Wednesday, 26 September 2007

'tis the season... to eat pie

For someone who enjoys cooking, and lives in hope that England does have the odd dish or two we should remain proud of, it is with some embarrassment that I admit to you that before today I had never cooked a Shepherd's Pie. It's not that I've not wanted to, I've just never found the right recipe, had enough time or ingredients. I could offer more excuses but you get the point - it's just not happened. Anyway, so to cut a long story short, today I finally did - and it was so worth it!

I feel slightly self-conscious that a lot of my recipes seem to endorse the River Cottage - it's not intentional, however it did seem to make sense that the recipe came from The River Cottage Meat Book. I have to say I was very pleased, and felt the need to share - so here you go. As I may have mentioned before with other recipes, the quality of ingredients will obviously affect the final result, and for me the addition of homemade lamb stock in place of water was an absolute winner.


500g leftover roast lamb (I used fresh mince here, which was fine)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 onions, chopped
1-2 carrots, finely diced
1 garlic clove, chopped
Any juices or gravy saved from the joint, and/or concentrated lamb stock, made from the bone
1/2 glass red wine
1 tablespoon tomato ketchup
1-2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Up to 1kg creamy mashed potato (enough to cover your dish)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Roughly chop the meat into pea-sized pieces. Use a food processor if you like but be careful to stop whizzing before you turn it into paté. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan or wide saucepan that will accommodate everything. Sweat the onions, carrots and garlic in the oil until the carrots have softened slightly. You can let the onions brown just a little.

Add the meat and fry gently until nicely browned. Add the gravy or stock, plus the wine, kethup and Worcestershire sauce, then season with salt and pepper. Simmer gently for a few minutes, add a little water if the mixture looks dry. Taste for seasoning and add a little more ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, salt or pepper, as you see fit. Simmer gently for another 20-30 minutes, until the meat is tender and the flavours well blended. Do a final taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Again, add a little more water, or wine (or, as I did, stock) to loosen the mixture if you think it needs it. Whilst you want your pie to be juicy, clearly too runny is not good.

Put the meat in a pie dish and pile the mash on top (it's worth noting here that I made my mash quite dry, using just butter, and no milk or cream. The result was a brilliant crispy topping which I can heartily recommend.) Cover the meat completely and rough up with a fork (you can chill or freeze the pie at this point, for reheating later). Bake in a fairly hot oven (200 degrees C/Gas Mark 6) for 25-45 minutes - depending on whether the pie is warm or chilled when it goes in - until the mash is nicely browned on top and the sauce is bubbling up around the edges. Serve at once, ideally with minted peas.

** Warning, although this is supposed to feed 4-6 people (plus I did actually use slightly less ingredients) it didn't go quite that far. In fact, David and I pretty much almost polished this off in one sitting, but I will definitely be making it again, very soon.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Bottling up

The bottles arrived today, and not a day too soon if you ask me. They're rather lovely too, perhaps a little expensive, but at least they can be re-used. Above is a picture of the straining of the ginger beer plant. I'm still not allowed to sampled the goods for another two weeks, but I'm sure it will be worth it. My only concern is that the ginger won't be 'hot' enough like the Luscombe's Ginger Beer. Does anyone have any ideas on how to get around this?

Monday, 17 September 2007

Ginger Beer cont...

Well, I'm pretty sure that my ginger beer plant is now ready for me to finish off and bottle up. Which is precisely the problem - I have no suitable bottles! They are ordered, so it's just a case of convincing the plant to hang on in there until they arrive. I've ordered some like this from Lakeland. It's worth getting some with stoppers on, as I've heard it's pretty ferocious. This has even been confirmed by my Grandma, who was more than happy to recount the tale of the day the ginger beer exploded in their living room!

Anyhow, this is the recipe I have been following, if anyone fancies a go?

In case you are wondering what is in the bottle next the ginger beer plant, this is some chutney vinegar, which I have stewing for the next month or so. I've heard that the best results for a spiced vinegar come from leaving the spices to seep for a month or two, rather than boiling all up on the day. We shall see, although not for a little while. If you want to do this add your spices to a bottle with either white wine or cider vinegar, and then leave alone, giving it a shake once in a while.

I also made some more blackcurrant jam this weekend. I love the sharper jams such as raspberry and blackcurrant, and luckily I now have more than enough to see me well into the next decade!

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Jam for sale

Yes, shameless self promotion, but I have jam for sale on etsy here. These are only temporary labels - I'll be using Cookie's as soon as I have 'em ready.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Libyan soup with Couscous

My blog has suffered of late, and it is almost bedtime (how things have changed since returning to college) but I wanted first to say that if anything I've been cooking more (lunch options are not promising round the back of the Elephant and Castle at the best of times). Anyway, if I'm posting less it's because I'm settling into the über organisational ways that will be required this year. There is definitely still a place for rub a dub dub though... it might just take a while to find it.

Anyway, I thought I'd share one of my favourite things with you quickly, since I cooked it for supper this evening. Another recipe from Delia (have I mentioned it already?), Libyan soup with Couscous. I think the absolute secret between this being an alright soup and a sublime one is to make your own lamb stock beforehand. I save up all bones, trimmings and leftovers in the freezer just for this very dish. Honestly, it's that good! To top it off I served it with slices of seeded wholemeal bread, fresh out of the oven.

ps (apologies Delia, I was too consumed with the thought of eating it, that I didn't take the time to photograph it lovingly, as I would normally. This picture here has indeed been lifted from your site.)

Bad Ginger Beer Brewer

I have a confession to make - I went away for the weekend, and left the ginger beer plant at home to fend for itself. My recipe (and I am a stickler for following such instructions) says that the plant needs to be 'fed' each day for the next 10. Woops!

Still, on the positive side it doesn't appear to have suffered this neglect, and it's only been set back a couple of days. Now I just need to get my hand on some well-stoppered bottles to put it in over the weekend. I've heard it can be as exciteable as a bottle of champagne. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Back to the chutney

That's right, back less than one week and I've already made another batch of chutney (well, the last lot has almost gone already). This time the recipe hails from Hugh F-W (and therefore under the guidance of Mrs Parret I presume), irresistible to me, the main ingredient is courgettes - bliss!

And then today, this little beauty (along with some brothers and sisters) arrived in our veg bag today. Bearing the proud sticker 'Grown in Hackney by Growing Communities on land in conversion to organic' it is apparently a Purple Calabash. Tasty little fella - I would heartily recommend it to any budding horticulturalist seeking to grow more unusual fare.

And to those requesting the ginger beer recipe, I do promise it is coming, I just want to wait the 10 days to see if the plant (and therefore the beer) is a dud, or one to recommend.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Dark 'n' Stormies here I come!

Today I set up my first ginger beer plant; it might look gross, but I'm so excited!

Saturday, 1 September 2007

A sailor's return

I can get away with this title (just), because I have actually been sailing twice in the last two weeks. Who cares if I don't know the difference between a tack and a jibe?

Anyway, sadly no piccies of food, as I didn't quite manage to coordinate camera with grub, but A LOT of good local food made it's way to my belly (along with a considerable amount of pints of ale). It's fairly safe to say my belly has grown to pasty proportions!

Highlights included a daily pint of Cornish Knocker from the Chainlocker, right on the water's edge. It's one of the nicest places to have a pint in Falmouth - a proper old Cornish pub, selling lots of good local ales from the likes of Skinners and Sharp's Breweries, Weston's Cider and all the right seaside trimmings (framed knot pictures, a ship's anchor outside, that kind of thing). At around 5pm you can sit outside on the benches and watch seals follow the fishing boats in for any leftovers.

Roskilly's ice cream; I've said it before and I'll say it again, the best ice cream I've ever eaten. Top flavours are Hokey Pokey and Blackcurrant Yoghurt.

Pasties from The Natural Store on High Street in Falmouth. Ok, they're organic and from a health food shop, so maybe not the most traditional, but still the pastry isn't over-cooked, there's a good meat/veg ratio, no deviation from the recipe with fancy veg and for £2.50 what more could you ask for?

The farmer's market; just about 4 stalls every Tuesday morning on The Moor in Falmouth. All very local farmers and producers - the antithesis of the London Farmer's Market I guess. Lots of good cheese such as Cornish Blue and Tresco; a softly smoked hard goat's cheese, local veggies and meat, Honey from the Lizard, and finally bread, flour and pasties from The Cornish Mill and Bakehouse. This one was a real winner for me as I've recently been reading bits from Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery (well worth the read if you're into bread like I am) and so was pleased to see that not only do they grow and mill their own wheat (stoneground not roller) they then use it to produce a loaf called 'Homegrown'. It's delicious, quite different from the usual fare, as more flavoursome, and slightly cakier due to the lack of Canadian 'Hard' wheat found in all commercial English bread. Definitely worth seeking out if you're in the area though - it makes the most fantastic toast.

Sadly, due to my lack of a) a driving license and b) a car my edible odyssey was confined to the area of Falmouth. I am planning to remedy this, so there'll be further explorations to come!