Lola and Finn's Mum

Lola and Finn's Mum

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Pea and Ham Soup. Not as simple as you might think...

So I had a plan to make pea and ham soup and it was inspired in part, by my grandma's amazing ability to take a ham bone and a handful of pulses and transform them from humble ingredients into something magnificent. Yes, there is a possibility that my memory of grandma's soup has been embellished in my own mind with a faint sprinkling of nostalgia, but what is certain is that it was the antidote to cold and dark winter nights and it was a meal in itself, transported from her home to ours in a Thermos flask, dished up, then consumed with gusto,  sat at the table at home, and it was the best soup I have ever had. But then, put me in a Michelin starred restaurant and serve me up a consomme made from the tears of mermaids (or something) and I know which soup I will be yearning for.
Anyway, you'd think such humble food would be easy to source wouldn't you? A ham shank and split peas? Not a bloody chance. I went to two supermarkets to buy green split peas (my split pea of choice) and you would think I had gone shopping for the aforementioned tears of mermaids. If I'd wanted adzuki beans or farro then I could have filled my trolley. Split green peas? Nope. And it wasn't that they'd sold out; no gaping chasm labelled green split peas could be found. Pffft. And you probably know already that if you want any meat other than skinless chicken breast, go to a proper butcher. The asking for an uncooked ham hock will often result in a disappointing answer. I abandoned all hope and came home to google.
Anyway, to cut an increasingly long rant story very, very short, a bit of googling came up with pea and ham soup made with frozen peas, Marco Pierre White stylee. And whilst it was nothing like what my grandma used to make, it was very green and very tasty. If I could say it was sweet and salty without that statement sounding revolting, that's exactly what it was. And whilst the colour 'green' is an anathema to Finn in particular when it comes to food, he entertained this a little when I told him it was liquidised monster. He didn't clear his plate; he rarely does. But he ate the ham and some of the soup before declaring that enough was enough.
Since then, I have found split peas. The challenge to recreate the best soup I ever had is back on.
Pea and Ham Soup adapted from Marco Pierre White's recipe
Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad twice
1 x knuckle of smoked gammon (it will weigh approx 1.3kg) (I used a large ham hock)
2 sticks celery
2 large carrots, halved
4 onions, halved
1 sprig thyme
2 bay leaves
12 white peppercorns (I used black peppercorns)
Salt to taste
1.2kg Bird's Eye peas
40g unsalted butter (I didn't use this)
Make a stock by placing the gammon into a large saucepan, along with the celery, carrot, onion, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns and two large pinches of salt. Cover with cold water, put the lid on the pan and bring to the boil.
When boiling, immediately reduce the heat to a gentle simmer.
After 20 minutes, use a slotted spoon to skim off the scum from the water's surface.
Continue to simmer for about 11/2 hours, topping up with warm water if necessary. After two hours, turn off the heat.
Carefully remove the hot ham from the saucepan and place it on a carving board. Carve the joint while it is still hot and cut the slices into bite-sized pieces. These will later be used in the soup.
Sieve the stock, discarding the vegetables, peppercorns, thyme and bay leaves. Allow the liquid to cool before chilling it in the fridge.
Thaw the peas until semi-defrosted, and then liquidise them with the chilled stock.
Pass the pea and stock purée through a sieve. (I just blitzed it - a bit of texture is just fine for me!)
In a saucepan, heat the sieved purée, but don't boil it or the liquid will lose its vibrant green colour. Season with salt to taste and stir in the butter for richness. (I didn't add the butter).
Place the pieces of ham into bowls and pour over the soup.


Friday, 25 January 2013

In case the snow comes again (fingers crossed!) Venison Stew

Some people don't like snow. Luckily, I have firmly held on to my inner child and adore the stuff. If there is any better weather induced happiness than making the first footprint into virgin snow then I don't know what it is. Even lounging about on a sun lounger in the Mediterranean sun is only equal to the contentment I feel striding out through the white stuff. But then, in winter, I want snow. I expect snow. I am not a fan of three months of cold rain and grey cloud. And, because I am a subversive soul, I smile inwardly and outwardly at the chaos it brings. What's that? Snow day? Fabulous. Where's the sled?

The garden...
The oak tree...
The kids!
So if, like me, you have a penchant for sledging and snow in all its forms, you'll be wanting a meal to mind its own business, cooking away whilst you are busy outside pretending to be six or seven years old. And when you come in, hands stinging through cold, nose red, toes numb, glowing with youthful exuberance, your house will be alive and warm with the aroma of winey meaty stew. Your job will be to whip up a little bit of mountain of mash and some iron rich greens and then dish up. Wow. I sound organised.
I am frequently visiting Taylor's Farm Shop in Lathom, Lancashire and it was there that I found some diced venison which was cheaper per pound than the beef I was planning to buy. So, because I am, fundamentally, skint I decided on buying that instead, as well as my regular ham hock and about a tonne of steak mince. It was this Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall recipe that I had in mind when buying my meat when made, turned out to be a lovely light, but substantial dish. (Mash helps here, clearly!)
Lola and Finn's reaction? Well, after they'd thawed out they liked the dish in general. They really liked the gravy which though thinner than you might be used to, is really flavoursome. The meat is lean and benefits from the slow cooking indicated in the recipe. Finn even ate the cabbage and liked it. I imagine they will have nailed the lid on and I still won't have figured out what makes him tick when it comes to the food he chooses to eat. Crazy.
By the way, there is a distinct lack of pictures here and the reason is that I am 'between cameras'. I was bought a very jazzy technical camera for Christmas which is very nice but I still haven't figured out how to take pictures without blurring them. Anything that looks clear is through luck more than judgement. It also eats batteries like you wouldn't believe and that means I use my retired camera whilst my jazzy camera's batteries are charging. And then I forget I've done that. And then I delete them by mistake...
Venison Stew, adapted from Stewed Venison by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall
(The quantities here are halved from the original recipe - enough to feed Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad)
1 tbsp oil (or dripping)
125g salted pork belly or pancetta, cut into chunky cubes (I used diced pancetta)700g venison neck and shoulder meat, cut into large chunks (I used diced shoulder)1 onion, peeled and finely sliced
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into big chunks
1 sticks celery, sliced (I diced mine very small or those who don't like celery)1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme (I used 1 tsp dried thyme)75ml red wine (I used a Cotes Du Rhone)250ml-plus beef or game stock (I used beef, and you need enough to cover the meat and vegetables) Salt and black pepper
Heat the oil in a large, heavy frying pan.
Add the pork and fry gently until it is lightly browned and the fat runs.
Transfer the pork to a casserole, but leave the pan and bacon-flavoured oil on the heat.
Now brown the venison, in batches, transferring it to the casserole as soon as it is lightly coloured.
Add the onions to the pan and sweat until soft but not brown.
Transfer to the casserole, then add the carrots, celery, bay leaves and thyme to the pan. Deglaze the pan with wine - allow it to bubble for a minute, to evaporate some of the alcohol.
Pour over the meat, along with the stock and a little water if needed: the meat should be covered by a good couple of centimetres.
Season sparingly with pepper, but not salt (the bacon will be quite salty).
Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, at a very low, tremulous simmer for one-and-a-half to two hours (up to three if you've used neck or shanks on the bone), until the meat is very tender.
(You can also cook it, covered, in a slow oven - about 140C/275F/gas mark 1.)
When the meat is cooked, taste the stew and adjust the seasoning. The juice will be thin, but well-flavoured.
Serve with a dollop of good, buttery mash and steamed seasonal greens.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

The best meal this year and Finn agrees! Lamb Ragu.

It's probably worth emphasising the fact that it is still only January, and the declaration in the title is subject to change. What isn't up for change is the fact that (trumpets please...) FINN LIKED THIS! Being that he is a finicky little bugger with a taste for the bland, the recognisable, the processed and, weirdly, shellfish and caviar (how can you put all those together in one sentence?) this is a momentous event. It is also one of the ways in which I am going to tell you that you must make this recipe because it is amazingly good. Honestly, it's wonderful!
The fact is that I would never have happened upon this recipe and more specifically the book that it came from if I hadn't found myself in TKMaxx looking for bedding. I was on a self enforced cookbook buying ban (I still am) but 'clearance' was next to 'bedding' and there this was battered looking, lonely cookbook dumped on a shelf within my line of vision. It was surrounded by the tat that TKMaxx have a cheek to try and sell, even though it is not fit for purpose such as chipped cups, photo frames without the glass, a pair of pillowcases with one missing - you know the type of thing, So, I picked it up. Price £2.00. It transformed from battered cookbook to orphaned child that was in need of a good home and consequently fell in my trolley. Yes, you're right. I am rambling.
So, the book is 'Urban Italian', an American book by Andrew Carmellini and save for a few Americanisms which I really don't understand, it contains some wonderful recipes which will now be tried due to the outrageous success of this one. I wondered how different lamb ragu would be in terms of taste and texture to 'normal ragu' if such a thing exists and it is different but I don't have the specific words to tell you how. If I can try, it's like this has a richer feel in the mouth and the components of the dish meld beautifully. I think, because it's lamb, I would be more than happy to serve this with potato as well as pasta. Without sounding like I have something akin to cooking OCD, I don't like putting normal ragu (read bolognese) with anything other than pasta. It doesn't taste right to me. Therefore, I served this with (shop bought) gnocchi because lamb and potatoes always go together, and they did. Next time I'll serve this with roasties and I don't care who thinks I am weird because it will taste fabulous.
Make this. You will not be disappointed.
Lamb Ragu, slightly adapted from Urban Italian by Andrew Carmellini and Gwen Hyman
( in cup measurements - American recipe)
My adaptions in red
Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad, twice (so 6!) 
For the ragu:
¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ pounds ground lamb (shoulder if possible)
½ cup finely diced carrot
½ cup finely diced onion
½ cup finely diced celery
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1 ½ cups dry red wine (I used Cabernet Sauvignon)
1 cup canned cherry tomatoes or good quality Italian canned whole tomatoes (I just used a tin of cherry tomatoes)
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or water) (I used lamb stock and put slightly less stock in to account for the increase in the quantity of tomatoes - see above)
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground fennel
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (I used dried)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
Parsley stalks from the parsley I used to garnish later
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper
To finish the dish:
Gnocchi or pasta of your choice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter (didn't use it)
1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese (I used Parmesan)
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint (didn't use it)
A sprinkle of parsley
Heat the olive oil in a large stew pot over medium-high heat. Ensure that it is big enough to brown all the mince at once, or else you will have to brown in batches. 
Cook the diced onion, carrot and celery. (PLEASE NOTE: This is different to the original recipe which suggests browning the mince and then adding the diced vegetables. Rightly or wrongly, I just prefer to do it this way round). 
Just before I drained!
Add the ground lamb, breaking it apart into small bits as you drop it into the oil, and brown it over high heat, about 5 minutes. If the lamb releases a lot of liquid, so that the meat begins to steam instead of browning, just drain off the juice and put the pot back on the heat to start the browning process again.
Add the tomato paste and stir to incorporate. Cook together until the mixture becomes a thick reddish mix, about 1 minute.
Add the red wine and stir to incorporate, making sure that no bits of meat or vegetable are sticking to the bottom. Use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to scrape down the sides; Cook until the wine evaporates completely: about 2 minutes.
Add the canned tomatoes and the broth (or water - or lamb stock). Then add the bay leaves, cumin, coriander, fennel, red pepper flakes, thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Scrape down the sides of the pot again.
Bring the mixture to a low boil, and then reduce the heat to medium - low to keep the ragu cooking at a simmer. Cook the lamb, uncovered, until the liquid evaporates and the flavours meld, about 1 1/2 hours. Continue scraping the sides of the pot at regular intervals to avoid burnt bits. The meat will turn dark brown and the liquid will turn a dark orange colour as it cooks. When it's done, all the flavours will be melded, and the sauce (if you've broken the meat up enough) will look like a sauce: dark brown, rich, thick, and textured.
Cook the gnocchi or pasta of your choice.
Drain the pasta, add it to the sauce, and stir together over the heat, adding the olive oil, butter, and mint to make it smooth and rich tasting on the tongue. (I didn't do this)
Remove the pot from the heat, ladle the pasta and sauce into individual bowls, and top with the pecorino (or Parmesan) and parsley.
Enjoy, as Phill and I did, with the remainder of the red wine.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Sod the diet: Chocolate and Amaretto Pudding

With the dearth of cookery programmes one can choose from to watch, it's nice when something a bit interesting comes along, presented by chefs with charisma. I barely watch some of the stuff that gets dished up on TV these days, in terms of cookery, because, frankly, it's dull. So, whoever came up with the idea of putting two Italian chefs in a little car and sending them on a visit to sample the changing lifestyle and culinary delights of their homeland was, frankly, inspired.
So, I bought the first of the two cookery books from the series 'Two Greedy Italians' and was spoilt for choice for what to make, to be quite honest. And as I am thinking of going to Italy this summer for a little bit of a holiday (via France, as usual!!) I am very interested in getting an Italian cooking repertoire together before I go.
Now, I could have started with pasta. But when you have a dessert that involves a) chocolate and b) booze, pasta wasn't going to win at any point. Plus, as Phill's birthday was looming large, it seemed decadent, yet easy enough for his birthday meal.
This is, and was, not for Lola and Finn. It does have a nicely bitter hit of amaretto which when you're 38 and 39 is heavenly, but when you are 5 and 6, it is disgusting. The other thing I would say is this is really quite easy to make, you can make it in advance and wouldn't shame an extravagant dinner party. Or even a non extravagant one. There's something about a shot glass of chocolate and several amaretti biscuits to dunk in that is at once sophisticated and homely and just completely and utterly right.
Chocolate and Amaretto Pudding, taken from the cookbook 'Two Greedy Italians' by Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo
Serves 6, (though I halved the following ingredients so that is fed Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad)
500ml/18fl oz milk
1 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, halved lengthways, seeds removed (I used a tsp of good vanilla extract)
80ml/2½fl oz Amaretto (or other almond liqueur)
100g/3½oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
50g/2oz unsalted butter
30g/1oz amaretti biscuits, crushed
Warm the milk in a saucepan over a low heat.
Mix the flour, sugar and vanilla seeds in a separate saucepan until smooth, then whisk in the warm milk, a little at a time, until smooth. Place the pan onto the heat and cook over a gentle heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring continuously.
Whisk in the Amaretto liqueur and continue to whisk until the mixture thickens.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chocolate and butter.
Spoon the mixture into serving glasses.
You can serve this warm, sprinkling over the crushed amaretti biscuits, or you can do what I did, which was put them in the fridge for about 2 to 3 hours to cook and solidify a little, removing them just before serving and sprinkling over the crushed amaretti biscuits.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Definitely NOT a Greek Tragedy - Lamb Casserole with Feta Dumplings

Yes, I know the title is cack but I've already used 'It's all Greek to me' and I was desperate for something to suggest the Greek influence of this dish, and whilst I know that what I am about to write is not the literary definition of tragedy, the fact is that this dish made everyone happy, ergo, not a tragedy. Yes, like I said. Cack.
Anyway, moving on, As soon as a google search revealed this dish I knew I had to make it, not least because it contained the word 'dumplings'. The original search happened because I had lamb mince and felt like something with a Greek influence but not moussaka, mainly because of a lack of aubergines in the fridge and because (whisper it) I don't always like moussaka. I find it too greasy. However this recipe appealed immensely as I was struck by the combination of intensely tasting lamb mince, submerged beneath feta flecked carb.
Madeira. No, not the island. I always like to try recipes for which I already have the ingredients or else the ingredient I buy is something that is not going to sit at the back of the cupboard gathering dust until I unearth it again and have to throw it out because it's two years past its 'best before' date. Anyway, I didn't have Madeira. I toyed with Marsala but decided that if I was going to do this properly I needed to go out and by a bottle and if it all went badly wrong I could drown my sorrows with the remainder. Or else find another recipe with Madeira in it. What I can say is that I am so glad that I went to get the right type of booze because it flavoured the mince with a depth that I couldn't have achieved with stock alone. It made the lamb mince robust enough to compete with the salty feta dumplings, in my opinion.
This recipe is taken from the TV programme 'Sunday Brunch' and is a Simon Rimmer creation. This is one of many of his recipes I have cooked over recent years which have been devoured with gusto and intense pleasure. I am embarrassed to admit that this is the first of his recipes that I have featured on my blog. It won't be the last.
I made few adaptions to the original recipe. What I did do however is make sure the dumplings were not too big and thick. There was a cobbler incident many years ago when I started this whole cooking malarkey where the cobbler looked cooked on top but the insides were still raw. Since then I've always made cobbles or dumplings a bit smaller to ensure even cooking. And if I'm not sure once the cooking time is up, I have a prod around or put some foil over the top and cook a little longer to make sure. But you will be fine, for you are not inept, like me.
Lamb Casserole with Feta Dumplings, taken from Channel 4's Sunday Brunch. Recipe from Simon Rimmer.
Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad, plus one other.
For the lamb casserole:
Vegetable oil, for frying
450g good-quality lamb mince
1 onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp tomato purée
Few sprigs rosemary (I also added some parsley)
200ml Madeira
200ml strong beef or game stock (I used concentrated beef stock)

For the topping:
225g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
100g unsalted butter, cubed
175ml sour cream
150g feta cheese
Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas mark 6.
For the filling, heat the oil in a deep heavy-bottomed saucepan and brown the mince.
Remove the mince from the pan and set aside.
To the same pan add the onion, carrot and garlic and fry gently to soften but not colour.
Add the lamb mince back to the pan, add the cinnamon and tomato purée and cook out for 4-5 minutes.
Add the rosemary, parsley, Madeira, stock and some seasoning, and bring to the boil.
Allow the meat mixture to simmer for at least 30 minutes until the sauce has reduced. At the end of this time, taste to check for seasoning.
For the topping, rub together or pulse together the flour, baking powder, salt and butter.
When it looks like breadcrumbs add the sour cream and do the same again. The dough will be very sticky. (Yes. Yes it was very sticky!)
Spoon the filling into individual pie dishes, (I just made one big dish) then spoon dollops of the batter on top.
Sprinkle over the feta and bake for 25 minutes until crisp and golden.
I served this with what I am going to call sauteed Mediterranean veg and a cheeky glass of red. It was truly lovely, and appreciated (in part) by Lola and Finn. Lola more so than Finn. No change there!


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