29 January 2011

Minced Beef Wellington - a Jamie Oliver favourite.

You can see my gravy boat that I got for Christmas!
Is it cute, or what?
It seems like aeons since I last broke out this Jamie Oliver recipe.  (I think it came from his "Ministry of Food" cook book).  I'm not really sure why, because it is absolutely scrumptious and a complete family favourite.  There aren't many recipes that result in clean plates all round - but this one is almost guaranteed, so long as I cook the vegetables right!

I'd love to be able to afford a nice piece of beef with which to make your classic Beef Wellington, but I doubt that's ever going to happen.  As such, this recipe isn't the "poor man's version", because apart from the fact that it's cooked in puff pastry and the end product looks similar, there the similarity ends.  In fact, it's more like a cross between a Cornish Pasty and a Minced Meat Pie, but whatever it is - it's really satisfying to make and to eat.

The vegetables softening.
I usually leave it until a Saturday to make it, because of the time involved in cooking the melange of vegetables and leaving them to cool, before mixing the mince in and getting it in the oven.  It just fits better on a Saturday.

I had a pack of frozen puff pastry sheets in the freezer and this recipe was included as a way of using them up.  I had originally thought I'd make two small Wellingtons, but then when I looked at how tiddly each sheet was, I decided to make one big monster Wellington by joining the two together.  I did so by brushing the pastry with beaten egg and it stuck together perfectly.  As you can see, it only just fitted onto the tray!

With some lovely tasty gravy, green beans, carrots and baby potatoes, it made a great meal.

Jamie Oliver’s MINCED BEEF WELLINGTON (serves 4)

Ingredients :

1 medium onion
1 carrot
1 stick of celery
1 potato
2 cloves of garlic
2 large field mushrooms
olive oil
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
a big handful of frozen peas
1 large egg
500g good quality minced beef
sea salt & black pepper
500g puff pastry

Method :

Peel and chop the onion, carrot, celery and potato into 1cm sized dice and finely chop the garlic.

Clean and roughly chop the mushrooms so they’re about 1cm dice and place all vegetables into a frying pan with olive oil.

Pick the rosemary leaves off the woody stalks, chop and add to the pan with the Worcestershire sauce.  Fry and stir for about 8 mins or until the vegetables soften and colour.
Ready for cooling
 Add frozen peas and cook for another minute, then put vegetables into large bowl to cool completely.

When cool, preheat oven to 180 deg C/Gas 4.  Whisk the egg lightly in a cup.

All combined and ready to go into pastry.
 Add the minced beef to the bowl with salt and pepper and half the egg.  Scrunch together.

Roll out pastry to size of small tea towel and place mince mix along one long side, in a sausage shape.
Well, it LOOKS like a Beef Wellington!
Brush edges of pastry with egg and roll pastry to cover mince completely.  Squeeze ends together.  Put onto baking tray, brush with egg.  Bake for 1hr until golden.



26 January 2011

Thyme & Mustard Gammon - quick and so tasty!

Photograph care of BBC Good Food,
where the original recipe came from
The son and heir had decided to go around to one of his friends' houses after school, which left hubby and I in something of a quandary as to what to do about dinner.

Fortunately, I'd planned to have Thyme & Mustard Gammon for dinner.  This is one of those "quick as a flash" sorts of dinners (well, once you've got the potatoes and carrots peeled, anyway!).

Being mid-week, we'd bought the common-as-muck munched-up-and-stuck-back-together-again Gammon steaks (£1 for 2), which would do fine for this meal as the meat is fried, then braised and any toughness would be cooked out of it.

So, as it was, it worked perfectly as a "quick, get dinner early, we need to go and collect son & heir" meal, which is also the reason why I forgot to take a photograph of it.  In fact, it even left us with some 20 minutes to fall asleep in front of the t.v. before sallying forth into the night.  However, aside from all that, this really is an extremely tasty dish.  The Gammon lends itself to sweetness in whatever form, and the orange zest and juice combined with the thyme really is a very good marriage that even goes deliciously well with mashed potato.

It proved a hit on all fronts.  Cheap, quick and tasty - can't ask for more than that!


Ingredients :

4 Gammon steaks
1 tsp olive oil
knob of butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp
thyme leaves
zest of 1 orange
juice of 2 oranges

2 tsp wholegrain mustard
300ml chicken stock

Ground black pepper

Method :
1.  Melt half the butter in a frying pan and add the oil.

2.  Season the bacon with pepper (no need to add extra salt). Then sizzle and brown the meat over a medium heat for 5 mins, turning once. Cook in batches, rather than overcrowd the pan, then lift onto a plate.

3.  Add the remainder of the butter to the pan. Once it looks foamy, stir in the onion and thyme, and fry very gently for 15 mins until the onion is soft and golden.

4.  Stir in the orange zest, juice, mustard and stock, return the gammon to the pan then simmer for 5 mins until it starts to thicken to a sauce.

Serve with mashed potatoes, together with peas and carrots.

Bournemouth Echo "Taste" blog : "Unexpected Spices and Mmmmm-oussaka"

(although, if you're keeping up to date with Rhubarb & Ginger, you'll have read about these two already!).


24 January 2011

Ras-el-Hanout rubbed Chicken breast, with Sweet Potato mash

I have been eyeing up various packets of Ras-el-Hanout spice mix for what has been a quite ridiculous length of time.  I was terribly tempted to get some and then find out what to do with it, but knowing how quickly spices lose their best, I decided to go about it the other way around.

Hence, I’ve been looking at various recipes that involve the mix and quietly learning what the possibilities are.

The end result came about rather more quickly than I anticipated as hubby returned home from a shopping jaunt proudly brandishing a packet of Ras-el-Hanout.

I’d love to tell you what’s in this pack, but unfortunately the manufacturers are keen to keep the knowledge to themselves and haven’t provided a list.  Which does make me a tad worried as to whether we’re sprinkling our chicken with desiccated camel dung, but I have put my faith in “the Authorities” and hope that they did their work properly when authorising it for sale in the U.K.

However, I can tell you that it definitely contains cinnamon, clove and cumin.  As to what all the other flavours are, well that’s up for conjecture.

This recipe is, in fact, my second go at using the spice mix.  The first go has drifted off into the mists of time that followed on from Christmas.  I know that we approved of it, whatever it was, and that it was a casserole/tagine of sorts.  We definitely enjoyed it, as it gave me the confidence to try this dish where the spice mix is rather more the star of the show.

Interestingly, I also ventured into one of our local butchers for the three chicken breasts required.  The cost came to rather more than I’d have wanted to pay, but having seen the size of the things once they were cooked and tasted the vast difference between that and supermarket slop, it was definitely worth every penny.

The Parmesan Tomatoes were perfect with it.
Just halve your tomato, season, add grated parmesan and bake for 20 mins

Ingredients :

2-3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2-4 tsp Ras-el-hanout spice mix
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 fat garlic clove, crushed
200ml chicken stock
2 tsp clear honey
juice of half a lemon
handful of olives (I used black), pitted preferably
large knob of butter
2 tbsp double cream
20g coriander, leaves chopped
salt & pepper

Method :

1.  Place the chicken breasts into a bowl or large freezer bag and sprinkle over as much of the spice mix as you require to coat liberally, plus seasoning.

2.  Heat the oil in a large frying pan and brown the chicken breasts until golden.  (Around 3-4 minutes).  Reserve them somewhere to keep warm.

3.  Boil the potatoes in salted water for 10-15 mins (depending on how small you’ve cut them), or until tender.

4.  To the frying pan, add the onion and garlic and cook for 5-10 mins slowly, until softened.  Add the stock, honey, lemon juice and olives, return the chicken to the pan, and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sauce is syrupy and the chicken cooked.  If one breast cooks before another, just remove it to keep warm and replace it for a quick warm up before serving.

5.  Mash the potatoes with the knob of butter and the double cream, remembering to season them to taste.

Serve the chicken upon the mash, with the sauce drizzled over and oven-baked parmesan tomatoes beside.

23 January 2011

Boxing Day dinner blog post fail

I have just spent some 2 hours or more writing a HUGE blog post regarding our Boxing Day dinner, which Blogger has just lost.

I don't have the time, or inclination, to write it all again.  Serves me right for not doing it in draft elsewhere, I guess.

~hangs head in defeat~

22 January 2011

Unexpected lunch at The Bear Cross.

We drove our son and heir out to attend a birthday party and then were left, at lunchtime, sitting outside the birthday house wondering what to do next.

So we decided to go somewhere for lunch and by "somewhere", I mean "somewhere other than Macdonalds or Burger King".

We drove vaguely towards home whilst debating where we should go and what we fancied by way of lunch and hadn't come to any conclusion when we found ourselves headed towards Bear Cross.  I remembered seeing that the Bear Cross pub was always very well attended every time we passed it on the way to the Magna Road Bootfair, so we had a venue, at last!

From the outside, it looks a very neat and well-presented place to eat.  It gives the impression of a pub trying to be a restaurant, rather than a restaurant trying to be a pub.  The smells wafting around outside were encouraging, even if it did smell rather like a bacon butty - but I'd have been happy with a really good bacon butty!

Upon entering, it all looks very welcoming, clean and tidy.  We were greeted with a warm smile and even though we hadn't booked a table, were shown to a very nice table in the dining room.  The waitress who took our drinks order of two lemonades was pleasant, with a ready smile.

We decided to go for the main course/dessert option, rather than have starters.  I wanted to be able to drive home, as opposed to being rolled home.  I went for the "Chicken Princess", which proved to be a butterflied chicken fillet, pan fried with a handful of prawns and finished in a cream and tarragon sauce, with seasonal vegetables and new potatoes.  My first bite of chicken had me checking to ensure that it was cooked sufficiently, (which it indeed was) as the degree of juiciness was surprising.  The sauce went beautifully with all the vegetables and I was pleased to see that along with the carrots, broccoli and sugar snap peas, were nestled several rounds of poached leek.

Hubby had the Beer-Battered Fillet of Cod with mushy peas, tartare sauce and chips.  The piece of fish was a gorgeously chunky fillet with the skin still attached and the batter was simply yummy.  Although not an enormous portion, it was certainly enough for a lunch.

When it came to dessert, we opted for the Caribbean Meringue - and two spoons.  This was the highlight of the meal, for me.  I think I can safely say that I haven't had such a truly memorable dessert at any restaurant.  The coffee flavoured meringue sat aboard a layer of whipped cream and sliced bananas, with butterscotch sauce drizzled over the top of the entire ensemble and across the plate. 

The whole thing was topped off with a little crushed mixed nuts.  It was as simple as could be - but ate amazingly.

The service was swift and friendly, the atmosphere was convivial and light.  We were somewhat taken aback to note that the drinks had cost around £2.50 for one tall glass of lemonade, however it was a very acceptable lunch experience - and somewhere that I would be happy to take my parents to, as the average age of the diner was around the 40-50 mark.

We came out £33 lighter in the pocket, but immeasurably happier than when we went in.  Can't ask for more than that!


16 January 2011

Getting back into the knack of blogging ...

It's supposed to be a food blog, isn't it?
It seems such an easy thing to do, doesn't it, blogging?  After all, you make something nice to eat (in the case of a food blog, anyway) take a photograph of it and write about it.  Simple.

However, it's honestly not that easy.  Well, the "making the food" part can be difficult, but on the whole it's fairly easy - especially when my chopping-and-peeling man (yay, Chillibob!) does all the chopping and peeling.  The photographing bit isn't THAT hard, especially as all we have is a little digital camera.  The hardest part is remembering where the heck it is!

No, it's the "finding the time to write about it" that's the hard part.  I honestly think that if I were sound in wind and limb (and hence the responsibility for the largest part of the housekeeping was down to me), I wouldn't have time to provide the upkeep of a blog.  As it is, because I'm far from sound, I ostensibly have the time to sit and type.  Or that's the theory, anyway.

I've been pondering on what gets in the way of blogging.  I have a theory that it's down to two things : 1. Myself and 2. Everything else.  Now number 2 is easy to explain - it's all those things that get in the way. Shopping. Not feeling well enough to sit at the computer for hours. Family requiring to see you on occasion (which is fair enough, to be honest).  Taking family where they want to go (I'm the only car driver).  Waiting for them while they do their thing (wish I had a little laptop!) and all those things that, following on from Christmas, need doing.

As for number 1, getting in my own way is something of an art form and something that I wish I wasn't quite so good at.  I really - no, really - enjoy blogging and since the advent of Spotify.com, can now even listen to music whilst I blog.  (Deacon Blue, at the moment, since you ask).  It's a very enjoyable pastime.  I think that the real problem with it, is that it takes so flipping long.  I just can't sit down and bash out a blog post within a half hour.  Even though I type at 120 words a minute (no, really, I do!) and the words just fall out of my head, sometimes falling over themselves to do so, it just seems to take me aeons from opening up the posting page, to clicking on that "publish" button.  I can spend all day, and produce two blog posts.  I think I must go into some kind of time warp.

Absolutely nothing to do with this piece of writing
but too cute for words
Consequently, I've become a bit leery of getting into writing during the day because it segregates me from the rest of the family and I find I've spent the entire weekend sitting in my bedroom, staring at the screen whilst my fingers do the talking.  One day, I'm scared I'll walk into the sitting room and not recognise the young man who is welded to the X-Box as being my son.

So, I've moved to writing during the evenings.  However, even that's not ideal as my condition (Polymyalgia Rheumatica) is at its worst by the evening and I'm far from comfortable sitting here.  Which has it's benefits, as at least I can't type long into the night, as my body lets me know it's bedtime.

As a result, following on from Christmas, I've been noticeable by my absence - for which I humbly apologise, all those who follow my blog regularly.  I have a whole HEAP of things to tell you about - and I will get to them, I promise.  I just have to remember to take photographs, lol.

Now, where's that camera?


14 January 2011

Sorry for the delay!

I'm so sorry for the delay in getting on with blogging everything that I have to tell you about - it's just that real life is getting in the way!  I'll be back here very soon - promise!

5 January 2011

Marmite Chocolate - say whaaaa?

No, really.  Marmite Chocolate.
I got it as a Christmas Present from Chillibob.  He said it was one of those "had to be done" things - and I agree.

In fact, I think it's rather nice.  Odd, but rather nice.  But then, I do like Marmite.  :)

The best thing I ate this Christmas : Rib of Beef

I referred, somewhat tantalisingly, to buying a piece of Beef from our local butcher to have as extra ammunition on Boxing Day.

Well, this piece of bone-in Rib of Beef deserves its own mention such was its degree of yumtiousness.  Oh, and yes, "yumtiousness" is a word - I've just declared it so.

We wandered into Spring Fields Butchers to have a bit of a peep at their beef and was so side-tracked by the t.v. celebrity who followed us in (and whose name I am STILL scratching around for, annoyingly) that I wound up buying a 1.5kg piece of bone-in Rib.

Just how nice does that look?  On the negative side, it was perhaps a little young as it could have been a bit darker, but then I was side-tracked trying to whisper out of the corner of my mouth to Chillibob "famous person behind you!".

As a piece of mouth-wateringly beefy beef, it wins.  So majorly lovely was it, that I didn't get beyond taking a photograph of it in the pan being seared on all sides - or the sides that would fit in the pan, anyway.

Having roasted it, I carved it and froze it (weep - sacrilege! But necessary) for use on Boxing Day - of which, more later!


Making the Christmas Ham

Well now.  It's been a few weeks since I've had time to put fingers to keyboard, which is entirely down to that thing called "Christmas" intervening.  I've sat down this morning and made a list of what I want to tell you all about - and it's come down to twelve individual things!  Now normally, I'd deal with them in chronological order.  This time, however, I can go no further without recounting the sheer triumph that was our Christmas Ham.

As you do, we'd been contemplating what to have for our Christmas Dinner since way before the date and had both been in agreement that Turkey was so yesterday, Chicken was for Christmasses of yore when money was tighter than today.  Goose & Duck were both a temptation, but the worry was that it wouldn't go as far as I needed it to.  Beef was extremely tempting, but too expensive for the size I wanted.  So, we came down on a Christmas Ham (with a piece of Beef to add variety to Boxing Day).

That's a big old piece of pig!
We had been eyeing up the enormous legs of pork in the supermarkets and although we knew we should be buying from the local butcher, I'm afraid the supermarket won on price.  If it's any consolation, we did buy the Beef from the local butcher!  We got a 5kg bone-in (although it turned out to be the tiniest bone) half leg.  Top half - the thigh, effectively.

With kettle added, for size comparison
The next quandary was what to soak it and cook it in.  None of our saucepans were even remotely big enough, and neither was my Mum's pressure cooker.  Then Chillibob remembered the Jam Boiler that our friend Laura had given to us and which had been residing in the shed ever since, awaiting a suitable glut of fruit.

Now that's a BIG jam boiler!
It seemed as though this enormous piece of pork qualified as a glut of pork - so we got the boiler out and gave it a scrub, boiled up some water in it (which took 30 minutes, even starting with hot water!), let it cool and plonked Mr Pig inside.  Perfect!

It took 8 or 9 litres of water to cover it for soaking, which made us glad we'd bought that extra 2 litre bottle of coca-cola, as that was what we'd be cooking it in, the next day.  I added three satsumas, which I'd pulverised the juice out of, some star anise, peppercorns, coriander seeds, cloves, a chilli (which I'd punched holes in, to allow it to steep) and some garlic and left it to swim around for the night.

The following day, I baled out enough of the liquid so that I could remove the pork to drain the boiler.  It was just too heavy to lift, otherwise.  The water had gained an "interesting" hue and it all smelled satisfyingly Christmassy.

Ready to be cooked - in coca-cola, plus some!
Having rinsed the boiler out and placed it (gently - it's a ceramic hob) onto the cooker top, I then went about replacing Mr Pig and setting him to swim in a bath of six litres of coca-cola, topped up with a little water.  To the coca-cola, I added everything but the kitchen sink, which is roughly translated as carrot, onion, celery, cloves, coriander seeds, peppercorns, parsley - all the usual suspects.

I then set it to boil.  Three-quarters of an hour later, it had achieved a gentle bubble.  An hour and a quarter later, I turned the heat down to a gentle simmer - and left it whilst I researched how long to cook the beast.  There seemed to be two schools of thought on this subject - around two and a half hours -v- four to five hours.  So I compromised and looked at it once it'd achieved three hours - and it appeared done.

All studded and ready to be baked
Chillibob had to be press-ganged into fishing Mr Pig - who shall henceforth be known as "Mr Ham" - from the enormous vat, where he had (Mr Ham, that is, not Chillibob) achieved a major suntan and had changed from the translucent Pork appearance to the lovely juicy pink appearance of Ham.  He also smelled extremely interesting!

Having allowed the Ham to cool briefly, I took the rubbery rind off of its back and got busy with the clove-studding.  I'd have left a bit more of the fat on, but knowing how fat-phobic my two chaps are, thought it best to carve as close to the meat as possible.  It worked out fine, but doesn't look as pretty as it would have done otherwise.

The next problem was finding room for it in our already bulging fridge, but with some help from the snow outside bringing the temperatures down we were able to decant the drinks and vegetables to the shed, which helped.  So, that just left the marmalade glaze to put on it tomorrow, before baking.

As a two-day enterprise, it was all going rather swimmingly.

Now how nice does THAT look?  Still pink inside and juicy, too.
Following its marmalade glaze, baking, basting, more baking and a final flourish with a blowtorch (because it was a Christmas present and I could, right?), the Christmas Ham was done.

That 5kg piece of meat has, so far, done three of us for Christmas Day, four of us for Boxing Day, countless sandwiches and cold meat suppers, a risotto, a soup and I've still got 400g of it in the freezer awaiting a potato & cheese bake.  It may have taken three days in total, but boy, was it worth it.

Happy Christmas!

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