Saturday, October 27, 2007

Braised Lamb Shanks with Spices

A little effort and plenty of time is all that is needed to make this soft, rich, aromatic stew. The spices are not hot, but add depth and warmth: allspice, juniper, cinnamon and nutmeg. Something I experimented with here was using celeriac. The previous day I tried it for the first time (at least knowingly) and was surprised by how much I liked it, given my antipathy towards celery on its own. Celery is very useful for rounding out the base of a stew, so I thought, why not try celeriac instead of potatoes and celery? And it was a success: there was nothing missing flavour-wise, and the celeriac held its shape much better than any floury potatoes would, despite being in the pan for the whole cooking time. So, all the taste and less effort - hurrah for celeriac!

If you have only ground spices rather than whole berries, reduce to 1 teaspoon each. Likewise, one teaspoon of ground cinnamon is probably sufficient.

For two hungry people:
  • 2 lamb shanks
  • 1 onion
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1/3 - 1/2 celeriac
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 200ml red wine
  • 250ml weak stock or water
  • 2 teaspoons allspice berries
  • 2 teaspoons juniper berries
  • 2 short or 1 long cinnamon stick
  • good grating (say 1/4 teaspoon) nutmeg
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown soft sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper

  • Chop the onion in half lengthways, then cut each half into about 6 wedges. Peel the carrot, then cut into chunky half-barrels. Peel the celeriac thickly (use a knife not a peeler) and dice coarsely to get chunks about the same size as the carrot. Peel the garlic and chop roughly. Heat the oil in a large saucepan which has a well-fitting lid, or a casserole. It must be large enough that the lamb shanks can be laid down. Briefly fry the vegetables and garlic, sprinkling with salt to prevent browning, until the onion is softening. Remove the vegetables from the pan. Turn up the heat and add the lamb shanks. Brown on each side, about 3 minutes each. Return the vegetables to the saucepan. Roughly bash the allspice and juniper berries up in a pestle and mortar (or in a plastic bag with can or similar), then throw in the pan with the cinnamon sticks broken in half, the bay leaves and the grated nutmeg. Stir round, add the wine and water or stock and the sugar, then bring to the boil. Turn the heat down, cover with the lid and simmer gently for at least 1 hour, ideally 1 1/2 - 2 hours. If the lid is not tightly fitting and the liquid is evaporating quickly just top it up from a hot kettle as necessary. Towards the end of the cooking time taste the liquor and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes with the lid off to allow the sauce to reduce a bit. Serve with fresh green vegetables.

    Wednesday, October 24, 2007

    Goat's Cheese and Sundried Tomato Stuffed Chicken

    The filling for these stuffed chicken breasts is quite intense and moist, which helps lift meat which might otherwise tend towards blandness. Since you can get them prepped and ready to cook well in advance, and the cooking itself is quite brief, these are useful if you have people arriving but you don't know when, or to serve to someone who doesn't eat red meat which is exactly what their boyfriend is hoping you'll cook because they never get it at home.

    For two:
  • 2 fairly large chicken breasts
  • 8-ish sundried tomatoes, drained of oil
  • 1 spring onion
  • 50g goat's cheese
  • 1 dash balsamic vinegar
  • black pepper
  • Olive oil to cook

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C. Trim any fat or membrane off the chicken breasts. Place one between two large squares of clingfilm and pound with a rolling pin or similar until it is evenly flattened to about 5mm thick all over. Be careful not to split the meat by being too heavy-handed. Repeat with the second chicken breast. Now make the filling: Finely chop the spring onion to yield about 1 tablespoon. Chop the tomatoes finely. Mix the onion, tomatoes, cheese and vinegar well. Unwrap the chicken breasts, and lay upside-down. Grate over a little black pepper and then divide the filling mixture evenly between them. Wrap the sides of the chicken breast arond the stuffing to make neat parcels. Heat a griddle, brushed with a little oil and then start cooking the parcels. Begin with the top of the parcel and cook for a few minutes on each side until almost cooked through. Move to an ovenproof dish if the griddle pan cannot go in the oven, otherwise transfer it all together into the hot oven. Cook for another 5 minutes, until you are sure that the chicken is completely done. Cut carefully into the thickest part, where there is an overlap, if you need to. Remove from the oven and serve with salad or fresh vegetables and some new potatoes.


    This is a recipe from an old family friend - Joyce Durrant. She and her husband, Maurice, lived two fields away from the farm when I was a child, as they did when my father was young, and we would occasionally traipse over in our wellies to see them. Joyce always had something good to eat, very often this gorgeous, sweet-but-not-too-sweet, buttery, crumbly shortbread. I give imperial measurements as this is how I cook it, but moving to metric is hardly taxing. It can either be baked into thin crisp biscuits, in which case use a swiss roll tin or similar, or (as I prefer) thick stubby chunks, for which use a deeper cake tin. I currently use a 23cm round springform, which is far from ideal as you get funny shaped pieces and risk the middle being under cooked, but since I am reluctant to share with anyone with whom I am not very intimate, I don't tend to worry about it. When I get a proper square cake or brownie tin I might have to start offering these to guests. How unfortunate.

    You could use vanilla sugar in place of the caster, if you happen to have some made up.
  • 8oz plain flour
  • 8oz chilled unsalted butter
  • 4oz cornflour
  • 4oz caster sugar, plus 3 tablespoons for sprinkling
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • Preheat the oven to 170°C. Cut the butter into very small dice. Stir into the plain flour with a knife, then rub in with your fingers. This will take a while, but stick with it and you will eventually end up with fine sand. If you fear you are making the butter oily due to very warm hands (something with which I am not blessed) rinse them under cold water for a moment or two. Stir the cornflour into the flour-butter mix and then 4oz of the sugar and the salt. Pour into your chosen tin, spread evenly and pat down. Prick in a few places with the tines of a fork then place in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes (less if you are using a large shallow tin), or until the top is an even, pale gold. Sprinkle the reserved sugar and bake for another 5 minutes before removing from the oven. Cut into individual biscuits immediately, but leave in the tin on a wire rack to cool. Once cool enough to handle easily, they can be removed from the tin and separated.

    Sunday, October 21, 2007

    Figs with Perfumed Marzipan

    After the Morrocan Lamb and Cous Cous, I made these delightful little morsels: fresh figs, stuffed with rose-water flavoured marzipan and then bruléed. They are intensely sweet, but light and delicate, and a doddle to prepare. Try to get marzipan with a high proportion of almonds to sugar.

    For two:
  • 4 figs
  • 50g good, natural-coloured marzipan
  • 1 teaspoon rose-water
  • 2 teaspoons icing sugar

  • Knead the rose-water into the marzipan. Cut a deep cross in the tops of the figs and stuff with the marzipan. Dust thoroughly with the sugar. Either blast under a very hot grill or zap with a blow-torch, if you're into that sort of gadgetry - whichever way, you're looking to get a reasonable crunchy caramel topping without cooking the figs below.

    Sunday, October 14, 2007

    Moroccan Lamb Chops with Cous Cous and Chick Peas

    To celebrate the purchase of my own pans (the most fantastic pans in the world, nonetheless) I had a big cook up this evening. As the hiatus in posting reflects, I haven't been doing any thing particularly note-worthy recently. We have been eating to live. How depressing. Anyway, NEW PANS! Yay! For the record: Anolon Professional 5 piece set (milk pan, 16, 18 and 20cm saucepans and 20cm frying pan) for the bargain price of £100 in Debenhams. To which I added a 30cm frying pan, which is what I needed most - I am sick of cooking little breakfast pancakes one at a time, and having stirfrys go soggy through using a high-sided saucepan.

    I have never been to Morocco, and have eaten at only a couple of Moroccan restaurants, neither of them particularly inspiring, but have it in my head that the following is vaguely Moroccan after reading many recipes which claim to be such. The Moroccan lamb chops are simply coated in Ras El Hanout and then cooked in a beautiful new frying pan (though you could use any old pan or griddle, I suppose). Ras El Hanout means essentially "the best in the shop" and can contain any number of different spices. The major components of mine seem to be cumin, cinnamon and nutmeg and it is more aromatic than spicy.

    The couscous is mixed with chickpeas, dried apricots and some nuts for crunch, and the whole lot served along side a salad of rocket and chard (almost certainly not at all Moroccan, but some vegetation was necessary).

    Moroccan Lamb Chops
  • At least two lamb chops per person, depending on size
  • 1 level teaspoon Ras El Hanout per chop
  • Olive oil for frying if necessary

  • Cous cous with Chick Peas (enough for at least 4 servings)
  • Half red onion
  • 400g can of chickpeas (or home-cooked if you're organised)
  • 200g cous cous
  • 75g dried apricots
  • 400ml vegetable stock
  • 25g flaked almonds
  • 25g pine nuts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Juice of half a lemon

  • Sprinkle the ras el hanout over the lamb chops and turn them well, making sure the meat is coated evenly. Set aside and start the cous cous - this can stand and wait whilst the lamb cooks, but not vice versa. First dry fry the flaked almonds until fragrant and a pale golden brown. Set aside and treat the pine nuts similarly. Watch carefully as you do both as they burn very suddenly. Chop the apricots into 5mm thick bands. Chop the red onion and saute in the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the drained and rinsed chick peas to the pan. Pour in the vegetable stock, or water and then add some vegetable bouillon, bring to the boil then add the cous cous and apricots. Cover with a lid and turn off the heat. Whilst the cous cous steams, heat a large frying pan, adding the oil if using. When hot, add the lamb chops. Fry until brown and crisping on the outside but still pink and soft within. When the lamb is almost done, squeeze over the lemon juice and stir the almonds and pine nuts into the couscous, reserving a spoonful for garnishing on the plate. Serve the lamb along side the cous cous with a leafy green salad.