boiled mutton

Boiled Mutton

boiled muttonAlright, technically it’s lamb, but boiled lamb probably sounds even less appealing to you. But don’t be misled, there was a reason this dish was a Victorian classic.

You take a piece of lamb (or mutton) and essentially poach it slowly with herbs and vegetables and you end up with beautiful moist meat that falls away from the bone and a deep meaty broth that makes the perfect basis for soup.

I had bought a half shoulder of lamb and was planning to essentially roast it in some way in the slow cooker, but then I happened across this piece on rejuvenating boiled mutton by Bee Wilson and felt inspired to try it for myself instead.

I’ve been having terrible trouble finding a way to make chicken stock taste like anything on the fodmap diet, but recently cracked it by using celeriac instead of celery and am now into broths again in a big way.

Adding it along with carrot, parsnip, fresh thyme, bay leaves, green peppercorns and the tail end of a bottle of vermouth, I popped the well seasoned half shoulder into my 6.5 litre slow cooker and cooked it on high for 8-9 hours.

I lifted it out and rested it for 15 minutes and the meat just slipped off the bone, pulling apart beautifully. I let the broth cool and strained half of it off as stock for a gravy and blitzed the other half up as a soup out of the sheer novelty of being able to eat soup again for once.

Boiled Mutton (serves 3-4)

  • half shoulder of lamb, well seasoned
  • 1/4 celeriac, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 parsnip, diced
  • 1 onion (if not on fodmap)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 big sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon green peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 3 anchovies
  • 100ml vermouth
  • 1 litre cold water

There is barely any recipe here if you’re looking for something to make as a Sunday lunch that requires absolutely no effort or washing up but looks like you went out of your way to slave over a hot stove. I can’t decide if Mrs Beeton would approve of such inherent laziness or consider me a massive let down to womanhood…

Prep the veg and put it and the herbs on the bottom of the slow cooker crock and set the lamb on top of it. Add the vermouth and the cold water so the lamb is completely covered.

Cook on high for 8-9 hours. To make up for my laziness, I got my timings cock-eyed and ended up having to set my alarm for 6am to get up and rescue the lamb before it turned woolly in texture.

Rest for 15 minutes and then simply pull the meat away from the bone with a fork and serve with a quick relish made from capers, diced cucumber and fresh mint tossed in a little white wine vinegar, sugar and salt and left to sit for 30 minutes before being lightly squished with a potato masher.

I then served half the lamb with this and some roasted tomatoes and the other half as a shepherd’s pie using some of the lamb broth to make a gravy. All that and soup from one piece of meat? Not a bad night’s sleep really!

*This is another entry for the recent #livepeasant campaign for Simply Beef and Lamb, but all content is my own.

Slow cooker Carapulcra

Slow Cooker Carapulcra

Slow cooker Carapulcra

You might have seen the #livepeasant hashtag on Twitter recently celebrating the traditional cooking of the world using British beef or lamb and wondered if it was only British dishes involved.

I really hope it isn’t after the nice people at Simply Beef and Lamb asked me to take part and I immediately started plotting this Peruvian inspired beef and potato stew in the slow cooker instead.

Usually made using traditional South American freeze dried potatoes to thicken the gravy and a mixture of pork and beef, I decided to try a new idea I’ve had for thickening slow cooker gravies using regular potatoes recently instead.

These chuña blanco are one of the first examples of using cold temperatures to preserve foods and harnessed the sub zero climate of the high Andes to create dried potatoes that last for years. I can buy them in Brixton and the flavour is not unlike potato jerky.

It goes well with the other main flavours of this stew which is peanuts and chilli. Peruvians use a mix called aji which is as varied as hot sauces are but always contains garlic, chilli peppers and coriander. The most popular kind in carapulcra is aji amarillo but I was fresh out of that I’m afraid so I’ve insulted a load of Peruvians and adapted the recipe to what I had instead.

I created a thick rich gravy by grating one of the potatoes into the stew and allowing it to break down along with the peanut butter in the sauce and create a rich velvety gravy full of flavour and spice.

Inauthentic my version might be but it was simple, warming and so tasty everyone wanted seconds. What more could you want from peasant food?

Slow Cooker Carapulcra (serves 4)

  • 500g braising steak (mine was blade steak)
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 300ml red wine (or dark beer)
  • 2 heaped tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1 generous teaspoon Bovril
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce
  • 750g potatoes, peeled
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh coriander to serve
  • roasted peanuts to serve

If you can the night before, put the braising steak in a bowl along with the onions and garlic and the powdered spices and mix well. Leave to marinate overnight in the fridge.

If you aren’t used to using a slow cooker, let me give you some good news. You don’t need to seal meat or pre cook onions before using them. That dates back to the oldest versions and I find that generally browning the meat beforehand over cooks it and leads to that strange woolly texture you get in slow cooker stews.

This method means you can prep stuff the night before and put it all in the slow cooker crock next day without faffing. Even chilled meat isn’t a problem temperature wise, but don’t chill it in the crock as that can damage the crock and slow cooking down.

This recipe prepares nicely the night before. Simply warm the red wine in a pan and melt the peanut butter and Bovril into it to make a thick paste and set aside or use immediately.

Peel all the potatoes and cut all about 150g of them into 3-4cm chunks. Grate the remaining amount. Put them into the slow cooker crock along with the marinaded meat and the red wine mix.

Add the non ground spices, season well with salt and pepper and add the hot sauce. If you like a bit of extra kick you could add a chilli pepper too. I’m a fan of the frozen chilli paste for the slow cooker actually.

Check the liquid levels. It should be about two thirds the depth of the meat and potatoes. Add another 100ml of water if not. Slow cookers need less liquid that oven cooked stews as they don’t allow water to evaporate so don’t add too much or things will be flavourless.

Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook the whole thing on low for 8-9 hours. The grated potato will collapse into the liquid and make a thick gravy and the spices will fill it with flavour.

I served mine just as it was (I forgot the coriander for serving) with some roasted peanuts on top. African shops and sections of supermarkets often sell peanuts roasted without being salted and they are perfect here for a little crunch.

I loved this stew and would make it again. It’ll easily adapt to the oven if you prefer, using extra beef stock and I think it’ll be really popular with kids if you adapt the chilli to their palates or even (whisper) leave it out…


devilled sardines

1950s Devilled Sardines and Tomato Charlotte

devilled sardinesAs the entire world is now aware, I’ve got some food issues that make me feel very unwell at times. At home this is usually treated by undoing my top button and drinking cup after cup of peppermint tea.

But that doesn’t work in public so well and I rely on a variety of indigestion remedies so when Rennie got in touch with me about doing a blogger promotion I thought they knew about my habit of keeping boxes of them in each handbag and were going to give me a year’s supply!

Turns out they wanted to celebrate 70 years of soothing upset stomaches by cooking food from each of those decades and would I care to do something 50s based? Luckily the 50s pre-date garlic coming to the UK so I was in on this one.

Rummaging in my cookbook collection I found two pamphlets from the Ministry of Food from the post war rationing era and since rationing of butter and meat didn’t end until between 1952 and 1954 decided they might inspire.

I wanted to make a main meal so was delighted when two dishes caught my eye: devilled sardines and a tomato charlotte. I’ve only really heard of devilled things in relation to kidneys and they’ve never really appealed so this was my moment to branch out.

Fresh (or tinned) sardines were basted in a mix of sugar, mustard and vinegar and poached lightly while the tomato charlotte used stale bread and fresh tomatoes to make an easy economical side dish. The theory was great but would the food be as awful as people always say about the 50s?

Tomato Charlotte (serves 2)

  • 4 large tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or thyme
  • 2 slices stale bread, cubed
  • 50g breadcrumbs
  • 15g cold butter, cubed

I’ve given this recipe first as it can do its thing while you get the sardines ready. Slice the tomatoes about the thickness of a pound coin and drizzle with the olive oil (which isn’t at all 50s as you could only buy it in the chemists then) and season well with salt, pepper and the dried herbs. Allow to sit for 20 minutes.

Grease an ovenproof dish and layer with some sliced tomatoes. Put a layer of cubed stale bread on top. Add another layer of tomatoes. Repeat until the dish is full. Pour any liquid from the tomatoes over it all.

Mix the breadcrumbs (mine were panko but I suspect a 50s housewife made her own) with the cold butter and pile on top of the dish til the top layer of tomatoes are hidden. Bake for 25-30 minutes in a 180℃ oven.

Devilled Sardines (serves 2)

  • 8 fresh sardines, filleted or 2 tins in spring water
  • 2 tablespoons mustard powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 75ml water

I am lucky enough to have a fishmonger so I asked for my sardines to be filleted, but if you can only get whole cleaned ones, make sure to scrape the scales off, brush inside and out with the devilled mix and simply cook for 5 minutes longer.

Don’t panic at the amount of mustard specified here. It isn’t a typo honestly. Mix the dry ingredients with the vinegar to make a paste and brush it over the flesh side of the sardine fillets and roll them starting at the tail end.

Place each fillet in a saute pan which has a lid and brush the skin with any remaining mixture. Add the water to the pan and put the lid on and cook for 5-6 minutes on a medium heat.

If using tinned sardines, brush each side with the devilling mixture and grill for 2-3 minutes until the fish is hot and slightly crisping round the edges.

Serve the sardines with the tomato charlotte and some boiled potatoes. Mine were tossed with crushed capers, butter and a bit of lemon juice which is a bit edgier than the average 50s dinner table probably but nothing they hadn’t heard of at least.

Then I got stuck in and hoped for the best. And needn’t have worried because both dishes were absolutely delicious. The sardines had much more going on than just mustard and the charlotte turned some fairly meh tomatoes into something so good I ate enough for two people.

Ironically despite pigging out, I didn’t need any of my packets of Rennie at all…

vintage fish cookbook*This post has been supported by Rennie, but all thoughts are my own.

slow cooker pumpkin

Freekeh and Feta Stuffed Pumpkin

slow cooker pumpkin

I have to admit I’m a bit guilty of using my slow cooker to cook meat and meat only, especially now my fodmap friendly diet is so carnivorous. So I was delighted to see that this month’s Slow Cooker Challenge was to go veggie to give me the excuse to branch out a bit.

One of my favourite dishes to cook for Slow Cooked was a whole stuffed pumpkin which I filled with sausage and cannellini beans for a Bonfire Night meal and I’ve been wanting to revisit it.

Luckily I had stockpiled a few medium sized orange pumpkins from Halloween to play around with, but if you can’t find them now, Lidl are going a dinger on the seasonal squashes at the moment instead. I wanted to go a bit Middle Eastern since I recently got a bag of freekeh and I am not afraid to use it.

Freekeh is a green cracked wheat that’s been smoked to help release it from the husk. It is particularly associated with Palestinian cuisine and is now more easy to find here through Ocado and even  Tesco. I scored my bag from Khan’s Bargains in Peckham and I’m a bit obsessed with it. The added smokiness means it packs an umami punch I often find a bit lacking for me in vegetarian food (I blame my anchovy obsession.)

I made a slow cooker lamb stew recently and chucked half a cup of dried freekeh into it to see if it would work. I love pearl barley in the slow cooker so assumed this might work well (unlike rice which turns to glue for me) and it exceeded my expectations with bells on.

This time I knew it would work perfectly in the pumpkin which works like a mini slow cooker within a slow cooker. I also wanted it to be easy like my usual slow cooker style with a minimum of prep so it went into the hollowed out pumpkin as it was along with some feta, green olives and cherry tomatoes and some water and it was good to go.

I added a sprinkle of sumac to serve since I was going Middle Eastern. This is the dried powdered berry of the sumac bush and it’s got a wonderful tart, lemony flavour that’s deeply savoury. I’m using it a lot right now where I would have used pomegranate or when I’m out of lemons. It’s best added toward the end of cooking as heat destroys its nuance or it can be used raw in salads or dressings.

Freekeh and Feta Stuffed Pumpkin (serves 2)

  • 1 medium pumpkin or onion squash
  • 100g dried freekah (or barley)
  • 75g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 50g feta, cubed
  • 200ml vegetable stock
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sumac (or zest of 1/2 lemon)
  • 25g pumpkin seeds

Cut the top off the pumpkin and scoop all the seeds and pulp and flesh out. Wash the seeds under the tap and leave to dry in some kitchen roll.

Put the dry freekeh into a bowl and add the feta and cherry tomatoes and season it all well. Add the smoked paprika and mix it all well together and tip it all into the pumpkin. Add the water or stock.

I’ve been using slow cooker liners for certain dishes after I was very kindly sent some to try. They are great for dishers where stuff gets really baked on or it’s difficult to lift stuff out to serve it. You may be better at trying to get a piping hot pumpkin out of a confined space than I am, but do give them a go.

Put the filled pumpkin in the (lined) slow cooker and put the lid on the slow cooker. Cook on low for 7 hours for a 600g pumpkin or 8-9 for one that weighs up to kilo.

Just before you are ready to serve the pumpkin, toast the reserved seeds for a few minutes in a dry frying pan until golden brown. Lift the pumpkin out of the slow cooker and scatter the seeds and the sumac inside it and then cut into wedges and serve.

Play around with different grains such as pearled spelt or buckwheat or try a variety of dried pulses to fill the pumpkin. There are so many ways to make squash and pumpkin interesting in the slow cooker and make a great Sunday lunch centrepiece that is meat free and hopefully avoids the goats cheese-mushroom risotto trap for vegetarians!

This is my entry in this month’s Slow Cooked Challenge hosted by Farmersgirl Cooks and BakingQueen74.



conkies hero shot

Bajan Slow Cooker Conkies

conkies hero shot

Years ago I used to go out with a guy whose dad was from Barbados and he used to regale me with tales of warm Caribbean beaches and amazing food while we were sitting in my freezing cold kitchen in London. He often talked about conkies and I thought he was winding me up. What kind of name was that? My only access to the internet then was sneaking into the uni computer room without being noticed on while on my year out so it was hard to check.

I forgot all about these strangely named items until I went to the fantastic In a Pikkle last year for one of their legendary bottomless rum punch brunches and Barbadian hospitality. They came up in conversation somewhere around the second slice of rum cake and this time I did go home and Google them to see if they were real.

And not only were they, but they sounded delicious to boot. Made with grated pumpkin, coconut, cornmeal and spices before being wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed, they are traditionally eaten in Barbados to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. As I’ve never celebrated Bonfire Night or been to Barbados in my life, I thought I’d give them a go in the slow cooker and see what all the fuss is about.

A little bit time consuming with the grating and steaming, they can be made a couple of days in advance and reheated or frozen til needed, they were so delicious the effort was well worth it. Ironically for a Caribbean treat, they’d be excellent served warm at a bonfire party in a cold British garden.

Bajan Slow Cooker Conkies (makes 20)

  • 500g of a mix of pumpkin, sweet potato or carrot
  • 150g desiccated coconut
  • 75g plain flour
  • 150g cornmeal or polenta
  • 150g sugar
  • 150g raisins
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 nutmeg, freshly ground
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond essence
  • 120g melted butter
  • 900ml milk

These are easy to adapt so everyone can eat them. Just use pumpkin and carrot if fodmapping. You could sub in spelt or gluten free flour if required and use non dairy versions of the milk and butter. I find desserts the hardest thing to make for people with dietary requirements so these could be very handy if dealing with a multitude of needs.

Start by grating your peeled vegetables. If you have a food processor, then note the distinct gleam of green in my eyes. You need to make a fine batter for the conkies so you’re going to grate those veg on the finest gauge of dimples and that is hard work. I found singing tunelessly helped distract me from my aching arm.

Put the grated vegetables in a large mixing bowl. The pumpkin smells amazing at this point like a sweeter version of cucumber that was a nice farewell to summer as the clocks went back. Add the desiccated coconut. If you have a random Halloween coconut in the house, by all means crack it open and grate the flesh of it too. Clearly you have better arm muscles than me.

Add all the dry ingredients including the fruit and stir them through well. I prefer things less sweet, but you could use up 200g of sugar if you like. Melt the butter and stir that in along with the vanilla and almond essences. Start adding the milk a cup at a time. You want a consistency to your conkies that is just turning into a batter but not liquid, so you might need more or less milk depending how moist your vegetables are.

conkie batter

When the batter is mixed, set aside and cut 20 squares of greaseproof paper about 20cm by 20cm. Measure out 20 lengths of string about 15cm long. You could do this first, but I actually found the way the paper rolls up took up more space when I was trying to mix stuff. If you have banana leaves handy, then you’re in luck. Tell me where you got them because even in Brixton, they are hard to find outside Christmas time for pastelles.

I used a 6.5 litre slow cooker for these and put seven small ramekins in the base. Six went in upside down and the seventh on its side to make a base on which to rest the conkies so they steam without touching the water which should come as far up up the ramekins as possible to allow this.

Lay out a piece of string, setting a square of greaseproof paper on top and put two spoonfuls of batter in the centre, neatening it up a bit with the back of the spoon if needed. Fold the paper like a parcel so the batter is completely enclosed and the ends are tucked in. Tie the string in a parcel bow too and snip any really long ends.

Set your conkie on top of the ramekins in the slow cooker crock as you wrap and tie each one. I got 16 into mine in about three layers, but all 20 will fit. I just wanted to steam some traditionally to test them for people who don’t have a slow cooker so kept some aside. (They took 50 minutes in my electric steamer FYI.)

conkies in crock

Put the lid on the slow cooker and steam the conkies on high for 8-9 hours. The conkies should be firm to the touch when cooked. They are best served cooled for about 15 minutes before unwrapping if straight from the slow cooker. You can make in advance and give them about a minute or so in the microwave from frozen or 30-40 seconds from chilled.

They are excellent just as they are, eaten from the paper with your fingers or served with some ice cream as a dessert. They will be firm and glossy when cooked with a sweet, spiced buttery flavour that will convert anyone to pumpkin desserts even if they fear the traditional pie. They also made an excellent breakfast even if they did make me yearn for Bridgetown.