Friday, 28 November 2008

Beef, Ale and Chestnut Stew

'Waste not, want not,' my mam always used to say to me, and despite screwing my face up each time she said it, it has been a lifelong lesson in frugality that has never been more relevant than it is now. The one positive thing to take from the current economic downturn is that it is making us all - hopefully - think a little more creatively in the home. So everything from using every scrap of food to budgeting your shopping is the hot topic in this crazy world we live in.

Making food for the whole family using cheaper cuts of meat is also a current much discussed topic, and in my opinion, the country is all the better for it. In days not so long ago when the country did not have the option of takeaways, ready meals and endless processed snacks, the nation cooked creatively using whatever they could get their hands on. How times have changed. But if there was ever a time to start being inspired to use a cheaper cut of meat, it is now.

The dinner plate isn't all about fillet steaks and racks of lamb; take a scrag end of lamb or perhaps a shin of beef and you can make all kinds of wonderful, tasty, filling and economic casseroles and soups to keep you all warm this winter without breaking the bank. Slow cooking is perhaps my favourite way of treating a piece of meat and the fattier, cheaper cuts of meat lend themselves to slow braising perfectly. What that process does is give you the tastiest, most sumptuous and tender meat you can wish for. So get the slow cookers out, spend a fiver on a cheap cut of meat and treat the family to a meal that laughs in the face of the credit crunch.

Beef, Ale and Chestnut Stew

Feeds 4

1kg skirt of beef, cut into large chunks
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped roughly
2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 celery sticks, sliced
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 bottle of ale
250ml beef stock
2 handfuls of cooked chestnuts
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
Salt and pepper

1 - Preheat the oven to 150C, GM2.
2 - In a large casserole dish, heat up the oil. Add the beef in batches and quickly cook until golden brown all over. Remove and set aside.
3 - Add the onion, carrots and celery and cook f0r 5-10 minutes until beginning to colour. Return the beef and any juices to the pot and sprinkle in the flour. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes until combined.
4 - Add the tomato puree and herbs and stir in. Pour in the ale and stock, bring to the boil, cover and cook in the oven for 2 hours, stirring on the hour.
5 - Add the chestnuts and mustard and cook for a further 20 minutes.
6 - Taste for seasoning. Serve with mashed potato and cabbage.

Friday, 21 November 2008

The Best Christmas Cake

With 5 weeks to go before that most indulgent of days, Christmas Day, it is now time to start getting that cake done. It isn’t too early to make a Christmas cake. Thanks to the huge amount of preserved fruit and booze, it can keep for a long time if wrapped and kept in a cool, dark place.

We made ours this week. It is a tried, tested, tweaked, tested then tweaked again recipe. A lot of people I know don’t like a traditional Christmas cake, saying that it is too rich/dry/boozy. So my recipe is one that tries to appease all taste buds. Not too boozy, certainly not dry and with added ingredients that will please rather than offend.

If you can handle the alcohol, ‘feed’ your cake every 2 weeks with a shot glass of brandy or whisky. A few knitting needle holes will help the booze soak into the rich concoction of fruit, sugar, cocoa, orange and coffee – a combination from heaven in anybody’s world. Wrap it tightly in greaseproof paper and foil and keep in an airtight cake tin. Come Christmas Day, you will be knocked over by the sensational aromas as you remove the lid for the first slice.

Like all of the best things in life, it is the simple things that work. And like any child that grew up with people cooking in their family, my daughter Cerys threw herself into the ubiquitous spoon licking like a seasoned professional. So get mucking about in the kitchen with the kids this weekend and knock up a Christmas cake to beat all Christmas cakes.

The Best Christmas Cake


200g dark muscovado sugar
100g honey
250g butter
100g each of raisins, currants, sultanas, dried figs and dried prunes, roughly chopped
1 espresso cup of coffee
A large splash of brandy or whisky
Tablespoon of mixed spice
Zest and juice of an orange or 2 satsuma, tangerines or clementine
1 tbsp of cocoa powder
3 large eggs
100g plain flour, sifted
150g ground almonds
Teaspoon of Bicarbonate of Soda
Salt

1 - Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C, GM3. Grease and line a 22cm spring form cake tin.
2 - Melt the butter and sugars in a large pan then add the fruit, coffee, brandy or whisky, spice and honey. Zest and juice the oranges and add along with the cocoa powder. Stir until dark, caramelised and fragrant.
3 - Beat the eggs and add to the mixture along with the flour, ground almonds, bicarbonate of soda and a pinch of salt. Fold in thoroughly until not a trace of flour is left.
4 - Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake on the middle shelf for 2 hours. If the top looks like it is catching, cover with baking paper.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Apple Pie

It's easy to get too bogged down into the current doom and gloom that seems to dominate the news headlines these days. Think about it too much, and you can't snap out of it. I spoke about this a couple of weeks back - miserabilism I called it - and it is highly infectious.

So today I want to break free of the miserable chains and concentrate on some positive energy. Don't worry; I'm not going all new age on you and about to start rubbing the birth stones. But I am a great believer that if you think positive thoughts, get active and feed yourself properly, you will naturally feel better about yourself.

This week's post is dedicated to 2 special friends who have been through a few years of turmoil and stress, and who this week have finally turned their lives around. Mick and Sarah Craven in Wakefield had 6 months old Josh brought into their lives recently and they are now just the proudest parents of this beautiful boy. And because they let me pillage their apple trees last month when I was visiting, I just had to make the biggest apple and Cheddar pie which, despite being 80 miles north of Wakefield, was consumed with them firmly in mind. It was delicious.

Josh is so cool that already he has subscribed to my magazine Flavour - that engrossed expression on his face is him reading my recipes, honest. And anybody cringing at the thought of savoury cheese mixed with sweet apple please don’t. This flavour combination is as old as the hills and is one of those things you just have to try once in your life.

I don't normally write posts like this, preferring to concentrate on the food. But when people deserve a little nod of respect then they deserve it, and this nod goes to the Cravens 3 who I know are going to be the happiest and hippest family in town. Enjoy your lives my lovely mates - and enjoy a virtual slice of this perfect pie. x

Craven Pie
Feeds lots

For the pastry
125g salted butter
250g self raising flour
50g strong Cheddar, grated
1 egg

For the filling
2kg apples - I used lots of Bramley for sharpness but it is your choice
1 tsp cinnamon
A handful of sultanas
100g soft brown sugar
25g butter

1 - Pre-heat the oven to GM4, 180C.
2 - To make the pastry, put the flour and butter into a food processor and pulse until you have what looks like breadcrumbs. Put in the cheese and pulse. Finally, drop in the egg and pulse and begin to drizzle in cold water until it comes together into a ball. This can all be done by hand too. Wrap in Clingfilm and place into the fridge for 30 minutes.
3 - While the pastry is resting, peel and core the apples. Cut in half then slice into 1cm slices and place into a large bowl. Sprinkle in the cinnamon, sultanas and sugar and combine thoroughly.
4 - Butter and line a 20cm spring form cake tin. Remove the pastry from the fridge and cut off 1 third and leave aside. Roll out the larger piece of pastry and line the cake tin, leaving the excess hanging over the sides. Pile in the apple mixture, pressing down gently.
5 - Roll out the remaining piece of pastry. Beat an egg and dampen the edges of the pie. Place the pastry over and press down the edges with a fork or thumb. Cut off the excess and make optional decorations for your pie.
6 - Brush the top of the pie with the beaten egg, poke a couple of holes into the centre to allow steam to escape and sprinkle with a little sugar. Bake on the middle shelf for 45-60 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.
7 - Allow to cool slightly then serve in large slices with cream, ice cream or crème fraice.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Roast Grouse with Lemon and Sage Butter

What a season we are in at the moment, and what a lucky boy I’ve been during it. Not content with the piles of free apples and pears that have survived our wet summer and the bags of roots that seem to be endless, I've been even luckier with the kindness of some of the suppliers I work with and managed to bag a few pieces of game. And what a misunderstood meat game is.

As a child, I think the only game meat I ate, or what could be classed as game meat, was rabbit. So from my early years, I've never really had a problem with consuming fluffy cute things or large eyed bambies that rampage freely around our countryside. If anything, I encourage people to eat more of the things. They are naturally free range, eat their own organic produce and can be a very cheap option if you know where to shop. So they tick all of the current 'food trend' ethical boxes.

This week I received a couple of the last grouse from up in Northumberland. Naturally low in fat and packed with that unique flavour that only a wild naturally reared animal can give you, it is a bird that must be tried if you are a little sceptical of our great British game. My grouse were respectfully treat with a little fresh and pungent sage, zest of lemon and butter.

Quite why anybody could misunderstand that concoction is beyond me for it is a simple to cook and delicious treat to be served with some braised red cabbage, mashed potatoes and gravy made with the roasting juices. Now go on, be game.

Roast Grouse with Lemon and Sage Butter

Serves 2

2 prepared grouse, weighing approximately 300-350g
50g softened salted butter
2 handfuls of fresh sage leaves
Juice of one lemon
8 slices of streaky bacon
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to GM6, 200C.
2 – Roughly chop the sage leaves. Grate a little of the lemon zest into a bowl and mash together with the butter and sage leaves.
3 – Place a little of the butter inside the cavity of each bird. Rub the rest all over the birds. Season with salt and pepper then drape the streaky bacon over the birds. Place them onto a baking tray and roast for 20 minutes.
4 – Remove the bacon but leave in the baking tray to allow both the birds and the bacon to go crispy. Roast for a further 10 minutes.
5 – Remove from the oven and place the birds onto a plate. Cover with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
6 – Deglaze the roasting tray with a little stock or wine to make gravy and serve with your favourite vegetables.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Chestnut and Honey Bread

The wild food foraging I usually enjoy at this time of the year has been poor to say the least. Last autumn, I found a lovely little patch of woodland that had plenty of my favourite autumn foods: sloes, damsons, elderberries, brambles and chestnuts, plenty to go around and to leave a few for the birds and squirrels. This year, I fear the poor summer that we have had has given the berries a torrid time. Either that or my secret patch has been rumbled.

Chestnuts are one of the best free nuts, with their versatile sweet inner just bursting with flavour and awaiting a multitude of dishes. Roasting a few and eating warm with a little salt and pepper is good enough, but a simple pot roast using a game bird such as pheasant, grouse or partridge with a few roasted chestnuts thrown in is simply amazing. Boil chestnuts, whiz in a blender and you have a nutty purée that is perfect for cakes and scones or even an ice cream.

I made bread with a handful of them over the weekend, and the warmth and smell that the bread gave off made you feel happy that the winter is almost upon us. Some good honey sweetened the bread without overpowering it. Perfect bread for a perfect season of food I thought, even if my free food patch is no more.

Chestnut and Honey Bread


500g strong bread flour
200g chestnuts, cooked and peeled
1 tsp salt
1 heaped tsp ready active yeast
150ml honey
300ml warm water

1 – Tip the flour into a large bowl. Crumble in the chestnuts and mix together with the salt and yeast.
2 – Mix the honey and water together. Make a well in the flour and begin to gradually pour the water and honey on, mixing all of the time with your other hand.
3 – When the mixture comes together, tip out onto a floured surface and begin to knead by pulling the furthest edge towards you with your fingers then pushing with the palm of your hand.
4 – Repeat this until the dough becomes smooth and an impression of your hand when pushed in springs straight back out. Place back into the bowl, sprinkle on some flour and place in a warm place for 1 hour or until it has doubled in size.
5 – Preheat the oven to 220C GM8.
6 – Gently knead the dough until you have pushed the air out then place onto a floured backing tray. Cover and leave for another hour until it has doubled in size.
7 – Gently place onto the middle shelf of your oven and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 200C GM6 and cook for a further 20-30 minutes or until it makes a ‘hollow’ sound when tapped. Leave cool on a wire tray.