Turning a meal into a feast

It’s often too easy for me to lose perspective and forget gratitude. Life is busy and full and sometimes it feels overwhelming. I all too easily forget how fortunate I am, that my life is busy and full because of the many lovely people and opportunities that have come my way in the last few years. I forget how much I prefer it this way to a life that often used to feel lonely and empty. I start to feel that life is one set of problems after another demanding my attention. When I feel like this I need to slow down, look around me and look again for the things that I am thankful for and there are plenty. I find writing gratitude lists a useful habit at times like these and can recommend it to anyone feeling a bit underwhelmed by what they feel they have and overwhelmed by what they feel they have to cope with. My lists change from day to day, they generally include the big things like health and family along with an ever changing appreciation of small things that make the world more lovely like unexpectedly bumping into a friend or a new tablecloth or a sunny autumn afternoon.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” Melody Beattie

I’ve had a week where I felt almost swept away by worry and confusion. Thankfully a friend’s good counsel has got me back on track and everything in my head has once again begun to assume its proper size. I sometimes worry I sound smug on here, I hope not, I’m just very thankful that my life is the way that it is today. Anyway, today I’m grateful for a lovely, supportive husband, a freshly painted kitchen, people taking the time to read this blog and the discovery of a dish that pretty much combines stew and scones – two things I already liked very much individually.

Creamy chicken cobbler (adapted from here)

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 leek, sliced and washed
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 375g pack of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • ½ chicken stock cube
  • 300ml boiling water
  • 300g frozen peas
  • 75ml single cream

For the cobbler

  • 125g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 small free-range egg, beaten
  • 75ml buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 220°C/fan200°C/gas 7.

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat.

Add the onion and leek and gently fry for 5 minutes, until soft.

Add the garlic and cook for a further minute.

Add the chicken and thyme and brown the chicken all over.

Stir in the flour, cook for 30 seconds, then crumble the 1/2 chicken stock cube into 300ml boiling water and stir in the peas and cream.

Season well.

In a bowl, mix together the cobbler ingredients and season.

Turn out onto a generously floured surface and gently roll to about 2cm thickness.

Use a cutter to cut rounds (just like if you were making scones) and sit them on top of the chicken stew. Brush the cobbler pieces with milk and then bake for 15-20 minutes, until cooked and the cobbler is risen and golden brown.

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Lamb hot pot and pans envy

I’ve been suffering from serious pans envy recently. This time of year puts me in the mood for hearty, slow cooked dishes that warm you up when it’s cold outside. I have one cast iron le Creuset casserole which I use all the time (as you may well have spotted!) but it’s a shallow pan and while it’s ideal for some things I want a bigger deeper version. We are about to repaint our kitchen in a lovely 50s blue(well, Barry is) and I am already looking at blue le Creuset casseroles and putting one firmly at the top of my Christmas list. (Did I mention Christmas there?? – sorry!!!). One of those casseroles would be ideal for this recipe. It would allow you to brown the meat in the same dish that you put into the oven so you didn’t lose any of the lovely flavour from the bottom of the pot. I don’t have mine (yet!) but I do have a beautiful heart-shaped stoneware casserole which we were lucky enough to get as a wedding present. You can’t use it on the hob but it is a thing of beauty all the same.

Lamb hot pot

  • 600g lamb shoulder
  • 2 Tablespoons plain flour
  • 3 large potatoes – about 600g
  • 2 large onions
  • 4 medium carrots – about 200g
  • 1 big stick of celery – about 100g
  • A generous sprig of fresh thyme
  • A bay leaf
  • 500ml of lamb stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • Butter
  • Oil

You will need a deep casserole with a lid.

Preheat the oven to 170.

Toss the lamb in seasoned flour so it is lightly coated. The easiest way to do this is by putting the seasoned flour in a zip lock bag and adding the lamb and jumbling it about.

Heat a tablespoon of oil over a high heat and brown the lamb well then remove from the pan and set aside.

Slice the onions and fry them in the same pan until they are soft and just beginning to brown at the edges.

Slice the carrots thickly and chop the celery roughly.

Place the browned lamb and all the vegetables into your casserole.

Pour the stock in and tuck in the thyme and the bayleaf.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into thick slices.

Layer the potato on top, overlapping the slices.

Dot the potatoes with butter and season with salt and pepper.

Put the lid on and cook in the oven for an hour and ten minutes.

Remove the lid and cook for a further 50 minutes.

Serve with something green. We had sliced greens but cabbage would be good, or peas.

Nigel Slater – culinary hero

For most of my twenties I had the unadulterated luck to work in a bookshop, sadly now gone but in its day one of the biggest and best in the world. In the course of my job I got the chance to meet many authors but the person I was most excited about meeting and getting to sign my books was Nigel Slater. He writes about food passionately but in such an unpretentious way that it feels accessible to all and my well thumbed copy of Appetite was one of the first cookbooks to get me really excited about cooking. He visited the shop to do a stock signing for Toast which I had read in one sitting and had loved for its humility and humour. He was very kind to me as I babbled at him and good naturedly signed all my grease-spotted, floury copies of his books, as well as writing a dedication in a copy of Toast I was getting my dad for Christmas. He was and is a culinary hero of mine.

My good friend, Fi, seeing that I had started this blog, gave me a copy of the film of Toast which inexplicably I have never seen. So today I made a version of Nigel Slater’s lentils with sausages (I scaled it down a bit because there’s only two of us here) and tonight, while Barry’s out, I’m going to sit and watch Toast.

There’s something very beautiful about green lentils, uncooked they remind me of chips of some exotic semi-precious stone. Cooked they promise something hearty but not heavy and the contrast between the orange of the carrots and the green of the lentils in this dish satisfies my long neglected artistic side.

Lentils and sausages after Nigel Slater

  • Olive oil
  • 4 rashers smoked streaky bacon chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 1 carrot, diced roughly
  • 1 stick of celery, diced roughly
  • 200g green lentils
  • 750ml chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 big pork sausages
  • Chopped parsley

Fry the bacon in a heavy pan with a lid over a medium heat until it’s lightly coloured. Add the onion and let it soften for a minute or two while you chop the carrot and celery. Add them in too and let them soften but not colour. Add the lentils, stock, bay leafs and sausages. I made each of the big sausages I had into two smaller ones first by squeezing them in the middle, twisting them then cutting them in half. Bring it to the boil then turn it down to a simmer and cook it with the lid on for half an hour, stirring occasionally. Add the parsley, season and serve.

Chicken double chickpea curry

I’ve been making versions of this dish for a few months now since I discovered the original recipe on the BBC Good Food website. We love chickpeas in our house and I am particularly fond of kala chana or brown chickpeas. If you’ve not tried them, you should – they are smaller and have a bit more bite to them and a slightly nuttier flavour. Supermarkets tend to stock them these days, sometimes in the ‘international’ food section or just in with the other pulses. The original recipe only contains one tin of normal chickpeas but more and more often these days I find myself adding an extra tin of pulses to recipes like this. It’s economical as the dish goes further and I just prefer the less meaty result. I like to think my husband is coming round to my way of thinking.

I’ve made this recipe using chicken breast as originally suggested and it was lovely and probably very low fat but I think all in all I prefer the result you get when using chicken thighs. I’ve tried cooking it on the bone with the skin on but we’re trying to lose a bit of weight round here so skinless, boneless thigh meat is our happy medium – moister and tastier (to my mind) than breast meat but without the skin a reasonably low fat option.

Making my own curry paste always struck me as too much hassle in the past but using the food processor it’s really very straightforward and the whole dish can be made in under an hour. You can adjust the spiciness by leaving out some of the chilli – the boy, who is 5 and not mad keen on very spicy food enjoyed eating this.

  • 2 onions, quartered
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 3cm piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of medium curry powder
  • ¼ teaspoon of turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons of paprika
  • 1 red chilli, seeded and roughly chopped (or less if you prefer less heat)
  • Fresh coriander
  • Chicken stock cube/powder
  • 425ml boiling water
  • About 500g of boneless, skinless chicken thigh fillets
  • 1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tin kala chana/brown chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Small pot of natural yoghurt

Put the onions, garlic, ginger, chilli and spices into a food processor and blend them into a paste. Add a tablespoon of water to help it blend if you need to.

Cook the paste in a large heavy based pan over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring it frequently.

Add the stock and the boiling water and mix it in.

Add the chicken and simmer for half an hour or until the meat is tender.

Add the two tins of chickpeas and cook for another ten minutes.

Serve with basmati rice and naan or chappatis. Drizzle with the plain yoghurt and sprinkle some chopped fresh coriander on top.

“Turning the Tables” and a tasty tea

I’ve not posted in a couple of days as things have been pretty hectic round here. It was the boy’s fifth birthday party on Saturday so we were getting prepared for that and then afterwards – recovering.

Friday started off relaxing enough with a visit from my friend Jo and her daughter. We caught up over coffee and some of the mint chocolate cookies I made and froze for later the other day. Jo has a lovely blog called Binds You to Me where she writes about family and interiors(and lots of other stuff) and makes me jealous with her impeccable taste and gorgeous home. She brought me an amazing book as a present “Turning the Tables” which contains recipes and reflections on food and cooking by fabulous women like Angela Carter and Miriam Margoyles. It brought back fond memories of childhood when my mum’s bookshelves were full of books from feminist publishers, few of which sadly survive today. I’m looking forward to reading it and attempting some of the recipes.

Later on Friday was taken up by making up party bags for Saturday’s festivities and then suddenly realising it was nearly 5.30 and we hadn’t thought about tea*. The recipe below (so simple it barely qualifies as a recipe) is a quick and tasty tea that we quite often fall back on. If you don’t have chorizo, smoked streaky bacon would be nice too.

*A note on the use of the word tea – tea is used here in the good Scottish sense to denote the evening meal.

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Pasta with chorizo and tomatoes

  • 200g chorizo, chopped into small pieces
  • 200g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Garlic purée or a crushed clove of garlic
  • Salt and pepper
  • Long pasta – spaghetti or similar
  • Tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil

Fry the chorizo in a little oil until it has begun to crisp at the edges.
Add the tomatoes to the hot pan along with the garlic.
Allow to cook down until the tomatoes are collapsing and you have a sauce-y consistency. Add the balsamic and let it cook off.
If the sauce is a little dry looking then add some of the hot pasta water.
Once the pasta is ready, drain it and add it to the sauce in the pan. Toss it around until it’s all coated and then serve with plenty of Parmesan and black pepper.

 

Easy lamb steaks with aubergine

I’ve made this a few times recently because it’s very simple and makes a tasty tea for nights when you don’t want to spend much time in the kitchen. My husband likes it because it has a big bit of meat in a starring role which he considers one of the essential qualities in any meal. It’s vaguely based on a Delia recipe which I remember involved all sorts of complicated aubergine salting which I don’t bother with in my version. It’d probably be better with fresh herbs but I quite often don’t have any so dried is what I used.

  • 2 lamb steaks
  • 1 medium aubergine
  • 1 vine tomato
  • A generous handful of cherry tomatoes – I’m loving the multicoloured ones some of the supermarkets are selling now
  • Some dried rosemary and oregano(or whatever dried herbs you fancy)
  • garlic puree
  • salt and pepper to season

Preheat the oven to 200/gas mark 6. Chop the aubergine into cubes and fry in an ovenproof dish until it is beginning to brown at the edges and soften. Put the dish into the preheated oven.

Chop the cherry tomatoes in half and roughly chop the big tomato. After ten minutes or so, add them to the aubergine in the oven along with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, a squirt of garlic puree and the dried herbs.

If you have a griddle pan, use it to griddle the lamb chops so they are just sealed and marked, if not just brown them in a pan.

Add the lamb to the vegetables and put it back in the oven for 5-10 minutes depending how you like your lamb.

Take it out the oven, season, and let it rest for a few minutes before serving.

Serve with nice bread to mop up the juices.