Tagine Inspired Shepherd’s Pie and Word about a Christmas Workshop

Just before we get into the nuts and bolts of a Moroccan style Shepherd’s Pie, I am going to make a little announcement:

For those who are resident in Wiltshire (realistically,) although anyone is welcome I am running my second ‘Decorate your own Christmas Cake Workshop‘ on the 14th December 2012. We won’t be tackling anything quite like this ‘Night before Christmas’ Cake just yet, but you will have something to wow your family.

It will begin at 9.45am and run through until around 3pm. Bring your own cake, un-iced, and your lunch. It will cost £25 plus the cost of the decorating ingredients, contact me via the messaging service in Facebook (see the side bar and click through).

Last year we managed this↓ (not sure why the background is so dark, perhaps it was about to snow!)

Anyway, on with the latest recipe. This is something concocted some years ago for Bonfire Night, the sweet heat seemed appropriate for such an event. I have always been a fan of Tagine, but find the soupy, stew-y nature of it a little unsatisfying in the depths of winter, so I came up with the following (serves 4):

You will need for the meat sauce:

800g Lamb Mince, 1 large Onion, 2 cloves of Garlic, crushed, Olive Oil, 2cm piece of fresh Ginger, grated, a pinch of Chilli Flakes, 2 tsp Paprika, 2 tsp Cumin, ½ Cinnamon stick or ½ tsp Ground Cinnamon, ½ Red Pepper, ½ Yellow Pepper (or a whole Pepper of one colour instead), 100g Ready to eat Apricots, roughly chopped, 1 tbsp Runny Honey, 2 tbsp Fresh Coriander or Flat Leaf Parsley Chopped, 2 tsp Tomato Puree, a slug of Red Wine (optional), Salt, Pepper.

For the Mashed Potato topping:

800g to 1kg of potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed with butter, a tiny slug of milk, salt and pepper in the usual way.

Quite an ingredients list for this! But it is well worth it. Peel the potatoes and set them on the hob to boil and then simmer in salted water as usual. Keep and eye on them as you start the meat sauce, once tender, drain, add the butter, milk and seasoning and mash. You want quite a dry mixture, not too sloppy here as the meat sauce is quite saucy!

Meanwhile, fry off the lamb in a frying pan to remove the excess fat and heat the oil in a medium saucepan and fry the onion until transparent and soft, then add the garlic and stir round for a minute or two along with the ginger and chilli flakes. Transfer the lamb with a draining spoon to the onion mixture and then add all the other sauce ingredients apart from the fresh coriander or parsley. Add around 300ml boiling water until you have a sauce type consistency. Allow the whole lot to come to the boil and then simmer for 20-30 minutes whilst the potatoes are cooking. Stir the meat sauce from time to time and add a little more water as necessary so that the mixture does not dry out and towards the end of the cooking time add the fresh herbs, you want to maintain some liquid at all times.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C, decant the meat sauce into an ovenproof dish and top with the potato, spread the topping around with the back of a fork to completely cover the sauce. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the topping has crispy tinges and you can hear or see the sauce bubbling underneath…..

This one in the picture was made with part regular, part sweet potato as the topping which is very good too.

Apricot and Rhubarb Oat Bars

Child 1 is cooking at school again and joy of joys the teacher has introduced the idea of developing their own recipes!

Initiative in baking, and cooking in general, I believe is an essential ingredient (!) in the art of being a confident cook.  Cooking instinct can be acquired with practice as well as be a raw talent but reliance on clear instructions, whilst helpful in the learning process, if always needed will leave cooking in the chore category and not elevate it to carefree hobby status or allow for ‘using up stuff’ a bit of a must for anyone on a budget, which frankly is most of us after all. My better half trained as a chemist and therefore following detailed and extensive recipes backed up with accurate weighing and measuring equipment presents him with no problems. Vague generalisations and scant instructions basically stresses him out particularly as he thinks I will have ‘something to say’ about his finished offering if not perfect. He confuses constructive advice with criticism.

So anyway, Child 1 sees the advantage in this as he can adapt recipes with ingredients he’s not keen on to include those he prefers…….

He brought home a version of the above with chocolate chips instead of apricots and strawberry jam instead of rhubarb. You couldn’t actually cut a slice as such, more heap a couple of spoonfuls into a bowl and eat it with a fork as apparently he was distracted at some crucial point and there was a step skipped with the topping…… Anyway like with a lot of these type of bars: it tasted great!

I was so intrigued with the basic recipe and had apricots and rhubarb lying around so I had a go at the weekend and this is the result; I have to say it is divine and Child 1 (despite the lack of chocolate) announced he liked mine more. I almost spat out my mouthful.

You will need (makes 12 bars):

For the base: 100g Plain Flour, 35g Self-Raising Flour, 100g Butter (at room temperature), 1 Egg Yolk, 110g Caster Sugar,

160g Jam: I made mine as I had rhubarb with 450g Rhubarb, 450g Sugar, 1 tsp Ground Ginger, juice of 1 Lemon, 50 ml Water

Topping: 60g Golden Syrup, 30g Maple Syrup or Honey, 50g Butter, 135g Rolled Oats, 40g Corn flakes or Special K, crunch up a little, 35g desiccated Coconut, 125g Apricots chopped, fresh or dried.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C and grease and line a 23cm (9″) square brownie tin or similar. Lining square tins can be a bit of a faff. Either scrunch up an appropriate sized piece of greaseproof paper into a ball and them smooth out and line the tin or cut a square which again is larger than the tin and then cut in toward the center on the diagonal from each corner for a few centimeters then line the tin overlapping the paper at the corners.

Jam: you can buy rhubarb obviously, or to make it, put a couple of saucers in the freezer for the testing process and make sure to have a couple of sterile jam jars handy for any excess (wash in dishwater at 60°C), then slice the rhubarb and add to a saucepan with all the other ingredients. Allow the sugar to melt over a medium heat and then turn up the heat and boil rapidly for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and test if done but adding a teaspoon to a very cold saucer. Give it a sec and then push the blob up the saucer with your finger. If the skin wrinkles, it’s done. If not boil for a few for minutes and test again. Pour into the sterile jar(s) and allow to cool a little.

To make the base: Cream together the sugar and butter in a mixer and once light and fluffy at the egg yolk and beat for a couple more minutes. Add the flour and fold into the creamed mixture. You will find you to need to finish this off with your hands to achieve a ball of dough.

Press into the base of the tin to give an even layer and bake for 15 minutes. The top should be browned. Remove from the oven.

To make the topping: Melt together the golden syrup, maple syrup/honey and the butter and stir to combine. Put all the other topping ingredients into a separate bowl and pour in the buttery mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon to coat the dry with the wet.

Spread an even layer of jam over the base and then carefully spread over the topping. Pop it back in the oven for another 15 minutes. It should be lightly brown once done. Cut into bars whilst still warm and leave to cool in the tin.

If you have made jam don’t forget the wax covers and a tight-fitting lid. It’s delicious instead of marmalade.

Lavender Laced Apricot Tarte Tatin

Yummy, Yummy, Yummy

I never thought I would see the day but my better half and I are arguing over Tarte Tatin. He sneaks slithers whilst I’m out exercising; again. This upping of my exercise regime allows me an additional piece beyond the obligatory test slice. Despite spending an hour out at a Zumba class this evening I am planning a sprint (x3) up one of the hilliest streets in town tomorrow morning so I can have some more for breakfast. We are utterly in love with my latest creation.

I am fairly sure this food marriage of apricots and lavender is not unique, but a quick surf about only revealed lavender soaked in milk and then converted into shortbread or cupcakes, certainly not used to flavour sugar syrup. I didn’t even strain the lavender flower heads and this does not seem to matter. The aromatic scent cuts through the sweetness of the fruit in such a heavenly way you are barely conscious of them in the finished dish and I believe they add some charm to the appearance.


I have always had a bit of a thing about them, I pop the ready-to-eat variety moorishly and adore dishes such as tagines with all that heat and spicy sweet. Despite not having a particularly sweet tooth, I get my inevitably need for some sort of sugar fix from them on a regular basis; bitter dark chocolate covered apricots is almost my most favourite flavour combination behind liver with a tomato and mushroom sauce, but more of the latter soon…

22 years ago this week I set out on my Italian culinary adventure, described on the ‘About Sarah’ page, and one of the first food related delights I came across greeted me as we drew up to the house for the first time. In the garden, almost next to the garage, was an apricot tree. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before that some countries have such luxuries but I still remember the double take I took as I realised that for this family their windfalls weren’t apples, pears or plums. Unbelievable. I could pop out whenever and eat as many of the ripest, juiciest fruit as I could manage. The parents of my charge for 2 months were more or less nonchalant about the situation. No big deal. But I suppose if you always virtually live in the garden of Eden, you would be.

Anyway as transportingly delightful as these memories are, on with the recipe.

You will need a 9″ sandwich tin or deep sided pie dish, non stick for preference. Don’t use anything loose bottomed as you will be hopelessly scraping baked on sugar syrup residue from the bottom of the oven otherwise.

Start off by making the pastry, or to be quite honest you could buy sweet short crust from the supermarket. If you are making it you will need: 100g self-raising flour, 50g diced, cold, unsalted butter, 1 tbsp of icing sugar, 1 egg yolk, 2 tsp of cold water. Sift the flour and the icing sugar into a bowl and add the butter, rubbing it into the flour with your fingers. Add the egg yolk and a teaspoon of water and with a table knife, start the combining process. Once you have made some progess dive in with your hands and swiftly bring the dough together. Add the second teaspoon of water if you need it to give a working dough, not too sticky. Once you have a smooth ball of pastry, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for ½ hour.

Meanwhile make the sugar syrup. Place 75g of caster sugar and 75g of unsalted butter in a non-stick saucepan with 3 sprigs of lavender (preferably flowering) and gently heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has started to dissolve, allow it to bubble a little and stir regularly. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse until the pastry is ready.

Cut 10/11 firm but ripe apricots in half,  remove the stones wash and dry. Once the pastry is ready, remove from the fridge. Heat the sugar/butter/lavender mixture again as a sludge is likely to have formed in the saucepan until the mixture is bubbling again, stirring regularly, remove the lavender stems and finally pour into the bottom of the pie dish. Arrange the apricot halves, cut side up so that the smooth hemispheres are uppermost when you turn the dish out once baked, and at this point turn the oven on to 200°C/Fan 180°C.

Roll out the pastry to give roughly a 9″ diameter circle. As you can see I usually go rustic in these situations and don’t worry about rough edges, but you can always use a plate to cut round if you wish. Plonk the pastry over the fruit and tuck in round the edges. Pop low in the oven and bake for 25 minutes. I know the oven isn’t up to temperature at this point but I think it helps cook the apricots thoroughly.

Once the 25 minutes is up you should have a golden brown baked pastry top (or bottom) and much sugary bubbling. Remove from the oven and try carefully to decant the sugar syrup into a waiting saucepan before inverting the tart using the presentation plate. This is a bit of a messy business, but not to worry. If the fruit has slid up to one end in the process just carefully shove it back into position. (I did and look how lovely mine turned out).

Boil the sugar syrup in the saucepan until it thickens some more and then drizzle over the tart. Serve warm. We had it with honey and ginger flavoured fancy yoghurt from Waitrose, but creme fraîche or cream or ice cream would work well.

N.B. I THINK it is OK to eat the flower heads and in my limited research some recipes definitely didn’t remove them, but you can always pick them off as you eat if you wish.

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