Gluten free steak pie – by request

The pieThis is by special request.

750g chuck steak.  I use steak from Yare Valley Oils Belted Galloways  or Beautiful Beef in Tharston Red Polls.  All herds are free-range, ethically raised and slaughtered locally.  I say that because some of my friends are very sensitive to animal welfare and not that excited about me eating meat.  I live with a vegetarian and so meat doesn’t figure that high on our menus.  However I am happy with my conscience knowing that I have incisors (therefore I am a meat eater) and I won’t buy cheap mass-produced meat, preferring to know its provenance.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, chuck steak.

750g chuck steak. Two medium sized onions. One large knobbly carrot. One stalk of celery. Two cloves of garlic.  A teaspoon of cumin seed. The remainder of a bottle of red wine (about 100ml), Gremolata   Beef stock (in my world, that’s Oxo), half a tin of chopped tomatoes, a little cornflour (this is made from maize, not wheat!), black pepper.

Cut your steak into medium sized pieces and put in a bowl.  Add a good tablespoon of gremolata and a good few churns of the pepper grinder, add the cumin. Drop in a couple of bay leaves. Add two tablespoons of cornflour and mix around to coat the meat.

Chop your celery into fine dice and your onions into slices and your large knobbly carrot into moderate sized pieces.  Put a big glug of oil into a pan (I use the le Crueset I’m going to use for the meat) and bring it to a moderate heat.  Add the vegetables and sweat them slowly and gently with the lid on until soft. Remove vegetables from the pan and scrape around the bottom of the pan a bit.  Add a little more oil. Get it hot then drop in about 30% of the pieces of meat and sear it till it gets brown.  Don’t overfill the pan otherwise it will just steam and it will go grey instead.  Remove meat from the pan and add to the vegetables.  Repeat until all the meat is browned. turn up the heat and add the red wine so that it bubbles and boils, boiling away the alcohol. Keep scraping the bits off the bottom of the pan as it boils. Then take off the heat and add the meat and vegetables, turning them round in the winey sludge at the bottom.  Put back on the heat and add the tomatoes and sufficient stock to cover the meat. Bring gently to the boil with the lid on, then turn the heat down and simmer for a good 2 hours. Or you can put it in the oven.  Then allow to cool.  Check the seasoning to see if you need more salt.   After it has cooled down, if you are making it ahead of the game, put in the fridge and take out the next day and allow to come to room temperature before you put into the pie.

For the pastry.  Use 250g gluten-free flour (plain white, or plain wholemeal) and 120g Flora or similar. Half a teaspoon of salt.  Rub the fat into the flour then add sufficient water to bring the dough together. Then leave the dough for half an hour.  Put your meat and its gravy into a dish and if you have one, add one of those pretty little pottery birds in the middle – the ones that let the steam out!

pie bird

Wet the edges of the dish. Roll out your pastry making it a good 2cm wider and longer than the dish.  Cut long strips off the pastry and lay along the dampened edges of the dish.  Then roll the pastry onto your pin and roll it over your dish, making a little hole for the birdie’s beak to poke through.  press the edges down, then glaze either with egg wash or with soya milk mixed with a little custard powder or turmeric.  Believe me, it works!

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 190C for about an hour, turning down to 160 and maybe protecting the top with a bit of tin foil, after 40 minutes. Depends on your oven.

What can best a good pie, with mash and gravy?

Intolerant? Moi??

IMG_2468OK. So I am clearly entering Erikkson’s eighth psychosocial stage.  That of wisdom and despair.  I’m happy with the wisdom bit. And I’m not a despairing sort of person as those who know me will attest.  However I have found over the past 3 years that parts of me – including my digestive system – is more sensitive. Along with my first ever bout of gout, combining alcohol with my drug regime (!) and a dodgy hip.  And so a few adjustments have been made.  The good outcome is dropping two dress sizes.  Less good is being unable to drink beer, eat too much liver, mackerel, smoked salmon, sardines, spinach and cavolo nero, having to moderate the wine intake and be careful about eating too many grains.  Has it driven me to despair though?  No it hasn’t.  It’s another opportunity to adapt and find new things and new ways.  Does it mean I never eat any of those things? No!

So here’s my first ‘sensitive’ recipe.  Gluten-free vegan mince-pies.

Soak 100g raisins and a tablespoon of chia seeds n some hot tea for half an hour.  Drain then add 2tbsp maple syrup, 1tbsp of molasses and the grated rind of a small orange.  Grate two eating apples into the raisins and then 2 tbs pine-nuts and two of pumpkin seeds.  Add about 25g marzipan paste (egg free) chopped into tiny pieces. Add about 1 tbsp of any spirit such as brandy, whisky or port.  Combine all the ingredients.   Best do this a few hours before you are making the pastry – or put in a sterilised jar and keep in the fridge for no more than a week.

I used 240g of Dove’s Farm gluten-free flour for the pastry, half a teaspoon of salt, a sprinkle of baking powder, a little grating of lemon rind and 120g Flora.  Just make it like normal pastry by rubbing the fat into the flour, pull it together with some cold water and leave to rest for half an hour.  You will find that gluten-free flour makes a very ‘soft’ dough and – inevitably – it’s not very stretchy.  But it is perfectly workable with a little care.

Prepare  your tins by greasing liberally first, then  throw in some coarse semolina and swirl around the base and the sides.  This makes the finished article lovely and crisp on the bottom and prevents stickage!  Roll out the dough, use a cutter that’s big enough (don’t know about you, but incy-pincy mince-pies look so mean, so I use a muffin tin – call me greedy if you like).  Fill the bases with your fruit mixture, then add the pastry tops, using a little liquid to seal the edges.

#Three Top Tips.

  • Grease the tins and then throw a little coarse semolina into each depression and swirl it around to coat the bottom and the sides
  • Use a round-bladed knife just to ease the edges away from the pan after you’ve added the tops, then they won’t seal as if stuck by super-glue when you try to take them out!
  • Mix a tablespoon or so of soya milk with a tiny amount of custard powder if you don’t like egg-wash.  Use egg-wash or the yellow milk to glaze the tops.

Bake toward the top of  a pre-heated oven at 200C for 15-20 minutes.  Check just before 15 minutes.  I swear you will burn the roof of your mouth because you won’t be able to wait for them to get cool!


Long day, cold night, hot pilau

So let me tell you about my day….. up early and do a 100 mile round trip to mother’s, counsellling myself to be good, not get cross and to be kind. I did all those things, we had a good natter, I checked through the ‘falls alarm’ details fitted last week, at last we agreed it would be a good idea if I did a supermarket order for her once a month we agreed a timetable for me reminding her to check the falls alarm and at the same time do the Waitrose order. I made her two latte’s, went to the Co-op, mended the phone and reminded her how to turn up the heating thermostat.  We agreed the rules (hers) for her 90th birthday party in May so nothing will be a surprise. Only as I had one foot in the van  did she hit me with her plan to get a mobility scooter. She’s subtle player, my mum.

Home in bright sunshine but by the time the tyres hit the drive it was snowing.  I inspected the crocuses and the #snowdrops, the white camelia buds about to get frost damage and smelled the heavenly scent of the Daphne Odora. And the hellebores were out.  Then I tackled two collapsed panels of side fence –  wind injured last week whilst we were gallivanting in blizzards at Seahouses.  Looking forward to a couple of hours with Jonathan Raban and the wood burner, I collapsed like a frozen thing into the kitchen.

But instead of Jonathan Raban I was sidetracked by Nigel Slater in Turkey on iPlayer and images of vegetable pilau kept floating around in my head.

Last night’s dinner was a good old standby and we had some left over.  Pilau would bulk it out.  Last night we had

Chick peas with coconut, chilli and tomato

This is so ridiculously easy and easily adaptable without fuss.  Pulse two onions, three fat cloves of garlic, a thumb of fresh ginger and a medium sized red chilli in the food processor. Then add two big carrots and pulse again but only so the carrot is chopped not puree’d. Heat some oil sufficient to cover the bottom of a medium sized saucepan or large terracotta dish, throw in the onion mixture, turn around in the oil. Add a cinnamon stick. Sweat for ten minutes.  Add a tin of chick peas and the juice, add a tin of chopped tomatoes, half a tin full of cold water, half a tin of creamed coconut, a tablespoon of pomegranate molasses (or brown sugar).  Mix together, clamp on the lid, bring to a slow simmer and then leave it for three hours. Then remove the lid, add some salt to taste. Take off the heat and just before serving add chopped fresh coriander.

Anyway, half that was left over from last night. Now for the


use a small Le Cruset for this, purchased in alimoges in 1982. It gets very hot on its little bottom and it gives the right amount of ‘crunch’ at the base of the pilau. Essential, I think.  On the hob, add oil and butter to the pan then add sufficient chopped vegetables (whatever you like) – I used cauliflower, onion, loads of garlic, carrot, aubergine, tomato.  Cook on a high heat, then add 1 tsp each of cumin and coriander powder, three ground black cardamom (or green, there is nothing precise here), three ground cloves, one teaspoon turmeric, a teaspoon of fennel seed and about a teaspoon of salt.  Mix well into the vegetables, then add two handfuls of brown Basmati rice, then a layer of spinach, then one handful of rice.  Pour in 500ml stock and put a lid on it and put in the oven.  The idea is to cook the rice with the lid on and crisp up the base.  Leave it for 45 minutes then check it. It should be done. Take off the lid, and dot with butter and a little home made garam masala (use ‘search’ on this site).


You can serve this with some of my chutney and pickle recipes, or just with yogurt.

I have been writing this whilst it is cooking and I can smell it is nearly done..  Himself has kindly poured me a glass of red and I am looking forward to settling down in the depths of the sofa for an hour (with or without Jonathan Raban) before a conversation with a couple about their wedding plans latter in the year (see my alter-ego if you are planning getting hitched) and hopefully you will find I am jus the same on that site too – loving life, loving food, loving new things, loving couples in love)!

New Year Reflections, gremolata and aquafaba!

I was talking with Bruce and Peter this afternoon – something along the lines of  ‘not everything that’s important can be counted, and not everything that is counted, counts’. I think it’s an Einstein quote.

New Year, for me, is always a time for reflection…. what have I done, what will I do this year?  On my list are the following:

– only do work that is of value

– spend more time with people who are kind

– walk daily!

– write more

– try hard to desist from attempting stupid things like standing on cupboards and falling off, being reckless with sharp kitchen knives

– spend more time on the beach

– increase wedding and funeral bookings

I have been thinking about this whilst meditatively (a-la Nigella) making gremolata this afternoon. 

I have also pondered on making small themed books for Will and Anna – family food, family recipes.  For years I have talked about publishing a cook book and it is all there in skeleton form.  But have I left it too late and maybe I should be more picky about where I put my energy? I am undecided. Answers on a postcard please.

Many people have said to me that they see me as someone with loads of energy. And it is true – mostly I have. But sometimes I don’t. Being perceived as someone with boundless energy is great however there are other parts of me to discover! Go on, give it a try! Invite me to do something with you that is something known to you but new to me.

I have a low boredom threshold and it drives my energy bank, of that I am certain. In using energy I create momentum, change, challenge and I like those qualities to be present and tangible in my life.

But in true Erickson terms, the stages of life are evident and although creative, I am also a realist. So I am rethinking that drive, recalibrating it; making it work for me in my mid 60s in ways that will still bring me joy, adventures, new experiences. For the past few years I know I have been drawing on my 40 year old energy bank.

Life remains an adventure. I want to have adventures. Having had a good go at leaving this mortal coil a few years ago, you could say I am living on borrowed time.  I prefer to think of it not as borrowed time but as a gift and the best gift of all.  So sticking around a bit longer, always being up for having fun, always cooking and getting a dozen people around the table will remain key driver for me.  Of that, too, I am certain.

So this weekend has been a time of deep reflection -reading my two new cookbooks – Two Kitchens by Rachel Roddy and The Modern Kitchen by Anna Jones – pootlong  about collecting rosemary from various people (for which, thanks to Bruce and Peter, Anna and Karen) and thinking about friends who have struggled this year. You know who you are. You should know that you inspire me.

I have also been doing further experiments with aquafaba and made the best toad in the hole to date.  I said I would update the lovely Rachel and Dean – this is the next instalment and I think I’ve cracked it – use two tablespoons of chick pea water for every egg you would have used.  I used four tbsp chick pea water in lieu of two eggs.  Whisk  till light and fluffy.  Four tablespoons of plain flour with a little salt, whisk into 200ml milk (any kind), fold in the whipped aquafaba.  I used chestnut and tofu sausages (click here).  Cook toads  as normal.

And so, I wish you a peaceful, healthy and happy 2018.  You deserve it! We all deserve it!



Quick, light, easy pickles for last minute guests and as gifts

You can make all these in less than 45 minutes!

Davinder’s Lemon Pickle

Sandip brought these round one night – he is always so generous with his foodie gifts and they are always so delicious.  Later on his mum Davinder texted me the recipe for which I was very grateful – it couldn’t be easier.  Slice a lemon into eight pieces. Do this with 6 lemons. Put in a stainless steel bowl with a teaspoon of turmeric, as many chilli flakes as you dare, a couple of fresh chillies if you double dare.  Add six tablespoons of salt and half a small bottle of lemon juice. That’s it.  Pack everything into sterilised jars and add the juice and leave a week before eating. Keep in the fridge.

Cornersmith’s Fennel Pickle

This is from one of my favourite cookbooks – Cornersmith  – which is a co-operative in the suburbs of Sydney.  They take excess garden and allotment produce and make lovely things with it. Including this. I’ve adapted it slightly. One day I will go there. Slice two bulbs of fennel and one brown onion very thinly.  Put in a stainless steel bowl along with one tablespoon of fennel seed, one tablespoon of mustard seed, one tablespoon of nigella seed, one tablespoon of chilli flakes. one tablespoon of salt.  Mix.  Put 500ml organic apple cyder vinegar in a stainless steel saucepan along with 60ml agave syrup. Bring to the boil.  Pack your fennel tightly into sterilised jars and pour over the hot vinegar and seal.  Ready in a week, or sooner.  Will keep in the fridge for about a month but no longer. Great with cold meats and anything vegetarian, it doesn’t mind which.


You’ve read about this  before but it is my go-to condiment for fish, vegetarian, pasta, meat – the lot.  Go out in the garden and cut a very large handful of rosemary. Come indoors and turn on Radio 6Music. Remove all the leaves from the stems by stripping them off against the way they grow.  Use a nifty zester to remove the zest from three lemons.  Chop 4 large cloves of garlic.  Now get nifty with a knife or a mezzaluna and chop everything very fine – don’t use a blender or processor as it over-processes it and loses the freshness.  Put everything in a stainless steel bowl and add an equal quantity of seasalt or rocksalt.  Pour into a jar or jars.  Will keep for ages.  I suggest you don’t use this in cooking but rather use it as a last minute sprinkle just as the dish is finishing off in the oven – or on pasta once its drained.

An easy supper for a cold winter night

image from

OK so we’ve been out all day and driven 100 mile round-trip in all weathers except sun. It’s rained, hailed, snowed, was foggy and now it’s freezing fog and raining again.

The first priority when we arrived home was to get the woodburner going. The next, kettle on.  Then the easiest prep for the easiest of suppers.

Roughly chop a half of one medium sized cauliflower – into moderately sized florets but you don’t need to be careful about it.  Slice one onion. Peel and chop four cloves of garlic.  Chunk a couple of sticks of celery, chop two medium sized potatoes and slice one red pepper into thick slices.  Chop half a preserved lemon having first scooped out the flesh and discarded it.  Throw everything into  big bowl.  Season liberally with seasalt, chopped rosemary and grate in the rind of one lemon.  Add one dessert spoon of powdered turmeric and the same of hot smoked paprika.  Add 30ml olive oil.  Mix thoroughly and go away and read a book for a couple of hours in front of the fire and drink tea.

Turn on the oven to 190C.  Put just a little oil into a baking tray and put the tray in the oven to get smoking hot.  Whilst it is getting hot add 250ml tomato juice or a tin of chopped tomatoes to the contents of the bowl in which you are marinading the vegetables.  Add one 1litre jar or two tins of chick peas and their water.  Mix in with the vegetables. So far so easy huh?

Remove the smoking hot tray from the oven.  Pour in the contents of the bowl. Squeeze over the juice of half a lemon. Put the tray back in the oven for 40 minutes.  Pour a gin and tonic.  Go back to the sofa and your book.  It just gets easier and easier!

When 40 minutes is up, empty one bag of pre-cooked rice into a jug and microwave for two minutes.  Chop some kale into a saucepan and add a scant amount of water, clamp on the lid and set to high so that it steams rather than cooks – just for a couple of minutes – you will know you’ve done it right if you don’t need to drain the kale and it’s done!

Take the tray of scorching hot vegetables out of the oven and drizzle some pomegranate molasses over the top – maybe 20ml or so.  Take a jar of aubergine chutney out of the cupboard. Take a jar of fermented carrots out of the fridge (recipe to come later) and pour 150ml Kefir into a small bowl – or you can use good organic yogurt  – and sprinkle with some fennel seed.  Now let everything that is hot rest for five minutes.

Now plate up – some rice, some roasted cauliflower and chick pea with sauce, some crispy kale. all garnished with carrot, some chutney and some cooling raita.  All in the time it takes to drink a G&T and read a couple of chapters.

Woodburner is burbling away. Himself is watching Japanese woodturning on Youtube with his headphones on. I’m on the sofa contemplating a second G&T and whether I should read another chapter of David Storey’s Saville or watch the final episode of Outlander. It’s been that sort of a day.

Winter bake with goats curd


Rain slashing down, wind howling. But the woodburner’s burbling away to itself and the warmth is seeping into the kitchen.  In the basket I have potatoes, parsnip, carrot, beetroot, onion, squash, spinach.  And in the fridge I have some wonderful goat’s curd from our friends at Fielding Cottage which I bought at Wymondham Farmers Market on Saturday.  Although I noticed today that a gorgeous new deli has opened in Wymondham and they sell Fielding Cottage Cheese too. And other wonderful cheeses like Mrs Lambert’s, Chorizo all the way from Spain, hand raised pork pies, preserves and apparently some gorgeous Serrano ham coming in next week. I also bought some chilli oil whilst I was in there and some golden rapeseed oil.  It’s so good to see a proper artisan shop like Disney’s open in Wymondham.  Good luck to them – I’ll be a regular for sure.

Anyway, back to the winter warmer.   Chop the vegetables into chunks, season and then steam them till just done. Wilt a medium sized pan full of spinach in a little butter with the lid on but no water.  Remove from the pan before totally wilted and leave the lid on. Put about 25g butter in the bottom of a dish (I use a terracotta one) and grate some garlic into it.  Put in  microwave for about 30 seconds to melt the butter and just sizzle the garlic.  The add the vegetables and mix round a bit. Add the drained spinach.  Season again  but only with black pepper and stir in a handful of chopped flatleaf parsley and dill.

Pour 200ml sour cream (or  I’ve used natural yogurt before now) into a bowl. Stir in 100g goat’s curd, 1 heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard and 50g grated gruyere cheese and two eggs.  You won’t need any more salt because the curd is salty enough, but you could add a twist of black pepper and a litte grating of nutmeg.  Then pour over the vegetables and put into a hot oven.  Five minutes before it’s cooked and bubbling  – about 40 minutes – sprinkle some more parmesan on the top and return to the oven for another five minutes till golden brown.

I suggest taking it out of the oven and leaving it to stand for a good ten minutes. You need to eat this hot but not so hot as to lose the wonderful savoury edge which the topping gives to the sweet vegetables.

Johanssen’s surprise with smoked bacon

Urgent need for comfort food. Running late on everything. Need warmth, ease, flavour, just a fork. In a bowl. On the sofa.

Thinly slice 750g potatoes and a large onion (use the slicer on your food processor if you have one, it’s done in a trice). Put them in a deep saucepan with salt, chopped garlic, a tin of anchovies and the oil (yes, I know, but trust me) and enough full cream milk to just cover. The add about 2 tablespoons of dried dill. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are just soft.

Turn into a wide shallow dish. Let me rephrase that.  Pour the contents of the saucepan into a wide shallow dish and without further ado put it into the oven with no further fuss – at 180C for about 40 minutes.  By then the potatoes will have absorbed the milk and the top will be crispy.  Then take out of the oven and leave for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile put some butter and oil in a good sized pan. Add chopped smoky bacon offcuts and fry gently for five minutes. Then add lots of sliced savoy cabbage and grated rind of half a lemon.  Stir round a bit.  Slap on the lid and steam away for about 5 minutes.  Depending on how crunchy you like your cabbage either leave the lid on and add no more water, or add a little water – by this I mean probably 100ml tops – and steam away for another couple of minutes.  Add some black pepper and you are done.

Now, take a bowl.  Serve yourself some potatoes, cabbage and bacon and enjoy some simple culinary heaven.

Winter solstice and ham hocks

Tomorrow is the start of the winter solstice.  The shortest day. The longest night. The official start of winter. It might really have been the shortest day given the Mayan calendar predicted the end of the world today. But the fact I am writing this is testimony to the fact that it didn’t.

I am way behind with my food planning for Christmas but it will all come together,a s it does every year.  Guests start arriving tomorrow and keep trickling in until Monday.  Sunday night there will be chicken and ham pie, Monday is a moveable feast as everyone has different plans – but will probably be fish. Christmas day will be goose stuffed with mashed potato and apple – far more scrummy than it sounds I can assure you; Boxing day is ham cooked with star anise and molasses (start cooking it on Monday, finish on Wednesday!), Thursday is a North African table. Vegetarians will be eating chestnut and cashew pie with red wine gravy, hazelnut and tomato roast, parsnip and stilton roulade and aubergines stuffed with tomato, quinoa and mushrooms. Puddings include lemon curd icecream, chocolate and prune parfait, roasted plums with soft almond crust, sloe gin jellies with pomegranate, raspberry sorbet with roasted raspberries and mint crisps, caramel pears with walnuts and gorgonzola.  Not a Christmas pudding in sight.

Remember those ham hocks I bought for a song a couple or months ago? One is currently defrosting – two remain in the freezer so watch this space.  Tomorrow I shall marinade it in stout with a cinnamon  stick and some cloves, then dry it thoroughly and roast it quickly in a small pan and leave it to cool completely in the pan when it’s done.  Then I’m going to shred the meat from the bone and mix some of it with poached chicken, and leeks which have been sautee’d in lots of butter and a bayleaf then helped on their way with black pepper, salt, a sprinkle of flour then more than a good splash of cream and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Mix it round in the pan and the juices will thicken. As soon as it starts to thicken take it off the pan before the cream splits.  When cool grate a little nutmeg onto.  Check the seasoning again and then pile onto a dinner-plate sized base of good puff pastry which you have already rolled out and placed on a heavy baking tray.  Level off the filling slightly and brush the edges of the pastry with egg, and top it off with a pastry hat, sealing and crimping the edges as you go.  Brush all over with beaten egg, snip two slits in the top and put into the pre-heated oven at 180C for 30 minutes.  When it is done it will be ‘singing’, the filling will be piping hot if you put a sharp knife into the centre and feel the heat of the blade.  My granny used to test the heat on her top lip.  She often looked as if she had a moustache for this reason!  The pastry will look golden brown. Just like your top lip if you’re not careful with that knife.

Don’t be tempted to try and remove it from the baking tray too soon.  Leave it to rest for five minutes and then ease a pallette knife underneath to loosen it and then slide off onto a serving plate.

Those hocks go a long way when they are bulked out with other meats and chicken and ham is a classic combination.  You could use some of the leftover hock to make little rillettes in ramekins and eat with hot toast.  Simply shred the hock and mix with chopped capers, season and pour some butter over it.  Instant supper with a glass of wine.  Or you could pile onto think slices of pumpernickel spread with hot hoseradish and garnish with radish – or if you don’t want the pumpernickel the sweet meat will taste gorgeous if you moisten it with a little fresh  tomato relish perked up with some chilli and put into chicory leaves – maybe alternating with cold salmon mixed with chopped tomato, chopped gherkin and some fresh coriander and serve as canapes. Oh there are 1001 things to do with a ham hock!!

Anyway, hope you enjoy the ham whatever way you choose to prepare it.  I shall be eating mine  as a pie, with a large green salad, watching Strictly Come Dancing and cheering on Danni Harmer and Vincent Simone.

Warm winter stew with herby dumplings

Well here’s Charlie’s veg box in week 4. Week 3, sadly, disappeared in a haze of paracetamol, lemon and honey. No matter – let’s get on with the show. And stop coughing!
The sight of this wonderful mixture steered me toward comfort eating. Now it’s true that the cold I’ve had makes me want to eat one handed. You know, the sort of food you can only eat with a spoon, from a warm bowl of steaming goodness which is comfortably nestled against the chest whilst curled up on the sofa….. the other hand ready with the tissues etc….. but there really is little to match the rich earthiness of root vegetables cooked in a rich broth and topped off with little dumplings, all light and herby. It just tastes so damned nourishing.

I realise of course that you might not keep home made vegetable stock in your freezer. Elsewhere on this blog you will find a recipe if you are so inclined. Thus you can always use my standby. A Knorr vegetable stock pot (those little plastic ones that come in packs of four), zhooshed up a bit with one tablespoon light soy sauce, one tablespoon of that good old standby Burgess’ mushroom ketchup and one clove of garlic (crushed) and all added to 750ml boiling water.

Prepare your vegetables. One chopped onion, one sliced leek, two chopped carrots, two chopped potatoes, and any other root vegetables you have to hand (turnip, celeriac, kohl rabi). The key is to have a mixture and to ensure a balance of flavours. Remember that vegetables such as parsnip have a strong flavour which tends to dominate whatever it is cooked with, so you will need fewer of them). Start by gently frying off the onion and leek in some butter. Then add two large mushrooms, sliced into about 8 pieces, add a bay leaf and a couple of sprigs of rosemary, and stir until coated in the butter. Then add the rest of the vegetables. Put the lid on and sweat them for about 5 minutes on a medium heat. Then add the stock, bring to the boil, turn the heat down and cook with the lid off for about 25 minutes. Check the seasoning. You are aiming for rich, deep, earthiness – not thin, watery and insipid! If it’s not quite there, continue cooking until the stock has reduced a bit more.

While this is cooking, measure 100g self raising flour, pinch of salt, a good handful of finely chopped herbs such as parsley, thyme and sage, 50g suet (vegetarian or otherwise – you can also use butter. But not margarine!). Blend the fats into the flour, then bind together with about 75ml cold water. Be gentle, just bring it together into a ball. Then divide into about 10 small balls. For the wheat intolerant, I have successfully made dumplings with a 50/50 mixture of chestnut flour and gram (chick pea) flour.

Whenee!n you think your vegetable stew is nearly ready (and you will only know by tasting it), drop the dumplings onto the vegetables and stock and let them simmer gently – probably no more than 10 minutes. The knack is to judge how much stock is left in the pan, and remember that the dumplings will absorb some of the stock. After all, you will want gravy won’t you? When done, take off the heat and leave for 5 minutes and just before serving, sprinkle some chopped parsley over the top.

Now. Prepare the following. Sofa and cushions. Maybe a blanket. Turn off the phone. Box of tissues. Radio – preferably lunch time edition of The Archers. Logs piled up beside woodburner. Kitchen towel. Large bowl. Spoon. Imagine………. a cold windy day with rain lashing on the window. You on the sofa. Artfully drape kitchen towel on chest. Bring bowl up to just under your chin and spoon the warm vegetable stew and light herby dumplings in. Comfort food, or what? Bring on the black and white matinee.

Johansen’s surprise with smoky bacon cabbage

Johannsen’s surprise with smoky bacon cabbage

Urgent need for comfort food. Running late on everything. Need warmth, ease, flavour, just a fork. In a bowl. On the sofa.

Thinly slice 750g potatoes and a large onion (use the slicer on your food processor if you have one, it’s done in a trice). Put them in a deep saucepan with salt, chopped garlic, a tin of anchovies and the oil (yes, I know, but trust me) and enough full cream milk to just cover. The add about 2 tablespoons of dried dill. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are just soft.

Turn into a wide shallow dish. Let me rephrase that.  Pour the contents of the saucepan into a wide shallow dish and without further ado put it into the oven with no further fuss – at 180C for about 40 minutes.  By then the potatoes will have absorbed the milk and the top will be crispy.  Then take out of the oven and leave for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile put some butter and oil in a good sized pan. Add chopped smoky bacon offcuts and fry gently for five minutes. Then add lots of sliced savoy cabbage and grated rind of half a lemon.  Stir round a bit.  Slap on the lid and steam away for about 5 minutes.  Depending on how crunchy you like your cabbage either leave the lid on and add no more water, or add a little water – by this I mean probably 100ml tops – and steam away for another couple of minutes.  Add some black pepper and you are done.

Now, take a bowl.  Serve yourself some potatoes, cabbage and bacon and enjoy some simple culinary heaven.

Winter fruits

1-photo-006Winter fruits are what I love to eat.  Warm and syrupy, fragrant with spices. And in non-vegan months, with a large dollop of thick cream. Quince are my favourite – with hints of rose petal and dense apple and geranium.  Who needs air freshener (yes – who does need air freshener?) when there’s a bowl of quince in the kitchen.

Mine came from Bungay, spotted by Shirley, handed over to Su who delivered them to me round about Su’s birthday in November. The friendships along the Waveney valley are hard to beat – and 35 years on, the way hawk-eye Shirl can conjour up a quince when my cries de couer goes out on Facebook, and is testament to that consistent friendship and regard. It is important to me. As is the deliciousness of warm mellow winter fruits.

Things to do with winter fruit………….  roast quince alongside lamb. You won’t believe the magic they can add.  Add one quince to a few bramley apples stewed in a little water with light brown sugar and just one star anise and then make a crumble or a pie.  Or roast sweet potatoes and quince in soft golden rapeseed oil and a drizzle of maple syrup and a sprinkling of nigella seed at the end.  Or make quince marmelade – just chop the quinces into chunks. I don’t bother peeling them and coring them – they are as hard as bullets and it kills your hands! –  and put in a preserving pan with a vanilla pod and a couple of strips of lemon peel.

Or keep back some cooked quince and apple and have it for breakfast with nutty home-made granola.

Who needs summer strawberries?

If only we had scratch-and-sniff blogs!
If only we had scratch-and-sniff blogs!

Then bring gently to the boil until very soft.  You will notice the colour changes to a dusky pink. Heavenly in silk! When soft, remove the vanilla pod and push all the pulp through a seive, removing all the rough husks and skin.  Return to the pan.  For every cup of pulp, add half a cup of preserving sugar. Then bring back to the boil stirring all the time and keep on a gentle boil for about an hour until the whole thing becomes deep pink/orange.  Then pour carefully into clean hot jars. Add a rose scented geranium leaf if you wish!

After the feast……..

P1020654 P1020655 P1020656No reckoning to be had. Not a reckon in sight. Christmas was the best we’ve had in ages in spite of one or two hiccups.  The aged and infirm relatives rescue service was still going strong alongside normal life right up to Christmas eve. Or is that what our ‘normal life’ has become? Clearly there is a stage of life thing going on here, sandwiched neatly between parents, aunts and uncles in need of more support and grandchildren filling our lives with laughter and reminding us that yes, we can still do fun.

So the run up to Christmas was full-on (sorry, work was fitted in somewhere, also) but at the same time strangely calm. I found myself clambering around in ditches and hedges the morning before everyone arrived, madly spray painting branches and ivy and stuffing them into  large vessels adding green and bronze baubles that were skidding round the bottom of the decorations box.  Said box had been retrieved from the loft in full view of 2 year old grandson ‘wotyoudouptherenamma’? ‘Getting something out of the loft darling’.  ‘Monty elp’. ‘ No darling, dont come up the ladder……………..’  Just like his uncle who copied his father all those years ago, poking his head through the upper bathroom window, smiling ‘hello mummy, me up a big top ladder’. Aged 3. Heart attack avoided, grandson only reached rung three by the time Namma descended from the loft.

Made mince pies with mincemeat heavy with apple, walnuts and brandy. My favourite mix.  But there is something in me that, when life could be simple, I always choose at the last minute to make it complicated.  David had already left the house to collect my mother and the mountain of extraneous and inconsequential baggage that accompanies her with every visit, when I decided we needed more mince pies.  Believe me when I say that I rarely make pastry. Life is just too short and all butter puff and sweet shortcrust or filo are all there in the supermarket just waiting to be used.  My first mistake was taking puff pastry out of the freezer instead of sweet shortcrust.  The second was deciding to make not just ordinary sized ones but also dinky little bite sized ones with meringue on top. Just showing off I suppose. Now the latter was not a bad decision (dinky mice pies, not showing off) but next time I would probably make the dinky ones as one would a jam tart and pop a tiny meringue on top afterwards.  I put the meringue on top of the mincemeat and to be honest. It didn’t work.  Too much heat and steam going on I think.  Mother came in and the first thing she said was what’s that horrible smell…….  by the way I bought you some Mr Kipling mince pies darling.

Christmas lunch was a fine affair but a good hour and a half late.  Said grandson has a penchant for pressing buttons on electronic items – TV, DVD, Wi, oven.  Yes bless him he had set the automatic timer so although the goose went into the oven fine (well, after Katie bravely cleaved off the ends of its plump legs in a classic ‘the goose wont fit in the oven’ sketch, at which point everyone in the house piled into the kitchen and offered an opinion.  And the only answer was drastic amputation).  However, once it finally went into the oven, the oven then turned itself off without telling me, half an hour later.  And went unnoticed for another hour.

After much twiddling and fiddling, and finding the oven instructions tucked in the back of a filing cabinet somewhere, David reinstated the settings and we were off.  Again.  In the race to get the bird cooked this century I whacked up the oven to full blast but then had another glass of fizz.  Then the smoke alarm went off.  Goosey, in getting hot, had stretched her already shortened legs out and they hung over the edge of the roasting pan dripping molten fat onto the bottom of the oven. Flashpoint!  Dense blue smoke filled the kitchen, the hall, the sitting room.  William and I attended to the bird with damp cloths knotted over our mouths, then escaped to the drive followed by billowing smoke where we collapsed helpless with laughter, alcohol and smoke inhalation against the garage door.  Venturing back in the kitchen we turned the oven off again and had to clean it.  Oven back on we had a third attempt to cook the blessed bird which, of course, needed constant attention because geese naturally give off a lot of gorgeous fat.  For those roast potatoes and parsnips.

Suffice it to say that eventually it all turned out ok. In fact my mother didn’t even notice anything had happened. But then she’d had three glasses of sweet sherry and was engaging everyone in the Daily Mail crossword from the previous day. ‘Five letters, christmas bird, and guardian of the farmyard, begins with G’.  ‘Goose, mother!’

A little tale about stuffing – I ought to confess now that I had never cooked a goose until this Christmas.  I was going to do Laughton stuffing but then consulted Nigella, who had consulted Simon Hodgkinson who had consulted an Irish chef.  And recommended stuffing the bird with mashed potato and apple.  Mashed potato and apple? I went for further consultation to Darina Allen and she said the same.  Mashed potato and apple.  Oh ye of little faith! Believe me it was divine.  I made it the day before so it was stone cold before I stuffed the bird Christmas morning.

So the roast bird and its sumptuous velvety stuffing was consumed with along with all you would expect, roast potatoes and parsnips, red cabbage (made the day before), dark green cabbage, carrots with caraway and lemon, superb gravy a very tart apple sauce.

Pudding was a take on Nigel Slater’s lemon parfait, or raspberry vodka jellies.  A complete success.

Boxing Day was a simple affair with no disasters.  Never can go wrong with my ham in Coca Cola with cinammon, orange and molasses.

Winter soup

How come winter set in before Autumn? Woke this morning to hard hail then flutterings of snow.  Hot soup. Winter soup.

I’d already boiled a ham hock a couple of days ago (cheap, cheap cheap, under £4 and enough meat on it for 6 generous helpings).  Boiled the hock in plenty of water, black peppercorns, a whole onion, celery stick and a carrot. And a few juniper berries and a bay leaf or two for good measure, skimming off the fat occasionally, then left in the water overnight.  In the morning took out the hock and skimmed the broth again and cooked dried green peas in the broth and left in the pan overnight.  I left the meat on the bone.

This morning I’ve just been pottering quietly, sweating off some chopped onion, celery, garlic, carrot and potato in butter and olive oil with a fresh bay leaf and some thyme leaves.  Then ladled in the peas and broth over the vegetables and boned the hock, chopping some of the ham hock meat into the soup, seasoned with salt and ground white peppercorns and set on a low heat to gently bubble.  It’s not ready to eat yet but when it’s lunch time I will check the seasoning again. And then eat it with fresh brown bread.

The rest of the hock meat will go into a creamy chicken and ham with tarragon pie.  Or in the freezer for another day.