Navarin of Lamb – the perfect bridge between winter and spring…

So the cold wintery weather continues to hang on in the UK with biting cold frosty mornings and impressively persistent flurries of “wintery showers”. However, the clocks are soon to change and the mornings are getting lighter, meaning we are no longer waking bleary eyed in the dark looking around in confusion as the alarm clock blasts into our dreams (thank gawd!) and there are lots of little green shoots pushing their expectant way out of the ground in our garden. In other words, Spring, if not quite fully here, is definitely in the air. If you’re anything like me though, the cold weather is still making you feel like hibernating in your cosiest jumper with a nice warming stew most evenings after work…

Getting a little bored of even the tastiest most comforting of Winter Food however, I decided it was time for something, while still warm and comforting, that was a little more spring-like. Enter the classic French Navarin of Lamb – perfect for this time of year!

It is still hearty and meaty, still warming and comforting, still a lovely one pot, but has an added freshness and uses young spring vegetables. Spot on.

To make this for two, you will need –

  • Around 500g of lamb, a cut that is good for slow cooking – we trotted off to the butcher who gave us some tasty neck.
  • Butter. Quite a decent amount. (Well, it is French)
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 small onion
  • Handful of chantenay carrots
  • Handful of small new potatoes
  • Handful baby turnips
  • Handful French beans (or mange tout if that’s all you happen to have, like us!)
  • around 300ml lamb stock (not sure exactly how much we used)
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree

Chop your lamb into nice big juicy chunks, melt a large knob of butter with some oil in a pan and add the lamb, frying until brown.

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Mmmm juicy.

Add the chopped onion and continue to fry for a few minutes then sprinkle the flour over evenly coating all the lamb and fry for another minute or two. Stir in the lamb stock, tomato puree and bouquet garni, season well with salt and pepper then leave to simmer for around 45 mins.

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Mid-cooking deliciousness.

Add the turnips, carrots and potatoes and cook covered for another 15 mins before adding the beans/mange tout for the last 10 mins.

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Serve with a glass of red and some crusty bread, the perfect compromise for an early spring onepot!

 

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Let’s break out of this city…

I woke early this morning (a fairly rare occurrence for me on a Saturday!) and was suddenly overcome with an urge to get out of the city. I promptly woke the other half (he wasn’t best pleased at first…) and suggested we ditch our previous plans for the day and head out of Manchester for some proper fresh air, peace and quiet and a chance to have a proper stretch of our legs! We packed a quick picnic and set off for Formby, on the Merseyside coast, around an hour or so away.

I don’t know what it was that grabbed me this morning, but have a feeling that it may have had something to do with the fact that it was the first weekend that I can remember where it’s been dry, had a small hint of blue sky, and has not been absolutely freezing!! I don’t want to lull either myself or any of you readers into a false sense of security, but for the first time it feels like the end of winter is almost in sight…

The grey clouds rolled in fairly quickly, but luckily for us it stayed dry! We had some fun attempting to run up big sand dunes (made me think of the ‘travelator’ at the end of Gladiators! Anyone else know what I’m on about!?) and running down the other side squealing with arms wheeling in the air in that pure childhood delight of not being in any way in control and not quite knowing whether or not you were going to stay on your feet. (I only landed on my bum once, but fairly spectacularly!). It made me think, how often as grown ups do we ever really let ourselves lose control, even just for a minute? Hardly ever for most people, I bet. I think it is good for the soul to do so now and then!

We then had a good long march up the beach for a few miles and back, breathing in that lovely salty fresh sea air. There is something about being at the seaside that I just love. It’s so invigorating but also I think grounding. I like to see the sea, to contemplate our smallness in comparison to everything else ‘out there’. I like to see and contemplate the boundaries of this little island we call home. I can’t imagine living in a land locked country. I used to live a 10 minute walk from the beach when I lived in Aberdeen while at university. I loved being able to go for a walk or run along the beach whenever I felt the need. To be able to just go and stand and look at the sea. I could see the sea and a lighthouse from my bedroom window if I craned my neck to the right angle. It gave me a lot of comfort at night to see the beam from that lighthoue flashing out, a reminder that there is other stuff out there beyond what is currently pre-occupying us in our day to day lives. I wish we lived closer to the sea now.

Soon it was time to perch a-top a sand dune with a lovely view of the sea and offshore wind farm, and enjoy a cup of tea from my new Orla Kiely flask (I am so in love with it!) and a toasted bagel with smoked salmon, cream cheese and a little squeeze of lemon juice, yum! A perfect weekend lunch if you ask me ūüôā

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Craving a little winter wonderland

So 2012 saw the wettest summer in the UK since records began and was the second wettest year in total. Nice. As if that wasn’t bad enough, research is now showing that this pattern of weather is expected to continue in the¬†foreseeable¬†future as a result of global warming. While I’m not going to get into the climate debate here, this is clearly something that is scary and regrettable. One side effect of all this recent wet weather has meant we had a wholly unfestive year in terms of¬†Christmas¬†weather – mild winter¬†temperatures, heavy grey skies and persistent drizzle! Now I know that a lot of our¬†preconceived¬†romantic¬†ideas about Christmases being white and icy come from Charles Dickens, who lived during a mini ice age, but being from Scotland, I’m afraid I have become rather used to a least a dusting of the white stuff in¬†recent¬†years and weather that’s at least cold enough for a snuggly hat. We managed a flew fleeting flurries that soon turned to sleet then back into heavy rain up north of the border this Christmas but sadly that was about it. So this has got me craving some ‘proper¬†wintry¬†festive weather’ prompting me to dig out some photos taken around my parent’s village from the last few Christmases. Hope this gives you your white Christmas fix too if you’ve also been craving some bracing cold! I’ve also thrown in a few winter sunsets for good measure!

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The calm of the Loch

So it’s been a few weeks since I last posted, I’ve unfortunately been somewhat in the proverbial black hole for the last wee while. While I won’t go into the details here, suffice to say it’s not been the most pleasant or enjoyable last few weeks nor the most calm or stress-free!

I did manage to disappear home to my village in Scotland for a quick weekend respite from it all at one point however and thought I’d share a couple of pictures that I took of the serene, calm loch at the foot of our village while I was there. The snow dusted hill in the background is the hill that our village perches at the bottom of. I saved these as a wallpaper on my phone and everytime I felt stressed or frustrated recently, I’d take a quick look and the picture would instantly transport me back to a place where I always feel calm and happy.

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I’ve still to catch up on all my favourite blogs, so I think I’ll take some time now to sit here in my battered wooden rocking chair in the window with my hot steaming mug of tea to catch up on what you’ve all been up to. ūüôā


First Crumble of the Year! – Cox Apples & Mixed Red Berries

After our tasty marmalade chicken on Saturday night, the other half turned to me and asked what was for dessert. Hmmm. I knew we had two lonely cox’s apples rolling around the fruit bowl, and suggested we could bake them with some butter and brown sugar, and top with some honey and nuts. Tasty yes, but a crumble was being requested. And who doesn’t love a good crumble? The only problem was that two little apples does not a crumble make! Luckily, Rob triumphantly announced that there were some mixed frozen berries in the freezer! Normally if I were to make a an apple and berry crumble, I’d¬†probably¬†have a greater apple to berry ratio than the other way around, but the extra berry-ness worked really well. There were some delicious cherries in the mix and these were¬†fantastic,¬† they added a real tartness, which I love in a fruity desert.

As a child we were brought up on regular crumbles – a great way to use up fruit and get yet more of the stuff into your kids! I remember phoning home from university and asking my mum to read out her recipe down the phone to me, and ever since then, it’s remained a firm favourite, which I too can now reel off by heart. We’d have many happy teas at home on a Sunday consisting of mum’s homemade soup and mum’s crumble – perfect, delicious comfort food!

Most years we are lucky enough to¬†receive¬†copious amounts of apples from Rob’s family – his parents’ house used to have an orchard out the back and they still have a few¬†particularly¬†fruitful trees, the harvest of which is shared around family and friends and turned into a range of tasty desserts and chutneys – more often than not crumble in our house! Apple and bramble and apple and plum are probably my two favourite combinations, but the possibilities are fairly endless!

So, I’m not going to share my mum’s exact ‘secret recipe’ but the basic premise is this – don’t just stick to boring old flour, sugar and butter! Reduce the amount of flour you would normally use, and once you’ve rubbed your butter into it, top it up with a good variety of tasty textured ingredients including a decent lot of porridge oats! Think (pre-toasted, it really is worth the extra effort!) sesame seeds and¬†dedicated¬†coconut, flaked almonds, chopped nuts, sunflower seeds… whatever you fancy really. Also, the sugar should always be demerara and, in my opinion, should be less than most recipes suggest – I don’t like my crumbles too sweet!

So, here are a few pictures of our first crumble of the year, to get you in the mood for winter! I’m sure there will be many, many more as the months progress! How do you like to make your crumbles?


Summer Solstice, where are you?

Well the clocks changed here this weekend, the nights are drawing in and today I left the office in the dark. As someone who loves daylight and the sunshine more than most (I think I was born in the wrong country!) this is something that I find really hard to adjust to and I find the lack of sunlight really quite hard to deal with it at times. How can you not feel a bit down when you leave your house in the dark in the morning and leave the office in the dark on the way home? No more walks, runs, bike rides or games of tennis in the park after work now for the next few months! I think the fact that my office is located in the lower ground floor of the building doesn’t really help either! Anyway, now we suddenly have gloomy darkness an hour earlier than we’re used to, it made me cast my mind back to the start of the summer to the longest day – the summer solstice. I always think that the summer solstice feels a little magical – so much promise in the air, the thought of people celebrating this day around the world from ancient times, to pagan times, to today. The feeling of awe and admiration for the power of the sun. Tonight the dark evening made me cast my mind back to this year’s longest day. Here in Chorlton local pub the Horse & Jockey tends to hold a celebration to mark the occasion and this year the night included some highly impressive fire dancers, in the spirit of remembering the (somewhat limited!) warmth and light we enjoyed just a few months ago, I thought I’d share a few pictures here.