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Monday, 6 January 2014

Greek Irish Stew

Kastellorizo, just off the Turkish coast
I was looking at a recipe for Arni me Fassolakia - Greek lamb stew with Green Beans, but it seemed a bit too Mediterranean for January in Belfast. So less tomato and more potato makes a lovely hybrid stew which left the husband very happy indeed. He's actually making me write it up now, ten minutes after dinner, so I don't forget the recipe.

1 leg of lamb leftover (the bone and about a pound of meat left on it from last night - you could use 2lb of bone in stewing lamb instead)
2 onions
Celery, carrot, whatever is to hand

The potato bit
2-3lb potatoes, peeled & quartered
100-200g sliced green beans
The skimmed stock

The oniony-tomato bit
A box of plum tomatoes, halved
2 onions, sliced
Plenty of olive oil

Bring the stock ingredients to the boil and simmer for 4-5 hours. Cool and discard everything but the meat. Allow the meat to cool, remove any skin & fat and chop up into 1" chunks.
Boil the spuds & green beans till the potatoes are tender but not falling apart.
Meanwhile fry the onions and tomatoes in plenty of olive oil on a medium low heat till the onions are translucent - they will be ready when the spuds are.

Drain the potatoes and beans (but keep the stock) - put them in with the onion mix, add the lamb and combine everythng, then add stock a ladle at a time till you get a nice stew consistency. Add salt & pepper to taste. Leftover stock can be used for soup. Like all stews, much better the next day.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Moussaka - the best recipe ever

No messing around, this really is the best Moussaka you will ever taste. Not too heavy but delectably rich. The trick is to get as much oil as possible out of the aubergines and mince, so drain them really well.

For the mince:
250g Irish mushrooms, sliced
 700g lean mince beef 
4 onions, finely chopped 
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced 
Oxo cube 
Glass of red wine 
3 peppers (the roasted, bottled ones are best), chopped 
Dried thyme 
Bay leaf 
500ml passata 
1-2 tbs tomato purée

For the Bechamel
250ml milk
1 onion, chopped very fine
A good scrape of nutmeg
50g butter

50g plain flour

And then:
100ml cream
4 egg yolks
150g or more of strong cheese, preferably mature cheddar and parmesan
Breadcrumbs, fresh or dried

Plus 2-3 large aubergines sliced 1/2" thick and a lot of good quality vegetable oil.

First the mince:
Fry the mushrooms on medium high till browned and caramelised, about 20 minutes. Put them in a heavy casserole. Dry fry  the mince on a high heat and when cooked through, drain it in a colander while you fry the onion until translucent on a medium heat. Now throw this and all the other mince ingredients into the casserole and bring to the boil, then simmer for an  hour.

Meanwhile, the aubergines:
Fry them in small batches in lots of oil on a medium high heat - they should be a gorgeous dark brown on both sides. As each slice is done, remove it to a colander lined with 4 layers of kitchen paper. When they're all done, get about 4 layers of kitchen paper and press it down on the slices. Let this sit and absorb all the excess oil for a good 20 minutes.

Last, the Bechamel
Just make a plain thick Bechamel, once it's cooked through take it off the heat, let it cool a little and add the cream and egg yolks.

Assemble and cook:
Layer the aubergine first, then mince, aubergine, mince, aubergine, then pour the sauce all over. Finish with 150g of strong cheese then scatter breadcrumbs over the top. Bake at 180oC for 45 mins. Should be delish.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

A good foolproof quiche

Quiche terrifies me. I love it, but when I try to make it I get watery cheesy scrambled eggs in a damp pastry case. So thank you to Delia and thank you to Philadelphia Cheese - between the two I have produced a gorgeous, rich quiche that's also ridiculously easy.

1 pack ready rolled shortcrust pastry
1 tsp butter
2 onions, chopped very fine
1 garlic clove, minced
200g Philadelphia
200g ham, chopped
4 eggs, beaten
Salt & pepper

Line a pie dish with the pastry, prick all over and brush with a little of the beaten egg. Bake at 190C for 15 mins. Meanwhile fry the garlic & onions in the butter till translucent. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the Philadephia till mixed through. Then add the ham and eggs, season and pour into the pastry case. Cook at 170C for about 35-40 mins. Serve warm or cold.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Paula Wolfert's Fish Tagine, Funkyknuckles style

The parents have gone home so I have time to myself again. I got a beautiful new cookbook -The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert - and it is just wonderful. I've already made Oudi, a clarified butter made by toasting barley grits - I just used coarse bulgur instead - with dried thyme and then melting butter over the mixture. The bulgur pulls the milk solids away magically, so you can just pour the clarified butter off really easily and it also gives a lovely smoky flavour to the finished product. I will be mostly anointing things with this for the next wee while.

I have not yet made the preserved lemons, the tomato confit, the meat confit or any of the amazing sounding breads - but I will. The range of recipes is incredible, there must be half a dozen versions of the old chicken/lemon/olive tagine classic, plus several very different and interesting looking b'stillas. If I only had one Moroccan cookbook (Ha! I have half a shelf of them!) this would be it.

Tonight I made the Fish Tagine with Creamy Onion Charmoula but - as usual - I made several substitutions, mostly because I had no preserved lemons, coriander or courgettes. Fresh lemons, parsley and fennel were perfectly good under the circumstances. The result was excellent, the husband loved it and it was very easy and good. I just bought myself a great big shallow cast iron casserole from Sainsbury's and it works very well if you don't have a cooking tagine.

The charmoula itself is spectacularly good and simple and I would use again and again on chicken or fish.

Fish Tagine with Onion Charmoula

Onion Charmoula:
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin seeds
2 tsp minced garlic & ginger
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp hot paprika
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
Pinch of turmeric, fennel and cinnamon
20g parsley
3-4 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion (coarsely chopped)
Juice of 1 lemon

750g firm white fish (I used seabass & monkfish) skinned and cut into 1" chunks
1 punnet small red ripe tomatoes, halved
750g-1kg small potatoes, quartered
1 fennel bulb, sliced thin
1 red bell pepper, peeled, cored, seeded, and diced
Juice of one lemon
1/2 a glass of wine

Juice & rind of a lemon
Olive oil
Chopped parsley

Blitz the Charmoula ingredients until smooth. Divide into two, mix half of it with the fish and marinate for an hour in the fridge.

Boil the potatoes till almost tender, then put them in a shallow casserole or tagine with the fennel, pepper, lemon, wine and the rest of the charmoula. Bring to the boil and then simmer, covered, till tender (about 30 mins).

Spread the marinated fish and the tomatoes over the top and bake uncovered at 200oC for about 15 mins till the fish is cooked. Stir the garnish through and devour. I've adjusted the quantities to suit Irish levels of potato consumption so this needs no accompaniment.


2lb butter
40g coarse bulgur
1 tsp dried thyme or oregano

Toast the bulgur and thyme in a dry frying pan for 5 minutes or so on a medium to high heat till it's golden brown and smells smoky. Put in the butter (chopped up into pats) and let it melt completely without browning or stirring. Take off any scum with a kitchen towel. It will magically separate out into golden butter fat and weird porridgy gloop at the bottom of the pan. Paula Wolfert says you should strain it but I just poured the clarified butter off the bulgur mixture and put it in a jar. Tastes amazing and will be a beautiful topping for all things Middle Eastern.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Il Pirata

My Dad has just come home from Florida for a wee holiday so we enjoyed a typically modern family Sunday lunch (him, me, my husband, my stepmother, stepsister and her wee boy) at Il Pirata, my favourite restaurant.

God, I am SO lucky to have this place at the bottom of my street! I've got the Mandarin City (tremendous high end Chinese with duck a speciality), Little Wing pizzeria,  the Jasmine (ludicrously good Indian BYO) and the Good Fortune (longstanding BYO Chinese of choice for a tasty midweek treat), so spoiled for choice round these parts, but Il Pirata is the one I keep going back to. So much so, in fact, that I haven't even got round to trying out Green's Pizza or that Mexican place which is supposed to be incredible.

The husband was pretty grumpy heading out, muttering something about only having had 5 hours sleep and claiming to be a bit Il Pirata-ed out - fair enough, I've been dragging him down there once a fortnight since it opened. But while it may be possible for him to overdose on the delectable mushroom arancini and beef ragu, I can take any god's amount of fine rustic Italian cookery. Plus on Sundays they have started doing "sharing roasts" so I lured him down the street on that premise.

They still do the porchetta for two (£16) but no one else on the table was up for a hit of fatty, delicious pork belly so I settled on splitting a chicken roast with truffle butter, baby fennel, carrots and peas with roast potatoes (£18 for two). Great stuff - husband was delighted, Dad was happy, ladies were equally pleased. They do half portions of everything for kids and my wee nephew thinks their beef ragu is better than McDonalds. This is the best you can expect from the average seven year old. When I was that age I was mad for the Skandia's whitebait, Chicken a la King and Rhum Baba and I was cosidered to be utterly precocious for that. Considering my staple diet was Findus Crispy Pancakes and reheated stew it was a fair observation.

We finished off with the famous tiramisu and pannacotta and could have sat quite happily for the rest of the afternoon there - it's a great place to bring people for a leisurely meal. Il Pirata really hits the mark every time - the menu has a balance of old favourites and very special specials, the wine list is great (the house Sicilians are top value at £15 a bottle) and the service is great. I've never had a bad meal here and I've had many great ones.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Midweek Harira Soup

The tanneries at Fez...smelly, smelly place!
Baby brother and I were lucky enough to spend a week in Fez about 12 years ago. It's the most fabulous city and the food is the best in Morocco. It was the first time either of us had eaten Harira soup (or briouates or b'stilla for that matter) and it was a powerful memory - a chilli hot lamb broth with tomatoes, spices, pulses and pasta.

Apparently there are endless versions of it, which of course gives you a fair bit of latitude when you come to make your own. So armed only with yesterday's lamb broth and some stuff from the larder I set out to make some.

Harira soup

Fez pottery - It'd be rude not to bring some home.
About 2 pints of lamb broth, skimmed of fat, plus the shreds of meat that came off the bone
500g carton of passata
2 cloves garlic
100g cannellini beans, soaked overnight
100g chana dal
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp vegetable stock powder
3 tsp Turkish mixed spice (a cinnamon, gingery, clovy type)
1 chili, chopped
Juice of half a lemon
Large handfull of short vermicelli

Somewhat embarrassingly, I just put everything in a pot apart from the lemon and vermicelli, brought it to the boil and cooked for an hour and a bit. When the beans are tender, put the vermicelli in and when that's cooked (a few minutes), put the lemon juice in and serve.

This was gorgeous and while I know it's not that traditional (the real thing involves hours of faffing about and lots of different bowls of stuff being added at crucial moments) it's very doable on a weeknight and put me right back in the happy place - traipsing round the Mdina with baby brother, duking around the souks and riads and showing him how to haggle (for a really lovely chess set). And of course making him carry my Berber rug and about a brazillion plates all the way home.

Monday, 27 May 2013

A day at the museum & three things to do with a leg of lamb

The Green Coat by John Lavery
We went to the Ulster Museum today to see "Revealed" which is a collection of Government art and much more interesting than it sounds!

It's an exhibition of over 160 pieces which are usually displayed in British government buildings around the world, with artists from the 1500s to the present day including van Dyck, Graham Sutherland, Andy Warhol, Tracey Emin, Martin Creed, Gary Hume, Ed Ruscha and Grayson Perry.

I loved it, but I loved the Sir John Lavery collection even more, while "300 years of Irish landscape" was also worth half an hour of anyone's time. The Ulster Museum has definitely got its act together with the curation and display of its best artwork. Wish I could say the same about the Troubles section which was just plain dire - you could see it had been committeed to death by people who were just too scared to offend, to the extent that it was meaningless and boring.

My husband was pretty appalled by it all, particularly as he does a walking tour in Belfast which deals with the history of terrorism - it's not an easy subject to deal with, but it can't be airbrushed out of our history either.

Anyway, last night I did a leg of lamb as Jamie Oliver recommended, roasted directly on the oven rack with spuds and carrots underneath to catch the juices - and very good it was too. Left with plenty of good meat and some rather more gristly stuff on the bone, I made a lamb broth with the bone and scraggy meat which will go towards Harira soup tomorrow, while the good meat went in a very easy and lovely tagine I make a lot.

Lamb tagine

1lb or so of roast leg of lamb, cubed
1 tablespoon of minced garlic and ginger
Vegetable oil
2 aubergines, cubed
500ml passata
A pepper or two from a jar, sliced
2 tsp turkish style mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
Salt & pepper
2 chillies, chopped (or 1 tsp minced chili from a jar)
2 tsp quince paste or membrillo
1 tin of chickpeas

Fry aubergines in 2-3 batches till deep golden brown, drain very well in kitchen towel. Fry ginger & garlic for a minute till it colours, add spices and fry a bit more. Add passata a glug at a time till it's all incorporated. Add chillies and quince paste, stir through. Add a bit of water to make a soupy sauce. Put everything else in and cook on a low simmer for about 30-45 mins.