Monday, 12 September 2016

Slow Cooker Cassoulet with Belly Pork

As summer comes to an end and we become firmly entrenched in autumn, the time of light meals and salads also finishes. We're back into hearty meals territory, and for this reason i've dusted off the slow cooker.  You can also cook this in the oven with a casserole dish, if you don't have a slow cooker. 

The fact that we're in the post-summer months, you may be having to tighten the purse strings a bit as well, so this should sort you out! 

Cassoulet is cheap, simple to make and hearty. I've gone through my reciept from Aldi and all the main ingredients come to £6 or less. For this recipe, i'm using the cheapest cut of meat you can buy - belly pork. It's pretty fatty and chewy, so most people tend to avoid it. However you can easily trim the fat, and slow cooking belly pork makes it wonderfully tender. 

As always, you don't have to use belly pork. Another recommendation would be boned, skinless chicken thigh and some bacon lardons, or cubed beef/lamb. As for the vegetables, you can bulk out a cassoulet however you like, use whatever quantity of tomatoes, onions or beans you prefer - what i've used here is merely a guideline.

You will need the following ingredients:

1kg Belly Pork Slices
2 Cans of Chopped Tomatoes
1 Can of Mixed Beans
1 Yellow or White Onion
6 Cloves of Garlic or Garlic Paste
Olive Oil
Chicken Stock Cube

Utensils Needed:

Large Non-Stick Frying Pan
Wooden Chopping Board
Chef's Knife
Wooden Spoon
Slow Cooker or Oven-Proof Casserole Dish

Unless you're using the oven to make this, with a casserole dish, there's no need to pre-heat anything. If you are however using the oven, pre-heat it to Gas Mark 2 (300° Fahrenheit / 150° Celsius). 

First, take the belly pork slices, trim the extraneous fat from the outside. You can either render this for lard, or discard it. Dice the pork into large chunks. 

Add to the frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil, a heaped spoon of garlic paste, or three cloves of chopped/sliced garlic, and a dusting of thyme. 

Brown for around 15 minutes on a high heat, and you should end up with something that looks like this:

Once it's browned off, put the pork into the slow cooker.

Next, slice the onion thinly as you can and add to the frying pan with a touch of olive oil, the remainder of the garlic cloves, or another heaped spoon of garlic paste, plus thyme and a good grind of salt. 

Sauté for at least 10 minutes on a medium heat, until they're soft & translucent. Try not to caramelise them too much, you don't want burnt edges!

While the onions are sauteeing, take the stock cube, put it in a small bowl and add just enough boiling water to cover it. Break it up with a fork and stir until it's a very concentrated broth. 

Add to the sautéed onions and turn the heat up to start it simmering. Keep stirring throughout. 

At this stage add your cans of tomatoes, and the beans. Make sure you drain and rinse the beans before adding them to the pan. Bring to a simmer for around 5 minutes, stirring regularly. 

Turn off the heat and then add the tomatoes, beans & onions to the slow cooker. Stir through so the pork isn't sitting at the bottom, and turn the slow cooker on. It'll be ready to eat in about an hour, but the rule of slow cooking in general is the longer you cook it, the better it'll taste. I typically do mine for at least 6 hours on the 'high' setting, then turn down to 'low' for another hour.

By which point, the pork is deliciously tender and will fall apart if a spoon even approaches it. Ideal serving suggestion? A spoon! :D

Seriously though, you can serve with whatever you fancy, but often just a nice slice of farmhouse bread and butter is enough, as the cassoulet is pretty filling. 


Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Beef Enchilada's

Okay, if you're hungry, Mexican food will definitely fill you up. Forget that 'Old El Paso' crap you see on the shelves in the supermarket - this is the real deal, from scratch (as much as possible).

Now, this is a fair warning - this recipe will feed FOUR people, so please bear this in mind and scale up or down accordingly. As with my other recipes - if you don't eat beef, you can use lamb, turkey or pork mince - even diced chicken if you like, it's entirely up to you.

You will need the following ingredients:

750g / 1.65 lb of Lean Minced Beef
1 Can Pinto Beans
1 Can Black Eye Beans
1 Can Chopped Tomato's
1 Green Bell Pepper
1 Red Bell Pepper
1 Red Onion
200g / 7 oz of Fresh Coriander
Ground Cumin
Smoked Paprika
Cayenne Pepper (optional)
Tomato Puree
Garlic Puree or 6 Garlic Cloves, crushed & chopped.
3 OXO Cubes
50g Butter
2 Tablespoons of Plain White Flour
600g / 1.3 lb of Grated Cheese of your Choice
Olive Oil
Semi-Skimmed Milk
8 pack of Tortilla wraps.

Utensils Needed:

Large Non-Stick Frying Pan or Large Non-Stick Saucepan
Medium Non-Stick Saucepan
Oven Roasting Tray
Wooden Chopping Board
Chef's Knife
Wooden Spoons

Preheat your oven to Gas Mark 4 (350° Fahrenheit / 180° Celsius).

First, you'll want to chop all the vegetables, and the coriander. Chop the onions especially fine if you can, or use a food processor to make this part easy. Remove the stems from the coriander and finely shred the remaining leaves. Fry off the coriander and onion with the garlic puree in some olive oil.

I've used a large, flat pan to do this - the quantity will require a sizeable pan. If you don't have a suitable frying pan, use a saucepan instead.

Next, add the diced green bell pepper and sautee until soft. 

At this point you want to add the minced beef and brown it off with the OXO cubes. This will take a while even on a high heat. If you're using a substitute such as lamb or turkey mince, be aware that you'll end up with more moisture or fat depending on which you use, so you may have to strain some of the excess off with a spoon. If you can't get OXO cubes, any powdered beef stock should do - 1 tablespoon worth, roughly.

For the spices, it's entirely down to personal taste. I like my Mexican food fairly spicy, so i add a half teaspoon of cayenne pepper and two heaped teaspoons of smoked paprika. Cumin however, gets the largest helping in this process as it's the primary aromatic - you want at least 4 teaspoons of ground cumin. Mix through thoroughly. 

Strain both cans of beans and give them a quick wash in cold water, before adding them to the pan and mixing through. Leave to cook for at LEAST 15 minutes at this point, stirring regularly.

Afterwards, add your can of chopped tomatoes and a tablespoon of tomato puree. If it thickens too much, add a little water. Likewise, if it's too thin, add more tomato puree.

Leave on a low heat to simmer - if you lack the stove space for this and another pan, it's alright, no need to panic! Just take it off the heat & leave on one side - you can re-heat this later on.

For the cheese sauce, you want to start off with melted butter in a non-stick pan.

Now add the flour, a teaspoonful at a time, making sure to stir constantly, so as to eliminate any lumps.

Once it's turned into a smooth, but thick paste, add 400g of the grated cheese in small handfuls...

...and add milk, a little at a time. Again - stir through until all the cheese has been used up. You'll want to make a slightly thinner sauce, as it'll thicken on standing.

You should end up with a velvety smooth cheese sauce.

Now to the construction phase! Place your oven roaster to one side, close to the board, with the enchilada filling on the other, with the tortilla's on the board. I find that it helps to prick a few holes in the tortilla package and microwave for about 30 seconds to warm them up, making them easier to roll.

Take a heaped serving spoon of the filling, and place in a line in the middle of the tortilla wrap. Roll the tortilla by folding the bottom edge up, around the filling, and continue rolling.

If you roll them one at a time and place them in the roasting tin, it's easier than rolling them all in one go and then placing them. Once they're all in, pour the cheese sauce over the top, trying to cover them all, and sprinkle the remaining 200g of grated cheese on top.

Put in the oven for approximately 20 to 25 minutes, until the cheese on top is bubbling away nicely and browning slightly. Serve with Guacamole (recipe from July 2014) and Sour Cream. Works nicely alongside the Salsa (also from July 2014). Now, i know some people serve this with Mexican rice as well, but i have yet to meet anyone who can eat TWO of these and still have room for rice as well!

Now go forth and enjoy your Mexican food! :D

Friday, 11 December 2015

No-Fuss Chicken Casserole

It's cold. It's winter. You're short on cash and need to feed at least three people something warming, filling and reasonably healthy. Casseroles and Stews are staple diet for us all at this time of year, and Chicken Casserole is really simple and tasty, and best of all, it can make use of all the leftover vegetables in your fridge.

You will need the following ingredients:

1kg Chicken Thighs or Drumsticks (or a mix of both)
1 large Leek (you can substitute an Onion if preferred)
2 large Carrots
3 sticks of Celery
4 Garlic Cloves
2 Chicken Stock Cubes
Rapeseed Oil

Utensils Needed:

Large Casserole Dish with Lid
Frying Pan or Cast Iron Skillet
Chopping Board
Chef's Knife

First off, preheat your oven to Gas Mark 4 (350° Fahrenheit / 180° Celsius). Secondly, it's entirely a matter of personal preference whether or not you bone the chicken thighs first - i tend not to, as i find chicken on the bone turns out much more tender. Either way - you want to fry them in a little Rapeseed oil in the Frying Pan, just brown them on either side - no need to cook them all the way through.

While they're sizzling away, chop up the rest of your vegetables. Don't slice them too finely - we're looking for nice, hearty chunks.


Once you've finished chopping things, the chicken should be just about ready to turn over. Give it another 2 minutes or so, then transfer the chicken to the casserole dish, taking care to keep the fat you've just used in the pan. Add the Garlic, Leek and Celery with the Thyme and a grind of salt to taste. Sauteé for at least 5 minutes - until the Leek is starting to caramelise (excuse the fat splatters - i swear i cleaned the hob just minutes before this! :( )

With the veg on the go, all you need to do now, is boil the kettle, add the stock cubes to a measuring jug and decant 400ml of water into it. Stir until the cubes are entirely dissolved, and add to the casserole dish with the carrots.

Put the lid on, and stick it in the oven for 1 hour. You can leave it a little longer if you want less liquid, but you need to at least check it beforehand to make sure the sttock hasn't boiled away - i've made this mistake and nearly ended up ruining it!

At this point, all that's left is to serve. You don't need to add anything as a side dish, but if you're wanting to stretch it a little further - a little rice goes well with it.

As always, enjoy yourself, and enjoy the casserole! :D

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Sweet Potato & Cumin Soup

Okay, i know i've been kind of slacking on this one. I've had the writeup done for a while, but every time i've made it i've always forgotten to photograph the steps. However, i have now actually taken at least ONE photograph (this post will be updated with more, when i make it on the weekend), here is the recipe at last!

Soups are usually classed as a winter warmer, unless of course you count Gazpacho. However, in hot weather, when you don't want to eat anything too heavy or rich - this fits the bill wonderfully.

Sweet Potatoes are plentiful, cheap and you can easily feed four people for less than £5 with this simple recipe.

You will need the following ingredients:

Two Sweet Potatoes
One Large Onion
One Red Bell Pepper
Olive Oil
Smoked Paprika
Ground Cumin
Chicken or Vegetable Stock Cube

Utensils Needed:

Large Chefs Knife
Wooden Chopping Board
Pyrex Oven Dish with Lid or Cling Film
Large Saucepan
Potato Masher
Hand Blender

To prepare the potatoes and skin them with ease - slice them through the middle and place face down in the oven dish. Add around 2cm of water to the dish and cover. Microwave on full power (700w) for 13 minutes. You may need to do this in two batches if your microwave/dishes are small enough.

Once removed from the microwave, the skin should be easy to remove - simply pinch the skin on one end and peel backwards. Leave the potatoes to cool a little and move on to the onion.

Chop the onion as fine as you can, and add to the saucepan with a tablespoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of ground cumin and a teaspoon of smoked paprika. Sweat the onions until they're soft and translucent & add a pinch of salt to taste.

At this point, add the potatoes and mash them.

Put the stock cube in a jug and add a litre of boiling water. Dissolve the stock cube and add to the pan with the potatoes and onion. Stir thoroughly and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Take off the heat and blend to a smooth consistency with the hand blender before serving.

For a nice finishing touch, grill some streaky bacon until it's crispy, then chop up finely, sprinkle on top and add a grate or two of parmesan and a teaspoon of single cream.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Smoked Pancetta wrapped Chicken Breast & Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables

It's been a while since i've posted - after all the extravagance at xmas, I fancied a long break from blogging, call it a severe lack of motivation from an overindulgence in roast duck!

Right now, the days are getting longer and warmer and soon it'll be acceptable to head back out onto the patio for a meal. This dish stems from my love of roasted peppers, and the desire to do something a little different with them. The quantities of ingredients can all be easily purchased for around £12 from your local supermarket (in my case, Aldi), and will feed four people with ease.

You will need the following ingredients:

Four Mixed Bell Peppers (Red/Yellow/Orange)
Two Courgettes (Zucchini)
A large, waxy Lemon
Cherry or Piccolo Tomatoes on the vine
Four Chicken Breasts
Two packs of Smoked Pancetta
Olive Oil
Garlic Paste

Utensils Needed:

Chefs Knife
Wooden Chopping Board
Three Ceramic or Pyrex Glass Dishes
Fine Cheese Grater or Lemon zester
Glass Jar

First off, pre-heat your oven to Gas Mark 7 (425° Fahrenheit / 220° Celsius) - as with the lamb breast recipe from last year, you need it as hot as you can get - you do after all, want nice roast veggies.

Honestly, there's not a lot of prep required, but to start with, make up a simple dressing. Get a clean, empty glass jar and add two heaped teaspoons of garlic paste to it. Add two tablespoons of olive oil, put the lid on and shake vigorously.

Chop the peppers in half, remove the stalk, white parts & seeds. Cut them in half lengthwise, and then laterally, so you end up with sizeable triangular chunks. Top & tail your courgettes, and slice into half inch thick chunks. Slice too thin and they'll burn, slice too thick and they won't cook properly.

Take the lemon and remove the zest with either a lemon zester, or the fine blades on a cheese grater - just make sure not to get any pith in with the zest. Once zested, quarter the lemon and add it, and the courgettes to the dish along with the peppers. Mix through to distribute evenly and place your vine tomatoes on top. Drizzle around 3/4 of your garlic oil over the veggies. Sprinkle over a level teaspoon of thyme, the lemon zest & season it with a big grind of sea salt.

At this point, take the chicken breasts, and ensure they're all reasonably equally sized. If you have a large chicken breast that dwarfs the others - halve it. Wrap the strips of pancetta around the chicken breasts (2 strips per breast, as a general rule). Place in a separate dish (or if like me you don't have the oven space, two smaller dishes).

You should end up with something that looks like this:

Place in the oven for 15 minutes, at which point turn the temperature down to Gas Mark 5 (375° Fahrenheit / 190° Celsius) and cook for a further 30 minutes. In the meantime, I like to prepare some light, fluffy basmati rice to accompany it. All in all, it should take you around an hour from start to finish.

It should look like this, when removing from the oven:

As you can see from the plate, that's more than enough for one person!

So in short, something incredibly easy to prepare that's delicious and not altogether unhealthy for you - i'd call that a winner!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Rolled & Stuffed Breast of Lamb

A lot of people like lamb, but few are prepared to spend out on an expensive cut, or buy a leg. However, there is an alternative - the rolled lamb breast. It's a very cheap cut, daresay the cheapest, and for good reason. There's not too much meat on the breast, and it can be quite fatty. However, to make the most of it, you just need to know how to cook it right, and of course i'm going to show you how!

You will need the following ingredients:

800g to 1kg of Rolled Lamb Breast, cheap as you like.
Bag of mixed leaf salad or rocket.
Three Cloves of Garlic
Coarse Ground Sea Salt

Utensils Needed:

Chefs Knife
Wooden Chopping Board
Small Roasting Tin
Kitchen Twine or String

Pre-heat your oven to Gas Mark 7 (425° Fahrenheit / 220° Celsius) - you need it as hot as you can get!

As you're going to be stuffing it, the first thing to do, is cut off all the strings...

...and unroll it into the constituent 'sheets'. Notice that it's not a single strip, but several, layered one on top of another.

Finely chop your garlic cloves, and scatter them across the lamb, with a good pinch of salt. Don't skimp on the salt either. As the lamb cooks, the fat will render down, and take most of the salt with it, through the meat, leaving a deliciously moist, and seasoned piece of breast meat .

It's entirely up to you whether to use mixed leaves, or just stick to rocket - they'er both equally delicious to me. A good handful of the leaves on each 'strip' will do nicely.

Layer the strips back on top of one another and turn your board through 90 degrees, to make rolling it easier. 

Grab one end tightly and start rolling, keeping steady pressure on. Once rolled back up, break out your butchers twine or in my case, string, and tie it back up. Do the knots up as tight as you can, because it'll lose mass as it cooks, and the string will slacken.

Place in the roasting tin at the very top of the oven, for 20 minutes ONLY!

After 20 minutes, assuming your smoke alarm hasn't gone off in the interim, take the lamb out of the oven. Notice, the fat covering it has already rendered and created a beautiful crust. Turn the oven down to Gas Mark 2 (300° Fahrenheit / 150° Celsius) and put the lamb back in for a further 1 hour and 30 minutes. 

It might seem like a long time for a small piece of meat, but turning the heat way down will cook it perfectly. The meat will be succulent & moist, not tough and chewy. Once removed from the roasting tin, set onto your chopping board - notice one side of mine has a drain channel around the edge specifically for roasted meat. Let the lamb rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. If you carve it when it's too hot, it'll come apart on you, and you ideally want a nice, intact slice!

This goes wonderfully with the Gratin Dauphinois by the way, and the timings & temperatures of the oven match up perfectly...i wonder why that is ;)