Empty trolley+empty head+empty stomach=Moroccan Style Lamb Meatballs

 Moroccan style meatballs served with cous cous stir fried with courgette, apple and sweetcorn

This dish was the result of one of those strolls around a supermarket with an empty trolley, an empty head and an empty stomach.
Didn’t really know what I fancied to eat at all. Maybe wanted something a bit spicy, but not Indian (yes, I know that’s very unlike me. I did consider taking my temperature to ascertain whether or not I was coming down with something).
Also, I’d been eating rather a lot of rice, so something similar to rice, but not…. if you know what I mean, was required. Which led me to think of cous cous, which led me to think of lamb and tomatoes, which led me to think of something sweetish for the cous cous, which then decided my entire movement pattern through the supermarket.
It’s funny how one negative thought (ie. I don’t really feel like Indian again) in this instance led to a kind of chain reaction domino effect, which meant within seconds I knew exactly what I wanted to cook and what I wanted to put in it.
Hmmmmmmm…… If only I could transplant that process to writing music….

Anyway, enough twaddle, on with the recipe:

Ingredients:

For the meatballs:

  • 500g lamb mince
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1/2 small bunch coriander leaves
  • 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1 egg (beaten)

For the sauce:

  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stick celery
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • 1 tblsp tomato puree
  • 2 red chillies
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)

For the cous cous:

  • enough cous cous for 2 people
  • 1 small tin sweetcorn
  • 1 courgette
  • 1 bramley apple
  • 1 small glass of red wine

Method:

First job is to make the meatballs.

Chop the onion, garlic and coriander as fine as you can possibly get them, then put them in a bowl with the mince and the rest of the meatballs ingredients. Get stuck in with your hands and mix well, then roll the meaballs in a circular motion between the palms of your hands.
You should eventually end up with something resembling this:

Meatballs rolled - as you can see, I could have done a better job chopping the onion

The next step is to make the sauce.
Chop the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and soften in a little olive oil, add the spices and chillies, fry briefly, then add the tomatoes, tomato puree, plus a little hot water, and the bay leaves and salt.
Bring to a gentle simmer then squeeze in the lemon:

Add the lemon to the simmering sauce

Now that the sauce is simmering away gently, it’s time to brown the meatballs.
Heat a little olive oil in a frypan and gently place the meatballs in, taking care not to overcrowd:

Fry the meatballs

When the meatballs are suitably browned, you can start adding them to the sauce.
Take extra care not to break them up or handle them to roughly:

Add the meatballs to the sauce. Be gentle

Eventually all the meatballs should fit neatly into the sauce pan. Leave to simmer gently with the lid on, while you cook the cous cous:

Meatballs in sauce

To make the cous cous, first prepare the cous cous with the appropriate amount of hot water as per the instructions on the packet.
Meanwhile chop the courgette and apple (cored and peeled) into small cubes.
Place the lamb frypan over the heat and deglaze with a glass of red wine (you can drink some as well if you wish).
Then add the courgette, apple and sweetcorn to the pan, fry round for a minute or two, and add the cous cous, which should now be ready (fork it into the pan though to fluff up).
Add some chopped coriander on top:

Cous cous

While you’ve been doing that, the meatballs should have been simmering away in the sauce, it’s flavour permeating them and itself being infused by their meaty sapidity.

The meatballs, having been simmered in the sauce and garnished with coriander

Everything is now ready to serve.

Not bad for a flash of inspiration in the cheese/yoghurts aisle I’d say.

If only everything was so simple…..

Served out

Cooking With Gourmet Gorman – Halloween Special…..!

Gourmet Gorman cooks a delicious roasted pumpkin, stuffed with lamb mince and chick pea curry on a terrifying Halloween evening….

A bit of holiday cooking (and reading)

Roasted perch and tomatoes served with bread

I do like to read.

So when the opportunity came up to visit my parents, brother, sister, brother in law and niece and nephew at a nice villa in the South of France (Languedoc) the other week I jumped at the chance.
The idea was that while not contributing to the holiday per se, I would cook for everyone, thus saving money overall on the inevitable meals out and takeaways which would have otherwise drained the financial resources.

The problem with reading for me is that, doing what I do, there are really no set hours for work and relaxation as such.
This last year and a half or so, I seem to have been touring rather a lot (Us3, Jim Mullen, Marlena Shaw, Mica Paris, Boy George – each different band presents a different dynamic as to convenient reading opportunities) and although, as you can imagine, there is sometimes a lot of sitting around, I tend not to get through too many books on the road, the main inhibiting factors being (not necessarily in this order):

  • Alcohol – although a couple of drinks sometimes enhance my enjoyment of a book, one too many and I can’t remember what I’ve read when sobered up.
  • Travel –  I can’t read in a car or a minibus, and although it is possible to read on the tourbus, there’s too often distracting activity like DVD watching, animated conversation or the aforementioned  alcohol in commencement at any one time.
  • Noise – A lot of sitting around can occur in soundchecks, but have you ever tried to read with a bass drum or tom tom being played repetitively at high volume through a large PA for the purposes of equalization?
  • Cabin fever – I tend to find it difficult to read for prolonged periods when confined to a small space like a hotel room.
  • Unsettlement – At airports waiting for the gate number to appear, one is always looking up at the screen in the waiting lounge, thus providing an unwelcome break in concentration.
  • Unsocial flight times – A fair amount of flights that we take are often very early in the morning, so while reading on the plane is an option, I’m more likely to want to sleep if possible.

And when at home I equate reading with not doing something constructive (not quite true I know), so I’m much more likely to get to work in the studio or at the piano.
I can get really into reading first thing in the morning (a couple of years ago I got through quite a few Iris Murdoch books just this way), but it does tend blunt my concentration for a couple of hours afterwards, as well as taking up half the day so I rarely do this anymore.

SO when the opportunity came up to go on the holiday, the first thing I did was get the books I wanted to read. Last year I did the same thing, but took the wrong book (I took Crime and Punishment – and while I enjoyed reading the book as a whole, I remember being aware that it didn’t necessarily equate to my idea of relaxing by the pool with a beer)

I took 3 books with me this time:

  • To Kill A Mockingbird – we read this at school I’m sure, but like a lot of things at school, I didn’t invest much attention or effort to it. Reading it again was a much more enjoyable experience.
  • The Life of Pi – couldn’t put this down. Very imaginative, humorous, informative, entertaining, and also lots of references to South Indian food – which is always a good thing.
  • The Poisonwood Bible – Am halfway through this at the moment. Thoroughly engrossing characterizations and fascinating historical perspective.

I also did a lot of cooking. The ingredients and produce available at even the most humble French supermarkets always has me fascinated and brimming with ideas (however, since most of the people I was cooking for were not nearly as wildly liberal or adventurous in taste as myself, I was unable to realize many of these ideas).

But I endeavored to make some nice grub anyhow.

Here’s what I cooked:

Sausage and cheese frittata

When I arrived on the Sunday, we discovered all the supermarkets were closed, so I had to rustle something up from what was in the villa already, and what we could acquire from a local service station shop. There was a box of 6 eggs in the villa along with some herbs, and olive oil, and not much else. The service station sold packs of luncheon meat style sausage, and some nice looking Cantal Juene cheese, which is a young cow’s milk cheese, firm in texture and fruity in flavour. I sliced and fried the sausage, drained the fat from the pan, put the sausage meat in once again and added the beaten eggs with some herbs and black pepper. My intention was to then add the grated cheese on top and brown under the grill to cook the top of the eggs and cheese. But… we then discovered that the grill would only operate with the oven door closed, and I didn’t want to commit the frying pan to this unrelenting heat, so I heated up the oven, then opened it and let the top of the frittata firm up in the residual heat. Not ideal, but did the job OK…. the result being a slightly guey cheese underside to the omelette, which was not at all unpleasant, though a bit messy to cut up…

The next day, we got to the supermarket and stocked up on supplies.

Chicken casserole cooked in white wine with green peppers, olives and bay

The meal that night was a simple but very tasty rustic chicken casserole cooked in white wine and stock, with sliced green peppers, olives, onions, garlic, bay and herbs. It was served with mash potatoes and steamed green beans:

Chicken casserole served with mash and beans

…and accompanied by bread with oil and balsemic vinegar (a constant companion to food that week):

Bread and oil with balsemic

The next morning I made another frittata, this time with sausage and sliced courgettes.
I put the courgettes on the bottom of the pan and the sausages on top, so it appeared like this in the pan:

Sausage and courgette frittata in the pan...

…and took on this lovely appearance when upended onto a plate:

Sausage and courgette frittata

Now before I go any further, I must admit that I did totally steal the idea for an upended courgette frittata from the wonderful blog “Lou Loves Food”  … which is packed with amazing photos and absorbing writing, and I can highly recommend it…. so thanks Lou.. 😉

That evening I decided on making some Indian food ….. yes I’m aware that may not be the most obvious option in the South of France, but my mind was made up as soon as I saw the beautiful mutton on offer in the supermarket. Mutton is a meat less than commonly available in the UK, and it rewards slow patient cooking with the most succulent and flavoursome dishes.

I bought some chopped shoulder (on the bone) pieces to make a curry with tomato and aubergine, and some ribs to make what is known as a “Bone Pepperwater”. This is a meat variation on the standard pepperwater (rasam) which is a soup consistency dish made with tomatoes, lemon, tamarind and spices.

The only problem with all this is that I was somewhat limited in the choice of spices available in the supermarket. I managed to get fresh garlic and ginger, and eventually found a premixed curry powder (not something I normally like to use) which seemed to have a good balance of coriander, cumin, tumeric, mustard and fenugreek in it.

The aubergine in the curry was cooked separately with onions, ginger and garlic (a trick I recently picked up off my mother) and added during the last 1/2 hour, which helps to preserve not only it’s texture, but flavour as well. The curry itself simmered slowly for 5 hours.

Mutton curry with aubergine and tomatoes

The bone pepperwater was made with some fresh vegetables (carrots and courgetttes), plenty of lemon and also some paprika, which I found in the villa. The mutton ribs do add the most amazing stocky earthy flavour to this dish, it must be said.

Mutton "Bone Pepperwater"

After the curry, I thought it would be a good idea to cook fish the next day both from a time and simplicity point of view.
The fish counter at the “Intermarche” was of course vastly superior to my local supermarket.
I eventually settled for some lovely fresh perch fillets, which I roasted on a bed of cherry tomatoes with balsamic  vinegar, bay and salt.
I gave the tomatoes a start of about 15-20 mins in an 180degC oven, then simply popped the perch fillets on top, cooked for a further 10 mins and it was done:

Perch fillets roasted on a bed of cherry tomatoes with balsamic vinegar and bay..

There was not much need to serve this with anything else but that perennial king of juice mopper-uppers: fresh french bread:

Roasted perch and tomatoes served with bread

The next day was to be barbecue day. However, here I failed in my duty as a blogger and recorder of events since due to the distractions of reading, swimming, table tennis and drinking, I didn’t start the fire in time and so even though I made lots of food, the only picture I managed to take before it went dark was of some balsamic chilli prawns. (I have an iPhone so am unfortunately at the mercy of the light).
Just for the record though, I did also make salmon and courgette kebabs, aubergine and red pepper kebabs, 2 types of sausages and chicken in a Mexican marinade.

Prawns in a balsamic and chilli marinade

One advantage of being in the centre of wine producing country was that there was an abundance of vineyards with completely quaffable red wine on tap at an amazing price. (€1-€1.50 a litre).
Had I the time or opportunity I would have loved to avail myself of some of the delicious looking lambs hearts in the supermarket and braise them in red wine for hours until tender… This meal unfortunately would not have been very popular with the others:

Red wine on tap.....

The final day of cooking was also the least intensive since there was a lot of packing, cleaning of the villa etc to be done before vacating, I opted to cook a simple sausage pasta with a tomato and red wine sauce. Despite appearing fairly ordinary, it was most enjoyable, due to the high quality of the sausagemeat:

Sausage and tomato pasta.....

All in all an enjoyable chance to read, cook, swim and relax…… now, back to the piano I think….

Slow cooked lamb with aubergine (egg plant) and bay….

Slow cooked lamb with aubergine and bay

Well I was planning to do a barbeque today, but somewhat unsurprisingly  was thwarted by the weather. Mind you, I don’t know why I’m complaining, we already had our allocated 3 days of British summer last week. Who am I to argue with the climate? Although, with Wimbledon coming up I would have thought at least most of the rain would be saved up for that fortnight..? Who knows eh?

Anyhow, in an effort to combat disappointment, I decided to make a simple but effective slow cooked lamb dish, one of those where it’s practically impossible to go wrong, and which would leave me plenty of time to stare out of the window at the awful weather.

It’s inspired in part by a Kleftico recipe given to me by friend/colleague/Greek gastronome extraordinaire John Themis, the main point of which is simplicity to really let the flavour of lamb and bay come through.

In this case, however, I was remembering a flavour I used to taste in my mother’s homemade meat and potato pies as a boy…which turned out to be nothing more (or less) than worcester sauce.
The idea with the aubergine is to let it cook down slowly, eventually reducing, together with the onions and garlic, into a delicious thick clinging sauce, similar to a fricassee – and I’m a big fan of browning the meat at the end, open in the oven, until it is unashamedly blackened and caramelized…… I make no apologies here for the “burnt bits” (normally my privilege to scrape them off the sides of the pan with a teaspoon at the end…)
Also, instead of using salt or stock for the sauce, I decided to let the tried and tested marriage of lamb and anchovies (as on my last post) have another well deserved outing…

Here’s what you need:

What you'll need

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lb lamb shoulder on the bone, cut into chunks by the butcher
  • 2 medium onions
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 aubergine
  • 10-15 peppercorns
  • 5 bayleaves
  • 1 tin anchovies
  • 1 tablespoon worcester sauce
  • Boiling water
  • a sprinkling of course grained rock or sea salt

First switch the oven on medium high (I used 190C fan)
Slice the onions and the garlic.
Next, gently heat up some olive oil in the pot, and decant the tin of anchovies into it. Don’t let the oil get to hot or the anchovies will burn.
Start to mash the anchovies up with the back of a wooden spoon. This will get easier as they warm up.

Mash the anchovies

Continue this until the anchovies have disintegrated completely as shown below:

Anchovies dissolved

Next add the onions and garlic and soften for a few minutes:

Add the onions and garlic

Meanwhile, chop the aubergine into chunks:

Chop the aubergine

When the onions and garlic have softened a little, arrange the lamb in the pot, and insert the bay leaves in between the lamb pieces.
Crush the black peppercorns in a pestle and mortar and sprinkle over the lamb and bay:

Arrange the lamb

Then, add a tablespoon of Worcester sauce. (Remember to shake the bottle first):

Add the aubergine cubes and enough boiling water to just about cover the lamb.

Add aubergine and freshly boiled water

Cover tightly with foil and the lid, and place in the oven.
Leave on the high setting for 1 hour, then turn down to a medium low setting (150C fan).

Cover with foil and lid and place in the oven

After about two and a half hours I checked on the lamb. It had dried up quite  a lot, so I added a bit more boiling water. The aubergines had disintegrated as planned though, so I could mush them up into a creamy sauce.

Mash the aubergines

I replaced the lid for a further 1/2 hour, then removed it, sprinkled with the salt, and put it back in the oven to brown for 15 mins.

It was then ready to serve:

Browned and ready to serve

To accompany, I served it with steamed quinoa and wilted spring greens (oh, and a glass of red wine..)

Prudence Pullao (and dhal)

Prudence Pullao

Yesterday I arrived home from Denmark after playing a Boy George gig at the Esbjerg Rock Festival.
As usual, after a full days travel, which commenced with a (reasonably) early start, following on from the previous days travel – soundcheck – gig – and a couple (ahem) of drinks at the bar  after the show, I was pretty tired and in two minds about whether to cook, or just plump for the takeaway option.

However, a look inside the fridge quickly persuaded me that cooking would be the far more prudent path to take on this occasion, given the fact that I had so much stuff to use up, not least of which was a few pieces of lamb kebab left over from a barbeque a couple of days before. There was also 1/2 a bunch of asparagus and a single carrot. I quickly hatched a plan. Here’s what commenced:

Ingredients:

  • about 6 pieces of leftover barbequed lamb,
  • 1 small tin of anchovies,
  • 1 small onion,
  • 1/2 inch pce of ginger,
  • 3 cloves of garlic,
  • 1/2 tsp tumeric,
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala,
  • 1/2 tsp mustard powder
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 carrot,
  • 4 sticks of asparagus,
  • 1 red chilli,
  • 1 tblsp natural yogurt,
  • 1/2 tblsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1 cup basmati rice (soaked and drained)
  • 2 cups of boiling water

Method:

  • Heat some oil in a pan, and mash the anchovies into it until they’re dissolved.
  • Chop and fry the onion, ginger, and garlic.
  • Add the tumeric, garam masala, mustard powder and black pepper, and fry briefly.
  • Add the lamb (sliced thinly) and fry in the spices.
  • Add the chopped carrot, asparagus and chilli, and fry round some more
  • Add the rice and fry for a few moments.
  • Add the yohurt and tomato puree and stir through.
  • Add the boiling water and mint and bring to a simmer.
  • Cook until the rice is done, adding more water if necessary or drying off in a medium oven for 10 mins if needs be.

And that was that. You may notice I used anchovies instead of salt or stock. I tend to do this a lot with lamb, since it’s such a strong flavour, I think chicken stock confuses the issue. But anchovies go very well with it and don’t taste at all fishy in the mix….

Finally, I found a portion of dhal in the freezer, which I’d made some weeks earlier, so just thawed it out slowly in a warm pan.
To serve, I moulded the pullao into a small bowl, and simply upended it into the serving bowl – (hey presto !) and surrounded it with dhal as you can see above.

All in all, preferable to a takeaway, and very welcome after planes, trains and automobiles……

Lamb saag (lamb curry cooked with spinach)


Some currys only work with a concentrated dry sauce, and this is definitely one of them. The good thing about this one is that the sauce is largely made of cooked down spinach which has all sorts of beneficial nutritional values.

I find there’s always a tendency to underestimate the amount of spinach you need for a dish like this since so much of it’s uncooked volume is water, so you can fill the pan up, and think you have enough, but then discover you could have actually used more when the dish is done.

The only other liquid used in this recipe (apart from the water contained in the spinach) is natural yoghurt which helps balance the natural earthiness of the spinach with a smooth creamy tang.

Ingredients:

  • 500g diced lamb (shoulder or leg)
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 1 inch pce ginger
  • 3-4 cloved garlic
  • 2-3 green chillies
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1 large bag of spinach
  • 2 tblsp natural yoghurt
  • 1 tblsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp sugar

Method:

Finely dice the onion, ginger, garlic, and chop the green chillies.

Fry until soft, then add the lamb and brown.

Add the coriander, cumin, cinnamon and salt, and fry for 1-2 mins.

Add all the spinach (try and stir some of the meat off the bottom), cover the pan and cook on a low-medium until the spinach has wilted.

Add the yoghurt, stir in and cook for another 30-40 mins covered.

Remove the lid, add the tomato puree and sugar and simmer on low until the sauce has thickened and concentrated.

Serve.

Spicy Caribbean style lamb burgers served with rice and peas and a spinach and tomato salad

I’m not very good at some of the finer artful things in life. I remember being amazed at my sister’s prowess at drawing and painting, and thinking I would like to be able to do something similar, but having little success with a pencil or paintbrush. I thought I did have a modicum of arty talent, but it was limited to primitive cartoon drawings (the extent of which was always kept in check by the fact that my best friend in school was/is a genius cartoonist who has gone on to be one of the leading professionals in his field ).

The fact that I don’t seem to be able to fashion aesthetically pleasing burgers with my hands seems to lend weight to my theory of my own limited skill in the physical arts, but I’ve definately stumbled upon ways compensate for this in terms of taste and flavour.

For these particular burgers, I prepared them wholly in the food processor for speed purposed. This results in a smoother textured, slightly more “elastic” burger than you would get if you chopped and mixed everything by hand, which I think would be the preferable ideal.

A compromise between these two would be to process all the ingredients bar the meat, and then mix by hand.

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