Monthly Archives: November 2010

Beef Stew

Saturday morning has commenced with a headache, a mound of unwashed dishes, and a bunch of bills in the letterbox. I climb into the remaining three items of clean clothing on the premises and visit the bakery for an emergency lattè. Thence the posh supermarket for a plastic bag of ready-to-go casserole vegetables and a plastic bag of braising beef. After ten minutes’ work, they are merrily burbling away in the oven, in my grandest casserole. The flat fills with heavenly smells, which make the morning’s laundering, washing and hoovering pass with less than the expected trauma.

This dish requires one pot and one spoon. Here’s what you need.

  • 500g root vegetables, washed, peeled and chopped, or a bag of same from the supermarket – mine contained swede, onion, carrot and leek
  • 500g stewing steak, chopped into rough cubes
  • a glass of red wine
  • four cloves of garlic, peeled
  • thyme (dried is alright) and a few bay leaves

Fry the meat in a mixture of butter and oil, until browned on the outside, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go. Set aside, and then fry the veg, adding more fat if necessary. Return the meat, sprinkle with about a tablespoon (15g) of plain flour, and stir like mad. (You could toss the meat in the flour to begin with, but I don’t think it makes much difference.)

Add the wine, and stir like mad, incorporating any flour that’s stuck to the bottom of the pot into the liquid. Cover with boiling water from the jug, and some posh powdered stock, e.g. Marigold Bouillon. Add the garlic, a bay leaf or two, and the thyme. Maybe a tablespoon of tomato paste; more for colour than anything else. On this occasion, I popped in a large dried chilli (not chopped) which I fished out before serving: added a pleasant zing to the proceedings.

In my case, I then pop the lid on and consign the pot to the oven (140ºC, fan forced) for the next two hours. If you have a gas ring you trust, you could instead leave it on the hob, turned down nice and low. The aim is for a gentle simmer, with the occasional bubble lazily erupting on the surface.

After two hours, check the seasoning. The meat should have collapsed by this point, if not, another hour won’t hurt.


Use Guinness instead of wine.

Use lots of wine – Pomiane mentions a litre – and no stock. (Sans doute un litron de la gros rouge qui tache et pousse au crime.)

Whole baby onions, if you can be motivated to peel them.

Beware of spuds. Baby Charlottes work well, floury potatoes will collapse and turn the whole thing into starchy beef concrete.

Do it with lamb shanks; one per guest. The bones will ooze wonderful things into your stew. (Browning the lamb shanks first is harder work.)


Baked Figs

Just about anything is improved by redcurrant jelly and port. (As mentioned elsewhere, it is a particularly fine sauce for steak, or game.) Tonight it’s the turn of some rather decent figs that happened to be in the shop. As I understand it, it’s the tail end of the season, but there are some decent ones to be had.

I used:

  • 4 figs (allow two per person)
  • 60mL port (more heresy – I used some vintage port, as it had been open a while)
  • 2 tbsp redcurrant jelly (it’s a little hard to wrangle out of the jar, so don’t worry too much if you’re not exact)

Get the oven going. I cranked my fan forced up to 180ºC.

Split the figs in two. You will need very gentle pressure from a very sharp knife to do this in a dignified way.

You will need to dissolve the jelly. You could either push it through a coarse sieve, or pop it into a small saucepan with the port, and bring to the boil. Doesn’t matter if there are a few lumps.

The figs are going to be baked face down, so find an oven proof dish small enough for them to fit snugly, side by side. Butter the dish to be on the safe side.

Place the figs in the dish, face down, and pour over the sauce. There should be about half a centimetre in the dish, we’re not trying to drown them.

The oven should have warmed up by now, so pop them in, and let them go for about 20 minutes. Keep an eye on them. If the sauce reduces too much, it will burn. The figs are done when they’re just starting to wrinkle on the outside, with a hint of shiny translucency. (But figs don’t need a lot of cooking, so 20 mins will probably do.)

Saint Nigel reckons you should serve them on brioche. I see nothing wrong with this. We once had a bread and butter pudding made with brioche, and one might even be able to invent a diabolical variation involving figs and port.

My preferences are a little more common. Vanilla ice cream, or tonight, custard from the shop, spooned cold out of the pot. Nice custard, with vanilla seeds, but shop bought nonetheless.

Don’t forget to save any excess sauce for putting on ice cream tomorrow!


You could replace the port/redcurrant with lemon juice, butter, sugar, and either half a vanilla pod, or a bashed up cinnamon stick.

Tinned Figs

This won’t work with tinned figs. These are rather nice, in their own way, and are best served with a splodge of mascarpone and a dollop of strong honey.

Spanish Rice

I suspect this isn’t actually Spanish. It works nicely with the leftover chilli in the fridge.

Peel and chop a clove of garlic, and fry in a tablespoon of olive oil. Add 200g long grain rice, and continue to fry for about three minutes. Pour over 450mL boiling water, add a scant half teaspoon of paprika, a teaspoon of turmeric, a pinch of salt and, optionally, a tablespoon of tomato paste. Return to the boil, then reduce the heat to the barest simmer.

Cover and leave for around 15 mins. The ideal result is that all the liquid has been absorbed, the rice on top is soft and fluffy, and, even better, the rice on the bottom is verging on burnt.

The boiling water could be replaced with chicken stock if you’re feeling festive.

You might want to fry some slivered almonds with the garlic, and stir in some coriander leaves just before serving.


Homemade tortillas rock, and are as far removed from the things you buy in the supermarket, as Montgomery’s is from processed cheddar.

Now, be warned, my tortillas aren’t authentic, and probably closer to roti/chapati. And they’re never round, either.

For ten tortillas, you’ll need 300g strong white flour, 200mL warm water, a pinch of salt and, optionally, a glug of oil.

Mix the salt and flour, plus a splash of oil. Gradually add enough of the water, stirring all the while, to form a dough. You’ll probably need about 175mL.

Lightly oil a clean work surface and knead the dough ’til it’s no longer sticky, so maybe ten minutes. Form the dough into a ball and leave somewhere to rest for about half an hour, covered in oiled cling wrap. The kneading and resting allow the gluten to form long strands so you can roll it out.

Get a large heavy frypan moderately hot. Place a large teatowel somewhere tranquil.

Flour the work surface. Break off a lump of dough about the size of a squash ball.

Roll it out. You’ll notice from the photo above that casually using a wine bottle isn’t an option and a proper rolling pin is required.

Shake off an excess flour and pop the tortilla into the pan, no oil, and leave for a slow count of 30. The upper surface will wrinkle and puff very slightly. Use the tongs to turn it over, and you’ll see some reassuring brown spots. If the spots are black then the temperature is too high, no spots or puffing/wrinkling and it’s too low. Once flipped, give it another count of 30, and then pop it onto one side of the teatowel, and fold over. This stops it drying out.

Repeat, building up a stack of tortillas inside the teatowel. With a bit of practise, you’ll be able to roll out tortilla N+1 whilst tortilla N is cooking. A glamorous assistant comes in useful at moments like this.

Pass the chilli.


You’ll notice from the photos that I accidentally left some cumin seeds and dried oregano on the bench when I rolled out the tortilla. Oops.

If you have leftover tortillas, pop them in the fridge. They will be horrid the next morning, but wrap them round some barely scrambled eggs, cheese and leftover salsa, and pop under a relentlessly hot grill. The result will lift your spirits if you had too much Corona with the chilli.

Note to Self: Must experiment with how much/little kneading is required, and whether autolysis might be the answer.


Back in the day, when grander households than ours referred to this as “chilly con carny”, it was simply known by my parents as mince ‘n’ beans. Of course, this is simply an excuse to then eat vast amounts of cheese, sour cream and guacamole. (Which we certainly didn’t have when I was a kid.)

I’m fairly sure this is neither Mexican, nor even Texmexican, but it’s tasty.

Key ingredients, for this flavour, are the dried oregano and cumin. Go easy on the chilli, as you can always splash a bit of Tabasco over it later on.

In tonight’s batch I used:

  • 300g beef mince
  • two small onions, diced
  • one red capsicum, diced
  • four cloves garlic, peeled and sliced finely
  • one 450g tin of red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • one 450g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • a teaspoon of…
    • ground cumin
    • dried oregano
  • half a teaspoon of…
    • dried chilli flakes
    • dried thyme (maybe)
  • you can also add some fresh coriander leaves at the end if you fancy

Start by browning the mince in a small amount of oil. If it ain’t brown, it’s grey, and grey ain’t right. A spot of salt and pepper will help it on its way.

Pop the mince in a holding bowl, add a bit more oil and fry the chilli flakes for about a minute, add the garlic, fry for another minute, add the ground cumin and fry for a slow count of ten, before chucking in the onion and capsicum, then stirring like crazy, to incorporate all the brown goo from the bottom of the pan into the dish. (If you’re using cumin seeds, add them at the same time as the garlic, so they get a good minute or so.)

The veg need to soften up, and get brown around the edges, so a good ten minutes of medium heat and the occasional stir are required – there’s nothing worse than crunchy capsicum in a dish like this. Boil the jug whilst you’re doing this. Once that’s done, return the mince, plus the tomatoes, the beans, and enough boiled water from the jug so everything’s almost submerged.

Stir in the herbs, bring to the boil, and then reduce to a gentle simmer and leave for an hour to reduce. An hour? That’s enough time to whip up some tortillas and have a couple of beers.