Thursday, 26 April 2012

Beef and cannellini bean stew

The weather here has been so wet, cold and miserable that we’ve turned to cheering ourselves up with lovely casseroles and stews again!  After a few particularly miserably wet days I thought this delicious stew would be just the ticket to bring some much needed warmth to our bones and put a smile back on our faces! 

This is real hearty fare, and a complete meal in itself.  It takes no time to put together, and will require nothing more from you than an occasional stir while it sits in the oven for four hours.  It’s another one of those lovely frugal meals, the beans bag out the meat to stretch it further and uses one of those cheap cuts of beef that respond so well to long slow cooking. 

You could begin, as you would with other casseroles, by browning the meat and the vegetables; but to be honest there is so much flavour in this with the Guinness and the long slow cooking that if you skip that step, you won’t miss it. 

The quantities I give below will feed four people, generously.  You can either halve it for two people, or make the whole amount and keep half of it back for another day.  It won’t freeze very well because the vegetables will become too soft, but it will sit in the fridge for a day or two without coming to any harm.  

4 oz/1 cup of dried cannellini beans
2 baby or 1 large leek
½ a large swede (rutabaga)
2 medium carrots
1 stick of celery
1 medium turnip
1 medium potato
½ lb shin of beef (or any suitable casserole/stewing beef)
1 440ml can Guinness
1tb Worcestershire sauce
1 tb tomato puree
1 sprig rosemary
2 bayleaves
1 pint beef stock
1tb flour
Salt and pepper to taste 

Starting the night before you want to make your casserole, soak the cannellini beans in plenty of boiling water, with a pinch of bicarbonate of soda to soften the skins. 

Prepare the vegetables by washing and peeling and then start dicing the leek, chopping the stick of celery quite small, chopping the carrots, swede and turnip into quite big chunks and adding to a large ovenproof casserole.  Cut the beef into big pieces and add to the vegetables.  Add the tablespoon of flour and mix well with your hands.  Chop the rosemary and add that to the pan, together with the bayleaves and season to taste.  Pour in the Guinness, Worcestershire sauce, stock and then add the tomato puree.  Cut the potato into big pieces and add that, together with the drained cannellini beans and then give everything a good stir.  Put a firm fitting lid on and pop into a low oven to cook for 4 hours.  I cooked mine at 160oC (300oF / gas mark 2).  Stir it from time to time, and add some more hot water if it seems to be drying out at all before the cooking time is up. 

Best served on one of those days when the rain is lashing the windows, a gale is howling and with a good helping of freshly baked bread!!   

A brandy sipped quietly by a roaring fire would finish it perfectly; but we can’t have everything can we!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012


The trifle I made for Hubby's birthday last year

Ahhh the great British trifle!  My whole family love a trifle, it’s a real family institution!  For us the distinction between ‘family gathering’ and ‘family celebration’ is made by the absence or presence of a trifle.   

Over the years we’ve served them for birthday parties, our engagement party, our wedding party after we eloped (!) and on one stirling occasion in memory of our beloved Grandmother’s 100th birthday party. Sadly she had died 19 years earlier but we never have a get-together without raising a glass to her and it seemed churlish to let something so small stop us celebrating on her behalf.  She would have approved, wholeheartedly!! 

There are as many variations in recipe and method as there are families, and even within families there are slight differences in how we make it.  The method I give below is how I make it – and I make a pretty good trifle by all accounts! 

It is usual to add a good measure of Sherry to the sponge layer, but my hubby doesn’t like it so I tend to leave it out.  You can add Limoncello if you are so inclined, it would go very well with fresh raspberries. 

The base of the trifle was traditionally made with leftover sponge cake, but in my family it is always made with a jam-only swiss roll; it does need to be jam only, jam and cream won’t work at all!  You could of course use sponge cake, or trifle sponges sandwiched together with jam instead. 

The fruit I use depends on whether fresh raspberries are available, and don’t need a mortgage to buy!  Out of season I’ll use a small tin of mandarin oranges – in juice, never ever in syrup. 

The custard layer I make is custard powder, milk, and double cream.  If you can’t get custard powder, or don’t like custard then just make up a packet of blancmange as per packet directions and use that instead. 
Side view, showing the layers

Trifles are all about the layering.  Precise quantities are difficult to give because it depends on the size of your bowl, but to give you a guide, these are the quantities that I’ve always used and suit the bowl pictured.

1 small jam only swiss roll
1 or 2 packets (depending on size) fresh raspberries
1 x 135g pack of raspberry jelly
1 pint of custard made up as described below
1 pint of double or whipping cream
1 Cadbury’s Flake

You really need to begin the trifle the morning of the day before you want to serve it as the jelly layer and the custard layer both need time to set before proceeding with the subsequent layers. 

To start, prepare the jelly according to the packet directions and leave to cool.  Wash and pick over the raspberries and leave to drain.  Slice up the swiss roll and arrange the slices over the bottom of your trifle bowl.  Scatter the raspberries over the top; don’t even bother with pretty arrangements as I once did as the jelly will disarrange everything!  Once the jelly is cool, pour gently over the sponge and raspberry layer and pop into the fridge for several hours until it has set.   

To make the creamy custard I use 3tb of custard powder, 1½ tb sugar and half a pint of milk, and proceed as per the directions on the tin.  Plunge the pan/bowl of custard into a sink of cold water to cool it and stir frequently to stop a skin from forming.  While the custard is setting whip half a pint of cream to the thickly set, but not completely firm stage.  As soon as the custard is cool enough, fold the whipped cream into it and stir gently until the cream and the custard are thoroughly combined.  When it is completely cold, add to the jelly layer of the trifle and put back into the fridge to set overnight. 

The following morning simply whip the remaining half pint of cream as thick as you like it to be – I like it quite thick.  Finally, crumble over the Flake and your trifle is ready to serve!

Malt Loaf

I was helping out at a cricket tea recently and slicing up a very dry looking shop-bought malt loaf got me thinking about the first time I ever tasted malt loaf.  I don’t know if my tastes have changed over the years, or if the malt loaf (same brand!) tasted a lot nicer 30 years ago!! 

Then, in the way only an addled middle-aged memory can, my mind wandered off down a path and fast-forwarded to 20 years ago when I used to make malt loaf, from a recipe an Aunt gave me.  I used to soak the bran and fruit overnight, and come home after my stint at the colliery where I worked then and finish mixing and then bake it. 

It’s very much like my bara brith recipe in that you leave half the ingredients soaking overnight then just stir in a beaten egg and flour to finish. 

This is a lovely breakfast bread, the bran and fruit in it very good for the digestive system and it’s a fat free loaf too.  It’s absolutely delicious toasted and then spread with butter, but equally good cold and with a slice of cheese on the side! 

I hope you enjoy this lovely simple loaf as much as my family did.
After soaking, before adding the egg

1 cup self raising flour
1 egg
1 cup all bran
1 cup mixed fruit
½ cup sugar
1 cup milk 

Place the all bran, fruit, sugar and milk in a large basin and leave overnight to soak. 

The following day, stir in a beaten egg and then add the flour and mix well. 

Turn into a lined 2lb loaf tin and bake at 180oC (350oF / gas mark 4) for an hour.

I would like to dedicate this recipe to my late Auntie Marj, who kindly gave me the recipe.  Gone, but never forgotten.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Dinner in a Yorkshire pudding!

This has been one of my standby meals for more years than I care to remember!  It truly is a dinner in a dish, as it all cooks in one casserole in the oven.  The vegetables bulk it out and can help stretch a little meat quite a long way so this is quite a frugal little dish. 

On working days this is something that could be put together the evening before and left to simmer quietly in the oven for a few hours, needing absolutely no attention from you at all.  All you’d need to do after work then is make the Yorkshire pudding and re-heat the filling in the oven at the same time. 

For two of us I used : 

½ lb (250g) minced beef
½ a swede (rutabaga)
1 medium carrot
1 onion
1 large potato
1tb flour
2tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp mixed herbs (sage, thyme, rosemary etc)
¾ pint of hot beef stock
Salt and pepper to taste 

Firstly peel and dice the onion, sweat gently in a little olive oil.  Peel and dice the carrot and swede, and add to the onion.  Sweat gently for 10 minutes.  Remove to a dish. 

Add the minced beef to the empty pan and brown, then return the vegetables to the pan.  Add the flour, herbs, Worcestershire sauce and gradually the beef stock, stirring to eliminate the risk of lumps forming.   

Peel the potato and cut into big chunks, and add to the minced beef in the pan.  Stir, bring to a simmer and then pop into a low oven for 2 hours.  I cooked mine at 160oF (300oC / gas mark 2). 

To make the Yorkshire Pudding I used : 

1 x 8” sandwich tin 

3oz plain flour
1 egg
3 fl oz milk
2 fl oz water
Salt and pepper to taste 

Place the flour in a mixing bowl and season, make a well in the centre and add the egg, milk and water.  Beat well so that there are no lumps whatsoever in the mixture.  Traditionally it’s made the night before and left to sit, the longer you can leave the batter mixture the better. 

When you are ready, grease the sandwich tin well and heat in the oven (it needs to be very hot), pour the batter mixture into the tin and cook for 25 to 30 minutes at 220oC (425oF/gas mark 7). 

(I made mine before making the casserole and just re-heated it at the last minute when we were ready to eat)

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Corned Beef Pie

This is a classic hand-me-down recipe here in the Valleys, and almost every family has its own version.  Traditionally made on an enamel pie plate, or old dinner plate, it is incredibly versatile and can be fancied up (!) by making it in a deeper pie dish (quantities adjusted accordingly), or even in a big tin for feeding larger numbers at buffets etc. 

As simple as this pie is, it is such a well loved one in my family.  Not a gathering is complete unless we have a ‘corned dog pie’! 

Some families include carrot in their recipe, others tomato or brown sauce.  This is the version that my family makes.  The quantities below will make either a generous plate pie, or a standard Pyrex quiche dish pie.   

I used : 

1 tin corned beef
2 medium potatoes
1 medium or 2 small onions
2 tsp mixed herbs
2-3 tsp dried sage 

1 packet of shortcrust pastry
1 egg to glaze 

First, peel and cut the potatoes into small pieces and then boil them.  Dice the onions and add to the boiling potatoes to cook. 

Cut the corned beef into chunks and add to a large mixing bowl.   

When the potatoes are cooked drain and mash them with the onions.  Add to the bowl containing the corned beef and mix everything together.  The heat from the potatoes will soften the corned beef and make the mixing easier.  Add the herbs and give it another good mix.  I like my pie to taste quite herby so I’m generous with the herbs.  If you prefer, just add a teaspoon at a time and taste, adding more until you like the flavour.  Season to taste with salt.

Roll out your pastry and line the plate or baking dish.  Add the corned beef mixture to the dish and cover with a pastry lid.  Brush with beaten egg and bake in a hot oven until the pastry is golden. 

I'd like to dedicate this recipe to my first husband, who always loved my corned beef pies!  With much love and affection, and thanks for all the happy times.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Chilli con carne

I’m almost too ashamed to post this recipe, being as far removed from the genuine thing as it is probably possible to get!   

Back in the 70’s my Mum began experimenting with quite different dishes from her usual repertoire.  They didn’t make a frequent appearance, but were a real treat when they did appear.  This is my version of the chilli that she used to make. 

I generally use either pinto beans or red kidney beans.  The version pictured is made using black eyed beans as they were to hand and I wanted to use them up.  You see my shame! 

The recipe below is a very generous one.  There’s no sense in making something like this, that is going to take several hours cooking time and will freeze so well, in small portions.  Once cooked I portion it up in plastic boxes and pop them in the freezer.  If you do the same with the cooked rice then you always have a ready-meal in the freezer.  The dried beans and batch cooking make this quite a frugal dish.

I used : 

1½ lb (750g) minced beef
2 onions
2 cloves of garlic
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp chilli powder
2tsp paprika
Pinch of curry powder
2tsp oregano
Dash of Worcestershire sauce (about 1 or 2tsp)
1tsp tomato puree
2 large (400g) tins of chopped tomatoes*
1 or 2 fresh red chillies, diced
2 beef stock cubes
8oz of dried red kidney/pinto beans soaked overnight or 2 large (400g) tins of red kidney beans
Salt and pepper to taste

If you are using dried kidney beans, add them to a pan with some boiling water and cook on a full rolling boil for 10 minutes and then drain. 

Peel and dice the onions and sauté in 1tb olive oil for 10 minutes, until it starts to brown.  Peel and chop the garlic and add to the onion, cook for 2 or 3 minutes before adding the minced beef to the pan.  Cook gently until the beef is browned and the pan is dry. 

Add the Worcestershire sauce, cumin, chilli powder, paprika, curry powder, tomato puree, tinned tomatoes, stock cubes, fresh chilli and oregano and give a good stir.  If you are using dried beans then add them now.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir again.  (If you are using tinned beans, add them after the first 2 hours of the cooking time.) 

Bring to a gentle simmer and then place in a medium oven (160oF 300oC / gas mark 2) for 3 hours. 

*if Dress sauces are available where you live you can replace one of the tins of tomatoes with a tin of Dress tomato and chilli sauce.  I half-fill the jar with cold water and shake it, adding that to the chilli too.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Cheese and potato pie

This was one of the first dishes I learned to cook at school, and it remains a firm favourite to this day.

It’s quite a frugal dish, containing only potato, cheese and onion and is equally delicious served with bacon, ham or sausages.  It's quite a time saver as it can be made ahead of time and simply re-heated when you are ready to eat.  When I worked I often made it in the evening ready for me to come home to the following day. 

Baby leeks are a very inexpensive at the moment, and so tasty so I used leek as a change from onion.  I will give you a recipe and method for both my leek version, and the original version.

Quantities will depend on the number of people you are serving, but for two I used : 

2 medium potatoes
2 small or 1 medium baby leeks
6oz strong cheddar cheese 

Peel and boil the potato.  While the potato is cooking clean and dice the leek and sauté in a little butter.  Grate the cheese. 

When the potato is cooked drain and mash, add ¾ of the cheese and the buttery leek and combine.  Turn into an ovenproof dish.  Scatter the remainder of the cheese over the top. 

If you are eating straight away simply pop under a pre-heated grill until the cheese is golden and bubbling.  If it has been prepared ahead and is cold it will need 30 minutes in a hot oven. 

To make the original version, for two people: 

2 medium potatoes
1 medium onion
6oz strong cheddar cheese 

Peel and boil the potato.  While the potato is cooking peel and dice the onion and add to the potato for the last 10 minutes of the cooking time.  Grate the cheese. 

When the potato is cooked drain and mash, add ¾ of the cheese and combine.  Turn into an ovenproof dish.  Scatter the remainder of the cheese over the top. 

If you are eating straight away simply pop under a pre-heated grill until the cheese is golden and bubbling.  If it has been prepared ahead and is cold it will need 30 minutes in a hot oven.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Teisen Lap

Literally, plate cake this is a lovely moist light fruit cake that was traditionally cooked on a plate.  Not terribly dissimilar to the little Welsh Cakes I make, this is a lovely cutting cake to make when you are expecting company.  It’s a very light cake so it won’t keep as long as a Bara Brith, but is still a lovely teatime treat and very simple to make. 

Like Bara Brith, there are very many versions of this recipe, some use lard, some include sour cream you can take your pick!  The version I use is : 

6oz butter
10oz plain flour
2tsp baking powder
Pinch salt
½ tsp mixed spice
6oz caster sugar
6oz mixed dried fruit
3 large eggs 

Firstly grease and line the bottom of a 7” sandwich tin and preheat your oven to 190oC / 375oF / gas mark 5. 

Sieve together the flour, baking powder, salt and mixed spice add the butter and mix until it resembles fine breadcrumbs – I stuck it all in the stand mixer to do this! 

Add the sugar and fruit and mix together.  Beat the eggs and add them, a little at a time (if the mixture seems dry add a little milk). 

Turn the mixture out into your sandwich tin and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, turn the oven down to 180oC / 350oF / gas mark 4 after 20 minutes.  It is cooked when it is nicely browned, firm to the touch and a skewer comes out clean.

A simple fish pie

I love a fish pie, and now that the weather has turned colder again it seemed the perfect dish to warm and comfort.  It occurred to me when I was planning this that it would be a perfect dish to commemorate Good Friday; the fish having been associated with Christianity from the very beginning. 

As a mark of the significance and solemnity of Good Friday I thought a simple fish pie was better than a celebratory one stuffed with fish, scallops, prawns and mussels;  but you could certainly add any or all of those if you wished.   

When I make a fish pie I usually use a mix of white fish (cod or hake), a salmon fillet and a hard boiled egg to eke out the fish a little.  

Depending on the fish you are using, this is quite a frugal way to stretch a piece of fish a little bit further.  I often make it with smoked cod too, which makes a very tasty dinner. 

The simple one I made today, to serve two people, used : 

1 small cod loin
1 small salmon fillet
1 hard boiled egg
1 bunch of parsley
½ pint of milk
1tb flour
1 knob of butter
1 small bunch of parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup of peas
1 or 2 oz of grated cheddar
2 medium/large potatoes (depending on the size of your dish), boiled and mashed with a little butter. 

Firstly, poach the cod and salmon.  I always do this in the oven as it stops the house smelling of fish.  Simply place the two fillets in a deep dish and cover with water, cover the dish with foil and poach at 200oC(400oF/Gas mark 6) for 25 to 30 minutes. 

As you will be making a white sauce for the fish I find it helpful to get everything ready beforehand so that I can concentrate on making the sauce.  So pop the peas in the microwave to cook for a few minutes and then set aside.  Wash and chop the parsley and set it aside and peel and chop the egg, then set aside. 

When the fish is poached, take it out of the oven and cut into bite-sized pieces. 

For the pie, simply add the flour, butter and milk to a pan and place over a low heat.  Keep stirring the sauce and bring it to a gentle simmer so that it will thicken.  Keep stirring/beating the sauce so that there is no chance of lumps forming.  When the sauce is thickened to the right consistency, season to taste with salt and pepper and then add the rest of the pie ingredients, stirring gently so that you don’t break everything up.  

Turn the pie filling into your dish and then spoon on the mashed potato and spread out with a fork.  Finish the pie with a generous helping of grated cheddar cheese. 

Pop the pie into the oven for 20 minutes at 200oC(400oF/Gas mark 6). 

You can prepare the pie ahead of time if you wish, in which case you should make sure that either everything is hot, or cold when the pie is assembled (to avoid the risk of food poisoning).  From cold it will need approximately 30 to 40 minutes in the oven, but the cooking time depends on the type of dish you are using, the depth of the pie inside the dish and the temperature it was when it went into the oven.   A medium enamel pie dish, at room temperature will take 35 minutes, the small one pictured below took 25 minutes.