Vol-au-vent

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Preperation time: 60 minutes
Cooking time: 1:30 minutes

We recommend to make this dish in a larger quantity. Cooking vol-au-vent is rather messy and greasy. Once you’ve done the vol-au-vent, you can easily freeze it in portions per person.
The ingredients: (for 18 persons)

  • 2 chickens
  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 3 – 4 chicken legs
  • 1 kg minced meat
  • 2 kg mushrooms
  • 400 g cooked or steamed ham
  • 3 lemons
  • 4 leaks
  • 6 stalks of celery
  • 4 carrots
  • 3 onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1l cream
  • 3 cubes chicken stock
  • 250 g butter
  • 250 g flour
  • 4 bay leafs
  • 4 cloves
  • fresh or dried thyme
  • salt & pepper

The work:

Put the cleaned and coarsely cut- vegetables (onion, celery, leak, garlic, carrots), the herbs (thyme, cloves, bay leafs, pepper & salt) and the chicken stock in a big cooking pot and add enough water so that not only the vegetables, but later also all the chicken will be covered with the stock you are now starting to make. Boil the stock until the vegetables are soft.

P1010882P1010878While your stock is cooking, you can roll balls of the minced meat (2-3 cm diameter). Cut the mushrooms in 4 and stew them in olive oil with pepper and salt. When they are starting to change color and going brown, sprinkle the juice of one lemon over the mushrooms to keep their light color. Turn of the heat when the mushrooms are ready.

P1010883Put a couple of spoons from the stock (which is in the making in your large cooking pot) in a smaller cooking casserole to boil the meatballs just for a couple of minutes until they are cooked. This fluid we will not use further because it becomes greasy from minced meat. So use not more than needed.

When the vegetable in the stock are tender, add all the chicken you have and cook for one hour. Check the chicken tenderness; it should be coming of the legs easily.
Now take out all the chicken of the stock and cut the chicken into pieces. If you don’t like bones at all, peal the meat from the bones. We tend to leave in the legs and the skin of the chicken in the stew, but that’s a personal preference. We like the chicken pieces rather large than cut to bite size. The breasts we cut up (or tear-up) a bit smaller.

Choose a new large pot. In this pot you will make the vol-au-vent sauce, so it should be bit enough to take the mushrooms, the meat balls, all the chicken and the ham. Start by making the roux for the sauce. Melt 250 g of butter (make sure it doesn’t burn), add flower gently and stir with a whisk. You will see that the mixture becomes dryer as you add more flower. The roux should smell like a pastry dough, like the French ‘bisquit’ dough. Watch out not to burn the roux. Don’t stop too early with the flower. 250 g of flower will be too much, look at the consistence of the roux while stirring to determine when to stop adding flower.

Use a large spoon to transfer stock from you large pot to the pot with the roux and stir constantly. The sauce will start to tie when the substance cooks. When it starts to thicken, add cream until it is nice and white. Make sure you control the heat, dim the fire if necessary and don’t forget to stir. Add more stock to come to the right thickness of the sauce.

When the sauce is made, add the juice of 1 to 2 lemons. Taste is the key here. The lemon should lift the sauce, but should not dominate the taste. Cut the ham and add the ham, the chicken, the mushrooms and the meatballs to the sauce. Done!

The secret:

Don’t be afraid to spice the stock. Pepper & salt, herbs from the garden, are indispensable to flavor and deepen the taste of the stock.

The tip:

Minced meat is well spiced with salt & pepper in Belgium. If you know the minced meat in your country is not spiced, then make sure to mix it up with enough salt & pepper beforehand.

The rest of the stock you can pass through the kitchen sieve and use as a basis for soup.

Vol-au-vent sauce you can make really thick or runny, depends on how you like it.
Vol-au-vent is often served in a puff pastry, but that’s optional, you either like it or you don’t. You can serve vol-au-vent with cooked potatoes, croquettes,… but for a Belgian it is inevitable to serve with Belgian fries and mayonnaise.

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Tagine with lamb and pears

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Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 2-3 hours

The ingredients: for 4 persons

  • 1,2 kg leg of lamb cut in thick slices/pieces
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger (4 cm)
  • 3 beef tomatoes
  • 3 pears
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 preserved lemon or lime (2 halves)
  • 3 tbsp. honey
  • 1-2 red chilis
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1,5 tbsp. tajine herbs
  • ½ tsp. saffron
  • Fresh coriander (a handful)
  • Fresh mint (a handful)
  • Fresh leaf parsley (a handful)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 cubes of vegetable stock
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

The work:

Preheat the oven at 180°C.

Peal and grate the ginger. Chop the onion. Cut the garlic and chili very fine. Make a bundle of the stems of the green herbs.

Heat the oil in a baking pan and bake the meat on both sides until brown, adding salt & pepper. Add the onion and the garlic. After a couple of minutes, add the spices: red chili, cinnamon powder, cinnamon stick, ginger, the bay leaves, saffron, tagine herbs, and stir for about a minute.

Add the content of the pan in the tagine and add tomatoes on top, and the cubes of vegetable stock. Fill the tagine with water until the meat is covered. Dress the bundle of the stems in the stock. Close the tagine and put it in the oven. Check after about an hour how tender the meat is, but it is well possible that you will have to leave it 1,5 to 2 hours depending on the lamb.

While this is in the oven, peel the pears, remove the core and cut them in 4 pieces.

If you have the feeling the meat is just about tender, then take out the bundle of stems, dress the pears nicely on top of the meat. Add the lemon, the lemon juice and the honey. Close the lid again and cook 30 minutes in the oven until the pears are tender.

To serve: sprinkle the leaves of coriander, parsley and mint over the tagines’ content.

The Tip:

Serve with couscous and Harissa. When you serve with couscous it is important to serve enough of the tagine’s juice.

The Secret:

Take your time to ensure the meat is tender. Don’t follow the cooking time; follow the tenderness of the meat. You cannot overcook lamb. If in doubt, add 30 minutes more to the cooking time.

It is difficult to reproduce the same taste twice, all the ingredients (and there are many), especially the tagine herbs are distinctive for the recipe’s taste. But can you ever buy the same constellation twice?

Although I’m personally not a couscous lover, I must honestly confess, this recipe is by far the biggest taste sensation I know.

Pasta dish

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Preparation time: 40 minutes
Cooking time: 1h30 minutes

Don’t be misled by the ‘simple’ name, this is anything but a simple dish.

The Ingredients: for 4 persons

  • 500 g minced meat (half beef, half pork)
  • 6 tomatoes (at least 500 g)
  • 1 onion
  • 2,5 tbsp. butter or margarine
  • 4 tbsp. flower
  • fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ l milk (whole or semi-skimmed)
  • 75 g grated cheese (Emmentaler)
  • 250 g pasta (fusilli)
  • salt & pepper

The work:

Cook the pasta al dente in lightly salted water. Follow the timing instructions on the package. Drain the pasta and rinse with cold water to avoid that the pasta sticks.

Cut the onions into small blocks. Peal the tomatoes and remove the seeds. Cut the tomatoes in large portions.

Preheat the oven at 225°C.

Melt the butter in a pot, don’t let it brown, and mix with the flower. Add a third of the milk and bring this to a cooking point while stirring slowly. At the cooking point, add extra milk to get the correct sauce density. Turn down the heat a bit. Add the thyme and the bay leaf and cook the sauce gently for about 15 minutes. Keep your eye on the ballgame. Sauce on a milk base easily sticks to the pan or overflows, so don’t stop stirring, don’t leave.

Sieve the sauce and mix the grated cheese with the sauce.

Take an oven dish and put in a layer of pasta. Distribute the onion, the tomato and the minced meat on top. Season with salt and pepper. If the dish is not full yet, add the rest of the pasta and cover it with sauce. In case you have some leftover grated cheese you can sprinkle that on top.

The tip:

There are many different pasta kinds you can use for this: fusilli, spirelli, farfalle, penne, macaroni,…

We often replace the fresh tomatoes by canned tomatoes to save time and it has little effect on the end result.

All together this dish takes quite a while to cook. You wonder if it is really necessary to stir in that sauce for 15 long minutes. Believe me, it is exactly that herb-flavoured cheese sauce which lifts this dish from being ordinary to being incredibly fantastic.

If you do make the effort of cooking this on your busy week day, bear in mind that you can easily prepare some extra dishes and put them uncooked in the freezer for later use.

The secret:

I will confess that this recipe comes from a very old ­ actually our very first ­ cook book which came for free with our very first micro wave after we just got married. Because this is a recipe I never came across ever again I felt I should make an exception to my rule not to blog recipes from other cooks. Just to make sure it gets some extra exposure. I can’t leave it to disintegrate with the book.

2x Spare Ribs on the BBQ

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Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

Now that we finally are getting some sun in Belgium, after all it is only June 3rd … the barbecue can come out of the garden shed.

A BBQ meal ever so successful for the lover of meat, are grilled spare ribs. Like the Americans say ‘the rack of ribs’. In Belgium the rack of ribs is actually cut in half lengthwise and one rack is about 10-15 cm wide and 30-40 cm long. Just the size an average person can dispatch during an evening diner.

Ribs are always great, served as ‘finger food’ with the aperitif as appetizer, or as a main dish served with a jacked potato with some sour cream or garlic butter, and a simple green salad and tomatoes. Simple, cheap and a definitely a treat deluxe.

The following post is not about grilling, it is about marinating. If you want to surprise your audience, marinate your spare ribs in advance. These are 2 of the summer marinades my hubby specifically developed for ribs.

The Ingredients: marinade for about 2 rib racks

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Chinese spicy ribs:

  • ketchup
  • Chinese (or Asian) pili-pili (bottle)
  • 2 gloves of garlic
  • salt & pepper

‘Distinguished’ ribs

  • 1 lime
  • 2 tsps. smoked paprika powder
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 globes of garlic
  • salt & pepper

The work:

Cut the garlic, squeeze the lime and mix the marinade ingredients and smear them on the ribs. Cover up the ribs and keep them in the fridge to marinate at least 2 hours before you grill them. You can even prepare this the evening beforehand.

When it is time, grill the ribs and use the left over marinade to baste the meat from time to time while you are grilling. You can use one of these modern heat resistant kitchen brushes.

Et voilà, you can discover for yourself how different the 2 preparations taste.

The tip:

I you can’t find the smoked paprika, you can improvise by mixing regular paprika powder with cayenne pepper.

The secret:

Each year we dedicate our first weekend of summer to contribute to one of our town’s festivals ‘de Zomerfeesten’. Our contribution is limited the hard work of serving mojito’s for 3 days. Depending on the weather, mojito sales vary from good to extremely good. In one of these not so extremely good years we ended up with a lot of left over limes. After having preserved a large part for use in the winter tagines, my husband kept on searching what he could do with them. Apart from the obvious lime sorbet, the ‘distinguished’ marinade was invented.

Hei, but if you ever need the recipe for mojito…

Paella

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The Secret:

This recipe is definitely fusion cooking. We will not claim this is real Spanish paella, but it is definitely our Flemish best effort.

Between ‘90 and ’93 we lived in the area of Mons, a city where there used to be a lot of coalmines. Because of the mines, in the area there are still a lot of Italian and Spanish families. It is during that time that we tasted our first paella.

In an attempt to try this at home we looked up the recipe in a Belgian cookbook and tried this in a normal pan. It was disgusting; it didn’t even come close to what we had tasted during our local night out. We weren’t easily discouraged, so we made a couple more attempts, all without success.

So what was the secret?  Why didn’t we succeed?

As I traveled to Spain and to Portugal in my job as a software trainer, my husband said ‘do not come back without a paella recipe’. A good idea it was, but the people I had to train were mostly men. Each time I popped the question ‘Can you tell me how to make paella?’ Each time i got the same answer ‘I don’t know, my mother makes this for my family’.

Finally a friendly guy said ‘I’ll ask mom’ and a day later he handed me a yellow piece of paper with a handwritten recipe. ‘The secret’ he said ‘is to have equal heat under the pan and to get the balance between stock and ingredients just right’

Okay, this definitely gave a new start to our wrong footed paella project. We went out and bought our first paella pan for 10 persons. Later, as we became better at making it, we bought one for 25 and later one for 50 persons.

I don’t remember how close this original recipe came to how we make our paella today, but what follows is the result of many tries to get it exactly right.

Because paella is often made in larger quantities, telling you how much of each ingredient you need is difficult. How many people would you like to feed? 5, 10, 25, 50, 150? So the approach here will be different than in my other food blogs. I will post a recipe list and the ingredients for 5 persons. If you have other quantities, we developed a spread sheet to help you with the shopping list and calculate the cost.

The Ingredients: for 5 persons

  • 400 g round rice
  • 200 ml olive oil
  • 1 chorizo sausage (about 30-40 cm long, 1,5-2 cm diameter)
  • 10 drumsticks (front part of a chicken leg)
  • 12 mussels
  • clams (‘venusschelpen’ for the locals)
  • 300 g squid rings
  • 200 g prawns
  • 5 large shrimps (gambas)
  • 200 g green peas
  • 2 red paprika
  • 0,5 green paprika
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 onions
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • parsley
  • 5 tsps. curcuma
  • 2 small portions saffron
  • 800 ml chicken bouillon (water with chicken bouillon cubes)
  • salt & pepper

The Work:

Make sure ingredients are cleaned or rinsed. Keep all your ingredients separately. Cut the onions. Remove the seeds of the paprika and cut them into pieces. Peel the tomatoes and cut them in small cubes. Cut the lemon in parts. Remove the skin from the chorizo and cut in 1,5 cm rounds.

Cut the cleaned squid into rings. If you have frozen fish, make sure to defrost them before cooking starts.

Clean the mussels by removing the beard and any dirt on the shells and rinse them several times. Put the clams in a bowl of water with some salt, afterwards rinse them several times. Throw away all clams and mussels which are open.

Put the garlic with some olive oil in a blender and blend until you have paste.

Prepare the stock adding the cubes to the water, adding the parsley, curcuma and saffron. Gently boil this in a separate cooking pot in order to mix all flavors. We like to add some extra salt, pepper and dried chilly to give the stock some punch. When all ingredients have blended together, you can put the stock aside until you need it later.

Now the prep work is done, we can start with the real job.

P1000297P1000300P1000304Heat up the olive oil and bake the chicken legs until they are browned, also add the chorizo. When done, move the chicken and the chorizo to the outer circle of the pan, and turn down the heater for that outer area. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes depending on how big the pieces of the meat are. If the chorizo starts to brown too quickly, move them to the outer circle. In this stage you can spoon out some oil and chicken fat out of the middle area, keep it to be used later.

Now you have an open space in the middle. Put the garlic paste and simmer for a while. Do not let it brown! Add the onions and paprika and let these soften gently while stirring from time to time. Move this to the outside, and let the water evaporate until you have only oil.

The following step is to add the rice in the center and let it glaze in the oil. At this point you can add some saved up oil again if necessary.

P1000305Add the peas, tomatoes, the squid and the stock and mix all. Always stir and mix gently in order to keep the ingredients in tact as much as possible. Put all burners equally on the lowest position. From now on don’t stir anymore. Just check from time to time that nothing is burning at the bottom of the pan

Put on top of the paella the clams, the mussels, the gambas and the shrimps and cover the pan with aluminum foil. Let it all cook gently P1000307just checking that it does not burn.

After about 10 minutes you are allowed to stir everything once and check again that it does not burn. Reduce the heat if needed by cutting it completely for a while. Cover again with aluminum foil and let it cook gently for another 10 to 20 minutes until the rice is done and the mussels are open and all shrimps are nicely P1000310red.

Serve with a piece of lemon on top.

The Tip:

Anyone can make paella. It is not difficult; just stick to some simple rules.

In all stages of the cooking process it is important to control the heat well. P1000312Ideal is a paella pan heated with a burner with different circular sections. Make sure your pan is a 100% level. Nowadays every smart phone has a level app you can download free of charge to check. The biggest danger is wind, as this will make the heating less controllable. If you need to cook in an open area, wrap some aluminum foil around the pan so the wind cannot play with the flames.

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Pappardelle with cep and truffle

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Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes.

The ingredients: for 6 persons

  • 550 g pappardelle
  • 150 g grated parmesan
  • 300 g cooked ham
  • 80g dried cep
  • 1 cube butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. of wild broth paste
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes (400 g)
  • 1 can passata (500 g pureed tomatoes)
  • 1dl cream (optional)
  • black pepper & salt
  • truffle or 3 tbsp. truffle oil.

The work:

First thing to do is to drown the dried mushrooms in lukewarm water. They need to absorb water for at least 15 minutes. After 15 minutes (or longer) you drain the mushrooms but make sure to collect the brown water in a small cooking pot.

Add the wild bouillon paste to the liquid and boil it down until it is really concentrated. You need a small cup of condensed liquid at the end of the process.

In the meantime, heat the oil and the butter in a pan and add the pressed garlic. Fry for a couple of minutes but make sure it does not get brown. After 3 minutes you add the drained mushrooms. Stir each time you add something, to mix the ingredients. After another 3 minutes add the ham, and after another 4 minutes add the chopped tomatoes and the passata. Season the sauce with pepper, salt and truffle or truffle oil. Let the sauce cook softly for 15-20 minutes. When the condensed stock is ready, add it to the sauce as well.

Optionally add cream to the sauce a couple of minutes before the end of the cooking time; always do this on low fire. Cream should not be boiled.

Cook your pasta al dente. Mix the pasta with the sauce and serve with some parmesan on top.

The Secret:

The reduced mushroom liquid is the secret of the success here. Take your time to reduce the liquid, it will make a huge difference.

P1000282The Tip:

You can make this recipe with real truffle and real fresh cep. Both are really hard or even impossible to find in a suburban town like ours and also influence the cost of this diner a lot. The truffle oil and dried cep are much easier to come by and much easier in your pocket.

We have a disagreement at home about using cream or not in this dish. OK, it adds extra fat to the recipe, but also smoothness in taste. The small picture is without cream. Try it out to find out your personal preference.

As you can see in our pictures, if there is no pappardelle in the house, another pasta will do fine.

Stuffed Zucchini

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Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes

The ingredients: for 4 persons

  • 4 zucchinis
  • 600 g minced beef (“américain”, we call it in Flanders)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 red chilli pepper (small one)
  • 1 tbsp. cumin
  • salt & pepper

The work:

Pre-heat the oven at 180° C.

Wash the zucchinis and cut them in 2, lengthwise. Steam the courgettes until they are just done. Don’t overcook them at this time, they still need to go in the oven for a while.

Put the meat in a bowl together with the seasoning. Cut the onion and the pepper extremely fine, press or grate the garlic, and mix all of this with the meat. I just use a fork to mix it all together.


When the courgettes are steamed, take out the seeds of the zucchini with a spoon. By doing this you create a small gutter for the meat. This does not have to be too deep, otherwise your zucchini will lose its strength and you may run into trouble serving it.

DSC00476Once you’ve filled the courgettes with the meat mix, put them in an oven dish and cook them for 20 minutes in the oven. Check if the meat is not red anymore to figure out cooking time.

The Tip:
We serve this with a jacket potato with sour cream.

This is also an ideal recipe when you’re trying to avoid calories. You can easily make a calorie friendly version limiting the meat to 100 g per person and serving the potato without the sour cream.

The Secret:

You probably also have days when you think ‘what am I going to cook tonight?’ or ‘what are we going to eat this time?’. Since i often have to go out for business diners, I have taken the habit of asking people – when appropriate of course – what they like to cook or what their favourite dish is. It also starts up the conversation again, when everybody start to get tired talking about work items.

It has inspired me quite often and brought the greatest ideas to the table. The recipes handed over like this often shined in simplicity and great taste.

Looking for inspiration one day, I popped the question during work lunch with colleagues ‘and what would you like to eat tonight?’ One of our engineers said… ‘it’s nothing fancy but at least I can cook this for my wife…’ and he explained about his stuffed zucchinis. Since then, thanks to Jürgen, the stuffed zucchinis are a returning item during lean weekdays .

Witloof with ham

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The ingredients: for 4 persons

  • 8 stumps of witloof
  • 8 slices of cooked ham
  • 1 L milk
  • 50 g flower
  • 50 g butter
  • 300 g grated cheese
  • nutmeg
  • salt & pepper

The work:

Clean the witloof by removing the outside leafs and take out the heart at the bottom of the stumb. The heart of the witloof is what leaves a bitter taste. Steam the witloof until the stumbs are tender and let them leak out.

Melt the butter (don’t let it become brown) and add the flower while stirring with a whisk. Continue stirring until the flower is cooked a bit. Add 0.5 l milk and keep on stirring slowly until the sauce starts to boil. Flower and milk combinations have the tendency to burn on the bottom of the cooking pot, so don’t put the heat too high. When the sauce starts boiling, it thickens, now add more milk while stirring until you reach the preferred consistency. Add pepper, salt and lots of grated nutmeg. This sauce is also called a béchamel.
Remove the pot from the fire and melt the cheese into the sauce while stirring. Leave some cheese to cover the platter later.

Roll up each stump of witloof in a slice of cooked ham and arrange them nicely side by side in a baking dish. Poor the cheese sauce over the witloof and sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top.
Put the dish in a preheated oven of 180°C. Cook it about half an hour until you start to see cooking bubbles rising from the bottom of the dish, and then grill it for about 10-15 minutes to crisp the top.

Serve with mashed potatoes.

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The secret:

This is one of our best kept secrets. We eat this with a drop of ketchup. Yes, ketchup! You’ll be surprised how the tastes of the mashed potatoes, the witlof, the ham and the cheese blends with the tomato taste.

With love…

Lamb Stew with Tagliatelli

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Preparation Time: 1 hour

The ingredients for 3-4 portions:.

  • 750 g lamb shoulder
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • a couple of rosemary sprigs
  • 3 tbsp. of oil
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 small can tomato paste (70 g)
  • ½ cup meat broth
  • salt & pepper
  • 3 tbsp. water
  • 300 g tagliatelle
  • parmesan cheese

The work:

Cut the meat in chunks; make sure you watch out to remove small bone fragments while cutting the meat.
Peel the garlic, wash the rosemary and dry it with paper towel.
Cutter the garlic, rosemary, broth and tomato paste with the blender.
Fry the meat on all sides in the hot oil. Then throw away the fat from frying.
Add the meat, the butter and the mix in one pan and add salt and pepper.
Let the ragout simmer for about 30 minutes. Keep the lid on.
Cooking time can run easily up to 1 hour, depending which lamb.
Cook the tagliatelli in a lot of water, just as you usually do, when your stew is almost ready.
Serve on a large plate: pasta with some stew on top, finished with a sprig of rosemary and grated parmesan.

Enjoy!

The tips:

Green pasta fits perfectly with this dish, so does a fresh green salad.
We have the habit of removing the fat which builds up at the surface while the stew is cooking.

The story:

We’re three people in our household: a man, a women and a daughter. Initally 2 out of 3 voted against lamb. It may sound funny, but this happened ages ago. At a certain moment the one voting for, went shopping, cooked the dish, didn’t disclose it was ‘the’ lamb dish, and served it. It became an instant hit. Our simple lamb stew is one of our family favourites. Funny how prejudices can prevent us from trying new tastes.