Friday, 29 January 2010

spice up your life: keema shepherd's pie, a twist on an old classic

I hope I'm not tempting a flurry of emails here, but I've yet to come across someone who doesn't like shepherd's pie and/or its sibling, cottage pie.

It's the stuff that my (and I suspect, many others') childhood was made of - a warming, comforting fest of rich minced lamb, covered in a blanket of crispy-baked mashed potato. If there was ever a perennial family favourite, then shepherd's pie - along with the Sunday roast - is surely it.

The love affair, for me, continues to this day. Though I rarely cook it myself, I still get ridiculously excited if someone cooks it for me (any offers, please feel free to email me...). There's something about those lamby wafts that gets me just... there... every time. And, of course, the prospect of those crunchy, 'umamied' bits of potato... y'know, the bits that everyone scrapes the dish for and fights over. Yep, those, too. In fact, there's not a single aspect of shepherd's pie that doesn't appeal to me.

A week or so ago, somewhere out of left field, I had a thought. I'd been thinking of actually making a shepherd's pie myself for once, when I had a sudden urge (settle down at the back there) for some spice. So maybe I'd make some keema instead.

Oh, HANG ON....

(see where this is going yet? OK, so the title of this post rather gives it away, but go with it...)

And so the idea of a keema shepherd's pie was born. Since I get excited about keema almost to the same extent as I get excited about shepherd's pie, you can probably picture the scene. Yes, it's fair to say I was, well, excited.

So - to the recipe books. And most of all, to the (or my) goddess of reference on all things Indian cookery, Madhur Jaffrey. (I really don't know as much about Indian cooking as I feel I should, after all my years of eating it, so if anyone has other recommendations for great Indian recipe-book authors, please let me know.) I have a few recipes of hers that are personal favourites, including - thankfully - one for keema matar (lamb mince with peas), and another for zeera aloo (spicy potatoes). Both of them come from her 'Simple Indian Cookery' book.

I realise that there are probably about as many different versions of keema matar and zeera aloo as I have had hot dinners, so I won't trot out Jaffrey's here unless you specifically ask me to (leave a comment, and I'll get back to you). Choose whichever versions take your fancy, and then put them together as you would a shepherd's pie - first, a make a layer of lovely, juicy, spicy meat in the bottom of an ovenproof dish, and then pile your spicy potatoes on top so as to completely cover the meat.

Whack the whole lot in the oven at around 180C for 30 mins to heat through properly, and for the potatoes to become irresistibly browned and crispy on top.

At that point, resistance will be futile. Get it out of the oven...

keema shepherd's pie 1

... press your nose up against the glass to have a closer look...

keema shepherd's pie 2

... and then get stuck right in without further delay!

keema shepherd's pie 3

Will you ever make 'traditional' shepherd's pie again?

Friday, 22 January 2010

the easiest marmalade ever...

Having given you a recipe for bread in my last post, it occurred to me that perhaps you might like something to go with it.

And lo! - I have the answer. Following on in the spirit of an easy-peasy oatmeal loaf recipe, I bring you a recipe for what is most probably the easiest recipe marmalade you're ever likely to come across. There is NO COOKING involved, and it takes NO TIME at all. Better than that, though, it's also absolutely delicious - bursting with citrussy zest and fragrance. A real winter cheerer, and one that has gone down an absolute storm here and with friends and family, for whom I made a batch for Christmas. Even those who aren't usually mad keen on marmalade (I include myself here - I'm not fond of the bitter aftertaste that many marmalades leave) love this version.

One small confession. It's not actually 'my' recipe. Sorry to disappoint. Nope, it's by Darina Allen, she of the esteemed Ballymaloe cookery school in Cork, and author of the excellent Ballymaloe Cookery Course, from which this recipe comes.

I can't add to the recipe in any way - it's perfect as it is - and so I present it here in its entirety:

No-cook marmalade
Makes 8 x 350ml (12fl oz) jars

If you use organic fruit for this recipe, you will really notice the difference.*

5 oranges#, roughly chopped and discarding as many pips as possible
1 lemon, roughly chopped
1 grapefruit, roughly chopped
sugar, the combined weight of the above fruit, minus 110g

Put all the ingredients into a liquidiser and whizz together.** Then transfer to a sterilised jar and cover. This fresh-tasting marmalade will keep in the fridge for approximately 3 weeks.***

(aforkful notes: #or 3, if they're large oranges; *I made it with organic fruit, and can vouch for deliciousness. Haven't tried with non-organic; **How much you whizz it is obviously down to you and the texture you prefer. I like mine chunkyish; ***We've just opened our last jar, 4 weeks minus 2 days after it was made. Seems absolutely fine.)


Really. As simple as...


no-cook marmalade 1


no-cook marmalade 2


no-cook marmalade 3

I know some of you will already be elbow-deep in vats of Seville orange marmalade - but for those who aren't, and for those who are but would like to try something that can be made year-round and takes all of 5 minutes to make, I can't recommend this one more highly.

(For my next post, I promise I'll try to up the skill level. I'll attempt a full Cordon Bleu recipe, complete with four 2.5 turns, two backflips, and at a level of 9.75 degree difficulty. Perhaps.)

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Irish oatmeal bread: don't wait for the snow

We Brits are hopeless, really. We spend much of the time moaning that we don't get proper winters any more, and then as soon as we do, we moan about that, too.

Still, there's no doubt that conditions have been, erm, a little challenging of late. I live in balmy south London, and even here, it's been difficult to get out for the past few days. Roads and pavements have been transformed into veritable ice rinks, and only now does the snow and ice seem finally to be melting away.

And wait - we'll moan about how everything looks dull and dreary again now it's not all covered in Narnian white... ;-)

Like many, the conditions outside have meant that I've been forced to resort to the freezer and the cupboards rather more than I would do usually, and I hit a particular crisis at the weekend when I ran out of bread.

Yikes! No bread??

And no bread flour or yeast, either. Hmmm. Or buttermilk. Or anything, really, that looked like it would help make some half-decent bread. Added to that was the slight dilemma that I'm a little intolerant to wheat, so I try to eat wheat-minimal bread if possible. Rye and spelt are my preferred alternatives - luckily for me, both flours make terrific bread. But on this occasion, I didn't have rye or spelt flour either.

Cue some frantic interwebby searching via that faithful friend, Google. And lo, shortly afterwards, I found an answer. Not the Holy Grail, perhaps, but certainly a potential worthy contender in the acceptable bread stakes.

Not that I wasn't a tad sceptical. American recipes with American measurements tend to do that to me. Although I have cup and tablespoon measures, I don't think they're greatly accurate to use in practice, and can sometimes be plain barking, especially for those of us in the UK. For instance, I recently came across a recipe which required 8 tablespoons of butter. I mean, really. The great oracle, Twitter, subsequently informed me that in the US, butter packs come with tablespoon measurements already marked on the wrapper. Well, that's great. In the UK, they don't.

Anyway, enough of that. The bread, people, the bread.

I read the recipe, read the reviews, and adjusted and tweaked to fit the ingredients I had. I shoved the dough in the tin, popped it in the oven, crossed my fingers, and left it to do whatever it was going to do. To say I wasn't overly hopeful would be putting it mildly.

Fifty minutes later, though, and I was preparing to eat humble pie. Or, to be more precise, warm, oaty bread. Because it worked. It worked brilliantly well. And moreover, it tasted great. If you've ever had soda bread, the taste and texture is much the same - which makes this oatmeal bread a complete winner for me since I happen to be a firm fan of soda stuff.

Irish oatmeal bread 1

Irish oatmeal bread 2

And the best thing? It's SO ridiculously quick and easy to make. The next best thing is that you don't need bread flour, yeast, or a bread maker. You need 2 bowls and a 2lb loaf tin or a baking sheet. And an oven, obviously. That's IT.

The recipe's here. I used SR flour + 0.5 tbsp of baking powder (and could have probably got away with using less, or even none). I used a very ordinary runny honey - it'd be easy to ring the changes with different varieties of honey. I forgot the salt (I'd recommend no more than a teaspoon, though, if you want to include it). I baked it for just over 50 minutes in all. It was that simple.

And I ate the lot.

And I won't be leaving it as an emergency recipe next time. This is going to be a regular in this household from now on.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

where there's smoke, there's duck...

or New Year's resolution #1 - take up smoking

or how to smoke your duck and eat it

or 10 simple steps to smoking your duck


ok, I'll just get on with it, shall I?

For a while now, I've been following @paulscooking on Twitter. More to the point, perhaps, I've been checking out the recipes on his website - an eclectic mix of British and Asian cooking, with some other randoms thrown in once in a while. Finally, some time in November, I got around to making his storming Tau Yew Bak (braised belly pork with star anise and soy sauce) which was an unqualified and utterly delicious success.

Shortly after that, I bought some duck legs. Good plan, you might think, except that I couldn't find a recipe that really tickled my feathers, despite the fact that I have eleventy million recipe books.

But wait! An embryo of an idea fluttered across my brain (mmm, maybe that image doesn't work too well after all). And then and there, I hatched a plan.


And, like the good man he is, he came up with a quacker of a recipe for me. Smoked duck! Ah, of course, I said. Sichuan smoked duck. Of course. Erm, but I've never smoked anything in my life before. (Honest, Dad.) So, er, how?

Don't panic, said Paul. I'll email the details over to you. (It wasn't on his website at the time.)

And so he did. A few helpful other tweeters offered their top (wing) tips, in the meantime (copious quantities of silver foil being the standout one - thank you to all those concerned), and I was ready to fly.

This, my friends, is what happened next. Like I said up there ^^^, it's a case of how to smoke your duck in 10 easy steps. And they must be easy, because I managed it. Not only managed it, but managed not to (a) smoke the house out or (b) to burn it down, either. In my book, that's a success.

Here we go, then. First, marinade your duck legs:

smoking duck 1

Next, assemble your smoking ingredients. You can use any tea, but I think it's preferable to go with something that has a distinct flavour, such as Earl Grey or Lapsang Souchong. I opted for the former.

duck smoking 2

Then, construct your smoker. Line everything with foil - you don't want a ruined pan. You also need a rack or similar to go over the smoking ingredients. We don't have a rack of the right size, so I, er, cut out the wire mesh from one of those anti-splatter thingummyjigs. We never used it anyway. Worked a treat, like so.

duck smoking 3

By now, it's time to get the smoking things smoking. Light hob, place pan over, and wait for little *pfffft* sounds to emanate from said pan, and for smoke signals to appear.

Look! Look - over there! Over there, at the back, towards the right! SMOKE!

duck smoking 4

Inhale. Go on. The tea, spices, sugar, and bay leaves give off the most gorgeous (and somewhat addictive, I should add) sweet-scented fragrant aroma. Lovely stuff.

Shake yourself out of your aromatic reverie, and grab your duck legs, plunge them in boiling water very briefly, dry them off, and load them onto the rack. They might not look very appealing at the moment, but stick with it. They will do soon, honest.

duck smoking 5

To avert almost certain disaster to you and your pan, cover the pan with more foil, and then put the lid over that.

duck smoking 6

You're on your way. Now all you have to do is wait anywhere between about 30 and 50 minutes, depending on the size of the legs.

At some point, of course, you're going to find it hard to resist peeking (Peking?) at the duck to make sure all's going swimmingly.

duck smoking 8

OK, yep, think it's plenty smokey in there, ta.


Just don't do that stage too often, ok?

Before long, you'll have fully smoked (and thoroughly cooked, for those of you who might be wondering) duck legs, hot off the rack:

duck smoking 7

No, I know they don't look wildly different from the pic taken at the start. But they are smoked and cooked, I promise. All you need to do now is to inject (not literally) a little colour into them, and some crispiness to the skin.

For this, you need to take your life into your hands again if you don't have a deep-fat fryer. For those of you who do, well, you've got it easy.

Alternative to deep-fat fryer: find pan. Fill with some kind of vegetable oil (not groundnut). Heat until very hot. Plunge your legs in. NO! Not those! The DUCK legs. Not yours. Jeez.

duck smoking 9

... and let them bubble away until they're a lovely golden brown.

At that point, all you have to do is drain them ....

duck smoking 10

... and they're ready to serve! Paul suggests an accompanying sauce based largely on hoisin. All I'll say at this point is I think I picked the wrong brand, because it was far too overwhelming for the duck. Next time round, I'll ask Paul first.

What I can say is that the duck was lovely - a tad overcooked for my taste, so I'll smoke for a shorter time next time, but beautifully fragrant and gently full of the flavour of the tea and other aromatics. Definitely a winner, and a recipe to play with again and again with variations on the theme.

(Just make sure you have lots of foil, and an airtight seal. If you don't, prepare to get friendly with your local fire brigade.)

For the full recipe, check it out on Paul's website. And have a good look around while you're there - you're bound to find lots of other stuff to tempt you.

And Paul? I owe you one. Thank you! It was a quacker!