Challenge No. 42 – Lamb Boulangere

This challenge was suggested by my mum who makes the nicest lamb boulangere.  I didn’t plan this post very well and kind of decided very last minute that I would be making this one.  Unfortunately, my mum was off exploring Hamburg with some friends and I therefore couldn’t ask her for the recipe she uses.  So instead, I used this one by Tom Kerridge.

The recipe used a whole lamb shoulder, however, given that there was only Dave and I to eat it, I decided to half the recipe.  I therefore used the following ingredients:-

  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 4 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and thinly slices
  • 1 bunch thyme, leaves picked
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1/2 lamb shoulder
  • 1/2 garlic bulb, peeled and separated into cloves
  • 1/2 pint chicken stock

Ed - ingredients

The recipe suggests serving this dish with french beans or other green vegetables.  I decided to do honey roasted carrots and parsnips with some savoy cabbage.

I started off by thinly slicing the onions and potatoes.  I remember my mum saying, the key to this dish is to get the onions and potato sliced as thinly as possible.  She actually uses a mandolin slicer but I don’t have one of these so I just took my time!  I didn’t do too badly but it did take ages!

The recipe says to combine the onions, potato and thyme in a bowl before seasoning it with salt and pepper.  I then placed the mixture into the bottom of my roasting tin.

Ed - potato:onion

I was a little surprised by this as I had always remember my mums dish having neatly layered potato and onions.  In fact, once the dish was in the oven, I found a video of Tom Kerridge making this dish and he didn’t mix these elements together.  He simply layered them into the roasting tin.  He put a layer of onions, then a layer of potatoes and then sprinkled with thyme and salt and pepper; repeating this until he was left with a neat top layer of potatoes.   Oh well, one to remember for next time.

Anyway, with the potato/onion layer done, I placed the lamb on top with the skin-side up.  I cut small incisions in the lamb to place in the garlic cloves. I poured over the chicken stock and placed the lamb in the oven on 130 degrees celsius. 

Practical tip: push the garlic cloves as far under the skin as possible to avoid them burning in the over.

Ed - oven ready

The recipe says to cook the whole shoulder for 4 to 5 hours and I therefore adjusted the cooking time to around 2 and a half hours.

After the 2 and a half hours were I up, I tested the lamb and it wasn’t very tender.  I therefore decided to let it cook for another 15 minutes at 130 degrees and then turned the oven up to 200 degrees for a further 15 minutes.  I then covered the lamb with foil and let it rest for 20 minutes whilst I prepared the vegetables.

Ed - restingEd - cooked

The lamb still wasn’t as tender as I would have hoped but it was getting quite late so I had to serve up.

Ed - served up1

The taste was really nice but the lamb was not very tender and was really fatty.  Perhaps it was just a bad cut of meat or perhaps I shouldn’t have adjusted the cooking time.  Either way, this just didn’t live up to the one my mum makes and next time, I will definitely be asking for her recipe!

Coming up next, Challenge No. 43 – pumpkin pie.

Challenge No. 14 – Moussaka

This recipe was suggested by my friend Kate.  I’ve never made moussaka before and I’ve only eaten it a handful of times, without really knowing what was in it.  When Kate suggested this recipe, she delighted in telling me that her dad makes the BEST moussaka. So I knew I had a challenge ahead and a tall order to live up to.

Before we get started, My Gastro Adventure has hit a little milestone this week and the website has now had over 1,000 views and reached a total of 31 subscribed follows!! I therefore wanted to say a massive thank you to everyone who has viewed the site, liked the posts and opted to follow the blog 🙂

Also, for those of you who are following the blog by e-mail, you may have received a strange “Test” post update earlier this week – this was my attempt to set up My Gastro Adventure on bloglovin, which I finally successfully managed to do.  Sorry if it caused you any confusion and thank you again for choosing to follow me on my adventures!

Anyway, on with the moussaka. I did some searching and found this recipe by Antony Worrall Thompson.

The recipe calls for the following ingredients:-

  • For the filling
    • 75ml/6fl oz olive oil
    • 1 large onion, finely chopped
    • 675g/1½lb lamb mince
    • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
    • 1.25ml/¼tsp cinnamon
    • 1.25ml/¼tsp allspice
    • 2 x 400g/14oz tin of chopped tomatoes
    • 1 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped*
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1 tsp fresh, soft thyme leaves
    • 175ml/6fl oz white wine
    • 4 medium aubergines, cut into 1cm/½in slices
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • Plain flour, for dusting
  • For the topping
    • 85g/3oz unsalted butter
    • 85g/3oz plain flour
    • 900ml/1½pt milk
    • 85g/3oz parmesan, grated
    • 115g/4oz gruyère, grated
    • 2 free-range egg yolks
    • 1 free-range egg

Edited - ingredients

*I couldn’t get hold of fresh oregano so I just used dried oregano (1tsp dried is the equivalent of 1tbs fresh).

I started by chopping my onion finely and added it to my casserole dish with the heated oil. The recipe says to cook the onion for about 10 minutes until soft and then to brown the lamb in a separate frying pan.  I however didn’t wait for the onion to finish softening and popped about half of the lamb into my frying pan to get started whilst the onions cooked.

Edited - browed lamb

When the first half of the lamb was browned, I added it to the softened onions, along with the garlic. I used a wooden spoon to try and break the mince down as much as possible.  I then set about browning the second half of my lamb.

Now those eagled eyed amongst you may have noticed something strange about my ingredients picture above.  I didn’t notice it myself until I opened the second pack of lamb to brown and when I added it to my pan it looked a bit odd. I double checked the packaging…yep, it was beef! Whoops! I clearly should have checked the pack a bit more carefully in the supermarket. Anyway, I’d previously read you can make moussaka with lamb, beef or even a beef/pork mix so I just carried on with the lamb/beef combination 🙂

Next, I added the cinnamon, allspice, chopped tomatoes, oregano, bay leaves and thyme into the casserole dish.  I then added the remainder of the browned meat, deglazed the frying pan with the wine and added this to the casserole dish.  I reduced the heat and left it to simmer for 1 hour.

Edited - Casserole dish

Practical tip: don’t measure your spices out over the pot of onion/garlic/mince.  Perhaps an unnecessary tip but one I’m including out of an experience with this challenge. I tried to measure out the 1/4 tsp of cinnamon over the casserole dish, however, the cinnamon wasn’t coming out and then suddenly the powder shifted, filled the measuring spoon and (quite) a bit extra went straight into the pan.  Luckily, it wasn’t too much extra so as to affect the flavour but it was a close shave!  Lesson learned 🙂

I then set about slicing the aubergines.  I didn’t know whether I needed to peel the vegetable first – this may be a simple thing which most people would know but I’ve never cooked with aubergines before and so I wasn’t too sure.  I did a quick search and found another moussaka recipe which specifically stated to leave the skin on and so I decided to do this.

Edited - aubergine slices

I put the aubergines slices into a colander and sprinkled salt on them – I don’t actually have a colander and I just used the top parts of my steaming pans!  I gave the aubergines a good toss to make sure all slices had come into contact with the salt and then I popped the ‘colander’ on top of a plate, leaving them for 30 minutes.

Edited - salted slices

Practical tip: don’t skip the salting stage.  This is done to take away the bitterness of the aubergine.  The salt draws out some of the liquid from the sliced aubergine and when you lift the colander at the end there will be quite a lot of brown liquid on the plate.  This is an important step and should not be missed.

Now I was making this on Saturday afternoon with plenty of time before Kate and her boyfriend were due to arrive for dinner. One of the great things about the recipe is that it can be made ahead of time! This meant, I wasn’t too stretched for time and so instead of getting straight on with the béchamel sauce, I had a quick tidy up of the kitchen.

With a few of the pots washed and the sides cleared, I cracked on with the sauce.  I was a bit nervous about this bit.  I’ve tried to make béchamel sauce before and it just ended up tasting of flour. It was absolutely disgusting! This time round I was making it for guests and it is such a key part of the moussaka I was really hoping things would go to plan.

I melted the butter in my saucepan and then added the flour, giving it a good mix.  I left it on the heat for a minute.  I’ve read somewhere that you have to cook off the flour when making sauces and I think this may have been part of the problem last time.

Edited - butter in pan Edited - flour and butter mixed

I then took the pan off the heat and started adding the milk a little at a time, giving it a good stir in between each addition.  Once all the milk was added, I put the pan back on the heat and kept stirring, waiting for the mixture to thicken.  This is when I realised I probably should have started the sauce a bit sooner! It took about 30 or 40 minutes before it had thickened properly.  Talk about an achy arm with all that stirring!

Edited - thickened sauce

In between all the stirring of the yet to thicken sauce, I removed the casserole dish from the heat and rinsed my aubergine slices.  I put them on some kitchen roll to dry and carried on stirring the béchamel sauce.

Once it was finally thickened, I let the sauce simmer for 7 minutes and then removed it from the heat.  I added 55g each of the gruyere and parmesan cheese and seasoned the sauce with a bit of salt and pepper.

Edited - cheese to sauce

The next step was to brown the aubergines.  I patted the slices dry, coated them in flour (by shaking them in a sandwich bag) and then fried them in batches.  This seemed to take forever to do.  It was only about 8 minutes per batch but because there were so many slices, it took ages.

Edited - browned aubergines

Once the aubergines were all cooked, I added the egg to the cooled béchamel sauce and finally I had all the component parts of the moussaka ready. 

It was time to start layering up.  First, I put 1/3 of the mince mixture into my dish and before topping with the aubergines, I cracked some pepper on top.  I hadn’t seasoned the mince whilst cooking and when I tasted it, I thought it could do with some black pepper.  I then covered the mince with a layer of the aubergines.

Edited - mince layer Edited - aubergine layer

I added the next layer of mince, some more aubergines and then the final layer of mince.  I topped it all off with the béchamel sauce and the left over grated cheese.  I didn’t actually use the full amount of gruyere, only because there was so much and it just didn’t seem necessary. I used all the parmesan and about 40g of gruyere.  

Edited - oven ready

I put the dish to one side whilst I got started on pudding – make sure you come back again soon to read about my passionfruit cream profiteroles and hot chocolate fudge sauce.

Anyway, Kate and her boyfriend arrived just as it was time to put the moussaka in the oven for 60 minutes.  We had some warm pitta bread with humous and fried halloumi to start whilst the main event cooked away in the oven.

When the timer went off, I took the moussaka out the oven and patiently waited for 5 minutes just like the recipe said.  I then served up and we all tucked in with some crusty bread and a Greek salad (cucumber, tomato, olives, red onion and feta, drizzled in Greek olive oil).

Edited - cookedEdited - served up

So, with such a high standard set by Kate’s dad, I had a lot to live up to. Whilst everyone agreed it was nice (even Dave who ate round the aubergines!), when I asked Kate and her boyfriend for their verdicts the answer was “it’s good…but the problem is Kate’s dad makes the BEST moussaka”.  So I didn’t quite hit the bar that Kate’s dad set but still it was very enjoyable. 

The best bit for me was the fact that the béchamel sauce worked! It was the right texture and tasted yummy 🙂 I did however feel the dish took quite a long time to make because of all the messing around with the aubergines! I’ve read another recipe which recommends simply baking the aubergine slices for around 25 minutes at 180 degrees celcius.  I’m definitely going to try this next time rather than frying them. 

Overall, I was pleased with how this challenge turned out and will be adding moussaka to my recipe arsenal for the future.

Coming up next week, an Easter treat for Challenge No. 15 – simnel cake! Hope to see you then.

Challenge No. 08 – Shepherd’s Pie

This dish was suggested by my dad.  He actually suggested either shepherd’s or cottage pie. Both these dishes are very similar and I generally don’t have a preference between the two.  For those of you that don’t know the difference, mainly it is that shepherds pie is made with lamb whilst cottage pie is made with beef.  I therefore opted to make shepherd’s pie as I don’t often cook lamb and it is always a nice treat when I get to have it.

I wanted to do something a little bit more with this dish and when I stumbled across a recipe by Tom Kerridge, it looked ideal.  The recipe can be found here

The recipe uses the following ingredients:-

  • 2 lamb shanks
  • 100g plain flour, for dusting (see comments below)
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 4 sticks celery, any tough skins removed and finely diced
  • 4 carrots, finely diced
  • 2 onions, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, grated
  • 4 tsp ground mace
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • 600ml brown chicken stock
  • 500g lamb mince
  • 4-5 sprigs of rosemary, tied together with kitchen string
  • 100ml red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp English mustard
  • 1.5 kg potatoes, peeled and cut into even chunks of about 4cm
  • 100ml milk
  • 100g butter
  • 75g grated parmesan, or 75g diced goat’s cheese
  • Paprika, to dust

Edited - ingredients 1 Edited - ingredients 2

This recipe takes quite a long time to make with the option to rest it over night.  I decided to make it on a Sunday so we could enjoy it for dinner after work on the Monday.   It was ideal for a lazy Sunday where I could spend the day bobbing in and out of the kitchen. 

Practical Tip: The recipe makes enough to feed 4-6 people and I therefore decided to make the ‘filling’ using the quantities listed above.  However, I reduced the mashed potato topping ingredients to make enough just for me and the other half.  The left over filling went into the freezer to be used another time.

The first stage of the recipe is to braise the lamb shanks.  To do this I coated the lamb shanks in flour and fried them off until browned.  The recipe states that you need 100g plain flour.  I didn’t need anywhere near this amount and just ended up wasting a lot of the flour! I’d recommend trying approximately 25g and you can always add more if needed.

 Edited - browning lambEdited - browning

Whilst the lamb was browning, I prepared one half of the celery, carrots, onion and garlic.

Practical Tip: to finely dice onions, chop off the tunic end, chop the onion in half through the basal plate and peel (see image below to see which parts are which under these silly names!).  Then place the onion half flat side down on the chopping board.  Slice lines which are perpendicular to the basal plate but without slicing through the basal plate itself.  Then slice the onion parallel to the basal plate and voila you will have finely diced onions. 

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 15.06.18

Edited - onion

Lines sliced perpendicular to the basal plate

Once the lamb was browned I put it to one side.  I then heated my casserole dish with some oil in and added the chopped vegetables. After these had softened, I added the remaining braising ingredients along with the lamb and when it reached boiling point, I covered the dish and popped it in the oven for 3 and a half hours.

 Edited - chopped vegEdited - braising

When the timer went off, I removed the dish and popped it on the side to rest for an hour.  About half hour in I turned the oven to 200 degrees celsius and roasted the minced lamb for approximately 20 minutes.  Once the minced lamb was nicely browned, I drained it and put this to one side.

 Edited - lamb ovenEdited - Browned mince

This timed well with the end of the hour resting period for the lamb shanks.  I removed them from the casserole dish, placed them on a chopping board and strained the braising liquid into a glass bowl.

Edited - straining

Now the recipe doesn’t tell you what to do with the vegetables which are strained out of the braising liquid.  Once again, I decided to give my mum a quick ring (I think this may be a reoccurring theme throughout Challenge 52!).  My mum confirmed that the vegetables don’t go back into the final dish but also that you don’t necessarily have to throw them away.  Mum suggested making some gravy but I decided to freeze the mix and when I next have some spare potatoes and vegetables in, I’m going to make some soup.

With my minced meat and braising liquid ready, I shredded the lamb shanks with a fork.  I found that some of the skin from the lamb shank was a bit fatty and I decided to remove this and throw it away with the bones.  I then added the shredded lamb to my mince ready to be used later.

Edited - lamb braised Edited - pulled lamb

By the time I had completed all the above steps, my casserole dish was cool enough to wash.  I also took this opportunity to have a bit of a clean up in the kitchen.  As I’ve previously said, my kitchen is tiny and I was cooking this at the same time as making a homemade bolognese so things had gone from slightly messy to full on bomb site!

With some of the washing up done, I set to work on the next stages of the shepherds pie.  I prepared the second half of my vegetables and heated some oil in my casserole dish.  I cooked the vegetables, added the lamb and rosemary (without the string because I didn’t have any) and then the red wine vinegar.  The recipe said to simmer the mixture until the red wine vinegar had almost entirely evaporated but when I added it, it sank to the bottom of the dish and I couldn’t see it! So I just let it simmer for about 5 minutes before adding the strained braising liquid.

Edited - in the pot

I brought the mixture to the boil and set the timer for one hour, although I kept checking on it during this time.  As I neared the end of the hour, most of the liquid had gone and I made the decision not to leave it for another hour as suggested by the recipe.  I added the mustard, some seasoning, gave it a good stir and left it to cool before putting it in the fridge for the night. 

Practical tip: the recipe says to transfer to an oven proof dish at this stage but I decided to leave it in the casserole dish overnight.  As I was only going to cook a 2 person portion (and freeze the remainder), it seemed an unnecessary step which would only result in even more washing up.

The next evening, I got home from work and pulled out my casserole dish from the fridge to let it come up to room temperature.  I got my potatoes prepared and once my salted water reached boiling point in they went for around 20-25 minutes.

Whilst the potatoes were cooking I transferred my filling into my serving dish and portioned up the leftovers to go in the freezer.

Edited - dish

Once my potatoes were done, I drained them and left then for 5 minutes to dry.

I heated my milk and butter, mashed my potatoes and then combined the two.  I added in a sneaky extra step here.  My boyfriend is not the biggest fan of mash potato.  Apparently his gran (who unfortunately passed away before I got to meet her) set the bar very high and made the BEST mash potatoes.  No matter what I have tried I’ve never managed to meet her standard!  So in an attempt to get one step closer, I decided to blitz the mash with my hand mixer.

Edited - mash

With the mash ready to go, I decided to be a bit posh and pipe it onto my filling.  I had a bit more mash than necessary so I did a few blobs on top of the lined piping.  However, this all seemed a bit unnecessary as when I added the parmesan and paprika, you could no longer see the piping! Still it was good fun 🙂

Edited - pipped

I popped the finished product into the oven for the final 30 minutes of cooking and then we tucked in. 

Edited - cooked

It was absolutely delicious and so rich in flavour.  The mash potato was even a success 🙂

I will admit this recipe involves a lot of effort but it is so worth it.  The skills involved aren’t very advanced its just takes a bit of time.  However, by making the full batch of filling and freezing the leftovers, I now have a couple of really easy midweek dinners that I can just top with mash and pop in the oven.

Coming up next week, Challenge No. 09 – gluten free date, banana and rum loaf (made without rum but with Disaronno!).  Hope to see you then.