Salt Baked Lamb Shank

I picked up two lamb shanks that were reduced at the butchers counter of my supermarket and popped them in the freezer for a weekend meal. I have always slow cooked lamb shanks in a casserole dish until they fall apart and planned on doing the same thing here. I then remembered I had a cutout from a Good Food magazine showing how to make a salt crust to bake the lamb inside and whilst it looked more tricky than a regular casserole I thought I would give it a go. I was a bit concerned about how salty the meat would be, especially after I made the mistake of picking at a bit of caramelised juice that had leaked out onto the tray when I took them out the oven and found it tasted like pure salt crystals…but actually the taste was divine. The lamb has a lot more texture than when it is braised, mainly due to the fact it is steamed in its own juice rather than soaking in a bath of liquid, so it holds its shape a lot more. That it not to say the meat is not juicy, it really is, and the flavour is really deep and rich. I was worried about the lack of sauce which you normally expect with a slow cooked meat so at the last minute I panicked and made an onion gravy. It turned out very nicely but in future I would probably plan ahead and use proper lamb stock to tie the flavour together. It is always super exciting to get the blow torch out too – a lot more of a wow factor than just a casserole dish being presented on the table! You can find the original recipe on the Good Food website here.

Ingredients – serves 2

  • 500g plain flour
  • 150g fine sea salt
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 lamb shanks (French trimmed but see in method below if not)
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • drizzle of olive oil

Optional gravy and veg:

  • one red onion, finely sliced
  • splash of red wine
  • a tablespoon of some kind of jelly (redcurrant/apple etc)
  • 500ml chicken stock (preferably lamb though if you have it)
  • 2 tablespoons of plain flour
  • cornflour if needed
  • mashed potatoes (peeled maris piper potatoes, knob of salted butter, splash of milk, seasoning, and a handful of chopped fresh parsley and chives)
  • green vegetable (I used kale)

Method – takes about 5 hours from start to finish but only about 30 mins of hands on action!

Start by preparing the crust: mix the flour, salt and egg in a bowl with a wooden spoon and add water until it comes together in a heavy dry mixture. Knead for 5 minutes until it is smooth the fridge in a ball for an hour.

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Cut the dough in half and use a rolling pin to roll out until about 0.5cm thick. Place two garlic cloves in the middle and lay a shank on top. Use a pastry brush with some milk to dampen the edges of the dough, then wrap up the shank tightly. I didn’t have my shanks trimmed as it recommended in the recipe so I covered them up completely with the crust to hide all of the meat. As the meat shrinks away from the bone when it cooks it had a french trimmed appearance at the end so I would’t worry about it if you can’t. Put the parcels in a roasting tin lined with baking paper and cook in the oven for 3 and a half hours at 140 degrees (fan oven).

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Remove the tray from the oven and leave to rest for half an hour.

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During this time you could make a gravy and some vegetables. I made a gravy by first frying off the onions in the roasting tin that the lamb had been cooking in.

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Add the wine and let the alcohol cook off. Use the liquid to get any burnt or sticky bits off the pan. Add the jelly (I had some homemade apple spiced jelly from Christmas) and plenty of seasoning. Stir in the flour until soaked into the onions and let is cook for a minute. Add the stock and bring to a simmer for 5-10 minutes until it has thickened and it nice and glossy. Use cornflour to thicken if it is too runny. I like my gravy nice and thick so it coats everything I pour it on! Meanwhile I boiled the potatoes for ten minutes, then mash them with butter, milk, seasoning and fresh herbs. In the last two minutes I pan fried kale with seasoning and a squeeze of lemon.

When all the sides are prepared, cut open the lamb packages with a bread knife. On a baking tray drizzle the shanks with a little olive oil, then use a blow torch to sear the outside of the meat and give it an nice caramelised texture. Serve up with your choice of sides.

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Pork Ramen

This was my first attempt at a Ramen – I love a good noodle broth when I eat out in Asian restaurants so I was keen to give it a go myself. I was inspired (and followed quite closely) the recipe from Good Food which can be found here. My adapted recipe with simple instructions is below.

I was really pleased with the flavour of the broth and it was well worth the time it took to cook off the chicken properly before simmering in the water. The original recipe said it would serve 4 but due to me using less pork my recipe served two of us perfectly. I the used the chicken from the stock to make a pie later in the week, also using up the remainder of the tasty chicken broth so it actually did us two meals which is always a bonus!

I used pork belly because a) I couldn’t get a piece of pork shoulder and b) it was cheap. It actually turned out really well – I removed the rind before cooking and pulled away any fat after it was cooked and I was slicing it to serve up. The other major change I made was to use rice noodles rather than the characteristic wheat noodles of a ramen just to make it gluten free. I actually prefer rice noodles anyway but either will work fine. It looks like a lot of ingredients, but don’t be put off – the recipe itself is actually really straightforward and super tasty!

Ingredients

Stock

  • 20 chicken wings (about 800g)
  • 1 -2 carrots, quartered
  • 2 onions, quartered
  • 20g chunk of ginger, roughly chopped
  • 3 litres water
  • 4 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 400-500g joint of pork belly (halved if using two pans)

Main dish

  • 60g tinned bamboo shoots
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • large handful of kale (or other greens)
  • rice noodles
  • 2 spring onions

Pickle

  • 2 shallots finely diced
  • half a red chilli, finely diced
  • 75 ml rice wine vinegar, plus a tablespoon for the bamboo shoots

Seasoning

  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sake

Method

Put the chicken, carrots, onions and ginger into a roasting tin and cook at 180 degrees (fan oven) for half an hour. Transfer to a large saucepan (I split it over two medium ones then combined it later after sieving). Pour in the water and add the mushrooms and pork to the pan(s). Bring to the boil, then simmer for 2.5 hours. Remove the pork (if soft), then continue to simmer the liquid for a further half an hour.

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Strain the broth and put back on the heat to reduce with a pinch of salt (to taste) until reduced by a third (reserve the meat from the chicken bones for another dinner!). During this time prepare the rest of the ingredients:

  1. Pickle the shallots and chilli in the vinegar with a good pinch of salt until serving
  2. Soak bamboo shoots in a tablespoon of the vinegar until serving
  3. Boil the eggs for 5-6 minutes then cool in iced water, peel and cut in half
  4. Prepare the seasoning by mixing ingredients in a small bowl
  5. Stir fry the kale (or other greens) for a couple of minutes with seasoning
  6. Finely chop the spring onions

Put the noodles in the broth to cook (unless using dried noodles in which case follow instructions on the packet) for a few minutes. Meanwhile drain the pickle and the bamboo shoots and put in separate serving dishes for the table.

Slice the pork and share between the bowls – do the same with the greens and the noodles.

Ladle the stock over the top then finish with the eggs, bamboo shoot, a sprinkling of spring onions. Happy slurping!

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Chicken Kiev

Chicken Kievs remind me of nights when my sister and I had to cook for ourselves when our parents were working. When I say ‘cook’, I mean I put a frozen chicken kiev with frozen potato waffles in the oven for half an hour and boiled some frozen mixed veg on the hob. Not very inspired, but we really liked it!

This is my method to make this nostalgic dish. I have used different recipes the few times I have made this and the recipe I share is a mixture of the best bits. I rarely buy chicken breasts mainly because I much prefer thigh meat for flavour and it is so much cheaper so i don’t see the point. This is one of those times when only the breast will do however. A large, free-range chicken breast with plenty room for stuffing in the butter is best. When the chicken is the star of the show as it is here I do think it’s worth spending a little more to get the best quality you can afford. The panko breadcrumbs are a recent find for me and I will never go back to homemade crumbs for something that benefits from the amazing crunch you get with panko – they are also becoming much more widely available in supermarkets.

There is just no competition between this homemade version and the days of the frozen kiev. Succulent chicken, crispy coating and garlicky herby butter oozing out of the centre… I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

Ingredients – serves two

  • two large chicken breasts (preferably free range)
  • 50g salted butter
  • handful of parsley, finely chopped
  • handful of chives, finely chopped
  • two garlic cloves, minced/grated
  • zest of half a lemon (or lime)
  • handful of plain flour
  • one egg (preferably free range)
  • 150g panko breadcrumbs

Method – takes 45 mins plus one hour fridging

Soften the butter with the back of a spoon then mash in the fresh herbs, garlic, lemon zest and season well.

Insert a sharp knife into the thickest part of the chicken breast and poke around until you have created a nice large hole inside.

Use your fingers to stuff the butter into the two breasts equally, pushing as far inside as you can. I like to use a couple of cocktail stick to close the chicken securely at this point – just be careful you don’t forget about them when eating later!

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Put the flour, egg (beaten) and panko crumbs into separate bowls and carefully roll each breast in each of them in order, covering them completely. For an extra crunch and for the best covering, redo the egg and panko crumbs a second time. Pop the chicken into the fridge for an hour to allow the butter to reset and help avoid leakages during cooking.

Meanwhile, I like to serve my kiev with some kind of potato and vegetable. This time I made roasted sweet potato chips and stir fried greens. For this I finely sliced one sweet potato and tossed it in olive oil and plenty of seasoning. I the roasted in the over for 45 minutes with a couple of garlic cloves. Towards the end of the cooking time remove the garlic cloves and squeeze out the centre – toss the chips in this for a lovely smoky garlic flavour. Just before the chicken was cooked I stir fried spinach and kale with a little butter, then served with a pinch of salt, plenty pepper and a drizzle of lime juice.

Back to the chicken. When it has set in the fridge, heat a frying pan on the hob to a high heat with a splash of olive oil, carefully place the chicken into the pan and brown on all sides. The pan MUST be hot otherwise your crumbs will just soak up the oil and go soggy – you want them to brown and stay crispy. Once browned, put into the oven (180 degrees fan) for 15 minutes on a pre-heated baking tray.

Serve your crispy chicken parcels with you choice of vegetable accompaniments, and get ready for the oozing goodness when you cut into them!

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Spanish Squid and Meatball Stew

Having just found out that a move to Spain is on the horizon for us for the near future I am becoming more inspired to try out new Spanish dishes. I am a big fan of good tapas – my favourite places for this in London are Boqueria and Barrafina – and I have tried to recreate some of the simpler dishes before. I have had Rick Stein’s ‘Spain’ book for quite a while but haven’t really made much from it. With a bit more time on my hands in the school holidays I had a look through and decided to try out the cuttlefish and meatball recipe here which appealed to my wholehearted love of squid!

As always I made a few adaptations to ingredients based on what I can get locally, but the thing I found most difficult was actually following the recipe in a logical order. It took me far longer than it needed to due to the order that I followed the instructions, so I have written out a more simple version below that I hope is useful if you try it yourself. I have never made a picada (traditional sauce used in Catalan cooking to thicken and blend sauces) but it was quite simple and was a nice way of thickening the sauce.

You could easily serve this for two people with some crusty bread for soaking up the delicious sauce, but I chose to have it as one of a few tapas style dishes meaning that I had lots of leftovers. It tasted really good the next day too!

Ingredients (serves four as tapas)

Sauce

  • olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced/grated
  • one white onion, finely diced
  • glass of white wine
  • 200g ripe vine tomatoes
  • one tablespoon tomato puree
  • 150ml chicken stock
  • 300g raw king prawns (I had already peeled ones but you could use the shell-on prawns for added glamour and flavour!)
  • 375g whole squid sliced into thick rings
  • 100g frozen peas

Meatballs

  • 1 garlic clove, minced/grated
  • one slice of crustless white bread (I used gluten free) soaked in a splash of milk
  • a handful of chopped parsley
  • a grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 500g minced pork

Picada

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • one slice of white crustless bread (I used gluten free)
  • one vine tomato
  • small handful of parsley leaves

Method (doable in 45mins but allow an hour if its your first time)

In a large frying pan or paella pan sweat the onion and garlic for the sauce – it will take about 10-12 minutes on a gentle heat.

Meanwhile, in a separate frying pan start to prepare the picada. Fry the slice of bread and whole garlic cloves in oil until nicely toasted. Add these to the remaining picada ingredients to a blender (I used the mini insert for my food mixer but you could use an upright or hand blender). Once blended set aside.

Now go back to the sauce. Halve and then grate the tomatoes so that you are left with the skin that you will discard. Add the wine, the grated tomatoes, and the tomato puree to the pan and leave to simmer while you get on with the rest of the recipe.

During this time, make the meatballs. Scrunch together the milk-soaked bread with he rest of the ingredients with your hands until it is all mixed together. Roll into small balls (about 3cm in diameter) and fry in the frying pan you used for the bread earlier until they are browned on all sides (about 4 minutes).

Finally the seafood. Take the meatballs out of the frying pan and set aside. Use the same pan with new oil and turn up the heat. Flash fry the prawns, remove, and do the same with the squid. You want it to start becoming nicely caramelised which you will only get if the pan it hot enough – you don’t want to boil the seafood in it own juice.

Assembly time. Stir the picada and the stock into the tomato sauce and allow to thicken for a couple of minutes (it will still be quite a juicy sauce so don’t be alarmed if its still runny – thats what your bread if for dipping in at the end!). Add the peas and season (tasting of course) with salt and pepper. Finally scatter the meatballs, seafood and parsley and allow to come together and combine the juices for a few minutes before serving.

Serve the whole pan on the table and let everyone help themselves!

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The  other tapas I served alongside it: jamon croquetas and pan con tomate

Beef Cheek Wellingtons

I have never eaten beef cheeks before, but oh yes, I will again…

I picked up two beef cheeks due to them being on promotion at the butcher counter of local supermarket, and on account of never having come across them before. I quickly googled ‘beef cheek recipes’ and up came a Good Food recipe that sounded fantastic: Beef Cheek Wellingtons with Peppercorn Gravy. As it was a Sunday the 3hr 45min cooking time sounded fine – an afternoon of cooking awaited me!

Turns out the cooking time didn’t include the two periods of fridge time, both of which recommended ‘up to 24 hours’. Oops.

So I powered on with the Wellingtons adapting the timing as I went along. Other than this I followed the recipe and ingredients pretty accurately, so follow the link here for the full description. In step 3 where the mixture is cooled for an inordinate amount of time I made do with 15 minutes in the freezer. In step 5 I chilled the wellingtons for 15 minutes in the fridge before cooking.

I cheated by using ready rolled pastry which was another time saver, and given the small size of my counters I think its worth the extra pennies! As always, I attempted to make the sauce using creme fraiche instead of cream for a healthier alternative. It worked out really well and I would make it again for a steak sauce in the future. I served them with some stir fried crispy kale, seasoned with a pinch of salt.

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I was completely blown away by how amazing the meat tasted inside the little pastry parcels. Yes it was a bit of a faff rolling them up but it was totally worth it. What made it even more worth it was the fact that I had doubled the recipe from the start leaving us with an incredible week night meal that took 30 minutes int he oven to cook. A must for making this in the future and they can even be frozen individually to keep for longer.

Spanish Omelette

My husband is half Spanish, and has taken pride over bringing a couple of family recipes to our table. Sadly, the numerous attempts to replicate his dad’s omelette have not always turned out as planned, with one sad version being nicknamed ‘potato mountain’ as it was piled onto a serving plate…

The main reason I am sure we have struggled is the lack of a really good non-stick pan, so armed with a brand new frying pan I set out to have a go myself at getting it right once and for all. I did a bit of research to see if there were any other tips going and came across this post on the Guardian website.

I like to use Maris Piper potatoes normally but took advice from the post above and this time tried Charlotte potatoes. These are far smaller so a bit of a faff when it came to slicing (as a result we have now invested in a mandolin for next time!) but are also a lot softer which works well. I used about half a bag (maybe 600g) of potatoes, one and a half white onions and six eggs. It turned out brilliantly…

Method:

Slowly (on a low heat) cook the thinly sliced onions for 20-30 minutes, until they are nice and soft. Do this is plenty of olive oil (virgin or extra virgin ideally as the flavour really comes through).

Add the potatoes and cook (still slowly, and adding more oil if necessary) until they are really soft. This took me about another half an hour, and it really should’t be hurried as you don’t want anything to colour.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs with plenty of salt and pepper in a separate bowl (large enough for the next bit…).

This is the revolutionary step I stole from my reading: pour the potatoes and onions in the egg mixture and leave to sit for around 15 minutes. Try pour the oil off first to resume for frying, but this will depend on how much you have in your pan at this point. If you really can’t wait you could skip this step, but the flavour is worth it!

Finally, add more (or your retained) oil to the frying pan and turn up the heat a little. Pour in the potato egg mixture and leave to cook for about ten minutes or until it is coming away from the edges. If you think it is cooking too quickly, turn down the heat – you don’t want this side to be too dark. You want to be able to see the whole omelette move as one when you shake the pan. Use a plate to place over the omelette to flip and slide it back in (any loose egg or potatoes can just be slid back in too). Continue cooking for five more minutes, or until you are happy it is cooked to your liking.

I love an omelette served simply in wedges with a pinch of salt scattered over the top alongside a lovely green salad dressed with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and a large dollop of mayonnaise (or even better, aioli!). It can be served hot straight from the pan, or cooked in advance and served cooled. Enjoy!IMG_3672IMG_3673

 

Chicken Cacciatore

I was given Jamie Oliver’s new book ‘Everyday Superfood’ for Christmas and this is the first recipe I have made from it. The photograph in the book is very appealing for a winter weekend meal, and I am a big fan of a one-pot recipe for a Sunday lunch.

The recipe says it serves four which is accurate. I scaled it up to serve 6 (I had more chicken thighs than we needed) and we managed to have dinner for the two of us and quite a lot left which we froze in two batches. I shredded the leftover chicken off the bones first to make for more space and quicker defrosting. It was super tasty when warmed up and we served it with some couscous (stirred through with lemon juice, olive oil and some fresh herbs). An amazingly quick meal for a weeknight so definitely worth making a larger batch of the recipe the first time round!

In terms of the original recipe, I used the squash as indicated but might be tempted to try it for sweet potato next time round. I found the squash didn’t have a huge amount of flavour, but that might just be my preference. Apart from leaving the chicken skin on the thighs (way more flavour!) I stuck to the recipe closely which I always try to do the first time round.

Most annoying thing? It doesn’t say whether to put a lid on the casserole dish before putting it in the oven! I chose to put the lid on and I found the sauce to be too watery and by that time was too hungry to wait around for it to reduce. Next time I would try with the lid off, or try coating chicken and veg in flour before adding the liquid to help it to thicken. Fine if you are serving it with bread, but with the large amount of squash (or sweet potato) I didn’t feel it needed more carbs to be filling…

Overall we found the flavour of the mushrooms and olives was lovely and rich and the chicken was falling off the bone. I served it with some stir-fried kale simply seasoned with a pinch of salt and tossed in butter. Definitely worth another go with a few minor changes, and with the intention of freezing some meals for weeknights.

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Original recipe can be found on Jamie’s website here.