Saturday, December 31, 2011

Chestnut, chorizo and lentil soup

I meant to post this just after Christmas to suggest what you might do with your turkey stock and other leftovers but events overtook me (including rather disastrously spilling a glass of wine on my computer) and here we are on New Year's Eve. Still, this is a great soup, whether you have turkey stock or not, which I've adapted from Sam and Sam Clark's excellent Moro cookbook.

The point I was going to make about turkey stock - and which you might like to bear in mind for next year if you haven't thought about it already - is that it's really rich and strong and therefore doesn't lend itself well to delicate soups or sauces. This one includes chestnuts, though in lesser quantities than the Sams use, chorizo and saffron and I also added some outer Savoy cabbage leaves I'd saved after making a slaw to go with the ham on Christmas Eve which adds a bit of colour as well. When I heated up the leftovers of the soup I dropped some torn pieces of sourdough toast which were also a good addition. (Note: this is less of a soup than a stew. You won't need much else, if anything, to eat!)

Serves 4-6
3-4 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions or one large one, roughly chopped
1 carrot, chopped into small pieces, roughly the same size as the onion
125g semi-soft chorizo, chopped (Tesco has a good one in its 'Finest' range)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chilli flakes or a crushed whole red chilli
1 tsp finely chopped thyme leaves or 1/2 tsp dried thyme or oregano
1/2 a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes or a couple of whole tinned tomatoes, chopped
200g vac packed or roasted or boiled chestnuts, roughly chopped
75g green or brown lentils
a pinch of saffron threads infused for 10 minutes in 3-4 tbsp hot water (optional*)
about 1 litre turkey stock or water
4-5 outer cabbage leaves or cavolo nero leaves
salt and black pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion, carrot and chorizo, season lightly with salt and cook for about 10 minutes over a low to moderate heat until beginning to brown. Add the garlic, cumin and chilli flakes or crushed chilli and thyme and cook for a minute, then add the chopped tomatoes, chestnuts, lentils and saffron, if using. Add the stock or water, bring to the boil then turn the heat down and simmer for about 15-20 minutes until the lentils are cooked. Remove the central rib from the cabbage or cavolo nero leaves, shred finely and drop into the soup about 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

* If you haven't got any saffron you could use half a teaspoon of turmeric which I'd add at the same time as the cumin. If you want to keep the soup veggie use 1-2 tsp sweet pimenton or paprika instead of the chorizo and maybe a touch of hot if you've got it.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Nibbles for New Years

Here's a few of my favorite things to munch on while bringing in the new year!
Bite size mini meatballs and a salad pizza.
Cold broccoli salad with lemon, garlic and olive oil.
Stuffed baby artichokes, because it wouldn't be a party with out them!
Sausage stuffed mushrooms, and goat cheese filled peppers with balsamic glaze.
Eggplant slices topped with tomato and fresh mozzarella.
Creamy pasta with prosciutto and peas.
Fennel, orange and olive oil salad as well as a seafood salad of shrimp, lobster and scallops, bathing in fresh lemon and olive oil of course!
Scallop gratin or just plain old lasagne, love it all!
Wishing you all a Very Healthy and Happy 2012!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Unstuffed stuffing

I'm never convinced of the virtue of stuffing a turkey. It just increases the cooking time and makes it harder to get the breast cooked at the same time as the legs. Maybe a bit in the neck but that's never quite enough to meet the family's stuffing needs. So here's a simple stuffing to make on the hob which also has the virtue of getting it browned and a little bit crusty. Yum.

Pan-fried pork, apple and prune stuffing

Serves 6-8 with a turkey or chicken

A 454g pack of sausagemeat or traditional English sausages (e.g. Cumberland) with the skins removed
About 3-4 tbsp dried natural breadcrumbs (i.e. not the bright orange ones)
1 medium egg, beaten
1/2 a small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 small flavourful apple (e.g. Blenheim or Cox), peeled and finely chopped
100g ready to eat prunes, finely chopped or snipped (it's easiest to cut them with scissors)
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp oil

Put the sausagemeat in a bowl with the breadcrumbs and the beaten egg and mix thoroughly together. Prepare the rest of the ingredients then mix them in too. Heat the oil in a small to medium size non stick frying pan and tip in the stuffing. Pat it down with a wooden spoon or fork until it resembles a cake then let it cook over a moderate heat for about 6-7 minutes, covered with a lid or foil. Turn the stuffing over. (Don’t worry if it breaks up, just mash it together again) Continue cooking for another 6-7 minutes or until till the stuffing is lightly browned and cooked through.

(No picture I'm afraid. Old recipe.)

Cookie Traditions Old and New

Each holiday season I like to add a few new cookies to my tried and true regulars, this year I wanted to try out these cookie stamps that I saw in my Williams-Sonoma catalog.
Each stamp is embossed with a beautiful design, a wreath, a snowflake and a gift tag.

The dough is a basic sugar cookie dough that has been chilled then rolled into balls, flattened and then stamped.
I was impressed how well the embossed design showed up, but the decorating part was another story! I bought those edible markers and they didn't work out very well on the bare cookies, next time, (if there is a next time) I'll use a piping bag with a small tip.

One cookie I can always count on our my Fig and Pistachio Biscotti  I make them every year and they are truly a favorite!

Along with Cucidati of course!

Traditional Italian fig cookies, it just wouldn't be Christmas without them!
Wishing all my readers a very healthy and happy holiday season filled with family, food and fun!
Thank you for all your support through out the year, I appreciate each and every email and comment!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Two good champagne buys this weekend

Christmas is always a big discounting time on champagne at the supermarkets but as I've pointed out in the longer piece I've just posted on my website you need to be careful about ridiculously cheap offers on brands you don't recognise.

Here are two that I think represent the best value this weekend - Sainsbury's creamy Blanc de Blancs Champagne at £13.99 down from £20.99 and the toasty Champagne Bredon Brut which is on sale at £13.49 (down from £26.99) at Waitrose until the shops close on Monday 19th. This has now reverted to its 'normal' selling price. The best offer from Waitrose now is the Duval Leroy Fleur de Champagne at £14.24, also a good deal. Updated 21.12.11

If you don't have a branch of either of these stores near you here's what the other supermarkets have to offer, along with some good deals on vintage fizz and a rather spectacular magnum from - guess who? Lidl!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hill lamb hotpot

Returning from high summer in Oz to the weirdest of weather back home in Bristol (this morning we had hail, thunder and bright sun, all in the space of five minutes) I feel the need for comfort food and can't think of a better option than a hotpot. Unfortunately I'm unlikely to have time to cook one until the weekend but thought you might fancy trying it too.

The recipe is from my book Meat and Two Veg and the very professional photo not by moi but the talented Jason Lowe. It's not authentic - no self-respecting Lancastrian would use something as poncey as white wine - but it is very tasty especially if you make it with hill or rare breed lamb. (How frugal that is of course depends where you live and whether you can source it direct from a farmer or farmers' market.)

The white pepper does make a difference with this kind of old-fashioned dish so do use it if you've got some.

Serves 4-6
6 lamb shoulder chops (about 750-800g)
2 level tbsp plain flour
3 tbsp vegetable or light olive oil
40g butter
3 medium to large onions, peeled and thinly sliced (about 450g)
1 large carrot (about 125g), peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium turnip (about 110g) peeled and thinly sliced
750g waxy red potatoes (e.g. Desiree)
125ml dry white wine (e.g. basic French vin blanc, muscadet, pinot grigio)
300ml chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 bay leaves
Salt and ground white pepper

You will need a large round or oval lidded casserole

Trim any excess fat off the chops and pat them dry with kitchen towel. Put the flour into a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Dip the chops into the flour, lightly coating both sides. Heat a large frying pan, add 2 tbsp of the oil and 15g of the butter. Once the butter has melted brown the chops on both sides (about 2 minutes a side) and set aside. Add the sliced onions to the oil and butter mixture and fry gently for about 5 minutes, stirring. Add the sliced carrot and turnip and any remaining flour, stir well and set aside. Peel and finely slice the potatoes.

Heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Pour the remaining oil in the casserole and wipe it round the base and sides. Put a good layer of sliced potato in the base of the casserole then a layer of vegetables, seasoning each layer lightly with salt and pepper. Arrange the chops on top and tuck in the bayleaves. Tip over the rest of the vegetables spreading them out evenly then arrange the rest of the potato slices on top.

Heat the wine and stock in the frying pan and pour carefully over the hotpot. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Melt the remaining butter in the frying pan and pour it over the potato slices. Cover the casserole and place in the oven for about 25 minutes until bubbling gently.

Turn the heat down to 150°C/300°F/Gas 2 and cook for a further two hours, spooning the juices over the potatoes half way through.

Turn up the heat back up to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6, remove the lid from the casserole and return to the oven for 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are well browned. Serve with something green and leafy like brussel tops.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ravioli for a Crowd!

I've been in party mode and haven't really cooked "normal" for a while, so I thought I would share with you how I prepped for a recent party I had for 26 with the main course being 200 homemade ravioli.
Homemade ravioli holds a special place in my heart because I can remember my mom and aunt making them together when my cousins and I were very young, white sheets covering dining room tables and beds, filled with drying ravioli. Today I make them a little different, no more drying on sheets, instead they go right into the freezer after they're made.

All the ravioli were made a few days before and tucked away in my freezer ready for the big day, we made two different versions, meat and cheese.

Because I would be cooking so many ravioli at one time, there was no way I wanted to be boiling them while my house was filled with people, so I opted to make them the night before, something I've never done.

During the week prior to my party I went to a local restaurant supply store and bought commercial size heavy duty foil sheet pans, they were perfect to lay my ravioli on in a single layer.
They were huge and covered my whole oven rack, and even though I don't have a commercial size oven I made them fit by slightly folding up the sides.

All my sauce was cooked ahead of time so assembling was pretty easy. After spreading sauce all over the bottom of the sheet pans I placed my slightly undercooked ravioli on top, single layer, placing more sauce on top. After they cooled down I sprinkled grated Pecorino on top and covered the pans with heavy duty aluminum foil and placed them in my second fridge, ( it's older and has bigger shelves).

The day of the party I took them out of the fridge and got them to room temperature and with the foil still on, I baked them for only 15 minutes in a 350 oven until warmed through, after they were done I dolloped more warmed sauce on top and they were good to go! For a big crowd this was the perfect way to make them, no hot boiling pots all over the place, all that was done in advance.

Thanks to my family, all my dear cousins and their families for such a fun night!

So if you ever doubted cooking ravioli ahead of time for a large crowd like I did, no worries because it was a complete success!

Buon Appetito!