Thursday, 31 March 2011

Beef and Butternut Stew

I have realised that if nothing else, this blog is a shocking testimony to my sweet tooth. Looking over the ratio of sweet to savoury recipes I don’t think I’d be able to convince anyone that I’d choose… um… I don’t know … say steak over cake. Though I might, if I was in the mood. So it is about time I increased the number of savoury recipes here, and this is a first step in that direction. The flavours in this stew are inspired by a stew that I had on Crete, stifado, though I’ve changed the main ingredients somewhat. You can use quite tough meat for this as it will soften during the long cooking time. This makes enough for 3-4 people, depending on how hungry they are! Don’t be daunted by the length of the ingredient list – this really only needs a bit of time at the beginning to brown various things and mix it all together and then the oven does all the work. And if you have leftovers, be very happy … like most things cooked with tomatoes, this tastes that even better the next day.

What you’ll need:

600-700 grams of beef (depending on how much is in the pack you buy!)

3 large onions

3 cloves garlic

1 medium to large butternut squash

Olive oil

Generous sprinkle of dried rosemary

3 bay leaves

1 stick cinnamon

5 cloves

A 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

2 dessertspoons of tomato puree

1 vegetable stock cube dissolved in a litre of boiling water

1 small glass red wine

Dash of black pepper

What to do:

1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 3.

2. Chop the onion (it doesn’t have to be too fine) and garlic and fry in a glug of olive oil. When the onion and garlic is done pop it into a casserole dish.


3. Chop the beef into chunks of about 1 inch by 1/2 inch. Add a bit more olive oil to the same frying pan as you fried the onions and garlic in and then brown the beef. When it is done, add the browned beef to the casserole dish.

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3. Chop the butternut into chunks of about the same size as the beef. Add another glug of olive oil to the frying pan and brown the butternut cubes. Add these to the casserole dish as well.


4. Add all the rest of the ingredients (from dried rosemary down) to the casserole dish. I dissolved my stock cube in a litre of boiling water but couldn’t fit all the water into my casserole dish without causing a mini flood so just added as much as I could – probably about 800 mls of water. Mix everything together gently. At this point your kitchen may already be smelling delicious, but you’re going to have to wait a few hours…

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5. Put the stew into the middle of the pre-heated oven, uncovered, for about four hours (or more if you like). Give it a stir round every so often whilst it is cooking and add more water if necessary. I didn’t add extra water and so my ‘stew’ ended up more like mush, but it was very tasty mush so neither J nor I minded. When the stew is cooked, serve with greens and fresh bread.


Thursday, 24 March 2011

Lemon Cupcakes

Remember yesterday’s lemon curd? Well, apart from eating it straight by the spoonful there is possibly only one way that the taste experience associated with it could possibly be enhanced. And that is…cake! This recipe is possibly the lightest cake recipe that I’ve come with so far, though it needs a bit of work to get it that way – the egg whites really do need to be beaten to stiff peaks and the margarine and sugar need to be creamed together really well. But, thankfully for us, the days of electric mixers mean that such things are a cinch and require little more than patience.


It took me a while to figure out what to put with this cake recipe. The cake itself was so light that I didn’t want to spoil the taste by mismatching the icing. I tried all sorts of things, from eating them as they were – pure cake unadulterated with any extras, sprinkling icing sugar on top and even layering them with crème fraiche (yummy but not lemony enough). Then I decided to fill the cupcakes with a dollop of lemon curd and then cover them with a simple glaze. And something yummy happened… To me, the addition of a lemon curd filling and a lemon glaze make the cupcakes taste a bit like little cakey, fondanty sweets of the kind where you want just one more. If you want to keep it simple rather than fiddling around with lemon curd and glaze, just dust the top of the cakes with icing sugar and you’ll be good to go. All the cup measurements were made using a 250 ml mug and a bit of eye-judgement when fractions of a cup were needed. The quantities below give about 18 smallish cupcakes or one layer of a normal-sized layer cake.

Let’s start with the cake…

What you’ll need:

2 eggs, separated

1/2 cup margarine

1 cup white sugar

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (or bottled if you must)

1 1/2 cups self-raising flour

Pinch salt

What to do:

1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5 and prepare your cupcake cases or cake tin.

2. In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff and then put aside until later.


3. In a new bowl, thoroughly cream the margarine and sugar.



4. Add the egg yolks to the margarine and sugar one at a time, beating thoroughly after adding each one.



5. Mix the lemon juice into the marg/sugar/egg yolk mixture.



6. Sift and fold the flour and salt into the marg/sugar/egg yolk mixture.




7. Carefully fold the egg whites into the main mixture.



8. Spoon the cake batter in cupcake cases (I used a very generous dessertspoonful in each) or pour into the cake tin, and then bake in the pre-heated oven until done. Leave to cool before adding the extras.

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Now for the extras…

Adding lemon curd:

I don’t have much in the way of very fancy kitchen gadgets and sadly cupboard space is beginning to preclude my acquisition of such things, but that’s no bad thing because I generally want to keep things on this blog simple, and so you don’t need lots of extra gadgets to make delicious things. So we’re going to fill the cupcakes the old-fashioned way. Cut a little cone of the middle of each cupcake and then put a little dollop of lemon curd in the hole. Next, put the cone back on the cupcake – you might need to cut the pointed tip of the cone to get it to fit nicely in place – I was a bit lazy on that score and so the tops of my cupcakes aren’t as smooth as they could have been… It helps to try put align the edges of the cone so that it goes back roughly into the same place as it came from. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to glaze them cupcakes.



Making and glazing the cupcakes:

1. Mix 2 1/2 cups of icing sugar with 1/2 cup of lemon juice.

2. Spoon the glaze over each cupcake. Move the cupcake around to cover all of it with the glaze and then let the excess drip back into the bowl. It is best to do this one at a time over the bowl. (You’ll have to imagine this process as I didn’t get any photos…)

3. For a thicker glaze (which I went for), once you’ve finished glazing all the cupcakes once, repeat the whole process again. The glaze will keep the cones that were cut out of the cupcakes and then put back on them again in place. Leave the cupcakes to one side to let the glaze set before making yourself a nice cup of tea and indulging in a lovely lemon cupcake (or three).



Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Lemon Curd

I love lemon curd and have done since I was quite young. I can, and regularly do, eat it by the spoonful – something along the lines of a bit for my toast…and a bit extra just for me. For everyday-use I love lemon curd on my morning toast – a little taste of lightness and warm days which provides a great reminder that spring is well and truly now on the way to Britain. But there are myriad ways to use it – try it on scones or crumpets, with meringues or as a filling for cake. My recipe isn’t too sweet (both J and I like our lemon curd with a bit of tangy sourness) so if you like yours very sweet, just add a bit more sugar. This makes 2-3 jars, depending on the size of the jar and how long you cook it for. As usual, all measurements were made using a 250 ml mug.


What you’ll need:

7 lemons (about medium sized)

2 1/3 – 2 1/2 cups of white sugar

4 eggs

1/2 cup margarine or butter (I used butter-flavoured marg)

What to do:

1. Grate the zest of 3-4 of the 7 lemons into a heatproof bowl (or the top of a double boiler, which I don’t have).



2. Add the juice of all 7 lemons to the zest. I usually squeeze the lemons over a sieve over the bowl to avoid getting pips and flesh in the mixture.



3. Add the sugar, eggs and marg/butter to the lemon juice and zest.


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4. Whisk everything together well. The main thing is to beat the eggs, lemon juice and sugar thoroughly – don’t worry if you still have lumps of margarine or butter. Or even better, do what I didn’t do and whisk the lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar and eggs together and then mix in the marg/butter.

IMG_7918(Thankfully, the end result looks and tastes much better than one might think from this picture!)

5. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and cook gently, stirring all the time with a whisk or wooden spoon (if you’re going to use a wooden spoon, start with a whisk, at least until the marg/butter has melted to ensure it all gets mixed in properly). Keep cooking until the mixture thickens, which will take about 20-30 minutes. If you’re not sure whether the mixture has finished cooking, put a bit of it on a spoon in the freezer for a couple of minutes to see what consistency it has when cold – you are aiming for a spreadable consistency and the mixture will thicken slightly as it cools. If you do do this freezer test, keep cooking the mixture on a very low heat whilst you wait for the mixture in the freezer to cool – just in case it isn’t quite ready.




6. Once the mixture has thickened, pour it into clean glass jars. If you’d prefer not to have bits of zest in your finished lemon curd, strain it before putting it into the jars. Leave the jars uncovered while the mixture cools, and then put the lids on the jars and store the lemon curd in the fridge.


Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Shrove Tuesday and Caramel Sauce

Today is Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day which marks the start of Lent. Traditionally pancakes were eaten on Shrove Tuesday as a way of using up ingredients before people starting fasting during the 40 days of Lent, which symbolise the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness at the start of His ministry. Although today we may not give up things like fat and eggs during Lent, many people do give up something, like chocolate or alcohol. If you’re planning to give something up, I’d like to challenge you to think about why you are doing so and what it really means to you. And if you’re not planning to give something up then why not start doing something instead, like reading the Bible and taking time each day to reflect on what the cross and Easter are all about.

This year I feel like pancakes have been everywhere for me – we had them last night with friends, it was pancakes for pudding today at the pensioners’ lunch club that our church runs once a month and we’ll be having pancakes this evening for supper – sadly (for me) my husband, J, will probably beat me in any flip-pancakes-and-see-how-many-actually-make-it-fully-back-into-the-pan competitions we might hold tonight. I don’t know about you, but the thought of standing over a pan making a large medium (we’re not that greedy) quantity of pancakes seriously disinclines me from making anything else for supper, so we sometimes start with savoury pancakes made with chopped tomato and grated cheese (and you can add some bacon if you’re someone who can’t be without meat at your evening meal) before moving onto sweet pancakes. Both of us are fairly traditional in the way we like our pancakes – lemon, maple syrup, a sprinkle of cinnamon and a dash (or a glug if it is me pouring) of cream. Today, however, I thought I’d mix things up a little and make some caramel sauce to go with our pancakes. And then I thought I’d share the recipe here, in case you too would like caramel sauce on your pancakes. As usual, all the cup measurements were made using a 250 ml mug. The basic quantities make about three quarters to one cup of sauce. You can make this go further by adding more cream once the basic sauce is cool (which you can also do if you prefer a runnier consistency) or by doubling the recipe, or both.


What you’ll need:

1/2 cup of cold water

A small squeeze of lemon juice

7 rounded dessertspoons light brown sugar

3/4 cup double cream (plus more if you want a runny-ish sauce)

What do do:

Sadly I didn’t take any pictures as I made this, so you’ll have to imagine them. Place the water, lemon juice and sugar in a pan and bring to the boil whilst gently stirring the whole time. Then boil vigorously (I had mine on very nearly full heat) for about four minutes, gently stirring every so often to stop bits of sugar sticking to the bottom. Towards the end of this time the large bubbles should have subsided and you’ll have a syrupy but still very bubbly mixture at the bottom of the pan. Turn off the heat and then slowly add the cream, mixing as you do so. Pour the sauce into a jug and cool completely. As I mentioned above, if you want slightly more sauce or a runnier consistency (the mixture will thicken as it cools) add extra cream once the sauce is cool (or as it is cooling if you’re as impatient as me). If you do add extra cream, do so by small amounts, completely mixing the cream in after each dollop and tasting it frequently to make sure you’re happy with the taste. Adding a lot of extra cream in one go entails the risk that it the sauce will no longer be sweet enough – if that happens, I suggest you make up some more sugar/water/lemon mixture and then mix the sauce/cream into it when you turn off the heat.



IMG_7904 Happy pancake eating!!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The Perils of Working From Home

I work/study at home most days, and most of the time it’s fine. Apart from what seems to be an at least once daily interruption to try market something to me. These interruptions come in two forms – by phone and in person.

The telephone version usually runs something like this: couple of rings of the phone before it finally penetrates my conscious that the phone is actually ringing; debate about whether to answer the phone or not, seeing as it will probably be a computer trying to sell me something; mad and perilous dash down our slightly steep stairs; burst through the living room door and leap at the phone; answer, usually saying, “Hello” at least twice before hearing a click and a “Hello” or a “Do not hang up. This is an important/free message…”; I hang up. The alternate version is fairly similar but slightly more frustrating as I don’t get to actually hang up on the computer – in that version the phone usually stops ringing as I’m making the final lunge for it.

The person version can be a more positive experience, like when its the postman with a newly ordered book from Amazon. But most often it is a young man, often early to mid-twenties, trying to look dapper in varying degrees of smart clothes and gelled-hair (not that I’ve got a problem with smart clothes and gelled hair) who is either going to try sell me something or get me to give just £2 a month to the disabled goldfish in need of new castles for their fishbowls, or other such charity. Now I’ve got no problem with giving money to charity, but here’s the thing – I want to choose which charities. I do not want to be disturbed and made to feel like a really bad person on my own doorstep for refusing to support whichever charity is currently being offered. I’ve taken to checking who’s at the door from the upstairs window (about a 75% success rate of being able to actually see the person) before deciding whether to answer the door or not and quite often it’s not.

The funny thing is – I feel a bit guilty when I don’t answer the phone or the door (which is probably why I risk breaking my neck rushing downstairs to answer the phone a number of times a week). It must be a deeply-ingrained thing that says to not do so is socially unacceptable. Well, I’m throwing that rule out. Until such marketing ploys are banned, apologies in advance if you try to phone or visit and get no response. I love to see/hear from people I know, but I’m obviously having a particularly interruptive day (why do marketing people think such tactics will put their target audience in a good and receptive mood – it has the opposite effect on me). Try my mobile or stand closer to the door so I can’t see you from the upstairs window (though that’s still no guarantee I’ll answer). Or come back in the evening when J (my husband) is home. He is much nicer than me and he is quite likely to respond.

Rant over. Well done if you made it to the end of this post. And if you did, I’m curious to know how others deal with these types of interruptions – would you/do you ever ignore them, or is it just me?