Sunday Stew

stew

There are many versions of Sunday lunch that I merrily trough my way through regularly, and then, after a huge sigh, exclaim,

‘That was just delicious!’

Complete satisfaction.

With stew however, there is a little bit more that happens.  A certain je ne sais quoi of fulfilment which reaches the parts other lunches only dream about.  I think it’s probably a combination of the slowly marinated meat, perfectly complimented by the creamy mashed potato, and today, broccoli.

When son #1 was little, one day he sat at the table to a meal which included broccoli, and declared he didn’t like broccoli any more.  There was a slight pause and then himself, very calmly, explained to son #1 that his decision to not eat broccoli was his to make, but meant he would never be able to run fast, as the two things went hand in hand.

There was another thoughtful pause and we continued with the meal, by the end of which, all the broccoli had been eaten.

It has been thus ever since, and son #1 is a pretty fast runner.  I’m not saying the theory is conclusive, but…

Now then, everyone has their own stew method, but most stews reach the top echelon of satisfaction by being cooked slowly. To achieve this I rise early to prepare all the components, in order that they are given as good a chance as possible to become perfectly combined.  When I say early, my Sunday early is 8.30. Just so you know.

Anyway, toss the beef in flour, salt and pepper, then gently fry in butter and vegetable oil that has melted in the bottom of a heavy bottomed pan, until browned.

Take out the meat and set aside.  Add chopped onion, carrots and turnip to the pan. These are softened before I add boiling water and put the meat back in.  Give it a good stir, add a few sprigs of thyme, a good sprinkling of coarsely ground black pepper and some beef stock.  Put the lid on, place in the lower part of the oven, gas mark 2/3 for me, and leave there for 4 – 6 hours.

The next part is probably one of the most comfort evoking things for me.  The smell of the stew slowly wafts around the kitchen and gently infuses through everyone’s nostrils creating calm anticipation.  Obviously, if you leave your crew waiting too long, they do start to get a little grumpy, so make sure that any potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, vegetables, etc are ready to go.

I like to indulge in a creamy mashed potato one day and then fill a Yorkshire pudding the next.  You, of course, may decide to do both, or neither.  I would however (if I may), gently suggest that a green vegetable such as savoy cabbage, broccoli, green beans etc. compliments the whole thing perfectly.

And of course, having this meal for Sunday lunch means that everyone can sit staring into space, or even enjoy a cheekie forty winks, for an hour or so afterwards, without a care in the world.

It makes that ‘early’ start absolutely worth it.

 

 

 

Sharon

Sharon

If you took a look at this piece of fruit, would you say it looked like a Sharon?  No, me neither.  Not that I particularly have an idea in my head about what a Sharon should look like, but still, it’s not the most immediate name for this glorious fruit.  That said, I absolutely love the fact that this wonderful orange sphere has, as one of it’s many moniker’s, the name Sharon.  It makes me smile every time.  Anyway…

I don’t know about you, but for some reason I find it more challenging to eat my quota of fruit when it’s cold.   To be honest, I naturally veer towards cake at any time of year, as it compliments tea so well, which is wonderful all year round. So often, autumnal fruit needs working on before you can eat it, which can be off putting when it’s dark – hmmm, not too sure I can truly justify that explanation, but let’s pretend, for the sake of argument, that it is perfectly logical…

As it becomes more of a chore, mentally, to chose fruit over cake, I have found that you need to put in place a couple of tricks to make it all look more inviting.  And this is where Sharon, or Persimmon to some, comes to the fore.   You have to be patient with Sharon fruit, so buy a few and let them sit in a bowl, ripening for a few days. As they sit there, they will gradually cajole your mind into thinking that they look rather inviting as a snack.  Unlike the pear which will suddenly go off and become inedible when you nip out to the shops, Sharon will continue to glow a deeper orange, gradually.  Like a well lit fire.

Even when they are squidgy to touch, Sharon never tastes over ripe, in fact the sweetness is glorious.   I have even read somewhere that Sharon can help stave off heart problems, which is interesting, as normally, fruit which naturally sugars when it ripens, such as bananas and grapes, are seen as the devil incarnate to health.

For those of you who may have seen Sharon, but not yet tasted the fruit, I highly recommend you pop down to the grocers and get yourself a couple.  They are in abundant supply at the moment which usually means they have not been force grown and are therefore in much more of their natural state.  I have to say, I eat the skins as well, just like an apple.   However, similarly, just like an apple, the skin can often be a little tough and bruised, and so, in this instance, it is best to peel them.

However you chose to devour your Sharon fruit, the wonderful thing about them is their soft fruitiness which accompanies perfectly, their beautiful colour.   So evocative of summer.  So complimentary to autumn.

Why not give them a try and let me know how you get on?

Bourek

fish bourek

I have recently had a little ‘to do’ with a well known company, which has meant that I needed to take an unplanned trip into the city this week.  Thankfully all is well, and I can continue with my life ‘to do’ less.

This slight foray has afforded me the indulgence of visiting one of the most mouth-wateringly beautiful street market stalls in our local city market.  Trust me when I say they create take away food of wonder.  My absolute favourite of which, is Bourek.

Now I’m sure the majority of you who read this will nod in a sage like manner, and concur that Bourek is, indeed, a foodstuff of wonder and delight.  But for those of you who may not be so sure, I have the following, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Börek is a family of baked filled pastries made of a thin flaky dough known as phyllo, found in the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire.  It can be filled with cheese, often feta, sirene or kaşar; minced meat, vegetables (or fish)

What it doesn’t tell you, is that it is absolutely delicious.  Cafe Moor, the market stall in question, compliments the Bourek with a little light lettuce, tomato and red onion salad, a spicy salsa and a wonderful aubergine affair – just enough to whet the palette but not overwhelm the dish.  My oh my, this is the stuff you will dream about.  And what’s more, I do.

Meanwhile, tomorrow is Thanksgiving for all our friends who originate from that little known group of states called America.  I absolutely love the idea of just thanking everyone.  That’s it.  No strings, no ties, just thank-you.

So, to all of you who celebrate, Happy Thanksgiving.

To everyone who reads this blog whether you celebrate or not, thank-you so much for reading.

And for anyone who’s interested, I have cake on the go if you fancy popping over…

Coffee and Walnut Cake

coffee and walnut cake

It has reached the time of year in our household that, for 10 months prior to November, always sounds very romantic.  Until it starts to get closer.  And then the reality sets in.   Not only that, every year, without fail, we are not prepared for the shock.

‘What on earth is she talking about?’  Whispered the voice at the back.

Well, for us, we are just about to hit celebration season.  And this is how it goes:

Me, him, the little ray of sunshine, the day we met, youngest brother-in-law, wedding anniversary, mini him, another brother-in-law, Christmas.

I know.  How lovely all to be born within a month of each other…

As a direct result of this birthday montage, there is also an onslaught of cake to be made to compliment said birthday celebrations, and this year, for me, it’s coffee and walnut cake.

My favourite bit of this cake, as a child, was the icing.  I enjoyed the cake out of politeness, but honestly it was really just seen as the bit to endure, to get to the bit I loved.  So much so, I used to sneak into the kitchen when I thought no-one was looking, dip my finger in the tin holding the cake, and swipe a good dollopful of icing, before quickly closing the lid.

On reflection, this technique was not the cleverest really, as when my mum next opened the tin, there would often be a large crevice where icing once was.  Like every good thief, I would completely deny any knowledge of the incident, although it was obviously one of us.

Back to the cake.

So, I mix 225g of butter and 225g of castor sugar together, although sometimes I half and half the castor sugar with soft light brown.  I then add 50g of walnuts and whizz them altogether in my trusty Kenwood.  Add 3 eggs, one by one, 3 dessertspoonfuls of espresso coffee, 225g of self raising flour and a teaspoon of baking powder.

Divide between two prepared cake tins and bake, gas mark 4, for around 25 minutes depending on your oven.  As mine is a little contrary I tend to open the oven way too early on, and spend the next 10 minutes hoping that, as I’ve turned up the heat a little, this will counterbalance the cake dip.  It’s not the most successful technique, but you can’t blame me for trying.

That is a down side to being an eternal optimist.

Once cooked, let the cakes cool on a rack for around 10 minutes before turning out and peeling the greaseproof paper off.  Once again, my over eagerness often catches me unawares and I take the cakes out of their tins way too early, so they stick to the cooling rack.  But hey, I figure it will have icing on it to cover any glitches and life is way too short to get in a tizzy about such things.

The icing is a combination of 300g icing sugar, 175 butter and a dessertspoonful or 2 of espresso coffee.

Here’s a little tip for icing sugar.  Sieve or give it a whizz round in the trusty Kenwood before adding the butter, otherwise it is an absolutely devil to get smooth.

Dollop half in between the cooled cake sponges, and half on top.  If you’re feeling particularly fancy, you could create a lovely pattern on top and sprinkle on some walnuts.

Either way, this is an absolutely delicious cake for any time of year, so cut yourself a good slab, make a cuppa, put your feet up and enjoy.

 

 

 

Hot Buttered Crumpets

crumpet

The wee boy and I have had one of those days where, although there has been quite a bit to do, we have taken it all at a very leisurely pace.  There is something about a misty autumnal day that lends itself to slowness.

Similarly, what with the shortness of sunlight occurring at the moment, our snacks have become more comforting.

There is nothing quite like sitting down late afternoon, when the darkness is beginning to set in, and indulging in a hot buttered crumpet.  They really do reach the spot.

What is wonderful about crumpets though, is their versatility.  They can be eaten at any time of day or night without feeling in the slightest bit unusual.

I have a mental test to decide how comfortable I am with what I am about to have for a meal.  What you need to do is say, out loud,

‘What’s for …… (put food time name here)?’

‘Toasted crumpets with …. (add topping of you choice here)’

What you begin to realise is that, if, for example, you added ‘stew’ it may not give you that warm, snuggly feeling inside for every mealtime, whereas ‘crumpets’ works with everything.

There are quite a few foods that fit every meal.  Fruit, for example, is a versatile foodstuff, as, I find, is cake.

And just on another note, some people call crumpets, pikelets.

For your information, should you be in the slightest bit interested, they are both made from the same yeast based mixture, and both griddled, but crumpets are usually thicker due to them being cooked in a circular mould, whereas the pikelet mixture is normally spooned straight on to the griddle and therefore is thinner.

So there you go, a little Friday fact for you to enjoy.

Christmas Cake – Step One

Christmas Cake

They do say the longer you leave it between making and eating a Christmas Cake, the more moist the cake becomes.

I have never managed to be so ahead of schedule that I make it many, many weeks or months before the big day, but I do always ensure that it is made before my birthday, which, as I used to tell anyone that would listen when I was young, is a month before God.

To be honest, I still drag that gag out every now and again as it makes me laugh, but funnily enough, I tend to get blank looks back.  Apart from the wee boys who do still titter at it.  This is probably because I have overused it on the majority of people. Very much like the only other joke I remember.

What, you’d like to hear it?  Oh, ok.

Ahem *clears throat*

What did Batman say to Robin before they got in the car?

Get in the car Robin

You see, even now as I write it, I cannot help but smile.

I was once touring around Northern Italy with a wonderful company called The People Show.  Having to spend many hours on the bus, and being the youngest there, it took me a while to speak up, but I eventually decided to tell a joke. Unfortunately, I forgot the punchline, which took me at least 24 hours to remember. It gave the gang something to gently and lovingly tease me about, and made me realise that I will never be a stand up, joke telling, comedienne.

But what has this to do with Christmas cake, I hear you cry.  Absolutely nothing, so let’s crack on.

Now this is the thing.  I follow Nigella’s recipe pretty closely, as I don’t like the taste of candid peel, and prefer pecan nuts to almonds etc.  But what I have realised with Christmas cake is that you need three bowls and a couple of extra bits, and you’re done.  What you put in them is totally up to you.

In my dry stuff bowl I have 300g plain flour, ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger – more cinnamon than the rest, but so that they make up around 3 teaspoons and 150g ground almonds.

In my fruity bowl I have 700g raisins and 300g currants – but you could have whatever combination of dried fruit you like as long as it’s soaked in 400ml of whiskey, bourbon, brandy, apple juice or whatever, put in a pan, brought to the boil, covered, and left overnight to plump up the fruit. Actually, we ended up leaving it about 3 days as we just kept running out of time but hey, all’s well that’s pickled in liquor.

In my wet bowl I have 300g butter, 175g soft dark brown sugar, 4 eggs, 2 tablespoons black treacle and 1 teaspoon almond extract.  Cream the butter and sugar together, add the eggs one by one, then the treacle and extract.

My ‘other stuff’ consists of a tub of glace cherries, and a packet of pecan nuts.  The nuts I chop a little, the cherries I leave alone as I remember, when young, the pure delight of getting a slice of Christmas cake which had a whole cherry inside. Decadence personified.

Then put a dollop of each section into the bowl and stir until it’s all mixed in together.  Put into a prepared tin and bake on a low heat – gas mark 2 – for around 3 – 31/4 hours.

Now this is a great trick.  Once it comes out of the oven, wrap it, tin and all, in a couple of layers of greaseproof paper until it is cold.  This keeps the top of the cake moist (great word).  You may, if you wish, just brush a couple more tablespoons of your chosen liquid over the top before placing the cake in it’s shroud.  This too, will help maintain moisture.

Once cool, wrap in a couple of layers of greaseproof paper, followed by a couple of layers of tin foil, and place in an airtight container, in a darkened place, until Christmas eve – ooooh, I just got a little shiver of excitement there.

Just one last thing.  Some people ‘feed’ their cake weekly by piercing it with a toothpick or relevant utensil, and pouring in a lid full of liquor.  However, I did this last year and felt it was just a little too moist and boozy for my liking, so am skipping that section this year.  Obviously, I will show and share when the moment comes.

Until then, pour yourself a sherry and relax.