Now is the time to plan for a really chilled Christmas, so let’s stock the pantry with items and fill the freezer with casseroles, pots of stews, tagines, make sure to have a couple of chunky vegetarian dishes and some vegan treats – delicious for everyone.
I’ve got lots of gorgeous bean and chickpea recipes that everyone loves. Dried legumes and pulses are packed with flavour, nutrients and are a very inexpensive source of protein. Serve them with a salad of late Autumn leaves and a bowl of natural yoghurt with lots of snipped fresh herbs particularly mint.
For meat dishes, go along to your local butcher, have a chat to discover the less expensive cuts that are so brilliant for slow cooked stews and braises. This is no sacrifice, these have twice the flavour of the prime cuts, but you can’t just slap them on the pan, they need to be cooked long and slowly to break down the tissue and tease them to melting tenderness. Here’s where a slow cooker really comes into its own. Put on a batch of short ribs, a shin of beef stew, some ham hocks or maybe a few lamb shanks.
Tomato fondue and piperonata in two portion tubs are also brilliant bases to have in a freezer. One can defrost them quickly and add a couple of cans of beans, chickpeas, even diced cooked potatoes, a few chunks of streaky bacon or chorizo. A bag of mussels and or clams or a few cubes of fresh fish make an almost instant swanky Mediterranean fish stew – it’s brilliant to have a few of these secret standbys to take the stress out of unexpected situations so you can spontaneously invite a few pals home after an evening out on the town or after a funeral or a point-to-point.
Don’t forget venison, somehow it always feels festive. Stewing venison from the shoulder is what you need for stews and casseroles and how about adding a pastry crust to make a delectable venison or game pie. For chicken dishes, buy a bag of thighs or drumsticks by far the best flavour. The bones add extra deliciousness not to speak of collagen, the new buzz word in nutrition which we all need for healthy bone structure. Unless you are super careful, white breast meat dries up quickly in casseroles. I’m always baffled as to why so many people prefer white rather than dark meat.
Brown meat has always been my favourite, I will eat white meat where offered if given a choice but would never choose it myself. Plus being less popular has resulted in it being less expensive – a bonus when you discover how good it is.
There are still lots of squash and pumpkins around. Apart from being delicious, they are brilliant to add to stews and casseroles to bulk them up deliciously at little cost.
So here are a few of our favourite standbys to cook up and pop into the freezer during the next few weeks – Happy Cooking.
Black-eyed Bean, Pumpkin and Chickpea Stew
One of the very best vegetarian one-pot dishes. What’s not to like about black-eyed beans, chickpeas and pumpkin with lots of spices? Delicious on its own, but equally good with a roast chicken or a few lamb chops. Eat with flatbreads or pilaff rice, if you prefer.
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 x 2.5cm (1 inch) cinnamon stick
150g (5oz) onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
225g (8oz) fresh mushrooms, sliced approx. 3mm (1/8 inch) thick
450g (1lb) pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut in 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes
400g (14oz) fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped or 1 x 400g (14oz) tin of chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
a pinch of sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
450g (1lb) cooked black-eyed beans, strained (reserving the cooking liquid)
225g (8oz) cooked chickpeas, strained (reserving the cooking liquid)
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped coriander
For the Mint Yoghurt
300ml (10fl oz) natural yogurt
1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves
Heat the oil in a sauté pan over a medium-high heat. When it is hot, put in the cumin seeds and the cinnamon stick. Let them sizzle for 5 – 6 seconds, then add the onions and garlic. Stir-fry for 3 – 4 minutes until the onion is just beginning to colour at the edges. Add the mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms wilt, then add the pumpkin or squash, tomatoes, ground coriander, cumin and turmeric, a pinch of sugar and the cayenne. Cook for 1 minute, stirring, then cover with a lid and cook over a gentle heat for 10 minutes.
Turn off the heat and tip in the drained beans and chickpeas. Add the salt and pepper, together with 2 tablespoons of coriander. Pour in 150ml (5fl oz) of bean cooking liquid and 150ml (5fl oz) of the chickpea liquid (or 300ml (10fl oz) vegetable stock if you’ve used tinned pulses). Return to the boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the beans and chickpeas are tender.
To make the mint yogurt, combine the yogurt with the chopped mint in a bowl.
Remove the cinnamon stick from the pan before serving and sprinkle with the remaining coriander. Spoon into serving bowls and top with a dollop of the mint yogurt. Accompany with a good green salad and rice, if you wish.
Mary Jo’s Braised Short Ribs
6 cross cut short ribs, trimmed
225g (8oz) streaky bacon (in a piece if possible. Remove rind, dice bacon, fry out fat in 1 tablespoon olive oil or duck fat
225g (8oz) diced carrot
175g (6oz) diced celery
6-8 cloves garlic, cut in half
1 chilli, sliced
1 red pepper, diced
1 yellow pepper, diced
2-3 large onions (1 sliced – the other 2 chopped)
1 tablespoon tomato purée
200 – 250ml (7- 9fl oz) red wine
1 sprig of rosemary
2 bay leaves
small fistful thyme branches
1 cinnamon stick
3 spirals of orange zest
beef or chicken stock
Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2.
If possible, trim and salt the beef the night before cooking.
Remove rind and dice the bacon. Save the rind to cook with beef, it adds gelatine to the sauce. Heat a little oil in a wide sauté and brown the bacon dice. Remove to a plate.
Brown beef in batches; do not overcrowd the sauté pan. Leave 2 tablespoons of fat in the pan and sweat onion, carrot and celery, stirring to dissolve all browned bits in the sauté pan. Add the garlic, chilli and peppers and sweat for 5 – 6 minutes or until limp.
Place beef, bacon and vegetables in a casserole or heavy braising pot, preferably enamelled cast iron.
Add the tomato paste to the hot sauté pan and cook briefly. Add wine and bring to the boil. Pour this over the beef, add the herbs, cinnamon stick and orange zest and enough stock to come halfway up the pot. Bring back to the boil. Cover with a butter paper and tight-fitting lid. Braise in a moderate until tender, 3 – 4 1/2 hours (depending on the size). Pour off the liquid, allow to settle.
Skim the fat off the top (keep for roast potatoes). Remove the herbs and bones from the pot if you wish. Bring back to the boil. Thicken the juices with a little roux if desired. Taste and correct seasoning. Add back into the pot. Scatter with coarsely chopped parsley.
Serve with mashed potato.
Chicken and Apricot Stew with Gentle Spices
We use chicken thighs for this recipe, but of course white meat could also be used. Children also love this mildly spiced curry. The apricots add a fruity sweetness that lifts the stew deliciously. Serve with a big bowl of pilaf rice.
175g (6oz) dried apricots
1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon crushed chilli flakes or Aleppo pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
4 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 tablespoon garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
50ml (2fl oz) sunflower oil
5cm (2 inch) of cinnamon bark
270g (scant 9oz) onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1.3kg (3lbs) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, diced in 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces
10 cherry tomatoes, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons concentrated tomato purée mixed with 125ml (4 1/2fl oz) water
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped coriander
Soak the apricots overnight in 450ml (16fl oz) cold water, or if you are in a hurry soak them in hot water for 2 – 3 hours.
To make the masala, combine the chilli flakes or Aleppo pepper, cumin, coriander, cloves, cardamom, garlic and ginger in a small bowl. Add 50ml (2fl oz) water and stir to make a spice paste.
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over a medium heat and add the cinnamon. Add the chopped onions and salt. Cover and sweat for 4 – 5 minutes until the onion is a little soft. Stir in the spice masala. Add the chicken, toss to coat and cook for 4 – 5 minutes. Add the apricots with their soaking liquid, quartered cherry tomatoes and tomato purée.
Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. You may need to reduce the liquid by removing the lid halfway through the cooking.
Season to taste. Serve in a warm bowl, sprinkled with lots of freshly chopped coriander. We serve it with pilaf rice and a green salad.
Rory O’Connell’s Ham Hocks with Mustard and Chive Cream
I love ham hocks and they are very easy to cook, tremendously good value and are delicious served hot, warm or at room temperature. I prefer them unsmoked but that is a personal choice. The leftover cooking water makes a delicious stock for soups so do not discard it.
The mustard and chive cream could not be easier to make but I feel the dry English Colemans mustard powder is essential for a fiery yet comforting accompaniment to the hocks.
4 fresh ham hocks
4 cloves of garlic
1 carrot thickly sliced
2 sticks of celery, chopped
1 bay leaf
6 black peppercorns
Place all of the ingredients into a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and then simmer covered for 2 – 2 1/2 hours until the meat is almost falling off the bone.
Serve with the mustard and chive cream on the side.
Mustard and Chive Cream
This sauce is also delicious served with roast beef.
1 teaspoon of dry English mustard powder
1 teaspoon hot water
120ml (scant 4 1/2fl oz) softly whipped cream
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Blend the dry mustard and warm water to form a wet paste. Fold it along with the chives and a pinch of salt and pepper through the softly whipped cream. Keep chilled until serving.
Masala Lamb Shanks
This rich spicy dish is even better reheated the next day, or the day after and also freezes brilliantly. If you have any of the sauce left over, toss it with some pasta or noodles for a simple supper.
8 lamb shanks, weighing approx. 1.2kg (2 3/4lbs) in total
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
3cm (1 1/4 inch) piece of fresh ginger, grated
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods, bashed
450g (1lb) onions, sliced
1 x 400g (14oz) tin of chopped tomatoes
1–2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 teaspoons ground coriander
2 – 3 green chillies, halved
1 x 400ml (14fl oz) tin of coconut milk
8 large potatoes, peeled and halved
lots of fresh coriander sprigs, to serve
25g (1oz) desiccated coconut
1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 – 3 red chillies, finely chopped
4 tablespoons chopped mint
300ml (10fl oz) natural yogurt
sea salt and a little honey, to taste
Put the lamb shanks into a 27 – 29cm (11 – 11.5 inch)/4.1 – 4.7 litre (7 – 8 pint approx.) casserole and add the turmeric, ginger, garlic and some salt. Pour in enough water to cover (approx. 2.4 litres/4 pints) and bring slowly to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid, and simmer gently for 2 hours or until the meat is tender.
Meanwhile, grind the ingredients for the masala paste in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar, and set aside until needed.
Once the lamb shanks are cooked, remove them carefully from the pan and keep warm. Pour all of the cooking liquid into a separate pan and set aside. Return the casserole to a low heat with the extra virgin olive oil. Add the bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom and stir-fry for 1 – 2 minutes. Add the onions and fry for 5 – 6 minutes until they start to soften. Add the chopped tomatoes and honey and cook for 5 minutes. Sprinkle in the ground cumin and coriander, add the green chillies and cook for 3 minutes. Finally stir in the masala paste and coconut milk and bring slowly to the boil. Taste and add salt, if necessary.
Return the cooked lamb shanks to the pan and pour in enough of the cooking liquid to come halfway up the shanks. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and simmer gently for 10 minutes, turning the shanks several times during the cooking time.
Add the potatoes to the pan, replace the lid and cook
20 minutes or until the potatoes are fully cooked and the lamb is almost falling off the bone. Season to taste.
To make the mint yogurt, stir the chopped mint into the yogurt and season to taste with salt and honey.
Sprinkle the casserole with lots of fresh coriander and serve with the mint yogurt.