Pinto beans, peppers, tomato, rosemary and chilli casserole

Pinto beans

Serves 4

This is another fantastic vegetarian and vegan dish. Don’t skimp on the rosemary or chilli as they give the dish its robust character.

250g dried pinto beans, covered in water and soaked overnight
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large or 2 medium onions, peeled and sliced
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
3 sweet peppers – 1 each of red, yellow and orange – deseeded and sliced
1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
2 rounded tablespoons tomato puree
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
A generous handful of basil leaves, roughly chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped (or ½ tsp dried thyme)
1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp cayenne
100g black olives, stoned

Drain and wash the beans. Place them in a large saucepan, cover with plenty of cold water and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes then reduce the heat, cover and simmer until tender, approx. 1 hour. Drain, reserving 300ml of the cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a wide based pan and sauté the onions until softened, approx. 10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir-fry for 1 minute, then add the peppers and continue to cook until they start to soften, about 7 minutes. Stir in all of the other ingredients (don’t forget the beans and their reserved cooking liquid) except the olives. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes.

At this stage the dish can be cooled and stored in the fridge until needed.

To finish the dish, bring it back to a simmer. Taste it and adjust the seasoning adding salt, pepper, cayenne and vinegar as necessary. Stir in the olives and heat through.

I like to serve this dish with boiled white long grain rice or baked sweet potatoes.

Simple Pork Vindaloo

Pork Vindaloo lr

Serves a hungry 4

In my last post I talked about all things slow cooker. So, as you might expect, here is another slow cooker recipe.

This is possibly the easiest recipe I have ever published. It shows that you don’t need to slave in the kitchen to serve up fabulously tasty food.

I recently published a recipe for a simple pork curry cooked in a slow cooker. This is a very similar dish, but even easier! It really does show that with the right basic techniques you can make a fantastic curry very simply using shop bought ingredients. This is where a slow cooker shows its mettle. The results are delicious.

I use Patak’s vindaloo spice paste, simply because that is the brand that my local supermarket stocks but I’m sure other brands may work just as well.

Be careful not to add too much salt at the start. Shop-bought spice pastes are quite salty to start with. You can always add more salt later but you can’t take it away!

My slow cooker has three settings – low, medium and high. I find I get the best results if I start it off on medium for one hour and then turn the heat down to low for the rest of the cooking time. If you don’t have a medium setting, just cook it on low from the start.

4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1.5kg pork neck (or shoulder), trimmed and cubed (I get my butcher to do this for me)
3 onions, sliced
2 tsp minced garlic (from a shop bought jar)
2 tsp minced ginger (from a shop bought jar)
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 x 283g jar of Patak’s Vindaloo Spice Paste
1 x 400ml tin coconut milk
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes (I use Mutti pulped tomatoes)
1 chicken stock cube dissolved in a little boiling water
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons (at least) of red wine vinegar

Heat the oil in a wide based pan then brown the pork in batches, using a slotted spoon to remove each batch to a bowl once it is browned. Once all the pork has been browned, add a little more oil to the pan if needs be then slowly soften and brown the onions, approx. 20 minutes. Add the minced garlic and ginger and stir fry for 1 minute. Add the black pepper and vindaloo spice paste and stir fry for another minute, making sure the mixture doesn’t catch.

Add the coconut milk, tomatoes, stock and salt and bring to a simmer. Return the pork to the pan and bring it all up to a gentle simmer.

Transfer the mixture to a slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours. At the end of that time you may find a lot of oil has risen to the surface (the amount will depend on how fatty your pork was). Skim off and discard the oil, then give everything a good stir. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning adding salt if needs be. Stir in the red wine vinegar.

If the sauce is too runny, turn the heat on your slow cooker up to high and continue to cook uncovered until it has reduced sufficiently. I find this generally takes about an hour. Once the sauce is the right consistency, put the lid back on the slow cooker, turn the heat down to low and leave it to continue cooking until you are ready to serve. I typically cook this dish for about 10 hours in all.

Slow Cookers – A Guide to Buying and Cooking

Slow Cooker lrI like to use a slow cooker sometimes. It can be convenient to prepare your ingredients, chuck them into a slow cooker and go out for the day. Even if you’re not going out, it can be convenient not to have to keep checking and stirring and adding liquid etc.

One proviso though. The results you get from a slow cooker are different than conventional cooking on the hob or in the oven, so you’ll need a bit of trial and error to work out what works and what doesn’t. It’s worth the effort though, because some recipes work better in a slow cooker.

Don’t cut corners! There are plenty of recipes on the internet that tell you to simply chuck all of your ingredients raw into the slow cooker, turn it on and come back several hours later to a delicious meal. Some of those recipes may work but most won’t. If you normally first brown your meat, soften your onions, stir-fry your garlic, reduce your wine and bring everything to a simmer before braising it on the hob or in the oven, then do just that when using your slow cooker too. The slow cooker is there to replace the braising bit, not the prep.

Essential – an oval shape, a removable cooking pot with a non-stick finish, a warning light, as a minimum a choice of 2 heat settings of low and high, and a see through lid are all essential. All other features are not essential and simply come down to your own personal preferences.

Capacity – 4.5 litres seems about right for most people for every day cooking, although mine is 6.5 litres. I prefer the larger cooker because I can batch cook and freeze left overs. In order to cook safely the cooker must be half full. But for smaller amounts of food you can put the food in a small oven-safe pot or heat-resistant liner bag and then put that inside the slow cooker. So it’s possible to cook small amounts in a big cooker but not big amounts in a small cooker.

Shape – Oval is best as it will accommodate oblong cuts of meat and whole chickens.

Cleaning – It should have a removable pot; most do. This not only makes cleaning easier but also serving of food too. Non-stick is best and it may be a bonus if it is dishwasher proof, although it is probably too big to go into the dishwasher very often.

Carry handles – It is handy if the inner pot has sturdy carry handles as the full pot can be heavy and hot.

Warning light – It must have a warning light so you can tell when it is on.

Timer with a digital display – A timer function with a digital display is helpful but not essential. After all, you can always buy a separate electronic timer which you can also use for other things, not just slow cooking. And given the low cooking temperatures you’ll be using, most recipes don’t suffer if you stretch the cooking time. If your slow cooker does have a timer, make sure you can set it for short as well as long periods.

Keep warm function – This is handy in case you decide to eat a bit later than planned. But as mentioned, you’re usually cooking on low anyway, so you can stretch the cooking times.

Delayed start function – This is reported to be useful if you want to set everything up early, some time before cooking is due to start. However, I’m not convinced. Can you imagine having chicken sitting around at room temperature waiting to start cooking? I prefer not to poison my guests.

Digital clock – A digital clock that counts down is handy as you can then see how much cooking time is left. But given that cooking time is usually measured in hours, it’s not difficult to remember when it’s due to finish.

Automatic stir function – strangely enough, some recipes (not mine) call for stirring part way through. But I have to say that that somewhat defeats the point of a slow cooker which is that you can chuck everything in and forget about it! Anyway, just so you know, some slow cookers do have an automatic stir function. I haven’t seen this function in action but it must have moving parts that I suspect lead to cleaning issues.

See through lid – A see through lid is essential so that you can check on the food without taking the lid off. Taking the lid off can increase cooking time by 20 minutes or so, so don’t do it unless you have to.

General Tips
1. Add raw veggies first, then the meat. Vegetables take longer to cook than meat in a slow cooker.
2. The cooker heats up slowly so don’t take the lid off for the first 1 ½ hours.
3. If you get a hot spot in the slow cooker (often adjacent to the controls) add a collar of foil just to that spot (a few layers of heavy duty foil held in place by the food).
4. Different slow cookers cook at different temperatures. You’ll have to learn yours and be prepared to adjust recipes cooking times as needs be.
5. You can get slow cooker liner bags – plastic bags safe to cook in. You can put your food in the bag, seal it with string and then place the bag in the slow cooker and cook according to the recipe. This technique can be useful for keeping chicken (especially breasts) moist and for cooking small amounts. Using a liner bags also reportedly keeps the pot clean but I have to say that my pot is always easy to clean, so lining it seems like an unnecessary expense.
6. Use red skinned potatoes as they tend to hold their shape better over long, slow cooking times.
7. Every time you take the lid off (to stir or add ingredients) you lose steam. So, add 15 to 20 minutes extra cooking time for each time you lift the lid.
8. For best results, fill the cooking pot by at least a half and up to ¾ full. To cook smaller portions in a large cooker, put the food in a smaller oven proof dish and place that dish in the slow cooker. Alternatively, place the food in a liner bag and loosely tie it with string.
9. As a rule of thumb, 2 hours cooking on low is equivalent to 1 hour cooking on high. So, if time is short, turn the heat to high to halve the cooking time. Avoid doing this for less tender cuts of meat as they require the longer cooking time to become tender.
10. If adjusting a traditional recipe for a slow cooker, make sure there is some liquid in the mixture as slow cooking depends on steam. Conversely, less liquid will be lost using a slow cooker than with conventional cooking so reduce the amount of liquid in a traditional recipe by up to half if adapting it for a slow cooker.
11. If at the end of cooking there is too much liquid, either drain it into a saucepan and boil to reduce and return it to the slow cooker, or thicken it with a flour/butter paste or slackened cornflower or arrowroot or other thickening agent..
12. Don’t use a slow cooker to reheat leftovers.
13. If you are not using a slow cooker liner, always oil or butter the base and sides of the cooking pot to reduce sticking and ease cleaning.
14. If your slow cooker lid isn’t a perfect fit – as many aren’t – either increase the amount of liquid in the recipe or put a sheet of foil over the top of the cooking pot before securing the lid. This will allow less steam to escape. The downside of lining with foil is that you can no longer see through the lid!

Pasta Bake

Mezze Penne Rigate lr

Serves 4

I love baked pasta. The outside bits go chewy and charred, there is usually a crispy cheese crust and the baking intensifies the flavours.

This recipe is also handy because it is a make-ahead one pot dish. It’s important that you make it the day ahead and let it rest in the fridge for 24 hours as this gives time for the flavours to mingle.

As for the pasta, I like to use mezze penne rigate, which roughly translates to half-length, ridged penne. But regular penne or any similar sized tube-shaped pasta will do.

3 to 4 medium courgettes, chopped into bite sized pieces
4 tablespoons olive oil
300g pasta
2 medium onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1kg passata
10 sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried basil
A generous pinch of dried chilli flakes
1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt
Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
180g mascarpone cheese
3 to 4 tablespoons coarsely grated strong cheddar cheese

Place the courgettes in a large roasting tin (large enough to hold them all in one layer) and mix with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Season with salt and black pepper. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes or so until tender and slightly browned. (The cooking time will vary according to your oven and the size of the courgette pieces.)

Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according the instructions on the packet. Be careful not to let it go too soft as it will get a second cooking when it is baked.

Meanwhile, sauté the onions in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil until softened and starting to colour at the edges, approx. 10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir fry for 1 minute. Add all of the other ingredients, except for the cheeses.

Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and cook part-covered for 20 to 30 minutes. The sauce should be rich and slightly thickened. If it goes too thick, add a splash of the pasta cooking liquid.

Add the courgettes and mascarpone cheese and stir well to make sure everything is evenly mixed. Stir in the drained pasta then pour the mixture into a large, flat oven proof dish. I use a large glass lasagne dish, as I like the pasta to be fairly shallow – that way you get more crispy outside bits when you bake it! Once it has cooled, cover in cling film and store in the fridge until you are ready to bake it.

To finish the dish, remove the cling film and sprinkle the surface of the pasta with a generous covering of grated cheddar cheese. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes. It should be browned and crisp on the outside and bubbling hot on the inside.

Sweet Chilli Sauce

Cayenne chillies lr

Makes 320ml

While most supermarkets sell a wide range of sweet chilli sauces, it’s good to make your own from time to time. This isn’t too hot so if you want to crank up the heat, chuck in some more cayenne.

200g granulated sugar
110ml cider vinegar
110ml water
30ml (2 tablespoons) lime juice
1 ½ tsp garlic powder
1 ½ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cayenne
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp salt

Place all of the ingredients in a pan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil uncovered to reduce to a light syrup.

The final volume should be about 320ml, so add hot water as necessary to make up the amount.

Orange, Olive, Walnut and Date Salad with Harissa Dressing

Dates lr

Serves 4 as a starter

This is a lovely salad to eat as a starter in summer. It is light and fresh with a slightly exotic flavour. The bad news is that it is so good that you won’t have any left overs.

For the dressing…
50ml olive oil
1 tablespoon harissa
2 tsp cumin seeds, roasted and ground
Salt to taste

Whisk together all of the ingredients.

Prepare the oranges…
3 to 4 large oranges, depending on size

Remove the rind from one or two of the oranges either with a zester or with a knife and slice into fine julienne. Set aside until ready to serve.

Cut the segments from the oranges, making sure to remove all pith. Save any orange juice in a bowl and store the orange segments in it until ready to serve.

For the finished dish…
Lime juice to taste
Crisp lettuce (Iceberg or Cos) roughly chopped into bite sized pieces
12 green olives, pitted and halved
12 walnut halves
6 dates, stoned and halved

Pour any orange juice from the oranges into the dressing and taste, adding some lime juice if it needs some sharpness.

Add the olives, walnuts, dates and dressing to the orange segments and stir to mix well.

Place some lettuce on each plate and spoon over a portion of the orange, olive, walnut and date mixture. Decorate with the orange rind.

Lime Mousse

limes lr Serves 4

This mousse is delicious served with kiwi fruit marinated in lime syrup.

½ a leaf of gelatine or ½ tsp powdered gelatine
Grated zest of 2 limes
Juice of 4 to 5 limes
4 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
175ml double cream
2 egg whites
50g caster sugar

If using gelatine leaf, soften it in cold water for 5 minutes. Drain it, discarding the liquid but retaining the softened gelatine. Heat the lime juice in a microwave and add to it the softened gelatine. Stir to dissolve. If using powdered gelatine, dissolve it in the hot lime juice.

In a bowl over simmering water, whisk together the egg yolks and 100g of caster sugar until the mixture is thick and pale and trails off the whisk in ribbons. This will take approximately 4 minutes. Sieve the lime juice/gelatine mixture into the egg/sugar mixture and stir in the lime zest. Place the bowl over a bowl of iced water and continue to whisk until the mixture is cold and starting to set.

Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks.

Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks and then whisk in the 50g sugar until glossy and firm.

Fold the whipped cream into the lime mixture, then fold in the egg whites.

Pour the mixture into a large serving bowl and place in the fridge to set, at least 4 hours. Alternatively, pour the mixture into 4 individual serving dishes and chill until set.

Simple Pork Curry

Patak's Korma Spice Paste

Serves 4

Making a curry from scratch can be a labour of love, roasting and grinding whole spices, making and cooking off spice pastes and nursing the dish through the cooking process. This pork curry recipe is simple firstly because it uses shop-bought spice pastes and secondly, you cook it in a slow cooker. It’s packed full of flavour and the meat is as tender as you can imagine.

I use Patak’s spice pastes, simply because that is the brand that my local supermarket stocks but I’m sure other brands may work just as well. I find the mix of 2/3 Korma and 1/3 Madras is ideal.

Be careful not to add too much salt at the start. Shop-bought spice pastes are quite salty to start with. You can always add more salt later but you can’t take it away!

My slow cooker has three settings – low, medium and high. I find I get the best results if I start it off on medium for one hour and then turn the heat down to low for the rest of the cooking time. If you don’t have a medium setting, just cook it on low from the start.

4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1.5kg pork neck (or shoulder), cubed (I get my butcher to do this for me)
3 onions, sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and very finely chopped or grated
2 heaped tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 very generous pinch of dried chilli flakes
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 x 165g jar of Patak’s Korma Spice Paste
½ jar (approx. 80g) Patak’s Madras Spice Paste
1 x 400ml tin coconut milk
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes (I use Mutti pulped tomatoes)
1 chicken stock cube dissolved in 100ml of boiling water
Salt to taste
Cayenne chilli powder (optional)

Heat the oil in a wide based pan then brown the pork in batches, using a slotted spoon to remove each batch to a bowl once it is browned. Once all the pork has been browned, add a little more oil to the pan if needs be then slowly soften and brown the onions, approx. 20 minutes. Add the garlic and stir fry for 1 minute. Add the ginger, cinnamon, chilli flakes and black pepper and stir fry for another minute, making sure the spices don’t catch.

Add all of the other ingredients except for the cayenne, return the pork to the pan and bring it all up to a gentle simmer.

Transfer the mixture to a slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours. At the end of that time you may find a lot of oil has risen to the surface (the amount will depend on how fatty your pork was). Skim off and discard the oil, then give everything a good stir. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning adding salt if needs be and adding cayenne pepper if you want to crank up the chilli heat.

If the sauce is too runny, turn the heat on your slow cooker up to high and continue to cook uncovered until it has reduced sufficiently. I find this generally takes about an hour. Once the sauce is the right consistency, put the lid back on the slow cooker, turn the heat down to low and leave it to continue cooking until you are ready to serve. I typically cook this dish for about 10 hours in all.

BBQ Pork Spare Ribs

Baby Pork Ribs

Serves 2

These ribs are meltingly soft with the meat falling off the bones and packed full of flavour.

2 racks of baby pork ribs, cut into separate ribs
6 tablespoons BBQ sauce
6 tablespoons honey
6 tablespoons cider vinegar
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp cayenne
2 ½ tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add the ribs, cover and simmer for 1 hour. This will render the fat and help to tenderise the ribs.

Mix all of the remaining ingredients together in a bowl. Drain the ribs and add them to the marinade. Stir well to coat them evenly, cover with cling film and marinate for 24 hours in the fridge. During that time stir them from time-to-time to make sure they all get plenty of marinade.

Bake the ribs uncovered in a roasting dish for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the marinade is well reduced and sticky, and all of the ribs are evenly coated.

Baked Beans

Napolina Five Bean Salad

Serves 4 as a side dish

This is an easy and quick dish to prepare. It’s great as a snack on toast and a brilliant accompaniment to barbequed or grilled meats and poultry or baked pork chops or ribs. It is packed full of flavour and is some 10 times better than any shop-bought baked beans.

One caveat, though. It has a quite musty taste which comes from the smoked paprika. Not everyone likes that – including LW – but I love it and can happily eat mounds of these beans.

This dish is vegetarian and vegan as long as the ketchup is vegan.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 red onions, peeled and roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
3 tsp smoked paprika
3 x 400g tins of mixed beans, with their water
A large pinch of dried chilli flakes
50g dark brown sugar
125g tomato ketchup
3 tablespoons white wine or cider vinegar

In an oven-proof casserole, heat the oil and cook the onion until softened, approx. 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the smoked paprika and stir fry for 30 seconds. Add all of the other ingredients, bring to a boil and then cook in the oven, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes or so, by which time the sauce should be sticky.