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8 April 2014

Beef, ale & cheese soup - hearty flavours!

Are you, like I was, looking at the concept of a soup containing beef, ale (beer) and cheese and thinking "erm .. well how does that work, then?".  If so, then it works very well, surprisingly well in fact.

I'd seen various incarnations of this idea appearing on recipe sharing websites for a while and have to admit that I'd thought it was just one of those fads that occurs from time to time.  Like cheese stuffed meatloaf, prosciutto wrapped chicken breasts and cakes decorated with maltesers.  You know the sort of thing - not something that's going to last, a bit of a fashion thing - a flash in the proverbial pan.

However, I'm not sure if it was familiarity with seeing it turn up so regularly or just sheer curiosity that did it, but whatever it was - I succumbed, tried it out and it works.

Now you'll know that I'm rarely keen on a recipe that involves lots of procedures, lots of ingredients (well, except maybe for curries) and lots of faffing about.  You'll also know that my hubby isn't keen on "bouncy meat" and any type of beef requires a long, relaxing bath in the slow cooker in order for it to gain the thumbs up.

So when I began seriously considering how to make this warming wintery gem, I started from those two standpoints - simple and slow cooker.

Now it's soup we're talking about here - not stew.  So I had to choose a liquid base that would be interesting enough in flavour to be there in quantity plus also able to withstand a long cooking time.  Now obviously, beef stock would have done the job on at least one of those counts.  However, I didn't want the soup to be too weighted to one ingredient or the other.  I was after an amalgous whole.  An affinity between ingredients.  I also didn't want it to be too "gravy" flavoured.  Too much of a "gravy" flavour would be too stew-like.

Tomato passata was out, as it took everything down too much of an Italian route.  Creaminess was out, too.  Nobody wants a beef soup that is creamed.

Inevitably, the ole grey cells turned to alcohol.  After all, I'd done a fair few "in cider" dishes and knew that they worked.  I'd also cooked with ale a few times and knew what a lovely savoury end result you wind up with.  Yes, that was the thing - a light ale.  After all, beer and cheese were made to go together.  Light enough to still be there in the flavour profile, but without dominating either the beef or the cheese.

I knew that building up the flavour in layers is often the way to go - so what vegetable matter to put in there.  Some for flavour, some for texture, some for thickening.  Onion was a given and it would have to be fried so as to avoid that horrible raw onion flavour overpowering everything.  Celery is a good one, but no carrots, not this time.  I didn't want it to be a stew, remember?  Garlic always helps savouriness along, so that was a definite.  As for herbage, I was torn between parsley, thyme and oregano.  Son and heir had complained recently about everything having parsley in it, so I restrained myself to providing a mere sprinkling of parsley as garnish and decided to go with thyme.  Well, oregano was going too far down the Italian/pizza flavour route again.  I had declared myself done with thyme just recently, as it seemed to go in everything and I had got distinctly fed up with it.  However, there was just no alternative - and it went very well.

I was a little bit worried that a lot of these flavours were "top end" and there was nothing really backing up the garlic and beef at the "lower end" of the flavour spectrum, until I remembered I had a few mushrooms.  Perfect.

Now potato was a given as it tends to disintegrate and act as a thickener.  I needed something else though, something that had inherent sweetness that would counteract the bitter, hoppy flavour of the ale.  There in my veggie drawer of the fridge, was sat a half a butternut squash.  Again, perfect.  I peeled it, cut it into cubes and in it went, providing colour, beta carotene and the desired amount of sweetness.

With the combination of mature Cheddar's tangy, salty flavours and the Red Leicester's softer tones, the cheese was relatively easy to pin down.  I felt they both worked very well, although perhaps a medium matured Cheddar might have been better for my palate.  If you can cope with the big flavours of a tangy, salty, matured cheddar then go ahead with it, if you're a bit wobbly about cheese, I'd recommend a medium matured Cheddar.  Just don't reduce the quantity, as it makes a huge difference to the texture of the soup.

Now, what Cook's Tips can I offer you?  Well, apart from the type of Cheddar used (as above), I really don't think the type of beef that you use matters all that much.  Quite obviously, you wouldn't want to be using rump steak, nor a sirloin roast.  However any of your stewing, casserole, braising types from brisket right down to good old shin, would work.  Just adjust the cooking time to suit.  I used a stewing type of beef that had already been diced - not my favourite type of beef to use, but we were fortunate in that it turned out to be just perfect for the job.  I suspect it was probably a combination of shin with a bit of braising steak mixed in, as there were two very different textures of meat in there.  However, I'd use it again as it was really good.  It had around 8 or 9 hours in total on high and was absolutely as soft as butter and completely delicious.

I served the soup with some lovely sourdough, rustic bread from our local Patisserie Mark Bennett bakery.  You need bread with some "oomph" alongside the soup, but if you haven't got it don't worry.  The soup is the star!

BEEF, ALE & CHEESE SOUP   (serves 4)

Ingredients :

3 tbsp plain flour
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
750g braising or stewing beef - I used shin - trimmed of fat and cut into chunks
1 onion, chopped small
2 stalks of celery, chopped small
4-5 mushrooms, sliced
1 large garlic clove, crushed and chopped finely
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into cubes
half a butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into cubes
half a teaspoonful of dried thyme
500ml bottle of light ale beer
500ml cold water
a teaspoonful of low salt veal or beef stock powder (or a low salt stock cube)
100ml single cream
200g grated cheese - I used 50/50 Cheddar and Red Leicester
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley, for garnish.

Method :

1.  Place the flour and a pinch of sea salt and half a teaspoonful of black pepper into a large plastic bag and toss to combine.

2.  Add the cubes of beef and toss well to coat the meat.

3.  Heat the olive oil in a deep frying pan on a high heat, then place in handfuls of the beef to sear.  Take care to not overcrowd the pan, which will lower the temperature and so cause the beef to stew instead of sear.

4.  As the beef sears, remove it with a slotted spoon to the slow cooker and continue to sear the next batch until all the beef is done.

5.  Add the onion, celery, mushrooms and garlic to the pan - you may need a little more oil - and reduce the temperature.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened and coloured a little.  Decant into the slow cooker and turn it on to Low.

6.  Add the potato, butternut squash and thyme to the slow cooker, stir to combine and replace the lid.

7.  Pour the light ale into the frying pan and add the stock powder, plus 500ml of water.  Stir to combine, making sure to deglaze the pan and heat until simmering point, whereupon you can add the contents of the pan to the slow cooker, turn the heat to High and replacing the lid.

8.  Cook for a minimum of 6 hours on High and a maximum of 8 on Low - or until the beef is tender and the vegetables are cooked.

9.  Remove the slow cooker's lid and stir in the cream and the grated cheese until the cheese has melted.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

10.  Serve into warmed bowls, adding a sprinkle of fresh parsley to garnish and crusty bread for dipping.

Printable version

Chicken, asparagus & tarragon risotto - light, fresh and lovely

This, dear reader, is a blog post of note.  Not because the risotto under discussion was particularly brilliant - although it actually was - but because of who thought it up and who cooked it.

Me.  This was my first ever main course risotto.

Yes, I do realise that dear Hubby is the Risotto Chef Extraordinaire of the family.   However it occurred to me that it was all very well him knowing how to produce a good risotto, but perhaps it would be a good idea if I knew how to, as well!

Just as an aside, I did have an additional motivation, which was that poor Hubby has hurt his back and can't spend ages in front of the cooker stirring a risotto.  I miss my risottos - they're another comfort food and you all know how much I love my comfort food.

In fact, this recipe began life in my head as a pie.  Chicken, asparagus and tarragon pie - sounds good, eh?  Well, that's what I thought.  Then I had something of a tummy conniption (knew I shouldn't have had chilli con carne, followed by curry the next day!) and have had to steer clear of spicy or particularly fatty foods and let my poor old tummy settle.  So that was the pastry option out of the equation - and when you start thinking about what else you could do with chicken, asparagus and tarragon, it's a short step to a risotto.

Whenever I'm thinking about a recipe that involves chicken, I immediately find myself being resistant to the idea of cubes of chicken meat.  I haven't a clue what a cube of chicken meat has done to deserve it, but I really don't like it cubed.  Cubes or chunks are okay for curries and some casseroles, but not for everything.  Thin slices are good for stir fries and small chunks work in a pie.  Risotto, however, now that demands shredded chicken.  Don't ask me who made these rules, I'm sure I didn't.  ~whistles innocently, whilst dragging one toe in the dust~  

The chicken flavour I could imagine in my concept risotto, was a gentle, fresh chicken flavour.  Not pan fried, or roasted.  Too heavy.  There was really only one choice left to me, which was poached.  Now I've never poached a chicken breast before - well, there are so many "firsts" involved in cooking! - and had no idea how the flavour would wind up, but if my imagination was saying it would be just the job, ~shrug~, I'd go with it.  I'd poach the chicken in the stock I was going to use for the risotto until just cooked, then shred the meat.  That way, I'd be saving and using every ounce of flavour it was possible to achieve, from the chicken.

It is true to say that the most important ingredient in a risotto, is the stock.  It is the stock that flavours the rice - and not just by providing the moisture around each grain, but by soaking into the rice and flavouring it from inside to outside.  Thus, it is of paramount important that every flavour you want to be uppermost, is reflected in the stock.

I had the chicken flavour from the use of chicken stock (I used the fabulous chicken stock powder from Essential Cuisine, my favourite stock people) and poaching the chicken.  The asparagus flavour is boosted by the addition of the offcuts from each asparagus spear, which are broken up so as to access all the flavour available.  The addition of several full stems of fresh tarragon with leaves attached (plus the bald stems that you've taken the leaves from) makes sure that the three primary flavours are right up there.

If I relied upon the addition of the asparagus and tarragon at the end of the dish, the flavours would be nothing like as pronounced or established.  Both ingredients do not have long enough in the pan to make sufficient impression upon the flavour of the whole.  Hence, it is very well worth that little bit of extra work to include them in the stock.  It is true, it does make finding the asparagus tips a bit like fishing in the undergrowth when it comes to blanching them - but it is worth it! 

Now, let's discuss the basic stock.  For goodness' sake, if you're going to use a commercially produced stock, don't use anything other than a reduced salt stock powder or stock cube.  The pinch of salt that you add to the stock is sufficient and much, much less salt than you will get from a full-salt version.  Bear in mind that the nature of a risotto is to absorb and reduce the stock.  If you're reducing a full-salt stock, that can get hellishly salty - and once over salted, it is impossible in the time you have available, to bring it back.

So get yourself a good quality low salt stock - and if you're using home made, you might like to reduce it by boiling in a pan for a while, so as to achieve good, highly flavoured chicken stock.  Oh, and when using home made chicken stock, you'll need to use your knowledge of how much salt is in it already, to decide whether you'll require the pinch or not.

A quick cook's tip, is to blanche your asparagus tips for no longer than 2 minutes or you stand the chance of losing the bright green colour when you re-heat them, prior to serving.

I know the recipe looks terribly complicated, but it really isn't - it's just that each stage took a lot of description, but is really quick to achieve!  The end risotto is a lovely, light but satisfying, bowl of comfort food that - for once - doesn't leave you feeling all heavy and bloated.  Now there is a place for heavy and bloated, I'll not deny that, but there is also a place for a lighter texture of comfort food.  Food that gives you a big hug, whilst still letting you fit into your trousers, or behind the wheel of your car.

Having said all that, I won't go into too much detail about the ice cream, home made rhubarb jam, blueberries and amaretti that we had for dessert.  ~kof~  (It was lovely, though!).

CHICKEN, ASPARAGUS & TARRAGON RISOTTO   (serves 3 for a main course)

Ingredients :

2-3 tsp low salt chicken stock powder (or sufficient low salt stock cubes) made up to 1 litre stock
a pinch of sea salt
a large pinch of ground white pepper
1 bunch (7-8 stems) asparagus
4-5 full stems of tarragon, plus 1 tbsp chopped tarragon leaves
2 skinless & boneless chicken breasts
1 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
a large knob of butter
2 banana shallots, peeled and chopped finely
300g arborio rice
100ml white wine (any kind, sweet works as well as dry)
a handful of defrosted frozen peas
grated parmesan cheese, to taste and for sprinkling.

Method :

1.  Make up the chicken stock into a saucepan and place on the heat.  You are aiming to bring the contents to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently.

2.  Take the thick, woody ends off of the asparagus and smash by laying the side of the knife on top, then hitting with the heel of your hand.  Add them to the stock pot, along with the tarragon stems (which should still have their leaves attached), salt and pepper.

3.  Remove the tips from the asparagus and set aside, then cut each spear into small pea sized logs.

4.  Cut each chicken breast into three evenly sized pieces and add to the hot stock.  Cover the pan and simmer for 8-10 minutes, or until the chicken is just cooked through.

5.  Remove the chicken pieces, retaining the stock, and shred the chicken.

6.  Place the asparagus spears into the stock and blanche for 2 minutes, then remove and set aside.

7.  Into a deep pan, add the oil and butter and heat gently.

8.  Add the shallots and cook on a gentle heat until soft and yielding.  Do not allow them to colour.  Remove using a slotted spoon so that the majority of the buttery oil falls back into the pan, and set aside.

9.  Increase the heat under the pan to high and add the rice.  Stir the rice well, making sure every grain is covered in the buttery oil.  Allow the pan to reach as hot a temperature as you dare, without burning the rice.  Each grain should be taking on a slightly golden hue and screaming for mercy, whereupon you add your first ladle of stock.

10.  The first ladleful will disappear in a great exhalation of steam from the pan, so be ready with a second.  Stir the rice gently but constantly, allowing it to absorb the stock and release the starchy creaminess that epitomises a risotto.

11.  Add the white wine and the cooked shallots and stir through.

12.  Once the rice has just about absorbed all the stock, add the next ladleful.  Stir, stir, stir.  Risotto is not something you can leave to cook while you read a book.  Continue in this vein - ladleful of stock, stir stir stir, pan dries out, ladleful of stock - until the rice is soft yet al dente.  Patience, that's the key!

13.  With your last ladleful or two of stock, add the chicken, tarragon leaves, asparagus logs and the peas.  Place a lid on for a minute or so, then stir, replace the lid, then stir, replace the lid, until the asparagus has lost its raw crunchiness (but is still firm and bright green) and the chicken is heated through.

14.  Put the asparagus tips back into the stock pot, to heat through and finish cooking for their last minute.

15.  Add some grated Parmesan cheese - to taste - to the risotto and stir through.

16.  You can adjust the texture of the risotto by adding a little more stock if you think it requires it - and having had a taste, adjust the seasoning by adding a little more white pepper or a pinch of sea salt, if required.

17.  Finally, add the asparagus spears and serve with a light grating of Parmesan sprinkled over.


Printable version

1 April 2014

129,000 - yes, you read it right! - page views in March!

You know, I didn't think it could get much more intense
than the 80,000 page views that was our previous record
here on Rhubarb & Ginger.

Then ..... you took the record to 129,804 last month, in March.

One hundred and twenty nine thousand, eight hundred and four.

Just .... wow.

Thank you.


26 March 2014

Wine testing and tasting : Gallo Family Vineyards' Summer Red

A few days ago, I was asked whether I would be interested in reviewing some of the Gallo Family Vineyards' wine.  Now, I had to come clean and say that I have worked with them in the past - particularly with regard to their utterly fantastic (to my taste) Moscato.  I absolutely adore that wine and it is right up there with Asti Spumante as my favourite.

From which, you will gather that I am no wine buff.

In fact, I am not one of these white wine quaffing, metro, London kinda gals.  I'm much more of a cup of tea, some orange squash or a gin & tonic if I'm pushed, kinda gal.  The sheer fact that I have come to like Moscato quite so much is a complete revelation, to me as much as anyone.

As such, I hadn't shown much interest in the Summer Red.  Well, it was red for a start - and there's only one red wine I've ever had an interest in, which I won't go into here for fear of taking the gilt off of the Summer Red's gingerbread.  Because it does deserve to have its gingerbread gilded.

Now all you wine buffs out there can just leave now, before you start snorting down your noses and saying things about "blended" and "too sweet" and "girly drink".  I just don't care about all that.  In the Summer Red, I have discovered a red wine that I can drink - not in quantity, I can't drink anything alcoholic in quantity - and enjoy.  It doesn't make my toes curl with its tannins and dryness, it doesn't make my face transmogrify into a prune at its sourness.  Yes, it is incredibly sweet, but I like that.  It's very much after the fashion of a dessert wine - and if I want to lengthen the drink by adding soda water, or lemonade, I don't feel as though I'm committing a crime by doing so.

The real joy of this wine, though, is its flexibility.  Let me introduce you to "Summer Red jelly with Cherries".  Oh yes.

Now you know me.  I'll always try to get the most I can out of everything that comes my way - and a bottle of wine is no different.  I didn't want to just neck the whole bottle - which would have been lovely, but not exactly putting the stuff fully to the test - so I had been pondering on how to use it.  To my way of thinking, it is far too sweet to use in a savoury dish.  So I decided to re-create a dessert I used to buy from Marks & Spencers, some 20 years ago - which was a little pot of raspberry jelly with a disc of cake, a few raspberries and a blob of cream.  Sounds plain, but it was really lovely.

What if I were to make the jelly with the Summer Red?  A red wine jelly.  Mmmn .. now you're talking.  The disc of cake would be easily provided from a plain sponge cake that has some robustness to it - a Madeira would be ideal.  Should I go with the raspberries, or would another fruit be better suited to the flavour characters of the wine?  The flavour profile given on their website is "With a ripe and juicy taste, this wine has delicious flavours of raspberry, pomegranate, and cherry."  They're not wrong either, but the one that caught my attention was the cherry, which to me was very "up there" on the palate.  Black cherries - oh yes, mhhmmn.  :: nods ::  That's definitely the one - and I know a local supermarket that sells packets of frozen unsweetened black cherries.  Perfect.

Now right up until the moment of putting the dessert together, I hadn't quite formulated in my mind what I was going to do about making up the quantities for the jelly.  I knew I had 500ml of wine left - which I was using sheet gelatine with - however 500ml of wine wasn't going to go around 3 people as a jelly.  I needed to be closer to 1 litre.  So, do I use apple juice (which might be too sweet) or just water (which might be too bland and wash some flavour away) or some other flavour jelly?  For all that I'd seen cherry flavour jellies in the shops, it was a long old shot that we'd find one - and I didn't want to introduce raspberry (which I'd been trying to get away from), or strawberry into the mix.

For your information!
By some divine flash of intervention, when hubby was mooching around the supermarket, he spied - on the World Food aisle - a sachet of black cherry jelly crystals.  Now, bearing in mind that he doesn't speak Polish (well, apart from one word - "paczek" - meaning "doughnut".  Very important that!), he did well to recognise what it was he was looking at!  He brought it home and we were all set.  (Hahaha!  See what I did there?).

So, crossing my fingers that all would be well, I poured the wine into my measuring jug (500ml, as I'd thought) and topped it up with water, to a litre.  Into a saucepan that went, to be heated to simmering point so as to lose a little of the alcohol and be warm enough to dissolve the gelatine and crystals.  In went the soaked gelatine sheets, which behaved beautifully and dissolved neatly, then the cherry jelly crystals - cross your fingers - which also dissolved beautifully.  *phew*

From there, it was a simple matter of cutting out the cake discs and weighing them down with a large spoonful of defrosted unsweetened cherries.  I used unsweetened owing to the degree of sugar that is apparent in the wine.  I was after a "grown up" jelly here, not one for children's parties.  Pour on sufficient jelly to cover the cake and fill the glass dish, after which it is a bit of a steady carrying job (which it would seem I can't do, so I had a number of goes at it, involving replacing the cherries and cursing the cake disk soundly) to get it into the fridge to set.

Once set, it is an incredibly easy job to just add a small amount of creme fraiche, then more cherries and grate some dark chocolate over the top.

The "cook's notes" I have for you are to aim to buy one of the bar shaped Madeira cakes, rather than a round, complete cake.  The bar sized/shaped ones are just perfect for cutting out the right sized disc without too much waste.  Of course, if you have an obliging teenager, you won't have cake waste for long.  Another tip is to resist buying a cherry Madeira, as there is quite enough sugar in the dessert without adding another sugary dimension with candied cherries.

The chocolate that I used was a fancy schmancy one - dark chocolate with cherries and chilli - but there really is no need to go beyond just a plain dark chocolate.  All that is required is the flavour of the dark chocolate - and there is such a small amount used, that additional flavours tend to get lost.

These jellies are far better made in individual glasses, rather than a big bowl.  I did both - for research's sake - and here's the result of the big bowl ...

.... not good.  In an individual glass dish, you are far more able to weigh the cake discs down with cherries, which prevents them from floating to the top and getting right in the way.

Oooh, I've just had a thought!  This dessert would be truly mind blowing, if you were to use fresh Picota cherries when they're in season!

So how did it eat?

Oh my word.  It was one of those desserts that you take your first taste of and look out of the corner of your eye at your companions, then nod gravely up and down, whilst groaning an appreciative "mmmmmnnnnnn....".  Yup.  It was THAT good.

I asked my son whether he could taste the wine.  He gave me a withering look and said "oh yes, I think so!", by which I take it to mean that my ambition of creating a grown up jelly were realised.

Would I buy the Summer Red again?  Oh yes.  I'd buy two - one to drink and one to make jelly with.  *grin*


Ingredients :

500ml Gallo Family Vineyards Summer red wine
500ml cold water
5 sheets of gelatine
1 sachet (or sufficient for 500ml) cherry jelly crystals
480g defrosted black cherries, juice retained
1 Madeira cake, cut into 1cm thick slices
2-3 squares of dark chocolate, for decoration.

Method :

1.  Pour the wine and water into a saucepan and set over a low heat to simmer for 5-10 minutes.

2.  While the wine mixture is heating, place the gelatine sheets into some cold water to soften.

3.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the soaked gelatine sheets, stirring well to encourage them to dissolve.

4.  Once you are sure the sheets have dissolved, add the jelly crystals and stir again until they have dissolved.  At this stage, you can include any juice that has come with the cherries.  It is worth giving the pack a slight squeeze (without squishing the fruit) just to encourage the juice.

5.  Place to one side to cool slightly, whilst you cut out your cake discs.  Try to size the disc to fit whatever individual receptacle you are using.  My discs were approximately 2" and I used a scone cutter.

6.  Place a disc of cake into each individual bowl and add a generous spoonful of cherries, to weigh it down.

7.  Pour on a couple of tablespoonfuls of jelly, just enough to soak the cake through, which will also prevent it floating to the top.

8.  Continue to fill the bowl to your own personal preference, leaving room for the decorative cherries etc.

9.  Place into the fridge to set.

10.  Once set, add a teaspoonful of creme fraiche, some more cherries and a grating of dark chocolate.

You might also like to serve some additional creme fraiche alongside, for extra creamage!

Printable version

24 March 2014

Knock your socks off Bacon & Herb Stuffing

Why - on earth - haven't I made my own stuffing before now?

I reckon it's a combination of stuffing being one of those things that just floats around as an "also", an "add on" to a roast dinner and also my own bad experience with it as a youngster.  You see, my Mum would often stuff (good old Paxo, the stuffing of choice for the millions) our Sunday chicken, which I remember vividly because I would be vaguely revolted by the colour of the stuffing that had sat in the (apologies) blood while the chicken was roasting.  As a consequence, when the recommendation came out that you didn't stuff your chicken any longer owing to E-coli scares - and my Mum stopped - I wasn't unhappy about it.

So we got out of the habit of eating stuffing.  It became something that we had at Christmas with the turkey - and only in the shape of stuffing balls that were baked in the oven.

When it came to making my own roast dinners, to include stuffing on the menu was just one step too many for a long time.  Well, making a roast dinner is quite an undertaking one way and another.  There's the timings, the vegetables, the roast potatoes, the gravy - everything has to be ready on time and it's a whole lot more complicated than making a spaghetti bolognese!

In fact, I didn't really bother with stuffing (the associations between sage & onion stuffing and hideous discoloured soggy breadcrumbs being too much to bear) until hubby came along and professed an undying love for the dish.  By then, I'd managed to get a small grip on the mechanics of making a roast dinner - particularly a roast chicken - and it wasn't too difficult to mix up a packet of stuffing and bung it in the oven to cook alongside the rest.  I didn't waste any love or attention on it though - and didn't particularly enjoy it on my dinner, either.  Well - sage and onion again, you see.

It wasn't until I joined a couple of Facebook groups and saw other people were making home made stuffings, that I began to foster an interest in doing it myself.

This was a slow burning interest though, I have to admit.  I'm fairly sure that those early days of sage and onion were still colouring the picture of "stuffing" that I had in my memory.  I still hadn't put the idea that I could venture away from sage & onion, together with the concept of "stuffing".  Now everyone knows that home made is very often better than shop bought packet mixes, but I was particularly slow on the uptake where this was concerned.

However, once it had dawned on me - and I noticed that I had half a packet of bacon sitting doing nothing one Sunday morning - the old grey matter got to work.

It was the perfect moment - I had a gorgeously huge, fat chicken to be roasted.  I had my lovely oven dish to use.  I had bacon.  I had a good quantity of Polish Bakery bread to use for breadcrumbs and I had a profusion of both fresh and dried herbs in the house.  Never had a moment been so propitious!

I didn't use a recipe - after all, people have been stuffing things for years by using whatever they had to hand.  Yes, dear reader, I winged it.  In a BIG way - and (pretty much) got away with it.

Even having put the stuffing together and knowing a) what was in it, plus b) how they went together, I still wasn't particularly keen on the idea.  Oh I was interested in how it would come out and concerned that everyone would like it, but I wasn't anticipating liking it much myself.  Oh, how wrong I was.  I not only liked it, I loved it.  I could have eaten the stuffing and dropped the chicken from my dinner - which is truly remarkable.

However, the stuffing came into its own the following day when I put together a cold roast chicken, stuffing and sweetcorn relish sandwich.  Oh .. my .. word.  Shoot me now, I'm all over happy.

I have one cook's tip for you with regard to this stuffing, which is not to use salt unless you are absolutely convinced that the bacon does not carry any of its own.  Because the bacon becomes considerably reduced by the double cooking process, the saltiness of it is intensified.  Additional salt just isn't necessary - particularly if you are using smoked bacon.

So, on the reckoning that where I came from others might follow and if you're one of those who was put off stuffing by - well, let's not go into it again, eh? - then find some lost bacon and give this a go with your next roast chicken.  Then tell me you don't like stuffing.  *grin*


Ingredients :

1-2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper
4-5 rashers of lean back smoked bacon, finely diced
3 slices crusty bread, slightly stale, chopped into chunky breadcrumbs
2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh chives, finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
half a tsp dried thyme
half a tsp dried rosemary
1 large egg.

Method :

1.  Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the bacon and onion together until the onion is softened and beginning to turn golden.  Add a pinch of black pepper, stir to combine then leave to cool slightly.

2.  Once cooled, stir the breadcrumbs into the bacon & onion pan making sure to absorb the bacon fat.

3.  Decant the contents of the bacon pan into a large bowl and add the remainder of the ingredients, including the egg.

4.  Stir well to combine - until the egg cannot be traced.

5.  Decant into an oven proof dish, level the surface and place into a pre-heated 180degC/350degF/Gas 4 oven for 25-30 minutes or until the surface is baked crispy.

Serve with your favourite roasted meats and vegetables, or cold the following day in a sandwich.

Printable version

20 March 2014

You're all amazing - did you know that?

Well, if you didn't know it - you do now, so consider yourselves told. *wink* 

This morning, the blog has exceeded its all time total for page views for the month. Our previous all time best was 80,149.

As at today, our page views are standing at a whopping 83,686 for the month so far - and it is only the 20th!

Who knows what we'll have achieved by the end of the month.

~shakes head incredulously~

You're all amazing, did you know that? 
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