Last weekend I was casting around for what to do with some lamb breast and neck I had defrosted and the weather seemed to good for hearty stews. I asked the hive mind that is twitter and carried on flipping though cook books for inspiration. At roughly the same time as I was eyeing up a porchetta recipes Chris from La Hogue Farm shop suggested a herby stuffing and wrapping the breast round the neck.

And so I set out to make lamb-chetta.

I didn’t want too dense a stuffing so I decided to simply use lots of fresh herbs.

Rosemary, fresh bay leaves and lemon thyme from the garden

I laid out the meat and added some ground black pepper and the herbs

Lamb breast with herbs ready to roll with neck fillet

I rolled it up and tied with string

Rolled and tied lamb with extra herbs tucked under string

I’m not expecting any awards for my butchers joint tie-ing skills…

It went into the oven for 4 hours on gas mark 3 (150-160C). I’d loosely covered the tray with foil and part way through cooking I added a few splashes of white wine as well.


Fours hours in low oven temp....

We carved it into quite thick slices and I’d say there was enough for four people

lamb-chetta slices

We had it simply with some potatoes and cauliflower

It was totally delicious soft super sweet meat from the slow cooking and layers of fat the two cuts contain, the herbs gave is a fresh edge.

We had some left which last night we used in a barley and lamb risotto, again delicious. i also tried a few bits cold and think it would make a great sandwich or simple salad with a slice on top of some lentils.

And as these two cuts are very cheap it was nice and frugal too.

Burgers, three ways

When the Beyond Baked Beans team asked if I’d do a recipe that would appeal to students for their blog I was pleased but stumped. It’s a long time since I was a student and I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to get through Uni without having to cook much more than the odd slice of cheese on toast and the very occasional chilli. This isn’t because I lived at home rather its because I lived in college all three years and the college catering seemed to be modelling itself on a pretty reasonable hotel. And then each time I came up with an idea another faster more organised blogger had pipped me to the post. And so it is that I thought of burgers, something so easy to make I’d almost missed it….here’s the post I did for Beyond Baked Beans so that you too, as well as all those lucky students, can create your own delicious burgers.

Everyone loves burgers (well everyone who loves meat). Homemade ones are brilliant, once you’ve tried them you’ll never want to buy ready made again, because there is no point. They are really simple to make and they taste so much better.

You can mince the meat yourself but I’m guessing if you have a mincer you probably don’t need me to tell you about making your own burgers….

You should allow between 150g-250g of meat per person depending on whether you like small, medium or really quite large burgers. I find that 3 burgers from 500g is about right if you’ve got toppings and side dishes. Its also important that you go for the 20% fat mince, less fat and your burger just won’t be as juicy and tasty, burgers are not the place to be exercising fat content control. Get the best mince you can find it does make a real difference to the taste.

This is a kind of design your own burger recipe…..

Ingredients (for 3 people):

500g of mince (beef, lamb or pork)

1tsp to 1tbsp of herbs or spices to complement your chosen meat (see below for my favourite combinations)

salt and pepper

3 white buns or rolls, again the nicest you can find

cooking oil

condiments: mayo/ketchup/tomato/mushrooms/sliced cheese/bacon/lettuce/onion as suits you and the burger

sides: chips, coleslaw, salad etc


Break the mince up in a bowl, add salt and pepper and mix in. You can leave your burgers plain but I like to add some spices or herbs: add your herb/spice of choice, mix in and leave for 30mins to 1 hour for the flavours to mingle and then form the meat into three equal patties with your hands. You just need to squash and shape it and it will hold together fine. Aim for about 2cm thick and don’t worry if its not perfectly flat.

Pour some cooking oil onto a plate and coat each burger with oil by putting it on the plate and moving it about a bit on each side (don’t worry about the edges, just the flat surfaces).

Heat your chosen pan, a griddle plan will give you nice seared lines but a frying pan is fine. You don’t need any oil in the pan as you’ve already oiled the burger. When the pan is nice and hot put the burgers in. Turn the heat down about ¼ – ½ way. Leave the burgers alone to cook. After about 2-3 minutes they will be ready to flip and they will come away from the pan easily. Turn them over and leave again. This will give you medium-rare/medium burgers; cook for longer if you wish.

Serve on the buns with the condiments and side dishes of your choice.

Good spice/herb combinations are (picking just one usually works best). Use 1 tsp of spices (ready or freshly ground) or dried herbs and up to 1 tbsp of fresh chopped herbs:

Beef: chilli flakes or fresh chilli, coriander seeds or leaves, English mustard powder

Lamb: cumin seeds, coriander seeds, mint, oregano, rosemary

Pork: sage, smoky paprika

Think about how different cuisines spice their food and you’ll find plenty more options.

G20 antics

Police and protesters; they’re ranged up against each other outside the Bank of England spoiling for a fight about something, anything, important or otherwise.

Meanwhile over at ‘Word of Mouth’ (The Guardian’s food blog) the real action is already underway with journalists praising Jamie O’s menu for tonight’s exclusive dinner at No.10 and the posting populace getting very het-up about seasonality, authenticity, diversity and why oh why its Saint Jamie in the limelight again. 

So lets just try to take a balanced look at things (because I’m sure Gordon and Barack will be aiming for balance today and tomorrow, if not dietary then economically at least).  

The brief: 

Mr Oliver has apparently been given a brief to create a menu that showcases the best of seasonal British food and cooking including finding things to represent each of the parts of the United Kingdom. Now some of you may think that ‘best’ ‘British’ and ‘food/cooking’ in the same sentence is something of an oxymoron and that St Jamie is a fool to have accepted the gig. But as we know from past form there is nothing like a challenge to get Jamie’s enthusiasm racing away with him and him saying ‘YES’ before anyone has any chance of stopping him. Even the imminent arrival of his third child is not enough to stop Jamie pouncing on this chance.

Remember it’s a BIG BIG GIG. 

So as we proceed through this analysis of the menu lets remember the brief is ‘BEST SEASONAL BRITISH’ cooked for people from 20 different nations with all the restrictions that entails. Because if you were on The Apprentice doing this and you junked the brief straight off Mr Sugar would be firing you right back to where you came from in no time.

The menu:

You’ve probably seen it already but lets see if and how it sticks to the brief:


Baked Scottish Salmon with Seashore Vegetables, Broad Beans, Herb Garden Salad, Mayonnaise and Wild Garlic-scented Irish Soda bread
Vegetarian option is Childwickbury Goat’s Cheese with Roast Shallots, Seashore Vegetables, Herb Green Salad and Wild Garlic-scented Irish Soda Bread (no mayo)


Slow-Roasted Shoulder of Welsh Lamb, very first of the season Jersey Royals, first of the season Asparagus and Wild St George Mushrooms. Mint Sauce and Gravy
Vegetarian option is Lovage & Potato Dumplings with first of the season Asparagus and Wild St George Mushrooms


Hot Bakewell Tart with Home-made Custard

A quick look in any seasonal cooking book or any of the various online seasonality resources will show you that Jamie is potentially quite restricted in some areas e.g. fruit = pretty much nothing, meat = wild pigeon!. And once he has to factor in a whole range of dietary requirements the options get cut further. So lets just be clear here: the guy has to create something uniquely (and identifiably) British and WOW that fits with a plethora of dietary restrictions and a rather thin set of seasonal choices.

So his only option is to get top notch ingredients and try to make them sing.


Salmon: in season, very recognisably British, represents Scotland (still part of the UK last time I looked despite the best efforts of may a Scotsman and woman). Obvious choice but shellfish is probably a no no and many might squeal at eel.

Seashore Veg: identified on most sites as sea kale and samphire. Well he’s on the mark with sea kale but I’m a bit doubtful about the possibility of samphire – it’s a shade early for that really but he can hardly have had it grown in a poly tunnel so he must know a secret source. I have seen it growing on the mud flats of Maldon fairly early in previous years so its not impossible. And its very British.

Broad beans: pretty British, very early so these have got to come from under glass, possibly from somewhere like the Isle of Wight or Channel Islands. And before we all go off on one about producing things early under glass lets just remember that they’ve been doing it since way back in the 1500’s – what do you think they used Chelsea for before they built posh houses and football clubs on it!

Herb garden salad: definitely seasonal, not especially British but that will depend on the actual herbs selected and what’s available. Hopefully he’ll have some sorrel or watercress or early spinach in there.

Mayonnaise: not reknowned for being particularly British but it is tasty and we could make a slightly weak argument about it allegedly being brought back from Mahon in Minorca after Richelieu defeated the British there in 1756 (bit tenuous though). I think he should have plumped for a dressing made with rapeseed oil and a herb or fruit vinegar.

Wild garlic soda bread: wild garlic is definitely in season and grows across much of the UK; and soda bread is found both North and South of the border in Ireland so it fits (regardless of your politics on the UK/Irish matter).

Vegetarians: sadly its goats cheese again for them it seems (a stock answer to ‘oh dear how do I cope with the veggie people’) but since good goats cheese is so lovely and a staple of the British food scene these days I’d be happy to opt for this and they get to have the same supporting vegetables.

Main: This is a tough one to call. The options are limited and some of the things on the menu are VERY early in the season. I imagine there’s been a lots of frantic sourcing going on to get some of this stuff but the choices are all well known British options and show the range of possibilities from across the UK

Lamb: of course it is now April! Its a bit early in the season but not impossible to get lamb that’s mature enough – I suspect since its being slow roasted it’ll be close to 1 year old rather than new season. Pretty tough call to find another option when pork and beef are probably both of the menu due to dietary restrictions and everyone would simply roll their eyes if its was chicken being served up.

Jersey Royals: if they are ready I say bring them on, fantastic.

Asparagus: after the cool winter I’m doubtful this is really in season yet but he must have managed to get its somewhere – I love asparagus so I’m quite jealous.

Vegetarians: good to see that the supporting notes are the same as for the meat option, veggies are so often just palmed off with a totally different mushed up irrelevant dish whereas this references back and adds lovage which will be in season.

Dessert: oh dear this is where the controversy really warms up. For a start most people say the real thing is Bakewell Pudding and it’s pretty easy to search out bucket loads of supporting evidence for that assertion. But many of the same sources also suggestion that Bakewell Tart is not such the chav newcomer most of us would have and recipes can be traced back at least to the mid 1800s for dishes that are more tart like less pudding and indeed tarts akin to Bakewell have a heritage going back further across most of the UK. So, as long as St J isn’t just opening a pack of Mr Kipling’s then I’m sure things will be okay. Pudding, dessert, whatever you want to call it there must have been lots of options to consider. I think he’s slightly lost the seasonal plot though here as he could have done something interesting with new seasons rhubarb (like the a wonderful dish I tasted at Northcote Manor in Lancashire earlier this year of Rhubarb Carpaccio, Custard Crumble Parfait, Rhubarb Granita which was real wow), even a simple fruit fool would have done the trick I think (and stopped the arguing about tarts and puddings).

So overall has he met the brief?

Well I’d say he’s well over 90% of the way there with this menu, plus its relatively simple and accessible and crucially for him straightforward to prepare. It’s a meant to be a working dinner not an off the scale gastronomic experience. I can quite imagine that St Jamie will pull it off again and by tomorrow when those who tasted comment we’ll be hearing about how great it was. And if not, well then I’ll eat my words or at the very least some seasonal British food.

Think you can do better? Look out for tomorrow’s post to join in the debate and have the chance to create your own G20 menu moment and also find out some useful resources on British food.


Leftover roast chicken – lets make stock

The stockpot is on. And in a good few hours there’ll be a fresh batch of chicken stock to use in soups, risottos or casseroles.

There is nothing quite like making stock (chicken or any other type) to make you feel virtuous, in fact there’s a danger of becoming smug about the whole thing. You’re getting maximum value from something in a way that would make your grandparents proud and you’re going to get extra special compliments on all the dishes you use it in; not because people know, but because they really can taste what it adds to the dish in its wonderful background way (kind of like a book printed on particularly nice paper). Soup made with proper stock really is on another level – anyone who ever says in a soup recipe use stock or water as if there is little difference is absolutely missing the point in my book.

But before you get carried away with the idea of stock making let’s just check in with some basics.

Do you have a big enough pan? If you only have a small saucepan then I’m sorry but making stock is not on the cards for the time being. You need something large enough to hold the broken up chicken carcass along with the vegetables we’ll be adding and up to around 3 litres of water. So pretty big – roughly 22-24cm in diameter or more. The pan in the pictures below is 28cm in diameter. There’s lots of lovely pans out there but there’s also no need to go mad. A great pot will last you for years and will be really useful for pasta, big batches of chilli, ragu and casseroles. As an example IKEA do a 5l stainless steel pot for about £17 and I’m sure there’s plenty more reasonably priced options out there – as with any kitchen kit though do go for the best you can afford today.

Have you got enough space to store the stock? You’re going to end up with between 1.5l and 2.5l (about 3-6 pints) of stock so think about where you are going to keep it. The ideal choice is to freeze most of it but if you’ve only got an ice box rather than a freezer then it could prove a little difficult. It will keep fine in the fridge but you’d need to use it within a week.

Have you got time? In many ways it doesn’t take long and you don’t have to constantly attend to it but on the other hand it will need to be simmered for at least 2 hours so don’t decide to make it when you know you need to go and collect the dry cleaning in half an hour. Anyway you won’t want to go out once its cooking because the smell will be so delicious you’ll just want to stay in and do some more of that ‘stock smug’ feeling thing.

Have you got something to strain it through? A colander is fine if that’s what you’ve got – it’ll take out the big/medium debris. Some people like to strain it through something finer, even muslin to get the smaller bits out and create a clearer stock. A fine gauge colander or a sieve you won’t be using for flour is good. 

Okay so lets get going.

Get the chicken carcass and any bones you’ve saved from using up the leftovers so far. Strip all the good useful meat of the carcass but don’t be too fussy about this – leaving some meat on the bones will add to the flavour of the final stock. Bung all the bones, any really scrappy meat, the carcass and the skin i.e. anything chicken-y, into the stockpot.

Next add the vegetables and herbs that are going to help flavour things. Read any cookery book and even if they tell you that you shouldn’t be using leftover roast (ignore them, they are wrong, stick with me, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall) they will tell you to add the pretty much holy trinity of onion, carrot and leek – so do that. One medium onion (in quarters), a couple of reasonable size carrots cut in chunks (no need to peel unless you can’t manage to get all the soil off any other way) and a leek (all of it except the very bottom – no throwing those green tops away) again cut into chunks and rinsed so you don’t get sandy soil in the stock. Also good to add is celery – a couple of stacks – chunks again. On the herb/spice front you need some whole black peppercorns (6 or so), a bay leaf or two and a spring of parsley or thyme.

Pour on the water so everything is just covered – the tighter you pack the pot the less water you’ll need and the richer the end result. Less than 1.5l and you’re likely to have missed something out from the pot (so check because no chicken carcass = no chicken stock), more than 3l and its not really going to be that flavoursome.

Bring it up to the boil. You might get some horrid looking scummy froth rising up – scoop it out. And then cover and simmer for anything from 2-5 hours depending on the richness you want to achieve and the time available between starting and needing to do something else – like sleep or use the stock to make your dinner.

That’s pretty much it for a while. Check up on it every now and then and top up the water if it’s looking a bit low.

Once it’s done, allow it to cool and strain it – maybe straight into the tubs you’ll freeze it in. Use the size of tub that you’ll need your stock to be in later. Quite good are the tubs that fresh soup comes in at the supermarket – eat the soup, wash the tub, refill with stock, confident that you won’t need to be buying soup from the supermarket again anytime soon.

Just like ‘The Good Life’

Over the last few days I’ve been doing food related sort of ‘gardening’ activities. What exactly does that mean?

Well so far its involved visits to three garden centres, some internet surfing, the purchase of about 10 packets of seeds and one rather nice terracotta pot, oh and a little bit of time actually in the garden. All this because some nice mild sunny weather and those daffodil shoots and tree buds I mentioned in my last post mean I just can’t help but start thinking about what herbs and vegetables to attempt to grow this year.

Last year we had a glut of very green tomatoes and a handful of red ones (just yummy) and we were still getting tomatoes ripening in late October. This wasn’t some special strain we’d tried but the summer weather, which never really got hot or warm enough for the tomatoes to ripen – made great chutney though.

This year there will be more tomatoes and we’re trying 
courgettes (yellow ones – how trendy!) and beans (I wanted the lovely striped red borlotti ones but couldn’t find any organic seed so had to settle for green). All to be grown from seed; credit crunch times call for cost cutting measures – a packet of seeds costs the same or less than little plants.

As well as the vegetables its time to replant the herb section of the garden. We’ve had rosemary, chives, sage and oregano for a long time but none of them do quite as well as we’d like so this year we (or rather my husband) are moving the herb bed to a slightly sunnier location; and anyway the birds that perch in the neighbours giant eucalyptus tree that partly shades the bed do untold damage to the herb plants rendering them pretty useless for cooking with. A new spot is being prepared with some good compost added (home made of course – there’s nothing as good as a bit of composting to make you come over all Richard Briars and Felicity Kendall) and the oregano and chives transplanted. The rest will be new plantings of parsley, coriander, sage and rosemary – again from seeds. 

So while the digging takes place I’ll be designing a giant spreadsheet of what seeds need to be planted when and the dates we might expect to be able to pick delicious home grown veg and herbs – or perhaps make another huge chutney batch!

And I haven’t even told you about the terracotta pot yet ?