New Year’s Eve

Today is the day that I think about what I want to achieve in the new year.

I am going to be more focussed this year – the resolutions I made  last year were “discussed”


…………with the help of numerous glasses of champagne, and our beloved L&L, in a revolving restaurant, high above Hobart, Tasmania.

We were spending days in the brilliant sunshine of an Australian summer 

and eating fresh oysters and fish straight from the boat

and it all seemed so easy.

Of course this would be the year that we did things… we would lose weight, become supremely fit, reverse the ravages of time and become all-round-gorgeous.


Maybe it was the sun that went to our heads?

This year, though, I am going to really make an effort. In all honesty, all I did try to do was to cook delicious things for the Bear and his friends. I just didn’t try to make us thinner. Butter and cream featured strongly……Nothing wrong with butter and cream, though, but perhaps I had been just a tad generous.

I have started to collect recipes that gave us 400 calories and under per serving, so that if we were very sensible with breakfast and lunch, we could have a delicious supper and still keep to just over 1000 calories a day, which should, theoretically, make us whippet-thin within weeks. It would also allow us room for manoeuvre if we had people round.

The problem with diets is that it is so easy to lose interest when faced with a crispbread and some cottage cheese. If I could produce meals with a sense of luxury about them but still keep the calories low then surely we would be on to a winner?

Of course, last year I wasn’t writing this. Any bold promises I made were only heard by a select few and they are unlikely to point and laugh and tell me I am a failure.

This year I am writing it down so whoever reads this will see what I have said. I can’t threaten you with violence if you point out that I have failed, as I do to my nearest and dearest.

So… in 2010 I will make it my aim to seach out delicious recipes that are low calorie… BUT would make you think you are not on a diet.

I will make sure that  we eat healthily and happily.

I will make sure that this time next year there will be a distinct difference in our shape and size and general state of health.

I will still cook the occasional greedy and gluttonous treat but that will be balanced by our other efforts.

Instead of saying “I really should” or “I’d like to” or “Let’s think about”, I will say that we ARE doing something. That mushroom foraging course I always say we must book – well, we will do it.

Those walks I say we will go on – well, we shall do them.

I shall read my favourite cookery books again and work through them… I have picked out the first few…. Elisabeth Luard, for example. There is so much to explore in this book – European Peasant Food reflects recipes that make the most of the ingredients to hand. Recipes that have been forgotten, in the main, and really need to be revived

Also, we are very lucky in that we have some marvellous friends from Turkey who KNOW how to cook – nights spent with F & E have inspired me to look through my collection and I shall make more Middle Eastern/Turkish/Moroccan food…

And I shall also read through some of the books that  first inspired me to cook

And once I have done all that….. well there are still many more packed bookcases to work through

So, this time next year, the last day of 2010, how much will I have achieved? Will I be thin, fit, well fed and well read? Or will I have fallen by the wayside and just managed the reading and feeding?

Here’s to 2010!

Happy New Year to everyone and may all your wishes and resolutions come true!

Plate of beef

One of the best things in the world is to be able to spend time with your friends.

And when one of those friends is someone you have known since you were eleven years old, well, it is even better. Let’s just say that more than one decade has passed since we met. We could, in fact, be talking about decades in the plural. Several decades.

Be that as it may, it is J’s birthday on Christmas Eve. This always gives me great joy because for a few short weeks she is, technically, a year older than me. The Bear and I always try to be back for J’s birthday and it is something of a tradition of ours that she and K, her husband, come to stay on Boxing Day.

We cook for them and make it a special night.

I decided to do beef and chose one of the cheapest cuts – plate of beef.  I didn’t choose cheap because I wanted to cut corners and costs, I chose it because it has the most incredible flavour.

Plate of beef is the cut from the cow’s diaphragm muscles, the underneath of the cow, with the rib bones attached. A related cut is beef skirt that I use when I want to make  steak and chips. Plate of beef is fattier and tougher than skirt and the best way to cook it is to let is cook slowly for a long time and make sure you have some liquid to keep it moist.

See the layers, interspersed with fat? They need to be cosseted in a low oven so the fat renders down and turns everything into a soft, juicy and unbelievably flavoursome piece of meat. A braise is a good way of doing it but I wanted it as a slow roasted piece of meat….

That’s a big piece of meat for under £5. The butcher scores the outside so you just need to season it and choose something for the liquid not-quite-braise.

I stand the meat on a rack at first and pour over my favourite marinade – a mixture made with

Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce which gives it a sharper savoury flavour

Some Indonesian Sweet Soy Sauce which adds a rounded sweet flavour

Half a glass of red wine… because, well, why wouldn’t you? 

(The Bear saw me walking across the kitchen with the glass and was horrified at the thought I had turned to drink – it was, after all, quite a bit before midday and I was going to be driving)

A grinding of white pepper finishes it off.

Pour a glass of water into the tin (not over the meat) to keep the moisture levels up and that’s it.

This truly is a delicious marinade for meat – it seems to deepen the meaty flavour and none of the ingredients overpowers the others. It all seems to work really well together. Try it.

I put it in the oven at 1 pm, at 120 degrees C, covered with foil to keep the steam and the delicious juices in and then set off to do other stuff.

When we came back at about 5 pm it all smelled deep and meaty and hinted at juicy, glistening pieces of meat to eat later. The best thing about this cut is that is very forgiving in terms of time.

I took it off the rack and let it lie in the meat juices and marinade, then I just left it as it was until it was ready to finish off.

About an hour before we were ready to eat, I turned the heat up to 175 and took the foil off for the final 30 – 40 minutes.

I set the table and got ready

I was going to make the meal a simple one… just meat and some veg… but it was going to be marvellously tasty meat and veg.

Potatoes were parboiled and drained. If you do this in a colander, give them a good shaking so they roughen a bit and and then throw them into sizzling goose fat . I use a baking tray with an shallow edge on it and put a good two tablespoons of goose fat on it and let it heat up for ten minutes or so before I throw on the potatoes.

If they have had a bit of roughening round the edges, it lets the goose fat get in and make a lovely crispy and crunchy crust. The insides stay beautifully fluffy.  They just need to be turned so they brown all over.

I steamed some carrots and parsnips ( I had prepared too many batons the day before for Christmas lunch, but, kept in the fridge, they were still perfectly fresh and just needed a light cooking) and then tossed them in with the potatoes.

Time to start getting things ready.. so the candles were lit

The meat taken out to rest. The pan was deglazed with another half glass of red wine – it sizzled  and spluttered and the meat juices and marinade turned in a gravy that was so delicious you might be happy drinking it.

The meat looked fantastic.

The champagne was poured and the birthday girl was toasted (while I laughed quietly to myself because I am not as old as she is…… yet!)

And the meat carved into great, luxurious slices of rich and juicy beef…

All I needed to do now is call the birthday girl to the table, and get everyone to join her for her birthday meal

The plate of beef was considered a resounding success – it’s an underused cut and perhaps people think it is tricky to deal with or maybe ordinary and boring. It was easy – a marinade, a slow cooking throughout the afternoon with a final burst of heat to finish it off. The flavour is incredible – rich, deep and complex. The essence of meaty beefiness.

Just because it is inexpensive doesn’t mean it can’t be part of a special dinner.

Find a decent butcher who will sell you this cut and try it yourself. You will be very glad you did.

Christmas Pudding Ice Cream

With the best will in the world, no family can eat an entire Christmas Pudding.

Not even when it is one made by my aunt… the world’s best Christmas Pudding maker, ever.

All that love, skill and years of practice to make a lovely pudding …. you need to use it up to the last crumb. And what better way than by making it into the Boxing Day favourite pudding… ice cream.

First, make some custard. You can do it with eggs, as I normally do, or you can do it with custard powder. I have to consider who will be eating the ice cream so it’s custard powder for me this time.

Mr Bird, a Birmingham chemist,  had a wife who was allergic to eggs but adored custard so he invented the world famous Bird’s Custard Powder. It uses cornflour to thicken and is a staple ingredient in most British kitchens. I use it when I can’t make real egg custard – for example for those who are allergic or intolerant and those who may be unwell and it isn’t advised that they eat egg yolks.

It makes a perfectly lovely custard though and generations of people have grown up on it. I still think a real custard is best but needs must and all that.

You combine the powder in a bowl with some sugar – two tablespoons of each.

Then stir in some cold liquid… I am looking for a lovely, rich effect so I am adding cream

… maybe a couple more tablespoons of the cream, stirred in to make a smooth paste.

I like to add vanilla, as I would if I was doing the custard with eggs. You can use a teaspoonful of extract

 Or, if you like the look of vanilla seeds, you can use the paste

In the meantime, I have a pint or so of milk heating on the hob. Once it reaches boiling… well, once it gets those tiny bubbles round the side of the pan that are the warning it is just about to explode into a bubbling, overflowing pan of scalding milk…then you add that to the bowl and stir it smooth

You need to add it slowly and stir it round gently.. a smooth paste at first and then getting thinner and and more custard like.

Once it is smooth, pour it back into the pan and heat through to boiling again. It thickens and becomes…. custard!

You can see how it leaves a trail when you dribble a spoonful over the surface….

All you need to do now is put it into a clean bowl and leave to cool. I do this the night before and leave it in the fridge over night.

That’s handy… because if you you are using an ice cream maker, you need to have the bowl chilling in the freezer. Of course, there are some incredibly fancy machines that have their own freezing unit built in… but why spend hundreds of pounds when an ordinary machine can be had for around £30?

You can do this without a machine as well, you know. You just put the custard mix into a plastic box, clip the lid on and freeze it. You just have to keep opening the box and stirring it round with a fork to stop the ice crystals from turning the custard into a solid block.

My machine is a simple one… you put the bowl in the freezer

and the next day, connect the lid,

with the paddle and the motorised bit,

set it away to whirr and pour the chilled mixture down the hole in the lid…

It whirrs away for maybe ten minutes or so, thickening and freezing.

You can see the change happening. Once it starts to get really thick and look like it is freezing, get your added extras ready.

You break up your cold, left over Christmas pudding and drop bits of it down the hole so it sets into the freezing mix. Don’t do it too soon because you don’t want it to dissolve – you need bits of it running through the mix.

I also like to add little nuggets of brandy butter. They stay whole, too and make a surprising litle burst of soft booziness. I don’t think you are in any danger of getting drunk on it, but leave it out if you think it wouldn’t be suitable.

See how economical you are being? Using up any leftovers like this?

I suppose the fact that I was hiding the brandy butter to make sure there was some for the ice cream is neither here nor there.

Within a minute or so you are ready to serve it up….. I might have poured some brandy cream over it as well….

It was left over, OK? I was trying to use it all up!

But it doesn’t end there…..

What should have been a respectable portion for each of us somehow seemed to be not enough after all.

I admit we were all feeling rather jolly. It was J’s birthday dinner and we did deserve to spoil ourselves.

The freezer bowl was called for and spoons were dug in

In fact, we all dug in.

Sign of a succesful pudding then, don’t you think?

Things that make me smile

No matter how gloomy things are, there are always things that can make me smile

This fork, for example, always makes me smile.

I bought it years ago… years and years ago.  I had left home and was a student, living in a ramshackle flat. I couldn’t cook in those days and probably only used it to stir tinned soup.

Still, things gradually changed and I started to cook properly and so the fork got more use.

Look at it – you can tell I am right handed because over the years it has worn down on the left hand side.  We must have been eating fork for years. Well, tiny little bits of worn away wood from the fork, anyway.

Probably the Health and Safety people would say that it is a heinous kitchen crime to feed people wood. I don’t care. It makes me smile. It makes me think of the hundreds of hours I must have been standing at a cooker, stirring away

It’s cold outside, bitterly cold and we spent this afternoon visiting a relative in a hospital. That’s not going to make you smile but coming home to a warm fire and a hot drink…. and crumpets

Well, that makes you smile.

I made crumpets not so long ago, when my sister in law was visiting us, but today I just bought a packet. Hot and dripping with butter – perfect.

Here in the North it’s snowing and it is lying deeply . It’s bright and crisp and while it is like this, I really like it

Ankle deep in snow, in the bright sunshine. That’s good and I smile at that. Especially when I can see my mother’s house

And I know that inside the family will be waiting….

Last night, one of my oldest friends came round to my house with her husband to celebrate her birthday.

We drank  Moet & Chandon Rose Imperial and smiled. Who wouldn’t?

And the other thing that always makes me smile is this

It’s a picture hanging on the wall in my kitchen. I have no idea who painted it or what it is called. It was on a card that I was given for my birthday once….

I think it was meant to resemble me…. but it always makes me smile anyway.

See? I don’t need to win the lottery to be happy.

Find the simple things in your life that make you smile!

Boxing Day Breakfast Bonanza

Boxing  Day is so much more relaxed than Christmas Day, because there’s time for idling about. I can’t be bothered, nor can I afford, to go shopping in the sales, so Boxing Day to us means a slow start.

And with a slow start comes a desire for a proper breakfast. None of this leaping up before 6 am and having a fruit smoothie in a rush to get ready for work. Today involves a gentle amble round the kitchen, looking out of the windows at the snow piled up outside, while drinking a coffee.

A slow start means you are more than ready for a more substantial breakfast… smoothies are fine, delicious even, but somehow on days like this your mind wanders towards some sort of fry up.

As it is Boxing Day there are leftovers from Christmas Day… sprouts, carrots, roast potatoes… and a couple of pigs in blankets.

There are even some carrot and parsnip parcels wrapped in Parma Ham

All of  that would fry up nicely. Not exactly bubble and squeak but as near as possible….

So start chopping those vegetables

You want lots of edges so they can brown and crisp in a big frying pan with a spoonful of oil

Give it all a good stir round

Now those browned bits are slightly carmelised… there’s a sweetness and a hint of charring.  And who on earth would not like fried potatoes?

What other day of the year would you look at a cold Brussels sprout and say to yourself that it would be all the better for frying up for breakfast?  All you need for breakfast perfection is a fried egg

Fantastic Focaccia

The weather over the past week had made us wonder if we could get home for Christmas. There were all these weather warnings telling us not to travel unless it was absolutely essential.

Essential? This is Christmas. Of course it is essential.

When I got up on Christmas Eve morning and looked out of the bedroom window there was thick, freezing fog and snow

We should be able to manage, we thought….. and after packing the car to the roof with food and general essentials (we were going back to my empty house… with its empty kitchen) we set off.

Christmas traffic wasn’t as bad as the motoring organisations and the police made out.

It was snowy and foggy but everyone else seemed to have paid attention to the warnings and stayed at home. It was probably the fastest time we had ever made it north

You really know you are getting somewhere when you see signs for Scotch Corner.

For a Northerner living in the Midlands (which seems like the Deep South to me) getting to Scotch Corner is the first part of the true north. It always makes me smile because I know I am nearly home.

We arrived back in the village to an empty kitchen… luckily I had packed boxes of food and essential ingredients.

I’d brought olive oil, garlic, eggs, flour, yeast, white truffle balsamic glaze, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, salt, tea bags, coffee, tinned tomatoes, chickpeas and chorizo.

A pork pie made by our butcher, some bacon, cream (single and double), butter, champagne, white, red and rose wine.

Vegetable juice, pomegranate juice, fig molasses, Marmite, Parma ham, leeks, cheeses and pickles. All essentials, as you can see.

I could make anything…. anything but a cup of tea. I’d forgotten  to bring the milk,  so I had to drive to the next village to buy some so we could make a cup of tea. And there was me thinking I had all the essentials covered…….

Thing is, I hadn’t really thought of what we would eat that night. I know we had some left over cold sausages that I had put in a plastic box but we really needed something more than that.

I decided that if I made some foccacia that would help the situation…..

Usual thing… 300g of strong bread flour

7 g of instant yeast, (that’s a teaspoon and a half, I suppose, if you aren’t using the sachets)

Maldon salt

150 ml of warm water

2 tablespoons of olive oil.

Now, I was in a kitchen that I had more or less stripped of equipment, so instead of leaving it to the Kitchen Aid to mix for me, I had to do it myself

Just goes to show how easy it is to make this. One large bowl, a wooden spoon and off you go.

It comes together quickly enough.

A quick squirt of garlic puree wouldn’t go amiss

And then knead it…. dust a board with flour and stretch it, pull it, roll it and fold it.

You will feel it changing in texture… there’s sort of lumps and bumps in the dough at first and then it becomes smoother and silkier.

It’s still not perfect though and you have to let it relax. Only then do you get really good smooth dough.

At this point you have to let it rest and rise. You need to stop it drying out so either cover it in cling film or, do as I do, and put the bowl over it. That keeps the dough moist and stops it forming a crusty outside which is certainly something you don’t want while it is loitering about

It will take maybe half an hour or so

You can feel the difference as well as see it… it is resilient and springy… the lumps have disappeared and it is smooth and silky to touch.

Wipe down the bench and spread some oil on it and then put the dough down.. stretching it into shape with your fingers if you haven’t a rolling pin at hand.

You can see how wonderfully puffy it is becoming.

Heat the oven to 200 degrees C.

It needs to have fingers poked into it to get the dimpled foccacia look and some oil drizzled over it.

And this is when I had the idea…. add bacon!

I snipped two rashers of bacon and scattered the bits over the dough.

Now that is a way to stretch your ingredients. A bacon sandwich would have used those two rashers for one sandwich. This makes it stretch over a lovely big bit of bread….

Then just put the whole thing onto a baking sheet – the oil in the dough will prevent it sticking, so don’t worry if you don’t have one of the incredibly useful silicone sheets

Stretch it out to fit and then just put it in the oven for 15 minutes or so…See? Minimal ingredients, minimal work and the shortest time in the oven.

Waiting those 15 minutes gave me enough time to have a quick wipe down of the benches and open a bottle of wine and pour us both a glass

We sat there, eating garlicky bacon scattered bread, fresh from the oven and sipping a glass of wine.

It was Christmas Eve, the snow was whirling round outside and we had driven hundreds of miles to get back home. We sat on either side of the kitchen table and toasted each other.

Merry Christmas!

Sprouts, chestnuts and bacon

It’s Christmas. That means Brussels Sprouts. 

I went to our local  Farm Shop to get our eggs and there, propped against the door, were piles of sprouts sticks.

This is the best way to buy sprouts as you are certain that they are fresh. A stick like this had 43 sprouts on and cost £1.

Now sprouts can be delicious… or not.

It’s when people boil sprouts into mushy oblivion that the problems start. How can you possibly like a ball of green sludge that when you bite into it, dissolves into hot, watery, slightly smelly goo?

But if you treat a sprout carefully you can have a delicious, nutty-flavoured vegetable. If you combine that with a sweet tasting nut like a chestnut and some salty, crisply fried bacon shards… well then you have a dish that is worthy of having at a celebration.

Cut off the sprouts with a sharp knife and remove the outer layer of leaves so you are left with lovely, shiny green nuggets.

Steam them, or boil them lightly, so they are still firm. This will only take a few minutes, so no wandering off  and leaving them for ages!

Put some oil in a frying pan and, on a gentle heat, slowly fry some good streaky bacon.

If you fry it slowly the fat renders down, leaving you with a wonderfully crispy and tasty piece of bacon, which is perfect for crumbling over the finished dish.

Now chestnuts are the perfect thing to go with sprouts… they are available at the same time as sprouts and they are also much the same shape and size.  Makes sense then to put them together.

If you can get fresh chestnuts you need to roast them and peel them… that’s fine, I always think, if you want to eat them as you peel them. Somehow you don’t mind the burnt fingers and the mess and the bits everywhere when the next thing you do is put them in your mouth.

But when you know you are doing all that and you are only half way through a dish… well, that’s when you give thanks that someone else has already done that for you when you buy then vacuum packed!

I mean, how easy is this? All you have to do is open the packet! I always have a couple of boxes in the larder because I do use them in all sorts of recipes.

And then, the only thing you have to do is put everything together when it suits you.

When I’m ready I toss the sprouts in some hot butter

Add the chestnuts

And then  either crumble or snip into pieces with the kitchen scissors and scatter over the chestnuts and sprouts….

The chestnuts are sweet and nutty and the sprouts seem to take on some of the nuttiness. They are firm and are good to bite into – no mushiness there and no awful, overboiled cabbagey smell either. Just a good and slightly bitter tang to them…..and the bacon adds a lovely salty counterpoint to the sweetness of the nuts.

That would be welcomed on any Christmas table!

Puy lentils and peas

One of the most delicious vegetable  dishes the Bear and I have is made from what might seem to be an unlikely combination of lentils, peas and onion…. it’s quick and easy as well as low calorie. What more could you want?

Puy lentils are a beautiful browny-green colour and they have a lovely nutty flavour

They just need a quick rinse and then put them in a pan with twice the amount of water and bring gently to the boil.

I sometimes add stock granules to the water and that adds another dimension of flavour to the lentils.

While they are gently boiling, finely slice a red onion

and put the slices in a bowl with some olive oil… maybe three or four tablespoons

This starts to soften and mellow the onion.

Then squeeze half a lemon

Pour the lemon juice in and stir round

Add a few handfuls of frozen peas and no, you don’t need to defrost them.  They start to defrost gently and not boiling them keeps them full of flavour. That lemon juice and olive oil dressing seems to emphasise the sweetness of the peas.

By now the lentils will be cooked – they keep their firmness to some degree but they shouldn’t be hard.

Drain them quickly… and then…while they are still hot add them to the bowl

Stir them through the mixed peas and onion, making sure they are all covered with the lemony dressing.

The heat of the lentils softens the onion to perfection and takes the last chill off the peas.

This really is an excellent side dish to serve with roast meat… one of our favourites is roast lamb. The lentils and peas are all you need to serve with a few slices of meat – we don’t even bother with potatoes – which means it makes one of the simplest suppers ever

Macaroni Cheese

Well… it’s cold outside…. I wake up and go to make coffee

… it’s been snowing… and more snow is forecast. If this is the morning

What will the evening be like? I want to be snowed in.

I know I have enough food for an army and I can think of nothing better than being made to stay in. It wouldn’t be my fault, would it? Just imagine the bliss…. not going to work, just tucked up, nice and warm, looking down on the city below us. 

We have an enormous sofa and it would be so lovely to be sitting, curled up with the Bear, both of us clutching a lovely bowl of…. what?

I want something savoury and soothing… soft and warming….. comfort food at its finest. And then I thought of macaroni cheese. That would be perfect – pasta, all soft and oozing cheese sauce, the top crisped and brown… I dare say an Italian would look on this with horror but it is truly an English dish now.

“…we can establish the venerableness of the dish we call macaroni cheese from the following recipe which must have been introduced from Italy… into the court cookery of Richard II [1367-1400]. Macrows. Take and make a thin foil of dough, and carve it in pieces, and cast them on boiling water, and seeth it well. Take cheese, and grate it, and butter, cast beneath, and above as for losenges, and serve it forth.’ It was apparently not made in England during the next few hundred years, but it returned from Italy in the eighteenth century…when Elizabeth Raffald published a very good recipe entitled “To dress macaroni with Parmesan cheese.”
Food and Drink in Britain: From the Stone Age to the 19th Century, C. Anne Wilson (p. 252)”

So, macaroni… lots of it

Into a pan of boiling salted water to bubble away until it is cooked. Now real Italian pasta meals are served al dente but this is macaroni cheese.. it is going to be baked after this… it is going to be soft and gorgeous.

While that is cooking, get started on the cheese sauce… you need good butter, some cream

some onion and some cheese. I had a big slab of Farmhouse Cheddar just  asking to be used

Now, I always add onion. I like the contrast between the slight roughness of the pasta and the smoothness of the onion. It lightens it up just a fraction.

First thing is to chop the onion and gently saute it in butter until it is translucent

When the macaroni is cooked, drain it and put it into a lightly buttered dish with a knob of butter to melt over it

and then stir in those soft onions

Now back to the sauce – melt two tablespoons of butter and stir in two tablespoons of flour.  Season it well with Maldon salt and fresh ground white pepper.

You need to cook the flour properly so stir it round until it all comes together then start stirring in a mixture of milk and cream

It becomes a smooth and silky, glossy looking sauce.. which is when you add the cheese

If you have some parmesan or Gran Padano then add that, too… it adds an extra hint of cheesy sharpness

Stir it all round till the sauce becomes smooth again and then… well, then  you pour it over that glistening bowl of macaroni and stir it round so all the cheese sauce can seep into the macaoni, filling the little tubes…

An extra grating of the two cheeses on the top makes a lovely, golden bubbling crust

All that needs now is maybe 30 minutes or so in the oven at 175 degrees until the top is browned and you can smell that it is ready.

In that time, plump up the cushions on the sofa, pour a couple of glasses of wine… look out of the window and be glad you are warm inside…..

Look at it…….

Of course, a true romantic like myself likes to make sure the Bear feels loved. Well, with macaroni cheese, a tomato sauce heart, a glass of red wine and someone to cuddle with on the sofa, he definitely feels loved.

That was lovely…we were in our top floor apartment, with three walls of windows, watching  the snow whirling about all around outside,  while we were inside with the  best comfort food in the world.

What could be better than eating a bowl of that with the one you love?

So simple and so right for days like this.

Pomegranate and Saffron Lamb

 I was looking in the freezer for something to cook while I was at work and found some lamb neck and decided that would be perfect for the slow cooker but the gloom of December is getting to me and I need something with a bit of zing to it… some brightness to cut through the dark…

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Lamb neck is inexpensive and, if cooked correctly, incredibly tasty. Those four fat slices cost just £1.70.

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There’s a good amount of meat on them, with fat running through it that, if cooked slowly and cossetted with spices, will turn the meat into something that is so tender and melting and so mouthwateringly lovely you can’t help but  smile.

I wanted spices with it, spices and a touch of sharpness and thought that a kind of Middle Eastern theme would work. In my cupboard I had a bottle of Pomegranate Molasses which would be perfect. The flavour it adds is a rich and tangy one – a mix of sour and sweet and it goes perfectly with all sorts of meat, particularly the fattier kinds as it cuts right through, really letting the meat flavour expand , if you know what I mean.

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As with any kind of slow cooking, the best thing to do is to brown the meat – not only does it add a deeper flavour but it makes it look better too.

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Then, maybe other Middle eastern flavours…. garlic and ginger – crush some, or squeeze some from a tube and fry it off in the pan after you have taken the meat out.

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Add some stock and stir it round to loosen up the caramelised meat bits and the lovely garlic and ginger.

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A good pinch of saffron will add a deeper note and the most wonderful colour.

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And crush some cardomom seeds – break them open first and then crush the little seeds inside the papery cases…. they are the bits with the flavour… sprinkle them over the bits of lamb in the slow cooker..

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Add a couple of teaspoons of honey

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And a couple of tablespoons of pomegranate molasses, then pour over the saffrony stock.

You know the chilli oil I made? Well those chillies are soft now after their long bath but just as hot… one of them dropped in there will add another layer of flavour… a spike of heat

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And that’s it.

Well that’s it till the next day, anyway. The slow cooker can go on before setting off for work in the morning and then,  on getting in from work?

Then you will find your home filled with the most beautiful smell and know that you are going to eat the perfect supper for a dark and gloomy night…. oh it was gorgeous.

There was this deep, rich smell blended with a  fruity sharpness and the underlying tang that comes from saffron. Quite mouthwatering

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The meat was falling away from the bone… all I had to do was make some couscous and then spoon the tender, aromatic lamb and gravy over it….

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And then tuck in…..