Saturday, 14 November 2009

A proper beef stew

I cannot think of anything more comforting on a cold Saturday night, at the end of a long week of work, than a delicious, bubbling, fragrant casserole of beef and red wine. This one uses a whole half bottle - don't be stingy, sometimes it's just not worth it! Yum...

  • 4 fat garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 sticks of celery, sliced
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
  • Rosemary needles, a scant dessertspoon-full, very finely chopped
  • 2 braising steaks, trimmed of fat and cubed
  • 1 tablespoon plain flour
  • Good pinch smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tin chopped tomatoes
  • Tin kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • Half bottle of good red wine
  • Pre-heat the oven to 160C/320F.
  • In a cast-iron casserole on the hob, heat a tablespoon of olive oil.
  • Add the garlic, onion and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and fragrant. Add the celery and carrots and cook for another few minutes until the vegetables begin to soften.
  • Remove the vegetables to a bowl and return the casserole to the hob, adding a little more oil if you think it needs it.
  • In a shallow dish, mix the plain flour with the paprika and a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Stir the beef through the flour. Shake off the excess.
  • Add the beef to the hot oil and sear on all sides.
  • Return the vegetables to the pan, along with the kidney beans and tomatoes. Pour over half the bottle of wine and stir well. Bring to a bubble, cover and put in the oven.
  • Cook the casserole for 2 1/2 - 3 hours. After the first hour give the stew a good stir. After the second add the rest of the wine. The stew is cooked once the sauce is thick and winey, and the meat is very tender. You may like to turn the heat down after the second hour if your oven is very fierce.
Feeds 2 with greens.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Warm chicken liver salad

Chicken liver is the epitome of frugal food - barely £2 for 400g, and so versatile.  I love making pate or chopped liver at the weekend, or a delicious chicken liver sauce with linguine for a tv dinner.  This is a wonderful salad for the mid-week munchies.

  • 400g chicken livers, washed and patted dry.  (To kosher the livers, sprinkle with salt and grill over a rack for 2 minutes a side to draw out the blood).
  • 2 garlic cloves, 1 finely chopped and 1 peeled and squashed
  • 1 small brown onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Marsala wine
  • 2 handfuls very small salad potatoes
  • 1/2 bag washed baby spinach leaves
  • 2 handfuls cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Put the potatoes in a saucepan of water, bring to the boil, then simmer until just soft to the point of a knife.
  • Meanwhile, heat a good knob of butter with a little olive oil (or just oil) in a broad based pan.   Add the chopped garlic and onion with a pinch of salt, and saute gently until soft and translucent.
  • Turn up the heat a little and add the dry chicken livers.  Cook the livers, turning often, until they have lost all their rawness and are cooked through.
  • Add the Marsala and let it bubble away until reduced to a thin syrup.  Set the pan to one side.
  • Arrange the salad and tomatoes on two plates.
  • In a frying pan, heat a slosh of olive oil with the squashed garlic clove.  Drain the potatoes well and add them to the hot oil.  Stir and turn them for about 5 minutes until the sides begin to brown and crisp.
  • Quickly remove the potatoes from the oil onto the salad.  Share out the livers and onion mush between the plates.  Finally, squeeze over a generous amount of lemon juice and eat.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Pumpkin and goats cheese lasagne

We have builders in at the moment, restoring our bathroom after a deluge from a faulty shower in the 'Willy Wallace Backpackers' above us.  Thankfully it is all being paid by the insurance, which is quite a blessing!  However, I'm good with neither disorder nor dust, so this week is a real opportunity to develop some patience and good humour through a bit of 'stretching'...

I think this supper may help to restore my emotional equilibrium though: it is a bit of a crib from Nigella Lawson's Christmas book, released last year.  Her recipe consists of three sauces - a smooth tomato passata, pumpkin cooked in tomato, and a goats cheese and ricotta topping.  It also feeds about 20 people!  My version is greatly scaled down, it feeds 2 generously, and is rather more abstemious in the ingredients.  However, don't be put off!  It is perfect for a frosty autumn night.

A note on the pasta - I used dried lasagne sheets and was disappointed by the resulting clagginess.  Nigella uses fresh sheets in her recipe and I would recommend you do the same, as I will next time - they don't have to be hand made, check the chiller cabinet at the supermarket.

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage leaves, or a few fresh
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 plump cloves of garlic, squashed
  • 400g pumpkin (peeled and deseeded weight), chopped into 1 inch squares
  • Tin good quality chopped tomatoes
  • Pinch sugar
  • 1/2 bag prepared spinach
  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon plain flour
  • 400ml full fat milk
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • Fresh nutmeg
  • Sheets fresh lasagne ( how many you will use will depend on the dimensions of your dish)
  • 1 goats cheese (I used a fairly soft rindless one from Somerset)
  • Heat a little olive oil with the sage leaves in a large saucepan.  Once the heat and scent rise up, add the garlic and onion with a pinch of salt, and cook gently for about 5 minutes until the onion is translucent and soft.
  • Add the cubed pumpkin and stir to coat with oil, then throw in the chopped tomatoes.  
  • Season the tomatoes with a little sugar, and some salt and pepper.  Depending on the brand of tomatoes you may want to add about 1/4 cup water.
  • Bring the pumpkin to a hearty simmer, and allow to cook for about 30 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft to the point of a knife but not collapsing, and the tomatoes have reduced a little to form a thickish sauce.  Once it is ready, add the spinach leaves, gently stirring and tamping them down with your spoon until they wilt into the sauce.
  • Meanwhile, heat the milk gently to body temperature.
  • Melt the butter in a small saucepan.  Stir in the flour until a smooth paste forms, then cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes until the colour darkens slightly.
  • Start to add the milk, stirring well after each addition so that no lumps form, until all the milk has been incorporated.
  • Keep the heat steady and stir continuously for around 10 minutes until a thick bechamel has formed.  The white sauce will form a coat on the back of a wooden spoon when it is ready.
  • Remove the sauce from the heat and quickly beat in all the parmesan, with nutmeg and salt to taste.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F.
  • In your favorite lasagne dish (we all have one) start to layer the pasta - start with a good slosh of the pumpkin, top with pasta sheets, then smooth on some bechamel and crumbled goats cheese, top with some more pumpkin and lasagne.  Keep layering - how many layers you make will depend on whether your baking dish is wide and shallow or narrow and tall.  Finish with a good covering of the last of the pumkin.
  • Finally, break up the remaining goats cheese all over the surface and pop into the oven.
  • Cook for 20 minutes or until the tomato and bechamel sauces are bubbling up the sides and the goats cheese is brown.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Orange and cranberry chocolate brownies

First off the bat, please let me apologise for my unscheduled absence of 2 weeks and counting.  I never meant to let my posts lapse to this extent, but starting some part-time voluntary work has rather knocked me for six over the last couple of weeks, and my cooking has likewise suffered*.  I had a baked potato and cheese for supper tonight...

However, I fully intend with the enthusiasm of fresh resolve never to leave so long between culinary experiments again.  And here is my (re)starting offer - a chocolate brownie to 
begin the gentle count-down to Christmas.

Now, yes I know that Christmas is still 50 days away.  And more importantly as far as
 this blog is concerned, chocolate brownies are not cheap to produce!  However, in answer to the first criticism I would argue that good things should never be constrained by dates on the calender - such as the sublime combination of orange, almond, cranberry, nuts and chocolate.  And to the second I would say that although, yes, the initial financial outlay for the ingredients is not cheap, these brownies are so rich, and keep so well, that you should be able to make several gifts for deserving friends out of them, thus keeping to the frugal ideal of my blog.

*Gosh, quite a cricket-metaphor heavy opening paragraph - Dr K will approve!

  • 200g light muscovado sugar
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 200g very dark chocolate, broken into squares
  • 3 large eggs + 1 extra yoke, lightly beaten
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 40g very good cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Zest of 1 orange (unwaxed or well scrubbed)
  • 50g dried cranberries
  • 50g hazelnuts, brazil nuts, or macadamia nuts (or a mixture), roughly chopped
  • Line the base of a square brownie tin.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F.
  • Beat the butter and sugars together very well until really soft and fluffy.
  • Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a bowl suspended over (but not touching) some lightly simmering water.  Make sure no steam mixes with the chocolate (which could cause it to seize) by covering the bowl with a saucepan lid.
  • Once the butter and sugar is well creamed, gradually beat in the egg in increments.
  • Fold in the melted chocolate with a large metal spoon, and then the ground almonds, cocoa, and baking powder, with a pinch of salt.
  • Lastly fold through the dried cranberries and chopped nuts and pour the brownie mixture into the tin.
  • Smooth the surface, and bake the brownies for 40 minutes, though start testing after 30 if you have a very hot oven.  When they are ready the brownies should have lost their wobble, but a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should still come out a little sticky.
  • Cool in the tin.  Once cool cut into 20 little squares.
(Please note, this recipe is adapted from Nigel Slater's 'My very good chocolate brownie recipe' in 'The Kitchen Diaries', published by Fourth Estate in London in 2005, p.325-6.  All recognition for the original recipe should go to the author.)