Sunday, 25 September 2011

Pot roast shoulder of pork with fennel, shallots and potatoes

While I wholeheartedly approve of any homecooked family meal, I have always been a little baffled by the idea of a Sunday roast with all the trimmings. Great if your services are not required in the kitchen but consider the poor old family cook, who is still often the woman of the house, slaving as she does over meat and eight veg, while the other family members watch the Eastenders omnibus or Formula 1. Lets be honest its a real palaver and it can seem as though every single pot, pan, dish and plate has been used in the name of this most British of institutions. I think we place so much emphasis on this tradition each week that it leaves us reluctant to cook more often at other times during a busy week. If the cook in each house simplified their approach to Sunday lunch and also to other meals then I believe we can eat better and cheaper more often.

If you read my blog then you will notice that I have created a few easy Sunday 'roasts' that require very little input, save a few choice ingredients and plenty of time. Dishes that are ideal for leaving in the oven or slow cooker while you read the Suday papers or take a long walk to work up an appitite. No-one need know of your little secret as what you present at the table will blow your diner's socks off.

Pot roast shoulder of pork with fennel, shallots and potatoes

This particular cut is cheap but one of the best. It is really difficult to mess it up as it requires long slow cooking. I love these cuts of meat as they are so much more flavoursome than their flashier and more expensive butcher's slab brothers. Fennel, tarragon and cream have a wonderful affinity with pork and this makes for a fantastic plate of food. It is cheap too and comes in at around £2.50 per portion.

Serves 4

2 kg piece of pork shoulder
3 shallots or 1 onion, quatered
1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs, quatered
8 new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
100 ml dry cider (Aspall's organic is lovely)
100 ml double cream
a couple of sprigs of tarragon, finely chopped

1) Preheat your oven to hot. Place a little oil in a casserole or roasting tin and pop in the oven to heat up.

2) Season your pork and sit in the centre of the dish. Arrange the vegetables around, making sure there is a snug fit or they will burn. Pop in the oven for 20 minutes so the pork skin has a chance to crackle and the veg takes on a little colour.

3) Pour in the cider, cover with a lid and turn the oven down low, say about 120 degrees and leave to cook for about 4 hours, just watch the cider doesn't evaporate, it shouldn't as the shoulder of pork will release its juices, creating a lovely sauce.

4) Remove the meat and veg to a plate and keep warm, strain the cooking liquid into a sauce pan, reduce by boiling until you have about a quater of a pint, add the cream, bring to the boil and allow to thicken slightly. Stir in the tarragon and put on to simmer while you carve the pork and serve up.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Perfect scrambled eggs

I am generally used to rising early, what with being a parent and employee, and this natural alarm clock kicks in on weekends also. So once more on an early Saturday morning I am in Swansea Market doing my weekly shop. On the menu this weekend is a slow cooked chilli con carne and also scrambled eggs with smoked salmon. I will put up a recipe for the chilli later in the week but I will briefly turn my attention to breakfast.

I am a great believer in simplicity and elevating humble dishes to great heights through care and attention to detail. Scrambled eggs, in my opinion, is a most abused dish, but one that when done right give you faith that good food is all you need to be happy. I increasingly find little time for showy, elaborate dishes and take great joy from cheap simple food.

Smoked salmon with scrambled eggs

For such an easy dish you have to be on the ball because a very fine line exists between agony and ecstasy. Have the salmon out and on the plate ready, seasoned with a squeeze of lemon and a twist of black pepper. If you are having toast or bread then have it ready, by the way I recommend a lovely non supermarket wholemeal, why spoil such a luxurious start to the day with white sliced.

Making the eggs - whisk 3 per portion with a pinch of salt, twist of pepper and most importantly a glug of double cream. Please do not use milk as the water in it ruins your eggs, and if you are using a microwave you are on the wrong blog. Melt a knob of butter in a saucepan and add the eggs. Stir often on a medium to low heat and do not leave them even for a second. Get someone else to make the tea and butter the toast. They need to be soft and creamy, slightly underdone and when this is so, turn off the heat, stir in another knob of butter and serve. Absolute heaven on a plate.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Vietnamese style pork

Last week I made slow cooked breast of lamb with pearl barley and really enjoyed it. At the end of that post I asked if anyone could come up with a slow cooked pork dish and I have been inundated with responses (okay I'm fibbing - just the one, who wins a pot of red Thai curry paste). An absoloute gem of a dish has been given to me by Adam Benney and although I have adapted it slightly it is a bright, aromatic dish that fills the house with the smells of south east Asia.

Again I am using my slow cooker but a casserole or large pan will do on the hob or in the oven. The secret is to use an economical cut such as shoulder, which I bought on my early morning trip to Swansea market yesterday at Hugh Phillips butchers, and to cook it for hours in an aromatic bath.

I am deeply attached to European winter staples such as cawl, carbonnade of beef or a French daube but sometimes you want a dish that is bright, stimulating and lively but one that is just as easy to make. Honestly, this dish requires such little effort so it is perfect for a Sunday lunch, where you wait for its magic to happen while you read the papers.

I have been slightly more economical by making two dishes from one. The first is a very slight adaptation of Adam's original and the second a 'leftovers' dish. The only real difference I have made is to make more of the cooking liquor in wich you cook the pork and you are left with a stock that will do for a pork noodle soup on Monday. I have pretty much copied Adam's recipe verbatim but altered the stock and the quantities for the dipping sauce you can adjust to your taste as I have done. Chúc ngon miệng

Adam Benney's Vietnamese slow cooked pork with Noodles

Trim excess fat from shoulder and immerse in water/stock . Add 1 to 2 chopped lemongrass stalks, some lime leaf, then sugar and fish sauce to taste. As I said earlier I adapted this part slightly by adding 1 whole chilli, 1 lime, squeezed, 4 pieces of stem ginger and 2 cloves of garlic and I only added about 100ml of water. Cook away till meat is nice and crumbly and easy to shred!

When you're ready to eat stir fry some noodles and vegetables (pak choi, chinese lettuce, baby corn or whatever is on hand!) in garlic and ginger. (If using dried noodles soak in cold salted water for 15 minutes to hydrate.)

When ready put noodles into bowls and place some shredded pork on top.

Garnish with bean sprouts, spring onions and coriander and serve with a bowl of soy lime dipping sauce (recipe below)

Pound a garlic clove, 2 birds eye chillies and 2 1/2 tbls sugar into a paste. Add 1/3 cup of light soy sauce, 2 1/2 tbls of lime juice (with pulp) and water to taste ( approx 1/4 cup)
Stir, and enjoy! (keeps for 3 weeks in fridge)

If you don't use too much water with the pork the liquid should reduce and thicken nicely - use this sauce to moisten the noodles to your liking.
If you're not slow cooking poaching works just as well. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes then take of the heat, keep covered and allow to poach for as long as you wish - nice!

Strain and keep the cooking liquor and use it as a base to make a pork noodle soup with the leftovers that you should have.

Ok I loved doing this so how about any suggestions for an authentic Chilli con carne that can be slow cooked?

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Ideas for packed lunches

The recent emphasis on healthy school meals has thrown a spotlight onto packed lunches. More and more schools across the country are turning out really good school meals and parents can know that when their child goes to school they will have a hot nutritious lunch. However, lots of parents still go for the packed lunch option, as I do with my children and I find it difficult day in day out to give my kids a healthy lunch that has some variety in it. A recent report (  that highlights the huge amount of salt in supermarket bread means that I don’t want the kids to have a sandwich every day, not least because it becomes boring after a while. So here are some tips, recipes and guidelines to give your kids a packed lunch that is delicious and healthy.

Seren making her Thai noodle salad (in her dressing gown)
If your kids like sandwiches then try them with a variety of beads such as wholemeal or pitta or you could make a tortilla wrap instead. You can use a variety of great fillings such as cream cheese, cucumber and ham or leftover roast chicken mixed with BBQ sauce with a little shredded lettuce or for the more adventurous hummus with grated carrot and pepper. Also below is a recipe for a chicken tikka wrap.

On cold winter days fill a wide neck flask with homemade tomato soup or lentil and bacon soup (see recipe), leftover casserole or their favourite pasta dish. My youngest daughter just won’t eat sandwiches so I make her a noodle salad (her favourite) or a pasta salad. For the pasta salad, combine cooked cooled pasta with a diced tomato, a couple of torn basil leaves, a couple of cubes of mozzarella cheese and a little olive oil. For a noodle salad combine cooked cooled noodles with a Thai style dressing of 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1 tsp sugar and a squeeze of lime. Add in their favourite diced up veg, ideally with a variety of colours, pop a few torn coriander leaves in and that’s it. The best thing about these salads is that you can make 2 or 3 pots up and keep them in the fridge.

Kids generally like bite sized finger foods so you could add a few vegetables such as carrot, cucumber and celery sticks or some cherry tomatoes or a little tub of fruit salad comprising grapes, raspberries and blueberries. Other bite sized treats include pieces of their favourite cheese, crackers, breadsticks, ham, salami…the list is endless.

I really think that if your kids have a healthy lunchbox then a treat is essential. A packet of crisps or a biscuit bar is fine. Even better would be a homemade sweet treat such as banana bread or a healthy cereal bar (see recipe).

Include a drink to keep your child hydrated and help them concentrate. Go for still / sparkling water, semi-skimmed milk, or unsweetened fruit juice. At Dwr y Felin we recently had a class discussion on ‘energy’ drinks. It surprised me how many kids had it as a normal part of their day and personally as a parent these products are the last thing I would ever let my children have as they contain so much sugar and are marketed in a way that suggests that they are a vital source of energy.


Fruity cereal bars

What you need

4 oz Butter
4oz Brown sugar
3 tbsp Golden syrup
4oz dried fruit – there are loads to choose from including sultanas, apricots, and cranberries. Use your imagination.
1oz Sunflower seeds
1oz nuts – any you like, hazelnuts, almonds, peanuts.
4oz Oats
1oz Rice krispies
1oz desiccated coconut

How to do it

1)     Preheat oven to 170 degrees C or gas 3. Line an 8-inch baking tin with greaseproof paper. Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a saucepan.

2)     Place all the other ingredients in a large bowl. Pour over the melted butter, sugar and syrup and stir in thoroughly.

3)     Pour the mixture into your tin and press the mixture down into the tin with the back of a metal spoon. Kids can now lick the spoon and bowl!

4)     Bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Leave to cool and then turn out of tin. Cut into bars these will keep in an airtight container for a good few days – if they last!

Chicken tikka wraps

What you need

2 tortilla wraps
1 200g packet ready cooked sliced chicken tikka
½ carrot grated
2 spring onions finely sliced
handful of lettuce leaves shredded
2 tbsp natural yoghurt

How to do it

1)     Spread each tortilla with 1 tbsp yoghurt

2)     Top with some lettuce, carrot, spring onion and 100g chicken tikka

3)     Fold ends in and roll up. Cut in half and serve

 Lentil and bacon soup

3 carrots
1 onion
2 sticks of celery
2 thick rashers smoked streaky bacon or pancetta cut into cubes
200g red lentils
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock (made up with boiling water and a stock cube)

Chop the onion, carrot and celery into medium dice and set aside. In a large saucepan fry the bacon until golden. Add the vegetables and cook for a further 3 minutes. Add the lentils then the liquid. Bring to the boil and then simmer for an hour (or more if you can) you are looking for a thick consistency. Keep an eye on the liquid level though – top up with water if becoming to thick as it can burn on the bottom if your not careful. Season with salt and pepper and serve with crusty bread.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Slow cooked breast of lamb with pearl barley 'risotto'

Maybe its my age. Maybe its because I'm lazy. Or then again maybe its because I have found the secret to great cooking and eating. But one thing is for sure I'm becoming mildly obsessed by my slow cooker and slow cooked meat. Now and again as a cook you produce something truly original and delicious and to me there is no greater joy to be had from food and drink. Today has confirmed my love for the simplicity and beauty of really great food. Yes you can have your fancy techniques and Blumenthalesque gourmet creations and that has a place in gastronomy but I am genuinely stunned by the taste and texture of this honest and simple dish. The dish has 4 simple elements - meat, grain, vegetable / herb and liquid. Nothing else and I am soothed and heartened by this never ending culinary fact of life.

Because of its cheap low key ingredients it means you can try and buy the best quality. Take the lamb, its a breast of lamb which is one of the cheapest cuts and you can get it from the supermarket and it will cost around £2 - £3 for a joint, ready rolled. However, if you pay a pound or two more then you can get the best meat around - Gower salt marsh Lamb direct from the farm or from the best butcher in Swansea

Using pearl barley in this case works a treat. It has a natural affinity with lamb, soaking up all the juices and releasing them slowly a forkful at a time. Peas, leeks and lettuce are a dream combination and cooking with lettuce will be a revelation - use gem lettuce and most certainly not iceburg. This is a low carb or GI dish as barley releases its energy much slower than rice, leaving you fuller longer and without it upsetting your insulin levels which leads to being overweight. A beautiful Welsh dish.

Slow cooked breast of lamb with pearl barley 'risotto'


If your lamb is ready rolled and tied then untie it and lay it skin side down on a chopping board. Drizzle a little olive oil, scatter a chopped garlic clove or two and a sprig of rosemary on the flesh, season and roll it back up and tie it. Season the outside. Cut in half lengthways and peel 6 shallots or small onions and peel 3 cloves of garlic. Make up 100ml vegetable or meat stock and have a small glass of red wine handy.


In a large non stick frying pan heat a little oil and slowly colour the shallots and garlic. Then add the lamb to the pan to colour all over. Transfer to your slow cooker or casserole dish and add the stock and wine to the hot pan to 'deglaze' and pour this in with the lamb. You can pop in a sprig of thyme if you wish. Cook for 2 hours.

Pearl barley 'risotto'

Add about 150g of pearl barley around the meat and cook for another hour - slow cooking is key here. When it is almost done add a finely chopped leek, a handful of frozen peas and a handful of shredded lettuce and cook for another hour, adding a little more liquid if it is becoming too dry. Take out the lamb and slice thickly and add a little shredded mint to the risotto. Spoon a little risotto onto the centre of the plate and add a slice of lamb on top. Alternatively, you could make the risotto separately and then have the juices from the lamb as a gravy.

Could anyone suggest a great slow cooked dish using belly or shoulder of pork?