Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Best Bolognese Ever

Yes, I know, everyone's bolognese is the best ever, but I do have a trick up my sleeve (what great bolognese doesn't?) - the meat that I use to make it ... but more of that later.

In our house bolognese sauce is usually referred to as Sugo - that's the Italian word for any sauce like this. It's also referred to as meat ragu, but the bottom line is that most of the time the sauces have more in common than they do differences. Mine is quite simple really - I always use onion, carrot, celery, beef, tomatoes, wine and herbs. Sometimes other things get added, and I might use different herbs and wines (even white wine sometimes, which is surprisingly common in Italy), but it's the beef that really makes the sauce.

Sugo in progress, with roast cherry tomatoes (and a solitary half pepper in the middle!) that I was doing at the same time

Since I discovered how fab Rib of beef is (on the bone, naturally) I always buy it if I can get it. But it's not cheap - you can easily set yourself back £30 or so for a large joint. But I maintain that it's actually one of the best cuts for thrifty cooking too, because at the end of the day you can get so many meals out of it that it starts to work out at way less than £1 per meal. I even did some calcuations the other day to prove my point, and worked out that a piece of Brisket that I bought the other day actually worked out more expensive than Rib if you consider how many meals you can get out of it! Of course there are wonderful things like beef sandwiches made with the rare eye form the middle, curry made with slow cooked chunks from the top and the bits from between the ribs, broth made from the ribs themselves gently simmered with whatever other flavours you fancy, and maybe a few bits of pasta dropped in for good measure, but for me the very best way of using it up is to make lots and lots of really good sugo.

Now the recipe bit. The trick with the left over beef is to mince it coarsely, and then to fry it hard in a little of the left over beef fat until it's almost getting crispy. Make sure at this point you don't overfill the pan and do it in batches if necessary. What happens is you create a wonderful texture in the meat. You might think it dries it out, but the next stage (after lightly frying the onions, celery and carrots separately and adding them in) where you add lots and lots of tinnned tomatoes, wine and herbs and then simmer for at least one and half hours (prefereably longer depending on quantity) gives the meat back it's tenderness, and gives a wonderful texture as well as rich dark flavour to the sugo. I always pot it up once it's cooled, and the freezer becomes a life saver after a long day in the office when you can just defrost a pot of sugo for two and be eating incredibly good bolognese in half an hour. Now that's my idea of an instant meal!

Fresh bread rools that I made for the left over eye - they make fantastic beef rolls for lunch in the office. If you've got a bread machine you can turn these things out ridiculously easily.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Copying the French

Well looking back I see I never posted about the lamb, which came out very tender and suprisingly mild for lamb this time of year. Minted dauphinois worked OK too, put layers of mint in between the potato, which gave the right effect. But what I was going to post about was chicken, again.

I was in France a few weeks back and had chicken in a bistro in Albert, which was so simply done but delicious. It was a thigh/leg with a dark sauce (best call it a sauce I guess - not sure the French appreciate the word gravy ...) served with rice, but not just any old rice but risotto rice with a little butter and parsley. It was so good I've been meaning to recreate it and finally did on Sunday.

In order to get the right effect I spit roasted the chicken with a pan underneath to collect the juices, so that they would get nice and dark and caramelised in the heat of the oven. As the chicken rested the arborio went on, and I deglazed the pan with some chicken stock and reduced it down to a rich coating sauce. Then just took the leg/thighs off the bird, a little fresh parsely and butter on the rice, sauce over the meat and done.

Haven't got a picture of the chicken yet, but here's the set-up before digging in ...

There's something about simple food like this which goes down a treat, and although I reckon the quality of the chicken was better in France it was a pretty good reproduction I reckon, and will become a regular on our table. Pretty healthy too ... so long as you ignore the vast quantities of cheese we managed to get through after lunch as the lazy Sunday afternoon got started!

... and the set-up very shortly after!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Chicken - always versatile

I write this with Lamb roasting downstairs, ready for this Sunday. Slow roast with onions and garlic, with minted dauphinois (something I'm testing out) and our own runner beans from the garden. Then a blackberry and apple pie to finish, with blackberrys we just collected this morning from around the village. But that's not what this post is about ...

I thought I'd quickly post about the chicken I did last Sunday. It was a biggie, and I did it using a Greek recipe from a magazine I had lying about that sounded tasty. Basically it contained a lot of olive oil, oregano, lemon and potatoes, and was very good, although I felt there was perhaps a bit too much oil involved! The potatoes did come out amazing though.

What was even more amazing though (as always) is what you can get up to with the leftovers. I'm always amazed when people say that good quality food is too expensive when you consider how far you can make it go. This Chicken was almost £10, but we have trouble trying to eat it all, we get so many meals out of it. In fact there is still some risotto left in the fridge! That made about 8 meals in itself, plus there was another old classic I like to do - Chicken and Avocado salad. What's nice about using left over chicken is the salad is always a little different, depending how I roasted the meat, and perfect for when the weather gets a bit warm again like now. It's simplicity itself to make - and I think chicken and avocado have a great relationship in the dish. Plus there's the dressing I always make - a mixture of honey, lemon, whole grain mustard, olive oil and seasoning, that brings everything together. I served this one with freshly based Focaccia (again really easy and cheap to make - enough bread for about 8 meals will cost less than 50p).

I guess I have my mum and gran to thank for being a thrify cook all the time. It's a real pleasure though to create something tasty from leftovers, and I think brings out the best in you as a cook - not too mention saving you money in the process!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Beef Carpacio - a Sunday Roast for Summer

Been a way for a bit, hence the pause, but here's a goody that I've already managed to squeeze in twice this summer. The idea is to coat a nice piece of beef fillet with a very generous amount of crushed sea salt and black peppercorns, fry it over a high heat on all sides to give that crispy outside, and then finish off for just ten minutes in a very hot oven.

You end up with a piece of meat that's practically raw in the middle and crusty on the outside, so you have to make sure you're using a really good piece of meat to start with.

The other great thing about this dish is the sauce - a mayo made with lots of fresh mint and mustard. Wouldn't have thought of mint and beef, but this works a treat. Served with new pots and a leafy salad. And to finish? What could be better than a traditional english trifle, made with fresh cherries from the village and whatever else we could find!

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Wild Weekend

Wild food seemed to be the theme from last weekend. Cycled over to the Thorverton Country Show, which is always fun, and then down the river for a swim where we found wild mint growing in abundance on the bank. As our cucumbers are just about ready Tzatziki was planned with that, which turned out very well on Sunday night. We also gathered about 20 heads from the Elders around the village which are now becoming Elderflower Champagne as I write (fab drink that). And then there was lunch - pesto I made using wild garlic from the Exe valley.

Here's the roast chicken I did that went with the Tzatziki - kind of spatchcocked and then roasted with orange, lemon & thyme. Nice recipe, but it was the combination with the Tzatziki which really made it.

Altogether I'm feeling very environmentally friendly :-)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sheepish Return

No that title doesn't mean I did lamb last week, just that I haven't been posting here in a while so am feeling guilty! Hard to keep this blogging thing up.

Actually I have done lamb, and just about every other meat you can think of since the last time I posted. But ironically yesterday it was rib of beef again, just like my last post. If nothing else this blog is making me think how repetitive I can be! Must try and be more creative.

One of the lamb dishes I have done - a roast loin together with rosemary & garlic roast potato squares (at least they will be :-)

That said I did do yorkshire pudding in a small round dish this time, cut into wedges to serve. Decided that it was much better than the usual small round ones, so that might be the choice in future too. Much more like a pudding, with an evenly cooked eggy middle and only some limited 'crusty bits' on the edges. Yum. There were also Jersey Royals on the side, which were delicious, but to be honest I think we'll be back to Cornish new potatoes next - as nice as the Jersey's were, the Cornish are coming out even better.

In other news - the veggie plot is almost done. I've been planning to make a vegetable garden for years it seems, and have been keeping an old queen size bed that I broke up a long time ago (the first I owned - all of £10 it cost!) in the shed, with the plan to turn this old bed into ... you guessed it ... raised beds. One is now in place, filled with my own compost and 15 broad bean plants. The next will be up and running shortly. Now all I have to work out is what to put in it ...

Benedetta putting the finishing touches to the Broad Beans

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Back to the best - the glorious Fore Rib of Beef

When it comes to roasting beef, I find only one cut will do these days, and is has to be rib. We can argue over whereabouts on the cow it comes from, but the combination of flavour and texture you get from this joint just leaves everything else in the shade. And it must be on the bone. Most people agree it has more flavour, and what else are you going to make your stock out of (you do make your own stock now don't you? :-).

Now my butcher only had a limited choice (as usual I give them no notice - well often I don't know what I want till I get there) so it was 2 ribs off some monster cow - 5.5kg of meat!

Now that's a big roasting pan but it only just fits. Nothing special here - just season well with lots of salt & black pepper. I go for Hugh F-W's recipes for roasting these days, so this fella went in for 30 mins at about 220°C and then down to 150°C for 9 mins per 500g, although I actually did mine for 90 minutes. Then half hour rest. To be honest it was still a bit overcooked for me - here's the beast once it had come out - note this is with the top half taken off already to make it easier to carve (the other half is in the foil wrapping):

And finally on the plate:

That's with my own recipe yorkshire puddings, beef dripping roasted potatoes, lightly boiled cabbage and steamed carrots. The carrots came out particularly well!

One day I'll share the yorkshire pudding recipe (if like me you like them eggy and with a good bit of squidy batter you'll love it), but I'm in a bit of a rush right now. I will try and share what I did with the leftovers though soon - that's worth a post in itself!

Update Christmas 2010: My Yorkshire Pudding Recipe

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The beauty of the cheaper cut - The Spare Rib

Well no Rib of Beef at the butchers this week - all been sold already. That's what comes from buying your meat from a proper butcher - you have to have what he's got if you don't order ahead of time. So Pork last Sunday, and a nice little Spare Rib at that. It's been my choice of pork cuts for a while now, as it's very cheap but has a great flavour, cooks up nice and moist, and has lots of great crackling! What more could you ask for out of a pork roast - you can keep your legs and loins.

I've found the best method is the 20 min hot bit at about 220°C, and then down to 160°C for 30 minutes per 500g, plus of course resting time after that.

And the trick with the crackling? Well I just rub in a good amount of maldon sea salt, getting it right into those cracks, and that's it - no oil, no pepper, no basting, no nothing. Just leave it be and it will work, trust me! Served this with mash and carrots, so pretty basic stuff really.

Now I know my photography leaves something to be desired - maybe I'll fix that one day.

The other thing about a spare rib roast is the left overs are great for making your own schnitzel. May sound a bit odd I know, but try and it and you'll be very pleasantly surprised. Just slice relatively thickly, maybe just less than a cm, do the old dipping thing (flour/beaten egg/breadcrumbs - twice through is always good for a nice crust, and do remember to season all three I say) and then shallow fry and until crispy, maybe 5-10 minutes each side. These can be eaten hot, or even left to cool and then shoved into a pitta bread with some fresh salad, squeeze of lemon juice and maybe some mayo. Yum. Beats cardboard sandwiches.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

London Particulars

Away last weekend in London to visit old friends, including my god daughter (although technically I guess she's a young friend). It's a house of chicken pox at the moment, and that wasn't the only meat that weekend ... seeing as the lady of the house is a vegetarian and therefore meat is perhaps not on the menu as often my old friend Rich would like, he decided to rekindle his meat cooking skills and offered up a fab slow-cooked belly pork glazed with honey for Saturday night:

(excuse the shaky picture - I only had my phone with me)

That was followed by next day by a steak & kidney pie, which he'd slow cooked the day before. Scrumptious it was, with proper lumps of ox kidney throughout, and a generous layer of pastry. Even the young girls enjoyed their kidney (well, for the most part!).

As you can tell, a fine time was had by all, although I think it's safe to say the desire to live back in London again has definitely gone. Always happy to get back to the country again!

Back in Devon this weekend, so hopefully will have the chance to get another Sunday Roast in myself. Haven't had beef in a while, so it might be time for a best of british ...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Moroccan Lamb

Just looking back through some old photos (at some point in the past I thought I would start keeping a photo record of what I cooked, but that didn't last for long) and found some nice shots of a Moroccan lamb recipe that I did some time ago. For once I actually remembered to do before and after pictures:

(you can see the chef has had a sneaky glass of wine already)

This leg of lamb was marinated overnight in lemon and saffron, plus others spices and oils, and I served it with spinach:

I'm a sucker for dishes like this - more or less one pot cooking, with everything pretty much ready in one dish, and loads of great flavours melding together into one. That lamb may look a little dry but believe me it wasn't, and the juices from the cooking made for an instant gravy.

A lot of recipes with legs of lamb suggest puncturing the meat and inserting slices or garlic or rosemary, which I've never been happy about doing and have stopped now, especially after one particularly dry result. I can't think of a better way to dry out a piece of meat than stick a knife all over it, and fail to see the point - you can get plenty of flavour on your plate without this technique. And why just lamb? You don't see anyone recommending it for beef, chicken or pork now. I think it's just become a habit, and to my mind can easily make a nice piece of meat far too garlic and herb ridden. OK, rant over!

Another recipe very similar to this one is the old English way of taking a leg of mutton to the butchers of a Sunday morning, and there's an Italian variant too - but more of them another time.

Beef Wellington

Not some recent cooking - this was Beef Wellington for Boxing day a couple of years ago. I just had to share this picture though - how fab does that look? To be honest whilst it was good it wasn't great - looked better than it tasted in the end, and I think my mum in particular would have liked it perhaps just a little more cooked ... !

It's a real pleasure to make though, and a nice challenge as it's quite hard to get everything just right. I always feel that recipes like this are the best type, simple yet complex, and are the best judge of a cooks skill.

Carbonara is another example - a simple dish that's very hard to do well. I used to cook it all the time when I was young, and thought it was great, then I had it in a restaurant in Padova when I was about 22 and realised how bloody awful mine was! I think I've finally got it working again now, although sometimes it can be a little bitter (which I think is me overdoing the pancetta). This is the recipe I like to choose when visting a new resturant to see just how good the chef is.

Monday, February 26, 2007


Now that's what I call a lasagne! A favourite in most people's houses I'm sure, although I'm getting fussier and fussier about mine. Now it's not good enough unless it's been made with left over from a roast rib of beef and freshly made pasta sheets. I find you just can't get enough flavour into the pasta unless you make it yourself, plus that way you can get just the thickness you want - and I like mine with lots of thick sheets and not much sugo but loads of bechamel ...
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Chicken time again

Bit of a favourite, chicken, and this recipe too. I tend to go for Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's herb roast chicken recipe, although as ever I put it together in my own particular way.

This time around it was parsely, sage, rosemary and thyme (isn't that a song?) all chopped up finely and mashed together with a good lump of butter, some black pepper and a garlic clove. Smear that lot all over the chicken (local free range, of course - mine come from Ottery St Mary, just down the road) and then I stuck half a lemon, a bay leaf and some seasoning inside.

That goes into my preheated (fan) oven at 180°C, and this time around I put it in the rack within the roasting pan, which is the first time I've tried it. I tend to do my chicken's for 15 mins per pound plus 15 mins these days, although even that is a bit much I reckon - partly because my new oven (a Smeg) is a bit powerful.

And with it, well good old dauphinois potatoes again. Say what you like but I think they're fab, especially with this dish. And cabbage with bacon for a veg (fry bacon first till crispy, then in goes shredded cabbage and maybe a splash of water, and let it steam till juicy). Loads of gravy made from chicken stock and scrapings from the pan of course. Oh, and a nice Chilean Chardonnay.

So what was the verdict? Pretty tasty on the whole. Still think my dauphinois could have a just a tiny bit more salt, and the gravy (whilst delicious) was a bit of the thick side - not exactly classy! Probably won't use the roasting rack again, as I don't think it added anything, and made it very tricky to baste the bird during cooking. Plus I didn't get as many crusty bits on the bottom of the roasting pan to add flavour.

A picture of the leftovers, from the Monday after - still bloody good!

Back for more

I really don't post it here very often do I? Not so much a blog as an accident.

Well I'll try and change that. Need somewhere to start going on about education and technology, so maybe this isn't a bad space to record some thoughts.

-- change of plan: think this is going to be the place for tales about my Sunday Roasting!


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