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daube

The clocks have gone back, last night’s wind has blown the last of the leaves off the trees and sent them skidding and skating across the pavements, so I make it officially casserole time. There’s nothing quite like the soft comfort of a stew to banish the winter blues. My big sister hates them – it’s her worst nightmare. But for me, a stew is food heaven: add some mash and broccoli and I’m on cloud nine.

This baby is a recipe I associate with Belgium, but it’s just as popular in north-east France. This is a dish designed to bubble away all day in a marmite over the fire while madame tends to her chores (and that’s exactly what I did). A bowl of this will warm the cockles all right.

1 twirl of dried orange peel – simply dry on a baking tray in the oven at a low heat until hard and completely dry

500g stewing steak

2 carrots, sliced

A handful chopped celery

2 onions, chopped

A pack of lardons

1 large bottled of dark ale (Belgian of course)

500ml beef stock

A sprig of thyme

Oil for frying

Season the beef and brown on all sides in a large casserole, then set aside. In the same pan, fry the onions and lardons, then pop the beef back in, pour over the stock and the wine and throw in the carrots, celery, dried orange peel and thyme.

Leave to simmer for two-three hours or pop in the oven at 160C for the same amount of time. That sounds like a lot of expensive electricity (or gas) but I usually double or even triple up on oven time, cooking several dishes at once, then re-heat during the week on the hob or in the microwave.

Serve with mash and a lousy beer as you watch the rain batter against the windows.

Top tip: if you have any orange peel left, pop it in a bottle of olive oil and hey presto, you have orange oil! Great for gifting if you have a nice enough bottle to hand.

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lamb stifado

I wanted to try something a little different for Bonfire Night this year; usually I make a chilli con carne—but it’s time for a change. Still, there are some fundamental rules when it comes to a winter party dish: it should always be something hot, of course—that’s a given—but it also needs to be able to look after itself, quietly simmering away as you greet your guests and furnish them with drinks. You can then dole it out as and when required, safe in the knowledge that it won’t spoil and latecomers won’t have to make do with a chilled, slightly congealed supper.

This is all conjecture – I had the flu this year, so no party for me, much less standing in the freezing cold watching fireworks, however much I may have wanted to. Instead, I am celebrating Diwali, that joyous festival that lights up our life as the days grow shorter.

A curry would be the obvious choice for a Hindu celebration, but instead I chose this warming stew, inspired by a dish I once tried in a Greek restaurant in Primrose Hill. Sadly, the place no longer exists. Luckily, the flavour is still fresh in my mind: rich, velvety sauce spiked with warm spices with an aniseedy tang. Traditionally, of course, a stifado is made with beef, but somehow lamb feels more ‘Greek’ to me – plus the butcher was doing a special: I got a kilo of stewing lamb for just £6. I know, quel surprise!

Serves: 6

500g stewing lamb (ask your butcher what would be best)

12 shallots, peeled

A handful chopped celery

1 can chopped tomatoes

1 stick cinnamon

Half a bottle red wine

1 star anise

2 cloves

1 tsp oregano

A sprig rosemary

Half a tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

200ml stock (I used lamb, but use whatever you have)

2 tbsp tomato purée

In a large casserole, brown the lamb on all sides and set aside. Then brown the shallots and celery. Pop the lamb back in and quickly add all the remaining ingredients. Stir well, bring to the boil, then turn the heat down low and leave to simmer for at least two hours, stirring occasionally. Simples!

Top tip: to peel the shallots, drop them into a bowl of boiling water, cover and leave for five minutes – drain and rinse in cold water and the skin should just slide off.

pumpkin

Blogging is tough in winter. By the time I get home from work, it’s too dark to take photos. By the time it’s light enough to take photos, the dish is no longer at its best, visually at least—I, for one, find that stews, curries and casseroles usually taste better the next day.

This is a very long-winded way of saying that this dish is considerably more delicious than I could make it look in a picture at 7am yesterday morning. Hence the lack of picture so far. I’ll try again at the weekend. It’s my first ‘free’ weekend for what seems like months, so I’m hoping to get the blog well and truly back on track.

Last weekend, we went to the Ardennes to celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday. It’s a stunning place, that does a great line in charcuterie and Trappist beers. We stocked up on both.

I’ve been keeping an idle eye out for something to do with my various squash, so I was thrilled when I spotted a recipe for Spiced Pumpkin and Coconut Casserole in Waitrose magazine. Only, when I told the husband what was on the menu, his first question was whether there was any way of working some meat into it. Men. You’d think I was trying to starve him. Luckily I had a ‘piquant’ salami to hand fresh from the Ardennes. Also, the original recipe called for a ‘Cajun spice mix’. I am not about to start buying any more spice mixes when I have a cupboard full of spices at home, so I improvised.

Serves: 8

A pack of shallots, peeled but left whole

2 fennel bulbs, cut into chunks

1 spicy salami or chorizo, sliced

3 peppers (preferably red, but I had green lying around, so I used those), de-seeded and cut into chunks

6 cloves garlic, crushed

The flesh of one small eating pumpkin, cut into chunks

The flesh of one butternut squash, cut into chunks

A good sprig of thyme

1 chicken stock cube

Oil for frying

1 tin coconut milk

1 tin chopped tomatoes

A good tbsp tomato puree

100ml single cream

For the Cajun spice mix:

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp basil

1 tsp fennel seeds

A good pinch of sea salt

1 tsp crushed chilli

2 tsp paprika

1 tsp mustard seeds

A good grind of black pepper

Crush the spices in a pestle and mortar. In a large casserole, fry the shallots and fennel in oil for 6-8 minutes until they take on a nice caramel colour. Set aside, and fry the peppers and salami until the salami has browned and the peppers’ skin starts to blister. Scrape in the crushed garlic, then pop the shallots etc back in, together with the squash and pumpkin, sprinkle over spices then stir until everything is well coated.

Add the tomatoes, tomato purée, coconut milk, thyme and 150ml water, then crumble over the stock cube, give it all a good mix and leave to simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Turn the heat off, stir in the cream and serve with some delicious crusty bread.

Diamond jubilee: Hunters' pie - pheasant pie

It was hard to narrow down my very favourite British dishes. I love a good roast, I adore my mum’s Lancashire hotpot and I’m a huge fan of strawberries. Eventually, I decided to try and recreate one of my favourite British summertime treats, the cherry brandy lolly but then I saw the forecast. It’s due to pour down all day. Winter warmer it is.

I’m particularly partial to shepherds’ pie and usually make it with leftover roast lamb, rather than mince – but lamb is astronomically expensive and I’ve had a pheasant knocking about in the freezer for a while (don’t ask). So here’s my version of the classic meat ‘n mash combo, reinvented for the hunters out there (thanks for the pheasant Freddie).

Diamond jubilee: Hunters' pie - pheasant pie

Serves: 6

1 Pheasant, meat stripped from carcass and cut into bite-size pieces

2 tbsp flour

3 carrots, roughly chopped

3 sticks of celery, finely chopped

2 onions, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tin chopped tomatoes

Half a bottle of wine

500ml beef stock

1 bay leaf

1 spring rosemary

10 potatoes, peeled and sliced

25g butter

50ml milk

1 tsp wholegrain mustard

A pinch of grated nutmeg

50g cheddar, grated

Toss the pheasant pieces in flour and season generously. In a large casserole, brown the pheasant and set aside.

Fry the onions and garlic until brown and soft, then add the carrots and celery and fry for a further couple of minutes. Add the pheasant back in and pour in the wine, tomatoes and beef stock. Stir and add the bay leaf and rosemary. Bring to the boil and then turn the heat down low, simmer for two hours, or until the liquid has reduced.

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes until soft (usually about 10 minutes if sliced), mash with butter, mustard, milk and nutmeg. Pre-heat the oven to 190C.

Fill an oven dish with the pheasant casserole, then cover with a fluffy top of mashed potato. Sprinkle over the grated cheese and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes.

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