Friday, 23 October 2015

Mini Roast cook-off with Cold Feet actress and published cook Fay Ripley #miniroast

Everyone I know who enjoys cooking has a signature dish - a favourite they can prepare practically with their eyes closed which time after time turns out pretty much how it should.

For some this is a favourite curry, or they can poach salmon to perfection. If I had to pick I would say my speciality dish is a traditional British roast dinner.

It helps that this is my favourite dish - If I'm ever on death row for murdering the child who leaves their lunchbox/glasses/PE kit  at home yet again, for my last meal I would probably ask for a roast, possibly with all the meats it is possible to roast included.

I find it hard to choose my favourite. I love lamb and chicken, venison, muntjac, beef and pork, served with roasties and fresh veg and lashings of hot gravy. We have Yorkshire Puddings with pretty much all of our roasts and you are likely to see me dolloping mint and cranberry sauces on most too.

I serve it so often to family and friends that I have started to apologise "another roast I'm afraid" but they all seem to love it. In fact when I told my friends I had been invited to take part in a mini-roast cook-off they were all certain I would come out on top.

While I appreciated their confidence and support, I was a little nervous about losing face if my signature dish turned out to be a PS under a superior recipe.

The event had been organised by Red Tractor Beef and Lamb, the "assured food standards" people - you can look out for their logo on top quality meat.

I went along to the prestigious Atelier Des Chefs culinary school in London and was somewhat cowed by the talented bloggers joining me on the challenge which was to be judged by actress and writer of family-friendly recipe books Fay Ripley and  food stylist, writer and economist Denise Spencer-Walker.

I got even more nervous when I saw the table of ingredients which we were to use to create our recipe using British lamb or beef mini roast joints.

Let me stop for a second and explain about #miniroasts. Mini roast joints are labour-saving gems for busy people who want a quick mid-week roast dinner, or a speedy version of the traditional meal at the end of a busy Sunday. They only take 35-40 minutes for the specially cut lamb joints and 40-50 minutes for the beef joints (plus five minutes resting time).

These timings obviously depend how you like your meat - I prefer mine quite pink but you can leave the meat in for another 5-10 minutes if you like yours cremated well done.

Back to the ingredients. On the table was couscous, cornmeal rice, polenta, harrissa, mango chutney, tahini and a host of exotic ingredients which to be honest aren't even in my larder, never mind included in my roast dinners.

I wavered briefly and decided to stick with what I know with a few tweaks and picked up a bowl full of root veg. After a quick recipe invention session in my head, I also grabbed fresh cranberries, pancetta garlic, honey, olive oil and rosemary.

I peeled carrots, sweet potato and parsnips and halved new potatoes leaving the skin on. I put them all into a pan of water to boil until just tender - this speeds up roasting and helps make the fluffy inner in perfect roasties.

I blended 2 peeled chopped garlic cloves into butter and added lemon juice and a drop of olive oil and smoothed this on top of the lamb topping with rosemary before putting the tray into the oven. (Gas mark 5 or 190C/375F)

While my root veg was par-boiling and my lamb starting to cook I put smoked pancetta into a frying pan and started to fry - you don't really need to add oil as the pancetta is quite fatty. You could also substitute unsmoked pancetta or bacon lardons.

When the pancetta started to brown I threw in a couple of handfuls of fresh cranberries and about 2 TBSP of honey, fried for a couple of minutes then splashed in about a cupful of red wine. I let it sizzle for a minute then turned down the heat so it simmered gently and all of the flavours could blend.

It's fine for children to eat this by the way as all of the alcohol from the wine cooks off.

I checked my root veg - tender - so I drained well, and left the pan on the cooling hob with the lid off so the steam could rise which ensures the veg is fairly dry. I added a sprinkle of salt flakes (sea salt works well too) and putting the lid back on gave the pan a good shake. Shhh! This is my secret to perfect fluffy roast potatoes and parsnips - don't tell anyone!

I then popped the veg around the meat joint where they promptly sucked up all of that lovely garlicky melted butter and oil.

Time for a glass of wine for the cook and normally I would use this time for me to set the table (or screech at the children to do it for me) but at Ateliers Des Chefs I had more reliable kitchen helpers to do that for me.

After 35 mins had passed since putting my lamb in, I removed the meat and wrapped it in foil to rest then turned up the oven a little (about 10C) to ensure my roasts turned golden brown and crispy.

Root veg roasted I plated them, topped with thickly sliced pink lamb and crowned the lot with my cranberry, pancetta and red wine concoction. Shall we call it chutney? It was a bit lumpy for a jus!


Then came nail-biting time as Fay and Denise armed themselves with knives and forks for the tasting.

They were very lovely and had something nice to say about every dish. It goes to show how diverse you can be with a roast - we had Morroccan style, French style and Scandinavian style to name but a few and the whole gamut of ingredients seemed to have been used by the blogger chefs!

I particularly oved the Scandinavian style lamb which came with new potatoes with bacon and a tasty cool sauce. I was impressed by the cooks who had managed to incorporate ingredients like couscous, tahini and aubergines into their recipes. I do think sometimes I play too safe and maybe my children would benefit from me experimenting sometimes.

But there had to be a winner and that winner was (drum roll please.......) ME!

It seemed my fruity topping found favour with the judges and I was presented with a gorgeous bouquet of flowers with promises of a further prize to follow. The pictures show me rather red-faced and sweaty and quite ridiculously excited - I was just relieved I didn't have to tell my friends my roast didn't win.

The one thing which came out of the day was proof that a nutritious mini roast is one of the easiest and quickest things you can cook -  not taking much longer than chicken nuggets and chips in the oven.

If you've never made a roast, or fancy livening things up check out the simply beef and lamb website  which has top tips and fab recipes.

How about beef mini roast with a smoked paprika rub and jewel rice? Or beef mini roast with a sticky sweet chilli glaze? Or lamb mini roast with mango chutney which definitely appeals to me! You can tell I like a sweet fruity taste with my roast.

The #miniroast challenge event certainly confirmed my belief that a roast dinner, in any guise, is one of the easiest and economical meals you can make for your family. It's proper "bung-it" cookery which you can vary to suit all tastes and once it's in the oven generally you can go off and do something else - in my house that's likely to be watch an episode of Big Bang Theory with the kids. Adjust activity to taste!



Disclaimer: I was paid a fee to cover expenses to attend this event, Views and opinions remain honest and my own.




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