Slow Cooked Lamb Shanks with Root Vegetables

The weather in the UK is very much autumnal. Rain, wind and then suddenly a day of beautiful chilly sunshine takes you by surprise and makes you smile. We´re here to enjoy the experience, and that most certainly includes eating and drinking the best of what the region has to offer.

Before we had spent considerable time in England Big Man was a bit perplexed as to why a leg of English (or Welsh) lamb could feed a family, when in Spain a leg of lamb would feed two people. Now he understands that our English lambs don´t have to scramble up rugged mountains in search of food in a dry dusty landscape. Big doesn´t mean tough when you have grazed on flat salt marshes. And yes, English Lamb is delicious he agrees.

What does come in perfect one sized portions though, is the lamb shank. That lower portion of the leg with plenty of sweet tasting meat which responds particularly well to slow cooking. Perfect for chilly autumn nights after a long day of work.

Ingredients for two people

  • Two lamb shanks
  • Four carrots, peeled and cut into quarters
  • Two parsnips, peeled and cut lengthways into thick slices
  • About a dozen small onions or a large onion cut into large chunks
  • Four large cloves of garlic, peeled
  • A sprig of rosemary
  • A large glass of red wine
  • About 500ml of chicken or lamb stock
  • A heaped tablespoon of tomato purée
  • Flour
  • Olive oil
  • Seasoning

Coat the lamb in flour and fry in a little olive oil until lightly browned. Put into a casserole dish with all the other ingredients and cook in the oven on low for about 4-6 hours while you put up a bathroom wall, realise you´ve put it in the wrong place, take it down and put it back up again. Ok, the DIY bit is optional. Serve with mashed or boiled potatoes, or (as I did) with slices of grilled polenta and a glass of that lovely wine you opened to put into the dish. Any leftover juices and vegetables can be turned into soup the next day by adding a little more stock or water and a handful of angel hair pasta.

Okra and Green Pigeon Pea Curry

Okra is not a vegetable I have ever seen in Spain and I´m determined to track down some seeds so that I can try to grow it next summer. Greg over at Rufus´ Food & Spirits Guide has great success with his crop, and some amazing okra recipes.

Our little temporary home town of Bexhill on Sea boasts a Caribbean food store and I often pop in for a chat with the friendly owner and a look around for new products. Recently he had fresh okra in store, so I snapped up a bag. In addition I spotted a tin of Green Pigeon Peas, something very new to me, so they went into the basket as well. Two final purchases of a small jar of Thai yellow curry paste (yes, I know I should have made it, but it was all natural ingredients with no additives, so I didn´t feel too guilty) and a can of coconut milk.

I planned on making a vegetable curry from a mix of fresh and store cupboard ingredients, and I have to say I was thrilled with the results. A great “cheat´s” curry for when you don´t have time to make your own paste or spice mix.

Ingredients (to serve four people with rice or noodles)

  • About two heaped tablespoons of your favourite curry paste
  • About 200g of okra, washed and sliced
  • One can of green pigeon peas
  • One medium onion, halved and cut into medium slices
  • One courgette, cut into medium slices
  • About 10 medium mushrooms cut into slices (not too thin)
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed and cooked for about 5 minutes in boiling water then drained
  • A can of coconut milk
  • Fresh natural yogurt and fresh coriander to serve
  • Oil for frying

Start by gently frying the onions in a little oil until they start to soften then add the okra and courgette. Cover the pan and cook for a few minutes then add the mushrooms, potatoes and pigeon peas. Cook for a further 2-3 minutes then add the paste and fry off for a minute or two. Finally add the coconut milk and simmer until the potatoes are completely tender. If the mixture looks like it is getting too dry, add a splash of water. Just before serving stir in a couple of tablespoons of natural yogurt and some chopped coriander. Delicious with rice or noodles and the perfect dish to warm you up from the inside out.

The Full Spanglish – Breakfast for the Workers

As ever right now, I´m slow to post. This week has been crazy with plumbers ripping up floorboards to install the central heating, the plasterer finishing the walls and ceilings and Big Man putting his foot through the bathroom floor into the new kitchen ceiling below.  Mmm…at least no one was hurt apart from a few skinned fingers (the plasterer), pride (Big Man), a huge purple bruise that looks like a large map of Australia (that´ll be Big Man again) and two bruised knees (me, rushing up the stairs to see if Big Man was ok and tripping over myself and landing on those knees).

The weekend, which is now just a distant memory, was restful though. Saturday night took us into local town, Hastings, to watch an incredible torch light procession, a massive bonfire on the beach and an incredible firework display.

Sunday morning we planned on a long walk with the pooches so set ourselves up for the day with a hearty English breakfast with the substitution of sausages with chorizo. All cooked in the oven apart from the eggs and mushrooms, it was not so naughty and oh so nice.

A wonderful walk round the grounds of the ruins of Bodiam Castle, and the dogs had fun glaring at the ducks as they had to be kept on leads and couldn´t chase them.

Cake in the tea shop was almost obligatory, so we obliged.

And then it was back to work.

Getting down and dirty with a Victorian drainage system….

No rest for the wicked, so they say. We must have been very wicked in a past life!

Autumn Tomato and Vegetable Soup

Lunch in our home right now doesn´t always happen at lunch time. Sometimes it doesn´t happen at all, but we do eventually eat and everything tastes even better as hunger – so they say – is the best seasoning.

Soups are perfect as they just need to be heated up and can be eaten quickly if we´re in a rush, or enjoyed with a hearty sandwich or some cold meats and cheeses if we have the luxury of a little time. This was a quick one to prepare, and was warming and tasty due to the addition of fresh ginger and smoked pimentón.

Of course, I´d recommend a soup bowl and not a coffee cup without a handle, but the choice is yours!

Ingredients (serves two to four, depending on how hungry you are)

  • 500ml of sieved tomatoes (passata)
  • 500ml of water or vegetable stock
  • 1 large carrot peeled and chopped into small chunks
  • 1 large courgette peeled and chopped into small chunks
  • 1 large onion peeled and chopped into small chunks
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 medium parsnip peeled and chopped into small chunks
  • About 10 green beans cut into small pieces
  • A level teaspoon of smoked paprika
  • One heaped teaspoon of fresh grated ginger
  • A teaspoon of marmite (optional)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • A tablespoon of fresh olive oil

Put all the ingredients except the oil into a saucepan and simmer until all the vegetables are tender. Taste for seasoning and either serve as is with chunks of vegetables or add the olive oil and blend until smooth and creamy.

PS. The pretty napkins were made from an old sheet my best friend gave me that she found in a charity shop. She knows how I like to recycle and refashion and was sick of me commenting that I was missing sewing/knitting/crochet etc.  She gave it to me and said “there you go, it´s big enough for you to make a tablecloth and six napkins by hand”. So I did!

Oven Roasted Vegetables with Cod Fillet

In Spain when we want to enjoy cod, we buy it dried and salted, Bacalao. And very good it is too once it has been desalted and cooked with love. Nowadays fresh cod is starting to make its way into the Spanish markets too, but in the UK, fresh is what is available – at a price.

In our temporary adopted home of Bexhill on Sea, we have an amazing fish and chip shop very close to home, and we do indulge ourselves from time to time. However, fried food like this is a rare treat and we bought some delicious fresh cod fillets to enjoy at home, cooked in a healthier way.

Ingredients (per person)

  • One fresh fillet of cod
  • One medium potato, peeled and cut into large cubes
  • A quarter of a red pepper, cut into large chunks or strips
  • A large carrot, peeled and cut into chunks or thick strips
  • Half an onion, cut into about 6 pieces
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Approx 6 cherry tomatoes or one or two small tomatoes cut into halves or quarters
  • About 6 spears of asparagus cut into 4 pieces
  • About 6 green beans cut into 4 pieces
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • Lemon

Do feel free to mix up the vegetables, depending on what you have available. Make sure to cut the root vegetables into chunks approximately the same size as these will start to cook first.

In a large oven tray lined with foil, put the potatoes and carrots, pour over a little oil and salt and mix in, ensuring all the vegetables have a light coating of oil. Bake on medium/high for about 25 minutes then add the rest of the vegetables, add a little more oil and season with salt and pepper. When the vegetables start to turn brown at the edges and the potatoes and carrots are soft enough to insert the point of a knife, reduce the heat to medium.

Place the cod fillets on top of the vegetables (this would also work well with any other firm fish such as salmon) season and cover with foil. Cook for about 15 minutes more. Check that the fish is cooked through by inserting a fork gently into the fish and looking to see that the fish is no longer transparent in the centre.

Serve the cod on top of the vegetables with a drizzle of oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.

And now for a gratuitous shot of the work in progress. The kitchen´s still not looking like a kitchen, but it´s taking shape…at least it no longer has a bathroom in it!

Roasted Vegetable & Tuna Salad – For when you´ve been having waaaaay too much fun

Our time back Up the Mountain seems to be flying past so quickly, but we are managing to catch up with family and friends, but less so on rest and sleep. Oh well, it´s all about the Fiesta this week in our village and we´re making the most of things.

Tonight though we are at home. After almost a week of eating out our bodies need a rest before a little farewell party tomorrow night in a local bar. Fiesta food is heavy on the meat and protein as it´s all cooked over coals as you wait. Delicious grilled fillets of pork sprinkled with a type of salsa verde, pinchitos (little pork kebabs), jamon and cheese, braised goat and some grilled prawns. Of course, on Sunday we had the village paella.

It was time to balance things out and stock up on veggies and our little abandoned vegetable patch came up with the goods. Today I picked about 10 kgs of peppers, both green and red and a few aubergines. Most of the peppers were sliced and frozen or braised with olive oil and then frozen for the coming months. A few though were roasted and turned into a delicious, filling salad dish for a meat free supper.

While the peppers were roasting I picked my Chinese Lantern plants which have gone wild in our absence. Tomorrow I´ll pick the lanterns off the plants and use them to decorate the house later in the year. Very autumnal.

The cases are being packed (yes, I managed to get a whole jamon into one) with things to remind us of home for the next month or so. The dogs have been bathed (Luna) and clipped (Alfi) while they stay with my parents. And we have had time to recharge our batteries. Well, sort of. We are counting our blessings that that we avoided any damage from the terrible rains here in Spain and spare a thought for the less lucky ones.  Life is hectic, life is full, life is good.

Ingredients (to serve 2 as a main dish or 4 as a starter or salad)

  • 4 large peppers (green and red)
  • 2 large aubergines
  • 2 small tins of tuna
  • 1 medium onion finely sliced
  • A large handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
  • About 150g of chopped olives
  • Olive Oil and Lemon juice
  • The grated rind of a lemon
  • Salt and Pepper

Roast the peppers and aubergines until charred, leave to cool slightly and then peel. Slice the peppers and scoop the flesh from the aubergines and cut into chunks.

Mix the vegetables with the tuna, olives, onions, mint and grated lemon and dress with olive oil and lemon juice. Taste, season, enjoy.