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Lamb Tagine – prepare ahead for an easy life!

15 Jun

 I picked up a leg of lamb today. half price. from the supermarket and I am going to make a Lamb Tagine.  The recipe looks easy enough and I can prepare it ahead. I think it will actually improve with standing and it will give me a chance to use my new Tagine pot!  Lots of good reasons then to make it.

Tagine is a dish from North Africa, named after the earthenware pot it is cooked in.  The traditional Tagine has a flat circular base with low sides and a dome-shaped top.  The top is shaped like this to allow the steam to condense and return to the stew below, keeping the moisture in.  There is a knob at the top to facilitate easy removal of the top to allow additions to the stew whilst it is cooking.

Moroccan tagines are slowly braised at low temperatures.  This results in meltingly tender meat in aromatic sauces.  This cooking process is ideal for cheap cuts of meat so many recipes will use cheap cuts of lamb or chicken.  You will often find they include sweet ingredients such as dried fruits, preserved lemons and honey.  They will always, however, include spices, traditionally these will be a mix of  cinnamon, ginger, turmeric and paprika.  I used a leg of lamb, boned and cut into cubes, because my husband hates fat or chewy lamb.  The cooking time was almost halved, but I have kept the recipe as intended, ie, using cheaper cuts of lamb.

For years I would avoid cooking this meal.  I am not a lover of stews that combine meat with dried fruit and nuts.  What a fool I was!  The end result is absolutely gorgeous!!  Tagines are usually served with couscous.  I have never had any success with couscous and usually find it bland and tasteless.  This time I cheated and gave a ready mixed Moroccan couscous a try. All I had to do was add water and it was delicious.  I may have a go at making my own like this another time.  If you don’t like couscous, try serving it with rice or Orzo. I’m sure these would be just as good!

Here is the recipe.

Moroccan Lamb Tagine         Serves 6

  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1-2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 1.5 tbsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 2.5 lbs boned lamb, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1.2 tsp salt
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb onions, finely chopped
  • 6 oz ready to eat dried apricots
  • 3 oz toasted, flaked almonds
  • 1 tbsp clear honey
  • 1/2 pt tomato juice
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 pt hot lamb stock
  • chopped coriander to garnish
  1. Heat oven to 170C/150C fan/gas 3.Mix the spices together in a small bowl then add to the lamb, mixing to coat well.
  2. Heat 1 tbsp oil in an hob to oven casserole on a high heat. Brown the lamb in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan, adding extra oil for each batch.
  3. Turn down the heat to low and add the remaining tbsp oil. add the onions and cook until softened but not browned. Add the garlic and salt towards the end of cooking.
  4. Return the lamb to the casserole and stir in the remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil and transfer to a tagine or cover the casserole and cook in the oven for 2 hours or until the lamb is meltingly tender. Check occasionally and stir to ensure it is not drying out.
  5. Serve sprinkled with the coriander.

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Lamb Kleftiko – so delicious!

7 Jun

DSCI0292I had no idea there were so many recipes for this wonderful Greek lamb dish.  I remember first eating Lamb Kleftiko in Hersonissos old village, in the square, on a balmy summer night.  Absolute heaven.  I have loved this dish ever since but this is the first time I have made it.

There are so many ways of preparing this dish. Traditionally it is baked in the oven, wrapped in paper.  Apparently, kleftiko means stolen meat and, legend has it, that bandits would steal lambs while found grazing on the hillside then cook them for hours buried deep in sealed pits so that the smoke would not attract attention.  Many Greeks continue this legend, not by stealing lambs of course, but by sealing the lamb in a parcel and cooking it low and slow in the oven until the meat is so tender it literally falls off the bones and the potatoes cooked with it have soaked up all the meaty juices, flavoured with garlic, lemon and herbs.  Delicious!  Some cooks replace the parcel with a dish and seal the top of the dish with a dough before cooking in the oven. Many restaurants, however, now cook and serve Lamb Kleftiko in individual casserole dishes.  Whichever way it is cooked the outcome is similar as it is the long, slow cooking that is key.

This recipe is unbelievably simple. Just mix all the ingredients together then leave the oven to do all the work for a couple of hours.  I chose the recipe from Rick Stein’s Mediterranean Escapes book, adapted slightly.  He based his recipe on one from Andy Harris’s book, Modern Greece, who is a friend of his and has lived in Greece for eleven years before moving to Australia.

Here is the recipe, I hope you enjoy it.

Lamb k                                                                       Serves 3 – 4

  • 1/2 leg of lamb weighing about 1 kg/2 lbs, bone left in
  • 1 kg Desiree potatoes, or any waxy main crop, peeled and cut into 2 inch chunks
  • 1/2 head of garlic, left in one piece, unpeeled but outer papery skin removed
  • 1 heaped tsp dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig fresh oregano or marjoram
  • olive oil
  • juice if 1 lemon
  • Salt and black pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5.
  2. Put the meat, potatoes and garlic in a lidded casserole dish or skillet. Sprinkle over the dried herbs then add the fresh oregano, lemon juice, about 50 ml of water and a few good glugs of olive oil.  Season well then mix together well with your hands.
  3. Place a sheet of foil over the casserole and then cover with the lid so it is sealed well and bake for 2 – 3 hours until the meat is falling off the bone. Check half way through and add a little more water if necessary.
  4. Serve the lamb and potatoes with a salad of cucumber, tomatoes and sliced red onion, dressed with lemon juice and olive oil

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Spring lamb and vegetables – one pot meal just as I like them!

1 Dec

Here is another one pot meal, great for when you are busy, just leave it in the oven to take care of itself!  I love lamb, especially when it is falling off the bones and is meltingly tender.  My husband, however, hates fat so I have to be really careful when I choose the cut of meat.  As this is cooked slowly in the oven I needed a tougher cut of meat so I finally chose lamb shanks.  I can remember when you could buy a lamb shank for about a pound.  That was before the TV Cooks made it popular.  Now they sell for about £4 each!

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the various cuts of lamb and how they should be cooked.

Lamb Primal Cuts: Leg, Loin, Rib, Breast and More

  • For roasts, the best cuts include leg, breast, best end of neck (also known as rack of lamb), shoulder, saddle, rump and loin.  
  • For quick cooking, choose fillet, chump chops, loin chops, leg steaks, best end cutlets and butterflied leg.
  • For slow cooking, leg, shoulder, shank, neck and chump chops are among the best options.
  • Lamb is also available minced (good for pies and burgers) and you can also buy lamb offal (mainly the kidneys and liver but also, less commonly, the heart and the sweetbreads), which is quick to cook, cheap and nutritious.
  • When choosing any cut of lamb, look for firm, fine-grained meat with a velvety texture; it should be moist, rather than dry or slimy. Any fat on the outside of the lamb should be white (fat that is yellow might well be rancid). Properly hung lamb should have a deep red, rather than bright red colour, although very young lamb will be paler than older lamb.

Here is the recipe.  It is based on one I found in a Good Food Magazine that I have adapted to suit our tastes.  Here is a link to their website if you want to see the original recipe.

Spring lamb and vegetable one-pot                                     Serves 2

  • Olive oil
  • 2 lamb shanks
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and halved
  • 200g new potatoes, peeled and left whole
  • 1 bay leaf
  • sprig thyme
  • 75g frozen peas
  • handful Dwarf Beans, topped and tailed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 lamb stock cube
  • Salt and black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 3.
  2. Dry the lamb shanks on kitchen paper.  Season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle a little olive oil into a skillet or heat proof shallow casserole.  Brown the shanks on all sides over a high heat. 
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion, garlic and carrots and cook for a few minutes.  Add the carrots and cook for a few minutes more. 
  4. Pour in sufficient water to come half way up the shanks.  Crumble in the stock cube.  Add the herbs and the potatoes and bring to the boil.  Cover and transfer to the oven for 1.5 hours or until the lamb is tender and the vegetables are cooked.  Remove from oven.
  5. Blanch the beans in boiling water for 4 minutes.  Drain and add to the lamb and vegetables with the peas.  Return to the oven for 10 minutes or until everything has heated through.  Serve.

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Lamb and Plum curry – fit for a queen!

23 Nov

My husband says this is his favourite curry.  I reminded him of how many times I had heard him say this but he stuck to his guns.  Just to prove a point, however, there are a couple of links below to previous curries he has said this about! 

When I first saw the recipe for this curry I was intrigued.  I had never heard of a similar curry before and have yet to see anything like it in an Indian Restaurant.  It is a dish from Hyderabadi and is, apparently, a speciality of the Veeraswamy restaurant in London, the owner of which had a grandmother who was a Hyderabadi princess. Veeraswamy is the oldest surviving Indian restaurant in the U.K, and possibly the world. Established in 1926, it is one of London’s oldest surviving restaurants and a global restaurant institution.   I found this recipe in a little book called ’50 great curries of India’ by Camellia Panjabi.  It is one of the best curry books I have ever had and I am slowly, but surely working through the recipes.  So far there is only one that I was disappointed in but that was vegetarian so no great loss to us confirmed carnivores!  I have copied the recipe exactly from the book as I can’t think of anyway I would want to change it.  Be careful with the chillies though.  Check out how hot your fresh chillies are and maybe use just 1 teaspoon of chilli powder, unless you like your curries really hot.

Lamb and Plum Curry                                                         Serves 4

  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 x 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cloves
  • 4 green cardamoms
  • 1-inch cinnamon stick
  • 3 green chilies, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coriander powder
  • 2 teaspoons red chili powder
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless stewing lamb
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups plums with skin (half finely chopped and half cut into wedges)
  • 3 tablespoons cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 8 fl. oz. stock of lamb bones if possible (use plain water if not)
  1. In a deep skillet, heat the oil and fry the onions until they are golden and starting to brown at the edges (this should take about 10-15 minutes).  Add the garlic, ginger, cloves, cardamoms, cinnamon, and green chilies.  After 1 minute, add the turmeric, coriander, and chili powders.  Stir well.
  2. Add the lamb and salt and stir fry in the spice mixture for 5 minutes.  Then cover and cook the lamb in its own moisture with the onions on a medium heat for about 10 minutes.  When the lamb is semi-dry, stir continuously until it is coated with the spices and the mixture is golden brown.
  3. Now add the finely chopped plums and cook with the lamb, stirring a few times.  Add 2 tablespoons of the chopped cilantro leaves and the lamb stock or plain water, bring to a boil and simmer over a low heat for 30 minutes.  Now add the plum wedges and cook until the lamb is done.  Put in a serving dish and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of fresh leaves.

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Pork (or lamb) and fennel tray bake – absolutely divine!

4 Sep

I love recipes that can be cooked in one pot or, like this one, in a roasting dish.  Cuts right down on washing up and the flavours seem to really enhance one another.  In this instance I used pork fillets, as suggested in the original recipe, but I think it would be great with lamb steaks as well, providing all fat is removed.  I was a bit worried about the fennel as I sometimes find it is a bit strong.  Didn’t need to though, I think the boiling made it more mellow and it was a perfect ingredient for this dish.

The rub for this is great, a hint of sweetness from the honey, some sour from the lemons and a bit of heat from the chilli.  I use chillies a lot in my cooking as my husband loves things with a bit of a kick.  Sometimes they are so subtle that the heat is barely noticeable, others they give real heat and depth to a dish.  I realised that I have not included any information on chillies in my previous blogs.  Very remiss of me but partially rectified today.  Here is a bit of chilli trivia to be going on with, courtesy of the foodreference and the Discovery Channel websites.

  • The seeds are NOT the hottest part of peppers. It is at the point where the seed is attached to the white membrane inside the pepper that the highest concentration of capsaicin (the compound giving peppers their pungent flavor) is found.
  • Capsaicin, the ‘hot’ constituent in chile peppers, is not water-soluble – it is soluble in fat and alcohol. So don’t drink water to cool your mouth after eating very hot chilies. Drink milk or beer, or eat some ice cream or guacamole if your mouth is on fire.
  • Hatch, New Mexico is known as the “Green Chile capital of the World”.
  • Scientists have found connections between capsaicin (the ingredient that makes chillies hot) and a component of tarantula venom.
  • Upon arrival in Mexico, some early Spanish priests, aware of the passion people had for chillies and unsure of its powers, assumed they were aphrodisiacs and in their sermons warned against consumption of food that was ‘as hot as hell’s brimstone’.
  • Eating chillies is addictive. When capsaicin comes in contact with the nerves in your mouth, pain signals are sent to the brain. Subsequently, the brain releases endorphins, natural painkillers, that create a feeling of well-being.
  • Indian tribes strung chillies together and tied them to their canoes to ward off evil spirits they believed might be lurking in the water

The original recipe is based on one from the Good Food website which I have adapted slightly.  Here is a link to the original recipe if you want to take a look.

Pork (or lamb) and fennel tray bake                            Serves 2 (easily doubled)

  • 4 medium red skinned potatoes, peeled and cut into medium chunks (about 1.5 inches)
  • 1 fennel bulb, core removed and cut into 8 wedges
  • 2 red onions, peeled and cut into 6 wedges each
  • Olive oil
  • 1 pork fillet, any fat or sinews removed, halved lengthways then widthways to give 4 pieces. If making with lamb use two large lamb steaks, fat removed.
  • 6 slices of preserved lemon, rinsed and flesh removed
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 small red chilli, seeded (this will give medium heat so adjust to suit personal taste)
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tbsp honey
  • small handful of fresh coriander
  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6.
  2. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and add the potatoes and fennel.  Bring back to the boil and cook for 2 minutes.  Drain well and dry on kitchen paper.
  3. Put the potatoes, fennel and onions in a roasting tray, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and black pepper.  Roast for 20 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, put the lemon rinds, garlic, chilli, paprika, honey and coriander in a small chopper with 1 little olive oil (about 1 tbsp).  Chop until the lemon is finely chopped.  Rub the mix into the meat, coating well.  Season.
  5. When the vegetables have cooked for the 20 minutes, lay the meat on top and return to the oven for another 20 – 25 minutes or until the meat is cooked through and the vegetables are tender and slightly golden.  Serve immediately with a green vegetable if you have a mind to.

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Greek lamb chops with fresh green beans in tomato sauce. Amazing!

3 Aug

The star of this meal has to be the beans in tomato sauce.  I remember the first time I ate these beans.  It was in an ice cream parlour in Gouves, Crete.  You may be surprised at the venue but, apparently, in Greece, at the time, you were not taxed for selling ice creams but were for selling food.  Anyway, the owner and cook was a man named Yianni.  What a fantastic man he was. If I live to be a hundred I don’t think I will ever meet anyone as kind or gentle.

The first time we went to his ice cream parlour we asked if he did food.  Yes, he answered, what would you like?  We asked him if he did goat, one of our favourite foods in Greece.  Of course, he said, so we ordered goat with fried potatoes and a Greek salad.  He served us with a large beer for Terry and a glass of homemade red wine for me (in a half pint glass) and left us to savour the moment.  Two seconds later we saw him leave via the side entrance on his bike, returning after 10 minutes with all the ingredients he had bought from the butcher and the grocer.  You can’t get fresher than that!  The food was delicious.  My one complaint was that, after eating a table weighed down with food and drinking 2 large beers and 2 large wines, the bill only came to 4 Euros.  Of course we said it was not enough and forced a 10 Euro note into his hand.  He was mortified and insisted we had at least one more round of drinks on him.  I don’t think I can remember walking home that night.  We became close friends after that and, during our two-week holiday, he enjoyed making us traditional Greek meals that we enjoyed eating.  Apart from the food Yaya made for us and the food we have in Lardos, Rhodes, I don’t think I have ever tasted better!

We were in Gouves at the time of the Omagh bombing.  Friends that we met there lost a brother who could only be identified by the keys in his pocket.  Such a senseless waste of life.   Yianni was fantastic and arranged for their immediate return to Ireland while the holiday reps partied in a nearby bar and would not help.  His actions were typical of the Greek people, something to remember in the troubled times Greece is currently experiencing.

I hope you try this vegetable dish.  It will remind you of sunny days spent in Greece.  The sauce is divine, mopped up with crusty bread.  We even eat this cold as, like so many Greek dishes, the taste improves with age.  I served this with Greek lamb chops and the combination was amazing.  Absolutely delicious!

Greek Lamb Chops with fresh green beans in tomato sauce         Serve 4

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 2 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 lb runner beans
  • 2 medium potatoes (I used Maris Piper)  peeled and cut into thick chip shapes
  • 4 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped roughly
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper

For the chops

  • 8 lamb chops
  • 4 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  1. Saute the onion and garlic in the oil in a large pan for about 5 minutes until the onion starts to soften but does not change colour.
  2. Top and tail the beans and cut off the edges then slice into long pieces.  Add to the onions and saute for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the potatoes and continue to saute for another 5 minutes.
  4. Add the tomatoes, season well and add just enough hot water to barely cover the vegetables.  Cover and simmer for about an hour or until the potatoes are tender.
  5. In the meantime, put the chops in an oven proof dish with the whole cloves of garlic.  Lay the rosemary sprigs on top then drizzle with olive oil.  Season and bake in a preheated oven (200C/190C fan/Gas 6) for 3/4 hour or until chops cooked to your liking.  Turn once during cooking to brown both sides.
  6. Add the parsley and cook for a final 10 minutesServe

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Shepherds pie with a twist

27 May

DSCI0166They say that some people eat with their eyes. Well, if that is the case then please ignore the picture of the finished dish here because it does nothing to sell the fantastic flavours combined in the dish.  My grandson, Danny, is always telling me to smarten up my photos but, to be honest, when I have a piping hot dish in front of me that smells delicious, the last thing I am thinking about is the appearance. All I want to do is eat it. Surely that is what good food is all about!  I am a slave to cookery programmes and often wonder just how warm some of the dishes prepared are for the customer when they have finished messing about with the appearance and ending up with a very pretty but heavily handled meal. A gourmet cook I will never be but at least my food is always hot and barely touched by human hand.

This Shepherds pie is probably unlike any you will have eaten before. The lamb is slow cooked until it droops of the bone and instead of mince (which I often find tasteless) you bite into succulent, meltingly tender pieces of lamb. The spices are subtle but give the meal a wonderful  flavour carried throughout the layers of lamb sauce, spinach and creamy mashed potato. If you like curry you will absolutely adore this.

I did wonder about adding a sauce but wasn’t sure what type would best suit the flavours of the pie. In the end I didn’t bother and I felt that the dish was perfectly moist so didn’t need any additional sauce. In fact, gravy, I believe, would have detracted from the eating experience.

Here is a link to the recipe with my slideshow below.  It is a bit fiddly but, trust me, it is well worth the effort.

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