Pippa’s Venison and Beetroot Stew

You may or may not know that Princess Kate’s pert bottomed little sister Pip has just published a book all about partying and the organisation thereof.

It’s from this book that I discovered Pippa’s Venison and Beetroot Stew (technically I’m pretty sure it’s a casserole since it goes in the oven but I know posh people like stew). My casserole adaptation has been a culinary triumph in the Laing house this evening. Where triumph is categorised as follows:

1. Master Laing eats it without questioning or spitting bits out and has a minor tantrum when his primitive spoon and fork skills aren’t processing dinner fast enough.

2. Mr Laing eats it and comes back for more, eating at such a rate that he forgets it’s venison and leaves the house for a late client feeling rather uncomfortable, not before posting a comment about how nice it was on Facebook.

3. Mrs Laing (aka me) is quite impressed with her kitchen efforts and wants to try it again, with no further tweaks.

So we’ve also been trialling a new local butcher having been disappointed with our local one, hence I happened to have a packet of venison in the freezer.  It’s also a great time of year to eat venison, which, according to www.eattheseasons.co.uk, has more iron than any other red meat, is packed with Omega 3 (due mainly to the varied diet of wild deer) and is lower in saturated fat than skinned chicken breast.

It’s also beetroot picking time, which is precisely what Isaac did this morning with his friend Holly in my friends’ dad’s garden in Buckhurst Hill.

So here’s my version of the recipe, which I tweaked because a) I don’t happen to have juniper berries or pink peppercorns in my cupboards; b) hubby’s not an onion fan (if you check out the original recipe there’s a significant caramelized onion content which I feel would take away from the gorgeous flavours).

Pauper’s Pippa’s Venison and Beetroot Stew 

500g casserole venison

1 large red onion

1 stick celery

2 medium fresh beetroot (peeled and chopped)

Enough butternut squash peeled and chopped to match the amount of beetroot

1tsp fresh thyme leaves (you need fresh here, dried thyme will over power everything)

Zest and juice of an orange

4 tbsp plain flour

Half a pack (approx 150g) smoked, free range, streaky bacon

3 cloves garlic

2 bay leaves

300ml red wine

200ml beef stock

salt and pepper

Method:

Start by preparing the venison. Put the flour, salt and pepper in a bowl and coat the venison in the seasoned flour. Then brown the meat over a medium heat in an ovenproof casserole and remove to a bowl.

De-glaze pan if necessary with a little of the red wine and add the chopped onion and chopped streaky bacon. Let the onion soften a little before adding the finely chopped celery. Then add garlic, thyme, bay leaves, orange zest and juice, chopped beetroot and squash.

Finally add venison, stock and remaining wine to the dish and bring to the boil. Ensure you’ve got all the goodies off the base of your dish allow to simmer and then cover the casserole and put in an oven pre-heated to Gas Mark 5, 190 degrees.

Cooking time approx. 90 minutes. Check during cooking to ensure it’s not drying out.

We served ours with broccoli, carrots and hasselback potatoes (very posh but really easy to do and so tasty). Isaac had mashed sweet potato since he’s not a roasted spuds man.

Check out the original recipe here: Pippa’s Venison and Beetroot Stew

Hearty Chicken, Carrot and Squash Soup – with a super greens twist

On Monday I wrote about rain. Or rather how to fight the rainy day, wintry blues. As much as I love the summer with all its warm sunshine, there are certain things about the kitchen in autumn that just don’t work for me in 30 degree July heat.

One of those things is soup! Hearty, homely, warming soup. Thick, inviting, steaming broths, concocted from bits and bobs and leftovers.

Perhaps what is most satisfying about soup is its unpredictability. No soup is bad soup (apart from a baby weaning pea soup I once made which was just lumpy, tasteless, green water) but some soups turn out better than others.

Well, today I whipped up a batch of what is lovingly known in my family as Christmas soup. So called because a few days after Christmas, my mum would strip the last of the meat from the Christmas turkey and throw it in the pressure cooker with vegetables. The resulting smell which greeted me as I came downstairs promised thick, orange, flavour filled soup. And this is perhaps why I still make most of my soups in the pressure cooker. That smell is unique.

Nowadays I stick to a superfood, clean version of the soup which I can give to Isaac, offer to guests, shove in the freezer in batches or serve for a light dinner with hunks of home made walnut bread. It’s packed with protein and pressure cooking seals in nutrients. So here it is with my super greens twist.

Ingredients:

1 large/2 small onions, roughly chopped

2 chicken legs (you can also make this with leftover chicken and bones from a roast)

4 medium carrots, scrubbed and roughly chopped

1/3 of a squash, scrubbed or peeled and roughly chopped

3 stalks of celery, scrubbed and roughly chopped

Broccoli stalks (this is my super greens part), roughly chopped

A pinch of peppercorns

2 tsp vegetable bouillon

Bay leaf

Fresh thyme (you can use dried but sometimes it’s a bit woody)

Method:

Soften the onions and seal the chicken in your pressure cooker or pan with a few tbsp of olive oil/butter/coconut oil.

Add all the remaining ingredients and stir around a bit while you add the herbs etc.

Half fill the pressure cooker with water, or just enough water to nearly cover the ingredients.

Bring to pressure and cook for 30 minutes. If you’re cooking this in a pan it would take about 1h30mins on a simmer.

When it’s finished, take the bay leaves out and discard bones/skin/bits from the chicken then add the meat to the soup and whizz it with a hand blender or in a blender.

ENJOY! 

Sticky Date and Walnut Flapjacks

On Thursday evening, after I’d got back from my lovely pre and post natal Pilates classes I realised I needed to rustle up something tasty for our impending Paralympics adventure.

I’d wanted to make cashew and apricot oat bars but had neither apricots nor cashew nuts in the house. I could have gone with traditional flapjacks but I’m always searching for a non sugar alternative and felt the sweetness of dates should work as an alternative to all that sugar and syrup.

I did my usual Google search and discovered a few recipes for date and walnut flapjacks (which I had in plentiful supply). One on mumsnet and another from the luscious Nigella. The recipe that follows is a combination of the two with a little Karen magic thrown in.

I have included a little sugar in the recipe to help make the bars stick together but they don’t hold like a traditional flapjack. They are however divine! The combination of dates and butter gave me a real sticky toffee pudding hit which I wasn’t expecting.

You can tweak the recipe for yourself (you might want to try adding cinnamon) but this is the one that works for me.

Sticky Date and Walnut Flapjacks

Ingredients:

125g unsalted butter

1 tbsp runny honey

25g caster sugar

100g chopped dates

1/4tsp bicarbinate of soda

50g walnut pieces

1tsp vanilla extract

150g oats

2tbsp ground flaxseed (optional)

Method:

Grease and line an 8″ square cake tin (I’ve used two loaf tins).

Preheat the oven to GM4 or 18o degrees (lower for fan assisted ovens).

Put the chopped dates in a pan with just enough water to cover and the bicarbinate of soda. Heat them gently and let them simmer for 5 minutes. This will soften the dates and create a syrup. Take care not to heat to much or the syrup becomes dark and the bars won’t be as good!

Add the butter, sugar, honey, vanilla extract and walnuts to the pan and heat until the butter has dissolved.

Add the oats to the mixture and ground flaxseed if using. You may need more oats if there is lots of liquid remaining.

Push the mixture into the bottom of the pan and cook for 20 minutes. I set a timer for mine since if they catch they’ll be chewy and bitter.

When you take the flapjacks out mark into bars but leave to cool completely before taking them out.

And as Isaac would say … “mmmm … num num num.”

Let me know how your’s turn out x

20120909-221712.jpg

20120909-221735.jpg

My Grandma’s Preserving Pan. One of my favourite things.

This is, a preserving pan. It’s not a perfect, heavy bottomed, beautiful preserving pan. But this preserving pan belonged to my Grandma. My dad’s mum. And not long after she passed away, I was given this pan, along with a couple of WI cookery books which are now out of print.

Jams and chutneys are still relatively experimental to me. Ask me to bake a cake or a pie or to whip up a sugar free alternative and I’m filled with confidence but pectin tests, setting points and sugar thermometers fill me with fear.

So why the fascination with this pan? Well it belonged to my Grandma, who was just lovely and gentle and always made beautiful Grandma like pies and jam and puddings. One of my earliest memories is of picking daisies for my Grandma, which she lovingly put in an egg cup and displayed in her kitchen. One of my last memories of my Grandma, years after she had two massive strokes that changed her life completely, is of helping her to make a cake. It was something she’d always loved doing but the strokes had sapped not only her co-ordination and muscle function but also her confidence. She was shocked that I used baking powder (she never did) but still enjoyed the fruits of our labour.

I should also say here that whilst I am something of a health fanatic and believe that sugar really is the root of much health evil, I love baking. And I love baking because you (excuse the sap) bake with love to make people smile. No one ever bakes a cake for someone they dislike. And the pleasure a piece of cake can bring, even to someone who has little perceived quality left in their life is immense. Both my Grandma, and her daughter, my Aunty Brenda who passed away earlier this year had a love of cake. Both finished their days as very different people. Their disabilities, my Grandma’s strokes and my Aunty’s MS had taken away many of the pleasures I’m sure I take for granted in my life, and although both could say very little in the years before they died, I can always remember them saying, ‘mmmm … cake.’

And there is another, massive reason why I’m so fond of this pan which I associate with all the gentleness of my Grandma, and that is my Grandad, her husband, who is still alive but who I no longer have a relationship with. You see I fell in love with a beautiful man called Chris. My soul mate. From our first few dates I knew Chris was THE ONE and walking down the aisle to marry him was the most, on path, spiritual moment of my life. When I walked down the aisle I swear I actually caught a glimpse of heaven.

Grandad and I always used to speak. Lots. We’d have great chats on the telephone. He would ask all about Chris. We could talk in a way he couldn’t talk with other people. I’d say we had a special relationship. I saw through the anger and the front and we’d talk about how he felt and what was really going in in my life. He would tell me stories about the time he met my Grandma, as a beautiful young girl with stunning blue eyes. He would take me back to both happy and painful memories. I had an understanding of him beyond the snappy, agitated, angry at life man he could often appear to be.

But then one day he saw a picture of Chris and discovered he was black. And suddenly everything changed. I knew he disapproved and that he didn’t want for us to have children, since they might turn out brown. I found it difficult to understand but having a relationship with a black man gives you a very steep learning curve with regards to racism and attitudes.

Chris didn’t come to my Grandma’s funeral. We hadn’t been together for long and it felt too soon to go there. So at my Grandma’s funeral I felt very much alone. But when my Grandad, stood, frail and sobbing at the end of the pew, I sidled up to him and held his hand. In spite of my hurt and anger I held his hand because Grandma hadn’t been like that.

A month before our wedding, I wrote my Grandad a letter. I felt it was the right thing to do. I asked if he might actually meet Chris. He never has. I got a letter back telling me that he had no desire to do this and that he believed that we would live to regret our marriage and that by marrying we would offend a great many people. I took that as his answer and have not spoken with him since. Something I still find very hard.

When in 2010 I gave birth to the most beautiful baby boy in the world, Isaac, I fully understood the grievous offence he had caused my family. My Grandad has never acknowledged his existence or asked after him.

My Grandad is the person in my life who daily I struggle to forgive.

But, my Grandma was totally different. She always asked after Chris. Even though when I’d visit her after her strokes she struggled to speak or hold conversation, she would always ask about Chris and my ‘love life.’

So because of my Grandma’s gentleness and how she helped me to learn that baking is about love. And because of that constant wrangle of wanting to have a relationship with my Grandad but also knowing I need to put my own family first. And because I know I still need to forgive daily, whenever I use my Grandma’s preserving pan I feel I’m beginning to forgive.

Sticky chicken thighs with roasted veggies and cherry tomatoes.

I’ve always been a fan of the humble chicken thigh. They’re full of flavour which lends them perfectly to curries and strong flavours; they’re great in the slow cooker; they’re deliciously juicy simply roasted – and to my mind far superior to the humble drumstick which can be a bit sinewy; they are toddler friendly because they become so soft after slow cooking; and, in these budget conscious times they are way cheaper than breast meat.

Hubby, Isaac and I do our best to eat together where possible, especially our evening meal. This one pot meal (an adaptation of a Jamie Oliver recipe) suits all our tastes. Isaac can nibble away at all the things he likes and of course, it’s totally adaptable to what you like or indeed what you have in the fridge! Think of it like a nutritious box of Quality Street. Everyone has their favourite bits.

Boost the nutrients in this dish by including lots of sweet potato, beetroot, carrots and tomatoes.

Sticky chicken thighs with root vegetables and cherry tomatoes (baby and toddler friendly).

Serves 2 and a bit with leftovers for lunch the next day (depending how hungry you are)

Handful of new potatoes, scrubbed

1 large or two small sweet potatoes, peeled or scrubbed and cut into chunks

2 or 3 cooked beetroot in natural juices, cut into wedges

A packet of cherry tomatoes, preferably skinned

Oregano (fresh or dried)

Olive oil

Red wine vinegar (balsamic works too)

6-8 chicken thigh fillets (chopped into finger sized pieces – you can use whole thighs too)

Salt and pepper to taste (you can add salt later if you have little mouths to feed)

Method:

Boil the potatoes for around 10 minutes, if you’re using sweet potatoes too you can add these to the spuds.

Put the chicken thigh fillets in an ovenproof/hobproof casserole and cook them over a medium heat until they’re sealed and nearly cooked.

Add all the remaining vegetables and potatoes to the pan and toss around in the chicken juices.

Add 4 tablespoons of olive oil, a good splash of the vinegar, oregano and salt and pepper. Then give all the ingredients another mix.

Put the casserole dish (lid off) in a pre-heated oven (200 degrees, Gas Mark 6) for 40 minutes until cooked through and golden.

Serve with a big bunch of watercress on the side x

20120825-192648.jpg

Baked Chocolate Mousse Cake

Here’s definitely one for the weekend – one of my favourite desserts, which also happens to be packed with protein and lots of yummy dark chocolate. But is it a cake or a mousse? You decide.

What this hybrid mousse cake lacks in looks, it more than makes up for in taste. And although it’s not sugar free, the protein punch from the eggs means that a little goes a long way (take note hubby). It’s also gluten free.

It’s adapted from a James Martin recipe.

Ingredients

300g good quality dark chocolate (I use Green & Blacks cooks chocolate)

15og unsalted butter

5og unrefined caster sugar

6 large free-range eggs, separated.

1 tsp vanilla extract

(Grease and line a deep, 9″ round cake tin)

(Pre-heat oven to Gas Mark 4, 18o degrees)

Method

Slowly melt chocolate and butter together and then add the vanilla extract

Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites with half the sugar until stiff.

In a separate bowl beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar for 30 seconds.

Allow the melted chocolate mixture to cool slightly before mixing with the yolk mixture. You’ll need to work quickly now since the cooling chocolate will start to go stiff.

Mix 1/3 of the egg whites with the chocolate mixture to loosen it before carefully folding in the remaining egg white. Make sure you incorporate all the sticky chocolatey bits from the bottom of the bowl.

Pop the mixture in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.

Once cooked, allow to cool for a while in the tin before turning out to a cooling rack. Do not be alarmed. It will look beautifully cake like on removal from the oven but soon sinks in the middle.

Eat this cake at room temperature, just don’t put it in the fridge or it will go stiff. I tend to make it at lunchtime for an evening dinner.

Et voila! The resulting cake is heavenly with chantilly cream or some lightly sweetened mascarpone.

20120819-154739.jpg

Why Women Get Fat (from my sexy new guest blogger)

Here’s one for you all from my hubby, who has managed to succinctly sum up some of the adipose challenges we lady folk face daily.  Over to you Chris (please excuse wanton exploitation of my husband’s assets in my choice of image):

“Happy Father’s day to all those who were able to celebrate this great day where I was allowed to take a nap on the couch. Best gift my wife has ever given me.

So the next section is why do women get fat. The simple answer is because they are meant to. Body fat is connected to your metabolism. When you lose it, your body knows about it and tries to control fat levels. We all have a genetic set point. A point at which your body will do anything to maintain your fat level. That is why unless you have expert guidance, you will put it back on. Women need more body fat than men because it is linked to fertility. If women have low body fat levels (15%) then this can impact fertility. One trainer who I measured actually had these issue. She was 10% and already had irregular periods.

If you were to analyse the fat cells from the legs of men and women, they would have a similar number of fat cells. However, what makes them fill up is a receptor called alpha-2. Alpha-2 receptors mobolise fat in the body and women have been found to have around nine times these receptors in their hips and thighs. It also has a poorer blood supply. One reason is to pack calories away and leave them there for emergency fuel during pregnancy. So women need to expect to have some curvature of their hips and thighs. However, what accelerates this process is the following:

  • Croissants, pastries with coffee.
  • No resistance training.
  • Poor sleep.
  • Steady state cardio.
  • Low fat diets.
  • Chatting with your mates at the school gates.

So hopefully you understand that fat is essential and with this knowledge, you can have a carefully scripted response for when your partner or female friend asks you if you think they are fat. This will hopefully explain why it is much harder for women to lose fat from these areas. So does that mean that it is impossible? Absolutely not. There are lots of things women can do to lose fat from these areas. Here are a few:

  • Eat more good fat especially Omega 3 found in oily fish or flaxseed.
  • Stop eating sugar.
  • Stop eating processed foods.
  • Perform interval training.
  • Start lifting weights that create a sweat.
  • Eat good sources of protein.
  • Eat 2 different dark green vegetables with every meal (or a green drink).
  • Get better sleep.
  • Stop chatting with your mates at the school gates.

Dark green veg has a chemical called Indole 3 carbinol. This actually binds to fat and helps to transport it out of the body. You can find this in most dark green vegetables. Broccoli, cabbage, kale and watercress are really good sources. Some of you may have heard my talking about alkalising your meals. This is a similar concept. The body fat range for healthy women is 15-30%. Most women who I measure think they are at least 5% lower than what they actually are. One lady stopped training with me because she didn’t believe that over half her body weight was fat. Denial is a wonderful thing.

I would seriously suggest that you know roughly what your body fat levels are. They correlate to health and can show you early signs of hormonal issues or common preventable diseases. I will have told you your body fat level at some point. However, it is useful to know how to discuss this if someone you know brings this up.

This is a brief summary on a very big topic. If you want to know more let me know before I see you next and I’ll go over it further.”

Tuna Balls Rock!

Nutrition and good food is a fascination of mine.  I love to cook it, eat it and above all share it. And given I married a typically atopic husband (asthma, hayfever, pet allergies) we’ve always been pretty cautious with Isaac’s diet and I’m really keen to find new foods for him to try which aren’t full of sugars and additives.  So I was delighted when, at a press event yesterday, I was given a copy of nutritionist Christine Bailey’s book, Top 100 Finger Foods for Babies and Toddlers, which is full of nutrition packed treats and meal ideas for little hands and sensitive tummies.

I’ve already got busy and today’s adaptation (I’m not one for following a recipe to the letter) was tuna balls.  Well actually mine were flat since it was easier to dollop the mixture into a pan with a teaspoon than to carefully shape the mixture into balls.  It’s a great recipe for pescatarians and I added ground flaxseed to mine which is an excellent source of Omega 3, great for growing brains and essential for a healthy gut.

Mum friendly? I managed to make and cook them in around ten minutes with a hungry Isaac hovering around my ankles and screaming at the food processor.

Tuna Balls, adapted from Chrisine Bailey’s Italian Tuna Balls recipe.

(this quantity is half of the original recipe and makes enough for 3 standard or 2 hearty toddler meals – the mixture keeps in the fridge for a couple of days)

Half a can of tuna steaks in olive/sunflower oil (drained);

50g wholemeal breadcrumbs (or bread)

1tbsp ground flaxseed (optional)

1 egg (Christine Bailey uses ricotta and egg but I’ve adapted it to be dairy free)

1 tbsp basil leaves

Grated zest of half a lemon

Method

Put the bread in a food processor and whizz until it’s crumbs.

Add the basil and lemon zest and whizz a bit more!

Add the egg and the tuna and whizz a little until the mixture comes together.

Heat a tbsp of oil in a pan and drop flat patties of the mixture into the hot oil with a teaspoon.  Cook for a few minutes on either side.

Et voila!

Cheese and Courgette Muffins (baby and toddler friendly)

My mum and dad have an allotment. It’s fantastic for us because at certain points in the year we get presented with bags full of tomatoes, beans, potatoes, onions (and of course the occasional slug)!  At the moment it’s leeks and cabbages but come end of summer/early autumn the courgettes get out of control and the marrows arrive.  So I’ve become a wealth of courgette based recipes.  From courgette bread to courgette bake (one for another time, this is a massive family favourite), courgette cake and of course, plain old courgette.

Now I’m something of an anti-sugar tyrant when it comes to Isaac’s diet so I discovered a savoury muffin recipe that satisfies my need to bake, has no sugar and also uses up all those courgettes! They went down well at Isaac’s toddler group Jubilee party this morning (with mums and toddlers) so I thought I’d share the love. Oh and I should add that they are really easy to make and older toddlers could get involved with making them too.

Cheese and Courgette Muffins (adapted from Simon Rimmer’s BBC Goodfood Gruyere and Courgette Muffins recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 225g/8oz self-raising flour (I used plain flour)
  • 1 tsp baking powder (heaped tsp if using plain flour)
  • 100g/3½oz courgette, grated
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper (optional)
  • 75g/2¾oz cheese, grated (I used a mixture of Pecorino and Cheddar since Isaac isn’t great with cow’s milk and Pecorino is sheep’s)
  • 175ml/6fl oz full fat milk
  • 1 large free-range egg, beaten
  • 75ml/2¾fl oz olive oil, plus extra for greasing
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemaryMethod:

    Combine the flour, 2/3 of the cheese, seasoning, rosemary and courgette in a large mixing bowl.

    Combine the wet ingredients, egg, milk and oil, in another bowl and beat well.

    Combine the wet and dry ingredients until just combined and separate into muffin tins. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.  This is enough mixture for 12, full, standard fairy cake sized muffins or six, large muffins.  I’ve also made it as a loaf cake and cut it into bits for little fingers.

    Bake for 10-20 minutes at Gas Mark 4, 180 degrees (time will depend on size).

    These are great served warm for breakfast or as part of a picnic or party food.