Simple Stew

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Sorry about the slightly murky photo, but it’s that kind of a dish: essentially one pound beef, one pound veg, and a pint of porter.

In this case the beef was just some generic stewing steak, and the veg were some baby charlottes, a large carrot, and a leek. The beer was Guinness’ West Indies Porter, which is a strong, fruity brew, with undercurrents of bitter chocolate. The meat was tossed in seasoned flour before browning in oil and butter, the beer added, followed by some vigorous scraping and stirring to dislodge the fond and then the veg added after that. I had a small bunch of thyme handy, so that and a bay leaf were popped in for good measure. (You could use dried thyme and maybe also add a few peeled cloves of garlic.)

Brought to the boil, and then reduced to a firm simmer. It can’t just gloop gently, or the collagen in the meat won’t break down; it needs to be bubbling gently. Around two hours, but it’s one of those things that’s done when it’s done.

Serves two; obviously with more of the porter to wash it down.

Suet Dumplings

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A quick note: per person you will need 50g plain flour, 20g suet (the shredded stuff in packets, e.g. Atora), 1tsp of baking powder and a pinch of salt. Mix dry ingredients, and add just enough water to bring it together into a ball of dough.

Divide into four pieces and roll between the palms of your hands to render them spherical and dust with a little extra flour if they’re sticky. Pop them on top of a firmly simmering stew for 20 minutes; covered.

If you forget the baking powder, then you will end up with quite solid dumplings: still very tasty, but unmistakably Victorian.

Winter Salad

Just a quick improvisation: chicory leaves, walnuts, black grapes, satsuma segments, and a very basic honey mustard dressing.

Gravadlax

A few quick notes on gravadlax.

  • 1kg fish will yield 650g finished product as moisture is sucked out by the cure
  • 1kg fish will need 200g cure: 100g salt plus 100g sugar – I used sea salt and caster sugar – Him What Knows uses a spot of muscovado
  • on one occasion, the shelf in the fridge where I placed it was too cold and the necessary reactions did not occur – use a fridge thermometer to ensure it’s around 5°C
  • I chop the dill very finely and layer it on the fish first, so it sticks
  • I put about a quarter of the cure on the outside of the fish, and the rest between
  • on the morning of serving, I give the fish a very light rinse, to remove any solid salt crystals, slice it, and place in a fresh dish, with about a third of the liquid, which is drained before serving
  • I don’t think it needs to be served with anything other than some interesting bread, black pepper and lemon wedges

 


Stocking the Cocktail Cabinet

Upon being served a pre-dinner White Lady, a young fellow of my acquaintance confessed that whilst he fancied the idea of being able to make cocktails, he had only ever acquired a bottle of vodka and some coke, before being bamboozled by the vast array of recipes and ingredients. But given that all his clothes had fallen off, I think the cocktail was doing its job rather too well. Don’t ask. These things happen. Here’s a quick outline of what every young lady or gentleman ought to keep in their cabinet.

Bourbon. Although originating in the 19th century, cocktails really got going during the Prohibition in the American twenties, when something, anything was needed to disguise the taste of the awful Canadian rye whiskey. We don’t need to go this far for authenticity, but Bourbon is definitely the right thing, and much better value for money than Scotch. Look out for Buffalo Trace, which is cheaper than the well known brand, and much nicer.

Gin. An essential, but don’t feel the need to buy the really premium stuff unless you’re planning on making lots of dry, dry Martinis. Something middle of the road, like Bombay or Tanqueray will do nicely.

White Rum. A less important spirit, but essential for Daiquiris, Mojitos, and other Caribbean loveliness.

Vermouth. Both kinds. The red stuff is sweet and more common in cocktails, the white stuff is dry and not only useful for Martinis, but also for when a splash of white wine is required in a recipe and you can’t be arsed to open a bottle.

Cointreau. This turns up surprisingly often; any sweet orange liquor will do, e.g. Grand Marnier, but not Southern Comfort, which is a little too dry.

Campari. If you think Marmite divides people’s opinions, wait until you get a load of this stuff.

Angostura Bitters. An obscure but handy thing to have. Served by the drop, a bottle will last you a decade.

Sugar Syrup. Make your own if you’re inclined, or spend a few quid at the supermarket.

Lime juice. A squeezy bottle at the back of the fridge for emergencies. Fresh limes are always better.

Mixers. A stash of the little 150mL tins of tonic, soda, and dry ginger ale is always handy. Note that one very popular brand seems to have Aspartane in everything, and some people dislike it immensely. But everybody dislikes a bottle of flat tonic that’s been sitting at the back of the fridge for three months.

Equipment. A cocktail shaker is de rigeur, certainly for appearances. The traditional ones look quite smart on the shelf, although the Boston shaker is probably more useful, but can fly apart in the hands of the unwary. Some muddling spoons, a zester, and a citrus juicer are all good things.

Other spirits. Brandy is sometimes useful, but I rarely use vodka, other than for preserving cherries. If you feel the need for Kahlua, Advocaat, or Malibu, then I don’t think I can help you.

Oh, and I suppose I’d better offer a few cocktail recipes next time.

Righto, on the case.

(Hic.)

Steak Stir Fry

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Barely a recipe at all, but jolly useful when one is cooking only for oneself, and nobody is watching.

Get a deep pan or a wok going on the heat, add a couple of glugs of vegetable oil, and slip in a 200g piece of rump steak. I don’t particularly care how you do it, whether it gets thirty seconds a side in an incandescently hot wok, or whether you prefer the low and slow approach. Whatever. The end result should be a piece of meat with some nice colour on the outside, and still fairly squidgy when you poke it with an implement: this and this alone is the key to working out whether or not the meat is done. It should be less soft than the raw steak, but by no means hard. Retrieve it from the heat and pop it on a chopping board to rest.

Turn up the heat in the wok, and throw in 300g of stir fry vegetables; whatever you fancy. Stir like mad until they’ve softened up and are starting to colour. Turn the heat down, and add a splash of soy sauce and a generous squirt of sweet chilli sauce. If you’ve yet to make the acquaintance of the latter, then I warn you: it is addictive.

Meanwhile, turn your attention to the steak, and slice it thinly, trimming any bits of fat and gristle that you don’t fancy. I use a chopping board with a rim to catch the juices. Return the steak and juices to the wok, give a good stir, and then serve.

No witnesses.


 

Sausage and Beans

A kind of elemental cassoulet, this is a good thing to cook when you’ve got a large hungry group to deal with. Maybe your church choir has been playing drinking games in the crypt. Who knows. To feed sixteen (not the sixteen) you’ll need the following quantities:

  • 3kg pork sausages (they need to be moderately fatty, some expensive sausages are commendably lean, but no good for this recipe)
  • 1kg onions
  • 1kg carrots
  • 1 large head of celery (800g or more)
  • 1kg tinned chopped tomatoes and their juices
  • 1kg tinned canellini beans (that’s four 450g tins’ worth)
  • one head of garlic (or as much as you dare)
  • a bunch of thyme
  • a few dried bay leaves

You can cook this in two stages:

  1. Start by putting the sausages into a large roasting tin (single layer is best) and into the oven at Gas 6. They’ll need around an hour – but check and turn them every fifteen minutes or so. We’re aiming for dark wrinkly skins and sticky fatty juices at the bottom of the tin. So maybe they’ll need longer.
  2. Meanwhile, chop up the carrots, onion and celery: no need to dice, just 1cm pieces. I don’t bother peeling the carrots, but just give them a good scrub to get any dirt off the outside. Peel the individual garlic cloves; no need to chop or crush.
  3. When the sausages are done, fish them out of the roasting tin, and leave them somewhere to cool. The tin should have a layer of fat in it, do not discard.
  4. Put the carrots into the tin, combine with the sausage fat, and return to the oven for half an hour. Carrots are tough little bastards, and they need a head start.
  5. Add the onions, celery, garlic and bay leaves, plus salt and pepper. Return to the oven for another half an hour. Check them regularly and turn every ten minutes or so, making sure they’re lightly coated with the sausage fat. Again, we’re aiming to get them properly cooked, and lightly caramelised, with a hint of brown about the edges. Onions have a slight tendency to burn, so feel free to reduce the temperature if they’re browning too fast.
  6. When they’re done, decant them, and if there’s a particularly good fond on the roasting tin, then deglaze it with a little hot water, reduce, and add that liquid to the veg.

At this point you can stop, and park the cooked sausage and veg into a large container. When you’re ready to continue:

  1. Into a large pot, pour in the tinned tomatoes, and about a litre of water, bring to the boil, and simmer for about half an hour. (This is just to get the tomatoes properly cooked, which makes them sweeter and less acidic.)
  2. Add all the other ingredients: roast sausages, roast veg, beans, herbs.
  3. Gently simmer, stirring from time to time, until everything is hot, and you’re ready to go.

A few things to note:

  • If you want to double the quantity of garlic, then go for it. Double it again if you need. Go on. You know you want to.
  • You can perform the second stage in the oven if you have a large enough roasting tin, or tins. Make sure that the meat and veg are poking above the liquid, and the heat from the oven will make them get sticky and crisp.
  • You could replace the sausage with an equal quantity of hacked up pork shoulder.
  • If you want to use dried beans, then you’ll need to soak and cook in advance.

 

Monster Marmalade Muffins

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A quick fix for morning tea that takes about five minutes to whip up. You will need some large muffin cases, sometimes known as tulip cases: either buy them or make using six inch squares of baking parchment. The quantities here will produce four quite large muffins.

Preheat the oven to Gas 5.

In a saucepan, melt 50g of marmalade and 30g of butter, stirring to combine, turning off the heat just before melt is complete, and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 125g self raising flour, 30g sugar, ½tsp baking powder, a pinch of salt, and a tablespoon of poppy seeds; mixing well.

Make sure the saucepan of melted butter/marmalade has cooled. Docteur de Pomiane’s expedient of sticking in one’s pinkie and ensuring it’s not painful works. Add one egg, and mix well, and then 100mL of milk, mixing again. (Add the ingredients in this order, otherwise you end up chasing lumps of solidified butter around the milk.)

Now pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix. Make sure all the flour is incorporated: it will be a little on the lumpy side but that doesn’t matter. Divide the mix between the four cases, and pop in the oven for 25 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack for around five minutes before serving.

The orange flavour is fairly subtle, so you could add the zest of a lemon if you want something more fruity. (Some people use a drop of orange oil, but be careful, as this is immensely strong, and will irritate your skin in undiluted form.)


Fish Stock

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Making fish pie today so plenty of grisly remains, in particular, prawn heads, which are The Best Thing Ever for making fish stock. I had twelve “large” prawns which weighed around 350g in total. (Yes, I know, in certain parts of the world, these would be considered tiny, but hey ho.)

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So, heads cut off, shells removed, and into a medium saucepan. The meat was butterflied (use a small pair of scissors to do this) to remove the vein (well, the gastrointestinal tract) and reserved for the fish pie.

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Meanwhile, the grisly remains were given a good rinse, and I added: half an onion, salt, a few black peppercorns, and a bay leaf. Oh, and since I was skinning a cod fillet, I threw the skin in as well. (I was also skinning a smoked haddock fillet, but didn’t use that skin as the stock would have tasted of nothing but smoked haddock. The salmon skin was too oily, so also discarded.)

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Topped up with cold water to 2L, and the whole lot brought to a gentle simmer for twenty minutes, and then strained through a fine sieve.

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The resulting liquid was allowed to settle, disgorging quite a large amount of sediment.

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The saucepan was given a perfunctory rinse, and the liquid carefully poured back, so the sediment stayed in the bowl. Finally, brought back to the boil briefly, and the small amount of scum skimmed off. Final yield: one litre of fishy goodness.


Upside Down Fish Pie

I love fish pie, but I think baking in white sauce doesn’t show off nice fish to best effect, and it’s better steamed on top of the potato. If you’ve never tried the combination of chilli, garlic, cream and basil, then hold on to your hat.

To feed four greedy people plus leftovers, you will need:

  • 1kg potato (any variety)
  • 1kg fish (see below)
  • 350mL stock (fish, vegetable, or just hot water)
  • 150mL cream
  • one head garlic (peeled and chopped)
  • one bunch fresh basil (30g if you’re feeling precise, but you’ll only need the leaves)
  • 2tsp chilli flakes (more if you dare, or fresh hot chilli)
  • 15mL vegetable oil + 25g butter

For the fish I use a mix of cod, salmon, smoked haddock, and prawns; the fillets skinned and chopped into chunks. Check for bones and remove if necessary. Avoid heavily smoked or cured fish: tuna and mackerel would be out of place. If the prawns are whole, you can make quite nice stock with the shells and heads.

Peel and chop the potato into pieces no more than half an inch thick. If you’re using baby potatoes, don’t bother peeling, and just halve them.

Heat a large shallow casserole, and melt the butter in the oil, and fry the chilli flakes for around a minute, add the garlic, and keep frying until a pale gold colour. Add a generous pinch of salt and a grind of black pepper. Tip in the potatoes and continue to fry until they’re lightly coloured; probably a few more minutes. Pour over the stock and the cream, but don’t fret if there’s no stock to hand, just use water from a freshly boiled kettle. Crucially, try and arrange the potato pieces in a single layer and make sure there’s enough liquid in the pot for them to be mainly submerged but not drowned.

Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot and let the potato cook, stirring from time to time. Depending on the species of potato they will exude some starch and thicken the liquid. You may also need to top up the liquid from the kettle if it’s getting too low.

Once the potatoes are done – test by piercing a piece with a sharp knife; it should offer no resistance – fold in the basil leaves and layer the fish on top. Reduce the heat and cover. The fish should take around ten minutes to steam, but do keep an eye on it. A sure sign is that the cod is starting to separate into flakes.

Serve the whole thing at the table, with some steamed kale and bread to mop up the highly addictive juices.

You could, I suppose, do this with coconut cream, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, purple basil, and a blob of red curry paste.

Addendum, May 2015: unsure about the timing of guests’ arrival, so steamed potatoes first until they were done. One guest was on low FODMAP diet, so garlic and chilli fried in separate pan, and the oil reserved for cooking. (Three birds eye chillis verging on too hot.)