Category Archives: Reviews

The Real Meal Revolution Lamb and Mushroom Blanquette

The Real Meal Revolution

Recipe Review: Not only for “Banters”

Fascinated by the incredible following Professor Tim Noakes, Sally-Ann Creed, Jonno Proudfoot and David Grier have had with their “Banting” diet and The Real Meal Revolution, I bought a copy of the book and have been trying out some of the recipes – mostly in my various Sola pans

The Lamb and Mushroom Blanquette, which is a rich, wholesome stew, was one of the first of The Real Meal Revolution (TRMR) recipes I tried – and so far, it’s undoubtedly one of the best. It is also the only one I have cooked more than once. Featured on page 134 of the book, it has, I think, the wrong photograph illustrating it – but that’s about the most serious fault I could find. Any other “faults” were mine.

As the authors’ say in the intro to the recipe, this superb lamb stew is really really quick and easy. Very little prep, and no browning required. It does though take a good three hours to cook.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I almost always adapt recipes when I use them; and while I stuck fairly close to the original here (since I was reviewing it after all), I did make a couple of changes. The ingredients given here are what I used (I added half again of everything specified); I also threw in some sherry because there were only minimal juices in my pan after cooking for two-and-a-half hours as specified. If you’re on the so-called Banting diet, do not add sherry, it’s full of carbs; and do add the full quota of butter called for.

I hasten to add that in spite of my fascination with “Banting”, I’m not strictly on a diet of any sort. However I have always eaten a fair amount of fat (like butter and yummy, crispy pork crackling or well-cooked fat on lamb chops), and have also been aware of the need to minimize carbs. I am also a strong believer in the power of exercise, and walk or hike regularly. But this post is about a lamb and mushroom stew, and not about me, my weight lose, diets or exercise regime. 

Ingredients for about 6 people

  • About 1 kg of lamb, cubed (TRMR calls for 600 g of lamb shoulder, which would be boneless, I used knuckles both times, and left the bone in)
  • 3 large onions, peeled and halved
  • 2-3 heads of garlic, cloves peeled and left whole (TRMR says two garlic heads, halved, and doesn’t mention peeling. I tried this the first time I cooked it and the papery skin detracted – look for heads that have really big cloves to minimize peeling)
  • 6 sticks of celery, coarsely chopped
  • freshly picked thyme and rosemary (the original recipe says five sprigs of each – I used more, and really big sprigs, because I have both flourishing in my garden)
  • 750 ml chicken stock (or water mixed with three Stock Pot cubes)
  • 375 ml dry white wine
  • 75 ml cream
  • 375 g white button mushrooms, whole or halved (depending on size)
  • About 3 tbsp butter (the original recipe calls for 200 g butter, and with my half-again ingredients, this would be 300 g)
  • About 250 ml or more of Old Brown Sherry – but only if you aren’t on a strict LFHC diet!

Understand the Principle of a Blanquette

Essentially a blanquette is a ragout (a French main-dish stew that is cooked very slowly over low heat) made without browning either the meat or the butter.

Blanquette: The French term for a ragout of white meat (veal, lamb or poultry) cooked in a white stock or water with aromatic flavorings. Theoretically, the sauce is obtained by making a roux and adding cream and egg yolks. However, the roux is more often than not omitted. Blanquette had a very important place in historical cuisine and became a classic of bourgeois cookery.” Larousse Gastromique

How to Make Lamb and Mushroom Blanquette ala TRMR

Plan your time carefully. The first time I cooked this, I failed (as I often do) to read the recipe all the way through, and went off to walk eight kilometers thinking it would only take about an hour to cook when I got home at 7 pm. Needless to say, it was a very late dinner.

If you want to eat at 7 pm, then preheat your oven to 180 deg C/350 deg F mid-afternoon so you can start cooking no later than 4 pm.

Then choose a suitable dish to cook the lamb in. You could use a roasting dish, a glass or ceramic casserole dish, or you could do as I did and use a Sola paella pan. It’s nice and big (32 cm diameter) and has a glass lid. If you cook the quantities specified in the original recipe it might be a little too big, but for my version it is perfect. My only observation, as I have already mentioned, is that the liquid used reduced almost completely; it may not if a different type of cookware had been used. Also, the original recipe states that the “ovenproof casserole dish” should be covered with foil, which I did the second time just to see if there was a difference in the reduction. There wasn’t. So next time – and there surely will be many more next times – I’ll be using the Sola paella pan glass lid again.

The Real Meal Revolution

So let’s start cooking.

Put the cubed lamb pieces, halved onions, coarsely chopped celery sticks, herbs, garlic cloves, chicken stock and dry white wine into your paella pan or ovenproof casserole dish.

You could add a little coarsely ground black pepper, but I didn’t find that any additional seasoning was necessary.

The Real Meal Revolution

Cover the casserole or pan with foil or a lid. Remember that if you use foil, the shiny side should be facing inwards to reflect the heat back onto the food. As an aside, I would have thought there would be less reduction with a glass lid. Comments about this are more than welcome.

Pop the casserole or pan into your preheated oven and allow it to cook for about two-and-a-half hours.

The original recipe says you should check the meat after the two-and-a-half hour period and if it isn’t nice and tender, to continue cooking for another half an hour. I would suggest checking after two hours – depending of course on the quality of meat you are cooking.

The Real Meal RevolutionWhen you are happy it is soft and tender, drain the liquid through a sieve into a pot. Then you need to reduce the liquid (if there is any), so that you are left with – the TRMR recipe says 400 ml – and for this reason I figured I needed about 600 ml. Having probably only about 15 ml of liquid left, I grabbed the Old Brown Sherry and threw in a lot of it to increase the liquid. I then let this reduce with whatever juices from the dish I had managed to sieve out.

I should probably add that I also removed the meat and veg from the pan and used the same pan to reduce the liquid – or should I say increase and then reduce the liquid? You could though use a clean pot of any kind.

The Real Meal Revolution

Next step is to add the mushrooms and then the cream (as shown in the pictures above). This then needs to reduce back to about  the 400 ml or 600 ml – depending on what you are cooking. I have absolutely no idea what mine reduced to, but it worked and was delicious. I have watched enough MasterChef programmes on TV to know that a lot of other cooks who are much, much better than me also guess a lot.

The Real Meal Revolution

Once you are happy with the way the sauce looks, feels and tastes, and the mushroom is cooked but not slushy and over-cooked, put the meat back with the mushrooms and the sauce. Add the butter and stir until it has melted and emulsified with the sauce.

Taste, and if you feel the need, add a little  salt and pepper (preferably pink Himalayan salt and freshly ground black pepper.)

Tim Noakes and co suggest serving with broccoli, which I did the first time. A salad is also a good idea. But it’s a versatile dish and one that can be served with rice or potato (if you aren’t on a diet), or with just about any veg you like.

It’s also great with iced cold dry white wine. Enjoy!




The Sola Cookware Challenge

Woks and Pans for Easy Cooking

Sola Cookware

It all began when I posted an ad in our local Buy & Sell Somerset West Facebook group late last year (2014) stating that I was looking for a secondhand stainless steel wok. I had been going through a lots-of-Thai-food-cooking phase and my woks (two very basic, so-called, non-stick things) were looking a little worse for wear, and the food was tending to stick. However, my main concern was that because the coatings on them had worn off, after each wash the upper surface became covered with a very thin layer of rust. Okay, so “iron” is supposedly good for you, but this wasn’t kosher at all. And since the once bought-new stainless steel pots and pans I picked up for a song at Cash Crusaders had been going strong for at least eight years, it seemed like a no-brainer to get a stainless steel wok.

I can’t remember exactly how the scenario played out, but it started with someone in the group offering to sell me a top quality plug-in electric wok – definitely not what I was after. Then there were a couple of offers of high quality non-stick, very expensive (even though they were secondhand) Bauer cookware. Also not what I wanted. Not long after this, Willem Huisamen from  Sola Cookware SA said I should be looking at his Green Cooking products. After some online banter – and a little more serious offline discussions – I agreed to review some of the cookware items he imports from Holland and sells throughout South Africa.

At this point I need to emphasize that he has made no attempt to influence my reviews in any way. I must also stress that when I agreed to what I call the Sola Cookware Challenge, I was not convinced by any of his arguments that Sola products were superior, and I was still hankering after a stainless steel wok. But it didn’t take long for me to change my mind 360 degrees.

Before launching into my “review”, I feel the need to introduce my stainless steel pots and pans, because they served me for nearly a decade.

My Stainless Steel Pots and Pans

Sola Cookware
I have to admit that these are probably cheap Chinese – perhaps better than some, but not made for the long haul. Not a brand one would remember.

The Sola Cookware Green Cooking wok and large pans, and my stainless steel pots and pans, have a few things in common – most obviously they are all manufactured for cooking food. Also they are both made of metal and they have glass lids. But that’s the end of it.

I concede right now that Sola’s Green Cooking range beats stainless ordinaire hands down.

The company also imports a rather more upmarket range of stainless steel pots sets than mine, but that is not part of the equation, because they don’t offer a wok!

Now, having said that my trusty stainless steel set of saucepan and pots served me for more than a decade, I have to admit that this is not entirely true. Bought as a nine-piece (which of course includes the glass lids), it is now down to eight, with one piece scarcely worth its spot in the kitchen cupboard.

My first stainless steel casualty was the pot that was the same diameter as the frying pan and I used it almost every day. Sadly it “died” about four years ago when a pinhole developed in the side of the pan. After my son tried, unsuccessfully, to spot-weld the hole to fix it, I sent the pot off with our weekly recycling.

sola cookware
The laminated layers of stainless steel have come apart and are buckling. Now cooking is more than a challenge using this pan.

The second casualty was the frying pan, which while basically usable, now causes food to stick, simply because the two layers of laminated metal have come apart. Ironically, that only happened a few weeks ago, well after Willem’s initial challenge. Now it really is sadly buckled and bent (as you can see from the photograph), and very close to making it into a recycling bag.

The Sola Challenge …With its Woks and Pans

While I was really only looking for an old but still usable wok, Willem Hulsamen was determined to prove a point. So along with a 36 cm Green Cooking wok, he also asked me to try cooking with the Sola 32 cm paella pan and a 28 cm (85 mm-deep) pan. Not long afterwards, he suggested I also experiment with two smaller pans, which I have done. All are part of the undoubtedly popular Green Cookware range.

For the past two months I have recorded my cooking escapade photographically and in words, and intend to share the recipes and largely step-by-step instructions in my own mini Come Dine With Me on this website.

Sola cookware
Green Cooking woks, pots and pans from Sola, a Dutch company

Features of Sola Green Cookware

According to the company’s promotional material, Sola’s Green Cooking range of cookware is manufactured from forged aluminum and finished with a ceramic coating that is considerably stronger and therefore much more scratch resistant than other more common so-called non-stick coatings.

However, the company does warn on the packaging that sharp metal utensils will scratch the non-stick coating and recommend using anything that won’t scratch, including wood and various “plastics.”

The coating is made from eco-friendly materials, and is PFTE and POFA free. So here’s some detail about what this all means.

The Implications of PFTE and POFA in Cookware Coatings

PFTE stands for polytetrafluoroethylene, a synthetic compound that is commonly used as a non-stick coating for cookware. The best-known brand name linked to PTFE is Teflon, a formulation made by the DuPont Company since the 1940s. While the American Cancer Society states categorically that “Teflon itself is not suspected of causing cancer,”  it does warn of dangers, specifically the fact that deadly fumes are released when this cookware is overheated. People have reported getting flu-like symptoms as a result of heating Teflon to high temperatures, and birds are known to have died from the fumes. DuPont even released a brochure warning that the fumes from Teflon can kill a bird in just a few minutes. That is a chilling admission and one that makes me very happy not to be cooking with anything that contains PFTE.

PFOA, which is perfluorooctanoic acid and also referred to as C8, is, like PFTE, a manmade chemical, but it burns off during the manufacture of Teflon, and is therefore considered to be an insignificant factor in non-stick coatings. However, it is a very real health concern, particularly in the USA because it remains in the blood of people who are exposed to it, and is considered to increase the risk of tumors in animals. Even more scary is the fact that, as the American Cancer Society confirms, the long-term effects of PFOA are “largely unknown.”

Sola cookware
The large Sola wok with two handles

The Netherlands-based manufacturers of Sola state that their non-PFTE/PFOA coating can be heated up to 400 deg F or 200 deg C. However they warn that one should never heat up an empty pan, and one should avoid very hot temperatures when cooking as this could cause the food to stick.

They also warn that the handles of the wok and pans will be damaged if the cookware is used over an open fire, and it will tend to smoke if the temperature is too high. Ultimately, very high temperatures may damage the non-stick coating.

I don’t have a means of checking the heat of woks, pots and pans I cook in, but there’s a good chance I’ve cooked at temperatures exceeding 200 deg C, and I can safely say that I have not had any problems with food sticking to the wok or any of the pans. I’m guessing that their warning is on the conservative side, just to be sure to cover their backsides if somebody does manage to cause damage. After all, all products in the Green Cooking range carry a lifetime warranty on workmanship and materials.

Sola cookware
The hugely versatile Sola paella pan

Cooking With Sola’s Green Cooking Woks and Pans

Thumbs up all round.

I love the wok and I love the pans – all of them. I’ve used at least one of them most days since Willem initiated the challenge, and have recorded all food cooked.

As already stated, this means I have recipes and step-by-step pix that I will be sharing on this website with anyone interested over the next few months.

I’ve chosen to cook lots of old family favourites as well as new recipes, including some of the currently “hot” Real Meal Revolution recipes featured in the Tim Noakes book that is rocking South Africa. Some of these will be presented as recipe reviews.

Sola cookware
The nice deep pan – and it has a glass lid too
Sola cookware
Closeup of the deep pan handle; well made – and it doesn’t get hot at all

There is only one vaguely negative comment I want to make, and that is that the handles of the Sola wok and paella pan tend to get hot. I know it sounds like another no-brainer, but in spite of my usual common sense, I did manage to burn my fingers once. Of course the pans with longer handles don’t have this problem at all, and oven gloves work perfectly for the hot bits.

Cleaning Sola Cookware

I loathe washing dishes, but can truthfully say that cleaning the Green Cooking Sola Cookware is not an issue. Wipe excess food off; soak in warm soapy Sunlight water; rinse with cold water; dry; and voila. I don’t even bother to dry!

Of course like any decent cookware, it may be used in a dish washer, but it’s so quick and easy to clean, I haven’t bothered yet.