One pot suppers

Keep out the cold with these warming supper dishes from Michele Guinness

It's November again - my birthday, and another year gone. I was looking at the shelf-fulls of self-help books in our local bookshop that are so popular at the moment : How To Be Successful, How to Achieve Your Dreams, How to Make Anyone Do Anything (yes, it really was called that), and it occurred to me that none of these self-centred, successful-me guides can ever give us the one thing most of us would choose, given half a chance - to stop the clock. I realised how incredibly thankful I was for eternal life - unearned, unmerited, and not dependant on the power of positive thinking, or even on our ability in the kitchen for that matter. It certainly changes my perspective.

So may that little thought cheer up your November too, along with these easy, no-fail, minimal effort one-pot suppers. 'Bung it all in' has been my favourite motto since I became a Christian and found myself feeding - well not exactly the 5,000, but it sometimes feels a bit like that. So recipes for food that stretches and stretches, and leaves me with leftovers to put in pots in the freezer when I'm out or away, are always very welcome.

I must credit Good Housekeeping with the lamb recipe. I had missed it, until a friend served it for dinner, and I loved it so much I make this easier, adapted version regularly - sometimes with turkey chunks for economy, or soya for vegetarians.

The other is very much my own concoction. There is no more comforting winter food than the humble leek. "Oh the leeks, onions and the garlic", the Children of Israel said when they were lamenting the cuisine they'd enjoyed back in Egypt. I have a certain sympathy, I must confess, though don't think I could exchange my freedom for them.

Sweet and Spicy Lamb

Serves 4

750g (1lb 11oz) stewing lamb
I large onion chopped
2 large sweet potatoes cut into chunks
400g ( 14oz) can chopped tomatoes
1tsp ground ginger
1 tsp paprika
2tbsp mild curry paste
3 tbsp mango chutney
salt and freshly ground black pepper
150 ml (5 fl oz) dry white wine
100g (3.5oz) bag baby spinach leaves

Fry the lamb in a little olive oil until brown and set aside. Fry the chopped onion in a little oil till golden, then add the chunks of sweet potato and the ginger, and stir for around 3-4 minutes. Add the browned lamb and all the other ingredients, except the spinach.
Cover and cook in a moderate oven, 170 degrees (150 degrees fan) or gas mark 3, for around one hour, until the lamb is tender.
Just before serving stir in the spinach, and serve as soon as the leaves melt into the casserole.

Leek and Bacon Hotpot

When cooking with leeks, make sure you discard any round, hard centres. That doesn't tend to happen until early spring, when the season is almost over.
Courgettes should be sweet. If they are bitter, either your supplier or you have kept them too long. They may still look alright, but they may not taste so good. Always try a small raw chunk to ensure they're not past their best.
For a low fat bacon option, turkey rashers are quite passable.

Serves 4

3-4 large leeks, chopped finely
3 small courgettes chopped into chunks
200g (7oz) bacon, cut into strips
2 tsp chicken stock powder (or one cube)
1 tub of low fat creme fraiche
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large potatoes cut into slices
50g (2oz) grated cheddar cheese
2 tblsp olive oil

Place the potato slices into a pan of water, and boil for around 15-20 minutes, until just soft.
Meanwhile, fry the finely chopped leeks in 2 tablespoonfuls of olive oil until they begin to go soft and golden. As they do, add the courgette pieces. They too should be slightly golden, soft enough to eat, but still retain their bite. Finally, add the strips of bacon and continue to cook for a further 4-5 minutes (less if using turkey rashers). Stir in the creme fraiche, stock and season with salt and pepper.
Drain the potato slices and layer over the leek and bacon mixture. Top with the grated cheese and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, 180, (160 fan oven), gas mark 4, or microwave for 6 minutes on high. If the cheese hasn't started to bubble and turn golden, put the casserole under the grill for a few moments.