Carpe diem

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Right, let’s do this.

I don’t usually get the Christmas decorations out until about a week before the big day but this year, which let’s face has not exactly been vintage – corked more like – I feel the need to squeeze every last merry drop out of the festive period.

The thing is, everyone (me included) keeps banging on about what a shocker 2016 has been, but really the shit hasn’t hit the fan yet. It’s going to get a whole lot worse – next year and beyond – before it gets better.

So I say carpe that diem. Embrace the tinsel, big up your baubles and party like it’s your last (which of course, it could well be). In any case, the world seems an infinitely better place when illuminated by fairy lights.

The best Christmas gingerbread ever

img_3386This recipe is based on one given to me by my marvellous mum-in-law, who every year makes the most amazing gingerbread house that actually tastes as good as it looks. Roll the dough out thick and bake quickly and it has a moreish fudgy texture, or roll it thinner and it’s as good as those spicy little flower biscuits you can buy from IKEA.

This recipe probably makes enough dough to fashion a small house, although I wouldn’t know as I’ve never tried (nor do I intend to), but the scaled down amounts (in brackets) will make a batch of smaller biscuits enough to decorate your tree or dunk in tea for at least a couple of days.

  • 250g (85g) unsalted butter
  • 200g (70g) dark muscovado or dark brown sugar
  • 7 tbsp (3 tbsp) golden syrup
  • 600g (200g) plain flour
  • 2 tsp (3/4 tsp) bicarb of soda
  • 4-5 heaped tsp (2 tsp) ground ginger (more if you like it hot)
  • 1 heaped tsp (1/2 tsp) ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp (pinch) ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp (pinch) ground nutmeg or equivalent of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 level tsp (generous pinch) saltimg_3388

 

  1. Heat the oven to 180°. Line two large baking trays with baking parchment.
  2. Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the flour, bicarb, spices and salt, then stir in the melted butter mixture and mix to form a stiff dough, adding a splash of water if necessary to help it along. Wrap dough in clingfilm and leave to chill in the fridge for 30 mins.
  4. Roll out dough to the thickness of 2 pound coins (or thinner for a crispier biscuit) and cut out desired shapes. If using the biscuits as tree decorations, cut a hole in each biscuit (I used a pen lid), then bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes (12 minutes for larger slabs) until golden brown.
  5. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack, re-punching the holes if necessary while the biscuits are still warm. When cool, string through ribbon, hang on the tree and admire your work while polishing off all the ones that, ahem, “broke” in the process.

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No pressure cooking

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I never much cared for stew as I child. I could never understand why people got so excited over stringy, muddy tasting meat that had had the joy cooked out of it, nor the exclamations of, ‘just look how it falls off the bone!’, when all I could see, taste and smell was something akin to dog food. To be honest, it took me the best part of four decades to fully come round to the charms of slow cooked meat of any kind.

But come round I have. I don’t know what happened to change my opinion – maybe it was the pulled pork revolution, the soaring price of prime cuts or simply middle age – but I can’t get enough of the stuff, be it braised, roasted or stewed. There is nothing nicer at this time of year, when it’s cold and dark and there are a million and one things to do in the run up to you bloody well know what, than something slowly blipping away in the oven, filling the house with the most warming, welcoming aromas, and cooked to perfection by the time everyone comes tumbling through the front door. All that’s left for you to do is prepare the accompanying starch – which, let’s face it, is usually mashed potato. What’s not to love?

The trouble is, that while it’s true that the oven does most of the work for you, this kind of cooking still requires a degree of forethought and organisation. It cannot be left to the last minute, or hour, or three – or eight if you favour a slow cooker. This is where I fall down. Planning is not my strong point. Most days, I don’t settle on what I’m making for dinner until about 5.30pm never mind chop onions before breakfast. My scatterbrain approach is not a problem if the fridge contains chicken breasts but, as anyone who has ever tried to cook beef shin in under three hours will know, this is not a workable strategy for stew.

This is why I think the humble pressure cooker deserves its time in the limelight. While there has been much enthusiasm surrounding the rebirth of the slow cooker and its ability to allow busy people to slow cook efficiently and without burning down the house, the time-saving (and therefore energy saving) benefits of literally cooking under pressure have been largely overlooked by the cooking public. Granted it’s not very sexy, but a pressure cooker is to the disorganised cook what the slow cooker is to the methodical – a game changer. A get out of jail free card when you’ve left things too late. You do the same prep as you would with a slow cooker or casserole, but clamp that lid on, bung it on the hob and 30-45 minutes later your meat will be as soft and yielding as if it had been bubbling away all day. Kitchen alchemy.

The only problem is my kids have the same aversion to stew as I once did. They too think it resembles dog food. Thank goodness for those chicken breasts…

Lamb and date tagine

…I have also devised certain strategies to fool my children into thinking a stew is not a stew. The first is to affix the adjective ‘pulled’ to any meat I slow cook, thereby endowing it with slightly hipper credentials. The second is to incorporate lots of spice: a curry, a Brazilian pork feijoada (recipe soon) or a slow cooked Mexican chilli tend to be better received than say Boeuf Bourguignon or a Lancashire hotpot. If all else fails, I stick the meat in a wrap and heavily disguise it with cheese.img_3373

You can make this in the oven, set at 150°C for 2-2 1/2 hours until the lamb is soft, or in a slow cooker, but I don’t have one (no room and, because I never go out, no need) so for this you’ll have to refer to the instruction booklet.

Serves 6 or will go even further with the addition of a tin of chickpeas

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1.2 kg lamb (shoulder, or leg if you prefer leaner) cut into 3cm chunks
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 large or 2 smaller carrots, coarsely diced
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and coarsely diced
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped (leave seeds in if you like it hot)
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 heaped tsp each of ground cumin and ground coriander
  • 1 level tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • pinch of saffron steeped in 1 tbsp boiling water
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 300g tomato passata
  • 300g chicken or veg stock
  • 10 Medjool dates, stoned and chopped (don’t worry, these melt down and add sweetness to the sauce)
  • salt and pepper
  • pinch of dried chilli flakes (optional if you like more heat)
  • plain yogurt, chopped fresh mint (or parsley or coriander) and pomegranate seeds to prettify
  1. Season the lamb well with salt and pepper and brown it in batches in whatever pan you are using to make your tagine. Remove each batch with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  2. If necessary, add a splash more oil to the pan and gently fry the onions, carrots and peppers for 10 minutes until softened.
  3. Add the garlic and chilli and cook for a minute, then add the ground spices and cook for a further minute.
  4. Tip the meat back into the pan, then squeeze in the tomato puree and stir to coat the lamb. Let this cook out for a minute, then add the saffron and its steeping water, the passata, stock and chopped dates.
  5. Bring to the boil, clamp on the lid, turn the heat down to a medium flame and cook for 40-45 minutes on high pressure (I like to check about half way through that it’s not catching on the bottom of the pan). Alternatively place in the oven for 2-2 1/2 hours or until the meat is tender.
  6. When cooked, skim off any surface fat and check for seasoning. (If the sauce is a bit loose at this stage, strain off the meat and vegetables and reduce the strained sauce over a high heat until it reaches the desired consistency.)
  7. Serve with rice, cous cous or bulgar wheat, a dollop of plain Greek yogurt and a scattering of fresh herbs and pomegranate seeds. Or if it means your kids will give it a go, in wraps with hummus, lettuce, pine nuts and feta cheese. And don’t, whatever you do, mention the dates.

 

 

 

 

Oh hygge off

img_3360I am a cynic – you may have noticed – but never more so than when a thing becomes, you know, “a thing”. Whether it’s avocado on toast, shabby chic style or hipster beards, we have a tendency, in the UK at least, to over-egg the proverbial pudding, to do things to death or at least to the point of extreme naffness.

Even worse is when marketeers spot ker-ching potential in the latest fad and merchandise the crap out of it. Take what has become the 21st century’s most overdone, most messed about with and therefore most irksome meme, to ‘keep calm and carry on’. Does anyone remember the rather quaint story behind this slogan, of a secondhand bookseller in Northumberland uncovering a copy of an abandoned wartime propaganda poster in a box of dusty old books, framing it, then reproducing it when it sparked high levels of interest among its customers, blissfully unaware of the monster it was creating? No, of course not. It’s long since been buried along with the poster’s simple, inspiring message, under a pile of discarded tea towels, tote bags and mugs.*

Now it’s cosiness, or at least the Danish version of it – hygge – that’s being hailed as the next big thing. In what has to be the finest example of teaching one’s grandma to suck eggs, the Danes are telling us Brits how to do cosy, with the publication of 17 books (and counting) on the subject in the past year. Hygge, which roughly translates as stating the bleedin’ obvious, is fundamentally sound in principle – snuggle up, be kind to yourself, enjoy the simple things in life, make a hot drink and light a candle if it makes you feel better. It’s the smug and patronising tone of its delivery – at a level previously only enjoyed by clean eaters – that grates on me. ‘No, no, no,’ the hyggsters cry, ‘you Brits are doing it all wrong, with your wall-to-wall carpets, homely clutter, mugs of builder’s tea and shepherds pie.’ To give good hygge, they tell us, you need roaring open wood fires, stripped back interiors with a few well chosen pieces of minimalist furniture (from Skandium NOT Ikea), artfully dressed tables, cashmere everything, beautiful hair and reams of faux fur.

Oh fuck off already. Don’t they know we invented the apple crumble? I’ll take a bowl of that for comfort (with custard of course) over pickled herring with foraged sea vegetables any day.

And mark my words, it will not stop at books. The marketeers must be wringing their hands at the merchandising opportunities hygge opens up. I’ve already clocked hygge candles and sweatshirts, but it’s just a matter of time (this side of Christmas, I’ll wager) before we see onesies emblazoned with ‘Getting hygge with it’, cashmere (OK probably not cashmere) hot water bottles embroidered with ‘Give us a hygge’, oversized mugs shouting ‘Get your hygge on!’ and, no doubt, aprons and tea towels telling us to ‘Keep calm and hygge on’. (No matter that hygge actually rhymes with ‘sugar’ and not ‘jiggy’ when there’s cash to be made.)

Right, it’s getting late. Time for me to don my fluffy slippers, draw the curtains and settle down to a big bowl of this warming stew, perhaps with a glass of red. Hell, I might even dim the lights and catch up with the latest Nordic noir TV series. This, my friends, is simple common sense. Not hygge or any other bullshytte.

Slow braised lamb shanks

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This is adapted from How to Cook the Perfect… by Marcus Wareing. Serve with mash and by all means, light a candle or two.

Serves 4 with leftovers

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 large lamb shanks
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, sliced
  • 2 carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1/2 bottle white wine
  • 1 litre chicken stock
  • salt and pepper
  • finely grated zest of one lemon and a handful of mint leaves, chopped, to finish
  1. Preheat your oven to 160°C (fan).
  2. Season the shanks well with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large, deep casserole or pan and brown the shanks in batches until the outsides are really brown and caramelised (this will give the end dish a good colour). This will take about 20 minutes.
  3. Remove the shanks to a plate then add the vegetables, garlic and herbs to the pan and fry for about 5 minutes until beginning to colour. Add the tomato puree and cook for about 3 minutes, then add the flour and cook for a further minute.
  4. Pour in the wine and simmer to reduce the volume by half, then add the stock and bring to the boil.
  5. Submerge the lamb shanks in the broth, place the lid on the pan or casserole and cook in the oven for 2 1/2 hours. The meat is done when it is coming away from the bone.
  6. When cooked, strain the meat and vegetables from the stock into a pan then skim off the fat (there will be quite a lot). If the strained stock is a bit thin, reduce it by simmering, then taste and add salt and pepper accordingly. Return the meat, veg and strained stock to the casserole, discarding the garlic and herb sprigs as in the top photo. Alternatively, for a smoother sauce, discard all the veg and just return the meat to the sauce (second photo). Warm through.
  7. Sprinkle over the grated lemon zest and chopped mint and serve.

*  Between me and you, I think this may be a more fitting slogan for our times. Just don’t tell the marketeers…

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No trifling matter

“Oh hello sir. Good to have you back with us. Yes, you’ve been in a coma for the best part of a year now.

“Before you pull out those wires, sir, there are some things you ought to know. No, not quite a zombie apocalypse, but an ill wind blowing across our planet. The symptoms: suspicion, fear, intolerance, bigotry, to name but a few. Humans appear to be losing their humanity.

“The UK is leaving the EU, Boris is in charge of foreign affairs and Nigel Farage looks set to become ambassador to the US and its new president. Yes, that’s right, we have a new leader of the free world: an orange-faced ex-reality show host with no experience and ludicrous hair, who thinks Mexicans are rapists, Muslims are terrorists, groping women is a God-given right and global warming, a myth. But it’s OK because Putin thinks he’s a good guy.

“We’ve lost plenty of those too. David Bowie is dead, as is Prince, and just yesterday, Leonard Cohen joined them. Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, Muhammad Ali, Ronnie Corbett, Victoria Wood, they’re all gone too. I could go on…

“Oh and Bake Off is no more.

“What’s that sir? You want me to ask the doctor to put you back under? I thought you might.”

White chocolate, raspberry and amaretti trifle

Alternatively, you could make yourself a huge vat of my mother-in-law’s incredibly decadent trifle and dive in head first. I could think of worse ways to go…

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Makes 4 generous individual portions

  • 500g bag frozen raspberries
  • 40g caster sugar plus 1/2 tsp extra
  • 85g amaretti biscuits
  • 4 tbsp amaretto or orange juice
  • 150ml double cream
  • 70g good quality white chocolate
  • 170g shop bought fresh vanilla custard (remove from fridge 20 mins before using)
  • 170g crème fraiche
  • Toasted flaked or sliced almonds, or shaved white chocolate to garnish
  1. Put the raspberries in a pan with the sugar and heat gently for about five mins until the sugar has dissolved and the berries have thawed. Drain mixture through a sieve, returning juices to the pan and bring to the boil; simmer for about 10 mins or until reduced to about 50ml then mix with raspberries and leave to cool.
  2. Lightly crumble biscuits into the bottom of four 300ml tumblers and spoon 1 tbsp amaretto or orange juice over each, then divide the cooled berries between them.
  3. Whip the cream into soft peaks and place half in the fridge leaving the remainder at room temperature. Put the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and stir until melted. Pour into a cold bowl and gradually fold in the custard, then fold in the room temperature cream. Doing it in this order stops the chocolate separating.
  4. Beat the crème fraiche until smooth then fold in the reserved cream and ½ tsp caster sugar. Spoon a layer of the custard mixture into each glass, then top with a layer of the cream. Sprinkle over toasted flaked almonds or shaved white chocolate to garnish. Chill for at least two hours before serving.

Trifle trumps hate.

Bonfires, bangers and beans

img_3355I’m a bit bah humbug about Halloween. I don’t really get it: the naff sweaty rash inducing costumes in Sainsbury’s, the competitive pumpkin carving on Instagram, the intimidating hoodies in Scream masks who make off with your entire tub of Celebrations when you tell them, no, you are not getting your claws on my cash. And isn’t it odd that we drum into our kids that they must NEVER talk to, let alone accept sweets off strangers, except, that is, on the last day of October when it is absolutely fine so long as there is a carved gourd on the doorstep, and oh, by the way, feel free to use blackmail if you have to?

No, not for me. I think my cynicism is borne out of the fact that I am fundamentally a scaredy cat (OK and maybe a bit of a snob). Fear is not a sensation I enjoy. I’m afraid of the dark, of spiders, of dolls and clowns (even before they started wielding chainsaws). The trailer alone for The Walking Dead is enough to give me nightmares for a week. And also, for a pig like me, Halloween doesn’t involve nearly enough food – and no, bobbing apples and Haribos don’t count.

Bonfire night, on the other hand, is a different story. I. LOVE. IT. This evening isn’t about cowering behind curtains, it’s about getting outside under smoky skies and oohing and aahing alongside total strangers. It’s about dressing down rather than dressing up. It’s about simple, warming food shared with family and friends. It’s about bangers and beans and booze. Nothing scary or sinister about that *conveniently sidesteps issue of burning Catholic effigies*.

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We have hosted a bonfire night party for family for more than 20 years, as we live close to a fantastic free annual public firework display. I have unapologetically made the same food each and every year: sausages, jacket potatoes and what has come to be known as beany thing – a vast vat of smoky hot mixed beans. This recipe will feed about 14 so halve it if you want less (although it freezes well). It’s also great served with wholegrain rice as a main meal with a dollop of sour cream, or on sourdough toast, topped with grilled chorizo and a poached egg.

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 celery sticks, diced
  • 1 red and 1 green pepper, diced
  • 2-3 red chillies, finely chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 3 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 500g tomato passata
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 2 cans mixed beans
  • 2 cans baked beans
  • generous splash of worcester sauce (vegetarian if you want)
  • small bunch coriander, roughly chopped
  • salt, pepper and extra chilli flakes to tasteimg_3354
  1. In a large casserole or pan, heat the oil then add all the veg including the chilli but not the garlic and gently sweat for about 15 minutes until soft.
  2. Add the garlic and cook for one minute, then add all the spices except 1 tsp of cumin, and cook for a further minute.
  3. Add the passata then fill the carton or jar half full with water, swill and add to the pot. Bring to the boil, then simmer the mixture gently for about 15 minutes or until the carrots are soft.
  4. Rinse the chickpeas and mixed beans and add to the pot with the baked beans and the worcester sauce, plus the extra teaspoon of ground cumin. Simmer for a further 5-10 minutes.
  5. Taste and add pepper, and salt if necessary (the baked beans may have provided enough). You may want to add a pinch of chilli flakes or a splash of tabasco if it needs more of a kick. Stir in the fresh coriander before serving.

Peace offerings

You may have noticed that my posts have been a little, shall we say, concise of late, but I’m really bad at writing when I’m stressed. This fact made me a crap journalist, but it makes me an even worse blogger as I don’t have an editor breathing down my neck or a paycheque to galvanise me. The source of my stress: the secondary school transfer process. I’m guessing there will be quite a few parents of Year 6 children out there who would agree that this half term has been absolutely no fun at all.

Choosing a secondary school for you child is probably the biggest decision you will ever have to make on their behalf (and I do believe the final decision lies with the parents – leave it to the kids and they’ll just pick whatever school served the best flapjacks on open day). And you have to make that decision based on what? A set of results and an Ofsted report? A hackneyed speech from the head and a brief tour, which is only ever as good as the guide you’re allocated? A ‘feeling’ about the place? Playground gossip?  None of these can assure me that my child will be challenged or inspired or safe or happy, or in the case of our behemoth local comp, noticed even. The truth is, you never really know whether a school will be the right fit for your child until they are in it. And then it’s too late.

This burden of responsibility has been weighing heavily on me – it’s turned me into a total loon if I’m honest. I think it’s because I’m still haunted by my own experience at secondary school, a sink school where I spent my whole time pretending to be someone I wasn’t, where the most uncool thing you could do was to do well or to do right, where a desire to learn had to be concealed like an angry teenage zit.

I know rationally that schools have come a long way since then (that sink school is now one of the most over-subscribed in London), and that even the most decidedly average school today would be heralded as a pinnacle of excellence if it were flux capacitated back to the 80s.

But at the moment it is the irrational that is triumphing in my head, turning me from bitch to basketcase and back again. I have been intolerable to live with; a bad wife, a bad mother and a bad friend (and let’s not mention my driving). I have taken refuge in my kitchen not only because I find cooking an effective distraction, but also because serving up a favourite homemade meal to those I love is one of the best ways I know to say sorry.

Chicken katsu curryimg_3017

What better way to make amends than to serve up crispy breadcrumbed chicken with a sauce with that comfortingly nostalgic flavour of curry powder. This Japanese katsu curry is no looker but it’s the dish that my three boys always order if they see it on a takeaway menu and it’s easy enough to replicate at home (just don’t tell them that).

Serves 4 (this recipe is very slightly adapted from one I found on the internet, originally, I think, by Gizzi Erskine)

  • 100g flour
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten with a splash of cold water
  • 200g Japanese panko or other good quality breadcrumbs
  • 8 boneless chicken thighs (or use 4 breasts). I have also successfully made this with cod fillets
  • 100ml vegetable or coconut oil
  • salt and pepper

For the curry sauce

  • 1 tbsp vegetable or coconut oil
  •  1 onion, chopped
  • 3-5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp curry powder (I used hot)
  • 600ml chicken stock
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar or juice of 1/2 a lime to finish
  1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides then dredge it through the flour, bathe it in the egg, then coat in the breadcrumbs. Leave to one side while you make the sauce.
  2. Fry the onion and carrot in the oil until soft – about 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, then add the curry powder and cook for another minute. Add the flour, stir and cook for one more minute.
  3. Gradually add the stock, stirring to avoid lumps then add the honey, soy and bay leaf. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Pass the sauce through a sieve then return to a low heat until ready to serve, adding the garam masala and the rice wine vinegar (or if you are using lime, add this at the end just before serving). Taste – if it needs more salt add a splash more soy.
  4. Heat the oil over a medium heat and fry the chicken, in batches if necessary, until golden on each side and cooked through. Drain on kitchen paper then serve with steamed basmati rice and edamame, or your choice of greens, with the sauce on the side.

Warmth from within

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What’s really great is when you plan a series of late summer salads and then life gets in the way and the season catches up with you and what you want to write about becomes totally inappropriate. I concede, I can’t go on pretending that autumn has not arrived. My thermostat has started kicking in in the mornings, my shearling slippers are back on and the casserole is calling me. But just before I hunker down and eat my own body weight in apple crumble, here’s one last salad, that’s very bloody delicious and goes extremely well with the previous two if you ever felt inclined to serve up a Middle Eastern inspired spread.

Carrot and coriander is a classic pairing, but one that has never really done it for me in soup form. (Soup rarely does if I’m honest.) But combined raw and tossed in a warm dressing so the carrots absorb all the flavour, they make a slaw type thing that is so moreish this bowlful above was demolished within moments of taking the photo. Even my slaw-suspicious 10yo is a fan (so long as you don’t call it slaw).

Try it alongside a shoulder of lamb into which you have first liberally massaged a blend of warming chilli and Middle Eastern spices before slow roasting it until it falls off the bone. So good, you won’t care what the weather’s doing outside.

Harissa carrot slaw

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This recipe was inspired by this from Smitten Kitchen but I have ramped up the coriander content in a nod to that ubiquitous soup of the 1990s. The feta, as before, is optional, although never in my house.

Serves 4 as a side

  • 500g carrots, peeled and grated
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 heaped tsp harissa (more if you like things hot)
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds, toasted in a dry pan, then roughly crushed
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • small bunch coriander, roughly chopped, stalks ‘n all
  • salt and pepper
  • sprinkling of nigella seeds and crumbled feta to garnish
  1. Put the grated carrots in a large mixing bowl.
  2. In a small frying or saucepan, gently warm together the oil, harissa, spices, garlic and sugar until the sugar has melted and the garlic cooked but not browned – a minute or two. Take off the heat, stir in the lemon juice and pour over the carrots with a good pinch of salt and some black pepper. Use your hands to toss the carrots in the dressing to ensure it is evenly distributed. If you can, leave the carrots to absorb the dressing for about 10 minutes.
  3. Toss in the chopped coriander, then crumble over the feta and sprinkle with nigella seeds. Best served at room temperature.

Slow-roast spiced lamb shoulder

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If you are making this for four people or fewer, you could buy half a lamb shoulder and halve the marinade amounts. I tend to buy a whole shoulder, which will feed about eight, because the leftovers are fantastic, for example, reheated and served in flatbreads with hummus and minty yogurt.

  • 1 shoulder of lamb (about 2kg)
  • 2 tbsp harissa
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • olive oil
  • salt
  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C (fan).
  2. Rub the lamb all over with a splash of oil then season with a good amount of salt.
  3. Mix all the other ingredients together to form a paste then rub this over the entire surface of the lamb.
  4. Put the lamb in a roasting tin and roast for 30 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 140°C and roast for a further 3 1/2 hours until the meat is soft and yielding. If it looks like the marinade is burning, cover with foil.