Lamb & Apricot Stew With Dumplings

It’s certainly the weather for winter warmers. I’ve seen friends posting that snow has arrived in parts of the UK and where I am, it is freezing today.

With that, I wanted to share a lovely lamb stew, that I cooked up the other day. I must apologise that we were so hungry, I completely forgot to take a photo of it on the plate all served up, but if you make it, you’ll see for yourself!! This is best made the day before you want to eat it.

I found some really lovely looking lamb neck in the butcher, so I started by just browning the meat in the bottom of a deep saucepan, before removing it to a plate and adding some oil to the pan, followed by a couple of small chopped red onions, three cloves of minced garlic and a chopped leek.

In a frying pan, dry roast a cinnamon stick and three cloves for round a minute or so, just to help release the flavour, then add them into the pan with the softening veggies. Stir in a good splodge of tomato puree, before returning the meat and any juices to the pan, along with two bay leaves.

Pour in enough chicken, vegetable or lamb stock to cover the meat and bring the pan to a low simmer, before putting the lid on. Give it a good hour or so, stirring occasionally, before throwing in some chopped mushrooms and covering again. I let mine have a slow cook for around 3-4 hours, stirring every now and then and checking to make sure there was still enough stock in there. To help thicken the sauce, I added a few teaspoons of cornflour and mixing it in well.

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Once the meat is nice and tender and trying to fall off the bone, turn off the heat and leave the stew to cool overnight. The next day, you’ll notice a layer of fat on the top of the stew, which you can skim off quite easily with a spoon.

Add in a tin – yes, a tin! – of apricot halves and the juices and re-heat the stew to a low simmer again and give it another hour or so to heat through properly. At this point, I like to remove the bones, spices and bay leaves. Mum always added the tinned fruit, so I’m sticking with it!

When you have 20minutes left, mix up 250g self raising flour with 140g cold butter, cut into cues and a good handful of mixed dried herbs. You want the mix to resemble breadcrumbs, before adding a splash of water and mixing together with a table knife. Keep adding splashes of water, until you form a sticky dough. Take small pinches and roll them into balls, before popping them in the top of the stew for your dumplings.

You can either serve just with the dumplings, or boil up some rice and have the stew with that – or even some mashed potatoes.

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Christmas Cake

It’s that time of year to start your Christmas cooking. This week, I have baked my Christmas cake. I used Nigella Lawson’s recipe from her Christmas book.

First up, was to soak the fruit in brandy – all 400ml of it! After bringing it to the boil, it was left to steep overnight and it smelt absolutely heavenly.

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The next day, I prepared the rest of the mixture and was just about to start adding in the fruit and dry ingredients to the sugar, butter and eggs, when I found out I didn’t have enough nuts. Mad dash to the shop to get the missing ingredient and it was on with the mixing. Mixing together the finished batter is pretty tough going, but stick with it and think of the good it’s doing for your bingo wings!

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Lining the tin is always fun, but after some adjustments, it was ready and full of cake mix, which was then popped in the oven on 150C.

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Nigella said it would take between 2.75-3.25hours, but I checked mine after 2.5hrs and it was done.

 

 

After getting it out of the oven, I brushed the top with more brandy and wrapped in tin foil twice. It cracked!! But this was because I didn’t allow it to cool enough, so make sure you really allow yours to cool before taking it out of the tin. However, checking the cake again today and it has survived, hurrah!

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For the next five weeks now,  I shall feed the cake brandy every day, through until Christmas Eve, when I shall ice it, ready for the big day.

Trying Giant Knitting

With Christmas drawing ever closer, I’m trying to up my preparations for the big day. For the past few days, I have been frantically trying to find some super chunky yarn to make a blanket for my mother-in-law for an affordable price – I was shocked at the cost online! Luckily, I found some in a warehouse-style shop in my town for just £4.99/ball. I bought ten to be safe, so still not the cheapest blanket out there, but certainly more affordable than the £20/ball I was seeing elsewhere.

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I chose a pale blue colour and set out to find a tutorial on YouTube to instruct me as to what to do. I was intending to do the whole arm knitting thing, but I found another tutorial, which allowed me to use the floor and be free to get up should the doorbell or the phone go (or if I just fancies a cup of tea!).

I have to say, I was shocked at just how simple it was to do. It still took me a good few hours, but that was still much quicker than if I had tried with knitting needles – something I haven’t done in years!

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I think the finished product is really nice and it feels very warm and cosy. Slightly miffed I’m giving it away to be completely honest, but that was the purpose of making it.

The only tricky spot I had, was blending two balls of wool together. Where it’s so thick, you can’t really knot it, so I looked up suggestions on YouTube and had a go at a method where you undo part of the wool and put the two lengths back together as one. It sort of worked, but not quite as well as I would have hoped, so if I do this again, I think I will invest in a felter to really join them in together properly.

But, overall, I really enjoy doing this and really hope my mother-in-law likes it!

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Upcycling For Christmas

I started my Christmas crafting today. I’m hoping to do a fair few homemade presents this year and this year’s gifts started with some upcycling.

For years, I have had a gel candle sat in my bedroom – do you remember when they were all the rage? Well, a few weeks ago, I went to burn it, only to find the wick was non-existent, so I scooped out the gel and gave the glass vase a good wash. It looked far too good to just put in the recycling.

So, today, I got out my brand new mini-glue gun and some sparkly beads and took to decorating it.

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I started with just one swirl around the vase, but I was hooked! I did two more swirls and a rim around the bottom. I’m pretty pleased with the result and I’m hoping my Mum will like it too.

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Sweet & Sour Chicken

Feeling in the mood for something Oriental, I whipped up a simple sweet and sour chicken for dinner last night.

It’s really easy to do.

Dice up two chicken breasts (a breast per person), and add to a wok, which is already heated with coconut oil and cook. Partway through cooking, add some chopped peppers – colours of your choice – and if you fancy it, slivers of carrots.

Meanwhile, put some rice on to boil, I just used basmati, but you can use whichever rice you like the most.

In a jug, add the juice of a tin of pineapple chunks, a good generous squeeze of tomato ketchup (yes, you read the correctly!), a good dash of white wine vinegar and some honey and give it a mix. Taste to see if it’s to your liking and add more of whatever you think it needs until you are happy. I also added a little cornflour slurry (cornflour mixed with water) to help thicken the sauce.

Add the sauce to the wok and give it a good stir to make sure the chicken and veggies are nicely covered. Allow to bubble until the rice is done then throw in the pineapple chunks right at the end.

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Serve and enjoy!