Archive for October, 2009

Poor Man’s Cake (Granny’s Cake)

Poor Man's Cake

If you’re the type of home cook who hates the sticky and precise world of baking, as I do, then this is the cake recipe for you. It’s easy-peasy; mix your dry ingredients, mix your wet ingredients, mix them together. Bake. Eat.


  • 450g self-raising flour
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 225g butter
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 125g sultanas
  • 125g currants
  • 100g glacé cherries
  • 2 free-range eggs
  • 240ml whole milk


  1. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl along with the salt and ground spices. Rub butter into the flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs, then add the caster sugar.
  2. Toss the dried fruit in a little flour (this stops the fruit from sinking to the bottom of the baking tin) and add to the mixing bowl.
  3. Beat the eggs into the milk and mix well with the dry ingredients.
  4. Spoon into a greased 8″ (20cm) square tin and cook at 160°C (140°C fan) for 2 hours. Leave to cool in the tin for about 15 minutes before removing. It’s best eaten on the day you bake it, but it will keep very well in a tin for about 2 days. It also freezes quite well; just wrap in greaseproof paper and foil.

Makes 20-25 portions.


Braised Lamb Shanks

Lamb Shanks #2

This recipe produces meltingly tender meat and a rich, deeply-flavoured sauce. This recipe also scales easily, so adjust the amounts to fit the number of diners. I like to use a cast-iron casserole for this, searing the meat and braising in the same pot. It allows me to de-glaze the casserole with red wine and take advantage of the delicious brownings left by the meat. Serve with pommes dauphinoise and minted peas.


  • 2 lamb shanks
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • sprig fresh rosemary, finely chopped (about 2 tsp)
  • 250ml red wine
  • 100ml water
  • 1 tbsp tomato pureé
  • salt & pepper


  1. Season the lamb shanks with some salt and pepper, then dust with plain flour. Heat some olive oil in a cast-iron casserole and fry the shanks over a high heat until browned on all sides. Remove the shanks and set aside.
  2. Pour off some of the oil if it seems excessive. Now the fry the onions, celery, garlic and rosemary until they colour and start to “catch” at the edges. Pour in the wine and de-glaze the casserole, scraping at the meat brownings. Bring the wine to the boil and add the water and tomato pureé. Mix well and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Return the lamb shanks to the casserole along with any juices that have collected from the meat. Spoon over some of the sauce and place in the centre of the oven. Cook for 3 hours until tender.

Serves 2.

Salse Verde

Salsa Verde

Salsa verde makes a great accompaniment to fish or chicken. Absolutely addictive. Just blitz the following ingredients (apart from the grain mustard) in a food processor and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.


  • ½ clove garlic
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • 2 handfuls flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 handful fresh mint
  • 1 handful fresh basil
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • extra-virgin olive oil (enough to give a sauce consistency)
  • 2 tsp grain mustard


This cool, fresh sauce makes a great accompaniment for grilled chicken, souvlaki or toasted pitta bread. Use the amounts below only as a guide and adjust according to your own taste. Make sure you grate or crush the garlic as you don’t want to have any lumps of garlic in this.


  • 250g natural yoghurt
  • ½ cucumber
  • ½ clove garlic, finely grated
  • fresh mint, a handful, chopped
  • a pinch of dried oregano
  • 1 lemon
  • salt & pepper


  1. Remove the seeds from the cucumber and coarsely grate into a bowl. Add a good pinch of salt and leave to stand for a few minutes. Squeeze the grated cucumber to remove most of the liquid.
  2. Add the yoghurt, fresh mint, oregano and a squeeze of lemon juice. Mix well and season to taste with a little salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

Five Hour Lamb

Five Hour Lamb

I’ll be honest here. Sunday roasts kinda scare me. I normally feel very much in control in the kitchen but there’s something about timing roast dinners (whether it’s chicken, beef or lamb) I find a little daunting. In reality though, it’s about as simple as cooking gets. My downfall is “over-researching”; reading lots of different recipes and stressing that they all differ so much. But, I’ve now settled on this fool-proof method for slow-roasting a leg or shoulder of lamb.

I’ve used the cooking temperatures suggested by Hugh-Fearnley Whittingstall in his excellent “River Cottage Meat Book” – a “half-hour sizzle” at a high temperature, followed by 4½ hours of slow roasting at a low temperature. This method produces a truly delicious joint, soft enough to be eaten with a spoon! As a bonus, you’re also rewarded by a deliciously rich broth.


  • 1 shoulder(or leg) of lamb
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 stick celery, chopped
  • 1 glass white wine
  • 250ml water


  1. Peel 2 cloves of garlic cut each clove into 4 pieces. Chop one of the rosemary sprigs into 8 piece. Make small incisions in the lamb and stud with the garlic and rosemary. Season the lamb on all sides with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  2. Remove the leaves from the other sprig of rosemary and grind in a mortar and pestle, along with the last clove of garlic and some rock salt. Add 2 tbsp olive oil and mix. Smear the flavoured oil over the lamb joint. Place in a deep roasting dish and roast the joint for 30 minutes at 220°C.
  3. Take the tray out of the oven and set the lamb aside on a plate or board. Pour off some oil from the roasting tray if it seems excessive.
  4. Add the chopped vegetables to the roasting tray along with the wine and water. Place the lamb on top of the vegetables and cover loosely with foil. Reduce the oven temperature to 140°C and cook for another 4½ hours. You could get away with 3½ hours, but then it wouldn’t be “Five Hour Lamb”, would it?
  5. After 5 hours cooking, your lamb will be meltingly tender and delicious. You can put that carving knife away, you won’t need it. I rarely bother with thickening the amazing broth left in the roasting dish. But I do like to mash the vegetables into the broth, reduce slightly and strain. The flavour is absolutely amazing.

Serves 6.


  • Jamie-stylee – Jamie Oliver’s second book “The Return of The Naked Chef” includes a recipe entitled, I kid you not, “braised five hour lamb with wine, veg and all that“. Sod grammar, eh? It sounds great though, to be honest. Lamb and veg are all cooked together until the meat is melting. I just can’t get over the fact that the recipe includes an entire bottle of wine. I just can’t…
  • Rick-stylee – I remember seeing an episode of Rick Stein’s excellent series, “Mediterranean Escapes”. In this episode, an elderly Majorcan lady braises joints of lamb and vegetables in beer. San Miguel, no less. It looked fantastic and the Rick claims the resulting broth (or caldo) is delicious. I will definitely get around to this one at some stage.
  • Leftovers – in the unlikely event of having leftovers, I’d recommend a classic shepherd’s pie.

Chana Masala

Chana Masala

It’s not often that I can be persuaded to go vegetarian, but if it involves chickpeas, I’m usually sold. This recipe is adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s fantastic book, “A Homemade Life“. I’ve changed the spicing to suit my own tastes and added some more fresh ingredients such as ginger green chili and mint. This is great served with naan bread and some poppadoms.


  • 2 tbsp groundnut oil
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • piece of ginger, minced (about a tablespoon)
  • 1 tsp of each of the following: cumin seeds, ground coriander, turmeric, garam masala, dried fenugreek leaves
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • 1 green chilli pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 x 400g cans chickpeas
  • 1 tbsp concentrated tomato pureé
  • 5 tbsp plain yoghurt
  • baby spinach leaves, a few handfuls
  • fresh coriander
  • fresh mint
  • salt and pepper


  1. Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan. Add the chopped onion and fry very gently until the onion is brown and completely caramelised.
  2. Add the garlic, ginger and spices then fry for another two minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Add the tomatoes, green chili, sugar, chickpeas and tomato pureé then bring to the boil. Season with a little salt and reduce the heat. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes.
  4. Before serving, stir the yoghurt through and add the spinach and chopped fresh herbs. Taste for seasoning.

Serves 2-3.

“Old El Paso” Fajita Spice Recipe

There’s a particular type of foodie out there who has a bizarre fascination with replicating brand name products at home. I can kind of understand this fascination – I was overjoyed when I chucked some dried oregano into garlic butter and stumbled on what I consider to be a dead ringer for “Pizza Hut” garlic bread.

If you’re sad like me and interested in researching this topic further, check out Top Secret Recipes. It’s a database of recipes for (mostly American) brand name foods. If you’re really insane, you might be interested in following this guy’s mind-bogglingly detailed instructions for reproducing a Big Mac!

I’m currently going through a phase of trying to eliminate as many processed foods from my diet as possible, plus we all know that homemade tastes better anyway. Here then, is my take on Old El Paso’s Fajita Spice mix. I’m not ashamed to say that this product and I go back a long way. Unlike some of the fajita spice preparations available, this one has a deep smoky flavour which I really like. The smokiness in this recipe is provided by the chipotle chili powder. Use Mexican oregano if you have it, but the regular one will do fine.


  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp caster sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp oregano (preferably the Mexican variety)
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp dried onion powder
  • 1 tsp dried garlic powder
  • 1 tsp chipotle chilli powder

Mix together the ingredients and store in an airtight jar. This recipe makes about 5 tablespoons of spice mix. I like to use 2 tablespoons when I’m frying chicken and vegetables for 2 people as I like it quite spicy, but you can use more or less. Just hard fry some boneless chicken fillet until it just starts to blacken in patches, then add your vegetables: onions, peppers etc. Now add 2 tablespoons of spice mix and stir-fry for a few minutes until the vegetables and chicken are cooked through. Add a splash of water if you think the spices are starting to burn. I like to serve this in the (cough!) traditional manner with flour tortillas, lettuce, fresh tomato salsa and sour cream.

And you know the best thing? There’s not an ounce of maltodextrin, hydrolyzed soy protein, silicon dioxide, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, sulfiting agents or ethoxyquin in sight. Ay caramba!