winter meals

Pea and ham soup

This is Grandma’s recipe.

Ham bones, or a combination of ham and bacon bones
2 onions, quartered
A few sticks of celery
3 or 4 large fresh carrots, grated
Several packets of split peas, green or yellow, or a combination of both (the colour of the peas doesn’t affect the flavour of the soup, only its colour)
1 teaspoon prepared hot English mustard
Additional ham, finely chopped

Remove any good ham that may be left on the bones, and set aside. Place bones in a large saucepan or stockpot with the onions and the celery. Cover with water, and bring to the boil. Skim off any scum that may form on the surface. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 4 – 5 hours, skimming when necessary. When you are happy with the colour and depth of the stock, strain it into a clean container and refrigerate so that fat can be easily removed.

Soak peas in cold water overnight, removing any black ones that will float to the surface when the peas are stirred.

Return the stock (with fat removed) to a heavy based casserole which has been greased on the bottom to stop the peas sticking during cooking. Add the strained peas, grated carrots and hot English mustard. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer slowly until the peas have lost their definition and soup has become thick. Take care that it does not burn on the bottom as the burnt bits will affect both the taste and the appearance of the soup. Lastly, add the chopped ham and stir in well. The soup should be thick, so don’t stint on the peas.

Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Lamb and aubergine casserole AKA Graveyard Stew

This may be the recipe that started it all, but it has got me into some trouble since. When I first wrote it out, I used the quantities that I would have used once, although perhaps not now. My theory is that if you are going to mess up the kitchen, you might as well make the mess worthwhile. So I would cook for a multitude and freeze for a multitude.

Then Joe and Pearl Saragossi asked me if I had a good lamb casserole recipe. I told them about this one and promised to print out a copy. When I asked if they had enjoyed it, Joe said, “That recipe is for twenty people. Pearl and I eat very little these days.” (You can’t please all of the people all of the time!) Well, I’m not at all sure that four kilograms of lamb, including bones, would have fed twenty people, even with pigeon-sized appetites, but I do take his point. (I have, since, made it to feed twenty people, and the original quantities would not have done!)

I think it was Georgie Lewis who gave it it’s other name, Graveyard Stew. I objected to the ‘stew’ label for a while, then finally gave in to public pressure. If people like it enough to re-name it, why complain? The empty plates certainly resemble a graveyard. So, here it is, re-hashed.

By now I am sure you are well aware of my views regarding the treatment of aubergines before cooking. Unless the aubergines are old with dark, prominent seeds, they do not need to be soaked in milk or dredged in salt. Buy young aubergine, with smooth, shiny skins and cut them as you are about to use them.

The proportion of leg chops to forequarter and neck chops is not really critical. The leg chops have plenty of meat, the neck chops are full of flavour and the forequarter chops are somewhere between the two.

Oil for cooking
2 – 3 large onions, finely chopped
2 kg lamb leg chops
1 kg lamb forequarter chops
1 kg lamb neck chops
2 tablespoons plain flour
2 medium sized aubergine, young with shiny, unwrinkled skins
½ bottle of Italian pureed tomatoes
Chicken or beef stock, or a combination of the two
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon brown sugar
A dash of red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C. Peel and slice one of the aubergines about 1 cm thick. Drizzle a little oil into a baking dish and place aubergine slices into the oil. Spray or drizzle with more oil and bake until slices are tender. Remove from baking dish and drain on absorbent paper. Repeat with remaining aubergine. When all aubergines are cooked and drained, dice coarsely.

Meanwhile, cut excess fat from chops. Heat oil in a heavy-based frying pan and sauté onion until transparent. Transfer to a heavy-based casserole. Add a little more oil, if necessary, to the frying pan, and brown chops, in batches. Transfer chops to the casserole as they are browned. Add flour, working it down amongst the chops so that the fat on the chops absorbs it and the remainder thickens into the sauce without lumping.

Add coarsely diced aubergine to the casserole with the onion and the chops. Add a little more flour and make sure it is absorbed by the fat in the aubergine, onion and chops.

Add tomato puree, tomato paste, brown sugar, red wine vinegar and enough stock to cover. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Make sure oven is still preheated to 180C and add casserole, covered. Cook for approximately 2 hours or until the lamb is tender. (The neck chops will take the longest to cook.)

Remove from oven, cool and refrigerate overnight. Skim all fat from surface of casserole.

To serve, heat gently until casserole reaches a simmer and meat is heated through.

Many thanks to Nadine from Feast Photography for the photo.

Moussaka

Moussaka

If, like me, you thought moussaka was a Greek dish, you were wrong. It originated in Rumania, but is widely cooked in Greece and Turkey. So there is your piece of trivia for today!

Just a word about cooking aubergine, or eggplant. I had been brainwashed by cookery books to do one of two things to aubergine before cooking: either slice it and soak it in milk for an hour to remove any bitterness, or sprinkle it with salt, leave for an hour, then wash. I do not like the salt method, as no matter how much you wash the aubergine, it still tastes salty. Turkey, (where almost everything contains aubergine), was an eye opener. They do absolutely nothing to their aubergine, except wait until the very last minute to peel and slice them. Since I went to Turkey, I have not soaked an aubergine in milk, nor have I salted one, and the results have shown such precautions to be absolutely unnecessary. Don’t peel and slice the aubergine until you are ready to use it. To cater to tradition, I have included the usual instructions in the recipe. If you trust me, forget them.

Moussaka is a combination dish of layers of cooked lamb mince and aubergine topped with a white sauce flavoured with Parmesan cheese. Do not be tempted to use beef mince. The combination of lamb and aubergine was made in heaven, and beef does not come even close.

Meat Sauce:
1 kg lamb mince
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Oil for cooking
1 cup chopped, peeled tomatoes, or equivalent amount of Italian tomato sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup white wine
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 teaspoon brown sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 large aubergine or several small ones
Oil for grilling

Sauté the onion and garlic in oil if a heavy based frying pan until transparent. Remove from pan and set aside. Increase the heat and brown the lamb mince, stirring well. Return the onions to the pan and add the tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, brown sugar and cinnamon. Season to taste. Cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes. If you feel the meat needs thickening, make a roux of flour and butter, add some of the liquid to the roux, stir well, ensuring that there are no lumps, then add to the sauce. Stir in the chopped parsley last.

Peel the aubergines and slice into 5mm slices. Sit them in a shallow dish containing milk for about half an hour. Drain off milk, wash aubergine well and dry with paper towels.

Spray a baking dish with oil, add a layer of aubergine and spray with oil. Place the aubergine under a hot grill, and lightly brown. Turn and repeat on the other side. Repeat with the remaining aubergine. Alternatively, the aubergine may be shallow fried in oil, but they will absorb a lot of unnecessary oil this way.

Grease an oven dish (approx. 33cm by 23cm by 5cm) and place a layer of aubergine slices in the base. Top with half the meat mixture. Add another layer of aubergine, then the remainder of the meat. Finish with a layer of aubergine.

Cream Sauce:
3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
Freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (more if you like a very cheesy sauce)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Make a thick white sauce using the butter, flour and milk. Add the grated nutmeg and half the grated Parmesan. Stir the beaten egg into the sauce.

Spread the sauce over the top layer of aubergine. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese.

Preheat oven to 180C and bake Moussaka for 1 hour. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting it into squares and serving.

Many thanks to Nadine from Feast Photography for the photo.

Rhubarb and apple crumble

Rhubarb and Apple Crumble

I love any fruit crumble and I love rhubarb, so this recipe was a must. The crumble topping is a little different from what I am used to, but works well. The ground cassia is not an essential ingredient but does add a nice spice to the mix.

Because the rhubarb will collapse in the middle when taken out of the oven, it is important to have it well covered with crumble.

8 stalks rhubarb
4 granny smith apples
50g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons caster sugar

Crumble:
360g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cassia
180g caster sugar
250g chilled unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla bean

To make the crumble, sift the flour, baking powder and ground cassia into a bowl and add the caster sugar. Dice the butter, then rub it and the vanilla extract into the flour using your fingertips until the mixture is crumbly and lumpy.

Wash the rhubarb, discard the leaves and chop the stalks into 3cm lengths. Core, peel and cut the apple into similar sized chunks.

Butter a medium-sized baking dish with most of the softened butter, leaving a little to dot over the fruit. Mix the rhubarb and apple into the dish, then dot with the remaining butter and sprinkle with the caster sugar.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Generously pile the crumble over the fruit. Bake for 45 – 60 minutes, or until the crumble is golden brown and the juice from the fruit is bubbling around the edges.

Serve with thick cream.

Many thanks to Nadine from Feast Photography for the photo.

Pumkin soup

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Queensland Blue* pumpkin, peeled and diced (quantities are difficult here)
3 – 4 large onions, chopped
Oil for cooking
Good quality chicken stock or vegetable stock
Nutmeg, grated
Cream, sour cream, or mascarpone
* If you want to be healthy and avoid cream, use home made almond milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the oil in a heavy based frying pan, add onion and sauté until tender.

Add pumpkin in batches, and cook a little, making sure not to burn the onion.

Transfer onion and pumpkin to a heavy casserole, add chicken stock, and simmer gently until the pumpkin is tender.

Puree the pumpkin and onion mixture in a food processor, or pass through the fine sieve of a mouli.

Just before serving, stir in cream, sour cream, mascarpone (or almond milk), being careful not to add too much. Add a little grated nutmeg, and season to taste.

*Queensland Blue pumpkins are hard to find these days as they have very tough skins. To substitute, use another blue skin variety.

Boeuf Bourguignonne (Beef Burgundy)

BEEF BOURGUIGNONNE

Beef Burgundy is one of the French classic casseroles; it is the beef equivalent of Coq au Vin. You will notice that neither dish contains the tomatoes that are so characteristic of the dishes of the Mediterranean coast. Use rump steak for this for best results.

1.5kg rump steak or oyster blade
Light olive oil for cooking
250g kaiserfleisch, or fatty bacon
2 tablespoons brandy
1 – 2 tablespoons plain flour
450ml red wine
300ml beef stock
4 French shallots, or a further 4 pickling onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 teaspoons tomato paste
1 bouquet garni
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 – 14 tiny pickling onions
30g butter
150g button champignons or button mushrooms (buy the tiniest ones possible)

Cut the beef into 3cm cubes and the kaiserfleisch or bacon into bite size pieces. Heat oil in a heavy based frypan and heat a little of the olive oil until very hot. Sauté the kaiserfleisch or bacon until crisp, remove it to a plate and set aside. The bacon is not added to the casserole until near the end of cooking.

Add the meat in small batches to the oil and bacon fat in the frying pan and seal the meat on all sides until well browned. The colour achieved now will affect the final outcome of the casserole. When all the meat has been sealed, return it all to the pan and add the flour, mixing well with the meat to incorporate.

Gently heat the brandy in a small saucepan and making sure the exhaust fan is turned off, set the brandy alight. Pour the brandy over the meat and toss it through until the flame subsides. Place the meat in a heavy casserole.

Pour the stock into the pan with the red wine and de-glaze the frying pan, scraping any bits from the sides and bottom and stirring them well into the liquid. Add to casserole.
Heat a little more oil and gently sauté the garlic and shallots until tender. Some recipes add them to the casserole raw, but I prefer to cook them. Add to casserole, then add the tomato paste, the bouquet garni and season to taste. Make sure there is enough liquid in the casserole to cover the meat. If not, add more water or stock. Cover the casserole and place it in a preheated oven at 220C for 10 minutes, or as long as it takes for the mixture to come to the boil, then reduce temperature to 150 – 180C and allow to cook for about 1½ hours. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Refrigerate overnight. Next day, remove all fat from the surface of the casserole.

Gently re-heat casserole on top of stove and add the bacon.

While casserole is re-heating, sauté the peeled whole pickling onions in the half the butter until they are beginning to colour and all are well glazed. Add to casserole. Trim the mushrooms and cut any that are too big in half, otherwise leave whole. Add the remainder of the butter to the pan and sauté the mushrooms for just a minute. Add the mushrooms only 10 minutes before serving time. Check the seasonings and serve garnished with chopped parsley.

You will note that I cook half this dish in the oven and finish it on top of the stove. I still believe that the French slow-simmered dishes are better cooked with heat surrounding them than sitting directly on the heat where the bottom is likely to catch and spoil the flavour.

Almond milk and asparagus soup with truffle oil

This is not one of mum’s recipes but my own after my visit to The Sand End pub in Kate’s street in London. Saturday night was my first attempt and other than not being able to get the flower petals to garnish, it looked and tasted fantastic!

I made the almond milk from scratch as opinion seems to be that packaged almond milk has too much water added. I used raw almonds and it was very time consuming as you need to blanch the almonds and remove the skin. When I do it again, I’ll just buy blanched almonds although they do come at a premium price.

500g of blanched almonds
Hot water
3 bunches of asparagus
Lemon juice of one small lemon
Lemon zest
Chicken (or vegetable stock)
Truffle oil
Edible flowers (if available)

Pour boiling water over almonds and allow them to soften for 2 hours. Strain and add half the almonds to blender (500 grams is too much for most blenders). While blending the almonds slowly pour hot water into the blender – but do not add too much too quickly; you want a soup-like consistency. Repeat for the second half of the almonds.

Using a muslin cloth, strain the blended almonds and water mixture into a bowl. I hung mine up and let it drip, but still ended up squeezing the milk out by hand. The resulting liquid should be the consistency of milk but “grainier”.

Steam the asparagus to a firm but edible consistency – do not overcook. Drain and then place approximately two bunches of asparagus into the blender until it becomes a paste. The remaining asparagus is for garnish. Add the almond milk back into the blender and continue to blend. The resulting liquid should be still quite runny.

Pour the soup into a saucepan and add approximately 1 cup of stock, one piece of lemon peel and the juice of one lemon over a watched gentle flame. Heat the soup, continually stirring so that it does not stick to the base. As you do this the soup will thicken. You want the soup to become very thick so that you can thin it by adding more stock (but without adding so much that the subtle almond and asparagus tastes are over-powered).

Before serving, cut the remaining asparagus spears in half and add 2 spears to a shallow soup bowl. Remove the lemon skin and ladle the soup over the asparagus.

To serve, garnish with a drizzle of truffle oil and a pinch of lemon zest. If you happen to be able to find edible flower petals then this looks great.

Serves 4.