Comfort Food Week: Lamb Cobbler

This is the penultimate Comfort Food Week post. I just couldn’t do a week on comfort food and not include some kind of stew. You may remember I posted my recipe for stew and dumplings back in July, when the weather was still pretty warm, but I just love a good stew, and they are just so easy to put in the oven and forget about.

I think my husband would divorce me if I ever dreamed of cooking a stew without any dumplings, and whilst they’re delicious, they’re not the most healthy things ever. So in a search for something a bit less fattening I stumbled across this cobbler recipe on BBC Good Food (I swear I don’t spend ALL my time on that website…). I thought I’d give it a go as the ingredients are so simple, and they’re MUCH less fattening than a regular dumpling. I must admit though, I wasn’t expecting great things. However, I ended up being pleasantly surprised to find that the cobbles were light and fluffy, with a nice crust on top. The yoghurt inside makes them quite dense, but also moist. Admittedly they don’t have that same hint of sweetness that suet dumplings do, as the yoghurt gives them a bit of a tang, but with enough herbs and when eaten with the gravy from the stew you can barely even notice it. So convincing are these cobbles at masquerading as a dumpling that my husband didn’t even notice that they WEREN’T dumplings, which is a great success. I’ve made them several times now and they’ve been great on every occasion.

So far I’ve paired them with this chicken, leek and bacon pie (instead of pastry, obviously) and various stews. My current favourite stew is this lamb one; lamb always feels like such a treat, but this stew makes the most of a often-maligned cheaper cut, the neck, which seems sinewy when you’re cutting it, but by the time it’s been cooking for 3 hours it’s all rendered down and you’re left with lovely silky meat.

The method for making this stew is exactly the same as for the beef stew I posted before, except there are a few differences in ingredients. This is a real winter warmer! I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to make this for a crowd soon; I really want to cook it in a huge casserole dish and cover the entire surface with cobbles (or at least the circumference of the dish). I can’t think of anything more perfect to cook for family and friends in winter; I know I’d want to eat something like this if I’m invited anywhere for dinner!

Lamb Cobbler

Serves 2

For the stew

1 pack lamb neck fillets (probably about 250g) cut into chunks

2 small onions

3 carrots

1 tablespoon thyme leaves or dried thyme

25g butter

25g flour

1 large glass red wine

1 oxo cube

Salt & pepper

For the cobbles

Makes 4 cobbles

75ml natural yoghurt

2 tablespoons olive oil

120g Self raising flour

Salt & Pepper

Pinch of thyme leaves or dried thyme

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C. Melt the butter in a casserole dish and add the chunks of lamb. Cook the lamb until brown, then add the flour and some seasoning and stir together. Add the thyme and the vegetables and cook for a couple of minutes. When the vegetables are turning golden, add the wine and simmer, then crumble an oxo cube into the stew and add 500ml boiling water. Bring to the boil, then put into the oven for 30 minutes.

Once the stew has been in the oven for 30 minutes, take it out and stir. Turn the oven down to 150C and continue to cook for a further 2 1/2 hours. Stir occasionally and top up with a bit more water if necessary.

Meanwhile, make the cobbles. Put the flour, herbs and seasoning into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the oil and the yoghurt and mix together with a dinner knife until it comes together as a dough. Use your hands to bring it into a ball, then split it in half and half again, and shape into four flat little patties. Once the stew has 20 minutes left to cook, take it out the oven, remove the lid and place the cobbles on top. Return the dish to the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the cobbles are fluffy and golden on top. Serve with vegetables of your choice!

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Comfort Food Week: Butterbean and Pancetta Soup

You don’t need me to tell you how comforting soup is. It heals you when you’re ill, it warms you, and it generally contains things that are good for you. It is for these reasons that I knew I had to purchase a new blender, after my old one broke a couple of years ago. Two soupless winters were enough for me, so I bit the bullet and bought a new one.

Of course, now I wonder what took me so long, as I settled for this K-Mix blender which makes soup a million times smoother and more velvety than my old one did, and I’m having a great time turning everything and anything into soup. In fact, I’m going a bit soup-crazy at the moment; I’ve started buying reduced veggies from the supermarket so I can turn them into soup (as well as reduced fruit to make smoothies with), which is a really great way to save money! Also it’s going to stop me getting bored of eating the same few soups that I’ve made so far and I’m taking to work every day.

My current favourite soup is this butterbean and pancetta soup. I came across the recipe whilst browsing BBC Good Food, and making soup from beans is not something that I had ever considered before. This is one of those recipes that you think might be really bland and dull because it’s got so few ingredients, and, to be honest, the recipe on its own is a little bland. I added a lot more onion and garlic than the original recipe said, which makes it much more flavoursome and interesting, especially for a garlic freak like me. Another thing about this soup is that I wouldn’t dream of eating it without the pancetta. It’s what makes the soup worth making. Obviously you could use smoked bacon, but it’s the smoky flavour of the pancetta, and its crispness, coupled with the smooth, velvety soup that makes this so good. And considering this soup takes less than half an hour to make from scratch, it’s great for a last-minute lunch or dinner when you’ve got nothing but bacon in the fridge and don’t want carbonara (I seem to find myself in this situation a lot). And one last point: this soup is really really filling. I photographed it here with a slice of bread halved, and I only ate one half with it as it was so filling (I admit though I did eat the other half with butter and jam, oops). If I’d filled these terrines with the soup I’d have had to give up half way through. So be careful when serving!

Butterbean and pancetta soup

Serves 2

1 carton or tin of butterbeans

1 large onion

2 cloves garlic, crushed

A knob of butter

A handful of thyme stalks, stripped of leaves, or 1/2 tablespoon dried thyme

500ml vegetable stock, plus more to thin to preferred consistency

6 rashers of pancetta or smoked bacon

Snipped chives, to serve

Method

Preheat the oven to 200C. Put the butter in a pan and melt on a medium heat. Chop the onions roughly (the best thing about pureeing soup is that nothing needs to be chopped particularly carefully) and soften in the butter for 5 minutes or so. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute.

Drain the butterbeans and add them to the pan with the thyme and stock. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Put the pancetta or bacon on a tray and cook in the oven for 5 minutes or until crisp. Blend the soup until smooth, adding more stock if necessary to thin it down as you like it. Serve with chives snipped over and pieces of pancetta on top. Enjoy!

Comfort Food Week: Sloppy Joes

The idea for this dinner was borne out of the desire to cook a lasagne, which seems to be the only thing that I feel like I could eat when I have that ‘I don’t know what to have for dinner’ feeling. Unfortunately, though, I don’t think it’s worth making a lasagne unless you do it properly, which takes a long time and isn’t something I want to be doing when I get home from work. It’s definitely one of those things you need to cook up a big batch of on a rainy day and then freeze it for those desperate moments when only lasagne will do (there will be more on this another day). Every time I make any kind of mince-based meal though, I tend to make twice as much and freeze the rest, so I can have another dinner or two without any more effort than taking something out the freezer and reheating it.

This dinner is perfect for those days when you want to just put some stuff in a pan, let it sit there, and then eat it straight away without cooking anything else to go with it. Minimal washing up, minimal effort, total comfort. There is something incredibly comforting about eating a your dinner out of a soft white roll which is full of meat and cheese, whilst sat on the sofa in front of the tv.

I know that Sloppy Joes are generally cooked with some spices and peppers in, but I wanted to use the leftovers for bolognese so I just made the ragu the usual way. If you wanted to make these more authentic, some chilli, cumin, paprika and red peppers would do the trick. Obviously you could easily make these veggie by using Quorn mince and leaving out the bacon.

Sloppy Joes

Serves 2, with half leftover for freezing

500g minced beef/Quorn mince

4 rashers streaky bacon

Olive oil

1 onion

4 cloves garlic

1 carton passata

Glug of red wine

1 tablespoon oregano

Salt & pepper

Cheese and a bread roll, to serve

Method

Heat some olive oil in a pan and fry the bacon. Whilst the bacon is frying, chop the onion finely and add to the bacon once crisp. Cook gently until the onions are soft. Add the garlic, crushed, and the mince and cook until browned.

Once the mince is browned, season and add the oregano, tomatoes and red wine. Simmer for as long as you can, at least half an hour. Serve dolloped into soft bread rolls with a good grating of cheese. Eat with a salad if you feel the need to be healthy, but make sure you have napkins to hand!

Comfort Food Week: Cauliflower Cheese

Despite the fact that, for me at least, all food brings comfort, comfort food is an entirely different way of eating. It often seems that the things that define comfort food are those things that evoke nostalgia, most often from childhood. Personally, the things I find most comforting are the things I’ve been eating for years, that were cooked for me by my Mum and Dad. It may well be that I cook them differently myself now and have adapted the recipes slightly as my tastes have changed, but the relationship I have with the food remains the same.

I think it’s almost implicit in the term ‘comfort food’ that the food isn’t going to be healthy. Think of comfort food and you think of stews with dumplings, steamed puddings, rice pudding, cakes… these things might not be good for your waistline but I definitely think they make you feel that bit better about the long winter ahead. And above all, comfort food needs to be soft, easy to eat, nothing that’s too hard to chew or too crispy; everything should just melt together and be embracing, as opposed to an effort. It’s not just comfort food but comfort eating. And this brings me round to the first recipe of Comfort Food Week: Cauliflower cheese.

One of my absolute favourite things that my Mum would cook for me is cauliflower cheese. Cauliflower is probably my favourite vegetable, and I remember eating it with Sunday roasts from a pretty young age. My Mum taught me how to make cauliflower cheese, and I still use the same recipe now. Every time we go to my parents’ house for a roast dinner, she always cooks a cauliflower cheese for me because she knows I love it so much. Isn’t that the best thing about Mums?

This cauliflower cheese has a little kick to the sauce and, when topped with breadcrumbs and grated cheese, gets a nice crispy top under the grill which is perfect against the tender cauliflower and creamy sauce. Total comfort food. Obviously you could use a mixture of cauliflower and broccoli, or use all broccoli, but I just love the pale serenity of the white cauliflower with the pale yellow sauce. It feels less intrusive than a burst of vibrant green.

Cauliflower cheese

Serves 1

1 small cauliflower

25g butter (a large knob)

25g flour (a few tablespoons)

Pinch cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon mustard powder

200/250ml milk

Handful grated cheddar cheese

More cheese and breadcrumbs for the topping

Method

Steam or boil the cauliflower for around 10 minutes until tender. Drain in a colander but don’t shake it or you’ll break the florets up. Just leave them in the colander to dry in their own steam for a minute or two.

Meanwhile, you can make the sauce. Melt the butter in a pan and add the flour, cayenne and mustard. Mix to a paste (this is the roux) and cook for a few minutes. Gradually add the milk and whisk into the roux until you’ve got a thick, silky sauce. You may need more or less milk, it depends how much butter and flour you use, the particular flour you used etc and I never weigh it! Once it’s the right consistency (and I really think it should be quite thick, otherwise you won’t be able to eat it very well!), season with salt and pepper and, with the pan off the heat, whisk in the grated cheese.

Put the cauliflower into a baking dish and pour over the cheese sauce. Top with breadcrumbs and some more grated cheese and place under a hot grill until bubbling, blistered and golden brown. Enjoy with a nice piece of crusty bread!

Sticky lemon chicken with broccoli and cashew nuts

I have been feeling rather uninspired when it comes to cooking recently, which is why things have been a bit quiet around here lately. I’ve not really cooked anything new or exciting; in fact most days it’s been too hot and/or muggy to want to cook anything at all. Oh we’re also in the process of buying a house, which seems to be a complete time sap! But when your big brother calls you from New York and tells you to make more blog posts, you know you’ve left it a while.

I decided to end my boring rut of meals and headed straight fallback source of new ideas: the BBC Good Food website. I was browsing on a Friday afternoon for something delicious to make for dinner and stumbled upon this recipe. The reviews were good and it was just the kind of thing I was after, so I went and bought some chicken after work and gave it a go. It was completely perfect; sticky, flavoursome, light, quick and healthy. I tweaked the recipe a little, but I will definitely be making this again and again!

Sticky lemon chicken with broccoli and cashew nuts

Serves 2

1 tbsp groundnut oil or sunflower oil

2 chicken breast fillets

2 garlic cloves , sliced

8-10 stems tender-stem broccoli, halved if very long

100ml chicken stock (I just used liquid stock from concentrate)

1 heaped tsp cornflour

Pinch dried chilli flakes

3 tbsp clear honey

Zest and juice of half a lemon

A large handful of roasted cashews

Rice, to serve

Method

First, make sure you’ve got everything prepared. Slice the chicken breasts into fairly chunky strips, chop the garlic and cut the broccoli in half if the stems are very long. Put the kettle on to make the stock.

Heat a small, dry pan and toast the cashews until golden. If you’re making rice then you can put this on to boil at this point. Steam the broccoli over the cooking rice for around 5 minutes until just tender. (The original recipe said to stir fry the broccoli with the chicken and cover the pan to steam, but I don’t like my veg TOO crunchy so I steamed it before adding it to the wok).

Meanwhile, put a wok or frying pan to heat. Add the oil once the pan is hot. Fry the chicken for around 5 minutes until it’s turning golden. Once the chicken is almost cooked, add the garlic and chilli and continue to stir fry.

Whilst the chicken is frying, combine the chicken stock, 2 tablespoons of the honey and cornflour together to make a thick sauce, then pour over the chicken and leave to bubble for 5 minutes or so. When it’s reduced by about half (after about 3 minutes), add the broccoli and cashews and continue to simmer for a further few minutes. Before serving, add the last tablespoon of honey (this just makes it super-sticky!) and the lemon juice and zest and stir through.

Serve with the rice and enjoy!

Beef stew and dumplings

It seems strange to be writing a recipe for stew and dumplings in July, but with the weather at the moment it doesn’t feel entirely wrong. I must say, the smell of stew wafting through the house is particularly evocative of autumn and winter for me, and therefore I now feel thoroughly confused as to which season we are actually in.

The recipe is really simple and is one I could do in my sleep now. We eat this pretty much every week in winter (with or without dumplings), and I find it works as a great substitute for a roast on a Sunday. My method makes the gravy thick and richly flavoured with no effort at all. It’s the perfect recipe for shoving in the oven on low, and getting on with other things. You just need to give it a stir every now and again.

One thing I will say is that I don’t put potatoes in my stew. I really dislike the grainy texture of potatoes when they’re cooked in this way. I’d much rather have a dollop of creamy mash with it instead. What follows is the quantity I use for two people, although you’ll more than likely have some left over for lunch the next day (GREAT with crusty bread). You can very easily multiply up the quantities for more people.

Beef stew & dumplings
Serves 2

Stew

250g stewing steak

4 or 5 shallots or two small onions

3 carrots

Salt & pepper

A large knob butter

3 tablespoons flour

2 beef oxo cubes

3/4 pint boiling water

For the dumplings

50g suet

100g self raising flour

Pinch of salt

A few sprigs thyme, leaves plucked

Cold water to mix

To serve

Mashed potato

Green vegetables

 

Method

Put a casserole dish on the hob on a medium heat. Melt a large knob of butter with a drizzle of oil. Once hot, add the beef, cut into chunks if you’ve bought it in steaks. Sprinkle the meat with the flour and seasoning (I use LOADS of black pepper, the meat can really take it) and stir everything together. Fry the meat until browned. It will all stick to the bottom and go all gloopy around the edges with the flour and butter mixture but this is GOOD. The burnt bits on the bottom of the pan are what gives the stew such an amazing flavour later on.

Whilst the meat is browning, skin the onions or shallots and either halve of quarter them, depending on their size. Peel the carrots and cut them into sizeable chunks.

Once the meat is browned, add he vegetables and fry for a few minutes. Meanwhile, boil the kettle and dissolve two oxo cubes in 3/4 pint of boiling water. Pour the stock over the meat and vegetables and cover with a lid until simmering.

Put the stew into a 180C oven for 30 minutes. After that time, take the stew out and give it a good stir, scraping the bottom well. It won’t be too yielding just yet, but will soften up gradually. Return to the oven at 150C for another 1 1/2 hours, and stir occasionally, scraping the bottom each time.

Meanwhile, in the last half an hour peel the potatoes and make the dumplings. To make the dumplings, simply weigh out the flour and suet and put into a bowl. Add the salt and the thyme and stir. Add in around 4 or 5 tablespoons of cold water and stir, adding small amounts more until the mixture comes together into a soft dough. Split the dough into four balls.

Once the potatoes are boiling, add the dumplings to the top of the stew and put the lid back on. They will take about 20 minutes to steam; around the same time as the potatoes. Cook your green vegetables and mash the potatoes with milk, butter and black pepper. Serve!

Cider-roasted sausages and vegetables

I know my last post was about sausages, but they ARE my favourite thing. Plus they’re just so easy to conjure up into a dinner mid-week, when faffing around with other meat just seems like a lot of effort.

I got this recipe from my Mother-in-Law last year; when my husband was working away for weeks at a time last summer I ate this at least once a week. It’s so easy but really tasty, and has lots of lovely veggies in so at least feels healthy!

You can roast whatever vegetables you like really; below is what I use on a regular basis. It would be really good with some lovely young beetroot in there too, skins on and quartered up. You can obviously also accompany it with any veg you like, tenderstem broccoli or asparagus are my favourites!

Cider-roasted sausages

Serves 2

6 sausages

2 small handfuls new potatoes (I used Anya potatoes in the pictures below)

1 red pepper

1 medium red onion

1 wine glass of cider

Olive oil

1 tablespoon thyme

To serve

Green vegetables

 

Method

Heat the oven to 200C. In a roasting tin, drizzle some olive oil and add the sausages and the new potatoes, halved or cut into chunks if they’re large. Roast for around 20 minutes, or until the potatoes and sausages are turning brown.

Slice the pepper into chunky strips and cut the onion into wedges. Put these into the roasting tin and toss to get covered in oil. Sprinkle everything with the thyme.

Roast everything for a further 15 minutes, by which time the vegetables will be turning brown. Pour in the cider (you need enough to cover the base of the tin) and return to the oven for another 10 minutes or so, until the liquid has reduced down and made a sticky sauce.

Steam or boil your vegetables for serving and pile everything up together. Tuck in!