Saturday, 27 January 2007

Spicy Guacamole

With the stew sorted, I left producing the dips until closer to the time the guests were arriving, especially as guacamole has a tendency to go brown if made to far in advance. The hummus recipe was pretty well as before, only with the addition of fresh coriander. For the guacamole recipe, I got my inspiration from The Mens Cookery Club website and pretty well made it the same way they did, although with a couple of differences.

Guacamole Recipe
  • 3 Avocados
  • 4 Gloves of Garlic (crushed)
  • 3-4 tablespoons of Olive Oil
  • Up to half a teaspoon of Cayenne Pepper
  • Small handful of Fresh Coriander
  • Juice from 1 Lime
  • Salt and Pepper
Like them, I did it all in the blender. You could use a fork, but throwing everything in the blender for a quick spin just seems to make sense. However, with the garlic, I tend to crush it, then leave it for a minute or two before continuing the blitzing, as I do with the Hummus. Then add the rest of the ingredients, blitz together, taste and re-season if necessary. Then after putting it into the bowl, squeeze over the last bit of juice from the lime.

I made this just as people were showing up, as I didn't want it to turn brown, but to be honest, I think the lime juice prevents that pretty much as although the bowl was out and had some dregs left in the bottom, it didn't turn brown all and tasted great.

Still, I really like their website. Great fun, and some useful tips and recipes. Definitely worth a read.

Beef and Guinness Stew

Another poker night, and I'm preparing the food for the occasion. Once again, I'm cooking Beef and Guinness Stew, partly because I want to perfect my recipe, plus the fact that I haven't eaten it since the last poker night, and it always goes down well. Only this time, instead of Garlic Bread (there wasn't any good bread when I was at the supermarket or at the mini-market I went to), I'm doing some hummus and guacamole with bread sticks, celery and carrot.

I realised that I hadn't made any notes about my last stew, so the recipe I was improving on I had to try and remember. The main difference was that I use braising steak instead of the casserole steak which I used last time as the pieces in the various packets didn't look very appetising, so I decided to cut the cubes out myself.

Recipe (serves 4-6)
  • 900g (2 lbs) Braising Steak (cut into 2-4cm cubes)
  • 3 tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Pinch of Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 large Onion (roughly chopped)
  • 1 clove of Garlic (finely sliced)
  • 2 ribs of Celery (chopped)
  • 12-15 Shallots (cut in half)
  • 600-700g (1.5 lbs) Baby Chantenay Carrots (just with the heads removed)
  • 600-700g (1.5 lbs) Charlotte Potatoes (cut in pieces about the size of the carrots)
  • 1 pint Beef Stock
  • 1 pint Guinness (or similar Stout)
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Concentrated Tomato Puree
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
  • 2 teaspoons Dried Thyme
  • 2 tablespoons Fresh Parsley (chopped fine)
Mix the flour, salt, pepper and cayenne in a bowl, then coat the beef cubes in about a tablespoon of Olive Oil and toss all the pieces in the seasoned flour.

Heat up the rest of the olive oil and then seal the seasoned beef in a heavy pan, cooking until lightly browned (about 4-5 minutes) and transfer the beef to a decent sized, heavy cooking pot. The in the same pan the beef was cooked in, add the onion, celery and garlic and cook until the onion is beginning to brown, then transfer this into the same large pot with the beef. Add the carrots, potato and shallots to the beef and mix around.

In the pan everything has been cooked in so far, add the Dijon Mustard and gradually pour in the Guinness, stirring continuously to de-glaze the pan and blend in the mustard. Then add the stock and pour over the beef and vegetables in the big pot. Mix in the Tomato Puree, Thyme, Parsley and some more Black Pepper and add the bay leaves. Cover and cook in a 170 degree celsius oven for at least 2.5 hours, however, you should check the seasoning half way through so that you can add a little more if necessary. Also, if the gravy isn't thick enough for your liking, mix some flour with water and add to the mixture during cooking.

Due to the usual lateness of some of the attendees, this stew was left in the oven for a good 4 hours, and all the better for it I reckon. The beef was extremely tender, with much nicer pieces than the pre-cut stuff. Preparing it yourself means you can ensure that all the pieces are nice.

Although I was expecting it to fill 5 people, 6 people turned up, a few people were still hungry (even after seconds) afterwards and more hummus was prepared. Maybe if you're cooking it for 6 hungry people, you should consider adding more beef and carrots, leaving out the potatoes, and cooking some separately, although I like having the potatoes in there. Thing is, would need a big pan to do that, and I'm not sure it would fit in my current combination oven.

Monday, 22 January 2007

Shepherd's Pie with Beer

I've made Shepherd's Pie a few times before, and I couldn't help noticing that my recipe was slightly similar to the Spag Bol recipe, except for the lack of Pancetta and Red Wine. So as an experiment, I decided to start this recipe using a similar Soffritto to the Spag Bog, add the minced beef, then instead of wine, two thirds of a can of beer (Kronenbourg 1664 in this case). A nice darker beer might have worked a bit better, although the beer definitely improved the flavour. Also, I cooked the meat portion much longer than I have in the past, about 1.5 - 2 hours.

OK, perhaps this should be called a Cottage Pie as it is made with Beef rather than Lamb, but as far as I'm concerned, they're such similar recipes that I think it really doesn't matter than much.

Recipe (serves 4-5)
  • 500g Minced Beef
  • 2 medium Onions, chopped
  • 2 ribs of Celery, chopped
  • 4 carrots, cubed
  • 1 cup Fresh Peas
  • 1 clove Garlic
  • 300-400ml Beef or Lager
  • 1 can Chopped Tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons Tomato Puree
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Dried Oregano
  • 2 teaspoons Thyme
  • 2 Beef Stock Cubes
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
For the Mash
  • 1.5 kilo Vivaldi Potatoes
  • Splash of Milk
  • Knob of Butter
  • Small handful grated Cheddar Cheese
  • Grated Italian Hard Cheese
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Like the Spag Bog, saute the onion, celery and carrot in a heavy pan until the onion becomes transparent, then add the mince, cooking until lightly browned. Then add the beer and cook until the liquid has reduced by half before adding the tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients. Leave this simmering for about 1.5 - 2 hours so that a lot of the liquid has evaporated (although not all), then add the peas and start to boil the potatoes to make the mash.

Transfer the meat to a casserole dish large enough to fit the meat leaving about an inch or so on top for the mash potato.

I put some of the cheddar in with the mash while mixing it up, then a little more on top with the black pepper and grated hard cheese. The whole lot then goes into a preheated 180 degree Celsius oven for about 30-40 minutes, or until the top has turned golden and slightly crispy.

Update: I have to say, my more recent Guinness Shepherd's Pie recipe is definitely more superior to this one, but this is still not a bad variation.

Broccoli and Stilton Soup

I made this soup as a starter for a Shepherd's Pie. I have always wanted to try and make this soup, and although it's not as cheap to prepare as Leek and Potato, the results were pretty good for a first attempt. Marisha said that if she had been served it in a restaurant, she would have been very happy with it, especially as I didn't go too over the top on the Stilton. Still, it was a bit filling for a starter.

Recipe for Broccoli and Stilton Soup (serves 4-6)

  • 2 medium Onions, chopped
  • 2 Small Vivaldi Potatoes, cubed
  • 2 heads of Broccoli
  • 1 pint of Vegetable Stock
  • 1 pint of Water
  • 200g Creamy Stilton Cheese
  • Splash of Single Cream
  • 30g Butter
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Preparation of this is very easy. In a large heavy pan, soften the onions in the butter, then add the potato and broccoli and cook for a couple minutes. Next add the stock, cover, and simmer for about 20-25 minutes. You should then let it cool down for about 15-20 minutes and then blend the mixture until smooth.

Then gently heat the soup up again, and add the cream and Stilton, stirring until all the cheese has melted. Add a decent amount of black pepper and serve immediately. If dinner guests never turn up on time, like in my case, leave this last stage until they arrive as it doesn't take long to heat the soup to get the Stilton melting.

Friday, 19 January 2007

Leek, Potato and Carrot Soup

I can't get enough of this soup. With only about 10 minutes of preparation time, and then about 40-odd minutes of cooking time, it's got to be my favourite soup. I grew up on Leek and Potato soup, and the addition of a carrot or two just adds a little more flavour. In a restaurant, they would probably put a drizzle of cream on the top to improve the presentation, etc., but I'm just as happy to put even more freshly ground black pepper on the top.

I always make enough for about 4 or 5 people as, even if there aren't that many people eating, it keeps for a few days, and I can easily reheat it. Plus, it's something I can never get bored with. You can buy the canned stuff, but it just isn't anything like as nice as cooking it yourself. It such an easy and inexpensive dish.

  • 3 or 4 Leeks
  • 1 or 2 Potatoes
  • 1 or 2 Carrots
  • 1 pint of Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon
  • 0.5-1 pint Water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • A couple of Bay Leaves
  • Salt and a generous amount of Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Preparation is the same as with the Leek and Sweet Potato Soup, and then served with some cheese and onion bread.

Sunday, 14 January 2007

Still Hungry?... Okay... Hummus and Pitta

Dave and Mark turned up late, and after a fairly ample portion of Spag Bog, still wanted more food. So, as I tend to ensure I have a spare can of chickpeas in the cupboard these days, I blended up some more Home-made Hummus, only as I didn't have red pepper, I used yellow pepper. Still tasted good, but I think red pepper is better for me. I know pepper isn't necessary, but I think it definitely improves the flavour if you have one.

Served with toasted Pitta bread, bread sticks and some carrot julienne. Definitely going to make some of the red pepper variety at the next poker night, along with some guacamole. Still undecided on the main course.

Saturday, 13 January 2007

Tagliatelle alla Bolognese (Spag Bog)

This recipe seems to be working well for me, although, one day, I'm going to try the Heston Blumenthal version as that sounds good too. One day, I might try and do it without tomatoes too, as they don't use them in Bologna, but I'd want to use a decent beef stock, rather than stock cubes.

Recipe for the Sauce (serves 4)
  • 500g lean mince beef
  • 300g Pancetta, cubed (Smoked bacon, normal or streaky, can also be used as long as it's cut into small pieces)
  • 1-2 tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 ½ large onions, chopped
  • 3 ribs of celery finely diced
  • 3 carrots finely diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 large glass of Red Wine (White Wine can also be used apparently, but I've never tried myself)
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 can of Chopped Tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons Concentrated Tomato Puree
  • 1 teaspoon Oregano
  • 1 teaspoon Thyme
  • ½ teaspoon Hot Chili Powder
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • Salt and Pepper (freshly ground in both cases)
When making this, I first chop up the Onion, Carrot and Celery for the Soffritto. Personally, I like this to be equal portions of the ingredients once chopped up, so the quantities above may vary depending on the size of the vegetables.

Using a heavy pan, heat up the olive oil and when hot, but not smoking, add in the pancetta and cook for a few minutes. Then add the soffritto and cook, stirring regularly, until the onion becomes slightly transparent.
Next the mince beef goes in and is cooked until slightly brown. Then in goes a large glass of wine which should reduce by a third until the rest of the ingredients are added.

The sauce should then be left to simmer for at least 2 hours. You can get away with less time, but it is very much better the longer it is left.

You can serve it with almost any type of pasta, but tagliatelle is the more traditional one to serve, even though in the UK we tend to use spaghetti, hence the Spag Bog nickname. My friend Brett would also add some fresh coriander, and if I'd have had some, I may well have tried that myself as his sauce was always good.

This sauce definitely scored pretty high with my friends who tried it, even though Ejaz's scores always tend to be one point lower than anyone else's. Maybe he's just trying to encourage me to improve more, or otherwise he's been spoilt by his Mum's cooking. Still... scores between 7 and 9 out of 10 will do me. Not sure what, if anything I will do next time I make it. I liked it, and with clean plates and no leftovers, it couldn't have been bad.

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Lamb Meatball Curry, without cheating

Now that I've got my blender, making curry pastes is ridiculously easy, so I've gone back to what is becoming a favourite curry of mine, only this time, making the required paste myself (especially after getting grief more than once about cheating on the paste). This recipe originally came from a friend's wife, Sandra, then modified slightly when I couldn't remember everything and had to look up a similar recipe on the web. Since then, the guys in my local shop have added their input, so it is getting a little different each time.

This time, I made the meatballs on the day as I was hoping to get a bit more daylight to get a good photo, but it's extremely gloomy out today, so I don't think it made any difference.

Recipe for the Meatballs (Serves 4)
  • 454g/1lb Minced Lamb (or Beef, but I think Lamb is better)
  • Half a Small Onion, finely chopped
  • 2 Green Chillies, de-seeded and de-veined, finely chopped
  • 1.5 tablespoons Ground Coriander
  • 1 tablespoon Ground Cumin
  • Half teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  • 3 tablespoons Fresh Coriander, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons Minced Ginger (OK, maybe that's cheating, but I got some which needed using, and I don't have a grater to use fresh stuff for this part of the recipe)
  • 3-4 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
  • 1 Egg (optional), lightly beaten

Mix all the above ingredients together by hand, kneading the mixture until all of them are evenly distributed. Then with moist hands, form into individual meatballs. You should get around 20-24, depending on how big you make them. Arrange on a plate, then cover and put in the fridge for at least 4 hours, but ideally, make them the night before you intend making the curry.

Recipe for the Paste
  • 2 inch piece of Root Ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 4 cloves of Garlic, chopped
  • 2 Red Chillies, de-seeded and de-veined (Hot Green Chili would be better, but I ran out)
  • 1 tablespoon Ground Coriander
  • 1 teaspoon Ground Cumin
  • 3 tablespoons Water
To make the paste, just put all the above ingredients into your blender and blend until you have a smooth paste.

Recipe for the Sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Coriander Seeds, crushed
  • 6 Green Cardamom Pods, 2 crushed
  • 1 teaspoon Cumin Seeds
  • 4 Whole Cloves
  • 3" Piece of Cassia Bark (should be cinnamon stick, but this is the closest I could find)
  • 2.5 Medium Onions, chopped
  • 1 Green or Red Pepper, chopped
  • Half teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 can Chopped Tomatoes
  • 5 tablespoons Plain Yoghurt
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons Olive Oil
  • Half teaspoon Salt
  • Half teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Next heat up your oil in a heavy pan, and when hot, add the cardamom, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, and cassia bark and give a quick stir. Add the onions and green pepper to the pan and fry for about 10 minutes, or until the onions are brown. Lower the heat and add the paste and stir into the mixture for a couple of minutes. Next add the tomatoes and cayenne pepper and cook until they start to darken.

Stir in the yoghurt, making sure each tablespoon is mixed in before adding the next. Then stir in a couple of mugs of water. The mixture will be fairly thin, but I tend to cook it for a couple of hours and allow for a fair amount of evaporation which is how Sandra reckoned it works best.

Now it's time to put the meatballs in. Last time, I put a layer of cubed potato at the bottom of the pan so that there was no chance of them sticking to the bottom, although I don't think it's really necessary, although Sandra had suggested having potato in there anyway, but it's definitely optional. Carefully drop the meatballs in, one at a time in what should be one layer across the pan. Bear in mind, you wont be able to stir the curry for a good 30-40 minutes without risking breaking up your meatballs, so you need to avoid stirring and just gently shake the pan to move stuff about during cooking where possible. Later you can get away with it, but still do it careful so as not to break any.

This needs to simmer, covered, for an hour at least, but up to 2 hours is fine if you want your sauce to thicken up more. Personally, I like to cook it for at least 2 hours. After the first 10-20 minutes, your meatballs should float to the top so that you don't have to worry about them sticking to the bottom, unless your sauce completely evaporates. The following image shows how much I like my curry to evaporate before getting the rice on.

Either mix in some chopped fresh coriander right at the end, or use as a garnish and serve the curry with Basmati Rice. Tonight, I just plucked a leaf or three and stuck it on top for the garnish. At the very least it kept their eyes off the state of the rest of the flat.

Monday, 8 January 2007

Toad in the Hole and Onion Gravy

I have to say, this didn't work. I think the problem was twofold. Partly my crappy combination oven (still waiting to get my decent one back from my sister), and partly because I didn't have a roasting tray/dish, so I improvised with my casserole dish as I only had 6 Toulouse sausages.

The batter did rise to some extent, but the bottom just didn't get hot enough, even though I had it on a hot stove before returning it to the oven with the batter and sausages. So, the top burnt, and the underneath wasn't cooked enough, and I ended up having to return it to the over for a while longer on a lower heat to try and get it all to cook. I'll know next time.

The gravy was great though, so although the toad was a bit disappointing, the gravy and mash made up for it. With this, I half cooked the sausages in the oven with a coarsely chopped red onion, Dijon mustard and a little extra oil. Then I used the onions and oil and fat from the sausages as the basis of the gravy.

Monday, 1 January 2007

Chicken Cashew Chilli

Another outing for the new blender, this time to make the cashew and chilli paste which went into this dinner. Was a little bland and could have done with more chilli and fresh coriander than I had, but it was still nice, and better the next day. Next time, I think I'll put less cashews in the paste and more or different chilli. Probably use less kidney beans and more cashews and red pepper next time too, as I love red pepper and I think it could've done with more.
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