 45 minutes, and add the courgettes for the final 15 minutes. Sorry for the quality of the photo below, but the kitchen light plays havoc with the brightness and contrast...

In any case, enjoy!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Recipe LXXVI - Roast Masala Chicken, Spicy Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts

There's something refreshing and wholesome about a roast dinner on a Sunday. After a long autumn walk in the country, coming home to a house full of the smells of your delicious immediate future is how it should be. This recipe is my own take on a version by my favourite Indian cook, Madhur Jaffrey. Her recipes are shining examples of how complicated dishes are actually very simple when you have a little time and patience.


A whole chicken - Madhur Jaffrey removes the skin, but I choose to keep it on, because it's the best part!
4 tbsp lemon juice
2 tablespoons of ginger
5 cloves of garlic, chopped or crushed
1 small, hot red pepper - Madhur Jaffrey used 3 hot green chillies, but I live in deepest, darkest Germany and can only get what I'm given.
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp salt

...and for later:
chili powder
freshly ground black pepper

Oil for roasting (olive/sunflower, etc...)
5 medium potatoes, peeled, and sliced to your preference
Half tsp turmeric
1 tsp Kashmiri (mild) chili powder
10 freshly ground black peppercorns
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
A pinch of salt

Instructions for the chicken:
Preheat the oven to 150-170C. Put all the ingredients for the marinade into a blender and blitz it to a paste. With a sharp knife, make two deep incisions into each breast. You should do this in the thighs and legs too.

Put the chicken on a baking tray making sure there is enough foil to cover the bird completely. I made two layers, in a cross-shape.
With your fingers or with a spoon, spread the paste evenly over the chicken and into the incisions.

Let it marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes. Just before you put it in the oven, sprinkle the chili powder and black pepper over the chicken. Seal the chicken tightly in the foil and put it in the oven for the time it takes you to go for that afternoon stroll! For the last 10 to 20 minutes, you can roast it with the foil open. You can save that last roasting bit for later when you are browning the potatoes.

Instructions for the spicy roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts:
Boil the potatoes and Brussels sprouts for a maximum of ten minutes in some salted water.
Put the cumin, coriander, turmeric and chili powder in a small bowl and mix them up well.
Make sure the potatoes and sprouts are well oiled and roll them in the mixed spices. Put them in a baking tray in a single layer and roast for a minimum of 30 mins - you may wish to share the oven with the chicken for the last part.

The chicken will simply fall off the bone and the juices make an ideal gravy.

I added Brussels sprouts to Madhur Jaffrey's wonderful recipe, and I made a few changes to the procedure, but I can say it was a joy to cook, and I will do it again very, very soon.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Recipe LXXV - Tagliatelle alla Poverina

Italian food is notoriously "safe" when it comes to adding spices. But the humble red chili pepper makes an entrance in this dish. It is quick to make, if you're looking for something that takes only a few minutes of cutting. A lot of Italian food comes out of a packet, and in this case, the spinach I used was frozen, as it's currently out of season.

400g tagliatelle
2 red peperoncini (chili peppers)
2 small-to-medium onions
150g-200g lardons (Speck)
4 blocks of frozen spinach, or a handful of chopped fresh spinach
Some cloves of garlic
Half a small pot of cream
Salt and fresh ground pepper


Cut up your ingredients in the way you like to eat them. I like segmented onions and round, chopped chili peppers. Heat up a frying pan with olive oil. Fry the lardons on a fairly high heat for a few minutes, turn the heat down to medium then add the onions and chili peppers. Once they have softened, put in the spinach and garlic and cover the pan. On a low heat, allow the flavours to run. About seven minutes before serving, add the cream.

Put some salted water in a pan and once boiling, add the pasta. You can either mix the pasta with the rest, or you can use the pasta as a bed. I did the latter.

Enjoy it with a nice glass of medium white wine!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Recipe LXXIV - Traditional Flapjacks

Autumn has arrived quickly this year. In fact, I barely remember any summer at all, let alone doing much summer activity. There were hardly any apples on the tree in the garden and nearly nothing in the way of nuts either. I got a measly handful of strawberries and a plate's worth of peas. Better luck next year. However, the forsythias loved it, as did the wild flowers, who just want to grow anywhere. This is when traditionally people would put all their gathered fruit and nuts into conserves and make recipes from them that would last the winter, hence the mighty Plum Pudding, which was eaten as a Midwinter feast, and centrepiece of a winter solstice celebration that the longer days were on their way.

Flapjack has similar origins. The name is most certainly not, but the recipe would have been pretty much the same since its inception. The idea would have been to make a filling oaty cake to chew on for energy. Now, of course, it's more like an accompaniment for an autumn party. I remember being regaled with flapjacks at the annual Bonfire Night celebrations at the beginning of November. I used to get told off by my mother for eating too many... But now I'm old enough, I can make as many as I like and eat them all. So there!

500g oats - usually jumbo oats, but for mine I used the smaller variety
250g demerara sugar
200g raisins, sultanas, etc
4 tablespoons of golden syrup
1 table spoon of cinnamon
250g butter
The peel of one orange
A large, square or rectangular baking tray

Heat the oven to about 175°C.
Put the raisins and sultanas into the oats and give it a good mix. Take the baking tray and grease the inside with the butter. With the rest of the butter, put it into a large pan and on a low heat melt it. Add the sugar, orange peel, cinnamon and syrup to the mixture and heat it gently until the sugar has melted.

Pour the oats, raisins and sultanas into the melted butter and allow the oats to soak up the liquid until there is a good consistency.

Put them into the baking tray and spread them out evenly until they reach all four corners.

Bake in the oven for 17 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Cut it into pieces immediately, because it's still quite soft.

Serve with a nice cup of tea.

Put the rest in a biscuit tin and eat at your leisure!