Steak, Guinness and Cheese Pie

Autumn is in the air and I am already craving for comfort food. The trouble about winter recipes compared to summer ones is they always take so much longer to cook. Gone are the warm evenings and just chucking something on the barbie.

Winter is all peeling, chopping, stewing and slow-cooking. What I like about this recipe from Jamie Oliver’s fabulous recipe book “Cook”, is that although it obviously needs hours to bubble away, the actual prep is really quick. There is no laborious and messy browning of the meat and the result is sensational. I usually make a double batch and put one pie in the freezer for a rainy day.

Steak, Guinness and Cheese Pie

Serves 4

3 red onions

3 cloves of garlic

2 carrots

2 sticks of celery

4 field mushrooms

a few sprigs of fresh rosemary

olive oil

1 kg quality brisket or stewing beef, cut into 2cm cubes

440 ml Guinness (no lager, please!)

2 heaped tablespoons plain flour

150 g Cheddar cheese

170 g all-butter puff pastry (I used ready rolled)

1 large free-range egg

Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/gas 5.

Peel and chop the onions, garlic, carrots, and celery, slice the mushrooms, and pick and finely chop the rosemary. Heat a lug of oil in a large ovenproof pan over a low heat, add the onions and fry gently for about 10 minutes, or until softened, stirring occasionally. Turn the heat up, add the garlic, carrots, celery and mushrooms, then mix everything together before stirring in the beef, rosemary, and a pinch of sea salt and 1 level teaspoon of black pepper. Fry fast for 3 or 4 minutes, then pour in the Guinness, stir in the flour and add just enough water to cover.

Bring to a simmer, cover the pan with a lid and place in the oven for 2½ hours, or until the meat is very tender and the stew is rich, dark and thick, stirring halfway. A perfect pie filling needs to be robust, so if it’s still quite liquidy, place the pan on the hob and reduce until the sauce thickens.

Coarsely grate the cheese, stir half through the pie filling, then transfer to a pie dish and leave to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, dust a clean work surface with flour and roll the pastry out to the thickness of a pound coin (or use ready rolled like I did.)

Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the pie filling. Place the pastry over the top of the pie dish pinching or folding and tucking in the edges to seal, piecing the pie with a knife once or twice to let out the steam. Beat the egg, then brush over the top of the pie and bake directly on the bottom of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the pastry is cooked, puffed and beautifully golden. Delicious served simply with peas.

Squash Dal

Next up, a really comforting bowl of sunshine. I don’t know where the expression comes from, but this is food which hugs you from the inside. Not the least because not only lentils but surprisingly pumpkin or squash are really very good for you. Packed with vitamins, minerals and all sorts of thing that do you good. But more so, because it tastes so delicious, and that is bound to make you feel happy.


Squash Dal

2 brown onions

Coconut oil

200 g yellow split peas

800 g butternut squash or any other squash or pumpkin you like such as kobocha or crown prince

1 fresh red chilli

2 clove garlic, peeled and grated

Large knob of ginger, scrapped with a teaspoon and grated

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, freshly ground (available from good Indian shops)

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Sea salt

Fresh coriander

Peel, finely chop and add the onions to a pan over a medium heat with some coconut oil. Sweat it down for 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, chill and spices and a teaspoon of salt and cook for a minute more. Add the split peas and cover with plenty of water, bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, halve, peel and chop your squash into 2cm cubes, then add to the pan, top up with water if necessary and cook for a further 25 minutes, or until everything is soft and the liquid is reduced and creamy. Stir regularly during cooking, to ensure it is not sticking. Check seasoning and add salt to taste. Finish with some freshly chopped coriander. Serve with rice or poppadoms.


Roast Butternut Squash and Red Onion Salad with Tahini Dressing

It is nearly Halloween and the fields are full of pumpkins so I thought I would devote this week purely to them. If you are passing any of the four Riverford’s farms celebrating “pumpkin day”, be sure to pay them a visit. Apparently it’s a real family friendly event with plenty to keep everyone entertained, including pumpkin carving, face painting, wildlife spotting, chilli stringing, Christmas food and drink tasters and plenty of organic refreshments. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it as I’m off to Sardinia for, hopefully, a little last sun before winter truly sets in. However, these pumpkin recipes, with their beautiful, bright orange colours, are full of sunshine too.

First up, a variation of salad from Ottolenghi.  Unusually for a Ottolenghi recipe it has surprisingly few ingredients in it (and I even managed to cut some of those down) and it is really very easy and quick. You don’t even have to peel the squash.


I wanted to serve my version as a salad so I added couple of handfuls of wild rocket leaves. Remember you can use one of the many different varieties of pumpkin to replace the butternut squash. Try kabocha which also does not need peeling. Don’t forget that Riverford are selling a Squash Box right now with a selection of at least three different varieties for £9.95.


Roast Butternut Squash and Red Onion Salad with Tahini Dressing

1 large butternut squash (around 1.1kg), cut into 2cm x 6cm wedges

2 red onions, cut into 3cm wedges

50ml olive oil

Sea salt and black pepper

3½ tbsp tahini paste

1½ tbsp lemon juice

3 tbsp water

30g pine nuts

A couple of handfuls of salad leaves, such as rocket

A little extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt, mixed to make a salad dressing

Heat the oven to 180C. Put the squash and onions in a large bowl, add three tablespoons of oil, a teaspoon of salt and some black pepper, and toss well. Spread, skin down, on a baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes until the vegetables have taken on some colour and are cooked through. Keep an eye on the onions: they may cook faster than the squash, so may need to be removed earlier. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Put the tahini in a small bowl with the lemon juice, water & a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Whisk to the consistency thin cream, adding more water or tahini as necessary.

Pour the remaining oil into a small frying pan on a medium-low heat. Add the pine nuts and half a teaspoon of salt, cook for two minutes, stirring, until the nuts are golden brown, then tip the nuts and oil into a small bowl.

To serve, dress the leaves with the salad dressing and scatter them on a large plate. Top with the vegetables. Drizzle over the tahini dressing. Scatter the pine nuts on top.


Onions Baked in Cream and Parmesan

Finally, for this week, I gave the humble onion the star treatment. In this recipe you boil the onions first, until meltingly tender, before finishing them off in the oven with a good lashing of double cream and a generous sprinkling of parmesan. For some reason, I was fixated by leaving the onions whole, but although it looks very cool, it probably would have worked better if I had cut them in half after boiling them, but before baking.


Anyway, they were delicious!


Onions Baked in Cream and Parmesan

6 medium onion

100ml double cream

Handful of freshly, very finely chopped rosemary

25g Parmesan (or vegetarian alternative), finely grated

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel and trim the roots of the onions but leave them whole. Cook in a large pan of salted. boiling water for 25-30 minutes or until completely tender. A knife should insert easily.  Drain, reserving a little cooking water. Heat the oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6.  Season the cream really well with salt and plenty of black pepper and mix in 2 tbsp of the onion water. If you want to cut yours in half, then when the onions are cool enough to handle, slice each in half through the root. Lay the onion halves, cut side down, in a large baking dish with rosemary. Pour over the cream, scatter with the Parmesan, and bake for 25 mins until the cream is bubbling and the onions are just beginning to brown.


Leek and Mushroom Brown and Wild Rice Pilaf

I love leeks. Not the insipid, colourless and tasteless looking ones you get ready trimmed in the supermarket. I mean the ones that look like they have just been pulled out of a muddy field, in rolling, autumnal countryside. They seem as if they are as if they are as old as time, and indeed they are apparently mentioned in the bible.

This is a really quick and easy recipe. It is a one-pot-dish and what’s more, it is really good for you.


Leek and Mushroom Brown and Wild Rice Pilaf

I added coriander because I love it, but you could use another herb such as parsley and maybe a little drizzle of white truffle oil.

750mls vegetable or chicken stock (can be made with 2 good quality cubes)

200g brown basmati and wild rice mix (can be ready bought or mix your own)

40g butter

Glug extra virgin oil

2 large leeks, finely sliced and well washed

300g fresh mushrooms, sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely grated

Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Fresh herbs – coriander or parsley

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed large saucepan (with a lid.) Add the leek and a good glug of olive oil. Sweat down for about 10-15 minutes until they are just beginning to caramelise. Add the mushrooms and cook down once again. Add the garlic and fry for a minute more. Season well with salt and pepper. Add the rice and stir and then the stock. Cover with the lid and cook on a low heat for about 40 minutes.  Check once or twice whilst cooking and stir. When rice is tender, remove from heat. Stir in the chopped herbs and check seasoning.

Slit leeks

Slow Cooked Courgette Pasta with Lemon and Chilli

Courgettes are another vegetable that are in abundance in the boxes right now and on recommendation, I tried out a recipe from Riverford’s website, for Slow Cooked Courgette Pasta. It really did turn out to be quite delicious. I just made a couple of changes, using lemon zest instead of juice and adding a pinch of chilli. Make sure you really give the courgettes enough time to cook down properly. You can decide how creamy you want the finished dish at the end. Balance the amount of crème fraiche with pasta water to get your desired consistence. Finally, the choice of pasta is up to you but we are particularly enjoying Rummo’s Linguini in our household at the moment but Riverford stock some organic varieties too,

Cougettes slow-cooked raw

Slow Cooked Courgette Pasta with Lemon and Chilli
Serves 2
500g courgettes, very finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Lemon zest
Pinch chilli flakes
1-2 tablespoons crème fraiche
200g pasta of your choosing
Parmesan or pecorino

Heap the slices into a sauce pan with 2 tbsps. of olive. Add a pinch of salt and cook on a low heat for about 20 mins, they should start to cook and reduce. Stir every so often and make sure they aren’t catching on the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and continue to cook for another 15 mins, adding a dash of water now and then if it starts to catch. Meanwhile cook your pasta. Season the courgettes with salt, pepper, a pinch of chilli flakes and the lemon zest. Stir in the crème fraiche, some good olive oil and a dash of the pasta water to loosen. Mix with the drained pasta and top with a generous grating of cheese.

Courgettes slow cooked

Aubergine, Cauliflower, Spinach and Chickpea Curry with Cauliflower and Coconut Rice

I actually managed to get away for half-term but returning to the hell of the school run, now that the clocks have changed and it is darker and gloomier, soon knocked any feelings of recuperation out of me. With winter setting in, I am turning to more warming, comforting suppers and nothing cheers me up more than I good curry. The autumn vegetables at this time of year really lend themselves to Indian food and I like to roast them to cut down on oil and keep more texture. However, because the ingredients are cooked separately it is important to let the finished curry sit for a while to allow the flavours to infuse. It is even better the next day.

Following my theme of the last few weeks, I have carried on experimenting with cauliflower, this time serving my curry with “cauliflower rice.” You can add all sorts to your cauliflower rice. For this Indian version, I particularly like the addition of the coconut oil but as I was serving it with curry, I let it at that. But you can turn it into a dish in its own right by adding amongst other things, onions, cumin seeds, chilli, ginger, garlic or herbs such as coriander.

It might even be nice to try versions from other countries. How about a Spanish version with Chorizo and peppers. Watch this space!

Roast aubergine

Aubergine, Cauliflower, Spinach and Chickpea Curry
Coconut oil
3 small onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 aubergines, cut into 1” chunks
1 head of cauliflower, large outer leaves removed
3 garlic cloves
Large knob of garlic
1-2 fresh red or green chilli
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp cardamom seeds, (not pods) freshly ground in a pepper-mill (try a good Indian or health food shop)
2 large handfuls of perpetual spinach (or 1 large handful of true spinach)
1 tin chickpeas
1 tin plum tomatoes
Large bunch of fresh coriander, washed and chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 180⁰C. In a heavy bottomed saucepan gently fry the onions in some coconut oil for about 15-20 minutes until really soft and just light golden brown. Meanwhile toss your aubergine in some oil, season with salt and pepper and lay out on a baking sheet, lined with grease-proof paper, with plenty of room to allow it to cook evenly. Roast in the oven until golden brown, about 35 minute. Redistribute from time to time.

Remove the core of the cauliflower and break or cut into even sized florets. You can use the small inner leaves. Do exactly the same with the cauliflower as the aubergine.

Roast Cauliflower

Meanwhile scrape the ginger with a teaspoon to remove the skin. Apparently the most nutritious layer of the ginger is just under the skin, so do this carefully. Grate finely. Peel the garlic and grate finely as well. Cut the chillies in half and remove the seeds. Finely chop. Add the ginger, garlic and chilli (only add one chilli to start with. You can always add more but you cannot take away once it is in.) Cook for one minute more and add the spices. Fry for one minute before adding the tin of tomatoes. Refill the tin with water and add too. Use a spoon to break up the tomatoes and season well with salt and pepper. Add the drained tin of chickpeas. Allow to gently bubble away for at least half an hour. Check the seasoning.

Meanwhile if using perpetual spinach, remove the leaves from the stems and blanch the leaves in a large saucepan of boiling, salted water for about 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and allow to dry, spread out on a tea towel. When the cauliflower and aubergine is cooked add to the tomato base. Use the tea towel to squeeze out any excess water in the spinach and roughly chop. Add to the curry with the coriander, stir well and allow to sit for at least half an hour, whilst you cook your rice, before serving.

Cauliflower cous cous

Cauliflower Rice
1 head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets.
1 tablespoon coconut oil
Sea salt

Using a food processor, whiz up the cauliflower until evenly all very finely chopped. You can use a grater to do this instead. Heat the coconut oil in a large, deep frying pan and add the cauliflower. Season with sea salt. Cook, stirring regularly until the cauliflower is tender. The releasing moisture from the cauliflower will gently steam it. Do not allow to colour.


Cauliflower ‘Tabbouleh’ with Preserved Lemons

Finally, for this week, I am still experimenting with the cauliflower! I know that we are going to get a lot of cauliflowers in those boxes for the next few weeks and in terms of vegetables replacing carbohydrates, which is quite trendy right now, it is one of the most versatile. Last week I made cauliflower mash and this week I tried out one of my favourite Lebanese salads “Tabbouleh.” The cauliflower replaces the customary Bulgur wheat so it is great for Celiacs too. The main thing to remember though, when making this salad is that it is the herbs which make up bulk of this dish and it is important to get the quantities right so don’t use too much cauliflower. It should be lovely, fresh and herby and I added some preserved lemons for added zing and some pomegranate seeds to mine as well. Preserved lemons are easy to buy now a days, the excellent Belazu brand probably being the most readily available. If, however you have a glut of lemons, and they are just in season and at their best right now, and fancy making your own just follow the link.


Cauliflower ‘Tabbouleh’ with Preserved Lemons

4 small preserved lemons and their juice
2 large bunches flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 small bunch dill, roughly chopped
1 small bunch mint, roughly chopped
½ a small red onion, very finely diced
Extra virgin olive oil
1 cucumber, cut in half, scoop out the seeds and finely dice
4 tomatoes, remove the seeds and finely dice
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pomegranate seeds (optional)

Hold the cauliflower by its base and roughly grate the florets on the largest holes of a cheese grater resembling cooked bulgur wheat. A food processor is also great for this.

In a large bowl put all the chopped herbs and the onion. Cut the preserved lemons in half and remove the seeds. Chop them up and add the herbs. Add a good amount of the juice from the jar and some extra virgin olive oil. Add the cucumber and tomato, some salt and pepper and mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning adding more lemon etc. Finally add the cauliflower, stir well and sprinkle over the pomegranate seeds if using and serve at once.

Cauliflower cous cous

Spicy Roasted Beetroot, Flat Beans, Leek & Walnut Salad

One bonus of cooking the same thing three times in one week is that you really get to fine-tune them. Take this salad that I have been making. I started off with a recipe from Ottolenghi for a Spicy Beetroot, Leek and Walnut Salad from his fantastic book Jerusalem. But as I made it again and again, I gradually began to tweak the ingredients. I had already added flat beans to the original as I had some in the box to use up and I thought they would work well. Although I liked the idea of the tamarind in Ottolenghi’s recipe, I felt it was not necessary as it already had so much vinegar it was almost too sour. Then the pomegranate seeds may have looked pretty, but I did not feel that they added much else. I upped the balsamic to counteract the sour and added a little mustard as it compliments both leeks and beetroot so well. Finally, I added some roast carrots as I had some in my box and I hate to turn on the oven for only one thing. So I guess by the end of the week the recipe was no longer really Ottolenghi’s rather than my own, but I think that adapting recipes for personal taste is what good cooking is all about. Come to think of it, a little goat’s cheese scattered on top may be rather nice with the walnuts. Better stop now or I’ll be changing it again.

Poaching Leeks

I think we often run out of ideas for leeks and  forget how well they work in a salad. If you find prepping beetroot tiresome, may I recommend some Veggie Gloves.

Veggie Gloves

They are great for scrubbing and peeling beetroot, protect your hands and they wash clean, back to their original, lovely bright green with no trouble at all. Super useful for carrots and potatoes too.

Spicy Beetroot, Leek and Walnut Salad

Spicy Roasted Beetroot, Flat Beans, Leek & Walnut Salad
Makes 4 to 6 servings
4 medium beets, trimmed
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into wedges lenghtways
Olive oil
4 medium leeks, trimmed and cut into 4-inch pieces
1 bunch of flat beans
Mixed Salad Leaves
100g walnuts, chopped
1 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. chili flakes
1 tsp. cider vinegar
2 tbsp. good balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp. walnut oil
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Begin by roasting the beets. Preheat an oven to 180°C. Scrub the beets, wrap in foil, and roast for 45 to 60 minutes or until a knife inserts and removes easily. Set aside to cool. For a little while. At the same time, toss the carrots in a little olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in the oven for about 30minutes checking regularly and stirring to ensure even roasting.

Once the beets are cool enough to handle, peel and cut into bite-sized wedges. Transfer to a bowl. IOnce the carrots are golden brown and tender remove from the oven.

Top and tail the flat beans and cut into 1” pieces on the diagonal. Cook in a pan of boiling salted water for 3 miutes. Remove and refresh in cold water. Drain well and leave to dry.

For the leeks, you cannot cut the leeks open otherwise the pieces will fall apart, so it is important to look for dirt in the top, leafier green pieces and wash well. Grit can ruin this dish. To cook the leeks, place in a medium saucepan with enough salted water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 10 minutes or until the leeks are just tender. Do not cook for too long otherwise they will lose their colour, so keep the heat quite high but you do not want them to fall to pieces and become waterlogged.As soon as they are tender remove from the water and leave to drain really well on kitchen towel.

To make the dressing, combine the walnuts, garlic, chili flakes, vinegar’s, oil, mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Let stand at room temperature to combine the flavours.

Gently toss the beets with half of the dressing and the leeks and carrots with the remaining dressing.

To serve, place some of the salad leaves onto serving plates, top with a few beets, followed by more salad leaves, some beans, some leeks, and then a few more beets and some more leeks, scatter with carrots, until you have layered the whole dish and used everything, Serve straight away.

Beetroot in a bag 2

Mushroom Soup

I have been super busy this week with Riverford Lunches. This is when a customer hosts a lunch in their home, invites up to 10 friends, who they think would be the kind of people who may also be interested in getting a weekly Riverford veg box, and I come along and cook lunch. The idea is to inspire everyone with how good fresh, organic vegetables can be. Then everyone sits down to a three course lunch and I hopefully I sign up a few new Riverford customers.

Anyway, I managed to fit in three lunches this week but it did not leave me a huge amount of time for much else so I thought I would share with you some of the recipes that I have been cooking this week. I ordered a small veg box less roots which came with mushrooms, carrots, flat beans, leeks, a cauliflower and red Russian kale. Straight up I made the soup of this week’s menu, and it couldn’t be much easier or more seasonal than mushroom. You can add more to your base than I do, such as onions or celery if you have them to hand, but just to say, you don’t need to, just lots of mushrooms will do. You will need a couple of punnets.

Mushrooms in a punnet
I always wrap my thyme into a little bundle rather than chopping it or even more time consuming – removing all the tiny leaves. Tie it up well so no twigs escape. All the flavour will infuse whilst cooking and then all you have to do at the end is squeeze out all the remaining juices. Finally, don’t forget plenty of freshly ground black pepper. If your pepper grinder is not up to much, grind some up in a coffee grinder. I am very happy to have a big bowl of Mushroom Soup for dinner with nothing more than a chunk of good sourdough bread.

If you are interested in hosting a Riverford lunch then just let Simon know. We will be taking bookings soon for January 2016 onwards.

Mushrooms Soup

Mushroom Soup
Serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main
Good glug of olive oil
800g mushrooms, (two large punnets) sliced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
Small bunch fresh thyme, tied tightly into a little bundle
2 pints (1 litre) milk
250 mls cream (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt

Sweat the mushrooms and thyme bundle in the oil for about 30 minutes. All the liquid should cook away and the mushrooms will begin to fry. Add a little more olive oil is necessary. Cook until golden brown. Add the garlic and fry for a minute more. Pour over the milk and bring to a gentle boil. Cook for five minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the cream if using. Remove the thyme. Squeeze as much juice from it as possible. Blend in liquidizer of with a hand blender until smooth. Season with plenty of salt and black pepper. Adjust constancy with a little extra milk or water.