29 November 2012

Slow cooked Cumberland beef stew with donkey carrots

When I first set out to make this meal, it was supposed to be a crispy topped Cumberland pie.  However, I ran out of puff part way through it - and discovered how yummy just the beef part of the recipe could be on its own.

As with a lot of my recipes these days, this one has taken bits from several different recipes.  However, the original inspiration came from the BBC Good Food website and their Crispy topped Cumberland pie.

The original version was made with feather blade beef, however I opted to use our favourite shin of beef because a) I was going to be slow-cooking it and b) the flavour of beef shin is amazing.  However, this plan back-fired on me this time around - as you'll discover later.

I liked the idea of the sliced potatoes on top, along with the baked to crispiness cheese coating.  Cheddar always goes so well with beef, they are a real comfort food pairing.  I was a bit nervous about the sliced potatoes, however, as I've not had a lot of luck with them in the past.  They either wind up still hard (not long enough in the oven) or turn black and unappetising looking (wrong type of potato, left too long before baking).  You see, I know what I did wrong in the past - so I was determined not to commit any of these crimes this time around.  Hubby always greets the idea of sliced potato on top of a savoury dish with great scepticism, so I not only had my own failures to beat, I had his expectations to exceed too.

Swimming around happily

When it got closer to the time when I would make the transfer from the slow cooker to the oven, I think I had got myself so wound up over the potatoes failing (again), that I just opted for the easier route and didn't bother.

The marriage of beef and cheese is what makes a "Cumberland" something, Cumberland.  So, rather than miss the whole point of the recipe, I remembered seeing Jamie Oliver adding some grated cheese to a beef casserole - and did the same.  It was very definitely counter-intuitive to be grating cheddar into a beef casserole, but for all that it didn't taste obviously of cheddar cheese, it very definitely made a difference in both flavour and texture.

I must pause here and comment on the carrots.  You see, carrots have such a fundamental part to play in British cooking.  They appear on so many plates over the course of a lifetime's meals, yet rarely do you see anyone doing anything exciting with them (apart from the occasional carrot cake and maybe a carrot & coriander soup).  Now, I'm not saying that adding them to this stew was exciting, but if we could just have a little bit of appreciation here for the 'umble carrot in all its many forms, I think it would be appropriate.  The carrots used in this stew were the big fat donkey carrots.  None of your thin, springtime carrots, or your fancy Chantenay carrots.  Oh no.  What you need are big, fat, coarse carrots that are going to stand being cooked for a long time and have loads of sweetness to impart.

I love the name "donkey carrots" and have been wracking my brains to try and remember where I first heard the term.  It was either care of Raymond Blanc on his "Kitchen Secrets" programme - he is so funny in this programme! - or with Michael Caines during his carrot episode of the Great British Food Revival.  Either way, "donkey carrot" just suits this great big honking lump of carrotiness perfectly - and "donkey carrots" they shall be, for me, in future.  (I can remember when I owned horses and a donkey, buying a 25kg bag of just these type of carrots, for their feed!  More than one of them went home with me and wound up on my plate!).


Now, what was the end result like, I hear you ask?  Well, I loved it, son & heir loved it but hubby - oddly - couldn't take the texture of the beef shin.

See what I mean by connective tissue?  Can't trim it all out!
I'm really not sure what the difference was, as we've had and eaten beef shin on many other occasions and he hasn't experienced the same problem, plus I didn't notice any difference in the meat as I was trimming it up.  Trimming up beef shin is always a labour of love, so I very definitely went over it with a fine toothcomb for yukky fat and globby bits.  Shin of beef contains a lot of connective tissue, which during the course of slow cooking melts into the gravy and gives it a very rich, almost glutinous texture.  It makes me wonder if the addition of the cheese to the gravy didn't just push the texture over the edge of palatable for hubby, as he really is so terribly sensitive to soft textures in food.

For me, the cheese made the gravy incredibly savoury, rich and unctuous along with giving it a certain indefinable and very pleasant something.  I really liked the carrot and the combination of onions and celery had just melted away into the gravy.  I used my favourite Knorr Rich Beef Stock Pot to provide a good amount of additional "oomph!" to the gravy base - they really are indispensable to me, now.

That oddly coloured carrot on the right, is a purple carrot!

So all in all, I'd very definitely do this recipe again - but I think I'd choose something like Brisket of beef, or perhaps Silverside (depending on the price!), both of which have far less connective tissue and thus would make it palatable for hubby.  After all, there's no point spending all that time trimming, cooking and serving if he can't eat it!

SLOW COOKED CUMBERLAND STEW WITH DONKEY CARROTS   (feeds 4)

Ingredients :

1 tbsp rapeseed oil
6-700g beef brisket (or braising cut of your choice)
2 big donkey carrots, peeled and chopped into chunky pieces
2 onions, chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
3 bay leaves
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Knorr Really Beefy Stock Pot (or a beef stock cube)
1 tsp Bovril
half a tsp of freshly ground black pepper
500ml hot water
1 tbsp softened butter
2 tbsp plain flour
a large handful of grated mature cheddar cheese.

Method :

1.  Heat the oil in a frying pan until really quite hot.  Add the beef - you may need to do this bit in stages, so as not to overcrowd the pan - and sear until you have a good dark golden brown colour on at least two sides.  Decant into the slow cooker with a slotted spoon and turn it to low, making sure to replace the lid.

2.  Add the carrots to the slow cooker and replace the lid.

3.  Add the onion to the frying pan (you may need a touch more oil) and cook gently for 5-6 minutes until softened, transparent and just beginning to take on colour.

4.  Add the celery and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes.

5.  Add the bay leaves, tomato puree, tomato ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, stock pot (or stock cube, if using), Bovril, pepper and water and stir gently to combine as it heats through.

6.  In a small dish, mix the butter and flour together.  Remove the frying pan from the heat and add a teaspoonful of the flour mixture to the gravy.  Stir well to ensure it mixes in without forming lumps.  Continue until you have the consistency you prefer - less flour mix for thinner, more flour mix for thicker.

7.  Return the pan to the heat and stir until properly thickened.

8.  Decant into the slow cooker.  Replace the lid and leave to cook for the next 8-10 hours.

9.  Just prior to serving, remove the lid and using the slotted spoon, move the meat to one side of the slow cooker.

10.  Add the grated cheddar to the non-meat side and stir it gently into the gravy.  Once melted, stir the meat back in to the cheesy gravy.

Serve.

Printable version
 

28 November 2012

This week's menu planning post - powered by Jelly Babies

Red Plum & Pomegranate Clafouti
I started this post yesterday and failed miserably, to the point of deleting it and starting again, so goodness knows how I'll get on today.

I know!  I'll have a jelly baby - that might help.  Jelly babies help in all kinds of situations where everything else has failed.

I didn't write up last week's menu plan because, well, I thought it was unlikely that any of it would be worth blogging.  However, it just goes to show that once you start blogging, it is very hard to stop.

We were extremely busy last week, ferrying son & heir to his various musical commitments - he was singing with the school choir in the evenings as well as his normal bass guitar lessons and choir rehearsals.  For that reason along with the fact that I've got no end of unblogged recipes waiting to go, I thought we could have a week off from making bloggable recipes.

Jelly babies - small delicious saviours of blog posts
It seems as though that didn't stop us from posting photographs of several of the yummier meals to the Rhubarb & Ginger Facebook page, nor did it stop me from making a Plum & Pomegranate Clafouti, which will appear on the blog some time in the future.

This week should (note the "should") be a lot quieter, so we're back with a menu plan which consists of five bloggable recipes - not counting anything we might encounter on the way!

So, what's for dinner this week then?

Tues : Cheddar stuffed chicken with rice, peas & asparagus
Weds : Creole chicken with rice
Thurs : Woodman's Cassoulet
Fri : Fish & chips
Sat : Pesto whiting with minted pearl potatoes, cherry tomatoes & courgette ribbons
Sun : Spanish meatballs and rice
Mon : Pasties, hash browns & baked beans.

Add to that the Christmas Puddings - for which I have now developed a recipe, incorporating my Nanna's old recipe, my Mum's not-so-old recipe and snippets of recipes from the internet.

I'm aiming to make them on Thursday during the day, then I can cook them in the slow cooker for 12 hours each, finishing some time on Friday.  Hopefully, then I can take the one for my brother's family over with us when we take my Dad's birthday present, at the weekend.  He can either pick it up from there, or they can drop it in when they're passing.  Job done.


Now, this Cheddar stuffed chicken is a bit more interesting than just chicken stuffed with cheddar cheese.  You do, indeed, stuff your chicken breast with small pieces of cheddar, but you also make a pretty darned yummy sauce involving apples, sage, bacon and cream.

The recipe originated with Recipe Girl and the minute I saw it, I knew it would be a winner.  The sheer fact that it made my mouth water was a bit of a giveaway!  So that one is going on the blog very soon.

Might look like this ...
Wednesday's Creole Chicken with rice is one of hubby's creations.  I have never had any creole or cajun food that I've really liked - so he's up against it with this one!  I have always found the spices to be almost coarse in flavour, really quite harsh, so he's going to attempt to put a chicken dish together that is spiced Creole-style, but in a way that I'll like it.  He's going to be using yellow capsicum pepper, pineapple, tomatoes, mushrooms and okra - all of which I really like - along with the chicken, so I'm hopeful.

Thursday's Woodman's Cassoulet is a "made up on the spot" recipe that is designed to make use of two pork steaks that have been roosting in the freezer.  Along with the steak, I'll be using some Polish Hunter's Sausage and two types of bean in a tomato-based sauce with large cheesy croutons on top - much like you get on French Onion soup.  Fingers crossed, it should be rich, thick and tasty - and contain all the vegetables in the one pot.

Friday is fish & chip day.  Well, I think we deserve a day off!

Hubby's back in the kitchen on Saturday, buoyed by his success with the Baked Cod dish he created recently, he's going to be tackling some Whiting fillets.

Quite cod-like, I understand
We heard someone knocking on the door one evening and, upon investigation, discovered our neighbour Frank - brandishing two packs of fresh Whiting fillets.  He'd been out fishing that day and they were surplus to requirements, so they very kindly sent them our way!  Yum!

Hubby's planning on combining them with a green pesto and baking some cherry tomatoes to go with little minted pearl potatoes and some courgette ribbons in a vinaigrette.  It all sounds very acceptable indeed.

Sunday's Spanish Meatballs were inspired by a photograph posted to the "Good Food - Good People" Facebook page.  One of the chaps there had gone to a tapas bar, where one of the dishes served were these amazing-looking meatballs in a rich tomato sauce.  The look of them just (again) made my mouth water and I resolved to make some very soon.

So, when hubby mentioned that we had a pack and a half of mince in the freezer - immediately I thought of these meatballs.  I knew that one pack wouldn't be enough - so the added bonus of a half pack that was looking for a home just clinched the deal.

Albondigas (apparently) - except I want a thicker sauce
I've put rice on the menu to go with these meatballs, but I'm pondering on changing that to a spicy couscous.  Watch this space!

Well, after all that creativity in action, a day of a simple pasty, hash browns and baked beans dinner seems perfectly in order.  We're hoping to get three of the big Cornish Pasties from Rowe's the bakers some time during the day.  I had one for an emergency lunch the other day and it was so fabulous, that it'd be well worth the effort of getting them!

Oh look - I'm at the end of the post!  Who'd have thought that Jelly Babies would be so good at clearing a touch of writer's block.  I only managed to eat five ....

Five of these?  Well, I'd give it a go .... lol

25 November 2012

Baked cod on pea puree with beurre blanc sauce

Now here's something a little bit different for Jenny Eatwell's Rhubarb & Ginger - a fish dish!

We really enjoy eating fish.  Let me say that straight away.  However (and you knew one of those was coming, didn't you?), we just don't get the opportunity very often.  Which is completely ridiculous, considering that a) we live 2 minutes (literally) from the sea and b) we'll give a go to pretty much anything that came out of it!

Hubby has a few issues with river fish - he doesn't like the muddy flavour of River Cobbler, for instance.  Bottom feeders aren't his bag, at all.

However, if we could only find a supplier of affordable sea fish - you'd see it on the blog far more often than you do.

So, if anyone out there in blog-readership-land knows of a reliable and affordable fishmongler (both in the Bournemouth/Poole area and online - I don't mind either or both), let me know.

The only fishmonglers I've found locally, are in the "monied" areas of town and so their prices are astronomical.  The only one who isn't, is fabled as not selling truly fresh fish - so he's a non-starter.

It really annoys me that we live so close to the sea, yet cannot source fresh fish unless we go to the supermarket - and then it's likely to have been previously frozen.  I don't want supermarket fish - I want fish that's come straight off the boat!  Grrrrr!

Having said that, I now have to admit that the fish we used here was from our local Asda.  It was on special offer and looked particularly nice.  In fact, hubby was planning to make some fish cakes with it, but came to the conclusion that it would be criminal to munch up such a beautiful piece of fish - so this was what we wound up with.

I reckon he was quite right!

Anyway, I'll hand over to hubby, to talk you through the recipe :



See that photo up there?  Looks nice doesn't it?  Maybe even classy.  Pea puree, buerre blanc sauce, blimey!  Well, let me tell you a little secret - it's easy.  Almost unbelievably easy, and the results, well, just ask the lovely Ms Eatwell or the infamously hard to please, son and heir.  Oh, and by the way, a little veggie chopping aside, this whole dish takes only 25 minutes to prepare - honest!


The method described for for the buerre blanc sauce is the basic method.  There are probably more variations than you can shake a pointy baguette at.  For instance, rosemary, thyme and tarragon would transform it into a perfect sauce for chicken.

19 April 2013 : Every week when we do the menu plan for the coming week, we ask son & heir whether he has any special requests.  For the last four or five weeks, he's been asking for this cod on pea puree with buerre blanc sauce.  Now unfortunately, it's not that easy to achieve as the situation hasn't changed much with regard to fishmonglers over here (I have heard of one possibility, but have yet to get over there when they are open.  We've been twice (so far) and they've been shut both times - so we're not doing very well).  Aaaanyway, we waited until we could afford it - Asda had some nice cod fillets in again and we swooped upon them quickly.
 
Nothing has changed - except the Dill .... lol

Hubby made the recipe as per his instructions below (which he was glad of, because he'd forgotten how to do parts of it, it'd been so long!) but made a couple of changes to the buerre blanc sauce.  In the first instalment, he'd used salted butter but hadn't felt that was quite right, so used unsalted this time.  I have to admit, the buerre blanc was so much smoother and utterly delightful, so he obviously was quite right about it.  He also reduced the cream quantity to one tablespoonful, but added a little tarragon to the sauce at the very end, which was a very good addition that went really well with the pea puree.  Also, who knew that buerre blanc is so scrumptious on plain steamed carrots?  ~shrug~  Amazing.



I can understand why son & heir loves this dish so much.  The fish is just such a treat - to have large flakes of white fish on your fork, with your own choice of accompaniment from the plate, is something that doesn't happen often.  Usually, our fish is in a mungle with some other ingredients - such as Tuna Pasta Bake, or Kedgeree - all of which are perfectly nice, but they just don't compare with this cod dish.  The message is clear, therefore - if you can, when you can, have a go at this.  You won't regret it.

BAKED COD ON PEA PUREE WITH BEURRE BLANC SAUCE    (serves 3)


Ingredients
:

150g frozen peas
3-5 fresh mint leaves (depending on how big they are)
50ml double cream
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp plus 25ml lemon juice
500ml good fish stock  (I used Essential Cuisine's fabulous fish stock powder)
6 & 4 whole black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
600g unsmoked cod (or other firm fleshed fish)
a small bunch of fresh dill
100ml white wine
2 banana shallots, very finely diced
150-175g cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes.

Method  :

For the Pea Puree


Place the frozen peas and a splash of water into a high sided bowl and microwave for five minutes.  Drain the peas and then return to the bowl along with the mint leaves.  Puree the peas using a hand blender, adding a tiny amount of double cream (or milk) until the desired consistency is reached.  Season to taste with salt, pepper and up to 1 tsp lemon juice if needed.  Cover the bowl and set aside to stay warm.


For the fish


Pour 300ml of the fish stock into a deep roasting dish and add a few peppercorns, and two of the bay leaves.  Lay the fish into the stock, adding more stock to almost cover the fish. Sprinkle the fish with dill fronds and then place the dish into an oven, pre-heated to 325degF/170degC/Gas 3 for 20 minutes.  This cooking time is recommended for chunky cod fillets but may need to be reduced for thinner pieces of fish.

 
For the buerre blanc sauce


1.  Place the white wine and lemon juice (white wine vinegar can be substituted) in a saucepan over a high heat.  Add the shallots, the remaining bay leaf and a few whole peppercorns and bring to a fast boil.  The liquids in the pan need to be reduced by about three quarters or until they become syrupy.


2.  Add the remaining 30ml of double cream to the pan and continue to cook and stir on a high heat until the emulsion reaches coating consistency.  Remove the pan from the heat and reduce the heat to very low.

3.  Now add a cube of cold butter to the pan, keeping it off the heat.  Whisk until the cube of butter has almost dissolved before adding the next cube.  Repeat this process for the rest of the butter, returning the pan to the heat when the butter's melting slows down.  This process is a critical one.  The sauce must not be allowed to get hotter than about 60degC otherwise it will split.  This is why the cubes of butter must be cold when added.  Conversely, the sauce must not be allowed to cool too much, so returning the pan to a low heat every so often is essential to warm it back up.  Continue this process, whisking continuously, until the sauce is glossy and reaches the consistency that you require. It can then be left in a warm pan, taking care not to let it come to the boil. 

4.  Season to taste and add a little lemon juice if the sauce tastes at all 'flat'.  The sauce can be served as it is or, for a more refined finish, can be passed through a fine sieve to remove the shallots and peppercorns.

To serve


Smooth as much or as little
pea puree as required onto a warmed plate.  Place a fillet of drained fish on top of the puree and serve with a selection of steamed vegetables.  Pour a generous amount of the buerre blanc sauce over the fish and vegetables and serve with a well chilled, crisp white wine.


Printable version

24 November 2012

Chicken Paprikash - easier than I thought!

I have made various paprika chicken dishes over the years, with - it has to be said - a mixture of success and failure.  As a result, I've become a bit nervous of the types of recipe that involve tomatoes (particularly tinned), chicken and paprika.

However, just lately I've seen a few recipes for Chicken Paprikash float past my consciousness and had found myself being drawn in to the idea once again.  After all, my paprika pork recipes seem to be successful, so there really was no reason why a chicken version wouldn't work.

Particularly now I've the right paprika.

Now, because nobody tells you - I shall pass on the wisdom of my years of getting it wrong.  

It seems as though buying paprika is one of those things that is fraught with misadventure.  In the past, I've had your usual supermarket-gleaned small pots of paprika, graduating to a small pot of smoked paprika.  They were okay - but I seemed to be missing out on the rich roasty toasty flavours that I see reported in food magazines and spoken of on food t.v.  So I began to consider (we're going back a number of years here) whether my little pots of paprika were really quite up to the job - and maybe there was a more "authentic" type of paprika that offered the flavours I was missing.

We kept our eyes open for different types and began to see recipes requesting the use of "sweet" and "hot" paprika.  Aha!  So there was different types available!  Why does nobody tell you that?  Why did it take me a number of years to establish that there are as many types of paprika in the world as there are recipes?  Well, that's the way it seems - I suspect there may be a few more recipes than types of paprika, in reality.  Only a few, mind.

So our first score was with a tin of smoked paprika.  This was before I realised that there was such an animal as a "sweet smoked" paprika.  I also didn't notice that there was a heat rating on the tin.  Ours was the hottest, at 3 chillies.  So that explained why, when I used three teaspoonfuls of paprika in a recipe once, it tasted appalling.  You see?  Nobody tells you these things.

After a period of some months spent looking, we eventually sourced some of the sweet smoked paprika - and tranquillity was once more restored in our recipes.

Now, note please that I said "tin".  If your paprika doesn't come in a tin, unless you've bought it on the continent somewhere, I suspect that you're being short changed in your paprika use.  So, if you too have some little jars of paprika quaking nervously in your spice cupboard, I suggest you give them a ceremonial heave-ho into the bin and source some La Chinata Paprika - but watch out for the chilli rating, to establish which one you've got!

So anyway, I've digressed.

I had been looking at the various recipes that floated past my consciousness and picking out the bits that I liked, rejecting the bits that we wouldn't like and pondering over the gaps.

It seems as though Chicken Paprikash is a particularly American recipe - although I may be wrong in that.  I suspect that it has origins in both Italy and Eastern Europe and may very well have become blended from those two cuisines.  I gather that there are two ways of eating it - one where the sour cream is included in the recipe and the other where you eat it with sour cream alongside.  I'd guess that this represents the two different origins for the dish.  I decided to go with the "sour cream alongside" version, although I will admit to hedging my bets with regard to that until it was almost ready to serve.  I reckoned that if the paprika or tomato was too strong, I'd just use the cream to calm it all down a bit.


As it was, the recipe - my version of the recipe - came together remarkably easily and didn't need calming down at all.  It's wonderful when you've got the right ingredients to begin with - god bless those little tins of paprika.

One of hubby's favourite vegetables is the sweet pepper (capsicum pepper) and so he was very happy to have both red and green versions in evidence.  The tomato cooked down beautifully and didn't become so acidic that it made the whole thing uncomfortable to eat and even the chilli flakes blended very happily into the whole, leaving their warmth and tangy spiciness as evidence of their presence.

I was really very pleased with the way this one turned out - it could so easily have degenerated into a disaster, but instead was a resounding success.
 


CHICKEN PAPRIKASH   (feeds 3)

Ingredients :

2 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into large chunks
1½ tsp dried oregano
1½ tsp sweet smoked paprika
½ tsp hot smoked paprika
½ tsp finely ground black pepper
pinch of sea salt
400ml can of chopped tomatoes
2 heaped tsp of tomato puree
a pinch of red chilli flakes
1 tsp sugar
1 yellow capsicum pepper, cored, de-seeded and chopped into large chunks
1 green capsicum pepper, cored, de-seeded and chopped into large chunks
100ml soured cream.

Method :

1.  In a large bowl, place the chicken chunks, the oregano, both types of paprika, black pepper and sea salt, plus half the garlic.  Stir to coat the chicken in the spices and leave to one side.

2.  To a deep wok or frying pan, add the rapeseed oil and the onions.  Fry on a moderate heat for 5 minutes or so, until the onion is transparent, softened and turning golden.

3.  Add the garlic and fry for another minute or so, stirring.

4.  Remove the onions and garlic onto a plate with a slotted spoon.

5.  Increase the heat under the frying pan and add a little more rapeseed oil, if necessary.

6.  Once the pan is very hot, add the chicken chunks and fry until caramelised on two sides.

7.  Reduce the heat to moderate, and add the tinned tomatoes, the tomato puree, chilli flakes, sugar and capsicum pieces, along with the onion/garlic mixture.  Mix well to amalgamate and cover with a lid (or a baking tray, in my case!).  Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

8.  Once the capsicum is tender and the chicken is cooked through, remove from the heat and add two thirds of the soured cream.  Stir through.

9.  Serve with white rice and a dollop of soured cream on the side.





21 November 2012

Goat's cheese, leek & hazelnut super-smart tart!

Now there are some tarts that are nice but dull - and some tarts that are surprisingly delicious.  This is one of the latter.

I liked the idea of this tart for more than one reason.

First of all, I really like leeks - they're the only one of the onion family that I can eat without experiencing some severe regret in the tummy department, later on.  I particularly like the way they are so adaptable and can be used in so many different ways.  My favourite leek recipe is the Tave Me Presh or Baked Mince with Leeks.  If you haven't tried this recipe yet, do give it a go.  Trust me, it's fabulous.

Goat's cheese always gets a thumbs up from me.  There was a time when I found goat's cheese to be entirely too "goaty" for comfort.  It always tasted wonderful, but I just couldn't get past the smell.  It always brought back memories of Harvey - a goat-I-once-knew - and his stinky beard.  ~shudder~  Why boy goats think it's sexy to pee on their own faces (which could be defined as a talent, I suppose), God only knows.

These days, I seem to have been able to get past the Eau de Harvey and into the lovely creamy texture and fresh flavour of goat's cheese.  So I could imagine how the creamy goat's cheese would go so well with buttery leeks.

The tips of the goat's cheese caught a tiny bit - but it certainly didn't mar the flavour!

Now the addition of hazelnuts to the equation is a new one - and jolly interesting, I thought.  I have to be careful over the use of nuts in my cooking, as hubby has some tooth issues and we don't want him to lose one of them on a surprise nut.  The problem was easily dealt with, as the nuts are sprinkled on top of the tart filling as opposed to being mixed in.  I simply sprinkled hazelnuts over three quarters of the tart - and sprinkled a little red chilli on hubby's portion.  Where there's a will, there's a way!

It may seem ridiculous to be concerning one's self over the fat involved in pastry, when the filling of the tart includes full fat creme fraiche and full fat goat's cheese.  However, as the old lady said as she wee'd in the sea - every little helps.  Because this tart uses filo pastry sheets to build up its pie crust, you can at least consider that a certain amount of fat has been reduced.  Aha, yes, I hear you thinking "but, surely you need to brush the filo pastry with melted butter?".  No - you don't.  I know, it goes against all previously received wisdom, but you just lay the pastry sheets down - and fill them up with filling, then bake.  Don't ask me why or how, but it works.

I gave the egg mixture a jolly good whisking before pouring into the pastry and I think it was worth doing so, as the filling rose beautifully.  It was light and fluffy - almost souffle-like, although I hadn't taken the eggs that far.  All in all, it made for a lovely light, fluffy forkful of deliciousness.

I served the tart with a simple salad made with a watercress/lambs lettuce/rocket combination of salad leaves and a diced avocado.  Just think of all the lovely nutrients we gained from that combination.  I always feel healthier just thinking about eating watercress and avocado, never mind actually doing it!

I also made some mini Paprika Roast Potatoes, which went extremely well with the whole combination.  They aren't so bad as you might think, either, as you simply dice the potato then toss it in a tablespoonful of rapeseed oil (which has health benefits all on its own), a pinch of salt and pepper and 1 tsp of sweet smoked paprika.  Roast in a hot oven (I put them on the rack above the tart, which was cooking at 180degF) for some 45 minutes, remembering to give them a toss around half way through and you're done.

Obviously, hubby knew that the tart was vegetarian - but I seriously doubt that son & heir even gave it a moment's thought that he had no meat on his plate.  Now that's the kind of meat-free meal that makes you want to serve another! 

With the salad and the roast paprika potatoes, it made for a satisfying meal


GOAT'S CHEESE, LEEK & HAZELNUT TART   (feeds 3-5)

Ingredients :

4 large filo pastry sheets, halved
a knob of butter
1 leek, trimmed, quartered lengthways and sliced finely
1 tsp Dijon mustard
250g creme fraiche d'isigny (or low fat creme fraiche if you must)
2 medium eggs
140g soft goat's cheese
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
25g toasted hazelnuts, chopped.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat your oven to 180degC/350degF/Gas 4.

2.  Taking one half sheet of filo pastry at a time, lay it into the bottom of a 23cm quiche dish or loose bottomed tart tin.  Without brushing with oil, lay the next one at an angle to the first - and so on - until the sheets have covered the tin and formed a base for the tart, with no gaps for leaks and with the edges draped over the sides of the tin.

3.  Heat the knob of butter in a frying pan and once melted, add the leek pieces.  Cook on a gentle heat until softened but not browned at all.  Set aside to cool slightly.

4.  In a large bowl, whisk together the mustard, creme fraiche, eggs and a third of the goat's cheese.

5.  Add the leeks and stir through, including some seasoning.

6.  Pour the egg mixture into the flan case and add pieces of the remainder of the goat's cheese, distributing them evenly.

7.  Sprinkle over the hazelnuts and fold in the overhanging pieces of filo pastry.  Brush these with a little oil.

8.  Bake the tart for some 25-30 minutes, until the filling is risen and golden, with just a little jiggle left in the centre.

9.  Allow to cool in the tin for some 10 minutes or so, then remove and cool until just warm.

Serve with some mini paprika roast potatoes and a salad of watercress, rocket & spinach with avocado.

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20 November 2012

Slow Cooker Veal Marsala - using British Rose Veal at its best

Ever since I discovered British Rose Veal and first became aware of the plight of the male dairy calves, I've wanted to encourage everyone I meet to give a try to British Rose Veal.  Now, if this recipe doesn't do that, I guess there's no hope for you all.

As always, when I receive something new to work with, I have a look across the internet to see what other people are doing with it - and then do something different.  Well, at the very least it shows me which sorts of recipes are used a lot (and so I'll steer clear of those) and more to the point, it demonstrates what are the popular methods of cooking the item.  Sometimes, you see, I haven't a clue what temperature to use or how long for, etc.

With this British Rose Veal, because Farmers Choice Free Range Ltd had kindly sent a number of different cuts, I'd had plenty of opportunity to explore some different recipes and methods, so having got to know the meat a bit better, I was better able to consider doing justice to a classic recipe.  Apart from Wiener Schnitzel, one of the most popular recipes seemed to be Veal Marsala.


Look how lean the veal is!  Just beautiful.
Now, the cut of British Rose Veal I had available for this recipe was some escalopes - and the Wiener Schnitzels had been calling to me from way back down the ages.  I can remember my parents ordering Wiener Schnitzel when I'd been going through my Bockwurst & Kartoffelsalat phase, when we lived in Germany.  However, Veal Marsala had the additional attraction of being new to me.  Plus, we'd been after a bottle of Marsala wine for absolutely ages - and this gave me the perfect opportunity to finally track one down!

So - and I still have a small niggling regret that we didn't get the chance to do Wiener Schnitzels - I settled on Veal Marsala and the hunt for the wine was on.

Mise en place - including the elusive Marsala
Having checked out three local supermarkets and a couple of off licences, we had drawn a blank.  So what do you do, when you can't find what you're looking for in the shops these days?  Why, ask on Twitter, what else?  One of my lovely foodie friends pointed us in the direction of our local Sainsbury's - where we'd been already - but with directions as to what to look for.  There, hiding behind some other bottles, hubby found the elusive Marsala wine.  Success!

I had been giving the recipe some serious contemplation, involving researching so called "classic" versions of Veal Marsala and some rather less than "classic" versions.  I wanted to keep to a fairly classic representation of the recipe, but knew that I'd be cooking it in the slow cooker.  Now when Veal Marsala was first developed and recorded, slow cookers hadn't been invented.  Hence, there aren't very many recipes out there dedicated just to Veal Marsala in the slow cooker.  I knew I'd have to make some adaptations and adjustments to the traditional recipe.


However, as it turned out, the traditional recipe is remarkably simple.  How often does that happen?  Some of the best, classic, traditional recipes often turn out to involve just five or six ingredients.  I can understand this move towards "keeping it simple"!  So converting the recipe to be used with the slow cooker wasn't difficult.

Shallot, carrot, mushroom & tarragon

My recipe involves two large departures from the traditional.  Firstly, is the inclusion of some finely chopped mushroom at the mirepoix (ordinarily, celery, onion & carrots) stage.  I had found that mushroom goes so very well with veal, that I felt it was worth boosting the mushroom flavour from the button mushrooms.  Hence the addition of the finely chopped mushrooms which would ultimately just dissolve into the sauce/gravy and become an intensely mushroom background flavour.

Into the slow cooker - and forget about it for 4 hours

Secondly, is the inclusion of some tarragon herb.  Now, I will admit that this was an afterthought brought on by finding some surplus-to-requirements leftover tarragon in the fridge.  It just struck me that as both chicken and pork use tarragon to such good effect, that I couldn't see how it wouldn't be able to produce the same results with veal.

These two additions to the recipe increased the layers of flavour in the end result - and I thoroughly recommend them to you.

I had quite expected the veal escalopes to fall apart in the slow cooker , but in fact they were quite robust and held together very well.  They were, of course, meltingly tender and the button mushrooms were just a joy.  They had absorbed the flavour of the Marsala wine and were like little juicy flavour bombs - just scrumptious.

As predicted, the finely chopped mushroom had dissolved and wasn't in evidence, but had left a scaffolding of mushroom flavour that held that sauce up beautifully.  The tarragon was there, but not dominant in flavour - which was as I had hoped.  The lovely Marsala wine - which in its natural state tastes not unlike a fine sherry - was very definitely the dominant flavour in the sauce, which is as it should be.  Because of its inherently natural sweetness, the British Rose Veal is the perfect bedfellow for the Marsala wine - with the carrots and shallots adding points of savoury sweetness (if there is such a thing) along the way.  I was glad of the mushrooms and tarragon, as they stopped the dish from becoming too sweet and was pleased with the effect of the additional mushroom in the sauce.


On the whole, I think this was one of my most successful recipes involving British Rose Veal to date.

I served the veal with mashed potatoes, parsnip, carrot, swede, broccoli and brussels sprouts.  I may have got slightly carried away on the vegetable front there - but at least we got our five-a-day in! 



SLOW COOKER VEAL MARSALA   (serves 3)

Ingredients :

1 tbsp rapeseed oil
a knob of butter
500g British Rose Veal escalopes
2 banana shallots, quartered and sliced finely
4 chestnut mushrooms, chopped finely
1 large carrot, peeled, quartered and diced finely
a small bunch of parsley, chopped finely
2-3 sprigs of fresh tarragon, chopped finely
150g button mushrooms, cleaned and left whole
150ml Marsala wine
150ml veal stock (I used Essential Cuisine's veal stock - but chicken would do at a pinch)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
a small amount (2 tsp approx) cornflour.

Method :

1.  Heat the butter and rapeseed oil in a frying pan and, once the butter has melted, brown the escalopes on both sides.  Remove to the slow cooker and turn to low.  Replace the lid.

2.  Add a little more rapeseed oil if necessary to the pan and add the shallots and cook on a moderate heat until the shallots are transparent and softened.

3.  Add the chopped mushrooms and carrots and continue to cook until the mushrooms have taken on the butter and oil and appear softened.

4.  Add the parsley and tarragon and stir through.

5.  Decant the whole lot into the slow cooker, add the button mushrooms and replace the lid.

6.  Allow the pan to heat up again and, once hot, add the Marsala wine and allow to frizzle for a moment or two, before adding the stock and a little sea salt and black pepper.

7.  Decant the mixture into the slow cooker and gently stir to combine evenly.  Replace the lid and turn to medium.  Forget about it for the next 4 hours.

8.  Once the time is up, gently remove the escalopes to a plate and add a little water to the cornflour in a small bowl - just enough to get the cornflour moving.

9.  Add half the cornflour to the slow cooker and stir briskly to prevent any lumps forming.  If the sauce requires further thickening, add the other half of the mixture until the sauce is at your preferred consistency.

10.  Re-introduce the escalopes to the sauce and replace the lid for some 5-10 minutes, just to bring the meat back up to temperature.

Serve with mashed potatoes and a selection of steamed vegetables.

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16 November 2012

Turkey Pithivier - Christmas leftovers, dressed up for New Year's Day!

Now that is what I call a celebration!
Our latest task, set by the "Lean on Turkey" campaign, was to create something wonderful from the Christmas leftovers

Now that immediately set us a problem, as the date is the middle of November - and Christmas was quite a long time ago.  The only Christmas leftovers I had in the freezer, were some cranberries.  So, the first problem was where to find "Christmas leftovers".  Simple - make them.

Bearing that in mind, we made a coffee and gathered in the board room (bedroom - it's where we do all our best thinking) for some brainstorming.  Yes, the bouncy midgets (Jack Russell terriers) came too - it is so helpful when brainstorming, to have a couple of small terriers fighting in the middle of the board table (a.k.a. bed).  You should try it sometime.  Jonty, the Saluki, was there already - in his role as eye candy.

We began by acknowledging the part that both curry and pie have to play in dealing with Christmas leftovers - and moved on.  Fricassee was momentarily dallied with, but rejected for being too dull.  What we needed was an edge for this symphony of "what-shall-I-do-with-it-now's".  A focus - that was what was required.

Hubby came up with it - "what about something for New Year's Day, that's a celebration - but uses all the leftovers from Christmas?".  Now that proposal had some legs - turkey legs, in fact.

Straight from the oven - a Pithivier with a capital P
Pithivier (or "pasty" - but we'll skip lightly over that definition and stick with "pithivier", if you don't mind), is something that we've seen pass us by on various cooking shows.  However, we'd yet to attempt one.  The latest incarnation of pithivier making was on the Great British Bake Off, where we'd seen all manner of interesting combinations used as fillings - and all manner of decoration used, to create a lovely looking final creation.

Now, running with the pithivier idea for a moment, what would "Christmas leftovers" comprise?  Well, turkey (obviously), plus stuffing (always too much stuffing), chestnuts (always left with some of those lurking in the cupboard) and cranberries (which I did still have in the freezer, from last January!).  It's not beyond the realms of expectation to find a couple of pigs in blankets (sausages wrapped in bacon) lurking under an abandoned roast potato, either.  We rejected the brussels sprouts idea, because - to be completely honest - nobody wants to find a twice-cooked brussels sprout in their New Year Pithivier.  No, no.  I doubt anyone would object to a piece or two of juicy carrot, mind you.

Filling the bowl with leftovers - the final layer
Well.  I do believe we have the makings for a very acceptable New Year's Day Turkey Pithivier!

So the next thing to settle upon was what comprises "turkey leftovers"?  Well, I guess that depends on how big your turkey is and how many people you have eating it - but generally, I think it's true to say that leg meat is the largest part of leftover turkey.

Hence, we went out and bought a turkey drumstick with which to create said "turkey leftovers".  If you have any breast meat leftover from your turkey - don't hesitate to include it!

Thanking the gods of well-oiled bowls may commence ..
I also cooked a little bit of extra vegetables and a couple of extra venison sausages in the few days leading up to "Pithivier Day" and so it all came together.

A pithivier is more defined by its shape, than the ingredients of its filling - in the same way as a Cornish Pasty is immediately recognisable by its shape.  They have to be dome-shaped rather than a lump of filling inside a casing of pastry - and have the traditional centre-to-outside edge curved lines carved into the pastry (that are a lot more difficult than they seem, particularly when your hand is shaking!).  They also need to have their edges quite deeply scalloped - which I think I failed at, pretty much.  They looked plenty scalloped when it went into the oven, but the puff of the pastry blew them out a bit!

It is a BIT like a hat, don't you think?

Sorting out whether to layer the fillings or be all random about it, took a bit more pondering.  I had intended to be all random with the ingredients, but in the end opted for the layered look.  I don't really know why I bothered, as once cut, the layers weren't exactly obvious - so it's up to you whether you go for layers or not!

My pithivier had layers of sliced cooked venison & red wine sausage (from The Dorset Smokery), stuffing with cranberries, stuffing with chestnuts, cooked turkey meat, cooked carrot, celery and asparagus.  The vegetables had been cooked with the turkey drumstick, so were tender and juicy with the flavour of the turkey stock.

What a triumph of wobbly lines and crimping
Now I know to be honest to the Christmas leftovers theme, I should have roasted my turkey drumstick.  However, I was cooking it early to give it time to cool and didn't want to run an expensive oven that was going to be needed later on as well - so I compromised and pot roasted it in some chicken stock, a carrot, celery, an onion, fresh parsley stalks and a quarter of a lemon.  I also put the asparagus in for 3 minutes, once I'd removed the turkey.

Once I'd made the stuffing mix (a packeted version, I'm afraid - but I was running out of energy by then!) and divided it into two for the cranberries and chestnuts, I was all set.

I spent quite a while pondering on which bowl to use to get the requisite dome shape of the filling - and finally settled upon my Nanna's brown glass casserole dish that had been handed on to me when she died.  It was perfect for the job and, after a judicious oiling, filling, pressing and a lot of prayers, the filling popped out onto the base pastry in perfect formation.

After that, it was a matter of doing some patchwork cutting and rolling to get the covering pastry the right size.  I had a couple of trial runs over the base of the bowl, as I figured that once it was laid on top of the filling pile, it wasn't coming off again!

See the asparagus, cranberry, turkey & carrot?

I even remembered to press the pastry close to the filling to expel any air pockets that might disfigure the pastry, before cutting it to size.  My hands were shaking by the time it came to the delicate task of cutting the pastry and carving in the decorations.  Ridiculous, really, it's not as though I was being filmed for Masterchef or anything - but it was stressful.  I mean, just imagine if your beautifully crafted bowl-shaped pile of filling had collapsed at the wrong moment.  ~shudder~  Horrible thought!

So you can imagine what a relief it was to get the egg wash done and put it to bed in the oven!

What emerged, after the requisite time, was a very impressive blancmange shaped pastry creation that impressed the heck out of me - and I made it!

Look!  The filling all stayed put!

What impressed me even more, was that during the delicate operation of removing a slice to put on the plate, the filling (pretty much) stayed put!  I had visions of it all flowing out from between the two layers of pastry in an unstoppable tide.  Oh - and speaking of the pastry, it was what Paul Hollywood would call "a good bake" in that there were no soggy bottoms in sight - the pastry was beautifully cooked all round.

Now I expect you're wondering how it tasted.  Well, I was glad that I'd made some gravy with the stock from cooking the turkey leg - but I am quite sure that even cold with some pickle, it will taste just as good as it did hot.  Because of the diversity of the layers involved, each mouthful had a different texture, a different flavour involved.  Sometimes you got a piece of chestnut, or a cranberry which burst with an intense sweet/sourness that worked beautifully as a palate cleanser.  I'd left the turkey meat in some quite big chunks, which were lovely to find.  The stuffing acted as the glue that held it all together - and made it very pasty-like.  The venison sausage slices added to the meatiness of the filling and, of course, added another dimension of intense flavour.

Feeding the family with Christmas's leftovers - now does it get better than that?

I served the pithivier with some mini roast potatoes and parsnips, some Brussels sprouts and peas, along with the ever-popular pigs in blankets.  The gravy, made with the turkey stock, was just divine.

So there you have it!  Don't throw away the remains of the Christmas turkey - you're already half way to making this gorgeous pithivier for New Year's Day!  Strip the turkey of every little bit of meat you can find and freeze it, along with all your leftover bits of stuffing, sausages and vegetables.  Then, all you need is two large pieces of puff pastry, a bowl and to remember to take the lot out of the freezer in time - and you too can be impressed as heck when you take it from the oven and place it in pole position on your New Year's table.

TURKEY PITHIVIER   (serves 8-10)

Ingredients :

1 tsp rapeseed or vegetable oil
a selection of Christmas Dinner leftovers, sufficient to fill a 1½ litre bowl, including :
- turkey meat;
- stuffing;
- cooked carrot pieces;
- anything else you might like to find in your pithivier, that's left over.  Plus
5 chestnuts, each cut into 3 pieces
a handful of fresh cranberries
sausage slices
2 x large sheets of ready rolled puff pastry
1 egg.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat your oven to 200degC/400degF/Gas 6.

2.  Take the leftover stuffing (or make up a box of pre-made stuffing, for convenience) and divide into two bowls.  Into the first bowl, add the chestnuts and stir to combine.  Into the second bowl, add the cranberries and stir to combine.

3.  Take a 1½ litre bowl and add the oil.  Using a pastry brush or your fingers, make sure the oil covers the inside of the bowl.  This is what will prevent the contents from sticking - so make sure it is well covered!

4.  Begin to fill the bowl with the leftovers and stuffing mixes.  You can do this in layers, or randomly, it is completely up to you - but remember, every so often, to press the ingredients down so as to compress them into the bowl.  The better you press them, the less likely it is that they will collapse when turned out.

5.  Take your baking tray (non-stick preferably - or if not, cover with non-stick silver foil) and place the first sheet of pastry over it.

6.  Whilst uttering prayers to your own particular god and whilst holding the pastry onto the sheet with your fingers, upturn it onto the open end of the bowl.

7.  Next, whilst continuing to utter prayers, upturn the bowl, pastry and baking sheet ensemble and gently tap the bowl - but without cutting through the pastry.  Remove the bowl, hoping against hope that you oiled it well enough and the contents will fall in a neat mound - and stay together.

8.  Whilst breathing a sigh of relief and thanking the gods of bowl-turning-out, break the egg into a small bowl and remove half the white.  Whisk the remainder of the egg together and with a brush, egg wash around the edge of the pastry base.

9.  Take the next piece of pastry and make sure it will cover the mound of ingredients, by having a trial run over the upturned empty bowl.  Once you are happy that it will fit, carefully lay it onto the mound of ingredients.

10.  Gently, without stretching the pastry and using the edge of your hand, snug the pastry in to the mound, making sure no air pockets exist inside.

11.  Leaving a lip of an inch or so, cut around the mound until you have a hat shape.

12.  Cut a small hole in the top of the pastry, and then carve radiating curved lines - but without going through to the ingredients below - into the surface.

13.  Carefully crimp the edges of the pastry, which will seal it.  You can afford to breathe a sigh of relief, as your ingredients are now all safely contained.

14.  All that is left, is to egg wash the surface of the pastry and add a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper.

15.  Put into your pre-heated oven for 45 minutes - remembering to turn it half way for an even bake.

Serve.

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