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Archive for the ‘Meat’ Category

I woke up this morning with a burning desire to make Chilli con Carne.

This isn’t a dish I have ever made before or eaten many times so the sudden impulse was surprising. Sure, I’ve had plenty of average chilli slopped over rapidly softening nachos but it has never been more than a bar snack or an overly heavy starter in a naff Mexican restaurant. Chilli has not meant a great deal to me and I have not meant a great deal to chilli.

The only reason I suddenly needed to make chilli, I realised as I ran my finger down the index of my Good Housekeeping 101 simple suppers (thanks Grandma), is because I stayed up until three in the morning reading The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and at about the point where I could keep my eyes open no longer Tom Rath ate a bowl of Mexican chilli in a dingy restaurant on Sixth Avenue. Better food bloggers than I eat according to the seasons but I eat according to my bookshelf.

It all started with Enid Blyton and a passion for tinned fruit, if not tongue, that I have never managed to shake off. I am ashamed to say I prefer tinned fruit to fresh and I am sure one day my supplies of peaches will sustain me through an adventure on an island frequented by smugglers.

My long and at times rather serious adolescence was characterised by fixations with certain authors, the most sombre of which was Zola. The epic French feasts described were really the only high points in what was otherwise a bit of a misery-fest. Sure, these peasants were trapped in prisons of despair but when they took a break from prostitution, murder and falling off roofs they knew how to eat.

Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim is the reason I drink to excess frequently. Patrick Hamilton introduced me to the joys of Gin and French. I didn’t know what Plovers’ eggs were until I read Brideshead Revisited. Turkish Delight, well that’s a bit of an obvious one.

Maybe this could be my overarching narrative: books and food. I eat my way through the classics. Right, chilli’s ready and I need to fix myself a martini.

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Tomates Farcies

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Another day of British summer equals another pair of my ballet pumps ruined by torrential rain. Sodden shoes and the smell of wet dog aside the recent weather has afforded me the pleasure of indulging in some food that, if not wintry, is certainly more autumnal than I would usually crave in August. There are fleeting windows of opportunity in which to sate these culinary cravings before the humid atmosphere that bookmarks the rain returns to London like a massive damp tea towel.

 

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Tomates farcies is the perfect dish for this weather because it is not so heavy as to be off-putting in the heat but it is warming and hearty enough to contend with some wet and windy weather. I find the preparation very satisfying and reminiscent of the slow cooking undertaken when the days are short and the weather cold. Bright red tomatoes though are enormously summery and if the weather suddenly looks brighter you could serve this with some bread and a salad just as happily as with rice.

 

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I do not exaggerate when I say that this recipe is award-winning. In the 90s my father entered one of the food contests held at The Wettern Tree Garden Royal Horticultural Society Summer Show (if you are from South Croydon this is kind of a big deal). Actually he insisted that everyone in the family enter something and I remember vividly my mortification when my name was announced as the winner of the under 16s coconut ice category (only other contender: my sister Felicity). My father also won with his stuffed tomatoes. Admittedly there was just one other challenger in the stuffed vegetable category, a man who had filled raw tomatoes with pate. He didn’t stand a chance against this wonderful dish.

 

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Tomates farcies

 

10 tomatoes

1 onion finely chopped

2 garlic cloves minced

1 tbsp honey

450g sausage meat stuffing or just buy sausages and remove the skins

Sprig of rosemary finely chopped

Tomato puree

Splash of red wine

1 tin of tomatoes

 

Cut the tops off the tomatoes to make lids and remove the pulp from the tomatoes so they are hollow and ready to be stuffed. Place them in an oven dish with some olive oil in the base.

 

To make the stuffing for the tomatoes fry the onion, rosemary and garlic in a wide saucepan in some oil to soften and then add the honey to caramelise slightly. Add the sausage meat to the pan when the onions are softened and break it down with a wooden spoon so it doesn’t all fry in one clump.

 

When the sausage meat is cooked add a heaped tablespoon of tomatoe puree and a glug of red wine. Stir and then add the tin of chopped tomatoes. Season. If you have any leftover rind from a hard cheese like parmesan throw it in too as it imparts a lovely flavour to sauces, just remember to fish it out at the end.

 

Cook this sauce down for as long as you have, at least 45 minutes though to give it real flavour and ideally a couple of hours. You will probably need to add more liquid as it cooks: stock or just plain water. I fill the used tin of tomatoes with water which has the added benefit of cleaning the can. Taste the sauce as you cook it and add any seasoning or herbs you think it might need, even a splash of lemon juice might be nice.

 

Fill the tomato shells with the sauce, place the lids on top and cook this in a medium oven for 45 minutes to an hour. Serve with rice or just bread and salad if you want something a little lighter.

 

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I wonder if anyone else has noticed the recent appearance of recession TV, a development that is fantastic news for my flat mate but anathema to me. The return of home improvement shows, re-runs of Midsomer Murders and heaps of quiz shows is pure budget television and I believe the only logical explanation for Charlie Brooker getting his own TV show.

 

As well as being annoyed by Charlie Brooker’s impotent rage I am irritated by a host of other apparently recession-motivated trends including recession cooking. If I relied entirely on food magazines and programmes to inform my culinary decisions my reaction to economic turmoil would be to start making frequent use of the Waitrose forgotten cuts range and dine on nothing but Pollock and brisket. Don’t get me wrong, these are economical alternatives to cod and rib of beef but they aren’t exactly 10p a head dishes.

 

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I remember a number of recipes which were the leitmotif of my father’s sporadic cooking when I was growing up. Potatoes in bacon fat was always a particularly welcome dish as it was outwardly so unappealing but utterly delicious. We used to have students staying with us from all over Europe and I remember the look of terror etched onto their faces when the pressure cook full of potatoes in a slick, thick white sauce punctuated by rose pink shots of bacon was placed in front of them. Their parents had warned them about English cooking but nothing could have prepared them for this. On tasting this most unattractive of dishes the students visibly relaxed. I can’t say that this meal is something one would serve at a dinner party but it is tasty and filling and it comes into its own in the winter.

 

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Below I have typed out the original recipe from the Tefal pressure cooker book. My father had the French version of this but I managed to find an English copy quite by chance as I was rooting around the second hand book shop in Lyme Regis a couple of years ago. This is a great book that I plan to make much use of as soon as I have a pressure cooker.

 

If like most people under the age of 60 you don’t have a pressure cooker, yet, fear not for I have experimented with the recipe and come up with my own version that doesn’t require it. I find a bit of vinegar cuts through the fat and makes it more suitable for summer.

 

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Sophie’s no pressure potatoes in bacon fat

 

1 lb potatoes

1 onion diced

3 thick slices of back bacon with plenty of fat still on

½ tbsp honey or sugar

1 tbsp white wine vinegar (optional)

2 heaped tbsp flour

Salt and pepper

Parsley

 

Cut the potatoes into large quarters if they are big potatoes or half if they are small. Boil the potatoes until they are just cooked.

 

Cut the bacon into slices and fry until browned.

 

Add the chopped onion to the bacon and gently fry until they are softened. Add some honey or sugar to sweeten and caramelise at this stage.

 

Add the flour and stir to coat. Pour in a mug of water and the vinegar.

 

Cook this until it thickens and then return the potatoes to the pan and coat in the sauce.

 

Season and sprinkle with parsley before serving.

 

I know you are eating a dish comprised of mostly potatoes but you need at least a small piece of bread to mop up the sauce.

 

The original and the best Tefal potatoes in bacon fat

 

Ingredients

 

2lb. potatoes

4 tbsp. butter

5 slices bacon

2 onions

¾ tbsp flour

chopped parsley

1 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

 

Dice the bacon and peel the onions. Lightly fry the bacon and onions in 4 tablespoons of butter in the super cooker.

 

Peel and quarter the potatoes. Put them in the cooker. Add salt and pepper. Sprinkle with flour; stir. Pour in a glass of water – or better still, meat broth.

 

Close the lid and cook for 10 minutes after the valve begins to turn. Serve the potatoes sprinkled with chopped parsley or other aromatic herbs.

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Sausage rolls

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As a child the only sausage rolls I can remember eating were those made by my Grandma. Her pastry was, and still is, beautifully light and crumbly. The sausage rolls she served us were a thousand miles away from the flaccid lumps served in bakeries up and down the country.

 

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I’m not quite sure why these manufactured sausage rolls taste so awful. It’s surely a combination of the industrial pastry and the fatty sausage meat which sweats within leaving the pastry drenched.  These sausage rolls deposit a thin film of grease onto any surface with which they come into contact. Eating them is a sordid act carried out in private.

 

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No good can come from something which is so utterly unattractive. Kept lukewarm by a couple of halogen bulbs and served by a girl whose eyes are filled with despair, the small paper bag quickly turns translucent as the fat leaks out.

 

I’d like to say that this type of sausage roll typifies everything that is wrong with British food but that sort of Jamie Oliver hand-wringing drives me mad. I’ve had plenty of terrible croque monsieurs in France. Our sausage roll-failures are not a uniquely British problem but we do lack the confidence of the French in our national cuisine. Rather than accept that these mass-produced sausage rolls are a bad version of a beautiful thing, as the French man recognises the odd dud croque monsieur as an anomaly, as a nation we have come to regard all sausage rolls as junk food or, at best, an unsophisticated party snack for children.

 

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The sausage roll has been debased by mass-production and the fallacy that there isn’t a dish on earth which can’t be made in a factory, vacuum-packed and reheated in the microwave. Our taste-buds are the clearest indicator that this is a nonsense. Making a sausage roll at home is easy, inexpensive and the results are a reminder that the English make excellent, homely food. It may sometimes lack the refinement of French cuisine but it is just as inventive and it stems from the same historical traditions.

 

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To make sausage rolls all you need is some pastry and sausage meat. I have added sun-dried tomatoes and rosemary. In the past I have incorporated apple, raisins, all manner of herbs and sometimes nothing at all.

 

I may have completely undermined my above criticisms by using a ready-made puff pastry. In my defence puff pastry is tricky to make and if you are pushed for time there is nothing ostensibly wrong with using the ready made stuff. I always make my own short crust pastry because I don’t find the ready-made stuff as good but I can’t produce a decent puff pastry in a short space of time.

 

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Ingredients

 

500 g puff or short crust pastry

450g sausage meat

4-5 sun-dried tomatoes

1 small onion

Sprig of rosemary

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp brown sugar or honey

1 egg yolk

Grated parmesan cheese (optional)

 

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

 

Fry the onion in the oil until it turns translucent. Season and add the sugar or honey to caramelise the onions. Finely chop the rosemary, dice the sun-dried tomatoes and add this to the onions. Fry for another minute then leave to cool.

 

Once cool add this mixture to the raw sausage meat, mix thoroughly.

 

Roll out the pastry into a large rectangle shape. The pastry should be about ½ cm thick. Cut the pastry down the middle so that you are left with two rectangles (see picture). Divide the sausage meat between the two rectangles of pastry and form the meat into a long sausage shape down the middle of each pastry rectangle. The pastry can then be rolled up, the ends sealed and the whole thing brushed with the egg yolk.

 

Use a serrated knife to cut the sausage rolls to the size you want and place on a tray lined with greased parchment paper. I was making quite small rolls in the pictures for nibbles but there is nothing to stop you making larger ones. Before putting the rolls in the oven I sprinkled a little grated parmesan on top. The rolls take about 15 minutes to cook but it depends on your oven so just keep an eye on them, they are ready when the pastry is golden brown and the sausage meat is cooked.

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Do a Google-image search on beer can chicken recipe and you will not be disappointed with the results, trust me. It would appear that people across the world, mainly men I would imagine, are cooking chickens on the barbeque with a can of beer up the bird’s rear end. As if being roasted wasn’t bad enough these chickens are subjected to a final act of indignity; violation by a can of Red Stripe. Yes, it’s pretty funny.

 

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After seeing this recipe on the Food Stories blog I thought I would give it a go myself but being without a barbeque I looked up a recipe for doing it in the oven. I was very excited and the fact that my mother, Philippa and Ruth all expressed misgivings about the method only increased my conviction that it was going to be brill’.

 

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I made a rub for the chicken by mixing various spices with brown sugar. I used 2 tsps paprika, 1 tsp cayenne pepper, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp celery salt, 1 tsp mustard powder, 2 tsp ras el hanout spice mix, salt, pepper and 4 tbsp dark brown sugar. I think. I was drinking pimms at the time but if you just bung a load of spices and sugar together you are bound to end up with a nice mix that you can rub onto meat and it will keep for up to 6 months in a jar.

 

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I rubbed the chicken with butter and the above mix. I emptied a can of coke down the sink (no coke fans in our house), got Ruth to poke some extra holes in the top of the can and filled it halfway with a nice cider. I was cooking a small chicken for three of us and I thought that inserting a large can of fosters up the bird’s rear end might be a bit much. Some of the rub mix went into the can of cider and the chicken was then perched on top of the can. There was a brief moment of hilarity when I rather embarrassingly got the neck of the chicken confused with the rear and said ‘I just don’t think it’s going to fit up there’. It was like being in a Carry On film.

 

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All the recipes I read said that the chicken wouldn’t need basting and that there would be lots of lovely juices for a gravy gathering in the tin however I had to add cider throughout cooking as it was dry. We ended up with a lovely gravy but the chicken itself was average. What did I do wrong? If I had to do it again I would lay the chicken down on a rack but I probably won’t try this again in a hurry. Making the holes in the top of the can is hard and I can’t imagine all the rude jokes would be as much fun second time around.

 

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I served the chicken with couscous. To make this I fried a sliced onion in some oil then added a teaspoon of brown sugar and a teaspoon of ras el hanout spice mix. I then browned a handful of pine kernels in the same pan. For three of us I used 200g of couscous which went in a heat proof bowl with the onions, pine kernels, a handful of raisins, another teaspoon of the ras el hanout mix, the zest of a lemon and 250 ml of boiling stock. I covered the bowl quickly with cling film and left it for 10 minutes. To serve I fluffed it all up and stirred in a glug of olive oil.

 

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As a starter we had some prawns. I added a little butter and oil to a hot pan and fried two chillis, two garlic cloves and a thumb-sized piece of ginger all of which had been cut julienne, or at least my attempt at julienne. Whilst these cooked I added more butter and the juice of a lemon. The idea is that the lemon and butter make a lovely sauce. At the last minute I added 12 raw prawns, cooked them through and seasoned the dish. With a bit of bread to mop up the butter this is an incredibly easy starter that I have been making for years. It came from a Jamie Oliver recipe, he adds parsley and I would have too if I’d remembered to buy it.

 

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Our feast climaxed with a strawberry tart made by Ruth, the half-hearted cook. Biscuit base; good, creamy filling; good, strawberries and toffee sauce; good. It was delicious . 

 

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