Lovely lamb shanks, tagine style and the Bear’s shopping expedition

I’m a lucky old thing, I know, and meeting the Bear was the best thing that has happened in my entire happy and lucky life. He’s funny and sweet, very clever and tolerant and (and this is a good bit indeed) very helpful about the house.

I had a lot to do and, while I normally do the shopping because I like to choose what I’m going to cook with, I was running out of time to get everything done. The Bear had some spare time and offered to help….

What could go wrong? I had all the meat and vegetables (so there was no problem with choosing the best examples) and all I needed were things for the house and a few food or drink items for the cupboards. It wouldn’t matter whether I picked them up or he did, they’d be the same….

So armed with a specific (very specific) shopping list the Bear set off and I got on with other stuff. We met later in the kitchen and I started to unpack the bags… cleaning stuff? Check. Dishwasher salt and rinse aid? Check. Kitchen rolls? Check. Butter, milk, cheese? Check. Tea and coffee? Check. Wine? Check, check and more check. (We were having friends round) Cordials? No check.

I had wanted a specific kind of cordial – Grape and Melon. They didn’t have any apparently (and there’s no point Googling or asking about other stockists because they have stopped making it now. Shame on you, Robinson’s!) and the Bear had remembered not to deviate from the list and get another flavour. All well and good. We did have other cordials anyway so it didn’t really matter.

I carried on emptying the bags…. and found, in the bottom of one of them, three cartons of prune juice!

Prune juice? Whatever had possessed him to buy prune juice? I don’t like prune juice and I don’t need prune juice. I certainly didn’t need three litres of it.

He started to explain. Quite frankly the reasoning behind it was flawed. They didn’t have the clear and delicate tasting cordial I wanted so when he saw “Buy 3 for the price of 2”  next to the prune juice he thought he would use his initiative and grab us a bargain….

The prune juice went into the larder and there it stayed as a reminder that sometimes initiative is a terrible thing.

I can’t bear waste though and eventually, months later, decided I would have to do something with it. I’d gone into the larder to get a new box of salt out and spotted the prune juice still loitering on the shelf. I was going to be cooking lamb shanks that day and it struck me that if I were to do lamb shanks in, say, a Moroccan tagine style then I might have used prunes in there. What if, I thought, I was to cook the shanks IN the prune juice, instead of adding them as whole fruit, replacing just a simple stock and so making a rich and tasty gravy?

I had two lamb shanks that I was going to cook slowly while we were off doing other things.  I would have used the slow cooker but the two of them were too big for the pot and I decided that I’d just use a casserole instead. As long as you make sure you have enough liquid in there and keep the temperature low then it is safe to leave for a while.

It’s also lovely to come back to a home that smells of deliciously cooking food……

I love lamb shanks for many reasons. Firstly because they don’t cost much at all and secondly,if you leave them to cook slowly and gently they will turn into the most deliciously melting pieces of meat, far tastier and more tender than most expensive cuts and thirdly because I don’t have to do much at all to make it a perfect warming and mouthwatering meal.

Five minutes preparation and then you can walk off and leave them to glug quietly away for as long as you like. A perfect way to cook something while you are out at work or off out shopping at the weekend.

First of all, brown the outsides of the shanks. All it takes is a few minutes in a frying pan with a drop of oil to crisp and brown the skin. Yes, they are going to be cooked for hours and will cook all the way through but if you brown the outside you get a better depth of flavour and they also LOOK better. It’s all very well being delicious… it’s nice to appeal to the eye as well, though.

While the lamb is browning, quickly chop some onion and garlic.

I had the remnants of some tagine paste that I could use to bring in a hint of Moroccan flavouring and some lovely Rose Harissa that would liven things up a bit. I wasn’t making an authentic tagine but I wanted a definite nod in the direction of Morocco. You can get tagine flavourings in most supermarkets now so choose whtever you fancy.

I put a spoonful of each into my casserole dish and stirred it through the chopped onion and garlic.

Carrots were roughly scraped clean and sliced and the browned lamb shanks were put in the pot on top of the vegetables.

I poured a pint of prune juice into a jug – just look at the colour of it! Now while this could never replace a light and fresh tasting cordial as a drink I could see this was going to make a deliciously thick and tasty gravy. With the harissa and tagine paste to spice it it, I had high hopes of this turning out to be a success.

Mixed with some stock granules to add a salty, savoury taste, it was poured over the meat and vegetables.

And then, because I love it and I knew it would be good, a couple of teaspoons of cinnamon powder were put in.

And that was it. The lid was put on and the casserole was put into a slow oven (165 degrees C/350 degrees F) and I went off to do what I needed to do. If I’d used the slow cooker I would have set it on Auto – which means it gets a high start then it turns down to a very low heat. The cast iron casserole would do just as well on a steady low temperature for hours.

After about three or four hours I came back and looked at the shanks…. they smelled delicious anyway.

Rich and dark from the prune juice, steaming and the meat was falling from the bone.

Chopped coriander would give just the right fresh herby taste

Couscous takes maybe three minutes to make – simply measure it out (the packet will tell you the proportions) and add boiling water so the grains fluff up.

You can add herbs and spices to flavour it if you are having plainer food but the gravy from the lamb would be flavourful enough, I thought.

The meat just fell apart…. the prune juice gravy was rich, savoury and spicy with a mellow sweetness. It all soaked into the couscous making each mouthful delicious. Who would have thought mis-judged initiative could produce such a lovely result? Inexpensive cuts of meat, unwanted cartons of juice and a few hours in an oven produced a meal that I would have been proud to serve to guests.

We enjoyed every mouthful.

So, while I can’t advocate the drinking of prune juice…. I can suggest you cook with it. You might just be as pleased as we were with it.

An Accidental Soup…..Chickpea and Chorizo

It’s so unfair… this is the lovely, long  Easter weekend and we were planning to go North for a family get-together and I have a rotten cold. I can’t think straight, my tonsils are swollen, my chest is rattling and I feel like death warmed up. We can’t go home and inflict this on everyone so we are staying put.

I haven’t got much in to cook with because we were going to be away and, besides, I don’t really want to cook anything long and involved. I want quick and easy.  The weather is awful and we need to be warmed through.

When I go to the larder to see what there is, I have soup in mind. That would be easy to swallow and it would be good for me. Soup is always good for you when you have a cold or are under the weather… the steaming goodness opens everything up and makes you feel like you are in the land of the living again.

I find some tinned chickpeas on the shelf and in the fridge, I know there’s some chorizo. I can make soup with that, I think…..

I can picture it in my mind.. almost taste it…. hot and soothing, creamy smooth chickpeas with lovely chorizo slices to spike it up a bit….

So, I chop the onion and start to cook it

Next, I open the can and rinse the chickpeas…. that’s essential as I hate that gloopy stuff that collects round them in the tin. I know it is just the chickpea starch but it needs rinsing off. That and the briney stuff the chickpeas are in. If there’s flavour to be added, it will be me doing it, not the tin.

So, stir the chickpeas round to get them coated in the oniony juices and bits of onion (this is going to be the quickest soup ever as the chickpeas are cooked – all you have to cook, really, is the onion)

I want some smokey heat  in the soup, so a good heaped teaspoon of sweet smoked paprika will give a certain depth to it.

Stir it in and watch the colour change to a cheering golden glow

Add a pint or so of water and some stock granules

And then… well, this is when cooking while marginally delerious takes you down an unexpected culinary road……

I was thinking, in my slightly befuddled way, that chickpeas were lovely but if I added , say, ground almonds it would give a lovely rich dimension….thickening things. and adding flavour.

So I reached for one of my storage jars (which the eagle eyed amongst you may recognise as coffee jars… waste not want not, I say, and they are excellent to put dried goods in. Thing is, I never label them because I can see what’s in them. I wash them and peel the label off and then use them again. It keeps my larder looking neat and as all the jars are the same size they can be stacked on top of one another. Good thinking, eh?)

See? Looks like ground almonds.

Except it was fine polenta! I realised after I had poured some in that I had used the last of the ground almonds a couple of weeks ago….

Well, there was nothing for it but to carry on. I added some more water and stirred it round to cook it.

A good old whizz with the blender turned it all into a golden, silky soup. I tasted it to see if the seasoning needed any adjustment. I had to get the Bear to check as I couldn’t really be trusted because of my cold. A pinch of Maldon salt and it was judged to be pretty good.

The chorizo needed slicing

and adding to the soup – a few minutes to cook through was all they needed… and that was it.

From start to finish (including the three or four minutes where I stared at the polenta jar in puzzlement) that took about twenty minutes.

All I had to do was swirl some chilli oil over the top and add an extra few wafer thin slices of chorizo and there it was.

The prettiest bowl of soup. Golden yellow and glowing. Tasting absolutely delicious!

Sometimes you discover things by accident and you are really glad you did.

That soup was rich and tasty and my poor, sore throat felt soothed by it. I felt happier than I did when I started to make it.. .. and all that golden goodness filled me and relaxed me so I went back to bed and snoozed through the afternoon.

 And, do you know what? I will make it again and the next time I will deliberately add polenta.

Broccoli Bliss

Sometimes, the way to brighten a dull day is to imagine a treat. Something to look forward to when you get in from work. Something that probably you can only get away with when your significant other is away.

Well, the Bear is away…and that means I can indulge myself. I can go wild and he won’t look at me with a slightly anxious expression, worried that I will force him into joining me in my chosen delights.

It’s not drink…. or illicit substances… or even some strange practice… it’s…..


Beautiful, bold brassica.. the bright green and slightly bitter broccoli. I love it.

And when I can, I come home to a huge bowlful of it. One of my favourite ways to eat it is with a pseudo-Thai green curry sort of sauce, except it is not a sauce, it is a fragrant and sweetly spiced cooking liquid.

It’s quick to make and incredibly low calorie and oh-so-good for you.

I always have the ingredients for the Thai green curry sort of sauce in my cupboards because you never know when you may be able to get away with making broccoli, just broccoli, for supper. They also come in handy for when I want to make Thai Green Curry soup.

Onion, ginger and garlic. Some coriander.

Some green Thai curry paste

Thai basil, if you can get it

and kaffir lime leaves.

You will also need coconut milk – either a tin of it, or coconut milk powder that you can make up – and some stock granules.

Start by chopping some onion into  decent sized pieces and start to saute them in a large pan.

Chop your broccoli  stem into pieces and separate the florets.

Add the stem to the pan with half a cup, say, or water so it doesn’t burn and and a quarter inch of peeled and finely chopped ginger, and a clove of garlic, also finely chopped.

Add a heaped teaspoon of Thai green curry paste, the same of kaffir lime leaves and Thai basil. Stir it round and smell that gorgeous, aromatic spicy steam billowing up.

Let the stem and the onion soften slightly then add the florets.

Give them all a stir and let them steam for a couple of minutes

Mix three heaped dessertspoonsful of coconut milk powder (or a can of reduced fat coconut milk) and add a teaspoonful of vegetable stock granules, mixing it round well

Pour that delicious mix over the broccoli and let it steam through for another couple of minutes….

And then?

Dish it up, my darlings!

A beautiful bowl of broccoli… think of it as thai green broccoli soup… without much soup.

Packed full of goodness…. and that, well, that is one of my secret delights.

Lentil and Chorizo Soup

The Bear and I live on the top of a hill, which is, itself, at the top of a series of hills. We look down on the city below us and the view is always fantastic.  We have a park at the side of the gardens and it is always a good place to walk around.

In the autumn we go blackberrying and in the summer it’s a beautiful place to sit in the sun.

In the winter?

Incredibly beautiful, isn’t it?

You wouldn’t think we were just a mile or so from the city centre.

Being so high up means the snow is thicker up here and it stays longer. It also means that when I finish work, I try and go straight home to avoid getting caught up in any bad weather. And THAT means I haven’t been going to the supermarket.

I haven’t even walked to our nearest shops, because that means a walk  involving coming down from where we live… down these steps

So I need to cook from what we already have.

I always keep the store cupboard filled with things that will last and tonight I started to think about soup.

There’s always a large jar of red lentils .. so they would go in… as would that lovely big onion.

In the fridge I found some pieces of chorizo

and in the cupboard a tin of sweet smoked paprika.

Right then… I was off. Onions chopped and sauteing gently in a dessertspoon of oil, with a teaspoon of paprika

Then, time to add the red lentils. They are not only tasty, they are packed full of protein.

Four scoops… that’s about 300g.

Two pints of water and stir it all round. That needs to bubble away but it really doesn’t take long for the lentils to cook.  Add a stock cube or some stock granules for flavour… this is going to be the quickest and tastiest soup you have ever made.

I have some dried Kashmiri chillies so one of them goes in… they are quite sweet and mild in comparison to other chillies. If you are cooking for children, then you could, if they don’t like chillies, just miss that out.

Remember that chorizo? Cut slices off each of the pieces and dry fry them over a gentle heat.

This lets the oil seep out gently, which you dress the soup with later, so whatever you do, don’t just throw it out.

See this? This is the secret that turns this tasty soup into a deliciously rich bowlful.

We are cutting our calories and that means cutting fat. But look at the label – it is skimmed milk.  No fat in there, or at least none to speak of.

You have enough liquid in there so adding milk powder adds to the taste, without diluting the taste or the consistency. The milk makes it taste rich and creamy.

Two big scoops of Marvel and then take out the dried (but now beautifully soft) chilli… and then whizz the soup to a silky smoothness. Taste it and adjust the seasoning… maybe a pinch of salt and a grinding of black pepper?

Into the soup with the chorizo (chop the big pieces) and stir it round… pour over the glossy red oil

And there you have it.

Red lentil and chorizo soup – about two pints of  spicy loveliness. Packed full of protein and very little fat.

And the cost is minimal ….. both in pennies and calories….. there’s under 300 calories a serving in there.

All made from store cupboard ingredients and bits from the fridge. I feel so very virtuous… and also full and warmed through. 


Lovely chunks of chorizo, smooth and creamy soup…. 

Life is good.

(Oh and the snow photos were taken by The Bear. He’s good, isn’t he?)

Broccoli slaw

Those of you who know me, know I adore broccoli.

 Those of you who don’t know me yet will soon learn…

I REALLY love broccoli……. once when  I left a temping assignment, they bought me presents… chocolate and wine, a lovely card…. and a  head of broccoli! OK, so that was a joke but it reflected the fact that there were so many packed lunches of mine that involved broccoli.

I thought I had broccoli cracked… I’d make soup, or steamed with chilli, or Thai green curry, or eat it raw, broccoli puree, broccoli with lemon, broccoli hot.. broccoli cold…. anything really. I love broccoli. I thought I had worked my way through the entire broccoli cookbook.

And then I read The Weekend Carnivore and Sarah Jayne wrote about Broccoli Slaw…. she added apricots, which I would never do,  but even so.. broccoli? Something new to do with broccoli? Oh I was happy!

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I often make coleslaw and we love it but this was different… using the broccoli stem instead of cabbage.

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Simple enough… just slice the broccoli stem into slices across and then across again and again until you have pieces the size of matchsticks.

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… and grate the carrot

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When you make cole slaw, you really have to add onion but I really don’t like lots of it. If I eat big bits of raw onion I get a headache… weird, eh? So what I have done to get round that is to use a microplane grater and grate some raw onion so it comes out rather like a puree….

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and what I do then is add it to some mayonnaise to give the taste of onion without too much harshness.

I love making my own mayonnaise because I can tweak it according to what I intend to eat it with… lemon, perhaps, or chilli. This time I just wanted plain mayonnaise so the clean crisp flavours of the carrots and broccoli could shine through.

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Stir in all that lovely, sweet, grated carrot

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Then add the broccoli and a sprinkling of lovely Maldon Salt and stir it round…..


This is gorgeous. Really gorgeous.

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And when fed to Bears? Bears who swear they won’t eat broccoli? Well………. it was eaten. And enjoyed!

To think that some people  throw the stem out….

Pauper’s Pea and Ham Soup

I bought a bacon shank while I was out because I had a fancy for pea and ham soup…. and because I haven’t been paid since September, I am being very cautious with what is left of my cash.

What could be better, then, than a thick and savoury soup, where the ingredients come to less than £2?

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99p for a big and hefty bacon shank….

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49p for 500g of split peas

A couple of carrots, some onion and a few bay leaves from the tree on the balcony and you have all you need to make a delicious supper.

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The thing is, it does take time to do this but the way round it is to start the day before. This amounted to a few minutes work and then leaving it to simmer for a couple of hours. That was OK by me because I knew that the following night I would come in to a perfectly cooked soup that would just need a few minutes work.

I’m a great fan of food that you can spend just a short time on and then leave it to cook quietly….. I work full time and I don’t always want to spend hours cooking when I get in at night.

So…. carrots cut roughly, as was the onion, and then they were put into a pan with the bacon shank

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I poured in the full bag of split peas

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And then brought everything up to the boil.

See? That isn’t much work, is it?

You do have to hover about every now for the first ten minutes or so  because you need to scoop off the froth that come up…. but it’s no real hardship

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Doesn’t take long though and once it’s done, put the lid on and leave everything to simmer for a couple of hours.

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That’s it, for one night… just turn the heat off and leave it, you will finish it off the following night.

So, when you come in the next night, you will find a big pan of cold and solid soup. That’s good – it shows that the bacon shank has done its job.

Heave the shank out of the pan… and I do mean heave….I had to lever it out

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Look at how it has set!


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 I like a smooth texture with a few split peas, so what I do is take out a couple of ladlefuls of the peas, remembering to remove the bay leaves and blitz the rest to a glorious silky smooth base

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Now all you have to do is shred that shank….

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There’s a lot of meat on there…

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Remember I said I took out a couple of ladles of the peas before I blitzed the rest? I put them back in now to give just a bit of texture to the smooth base

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… and then add that lovely, shredded bacon

And just to show how easy it is, I made foccacia bread.. this time chopping  sage leaves and garlic into the mix

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It really is the easiest bread in the world to make and takes maybe 15 minutes in the oven

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Another 30p maybe for the flour? Pennies for the yeast and salt and oil? The sage leaves I got from the pot on the balcony….

Still under £2, then.

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And truly, the work involved for soup and bread was minimal… a bit of chopping the night before, scooping off the froth from the boiling peas and then leaving it to do its thing…and tonight? Shredding the bacon and blitzing half the soup… mixing some dough….

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That made 4 huge and sustaining bowls of soup…..

……the bacon shreds were delicious bites in the silky soup…. ohhh it was delicious.

I loved it and my purse loved it. I’d make this even if I wasn’t almost penniless.

Christmas Pudding Stuffing

Last week I got two of Matthew Walker’s Christmas Puddings  sent through the post.

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The company have a competition  to win a camera and a photography course and asked  everyone  in the UK Food Blogger’s Association to have a go and invent something new using their Christmas puddings…

As the company says,

“the original Christmas pudding is based on a traditional recipe that includes 13 core ingredients, which represent Jesus and his 12 apostles.

I travel the globe to select the very finest spirits, vine fruits and seasonal spices, from a stout that is brewed right here in The Peak District to succulent sultanas and currents from Turkey and Greece.

The result is a beautifully moist and fruity Christmas pudding that truly captures the traditional taste of the festive season.”

And what exactly are the ingredients?

  • Sultanas
  • Raisins
  • Demerara Sugar
  • Currants
  • Glacé Cherries
  • Stout
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Sherry
  • Vegetarian Suet
  • Almonds
  • Orange & Lemon Peel
  • Cognac
  • Mixed Spices

Well then. With a list like that of ingredients,  I had better start thinking. I began with the little pudding. I was thinking of trying something savoury, something different….

And then I thought of stuffing. What about some lovely roast pork with crispy crackling? After all apple and apricot are perfectly normal stuffings for pork. When I talked about this at work there was a fifty-fifty split about whether this would work, probably just as there will be amongst those of you who read this.  I thought it would work… sweetly, spicy, savoury stuffing? What’s not to like about that?

The very first thing to do will be to get the oven as hot as possible to make the perfect crackling for that lovely pork… so put it on now to preheat

Then, open the pudding and smell it

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It was rich and dense and spicy and dark – as dark as the devil’s heart as we would say.

 So the next step was to make it into stuffing – first things first, start with the savoury aspect

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Bacon and onion would add a good savoury taste


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Gently fry the onion then chop the bacon (or do as I do and use scissors – much quicker)  and add that to the onion

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Make some breadcrumbs  – I have a Bamix and this makes breadcrumbs in seconds

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Cut up the pudding and add it to the breadcrumbs and mix it well. Adding a sprinkle of  some salt and pepper rounds things out

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Some suet.. real suet from the butcher….. just a sprinkle, but imagine how that will make it taste….

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Once the bacon and onion have cooled slightly, stir that in as well

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Then mix an egg lightly

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And add that – this will bind everything together and chill the mix in the fridge. Having it cool will make it easier to roll and it also means you have time to tidy the benches and give things a quick wipe down.

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On to the pork…. make sure the skin is properly scored – if it isn’t already, sharpen a knife and slash it. Remember, the thinner the slashes the thinner and crispier the crackling will be. Massage in some oil and then rub that rind with salt.

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Now, I spotted a problem… I had been going to stuff the pork with the stuffing but it wasn’t the best rolled joint…

Balls, I thought. 

Stuffing balls, I mean, obviously! Straightforward stuffing the joint wouldn’t work, but rolling it into balls and roasting separately might just do it….

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Look how pretty they look

So, put that pork in to sear and blister. Leave that in there on the highest heat till you can see the skin bubbling, then you can turn things down and relax for a while.

I decided some nice goose fat roasted potatoes and the benefit of that would be that I could put those stuffing balls in with them towards the end of the roasting time and they could roll around in the sizzling goose fat so they become crispy on the outside and stay moist and juicy in the middle….

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So, things were progressing well….once the potatoes were starting to turn golden, in went the stuffing balls

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The meat was taken out to rest… look at that crackling

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And then…. put everything together…

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In conclusion? I was right. As a festive stuffing it hits all the right buttons.

The stuffing balls, born from necessity, are probably the better way to go. The outside crisps up beautifully, while the inside stays juicy.

And… this might be noted as a guilty pleasure… I got in from work the following night and nibbled one… even cold it tasted gorgeous!

And the Bear’s verdict? He ate everything and then asked for pork and Christmas Pudding stuffing sandwiches for lunch. I guess that means he likes it too.

Make them, this is a recipe to remember and use.

Oh and thank you, Matthew Walker, that pudding is a real Christmas cracker     😉

Spiced red cabbage

… glossily red and purpled, subtly spiced and aromatic red cabbage……I love it.noodle prawns, red cabbage, lamb, celeriac 021

It is perfect with fattier meats like pork or lamb as the sharpness of the red wine vinegar that is in there cuts through the richness. Apple sweetens it and the onion gives it savour.

Adding aromatic spices gives it a depth of flavour

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You’ll need nutmeg, cloves and garlic.

First of all, you need to start cutting the cabbage. Cut out the hard core with a sharp knife – it is hard and white and solid… which is not what you want in amongst your lovely bits of shredded red cabbage

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Then slice the rest into thin strips. You’ll also need to slice the onion.

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Rub a bit of butter round an oven proof dish and put half of the cabbage in and add the onion

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Next, peel and chop the apple

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and scatter that on top of the cabbage and onion

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… and then grate a light covering of nutmeg over the top

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Now shake cinnamon over it. I love the smell of cinnamon – it’s perfect at this time of year.

Cloves go wonderfully well with all of this. You can buy ground cloves but it is much better just to grind them yourself and anyway, why would you want to buy an extra bottle of something that will take up space in your cupboard? Put a few cloves into a pestle and grind it. A word of warning though, my brother adores this red cabbage and once rang me up so I could tell him what to do. Well, put on the spot as I was, I rattled off a list of ingredients and, as normal, wasn’t much good at remembering exact quantities. That’s why I show you by taking a picture….anyway, my brother was merrily sprinkling the cloves… sprinkling and sprinkling…….. made it all taste like a dentist’s mouthwash, he said. So, be careful. It will maybe amount to less than a teaspoonsful.

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A light dusting is all you need.. you are building up  layers of  aromatic spices.  Sprinkle some sugar over the top and then.. the secret ingredient. Martini Rosso. Obviously not so secret now………

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I first did it, not with Martini Rosso, but with Dubonnet… I thought the herby red spirit would blend well with the vegetables and the spices. I also had a bottle that I hadn’t drunk and I thought I could start to use it up. Once the Dubonnet had gone I moved on to Martini… and that, I think is even better. Pour some over


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then pour some red wine vinegar in as well. This sharpens everything up and keeps the colour a deep purply red.

Put some little knobs of butter over the top and sprinkle more sugar

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Then put the rest of the red cabbage over the top

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Cover it with foil and put it in the middle of the oven at about 160 degrees C. This is going to take maybe two hours or so, so if you are going to cook something else, that’s fine. If the oven needs to be on higher, just move it down to the bottom of the oven and make sure the foil top is on so it doesn’t burn or all the moisture evaporate

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After about an hour or so, look at it… give it a stir. It looks pretty awful till you stir it and see the gorgeous deep colour underneathRack of lamb, finished celeriac and red cabbage 005

What I should have done, of course, was to take it out of the oven dish and make it look attractive. But I didn’t.


Tasted great though… you’ll just have to trust me that it looks better than that!

Lamb stew and minty dumplings

While I was preparing to get back to work I went shopping to get supplies in. I saw that the butcher had some stewing lamb and I thought that there would be nothing nicer to come home to, after a day at work than some slow cooked lamb that I could pop some dumplings into, to cook while I got changed and then we could settle down to a hot meal.

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The lovely thing about slow cookers is that you can get everything prepared (and when I say prepared, I am not talking about a huge investment of time… maybe 5 minutes or so?) anyway, you can do that the night before and then start the slow cooker in the morning before you leave for work.

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Fry off the meat (you can see why it is a good thing to do this at night… I certainly wouldn’t want to be frying meat at 6am) until it is browned on the edges. This helps the gravy develop a good colour and a decent flavour.

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While that is sizzling, chop an onion and some garlic and think about the way you want to go with the lamb stew. I thought about using some spices… sort of a tagine feel but in a toned down way. I looked about to see what we had and found a bag of dried peaches. I had thought there might be some apricots but there wasn’t, so peaches it was going to be.

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They are pretty sharp in flavour which is a good thing with lamb as that is sweet in itself . I hadn’t actually used dried peaches before so this really was going to be an experiment.

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Because I was using fruit in there I looked for spices to go with it… and found a tin of tagine spices…

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By now the lamb was browned off and I put it into the slow cooker with the chopped onions.

Then scattered a handful of dried peaches on top

And then sprinkled the spice mix.

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Some stock granules over the top of that and pour in some water.


That took just over 9 minutes and that is because I was having to wash my hands in between each step to take a picture. If you aren’t doing that  😉 you can expect it to take a lot less time

 And that’s it for the night. Lid on and leave it unto the morning when you can turn it on before you go to work.

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Set it to Auto and then set off to work.


The good thing about a slow cooker is that the Auto function starts it off as high to get things going then goes right down to low to tick over until you get home….


What to do with it? When I started out I was thinking of minty dumplings but then I hadn’t thought of the tagine hint….and by the time I got home we had a friend to feed as well. That was good news and there was certainly no problem about that but what it did mean was that dumplings for three people wouldn’t fit in the small slow cooker…

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Anyway, I got in and tasted it.. it wasn’t too spicey… there was a hint of spice, sure enough, but it wasn’t totally tagine. It was a mix of sharpness from the fruit, warmth from the spices and and meaty juiciness. Dumplings would go, after all. Maybe not dumplings poached in the gravy… but they could be baked and then placed on top…

I needed to thicken the gravy slightly – at the moment it was just the slow cooked lamb juices and the water… a delicious stock but it needed to be thicker. mashed celeriac, lamb and dumplings 028 If you take a  couple of spoonfuls out of the pot and mix it with some cornflour, it mixes easily in the bowl you can add it straight back in to the main pot without making it lumpy. Now that is is thickening nicely… on to the dumplings!

First of all, put the oven on, if it isn’t on already. 200 degrees C should do it.

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So, in a bowl put 80g of self raising flour ( add a couple of teaspooons of baking powder if you use plain) and 40 g of suet..

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Chop up some mint

Add that and a sprinkling of stock granules to the flour and suet and then add a couple of teaspoons of water and mix together

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Form into dumpling shapes and put on a baking tray

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Fifteen minutes later… look!

Serve up the lamb and balance the  dumplings on top….

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Oh they were delicious! Light and fluffy with a soft middle and a gorgeously crispy outside…. what a good thing it was that we needed more than could be cooked in the slow cooker.

Sometimes you discover things by accident and are really glad you did.

Celeriac gratin

Celeriac always reminds me of weirdly tentacled aliens from Dr Who. I’m sure there was an alien looking much like this on there once

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Anyway, it is a tasty old vegetable and makes a good change from potato all the time. It does smell of celery but the taste is more subtle. I mash it sometimes but tonight I am making a quick gratin.

First of all peel it. I’m usually very strict about using a peeler to take off the bare minimum of skin because that is where so many of the nutrients lie but in the case of gnarly skinned celeriac, well, I am prepared to make an exception.

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I take a knife and just slice at it. One thing to know about celeriac is that it needs to be cooked, if you are boiling it,  in acidulated water (that is, water that has lemon juice in or, as I tend to do, the squeezed out half of a lemon… moneysaving, eh?) otherwise it starts to blacken. If you are making it into a gratin then just work quickly and expect to see it browning if you aren’t moving fast enough. Get it peeled and slice it….

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Anyway, lightly butter a baking dish and place the slices of celeriac in – half of them at first

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I like to add a thinly sliced onion. It adds to the flavour, I think

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Scatter some salt and a knob of butter, cut into cubes over the slices then add another layer of slices on top

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More onion and then pour some milk over it all – not much, you don’t want to cover the celeriac, just enough to cook it

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I would have used cream but I didn’t have any and that was skimmed milk so I added some Greek yoghurt to give it some richness

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(I make it with EasiYo which is, as the name suggests, an easy way to make yoghurt. I always make the Greek yoghurt with acidopholous in and use it in smoothies and as toppings)

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A quick shake of white pepper and it is ready for the oven. Cover it with tin foil to keep the moisture in on the first half of the cooking process – that will concentrate the flavour

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After half an hour take a look – you will see the celeriac has started to soften. Give it a jab with a knife and you will feel the difference

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and after another hour or so? Looking good. It would have been a lot smoother with cream but as we all know, needs must when the devil drives and the important factor is what does it taste like?

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It tasted delicious. And with a lovely bit of rack of lamb? Well, all I can say is that there was nothing left over.