Monday, 19 May 2008

Soozy's Steak Guinness and Maple Syrup Stew

I had some steak pieces I needed to use. Now what to make. I remembered I saw this recipe from SoozyB getting rave reviews on Vi's Pantry Foodie forum. It is wonderful. So simple. I have made stews with Guinness before and have sometimes found them just a tad bitter. Not so this one. The maple syrup adds another dimension. Not too sweet just simply mouthwatering. Perfect with home made hearth breads to mop up the gravy.
This is Soozy's recipe

You need a casserole or pot with a lid that goes in the oven.

Amounts are approximate

Stewing or casserole beef, trimmed of excess fat - about 750g
1 1/2 large onions chopped into largish pieces
6 large carrots, peeled, halved and each half cut into quarters lengthways - you want thick batons
A handful of mushrooms, halved
2 tblsp plain flour
olive oil
salt and pepper
a handful of dried mushrooms, soaked and chopped very finely (keep the soaking liquid)
2 good beef stock cubes
2 small tomatoes peeled and finely chopped
1 can Guinness
3 tblsp maple syrup

Here's what I did:

Cut the beef into cubes and toss in a bag with the flour and salt and pepper.
Fry in batches over a high heat in the oil until browned.
Keep to one side in a bowl.
Add a bit more oil and fry the onion until slightly coloured then add the carrots and mushrooms.
Toss about a bit in the oil and then add the beef and all it's juices back to the pan.
Add the strained mushroom liquid and the stock cubes, and stir well to scrape all the lovely bits off the bottom of the pan.
Pour in the Guinness, and add the maple syrup, chopped tomatoes and soaked and chopped mushrooms. Bring to a simmer and put the lid on. Put in the oven for at 160C for two hours or until the gravy has reduced and thickened and the meat is meltingly tender.

About 15 minutes before serving, add some halved and boiled new potatoes.

Serve in large warm bowls, with crusty bread to mop up the gravy.

Good filling stuff.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Home Made Beef Burgers

I love a beef burger. A decent home made beef burger that is. I'm afraid I wouldn't give the mass produced ones house room. I prefer to know what is in my food. These are delicious and very easy. Much tastier than the junk you buy in supermarkets. Really thick and juicy. Lovely grub.
The history of hamburgers is somewhat hazy and debatable since there is no clear documentation to chronicle its origin. However, many claim that the first hamburger 'patty' was born in medieval times when the Tartars (a band of Mongolian and Turkish warriors) placed pieces of beef under their saddles [This also happens to be the origin for the modern dish, beef tartare. ] . The meat, tenderised when the warriors rode, would then be eaten raw, oblivious of the dangers of food poisoning. The ancestor of the modern hamburger arrived at American shores in the 19th Century when German immigrants brought with them a dish called Hamburg style beef, which, in turn, had been brought to Hamburg from Russia some time around the 14th Century. It was in America that this raw, chopped piece of beef would evolve over time to become the succulent patty sandwiched in a bun that we call a hamburger.

This Recipe comes from Jamie's Dinners (Jamie Oliver). The only adjustment I made was to add a little chilli sauce to the mixture which gives a lovely flavour.

  • 1kg/2lb 3oz chuck steak, or good minced steak
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • olive oil
  • a pinch of cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • sea salt and freshly ground
  • black pepper
  • a handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 heaped tablespoon
  • English mustard
  • 1 large free-range egg
  • 115g/4oz breadcrumbs

If you're using chuck steak to make your burgers, slice it up and pulse it in a food processor. Transfer the meat to a bowl. In a big frying pan, slowly cook the onion in a little olive oil for about 5 minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the onion to the meat - it will give sweetness to the burger. Using a pestle and mortar, bash up the cumin and coriander seeds with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper until fine and add to the meat. Then add the Parmesan, mustard, egg and half the breadcrumbs and mix well. If the mixture is too sticky, add a few more breadcrumbs.

Lay some greaseproof paper on a tray or large plate and sprinkle over some of the remaining breadcrumbs. Shape the meat into 8 fat burgers and place these on top of the crumbs on the tray. Sprinkle more crumbs on top and press down gently. The burgers are better if they are chilled before cooking, so put them in the fridge for an hour or so. Take your burgers out of the fridge and fry them in a little oil on a medium to high heat for about 8 to 10 minutes.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

The Softest Bread

I love making bread. I am not sure why. The silky feel of kneaded dough? The visual wonder of watching it increase to such a size as it reacts to the yeast? The simple satisfaction of punching it down? The air redolent with the smell of freshly made bread? I have no idea but it never takes much encouragement for me to carry out this most satisfying of tasks. The reward is tearing off a piece straight from the oven, spreading it thickly with butter and just savouring the taste of warm fresh bread as the butter runs down your chin. Bread is merely flour, water, yeast and salt as the world is merely earth, water, fire and air. These four elemental ingredients-grain from the fields,water from mountain streams, leavening from wild yeasts in the air and salt from the sea- have been combined since Roman days to make the breads of Italy. In a country where the family is the primary source of physical and emotional sustenance, bread celebrates the richest and simplest of pleasures of daily living. It is the single inevitable presence at the table during all three meals of the day, for no Italian would contemplate a meal without bread. This from a lovely book, 'Bread in Italy' by Carol Field which was a gift from my lovely Italian friend Carlotta. I was reading through it for the umpteenth time when a recipe caught my eye. Pane in Cassetta which is basically sandwich bread. What made me look twice was the promise of a fine crust and a soft bread. It was however baked in a Pullman pan which is a large loaf pan with a sliding lid. I cast about for something I could use to replicate this pan and hit on the idea of placing another loaf tin on top. The result was truly amazing. Such a soft loaf which indeed is perfect for sandwiches but so much nicer than the sandwich loaves we are used to seeing in the supermarkets. The basic recipe is the same as for all bread. The difference is in the folding. I reduced the amounts as the Pullman pan is 13 inches in length and although I have extra large loaf tins they are not as big as the required pan.

600gms/1lb 6oz white bread flour
400mls/14fl.oz tepid water
50gms/2oz lard melted
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teasps salt
One envelope or a teasp of fast action yeast.

Mix all the ingredients together and knead for ten minutes by hand/ five mins with a dough hook in the mixer/approx 1 minute in the food processor.
Form into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl covered with cling film and leave in a warm place until doubled in size-about an hour.

Flatten the dough on a lightly floured work surface to expel the air bubbles.
Roll out to form a rectangle approx 9"x15"/23cmsx40cms.
Fold in thirds like a business letter then roll out and fold again.
Flatten the dough to fit into the buttered floured pan.
The strong and compact dough should fill the pan about half way
Place another pan of the same size, well buttered, on top.

Leave to rise in a warm place for approx 1/2 -1 hour covered with the other tin. It should rise to nearly the top of the tin.
Bake in a pre-heated oven 200.C/400.F/Gas 6 for an hour.
Gently unmould onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

A wonderfully soft flavoursome loaf

Notes The pans I used measured 23.5x19.3x6.99cms/9.25x5.25x2.75 inches
You can substitute oil instead of lard but this will make a difference to the texture.
Remember lard has half the saturated fat of butter.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Cucumber,Ginger and Vanilla Jam

When Cucumber Jam was mentioned by Shyvas on a thread on Vi's Pantry, a foodie forum I subscribe to, I was intrigued. When I saw the recipe and realised it was Cucumber Ginger and Vanilla jam I was even more intrigued. It was crying to be made. I did and I am so glad I did. it is wonderful. I had no idea what to expect but this is a keeper. Shyvas suggested eating it with feta and that is exactly what I did on a nice thick slice of Brown Soda Bread. It belongs with cheese. I cannot rave about this enough. It is sweet but with the tongue tingling ginger through it and the hint of vanilla it is a taste experience not to be missed. You cannot believe what an wonderful combination of flavours it is until you have tried it. It's not difficult to make and it is very quick .

500gms Cucumber
80gms Ginger
1 Vanilla Pod
350gms jam Sugar

Weigh the sugar and put into a large saucepan
Cut the vanilla pod in two, de-seed and put pod and seeds into the sugar
Chop the cucumber into tiny cubes
Peel and cut the ginger into tiny pieces
Add both cucumber and ginger to the sugar and vanilla and mix well.
Leave for two hours
Bring to the boil stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Keep at a rolling boil for 7 minutes.
Pour into sterilised warm jars.

Note: If using granulated sugar it will take 15-20 minutes to reach a set.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Jamie's Fish with Leeks and Bacon

I like fish but I hate the bones. Any recipe for cod loins or salmon fillets I will go straight for as there are no problems with bones. This from Jamie Oliver's 'Jamie at Home' is right up my street. It is so quick and easy. I love the smoked bacon with the fish. It was only recently I discovered that it really is a very tasty combination. Any white fish can be used in this.

Roasted White Fish and Leeks

Serves 4

16 baby leeks washed and trimmed
4x200gm fillets of white fish
1 large lemon cut into 8 thin wedges
4 sprigs of rosemary
8 rashers of smoked streaky bacon

for the marinade
a couple of sprigs each of rosemary thyme and bay leaves.
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
juice of 1/2 a lemon

Preheat the oven to 200.c/400.f/gas6 and place a baking tray in the oven to warm up
To make the marinade bash up the thyme rosemary and bay leaves with the salt in a pestle and mortar until the salt has turned green. Pour in two glugs of olive oil, a pinch of pepper and the lemon juice and give it a stir.
Parboil the leeks in salted water for about three minutes. Drain in a colander and let them steam dry.
Put the fish, lemon, rosemary sprigs and leeks into a bowl. Pour in the marinade and toss to cover everything.
Place the fish into the preheated tray.
Scoop the lemon rosemary leeks and marinade out of the bowl and place over and around the fish and roast in the oven for approx. 15 -20mins until the fish is just cooked and the bacon is crisp.
Pile up on a plate and serve.

Sometimes I add a few prawns or scallops. Delicious


Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Left Over Jewels

When ever I make pastry there is always some left over. I hate waste. It must be the Scot in me. I make these with the scraps and bake them with the main event. They are just a perfect little mouthful. Little Jam Tarts with creme fraiche.

Mushroom Tomato and Feta Quiche

I simply love a quiche. It speaks to me of summer meals. A baked potato and salad are just perfect with it. Although quiche is now a classic dish of French cuisine, quiche actually originated in Germany, in the medieval kingdom of Lothringen, under German rule, and which the French later renamed Lorraine. The word ‘quiche’ is from the German ‘Kuchen’, meaning cake.
The original ‘quiche Lorraine’ was an open pie with a filling consisting of an egg and cream custard with smoked bacon. It was only later that cheese was added to the quiche Lorraine. Add onions and you have quiche Alsacienne. The bottom crust was originally made from bread dough, but that has long since evolved into a short-crust or puff pastry crust.

I have long looked for what to me is the perfect quiche or, savoury tart, and in this recipe I think I have found it. I used Angela Nilsen's The Ultimate Recipe Book for some tips and tricks. For instance milk should not be used in the custard as it makes it heavy. A mix of cream and and creme fraiche or sour cream gives it a wonderful silky softness. Grated cheese should not be incorporated into the custard as it makes it heavy and dense. Cubes or thin slices of cheese are the thing to use. A little grated parmesan or cheddar on the top while baking will turn it golden brown without over cooking the custard.
I have tried various mixes for the pastries but have found the plain half fat to flour basic shortcrust mix does just as well if not better than the richer varieties. It is easier to crisp up.

This recipe will make a 23cm/9inch quiche and give you about 8 slices.

Plain Shortcrust Pastry

225 gms/8oz flour
100gms/4oz butter very cold cut into cubes
Iced water to bind

Rich Shortcrust pastry

250gm/9oz flour
145gm /-5oz butter very cold cut into cubes
1 egg + 80ml v cold water


5-6 largeish mushrooms chopped (more if you like)
100gms/4 oz Feta Cheese chopped
6-8 sun dried tomatoes chopped

200mls double cream
200mls sour cream/creme fraiche
3 eggs well beaten
Grating of nutmeg
Good grind black pepper
1 Tblsp Tarragon vinegar
A little butter
Handful of grated parmesan


Blend flour and butter to crumbs in processor
Add 1 egg(if using) + 80ml v cold water and pulse until dough forms into a ball.
Roll out to fit the tin, leave a little extra depth above the edge of the quiche pan to allow for shrinkage.
Prick the bottom with a fork, then chill the tart case in the freezer.

Heat Oven to 200.C/Fan180.C/Gas 6 and slip a baking sheet in

After about 30 minutes, cover the pastry in a layer of greaseproof paper or foil and put either baking stones, or dried beans on the top to keep the pastry down.
Bake in the oven on the baking sheet for 15 minutes or so.
Remove the beans and paper an pop the tart case back in the oven for 4-5mins


Prepare while tart case is baking

Melt the butter in a pan add the mushrooms and tarragon vinegar and allow to just cook. Remove from heat and set aside
Beat the sour cream/creme fraiche and cream together and beat in the eggs adding a good grind of pepper and grated nutmeg.
Place the mushrooms chopped feta cheese and tomatoes in the base of the tart case
Pull the oven shelf out a wee bit and place the tart back on the baking sheet. (This method makes it easier to fill the case)
Gently pour the egg mix into the case until full to the top.
Scatter Parmesan over the surface.

Lower oven temp to 190.C/Fan170.C/Gas5
Bake for about 25 mins or until golden and softly set. The centre should not feel too firm
Allow to settle for 5 mins before removing from the tin.

I do find the semi-dried tomatoes that I make myself work really well in this but shop bought sun dried tomatoes will do. If you use fresh tomatoes remove some of the seeds and core

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Perfect Spring Day

This was the first warm day this year. Wall to wall sunshine and not a cloud in the sky. The blossom has exploded all round the garden. The crab apple blossom is unfurling it's wonderful pink buds to reveal white flowers within. Come autumn the fruits will be bright cherry red. They will last well into the winter. The birds love them so it gives a little extra cheer for our feathered friends when times are hard.

The cherry blossom is just at it's best. It lasts such a short time but it is oh so pretty. In another few days it will blow across the lawn like pink confetti. Come Autumn it's leaves will turn scarlet and gold a final show of beauty before the winter settles in

Monday, 5 May 2008

Simply Salmon

When you haven't time to slave in the kitchen this has to be one of the quickest yet most elegant of meals. Fillet of salmon fried in butter with a few prawns served on a bed of wilted spinach and topped with lemon and parsley butter. It takes ten minutes. I like to serve this with boiled baby new potatoes. They take about twenty minutes to cook. So put the spuds on to boil, pour yourself a glass of wine and take a leisurely swig. Pop a good heavy pan on the heat and melt some butter and a little oil. In another large pan melt some more butter and oil. Pop the salmon and prawns in the pan and fry for a few minutes when you turn them over pop the spinach in the large pan and stir it down. When it has wilted you should be all ready to serve. Just squeeze some lemon juice over the fish. Drain your potatoes. All done. Carry your plate and your glass of wine to the table and enjoy. Now what could be simpler than that?
The lemon and parsley butter is really just a nob of butter with a couple of sprigs of parsley and the zest of a lemon popped on top.

Vanilla Shorties

I love shortbread and find it a wonderful base recipe for trying different flavours. It makes a lovely crisp little biscuit and is so simple and rewarding to make. The idea of adding vanilla is not new but making a biscuit with vanilla seeds vanilla sugar and then adding vanilla icing intrigued me greatly. A really intense vanilla flavour was the natural outcome and yet it remained delicate and not at all overwhelming. A perfect little bite and one I will repeat often. I found the recipe on a lovely blog by LisaRenee called 'Little Bits'.
The recipe was the same basic recipe I use for shortbread. It called for vanilla flavoured confectioner's sugar. I was unsure if this was our icing sugar or caster sugar although I have a feeling it is the former. I did not have vanilla flavoured icing sugar so I used the vanilla flavoured caster sugar I had. This is my version of the recipe.

Vanilla Shorties

225gms/8oz soft butter
100gms/4oz vanilla bean infused caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
225gms/8oz plain flour
100gms/4oz cornflour

Preheat oven to 150.C/300°F/Gas 2

Cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and the seeds from one vanilla pod and beat until smooth.
Add the flour and cornflour and mix to a dough. Using your hands at the end to combine is the easiest option as it is quite crumby
Roll out until about 1/2 cm thick
Cut into shapes of your choice
Bake at for about 25 minutes (better to under bake then over bake), or until bottoms just begin to brown.
Cool for 5 minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

When biscuits have cooled spread them with a thin layer of vanilla icing.

Vanilla Icing

225gms/8oz icing sugar sugar
2 tsp cream and 2 teasps milk combined
¼ teaspoon vanilla paste
Combine in a small bowl, adding more milk to reach desired consistency.

Makes about 24 biscuits

The oven temperature was a lot cooler than I would normally bake shortbread but LisaRene advised this to keep the shortbread pale. It worked very well and the biscuits were still lovely and crisp.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Spring Beauty

Winter heathers fade, April gives way to May and this wonderful rhododendron turns from a mass of dull green leaves into a profusion of gorgeous pink flowers. It is the first burst of colour in my garden and it never fails to thrill me. It heralds the arrival of summer along with the swallows who have finally finished their long journey north.


I have definitely been in left over mode this week. I always have Ragu sauce in the freezer. I was at a loss as to what to make for dinner tonight and as I love Lasagne there was no contest really. I am not going to laboriously type out a recipe for Ragu as everyone has their own favourite way of making it. I will however pass on a little tip. I have found in the past that sometimes the sauce was missing a little 'oomph'. I have heard others say the same. I suppose that's when we reach for the bottles and jars of various herbs spices or other condiments to try and give it the flavour we want to achieve. My earth shattering discovery is this. Don't cook it on the hob cook it long and slow in the oven. Perhaps the flavours intensify with this method of cooking. I don't really know. What I do know is it works and it's the only way I cook it now. If you leave it overnight before using it's even better. I make a really thick cheese sauce using 75gms butter, 500mls/ 1pint of milk and 100gms/4oz cheese. I also use dried lasagne sheets but boil them in water with a little oil in a roasting tin for a few minutes to soften them. Then it is just layering up with a hefty covering of parmesan cheese on top then into the oven until it's golden and bubbling. Served with Garlic Hearth Breads and a Tomato and Basil Salad it's a feast.