30 March 2011

So! What's on the menu list for this week, then?

Isabella Plantation, Richmond Park
This week, we shall mostly be thinking about fresh flavours, lighter flavours and trying a few new things.  Well, it IS spring - and if ever there was a time to cast off those heavy (but cosy) old overcoats of casseroles, dumplings, heavy sauces and old favourites such as Chilli con Carne, it's now.

Now is a time to lighten the load (not only around our waistlines) and wake up our tastebuds with tastes and textures that we haven't experienced for the last few cold and damp months.

So, out goes our reliance upon root vegetables, heavy stocks and sauces - and in comes citrus flavours, braising and salads.

I'm certainly ready for a change - and this week's menu reflects that.

As ever, my week kicks off on a Tuesday when I went to Spring Fields Catering Butchers to buy some chicken breasts and pork steaks.  The five chicken breasts were still priced at an incredibly reasonable £5 for the lot, but the pork steaks just amazed me.  £2.99 for six - and as he was cutting them from the huge piece of loin of pork, I couldn't quite believe my eyes.  In fact, I had to check what I'd got when I arrived home, such was my amazement.  If you were to buy the equivalent from your local Supermarket, I'm sure you wouldn't see much change out of £6.  Just superb value.

So Tuesday's dinner was Citrus Paprika Chicken with a watercress, rocket & spinach salad together with cherry tomatoes and avocado.  The carbohydrate aspect came in the form of some diced potatoes which were roasted in their jackets alongside the chicken, having been doused in the chicken's marinade.

Apart from the oven suddenly deciding to roast everything super-hot (and subsequently burning the edges of the spuds) this all came together really easily.  However, its reception wasn't quite universal.  I really liked it, hubby wasn't so keen and son just seemed ambivalent towards the whole meal.  However, I do think that it was more of a "girl's food" dinner, than a real "man's dish" - even though it contained an entire chicken breast each!

Wednesday should bring about a change from "girl food" to real "man food", with the pork steaks braised in cider & mustard, with mashed potatoes, carrots and broccoli.  Goodness, but I'm looking forward to this one, having seen the loveliness of the pork.  I'm also going to be using a bottle of the gorgeous Sheppy's Dabinett single variety cider which I've used before with very good results.  Fingers crossed!

Thursday requires a simple, quick to cook dish as I'll have been at work during the day.  Hence, I've booked in a Creamy Linguine with prosciutto, lemon and basil, which I expect we'll have with garlic bread.  Now, don't tell everyone, but this will be the very first time I've ever cooked with prosciutto.  *blush*  I'm really quite excited to be adding another first to my repertoire.

Picture c/o BBC Good Food website
You might remember that I booked in Bobotie on last week's menu list, but it got bumped off when I ran out of steam and plumped for fish & chips.  Well, I've gone off the idea of Bobotie now, but I've still got the minced lamb in the freezer.  So, on Friday we'll be making use of it in a lamb meatball traybake.

This is where the mince is made into some tasty meatballs with onion and mint, which are then roasted off in the oven alongside some onions, courgettes, butternut squash pieces, sweet potato wedges, cherry tomatoes - and some feta is crumbled over at the last minute.  It just appealed to the desire for some fresher, less complicated flavours - and I'm hoping it will suit that just fine.  Son and heir won't like the courgettes or cherry tomatoes, of course, but then he'll have the butternut and sweet potato to console himself with.  I may also throw in a couple of mushrooms - it's the kind of meal where anything that will roast can be added as an afterthought.

Saturday is hubby's day for cooking - and he's promised us a risotto.  Yum!  I'm not sure what type of risotto - and neither is he - but he's leaving it to providence and seeing what is in the supermarket on the day.  If nothing else, the produce will be fresh when it goes into the pot!

Photo c/o BBC Good Food website
Speaking of pots, on Sunday I've booked in another pot roasted chicken - except this time, instead of the usual roasted accompaniments, we're going to be having gnocchi and tenderstem broccoli.  Now there's a brave break from tradition for you!

Which brings us to the last day of this week's menu list, which is Monday - or "cold chicken day" as I expect it is becoming known.  I think it is always such a terrible waste of some really quite glorious cold cooked chicken (which is one of my favourite flavours in the universe) to put it into some curry, or pasta, or make it into a pie.  So, this Monday is going to be all about the chicken - right up until we reach the carrot fritters.  To give them their proper title, "carrot, cumin & feta fritters" which will be served with coriander yoghurt and a side salad.  I thought it would be an intriguing accompaniment to that delicious cold chicken - and far more interesting than a boring old potato salad!


29 March 2011

Cheesy Celeriac Slice - a bit of a serious cheese-fest!

As part of my regular menu planning, I've decided to include the occasional vegetarian (or non-meat) recipe.

Well, I reckoned that it wouldn't do any of us any harm to lay off the meat for a day (we could do it for a day, surely?) and it might help the bank balance along a bit.  So for the last few weeks, I've had my eye open for likely-sounding vegetarian recipes.

I came across a recipe for a Potato & Cheese slice which the writer had prepared for her Wedding buffet.  It sounded delicious, but I knew that it was unlikely to succeed with hubby, all the time it contained potato. What to use instead, though?

For some reason, celeriac immediately popped into my head.  Well, celery certainly goes with cheese sauce, celeriac is capable of being mashed like potato - I reckoned it'd be worth a go.

I am very glad I went with that celeriac thought, as the end result - we had it for dinner last night - was not only delicious, but a bit of a celeriac revelation.   Needless to say, I wasn't content with just changing potato for celeriac, but I tweaked the recipe a bit further and added a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, just to help those cheesy flavours along.

Served as a slice - as pictured - or even as individual Cheesy Celeriac Rolls (like sausage rolls), it went perfectly with baked beans for an easy dinner.  It is just as nice cold (I'm using up the leftovers for my lunch today) with salad.

Oh - and there wasn't a peep of protest from the boys.  Well, not once they had a forkful in their mouths.  ~Satisfaction~

20 October 2016 : I can't believe it's been so long since I made this last!  Still, it's worth the wait and this version of it was no exception.  I tweaked the recipe a tiny bit by adding grated nutmeg and freshly ground black pepper to the original celeriac mash, which meant I could leave out the cayenne pepper which doesn't agree with us these days.  It definitely doesn't seem to have noticed the change, as it was just as delicious as always.  For me, the recipe is entirely dependent upon choosing a good, super flavoursome Cheddar cheese.  Coupling that with the celeriac is absolutely the base of a good end result.


Ingredients :

500g celeriac, peeled and cubed
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp Dijon mustard
200g grated strong cheddar
200g red leicester, cut into tiny cubes
a bunch of spring onions, trimmed and sliced finely
pack of 2 sheets of frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, whisked.

Method :

Pre-heat oven to 200degC/400degF/gas 6.

Boil celeriac until tender along with a pinch of sea salt, then drain well, allow to steam dry and mash with a pinch of pepper and nutmeg - ensuring some texture is left in the mash.  Allow to cool.

Add the cheese, Dijon mustard and onions to the celeriac and stir to combine.  Taste to check for seasoning.

Lay out one of the sheets of puff pastry and roll lightly to reduce the thickness, taking care to keep the rectangular shape.

Take half of the cheese mixture and press into a sausage shape along one of the long sides.

Egg wash the opposite side, and roll into a long cylinder, pressing down along the egg washed side to seal.  Place on a baking tray.

Repeat with the other sheet of pastry, then paint all the rolls liberally with egg wash.  Taking a fork, prick along the top of each roll to allow steam to escape easily.

Place into the oven to bake for around 30 minutes.

Slice and serve.

Printable version

Oriental Beef with Butternut Squash and Special Fried Rice

You remember how keen I was on the shin of beef dishes I've made just recently?  Or perhaps how excited I was about the Pot Roasted Brisket?  Well, this one surpasses all of those.  Truly!

I kept a little secret from the boys about this dish, which was that it originated from the Weight Watchers Oriental Express recipe book!  Anything that has "healthy" or "low fat" in its title always engenders much suspicion in a chap's breast, it seems.  So, I figured it was better that they didn't know, right up until such time as I could commit the big "reveal", or admit it was another failure.  Whichever was appropriate.  In fact, as I didn't have any low fat cooking spray, I substituted olive oil where that was required but used it sparingly.  I also tweaked the quantities of orange juice to water, winding up with a little more of the juice than the water, largely because two oranges came to 150ml, once juiced, and I wasn't prepared to find a home for the extra half - so used it.

I had scheduled this dish for a Sunday evening when, normally, we'd have some sort of Sunday roast.  I reckoned it wouldn't hurt us to not have a traditional Sunday roast - and as it used almost as much beef brisket as had the previous Sunday's meal, it was almost a Sunday roast - just prepared differently.  In truth, I think I was justifying it to myself as I really don't suppose the boys care whether we have a Sunday roast or not - so long as something yummy turns up for dinner each day, I doubt they consider it much further than that.

I had liked the sound of the recipe at the first read-through, plus it also had the benefit of my having just about everything in the fridge or spice cupboard already, barring the meat and the butternut squash.  This made the purchase of these two more expensive ingredients rather more affordable.

The 800g of brisket was a lovely piece of meat.  It took just a little trimming on one side to remove some short runs of gristle, plus a bit of a trim of the fat on the other side.  I didn't remove all the fat, as I knew it was going to be cooking for some two and a half hours and fat doesn't usually survive that!  Dustbins 1 and 2 were in attendance, of course, and soon took care of any offcuts.

Where the rice was concerned, on the previous day we'd been shopping - doing a top-up shop for the weekend and the beginning of the following week.  I always like to have a cruise (don't forget, I use a disability buggy) down the world foods aisle where, to my surprise, I found a bottle of authentic oyster sauce.  At £2-odd, it was a little pricey when I didn't have anything in mind for it - but too good to leave there, so I bought it.  Only as I was assembling the ingredients for the special fried rice, did I remember the oyster sauce.  Using authentic soy (Yellow Plum brand), authentic fish sauce (Squid brand) and the authentic oyster sauce, put the tin lid on our attempts to make an authentic-tasting special fried rice.  I thoroughly recommend you put together some authentic ingredients like these, when you have a go at the rice recipe - they make all the difference.


Ingredients :

800g lean beef brisket, visible fat trimmed & sliced
olive oil
2 onions, sliced
1 star anise
1 tsp Chinese 5 spice powder
5cm (2") fresh root ginger, grated
150ml fresh orange juice
250ml water
4 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 red chilli, de-seeded if you prefer, and chopped
400g butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and chopped into 1cm pieces
salt & pepper

Method :

1.  Heat a large lidded saucepan or casserole dish - one which will go in the oven.  Pre-heat oven to 190deg C.

2.  Add a little olive oil and half the beef strips.  Sear until browned all over, then remove and sear the remaining half and remove.

3.  Add the onions to the pan with a little more olive oil if necessary.  Fry over a medium heat for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. It doesn't matter of some onions take on some colour, but you're aiming for them all to be softened.

4.  Add the star anise, 5 spice powder, ginger and chilli and stir fry for a minute.

5.  Pour in the water, orange juice and soy sauce.  Stir and ensure that you have de-glazed the pan, getting up all the lovely baked on flavour and stirring it in.  Re-introduce the beef and stir to combine.

6.  Bring to the boil, cover and then place in the oven for 2 hours.

7.  Remove from the oven, stir and add the squash, stirring to combine.  Replace into the oven for 30 minutes or until the squash is tender.  You probably won't need to cover the pan at this stage.

8.  If the sauce remains too watery, add a little cornflour and stir to combine until the favoured consistency has been reached.

Serve with Special Fried Rice :


Ingredients :

a knob of butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 eggs
a bunch of spring onions, trimmed and chopped finely
a small piece of ginger, shredded finely
2 mushrooms, chopped finely
a small handful of frozen peas
a small handful of frozen sweetcorn
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tsp fish sauce
2-300g long grain rice, cooked and allowed to cool.

Method :

1.  Heat the knob of butter and olive oil in a deep frying pan or wok.  Add the beaten egg one by one and cook to form an omelette.  Place both omelettes somewhere to keep warm.

2.  In the remaining butter/olive oil mixture, stir-fry the onion, mushroom and ginger for around 2-3 minutes or until the onions are appearing softened.

3.  Add the peas and sweetcorn and continue to cook until they are tender.

4.  Add the soy, oyster & fish sauces and stir through on a low heat.

5.  Add the cooked rice and stir through gently on a medium heat or until the rice is heated through.  Add the shredded egg omelettes - and serve.


28 March 2011

Bournemouth Echo "Taste" Blog : Just not quite right ...

Disapproving bunny disapproves of this week's menu

Everything we’ve had for our evening meal this week has proven to be just not quite right.

I don’t mean that everything has been horrible, or inedible – far from it.  Some things have been really quite nice, but just not quite right.  Something has been missing from them flavour-wise, or the cooking technique has missed somewhere along the line, or the flavours haven’t been to my preference.

All of which makes me sound terribly pretentious, but I do try to cook dishes to the best of my ability.  Sometimes I’m let down by a poor recipe – one that sounded great in first read-through, but during the cooking, or at the final tasting stage, just hasn’t quite met with expectations.  Sometimes I’m let down by the ingredients – like when the potatoes for a lovely mash just turn to water in the saucepan.  Sometimes I let myself down – like when I know I should be allowing two and a half hours to cook something, then get sidetracked by the washing machine refusing to work – and land up with just an hour!

My culinary week begins on a Tuesday, when I do the shopping.  This last Tuesday, because of various commitments throughout the day that I knew would leave me with little energy by the evening, I had booked in our son’s favourite meal – pizza.  You wouldn’t think that could go wrong at all, would you?  Well, we tried a new pizza.  It was supposed to be ciabatta based, with an assortment of meat products on board, as well as the usual tomato and cheese.  However, they didn’t mention the stealthy pieces of rosemary that were sneakily sprinkled around.  Every so often, you would get a really big hit of rosemary, a flavour that just didn’t sit well with its companions – and which spoiled the pizza for me.  I certainly won’t bother having it again.

Wednesday was to be a Beef & Cauliflower Curry, using Shin of Beef – which takes a minimum of 2 hours to cook.  I refer you back to the washing machine comment above.  Not only was dinner very late, but also the beef wasn’t as buttery as it should have been and – which I can’t quite believe I did – I forgot to include the cauliflower.  Which was an integral part of the dish.  I guess it just goes to show how distracted I was – or how bad my memory is getting!

Thursday was to have been a Chicken & Chorizo Jambalaya.  However, I felt absolutely bushed by dinnertime on Thursday and just couldn’t face the cooker.  So the Jambalaya was bumped to the next day and we had fish & chips.  (Which was very nice, thank you).

Friday evening hove into view and the Jambalaya was made.  I’m really not sure what I did – as I weighed out the amount of rice, so it should have been fine – but the rice took FOR EVER to cook and required a good 500-600ml more water than was originally cited in the recipe.  The flavours were nice, albeit very one-dimensional (even after the addition of a few ingredients to pep up the interest), and I was quite sure that if we hadn’t have been watching t.v. as we ate, I’d have left an awful lot more than I eventually did.  This one will have to go down as a “work in progress”, I think.  Perhaps a change in type of chorizo might help, and maybe the addition of some paprika – and maybe some prawns.  Or maybe I’d just be better off finding another recipe!

Saturday was hubby’s day to cook this week and he had decided to go for sausages, red cabbage & apple, together with mashed potatoes.  All of which was fine, until we got into the supermarket and found they didn’t have any red cabbages.  Nor any pre-cooked in the freezer department – and we weren’t prepared to pay through the nose for some from the pre-packed chilled department.  However, we did have a Savoy cabbage doing nothing since its meal (Bobotie – which will now happen next week) had been bumped off the menu list completely.  So, he opted to make the good old favourite of cabbage & bacon.  Which, I am pleased to say, made a great stand-in for the red cabbage.

Looking at how this week has gone, I’m getting seriously worried for the success of the Oriental Beef & Butternut Squash with fried rice that is on the menu list for Sunday!  As for the celeriac & cheese slice that’s booked in for Monday, an awful lot is resting on its vegetarian shoulders!

Bearing in mind, however, that this blog is supposed to be about the best thing I’ve eaten this week – the winner of that accolade goes to the cold pot roasted brisket of beef that I ate for lunch on Tuesday, with home-made coleslaw and a home-made chilli pickled onion.  Goodness, but that was some glorious eating!

 This post can be seen in situ online here

22 March 2011

Chicken & Bacon Creamy Pasta : a quick classy meal

This is one everybody should like - provided you enjoy chicken, that is!

The first time I tried this recipe, son & heir was away on an extra-curricular sleepover and I had planned an entirely different meal.  However, being suddenly down to two people for dinner seemed too good an opportunity to waste on standing sitting in the kitchen cooking!  So I looked for something a whole lot less time consuming - and found this.

I don't remember why I didn't blog it at the time, probably just got swamped by other things.  Real life does have a habit of doing that from time to time - getting in the way!

This dish really couldn't be any easier.  One frying pan, one saucepan, three pasta bowls and bingo! you've got dinner.

It is very easily scaled up if you're wanting to feed more than three.  Oh and one other thing - it is perfectly okay to use plain old peas, instead of the petit pois.  We can't all have a bag of petit pois in the freezer, just waiting for us to need them.


Ingredients :

1-2 tbsp olive oil
100g smoked lardons or 3-4 rashers of smoked bacon, diced
1 red onion, chopped finely
2 garlic clove, chopped finely
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced across the grain
0.25 tsp ground black pepper
pinch of sea salt
6 medium mushrooms, sliced
180ml Chardonnay white wine
0.5 tsp dried tarragon
0.5 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1.5 tsp low salt vegetable stock powder or 1 low salt vegetable stock cube
100g frozen petits pois
5 tbsp double cream
200g pasta tubes - penne or spirali are good
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley for garnish.

Method :

Fill a large saucepan with water, add a little salt and set it to boil.

Heat the oil in a deep non-stick frying pan and add the bacon.  Fry over a high heat until all the water has burned off and the bacon is beginning to caramelise.  Add the onion and garlic and continue cooking, stirring often, until the onion is transparent and softened. Remove everything from the pan to a bowl and set aside to keep warm.

If necessary, add a little more olive oil and, once that is heated, add the chicken breast slices and season lightly with a little sea salt & the ground black pepper.  Leave to cook over a high heat for 5 minutes or so until the chicken pieces are beginning to take on a golden colour, then turn and cook again, until the chicken has largely turned opaque.

Add the mushroom slices to the pan and stir to combine.  Cook on for a few minutes, until the mushrooms are beginning to soften slightly.  Add the onion/bacon/garlic mixture back into the pan and stir through.

Next, add the wine and let it bubble over a high heat until it has reduced by half.   Season to taste and stir well.

The water in your large pan should have boiled by now, so add the dry pasta and stir. Cook to the manufacturer's recommendation - around 10-12 minutes, ordinarily.

While the pasta cooks, add the tarragon, Worcestershire sauce and stock powder or stock cube to the chicken and stir to combine.  Reduce the heat to moderate and allow the contents of the pan to come to a lively simmer.

Add the petit pois and cream and stir through.  The rest is simply personal taste.  I like my sauce to have reduced quite considerably as that causes the flavour to intensify.  If you like your sauce to be wetter, then stop the cooking process when you like.  You can also add a little wetted cornflour to thicken the sauce, if you prefer a sauce with a thicker consistency.  The choice is yours.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it thoroughly and return to the hot pan.  Add the chicken mixture and stir through.  Serve straight away in warm bowls with a sprinkle of fresh parsley.

Printable version

A nice bit of Brisket!

Roast beef on a Sunday.

Apart from the rib of beef that I roasted for Christmas dinner, I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a piece of beef on an “ordinary” Sunday.

However, since I discovered my local butcher, beef has appeared on our menu-planning list as a regular event – but until this last weekend, not as a roasting joint.

It all began when I stopped roasting chickens and started pot roasting (or poaching) them instead.  I had such marvellous results that I’ve sworn never to roast a chicken again.

Since then, I’ve also done a pot roast with a gammon joint, again with a great deal of success.

I was reading through some of the food blogs that I follow, when up popped an entry regarding a pot roasted brisket.  Mmmmn, that sounded good.  However, I didn’t take it any further (other than mentally marking it, if ever a piece of brisket came my way) and life continued.  Right up until I saw, in the butcher’s window, a notice saying “Special Offer : 1kg rolled brisket : £3-something”.  Well, it didn’t exactly say “£3-something”, it’s just that I can’t exactly remember how much it was, other than the £3 bit.

Two things struck me about this.  Firstly, that the price was only around 50p more expensive than my usual target for the meat for a Sunday meal.  Secondly, that 1kg of brisket is one heck of a lot of meat, even allowing for shrinkage in the cooking.

It’s amazing how I find that I can remember a recipe, but I can’t remember the name of my next door neighbour (who shall be forever known as “Flossy next door”).  Immediately, I remembered the pot roasted brisket recipe, which sounded not only a great way to cook the beef, but about the only way of ensuring as little shrinkage as possible.

When Sunday dawned, I will admit to being a little bit nervous about cooking this gorgeous great hunk of beef, as it was just too good to ruin.

I started off by searing the outside of the beef on all sides – quite apart from the gorgeous smell it gives off, I do think that it adds flavour and colour which just pot roasting (which is little more than poaching) would provide alone.

Then, I added water and a stock cube and the following : two carrots, an onion and two sticks of celery – all quartered.  Plus two cloves of garlic, a big handful of fresh parsley and a bay leaf.

I then brought the liquid up to the boil, and put the whole lot in the oven for 2 hours, after which I turned the beef and put it back in the oven for another hour.

Not only was the beef the kind of texture that you could cut with a spoon, but also it tasted utterly divine.  I served it with roasted potatoes, parsnips and cauliflower with green beans – but the unexpected advantage is the stock.  If you try this recipe out, please please make your gravy from the stock.  You’ll probably never have had gravy like it before.  I’ve two pots of it in the freezer, just waiting for the next piece of brisket.


20 March 2011

Menu plan : Week 12 - Pizza through Bobotie to Celeriac

The Sunday morning ritual of scratching one's head and juggling with ingredients is over for another week and, with two dinners left to go from last week's Menu Plan, I've placed the order for my online shopping.  Now all that's left to do is cross my fingers that a) it all works out how it's supposed to; b) everyone's in a fit state to eat the dishes and c) I'll be in a fit state to make them.

Point b) became an issue last week when hubby damaged a tooth/gum and it became very difficult for him to chew anything particularly chewy.  Even a cream cheese sandwich was too much on the day after it happened, poor soul.  Having planned out the menus for the week, needing to cater for a sore mouth, or an upset tummy, can be quite tricky.  I think For the future, I'll have to make sure we keep a tin or two of "gentle on the tummy" and "easy eating" soups in the cupboard!

So, Maestro, what's on the menu list this week then?

Well, we'll kick off the week with son & heir's favourite - pizza.  This is largely because I will be in and out during the day and can't guarantee to be here for the online order to be delivered.  I've organised it to arrive after son has come home from school, as I know we'll be here and available then - and the dear chap can help put it all away.  Once we've done all that, I know I won't be in any fit state to cook - so Pizza is the order of the day.

I'm rather looking forward to Wednesday.  I'm going to be doing a Beef & Cauliflower Curry with naan bread, adapted from my curry recipe that I used for hubby's birthday.  It will be utilising my current favourite of beef shin - and using the other half of the cauliflower that I bought in for last Sunday's roast.   Hence, effectively, all I'll be buying to make this one will be the beef shin and some naan bread.  Everything else is in the larder or the fridge!

Thursday is another new recipe, being a Chicken & Chorizo Jambalaya.  We made a Jambalaya shortly after Christmas, but for all that it was tasty and quite nice, it didn't really hit the spot.  So, we're having another go - this time with a different recipe.  I've already got the chicken in the freezer, so that's another one that has worked out to be relatively cheap.

Friday brings one of my favourite meals - Bobotie.  Now I've only ever made this once before (and really enjoyed it then), but I can recall how a seemingly odd collection of ingredients managed to magically amalgamate into a really delicious whole.  Again, I already have the lamb mince in the freezer from a BOGOF offer previously.  I'll be serving this one with savoy cabbage and some carrots.

Saturday, and hubby has promised us a meal of Sausages with red cabbage & apple, together with mustard mash.  Yum!  Once again, I've already got the sausages in the freezer, from this week's trip to Sainsbury's for their sausages - which are streets ahead of Asda's miserable, hard, tasteless efforts.

Sausages always make me think of "The Perishers" and Marlon cooking sausages while Boot looks on

I shall be breaking with tradition this coming Sunday and not indulging in a roast.  I think it does us good every now and again, to kick over the traces and go for something different.  I hate to think I'm getting into a rut along the lines of "fish on Fridays".  So, on this Sunday we shall be travelling to the Orient (oh, I wish!) with Beef & Butternut Squash (using brisket, this time) together with home made fried rice.

Celeriac - looks like an alien!
So that just leaves us Monday, which shall be our meat-free day.  (Sssshhh, don't tell the boys - who are strict carnivores!).  We're having a Celeriac & Cheese Slice - which is basically celeriac mash, mixed with cheese (two types) & spring onions, wrapped in pastry and cooked.  There's only one thing that would go with this, in my opinion - baked beans.

What does that translate as, then?  Three types of bread product, two different cuts of beef, two different rice dishes, one curry dish, one chicken dish, one lamb dish, one pork dish.  Looking at the vegetable side of things, there's five dishes which involve fresh vegetables of one sort or another, plus the baked beans - which are a superfood, you know! I think there's balance in there - somewhere.

If you're looking for inspiration via other people's Menu Plans, then look no further than Mrs M's blog and her "Menu Planning Monday" feature.  I wonder if Menu Planning Sundays qualify? ...


19 March 2011

A magnificent Chilli con Carne

Slow cooked, oven baked, Chilli con Carne
You'll recall from my last post, my dilemma in the butcher's when they didn't have any ham hocks, so I rapidly changed tack to Beef Shin.

At that stage, I didn't really have any idea what I was going to do with it - I just knew that the ingredients for the Ham Hock dish were fairly compatible with Beef Shin in one way or another, so I didn't need to buy anything else.  Which is good on two counts - one because I could do without spending more money and anyway, my back had run out of it's ability to support me when standing up.  So, having limped back to the car, I began to work on what I could use the shin for.

Shin of beef : before trimming
We'd had various stews of one sort of another just lately and I didn't really want to conjur up another stew-type thing (although the idea of dumplings did occur to me and, tempting as they are, were rejected on the "too much fat" front).

It was when the beans came to mind, that I considered doing a Chilli con Carne.  I knew that I had a tin of red kidney beans in the cupboard, chilli powder in the spice rack together with crushed red chillis and in the fridge, fresh red chillis.  I also remembered that I'd bought two tins of cherry tomatoes on the offchance that I'd need them.  It's always good to grab a couple of tins when you see them, as they are quite the best tinned tomatoes, I've discovered.  Yes, chilli con carne was the way to go.

We'd been wanting to try the more authentic way of making Chilli con carne - that is, with pieces of meat, rather than with mince, for a very long time - so this was my chance.  I even had a block of dark chocolate in the fridge, specifically for this sort of recipe.

Shin of beef - after trimming
Being shin, the meat would require long slow cooking in order to render out the fat and have it tender enough to be cut with a spoon.  The only sensible way to do this was to oven cook it in a casserole dish.  Now, I've done oven cooked chillis and bologneses this way in the past and find that the sauce tends to amalgamate better with less likelihood of it splitting, so that all made sense.

So having sat and thought about the recipe for a while, I set to with making it.

Dustbin 1
The shin really is glorious stuff, but it is essential that you have a sharp knife (and two eager hounds to act as dustbins) when trimming it up.  Without a sharp knife, I dare say I'd have lost patience with it and a good percentage of it would have gone into the dog, rather than into the casserole dish.

It's not difficult to trim of its fat and gristle, it's just a wee bit fiddly.  Still, you can see that once trimmed, you still have a good quantity of meat left from your 700g - and two happy dogs.

Dustbin 2
I began by sweating down one large chopped onion, the garlic and the chilli, then setting aside to keep warm, whilst I sear the meat.  That's the opposite way around to most people, but I think that the flavours of the onion, garlic & chilli get into the meat before they've all been introduced, that way.

It didn't take long to assemble, then it was into the oven, back out to be stirred and the moisture levels checked - I had to add a little water later on in the cooking - and add the beans at the last minute.

I served up with white rice and a dollop of greek yoghurt because it really was blisteringly hot flavour-wise.  The yoghurt isn't traditional but it was there as a survival technique for both son and myself.  We also like to sprinkle on a little grated cheese and some sultanas - but then I think we may be bit weird that way.

Searing the beef

Hubby's verdict, after the second mouthful, was that it was a magnificent chilli.  In my opinion, I'd consider it to be the best chilli I have ever produced - which considering the amount of chilli's (in their various forms) I have produced over the years, is definitely saying something!

Ready to go in the oven


Ingredients :

2 tbsp olive oil
700g beef shin, trimmed and cubed
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, grated
1 red chilli, chopped, seeds left in
2 tsp hot chilli powder
tin cherry tomatoes
2 beef oxo cubes
200ml water
half a tsp of dried sage
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
salt & pepper
can of beans of your choice, red kidney or haricot are good
1-2 squares of very dark chocolate

Method :

1.  Pre-heat oven to 140deg C.

2.  In a deep sided frying pan, fry the onion in a tablespoon of olive oil until softened.  Add the chilli and continue to fry gently until the onion is beginning to brown.  Add the garlic and fry for another minute.  Keep aside in a warm place.

3.  Heat the remaining olive oil until very hot and gradually introduce the meat, until it is all seared and brown.  Remove to a casserole dish and replace the onions in the frying pan.

4.   Add the chilli powder and fry for a minute or two, stirring, to ensure it is all mixed in and moistened.

5.  Add the tomatoes (and turn the heat up), oxo cubes, water, sage, tomato puree, tomato ketchup and Worcestershire sauce and stir until all is combined.

6.  Taste for seasoning – you may need to add a little salt.  Restrain yourself from adding any sugar at this stage, for the chocolate (which is added later) may well do that job for you.

7.  Add to the casserole dish and cook at 140deg for 2 hours.

8.  After the hour, add the beans and chocolate – stir gently until the chocolate is dissolved – then replace and cook until the meat is butter-like and tender which should be around a half hour to an hour later.

Serve with white rice, grated cheese and sultanas over.  If particularly chilli-hot, serve with an additional tablespoonful of greek yoghurt.


18 March 2011

Quick thinking on the ham hock front

I popped into the butcher's on the way home from taking son & heir to school today, in order that I could buy the meat for the weekend.

I'd noticed, during the week, that they were offering Beef Brisket at a reduced price and so managed to get an entire kilo of gorgeous looking brisket for just over £4.  Now if that's not good value, I don't know what is!  I also picked up 500g of beef mince for the bolognese on Monday, but hit a bit of a snag when it came to the ham hocks.  They didn't have any.  Meep!  What to do?

I'd been looking at the display of meat - and the prices thereof - while the lady was out the back finding out about the ham hocks.  I also knew what I was cooking with the ham hocks, as I'd reviewed the recipe last night.  It involved beans, celery, carrot - and the beans got me to thinking.  I knew we'd got rice in the cupboard and chocolate in the fridge, so the idea to do a Chilli con Carne with diced beef was born.  We'd been wanting to use "proper" beef rather than mince, for a very long time.

So - strike the Ham Hocks from the menu list for this week.  After a bit of quick thinking in the butcher's, we're now having chilli tonight.  Fingers crossed that suits hubby, as he's done himself a mischief with a particularly sharp chip (we abandoned the mash & veg part of the pie, mash & veg meal that was on the list, as I just didn't have the muscle power required to peel the spuds & carrots, and went for chipshop chips instead) which savaged his mouth in retaliation for being eaten.  Don't you just hate it when that happens?  It's usually toast that does it to me.

This week, so far, has been a bit of a muddle - although we seem to be making our way successfully through the muddle, so fingers crossed it continues!

You remember I was doing a Mulligatawny Soup on Tuesday?  Well, I did it - but it didn't turn out quite in the way I was hoping.  It was nice - but it was more of a spicy stew than a curried soup.  If you consider that it contained exactly the same amount of curry spices as the curry from Monday night did, it is absolutely incredible how the Passata wiped them out.  The next time I try making Mulligatawny, I'll include a tin of tomatoes rather than the 700g of Passata.  I am quite sure that less tomato/more stock will be an improvement!


15 March 2011

Beef Bourguignon

Way back two Sundays ago, I decided to have Beef Bourgignon for dinner on Saturday evening.

I'd been holding a recipe for Bourguignon for the longest time, waiting until the stars converged - or alternatively, I had everything necessary in one place.  Well, it so happened that (thanks to my Wine ice cubes) I had everything necessary, barring the beef.

Well that was easily fixed by a quick trip to the butcher for some Beef Shin.

Imagine my surprise when I saw, on the t.v., the latest M&S advert which was extolling the virtues of their Beef Bourguignon - made with "prime cuts of beef"!  Having just made the dish with what (don't tell it, for goodness sake) could easily be described as "a very non-prime cut of beef", yet have the dish turn out so completely deliciously, made me a little scathing of their prime cuts.

Yes, beef shin does require a little knife work to remove the worst of the fat and gristle, but there really isn't all that much.  Just ask Jonty & Basil - they would rather it contained much more fat and gristle, as they get to be the wagging dustbins into which it goes!  It's just a shameless marketing ploy on their behalf, I reckon.

I put our Bourguignon into the oven for around two and a half hours, which had the pieces breaking up under knife and fork and requiring the minimum of chewing.  Now if that's not scrumptious, I don't know what is.

Oh - and I expect it cost around the same, but for very much more.  *smile*

BEEF BOURGUIGNON  (feeds 3 hungry people)

Ingredients :

1 tsp olive oil
15g butter
700g diced beef shin
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, grated
200g chestnut mushrooms
5-6 whole round shallots, peeled
225ml red wine
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp dried thyme (or 2 sprigs, if fresh)
500ml beef stock.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 180deg.

2.  Heat the oil in a large frying pan and brown the beef, seasoning it as you go.

3.  Remove, place into a warmed casserole dish to keep warm.

4.  Melt the butter in the pan, add the onion and fry until soft (around 5 mins).

5.  Add the whole shallots and garlic, cook for another minute, then the mushrooms, cook for another 2 minutes, then the wine and bring to the boil.

6.  Stir in the tomato puree and let the liquid reduce for around 5 mins, then stir in the thyme and add the stock.

7.  Pour the liquid into the casserole dish, cover and place into the oven for 2-2.5 hours or until beef is tender.

8.  If necessary, pour gravy off into a saucepan and boil until reduced and syrupy.  I found I didn't need to do this part, as the sauce was at perfect consistency.

Printable version

Serve with Boulangere potatoes, curly kale cooked briefly in boiling water for 3 mins, and carrots.

What's for dinner this week?

Yesterday was hubby's birthday and I made him a birthday curry.  Rather belatedly, as we were tucking into it, I remembered that I should have taken a photograph for the blog.  Hey ho, it'll have to wait until the next time.  It was a shame, as that curry really was rather spectacular (chicken, tomato, red lentil - it came up not unlike a Dansak).  I did some mushroom rice to go with it, which was extremely yummy too.

I am especially proud of last night's curry, as it hadn't been adapted from anyone's recipe - it was all my own work.  Mind you, I have had a little bit of coaching from the book "The Curry Secret", which the lovely Ian from Appliances Online sent to me.  (You can find Appliances Online on Twitter, too, so if you're thinking about getting a new appliance, why not have a word with Yossi).  Getting back to "The Curry Secret" by Kris Dillon, it is all about making curries like your local curry house does.  The "curry secret" as referred to, is in the making of a basic curry sauce which all the recipes are then adapted from by the introduction of various additional spices.  I will admit that I've not made the curry sauce yet, but the basic recipe for last night's curry was very close to Kris Dillon's (purely by accident) which I found quite interesting that I'd arrived there by trial and error, over the months.

So, that aside, what are we having for dinner for the rest of this week?

Hope mine looks as nice!

Well, tonight will be my first attempt at making a Mulligatawny Soup.  It is utilising the other half of the pot roasted chicken from Sunday, so will be a chicken version rather than the more traditional beef.  Mulligatawny is one of the original "fusion" foods, I think, but I'll have to try hard to make sure it doesn't turn into a curried stew!

Wednesday will be good old pie, mash & veg.  I've bought a steak & kidney pie, as a little break from the in-depth culinary creating!

Picture c/o BBC Good Food

Thursday is Creamy Chicken & Penne pasta.  We had this during the busy period after Christmas when I didn't have time to post about it, but it really is a cracker.  The recipe is so easy to do - and the results are lovely.  Just right for a dinner following on from a busy day at work.

Friday's meal will be something of an adventure, as I'm venturing into Ham Hock land.  I have a lovely-sounding recipe for Ham Hock with beans & vegetables, which we'll be eating with a lovely crusty farmhouse loaf.  I'm hoping it will turn out to be something akin to peasant food!

Saturday is another (albeit rather smaller) venture into the unknown, as I'm making home-made coleslaw to go with some barbecue sausages in pitta pockets.  Now, in years gone by, I used to make my own coleslaw which was very well received.  However, with these two chaps I'm now catering for, raw cabbage is not so well received.   The coleslaw recipe contains interesting things like apple and sultanas, which should go very nicely with lovely juicy sausages in a barbecue glaze - so keep your fingers firmly crossed!

Sunday and I'm pushing the boundaries of pot-roasting.  Instead of the usual chicken, this week I'm going for a piece of beef Brisket.

In view of the recent t.v. programme "Great British Food Revival" and my love of the humble cauliflower, I'll be serving the brisket with some spiced roasted cauliflower along with the more usual roasties.  The cauliflower is another "keep your fingers crossed for me" job and I'll be using the other half of it in a curry which will feature on the menu list for next week.  Curried cauliflower always goes down well.

Which brings us to Monday.  After all that exciting cooking over the weekend, I'm taking a breather with something everybody knows and loves - Pasta Bolognese with garlic bread.

So, looking back across the week, it seems as though we're having four different types of bread product, two different types of pasta product and seven different preparations of meat and two different preparations of potato!  You can't say I don't try to make the menu varied.

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