Halloween Sausage Stew

With Halloween approaching, this hearty stew looked like a good contender. We found it on the Sainsbury’s Homemade By You website, but their version looks much better than ours because they go to the effort of decorating tortilla pieces to look like gravestones and using herbs to create a grass effect. Voila – a graveyard for dinner!

It’s a quick and easy meal to knock out. First brown the sausages, then cook the other ingredients and once it’s all simmering add the sausages back in and leave it to simmer. With all that simmering it takes quite a while to cook but it’s a very “hands off” affair with virtually no effort required and very little washing up is generated either.

Steak Pie

Sometimes only a pie will do. After the success of chicken pie last week it seemed appropriate to give a steak pie a try, but a quick skim of our recipe books didn’t really turn up anything suitable. So this recipe is put together from two places. Firstly, it uses the “Steak & Kidney Pie” recipe from Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat, but because we were making it for two people we had to scale down the ingredients and as part of this we ditched the kidneys. But rather than making a pastry using self raising flour as Nigella does, we fell back on the good old reliable shortcrust recipe and technique we picked up from John Whaite.

It takes a while to make this one. You chop the celery, carrot, sage and onion finely and fry for a few minutes. Then the beef is tossed in flour, pepper and nutmeg and browned in a pan. The beef is then added to the vegetables along with some stout and beef stock in a casserole dish, then popped in the oven with a lid on at 150C for 2 hours.

In the meantime make and chill the pastry and line a dish (should be a pie dish but we used a cake tin!), then transfer the cooked steak into it, glaze the top with milk and bake in the oven at 190C for about half an hour.

The resulting pie looked spectacular and tasted great. The only grumble was that it was a bit bitter – I think this was because in scaling down the ingredients I’d not used as much beef stock as I should have and used too much stout. But this wasn’t enough to detract from what was a bloody marvellous pie!

Italian Vibe Vegetable Soup

We’ve been followers of Dennis The Prescott on Instagram for quite some time now, so when we were looking for something healthy to eat and he posted a link to this recipe for Italian Vibe Vegetable Soup, we thought we’d give it a go.

There’s a mountain of vegetables and healthy stuff in this, so you can’t go too far wrong with it. We had to make a few substitutions but nothing drastic – for example, we had no conchigle pasta so we used macaroni instead.

Somewhere along the line I made a mistake because my quantity of liquid seemed to low. As such, this turned out to be more of a pasta and vegetable stew but still tasted great.

Chicken Gumbo

After the tasty jambalaya we made a short while back, it seemed appropriate to make some chicken gumbo as a follow up. None of our recipe books really have much in the way of creole recipes, so we went with a recipe we found on the BBC Good Food website.

Things didn’t get off to a good start when the online shopping delivery didn’t come with any okra (they tried to offer us some pak choi as an alternative – clearly the person who packed our shop had no idea what okra was!).

I was also a bit worried when I started to read some of the comments under the recipe which said that it was bland and unauthentic. There was no need for concern though. I made the whole meal for 4 for just the two of us (some comments suggested that the recipe was a bit measly in terms of portions) and the quantities seemed to work out just right. I was a bit heavy handed with the spices too – “just in case” – and it all seemed to come together really nicely. The flavours seemed (to my British palate) pretty authentic and we thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing.

The recipe suggested serving with some rice or bread – Mark had brought home some freshly baked rye bread which, when smeared with lashings of butter, complemented the whole thing beautifully.

Courgette and Lentil Dhal

How much health can you get in a single bowl? Quite a lot, actually, when you’re using the Thrive on Five cook book. We’ve raved about this book before but the long and short of it is that it contains recipes which will give you your five portions of veg for the day in a single meal. There are a lot of nice recipes in the book (although some of them can get a bit samey – I’m looking at you, mushrooms) and we found this one we hadn’t tried before.

There’s a lot of spices and interesting flavours going on in this meal, but it upset me by requiring the use of the food processor to blitz carrot and celery (I hate anything which creates washing up!). The end result was very tasty but Mark enjoyed it more than me. Some brown rice and chapatis rounded out what turned out to be a very filling and tasty meal.

Followed by a slice of the healthy cake we made at the weekend, it’s 6 portions of fruit and veg in one sitting!

Chicken Jambalaya

I’ve loved the food of the deep south for many, many years and every now and then I get a hankering for some good old jambalaya. Over the years I progressed from jars of sauce bought in supermarkets through to actually making things myself, but I never really found a recipe I was happy with. Tonight though, the hankering was back so I decided to give a new recipe a try and I found this one on Delia Smith’s website.

That said, I wasn’t overly impressed with the presentation of the recipe on the website. It broke the cardinal rule by listing ingredients in a different order to the one in which you need them, and there was also a mistake in that the Tabasco sauce was listed as part of the garnish when it’s actually an ingredient.

I also thought the amount of liquid added was wrong – it took much longer to reduce than the recipe said (and the recipe said leave the lid on; we ended up leaving it uncovered).

But the end result was well worth it – I’m not saying it was 100% authentic, especially given we were using chorizo instead of andouille sausage… but it was a damn good approximation.

Cottage Pie

This is another one of the recipes tucked away in the “children” section of Nigella’s How To Eat but which, as an adult, I would most happily eat.

Although it’s notionally a pie the assembly is a bit different. Chop the carrots, onions and celery and soften them in a pan. Add the chopped onion and then sliced mushrooms. When cooked, add the beef mince and when it’s cooked add a good slosh of marsala, another of Worcestershire sauce (or soy sauce) and a small tin of chopped tomatoes, pop a lid on it and simmer for about half an hour.

Once it’s done, top with mashed potato and put under the grill to crisp the top, then serve up. It’s a wonderfully filling and homely meal. I also added a few frozen peas whilst it simmered – partly to increase the vegetable count but also because the moisture from them helped stop the filling from burning to the pan as it simmered.

The end result was lovely and calming. Could have used a bit of salt and pepper – that probably wouldn’t have been an issue if I’d used soy sauce instead of Worcestershire, but I like the tang which comes from the latter.

Lancashire Hot Pot

I was born and raised in Lancashire (in fact, a bit of family history shows one branch of the family has been in the Preston area since the mid 1700s), so traditional Lancashire Hot Pot is something I was raised on and it always holds a soft spot in my heart. When I used to come home from University it was one of the first dishes my mum would make for me.

With that in mind, I decided to make one and settled on this recipe from James Martin. However, when it came time to actually cook it I realised it would take forever since it’s supposed to simmer for a few hours before you even add the potatoes. Therefore, still craving the taste of my homeland, I decided to wing it.

The other oddity with the recipe as printed on the BBC Food website was that the quantities looked wrong. Simmering something in 100ml of water for 2 hours seems like a recipe for disaster, so I adjusted quantities accordingly. The end list of ingredients was as follows:

  • 450g diced lamb
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1 tbsp chopped mint
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 500g potatoes
  • A few small pieces of butter

I browned the meat in a casserole dish with a bit of olive oil, then added the tomato puree, followed by about 500ml of beef stock made up using a stock cube. I brought this to the boil and simmered, covered, for about 30 minutes before adding the chopped carrot, onion and celery. This was all left to simmer, covered, for another 10-15 minutes before adding the chopped mint and the cornflour which had been mixed with a little water. Finally, slices of potato were put on top and the whole thing went into the oven, spotted with butter on top, for about 30 minutes. The oven was at 180ºC but I cranked it up a bit at the end to try and make the potatoes crispy.

The end result was super tasty and delicious. Maybe not wholly authentic (I don’t recall my mum using celery!) but very nice indeed!

Slow Cooked Sticky Lamb and Vegetables

More Nigel Slater inspired food for a Sunday afternoon. This is one which takes a while to cook, but is well worth.

In short, you brown the meat (Nigel uses oxtail but we used some cuts of lamb on the bone) then add some celery, onion and carrot chopped into biggish chunks. Before browning the meat, toss it in a mixture of flour, mustard powder and cayenne pepper.

Next add the best part of a bottle of wine and some herbs, stick a cover over and leave in the oven for 2 hours. We also added some orange peel on Nigel’s suggestion.

End result is as you’d expect – the wine reduces to a sweet and flavoursome sauce and the meat is so soft it falls off the bone. Delicious and obviously goes well with buttery mashed potatoes to mop up the juices!

Spaghetti Bolognese

Happy Christmas folks! Part of my present from Mark this year was a fabulous signed copy of The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s basically a diary of what Nigel cooked for a year – it’s like a set of recipes for what’s in season, but more granular than that.

It may be December, but this recipe comes from the January section of the book. It’s a simple bolognese using nothing particularly unusual – carrots, garlic, onion, celery, pancetta, mince, bay leaf, chopped tomatoes and vegetable stock. It’s seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

What makes it different is the amount of time spent cooking… it simmers for a good hour (Nigel even suggest pushing that to 1 1/2 hours), and then adding some cream or full fat milk and simmering for another 20 minutes. The end result is sublime… far richer and smoother flavours than any other bolognese or ragu I’ve ever made.

If this first chapter of The Kitchen Diaries is anything to go by, we’re in for some tasty treats in 2016.