Lamb Kleftiko

Lamb Kleftiko

During the winter months there is nothing quite like a good roast dinner; succulent meat accompanied by roast potatoes and Yorkshire puds with a rich, meaty gravy.  By time we get to Easter though my thoughts turn to spring and, whilst I still love the traditional roast, I crave some lighter accompaniments.

Spring lamb always seems appropriate at Easter but this year I decided to go Greek and make Lamb Kleftiko.  I served this with a Greek inspired salad of tomatoes, red onions, feta and black olives which is perfect with a little tzatziki on the side.

Lamb Kleftiko, or stolen lamb as it is also known, is a traditional Greek recipe which involves slow cooking a lamb joint with potatoes and herbs all wrapped up in parchment paper.  The name stems from the Klephts; brigands who roamed the Greek mountains and stole food to eat.  (Out of interest “kleptomaniac” has the same linguistic origin.)

Stolen lamb would be cooked in sealed pots buried in a fire pit so that no one would see the fire or smell the meat as it roasted, thus keeping the location of the brigands secret.  Today’s cooking method follows the tradition in the sense that all the flavours and juices are sealed into the paper parcel but unless you bury it in the garden be prepared for some wonderfully tantalising smells.

Eleven years or so ago, Martin and I went out to Greece to learn to sail in the Ionian.  After a day’s lessons we would wander along the rows of tavernas in Nidri, tired and hungry and looking for somewhere to eat.  Kleftiko became a firm favourite for both of us.

Later in the holiday, when we were trusted to sail alone, we visited various Ionian islands and tried Kleftiko again (and again!).  Some tavernas served up simple sliced lamb and potatoes, others delivered individual leg steaks still in their paper parcels.  Lamb and potatoes were constant ingredients but the recipes varied significantly from there with the inclusion of resin rich Greek wine or roasted peppers and, on one occasion, some feta which had been sliced and mixed in with the other ingredients.

You must be tired of hearing me say this by now but it really reinforces the idea of experimentation.  There is no single “correct” way to make this dish.  Play around with it and see what suits you.  I am quite sure that the Klephts cooked whatever they could get their hands on.  I roasted a leg of lamb but a shoulder joint is cheaper and perfect for long, slow cooking too.  You can use any combination of Mediterranean herbs (on the basis of what grows together goes together) and there’s no reason why you couldn’t add some extra veg too.  I used anchovies because I always use anchovies when I roast lamb – they aren’t particularly traditional in Greek cooking but they add a lovely savoury seasoning and you are left with no hint at all of fishiness.

This is a great way to roast lamb giving you sweet, tender meat, the most flavoursome roasties you will ever eat and very little washing up.  What more could you ask for?

Lamb Kleftiko Recipe

Ingredients

2 kg Leg of Lamb

6 Cloves of Garlic

6 Sprigs of Rosemary

A small handful of Fresh Oregano

Zest and Juice of 2 Lemons

4 or 5 Anchovy Fillets (optional)

3 Tbsp Olive Oil

3 Bay Leaves

1 kg Potatoes (skin on, quartered – Desiree or Maris Pipers would work well.)

Method

Pinch out the tips from the rosemary and set aside.  Put the rest of the rosemary sprigs into a large plastic bag (a Ziploc bag works well).  Chop the Oregano and crush 3 cloves of garlic, add them to the bag with the olive oil, lemon zest and juice and the bay leaves.

Peel and slice the remaining 3 cloves of garlic.  Use a sharp knife to make small but deep slits all over the surface of the lamb.  Push small pieces of anchovy, the reserved rosemary tips and slices of garlic into the slits.

Place the leg of lamb into the bag and seal it.  Make sure the meat is well covered in the marinade then put it in the fridge to steep overnight.

Remove the lamb from the fridge about an hour before you want to cook it so that it can return to room temperature.

Pre-heat the oven to 150°C / 300°F / Gas Mark 2

Lay 2 long pieces of greaseproof / parchment paper (one lengthways and one widthways to form a cross) in a roasting tin large enough to hold the leg of lamb.  Put the potatoes into the centre of the paper.  Remove the lamb from the bag and pour the marinade over the potatoes.  Season with salt and pepper and toss together to coat the potatoes.

Place the lamb on top and pull up the paper to create a package.  Scrunch the paper together to seal well.  Place in the oven and leave to cook for around 4 hours.  You want it to be tender but slightly under cooked at this point.

Remove the roasting tin from the oven and turn the heat up to 220°C / 425°F / Gas Mark 7.  Open the paper parcel and fold the paper back under the rim of the roasting tin.  Return it to the oven until the joint is browned and glistening (around 30 minutes).  If you have a meat thermometer you want the centre of the joint to be around 60 – 65°C when it comes out of the oven – it will continue to cook as it rests.

Remove the meat from the oven and transfer to a warm plate to rest.

Return the potatoes to the hot oven to brown.

Carve the joint and serve with the potatoes and a Greek salad with some tzatziki on the side.

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Pork Loin with Dijon Mustard

RipaillesFor me, there is nothing quite so wonderful as a lazy afternoon spent, on my own, with a cup of tea and a new cookery book to look at.  So you can imagine my joy when my friend Angela lent me her copy of Ripailles by Stephane Reynaud.  As soon as I found the time I plunged in and lost myself in a world of classic French recipes and beautiful, simple photography.

This weighty tome is a sheer joy to read with simple recipes using great ingredients.  However, it also reveals itself as a prime example of a strange quirk in my nature – I choose recipe books based on how they look and feel and the pleasure I take in reading them, not because I want to cook, or even eat, everything in them.

If I am honest I would probably make no more than 20 or so of the 299 recipes in this book; I have no interest in making Salade de Museau (pork head salad), I refuse to eat fois gras and the smell alone of anduillettes (offal and tripe based sausages) is enough to have me running for cover.  But I love reading about them.  Is that a little perverse?  I really don’t know for sure but I believe that my general cooking is improved by learning about new techniques and ways to pack flavour into simple dishes.  I may be fooling myself but at least I am a happy fool.

Having drooled liberally all over Angela’s copy (sorry about that) I dropped some very heavy hints and received a copy of my own for my birthday and I still can’t seem to put it away – it sits on my desk waiting to be adored – it’s just that kind of book.

One recipe that I have made (twice) is Filet de Cochon a la Dijonnaise (Pork Loin with Dijon Mustard).  This is a simple, elegant dish, rich with cream and layered with delicate flavours.  Buy good quality, outdoor reared pork and you will be rewarded with a tender alternative to a roast.  I served the dish up with green veg and new potatoes from the allotment which worked perfectly with the rich cream.  Be warned, there is a lot of sauce and you will be tempted to eat far more of it than is good for you.  Martin and Lyssa (No 2 daughter) thought it was good enough to pour into a mug and drink but I am working on a less artery threatening way of using up the leftovers.  I would welcome your ideas…

Pork Loin with Dijon MustardIngredients

1 kg Pork Loin Joint

2 Shallots

2 Cloves Garlic

300 ml Veal Stock (or Beef Stock)

150 ml White Port

300 ml Single Cream

3 Tbsp Dijon Mustard

50g Butter

Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper

Method

Finely chop the garlic and shallots.

In a heavy pan brown the pork loin all over in the butter.  Add the shallots and garlic and soften gently.  De-glaze the pan with the white port (if you don’t have any you could use white wine instead), cover and cook over a low heat for 30 minutes.

Add the stock, re-cover and cook for a further 30 minutes.

Add the cream, cook for a further 30 minutes and season.

Just before serving stir in the Dijon Mustard.

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Slow Roast Shoulder of Lamb with Garlic Gravy

Slow Roast Shoulder of LambEvery body loves a Sunday roast don’t they?  It is certainly a favourite in our house- in fact I think our youngest daughter would eat a roast dinner every day of the week if she could get away with it.

You know by now that I am fussy about my meat – I buy the best quality meat I can but, as that can cost a bit more, we don’t eat meat every day (veggie food tastes great too).  I also like to know where my meat comes from; not just because of quality assurance but I love it when my food has a story of its own.

My lovely friends Joy and Mark have a beautiful and talented daughter called Robyn.  Robyn is married to Will, an equally handsome and talented farmer, shepherd and fisherman.  Now if this is all starting to sound a bit fairytale you need to remember that what this really means is that they are grafters; it’s a hard life being a farmer and the diversity is economically essential rather than romantic.  Will works on his parents farm, the sheep are his own which affords him some independence and he sells his fish in the farm shop.

This particular lamb is from a Poll Dorset Lamb which was raised on the cliffs overlooking Gerrans Bay on the Roseland Peninsula.  It was born in October (milder West Country winters allow for a late lambing) which means that it is generally younger and tastier than the standard Spring born lamb when it comes to market in time for Easter.  Rob and Will also have a flock which lambs in February but the autumn born lamb extends the fresh British Lamb season quite significantly.

You will find New Zealand lamb in the shops all year round and it is significantly cheaper than British but it doesn’t taste half as good and it doesn’t support British farmers.

Rob and Will don’t sell their own lamb directly so you can imagine my delight when Joy turned up with some as a gift – I was as excited as a child in a sweet shop.  We roasted a leg joint the following Sunday but I put the shoulder in the freezer for a few weeks until I could do it justice because meat like this needs to be treated with respect.  When I finally made time to cook it I decided that the best way to get maximum flavour and tenderness from the shoulder of lamb would be through long, slow roasting.

The three classic flavours which complement lamb are garlic, lemon and rosemary but an addition that you might be less aware of is anchovy.  A little anchovy enhances the lamb wonderfully without making it taste fishy (ok you might just have to trust me on this one) and I have included all these flavours in this dish.  A good roast dinner needs a great gravy so I made my gravy using the juices from the roasting pan and lots of roasted garlic.  Roasting garlic makes it sweet and almost caramel like with none of the sharp bitterness you find in raw garlic.

Unusually, for me, this was a roast dinner without roast potatoes but creamy mash was the perfect vehicle for making the most of the scrummy gravy.  Add some seasonal vegetables and prepare for sighs of deep pleasure.

Ingredients

2kg Shoulder of British Lamb

2 Carrots

1 Leek

2 or 3 large sprigs of Rosemary

3 Heads (Bulbs) of Garlic

1 lemon

3 or 4 Anchovy Fillets

Salt & Pepper

1 Pint / 1/2 Litre good quality Beef Stock

A Splash of White Wine

1 tbsp Redcurrant Jelly

1 tbsp Corn Flour

1 tbsp Vegetable Oil

Method

Pre-heat the oven to its highest setting.

Chop the carrot and leek into large chunks, quarter the lemon, cut the garlic heads in half and place them all in a roasting tray with the vegetable oil – toss to coat.

Place the lamb on top of the vegetables and season well with salt and pepper.  Cover tightly with tinfoil and place it in the oven.

As soon as the lamb is in the oven turn the temperature down to 170 C / 325 F / Gas Mark 3.  Roast for about 4 hours.  When the meat is cooked it should be so tender you can pull it apart with a fork – it won’t need carving.

Remove the meat to a warm plate, cover with foil and leave to rest in a warm place whilst you make the gravy.

LIft the vegetables out of the roasting tin and set aside.  Spoon off any excess fat and place the roasting tin on the hob over a low flame.  Blend the corn flour into the pan juices, add a splash of wine and stir well with a wooden spoon to pick up all the sticky bits.

Pour in the stock and return the vegetables to the roasting tin.  Add the anchovies.  Bring to the boil and mash the vegetables well to extract all the flavours.  Make sure you squeeze all of the garlic out.  Simmer for 5 minutes then strain into a pan.  Stir in the redcurrant jelly and bring back to a simmer.

Taste the gravy and finalise the seasoning – decide if it needs a little more salt or sharpness or sweetness and adjust accordingly.

Serve the meat and gravy with mashed potatoes and seasonal veg.

NB Because I cook on a rayburn I normally hate recipes which say start with a high oven and turn the heat down.  It takes about an hour for the temperature to drop!  So I start with a high oven and then either put the meat in the warming oven while the temperature drops or I lower the heat, lift the lids and leave the door open ajar until the required temperature is reached.

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Dim Sum

Dim Sum RecipesDim sum are bite sized morsels of food often steamed but sometimes fried.  They are traditionally served with tea in restaurants or inns across China and might be compared to the Spanish tradition of tapas.

I served these as a course in a Chinese New Year banquet which is not particularly traditional but worked really well to increase the range of flavours my guests got to eat without overloading them with vast quantities of food.

I made Szechuan Belly Pork; slowly cooked cubes of tender pork, spiked with chilli, star anise and ginger and tossed in a sticky sauce made of soy, sugar and rice wine vinegar.  I also made pork and prawn wonton; minced pork and prawns, flavoured with ginger and oyster sauce, wrapped in a wonton wrapper and served with a dipping sauce.

Most of the ingredients should be easy to get hold of but if you can’t get rice wine dry sherry will do.  I also struggled to get hold of wonton wrappers locally – I foolishly thought that they would be easily available but tried three different supermarkets, two health food shops and a specialist grocer, all to no avail.  I eventually took a 50 mile round trip to Penzance to an Asian grocers because I left it to late to buy them on line!

Szechuan Pork Belly

Ingredients

500g / 1lb Boneless Pork Belly

2 tbsp Vegetable Oil

4 dried Red Chillies

6 Star Anise

2.5cm / 1” Piece Root Ginger

1 tsp Sea Salt

1 tbsp Rice Vinegar

2 tbsp Sugar

1 tbsp Soy Sauce

1 tbsp Sesame Seeds

Method

Cut the belly pork into 1” cubes (you can ask your butcher to do this if you like).

Put the pork into a wok or a large, non-stick frying pan and cover completely with cold water. Add 3 of the dried chillies, the ginger, star anise and salt. Bring to the boil then turn down the heat and simmer very gently until all the water has gone and the pork is tender. Remove the spices and continue cooking the pork until it is crisped and golden on all sides. Remove the meat from the pan and keep warm.

Put 100 ml of water into the pan and add the vinegar, sugar and soy sauce. Chop the remaining chilli and add to the pan. Bring to the boil and stir continuously until the sauce has reduced to a sticky glaze.

Return the pork to the wok, sprinkle in the sesame seeds and cook everything together until the pork is well coated in the sticky glaze.

Pork & Prawn Wonton

Ingredients

175g / 6 oz Minced Pork

85g / 3 ½ oz Peeled Prawns

2 Spring Onions

2 Cloves Garlic

2 tsp roughly chopped Root Ginger

2 tbsp Oyster Sauce

1 tsp Sesame Oil

12 Wonton Wrappers

Dipping Sauce

2 tbsp Soy Sauce

2 tbsp Rice Wine

2 tsp Grated Root Ginger

Method

Put all the ingredients except the wonton wrappers into a food processor and pulse until combined into a coarse paste.

Lay the wonton wrappers out a few at a time and wet around the edge of each one using a pastry brush and a little water. Place a teaspoon of the pork and prawn mixture in the centre of each wrapper (don’t over-fill) pull up the edges and squeeze well to seal.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil and line a steamer with parchment paper and arrange the wontons in a single layer on top of the paper. Steam for around 5 minutes until cooked through and piping hot. You may have to cook them in batches.

To make the dipping sauce simply stir all the ingredients together and serve next to the wontons in a small bowl.

 

 

 

Pork, Chestnut and Sage Pies

Pork Chestnut and Sage Pies

Just before Christmas I was given the arduous and immensely enjoyable task of judging a Festive Baking competition at The Driftwood Spars Hotel in St Agnes along with my friend Lisa. We tasted our way through mince pies, Christmas cakes, cheesecakes and biscuits galore and risked offending friends and neighbours with our decisions.

However, we were absolutely in agreement over our love of these tasty little pies and they won the Best Use of Festive Flavours category in the bake off. I enjoyed the flavour so much I bought one to take home! They were made by Ben Wheeler who adapted an original recipe from the Pieminster – A Pie for all Seasons cook book. Ben calls them Christmas buns but I have used a more prosaic “does what it says on the tin” title for them.

I haven’t had a chance to make them myself yet but I fully intend to in the very near future.

I had intended to get this recipe up before Christmas but there’s no reason at all that they couldn’t be made anytime – especially if you still have a cupboard full of chutneys and preserves to accompany them.

Ingredients

Hot water crust pastry

450g /1 lb Plain Flour

2 tsp Caster Sugar

1 Egg plus 1 more for glazing.

200ml Water

60g / 2 ½ oz Butter

100g / 4oz Lard

 Filling

900g / 2 lb good Pork Sausage Meat (choose your favourite sausages and skin them)

2 medium Red Onions, sliced

1 tbsp Cider Vinegar

1 tbsp Sherry Vinegar

1 tbsp Dried Sage

About 15 whole Chestnuts (fresh or tinned)

Nutmeg

 Method

For the Filling

Caramelise the onions in a bit of olive oil with the cider vinegar over a low heat – about 45 mins or so until cooked right down and sticky. Ben suggests starting with the lid on then taking it off half way through. Add the sherry vinegar a few minutes before the end and cook it down so no liquid remains.

If you are using fresh chestnuts roast them in the oven – cut a cross in the top of each one with a sharp knife, place on a baking sheet in an oven preheated to 200C for about 25 mins. Ben warns that some may still explode in the oven! Once cool enough to handle, peel and chop roughly. Alternatively chop the pre-cooked, tinned chestnuts – this is more convenient but will give less flavour.

Place the sausage meat in a bowl and add the caramelised onions, chestnuts and sage, along with a decent grind of black pepper and grate about half a nutmeg in. Mix with a fork to distribute everything evenly.

With wet hands shape the sausage mixture into 6 equally sized balls. Set aside while you make the pastry.

For the Pastry:

Mix flour and sugar in a bowl. Lightly beat the egg and mix into the flour.

Put the water, lard and butter in a saucepan, heat gently until the fat has melted and the water just boils.

Slowly add the hot water/fat mixture to the flour and beat in with a table knife then knead lightly to make a smooth dough.

 To Assemble:

Use the pastry while hot (as hot as you can handle). It’s extremely pliable while warm and very tolerant, you can just mould it around like play dough.

Remove a little bit of the pastry for decoration, then divide the remaining pastry into 6 evenly sized pieces.

Take a piece of the pastry, roll into a ball, then flatten out with your hands on a work surface into a circle a few mm thick

Place a sausage ball on the pastry circle and bring the sides up and around. Pinch together to seal and mould it around with your hands to make smooth.

Flip it over so the seal is underneath then tidy it all up into a domed bun shape, turning between your hands. Repeat for the other 5 and place all on a lightly greased baking tray.

Cut decorations out from the reserved bit of pastry (this is easiest once pastry has cooled a bit and gets a bit firmer).  Glaze the buns with a little beaten egg, stick the decorations on top and glaze all over with more egg.  Cut a hole in the top of each bun to let the steam out.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180° C / 350° F / Gas Mark 4 for about 45 mins. When cooked a skewer stuck into the middle through the hole in the top should come out hot. Some sticky juice will seep out of the hole and maybe through cracks in the pastry, According to Ben this just makes it taste good!

Can be eaten cold, but best when still a bit warm.

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