Lamb Leg a la Twitter

“I have 3kg leg of lamb (lucky me) but only 2 px to feed! suggestions?”

One of my weaknesses is a good deal so when I was passing the butchers counter at the local supermarket and saw a HUGE leg of lamb at what was frankly a giveaway price I bought it without a thought of what I was going to do with said joint of meat.

The first notion that came to mind was to roast the leg in the classical manner  (garlic, rosemary etc) and invite the in laws for a nice spring lunch but they had already made plans.  So the question remained what was I to do?  Using the magic that is Twitter I decided to pick the brains of of a few foodie talents… all of whom possess considerably greater culinary imagination, skill and knowledge than myself. My thanks to all those who replied with suggestions … they were so great that I was inspired to cook and post!

A selection of them (and links to the blogs … all of which are worth checking out) are below.

@akikamozawa (chef, food writer and blogger: Ideas in food)
Mmm lucky you, leftovers. I like mine well seasoned & simply grilled or slow roasted. Wine/herbs/soy/garlic marinade or baste

@thomasinamiers (Masterchef winner, food writer and chef/patron of Wahaca)
make a middle eastern slow braise and freeze what you dont need for a rainy day. Garlic sumac thyme lemons

@stacie_stewart (Masterchef semi-finalist, food blogger and beehive baking queen)
Bone it and divide into 4x 750g portions. Then make lamb curry, hotpot, shepherds pie and steamed lamb suet pudding … all the recipes for the lamb are on [my blog]

@justcookit (Masterchef semi-finalist, food writer and blogger)
cold lamb isn’t great so eat much as poss then make shpherds pie w the rest

@CarolBlymire (food blogger: Alinea at home, French Laundry at home)
freeze some for later.

@ruhlman (food writer, broadcaster and blogger)
separates it into its separate muscles and cook individually, or make lots of shepherds pie and lamb sandwiches tomorrow! … if you do a good job, you can cook those lamb muscles almost like loin.

@docsconz (culinary doctor and food blogger)
Cut it into smaller portions, freeze most and cook a little at a time or invite more folks for a wonderful roast!

@vindee (food blogger: Passionate about baking, co-creator of Mactweets)
Debone , mince, make different varieties of kebabs, freeze. Can marinate and freeze a leg-o-lamb too.

As a result of the great idea I decided to follow Michael Ruhlmans suggestion and debone the leg.  I liked the idea of separating each muscle by butchering along the seams. The should ensure that each portion of lamb would be free of connective tissue running thorugh it (gristle to you an me) and cook evenly as it would be composed essentially of the same meat.

I wanted to make a good job of this so to get me started I found a great video guide by The Healthy Butcher which illustrated the basic steps of removing the bone to leave a butterflied leg.

Joint opened up along the fatty seam and the bone now exposed as per the video.

I continued to cut carefully close around the bone until it could be removed. Use the bone as your guide and take you time and you won’t go far wrong …or lose much meat.

Now, to separate the meat by cutting between the muscles. If you get this right there is not actually much cutting to do as the muscles will almost peel apart like the segments of an orange. Just use the knife to ease them apart and trim the edges. The meat around the shank was left whole as the there is a lot of fine connective tissue (this cooks down when braised give you that yummy rich stickiness) .

I ended up with (from left to right) six fillet like pieces from the upper leg, two large boneless cuts for braising and the bone with some some trimmings. Don’t throw that bone away!… added to a braise it will add fantastic richness, I bagged it up with the trimmings and put it in the freezer.

I took one of the fillets and placed it in a marinade of crushed garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and Herbes de Provence for about half an hour.  I went heavy on the garlic (one of the giant cloves from the elephant garlic I grew last year).

The marinated lamb was seared on a hot grill on for a few minutes on each side and then finished in the oven.

Rested for about 10 minutes before carving, the meat was superbly tender and juicy, presumably a result of not being cut across the grain when the leg was butchered. The result of my labours was probably the best piece of meat I have cooked this year … served on ratatouille with some mixed leaves.


One Chicken …Five Meals

I bought a free range chicken from Tesco last week (would have used my local butcher but it was 10pm). This fine specimen (about 2kg) cost me the best part of nine quid. If I am to eat meat in these times of food inflation then I try to buy the good stuff and make it stretch. My one chicken gave me the following:

  • Roast chicken supper (for 2)
  • Chicken soup (supper for 2 and lunch for 1)
  • Toasted deli wrap (supper for 1)
  • Roast chicken sandwich (lunch for 1)
  • Mushroom risotto (supper for 2, lunch for 1, lunch for C. and leftovers  for the freezer)

Cheap meat is a false economy.from website

Image from

Chicken Soup and Wheaten Soda Bread

A bowl of soup can make for a warming and elegant supper.

Roast chicken, clarified stock, butter beans, flageolet beans, tarragon, sausages, sauteed onion and crisp pancetta …not a bad result from the leftovers of the Sunday roast.

We ate the soup with wheaten bread warm from the oven. Wheaten soda bread is a real tradition in Northern Ireland and has become one of my very favourite things to eat since we moved here. A wonderful partner for smoked salmon, cheese or Ardglass potted herrings.

It is very quick to make as it needs no proving or kneading.  I knocked out the loaf below an just over an hour including baking (a food processor works well). I adapted Dan Lepard’s recipe for Waterford Soda Bread from The Handmade Loaf.

Try to use the coarsest, softest  flour you can get your hands on, mine comes from the Iona wholefood shop in Holywood and could be mistaken for muesli. For a richer loaf substitute a glass of the milk for ale or stout and the sugar for dark treacle. Once you have added the liquid to the dry mix it is important to work fast as the bread starts to rise as soon as the buttermilk or yogurt comes into contact with the bicarbonate.

Riverside wheaten soda bread

300g soft wholewheat flour
50g pinhead oatmeal
20g lard, dripping or butter
1 heaped tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
1 dsp demerara sugar
200g buttermilk (yogurt will do)
200g whole milk
a handful of mixed seeds (I used linseed, pumpkin seed and sesame seed)

  • Preheat the oven to 230C. Grease a loaf tin and dust liberally with flour. Tear and grease a sheet of  foil that will cover the top of the tin, and set aside.
  • Weigh the flour, lard, bicarbonate of soda, salt, oatmeal and sugar into the bowl of a food processor and whizz so the fat is well combined …alternatively you could do this by hand by rubbing the fat through the dry ingredients.
  • Weigh the buttermilk and milk into a jug and warm to room temperature (I do this in the microwave). Turn on the food processor,  pour in the warm milk mixture and add the seeds. Continue to mix for another minute or so …you should have a thick batter.  Quickly pour the batter into the loaf tin.
  • Cover the top of the tin with the greased foil and bake for 25 minutes, then remove the foil  bake for a further 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, leave to cool in the tin for a minute, then tip out onto a cooling rack (I usually pop it shelf of the cooling oven). Wrap when cool or store in airtight container.

Soup and bread will do nicely for my lunch tomorrow along with the last slice of Christmas cake.

A Special Weekend In The Snow

Just getting round to posting about last weekend. It was a biggie. The plan was for all Mrs W’s friends and family to secretly gather together for a relaxed, fun, weekend to celebrate her 30th. I started conspiring some 10 months in advance and arranged to hire Roaches Hall, a large country house in the peak district which would accomodate 30 of us. Money was extracted, the venue booked, travel arrangements made and a food mountain and drink lake ordered …all was going to plan until we had the worst winter in the North of England for 30 years (ironically the weather in Northern Ireland was somewhat benign!).

The weather resulted in the bulk of the food not being delivered (Boo! Sainsburys) however the very nice Waitrose party snacks and luxury items did arrived (Ocado drivers are true heroes!).

Wine arrived courtesy of Laithwaites and Virgin Wines (I can recommend the ‘introductory case’ from both). The failure of Sainburys to deliver my groceries (or even inform me that my order had been cancelled) meant I had to do a shop (read a supermarket sweep comprising of 3 full trolleys to feed 25 adults and 6 children for a weekend) at the Co-op in Leek (which was surprisingly well stocked) …we got there in the end. However, getting there did require the impromptu hire of a Volvo 4×4.

Which brings me to an apology…. because of the large quantities of folks I had to feed and the lack of planning I had to make my dishes up as I went along. As a result I cannot really give quantities for these recipes …because I do not remember. Which goes to show that as long as the flavours are balanced exact measurements for these dishes are not important …ideal when you are feeding a large group and your plans go bit pear shaped!

I also forgot to take photos of the food …doh (if I get any from the other guests I’ll update this post).

I made a lentil and mushroom soup for weary travellers arriving on the Friday, served up with jacket spuds and a magnificent cheese board.

Lentil soup with mushrooms

olive oil
good quality green, brown or black (e.g Puy or Castelluccio) lentils
vegatable stock (marigold is fine)
2 or 3 big handfuls of spinach
white wine

bay leaves

  • Peel the onions and chop finely and slice the mushrooms and garlic. Warm a good glug of little olive oil in a large saucepan or casserole over a moderate to low heat and add the onions, garlic and mushrooms. Saute gently until golden and fragrant.
  • Wash the lentils thoroughly, then add to the pan. Pour over a large glass of white wine to deglaze the pan and enough stock to cover and bring to the boil, skimming off any froth that comes to the surface. You can add a bay leaf or two if you like. Turn the heat down so that the lentils simmer merrily, then almost cover the pot with a lid and leave till they are tender, but far from collapse. About 30 minutes, depending on your lentils. While this is happening wash the spinach and tear the leaves up a bit.
  • Just before you are ready to serve fold in the spinach …and stir until the leaves are wilted.
  • Season the soup with salt, black pepper and lemon juice, tasting as you go. Add a glug of olive oil and serve.

On Saturday the snow meant we had no problems entertaining ourselves and the quality of the quiches from Waitrose meant I had very little to prepare for lunch save for a few salads (potato, green and tomato) and putting out the bread, cheese, pickles and cold meats. Dinner was the main challenge of the weekend …a hot meal for 25 was quite a job as I did not want to spend the whole weekend in the kitchen, thankfully I had a lot of helpers to prep veg and mind my timings. I did 4 ‘one pot wonders’ which were served with mixed roast veggies (sweet potatoes, red onions and parsnips), jacket spuds and freshly made wheaten bread.

Not a scrap left afterwards …a good result.

Lentil, Squash and Spinach Braise

olive oil
whole spices (cumin, coriander seed, fennel, cinnamon stick, cardamon, smoked chillies, mustard seed, bay leaves)
butternut squash or pumpkin
spinach (frozen is ok)
tinned chopped tomatoes

red lentils
vegetable stock (marigold is fine)

  • Chop the onions roughly. Peel the squash and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Cut the flesh of the squash into bite sized pieces (I had pretty average sized field mushrooms and quartered them). Peel and slice the garlic (not too thinly).
  • Place the whole spices in a dry frying pan over a high heat and toast until aromatic and browned (but do not burn). They will smell amazing! Place the toasted spices into a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder.
  • Warm a good glug of olive oil over a moderate heat, add a couple of tablespoons of the ground spice mix and cook for a minute or two to bring our the flavour of the spice (take care not to burn them). Add the onions, mushrooms and garlic and saute gently, with the occasional stir, until they are soft and golden. Add the squash, tomatoes and lentils and enough stock to cover everything. Simmer gently for about an hour, the squash and the lentils should be tender. In the meantime the spinach and trim any long stalks (if you use frozen there is no need for this!).
  • Just before you are ready to serve fold in the spinach …and stir until the leaves are wilted. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Mushroom Stroganoff

olive oil
smoked sweet paprika
creme fraiche

  • Peel the onions then halve and slice them into thick segments. Cut the mushrooms into manageable sizes (I had pretty average sized field mushrooms and quartered them). Peel and slice the garlic (not too thinly).
  • Warm a good glug of olive oil and a big thick slice of butter over a low heat until the butter is melted and just starting to foam add a good tablespoon of the paprika and cook for a couple of minutes to bring our the flavour of the spice. Add the onions, mushrooms and garlic and saute gently, with the occasional stir, until they are soft …let them brown but not burn. This took about an hour for me …just keep cooking on the lowest heat. The browning bit (caramelisation of the natural sugars and Maillard reactions) is essential if your stroganoff is to have plenty of deep savoury flavour (almost meaty…though this is a vegetarian dish). When the vegetables are done add a decent grinding of both sea salt and black pepper.
  • Just before you are ready to serve fold in the creme fraiche… how much is down to how creamy you like your sauce. Make sure you get all the sticky residue on the surface of the pan incorporated into the creamy sauce Let the sauce bubble gently until the mixture is hot all the way through. Check the seasoning and serve.
  • A word about creme fraiche. Make sure you use pure creme fraiche. The reduced fat stuff is not as good for cooking so buy the full fat stuff and use less if you are concerned about the fat content.

Pot Roast Beef in Red Wine Sauce

rolled trimmed, brisket of beef of about 3kg
olive oil
red wine…about a bottle
plain flour
bay leaves

  • Heat a good glug of olive oil in a deep casserole. Season the beef joint with pepper and sear in the oil until well coloured, if there are sticky bits in in pan as a result all the better. Remove the beef and set aside. Set the oven at 180 deg C/Gas 4.
  • Peel the onions and chop them roughly. Crush and chop the garlic. Peel and halve the shallots. Saute the onions, garlic shallot and mushrooms in the flavoured oil until the onions and shallots are lightly coloured.
  • Deglaze the pan with the red wine. Add the beef back into the pot along with a couple of bay leaves.
  • Bring to the boil, cover and bake for at least 2 hours so the beef is tender but not completely falling apart. Remove the beef and allow to rest for at least half an hour before carving. Whilst the beef is resting the gravy can be thickened if required by making a flour and butter roux is a small saucepan. Cook the roux for a couple of minutes to remove the floury taste and add couple of ladles of the casserole sauce to the saucepan to make a thick sauce. Add this sauce to the casserole to thicken the gravy. Carve the beef into thick slices and return the slices to the pot before serving. Season with salt and pepper and served.
  • I had some Tiptree dark onion chutney left over from lunch so that went in to the gravy as well!

Ham, Chorizo & Butter Beans

The chorizo and bacon can be quite salty so wait until the last minute before checking the seasoning and adding salt.

butter beans
olive oil
a piece of boiling bacon – about 1.2kg
stock or water
white wine…about half a bottle
tinned chopped tomatoes
smoked sweet paprika
chorizo sausage (the soft cooking type)

  • If using dried beans soak for at least 8 hours in deep, cold water. Drain then boil them in unsalted water for about an hour, til they start to show signs of tenderness. Turn off the heat. Set the oven at 180 deg C/Gas 4.
  • Warm a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a deep casserole. Chop the chorizo sausages into bite sized chunks and cut the fat from the bacon in one thick piece. Add the bacon fat, chorizo pieces and a tablespoon of the paprika to the casserole and fry in the oil.
  • Peel the onions and chop them roughly. Crush and chop the garlic. Soften the onions and garlic in the flavoured oil until they are golden.
  • Add the chopped tomatoes and gently mix them with the onions.
  • Season with black pepper (no salt yet) and lower the bacon piece on top, pushing it down into the sauce as best you can. Pour in the white wine and enough of the bean cooking liquid stock or water to cover the meat. Add the beans now if they are freshly cooked but if using tinned beans I would wait another half an hour. I used tinned beans and didn’t rinse them as the canning water helped to thicken the broth nicely.
  • Bring to the boil, cover and bake (or simmer if like me you had run out of oven space) for about an hour (or longer if you can …I had to serve up!) so it is all meltingly tender. Remove the piece of bacon fat and discard. Remove the bacon piece and carve into slices then return the slices to the pot before checking the seasoning and serving.

With a hearty Sunday breakfast of porridge and fresh wheaten bread followed by more snow fun the weekend was a roaring success …we arrived back home knackered but so happy to have spent such a happy and memorable weekend with all our best friends.