Casseroles

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Spring was definitely in the air last weekend.  It was still chilly, especially in the early morning and evening, but when the sun was shining one could actually feel the heat from it.  Early Spring blossom has started to appear on the trees in Bristol and the daffodils are very much in flower.  So it might seem odd that I chose to cook rather wintry, comfort food dishes, but I thought I’d better get them in before temperatures really do rise.

 

Lancashire Hotpot

My husband says I can’t possibly write a post about this meal because we didn’t take a photo of it, but, with apologies for the lack of illustration, I’ve decided to do it anyway.  It was a success and the ideal thing to cook last Saturday when I had plenty of time in the morning but wanted to watch England play Wales in a crucial Six Nations rugby match in the afternoon.  Honestly, as you will see, this hotpot is more or less just an assembly job.  While I was preparing it I managed to keep an eye on the Italy v Ireland match.

For the ingredients, I more or less followed Felicity Cloake again and make no apologies for that.  Here is what I did.

Ingredients

(Serves 4)

  • 6 lamb cutlets
  • 400g diced lamb shoulder
  • Flour, salt and pepper
  • 3-4 large, floury potatoes
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 300ml stock (Felicity says lamb stock, but I used a homemade chicken one because that’s what I had in the fridge, and it was fine.)
  • 20g melted butter, plus extra to grease.

Method

  • Dust the meat with the flour and seasoning.  Peel and slice the potatoes thinly.
  • Butter a casserole which has a lid.
  • Put a layer of overlapping potato slices in the bottom of the casserole, season them and sprinkle with a little thyme.
  • Put the meat and bay leaf on top, followed by the onions and some more seasoning.
  • Top with the remaining potatoes, overlapping them again.  Season these and pour on the stock, which should not come above the topping.
  • Brush the potatoes with the melted butter.
  • Put the lid on and place the casserole in the simmering oven.  Cook for 4-6 hours.
  • Thirty minutes before serving, remove the lid and transfer to the roasting oven to brown the potatoes.

I placed it in the oven at about 2pm and then all I had to do when we were ready to eat was steam some carrots (in the simmering oven of course) and cook some cabbage.

 

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By the way, for afternoon tea on the sofa, in front of the England v Wales match, we had buttered slices of this delicious “hot cross” fruit loaf which I’d bought in the morning from the Bordeaux Quay stall at Whiteladies Road Market.

 

 

 

Simple Stroganoff

This beef stroganoff, based on Delia Smith’s recipe, has the flavours of “proper” stroganoff but the advantage that it can be made ahead instead of at the last minute; it’s ideally suited to Aga cooking.

Ingredients

(Serves 4 people)

  • 700g fairly lean braising beef
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 50g butter
  • 275 ml dry white wine
  • 250g mushrooms, sliced if large
  • 250ml sour cream
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • Salt and freshly milled black pepper

Method

  • Cut the meat into thin strips, about 5mm wide and no more than 6cm long.
  • Melt the butter in a casserole and soften the onion in it in the simmering oven for about 15 minutes.  Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon.
  • Place the casserole on the boiling plate and brown the beef in batches.
  • Once the meat is browned, move the casserole to the simmering plate and return the beef and onion to it.  Season and pour in the wine.
  • Bring to simmering point, put on the lid and let it cook in the simmering oven for 3-4 hours.
  • An hour before you want to eat, stir in the mushrooms, cover and return it to the oven.
  • Taste to check seasoning, stir in the sour cream with a good grating of nutmeg.  Don’t let the cream boil.
  • Serve with plain boiled rice and perhaps some broccoli or a green salad.

Depending on the weather, perhaps my next posts will move on to lighter, fresher dishes.

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Braised Sausages and Lentils

When I read this article about home comfort eating in The Times the other week, I couldn’t wait to make the braised sausages and lentils recipe.  It seemed so perfectly suited to Aga cooking and simple to make, but on my first attempt I ended up with far too much liquid in the pan, even after the lentils were thoroughly cooked and tender.  I remembered the important Aga rule always to use less liquid than the recipe states, but I obviously didn’t reduce the quantities by enough.  The resultant dish was delicious though, and I resolved to have another go very soon.

I was reminded of it last weekend which we spent away, leaving my sisters-in-law to look after the two elderly ladies of the household: my 91 year old mum-in-law and our 13 year old (also 91 in dog years!) spaniel, Rosie.Dog in Grass

It was a special weekend because our son W and his fiancée, K, were hosting a lunch for the two families to celebrate their engagement.  This took place at our flat in London where they are currently living.  They served up a veritable feast of ham hocks, roast chicken and gratin savoyard with leeks.  There were also braised puy lentils, a delicious winter slaw made with red cabbage, celeriac and sprouts and a mixed green salad.  For pudding K made tiramisù and her younger sister a blueberry and cinnamon cake.  They probably expected to serve all these dishes buffet-style, but we found that we could seat all fourteen of us at two pushed together tables.

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It was a very happy occasion and a lovely way for us all to get to know each other.  We like K’s family very much and I feel fortunate that we’ll have in-laws that we get on with.  Knowing that we would be eating well in the evening too, I was quite restrained and limited myself to a small amount of lunch.  At about 5 o’clock my husband and I left youngest son J with his brothers and future in-laws and headed off to the depths of rural Hampshire to stay with our good friends R and P in their beautiful barn conversion.  R is a superb cook and after a drink by the roaring log fire, we sat down to a dinner of salmon terrine, beef with a fennel and thyme crust, roasted vegetables, and dauphinoise potatoes (by now I was so glad I hadn’t eaten too much at lunchtime).  She also served a deliciously melting chocolate pudding, from a recipe by chef Marcus Wareing.

On Sunday the four of us went for a walk which we enjoyed despite the rain.  IMG_2518It helped us work up an appetite for a delicious lunch of sausages and a bulgar wheat salad (R and I agreed that sausages go so very well with grains or pulses) and this is what jogged my memory and led to me attempting the braised sausage and lentil dish again.

There were only three of us so I reduced the quantities in the Times recipe, but this is one of those dishes where you don’t need to be too precise.  (We had some left over which reheated beautifully for lunch the next day.)  I also adapted the recipe slightly to suit my available ingredients.  This is what I did:

Ingredients

  • 250g puy lentils
  • 4tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Pinch dried chilli flakes
  • Large handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 stick celery, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 glass red wine
  • 1 tin whole plum tomatoes, drained
  • 6 good quality pork sausages
  • Chicken stock, approx 300ml, but probably less
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • A couple of handfuls of spinach leaves
  • Salt and pepper

Method

  • Cover the lentils with cold water, bring to the boil on the boiling plate, then simmer for 5 minutes on the simmering plate.  Tip the lentils into a sieve and wash under cold water until cold to the touch.
  • Pour half of the olive oil into a wide, shallow casserole or sauté pan.  Place it on the simmering plate and add the onion, bay leaf and a pinch of salt.  Coat everything in the oil, then cover and cook in the simmering oven for about 15 minutes until the onions are soft but not coloured.
  • Add the dried chilli, some ground black pepper, the parsley, celery and carrot.  Stir, then cook covered in the simmering oven for a further 15 minutes, until soft.
  • Add the garlic, stir, then pour the red wine over the vegetables, bring to the boil on the simmering plate and reduce by two thirds.
  • Add the blanched lentils, whole drained plum tomatoes, chopped up a bit, and place the sausages on top. Then add about 200ml of the chicken stock and bring to the boil.
  • Now you have a choice: if you have lots of time, place it, uncovered, in the simmering oven for a couple of hours, checking the stock level after about an hour and adding more if it’s looking dry, until the lentils are soft.  The problem with this method is your sausages might not brown very well, but 10 minutes in the baking or roasting oven at some point during the cooking should resolve that.  I was in a hurry, so I cooked mine for about an hour in the baking oven (I think the roasting oven would be too hot), turning the sausages over half way through to brown them all over.  I added a little stock during the cooking time but don’t think I used more than 250ml in total, a lot less than the Times recipe specifies.
  • When the lentils are tender and the sausages cooked, move to the simmering plate, add the spinach leaves and allow them to wilt.  Remove from the heat, stir through the rest of the oil and the balsamic vinegar and check the seasoning.
  • To serve, you could sprinkle over a little more chopped parsley.

I hope you enjoy this recipe.  For me, making it was a pleasure because it was so straightforward and – a huge plus – you don’t have to brown the sausages in advance.  Have I mentioned before my dislike of browning meat?  It makes such a mess with fat splashing everywhere, even in my hair, and leaving a thin film of grease on almost every kitchen surface.

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