PLANE SANDWICHES & SOME CHILDHOOD FAVOURITES

Plane sandwiches?? Let me explain. In my family, I have a reputation for being very fussy and taking far too long to make a sandwich. I call it loving care and thought in creating tempting bread-based snacks. A sandwich is not a sandwich unless the filling has a minimum of three ingredients (which, for the benefit of any American readers, is considered extravagant in the UK).  I realise now that I missed my calling in life. I should have been the catering manager on the set of Scooby Doo. I would have been in my element constructing those three foot high sandwiches which our four legged hero would wolf down in one gulp while being chased through the abandoned fair ground/factory/creepy house by the former janitor/boss/security guard sporting a rubber monster mask or wrapped head to toe in bandages.

A few years ago I went through a phase of directing all that love and care to the production of epic sandwiches for my wife to take to work. However, she has far simpler and less sophisticated needs when it comes to food (she hails from Birmingham*; I don’t know why I felt compelled to mention that). The last straw came with some beautifully crafted roast chicken, mayonnaise, sweet chilli sauce and salad wraps. Being of the “eat to live” rather than “live to eat” persuasion, she complained: “There’s too many ingredients – can’t I just have a plain sandwich?”. Now, by pure coincidence, I had been flicking through a large reference book about a week or so before when some long-forgotten 2D cardboard cut-outs of World War II aeroplanes fell from the pages. They would have formed a mobile to hang from the ceiling of a young aviation enthusiast’s ceiling had such a person lived in our house. I’m an old aviation enthusiast and probably a bit beyond that sort of thing (and in any event, my wife wouldn’t let me hang it in our bedroom).

The germ of an idea grew in my mind. If my dearly beloved wants plain sandwiches, plane sandwiches she shall have (see what I did there?). I have to say, they were much quicker to make. Two slices of bread, a scraping of low fat spread and a sprinkling of P-51 Mustang and P-38 Lightning, all topped off with a P-40 Kittyhawk (still three ingredients, you’ll notice). The aviation savvy amongst you will notice I went for the “lite” option with fighters rather than bombers.

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I still have the ingredients for a high cholesterol version of the plane sandwich – real butter and full-fat bombers.

“What sort of sandwiches have I got today?”, my wife enquired. “Plane sandwiches, just liked you asked for, dear.” Fortunately, she didn’t notice the difference in spelling when I said “plane”. She was blissfully unaware until she sat down in the staff room at lunchtime (she’s a teacher, by the way) to tuck into her simple fare. Oh, how her colleagues laughed when a wingtip peeping out of her sandwich piqued my wife’s curiosity and she peeled back the top slice of bread to reveal ….. a plane filling. Fortunately, she saw the funny side so I only had to spend one night on the sofa (actually, that’s the only part of this tale that is not true).

Now everyone has their favourites when it comes to sandwiches and those favourites often hark back to childhood. So, I will leave you with some of my favourites from my earliest days of sandwich making (I was still relatively sparing with the number of ingredients back then). Three of them are classics, one of them is my very own invention. Try one next time you are feeling peckish and the Scooby snack jar is empty.

SWEET AND SOUR SANDWICH

My gift to the culinary world, although apart from immediate family, you, dear reader, are the first to know about it. Marmalade provides the sweet and Marmite provides the sour. Spread one of these delights on each slice of bread and slap them together. Believe me, it works (well, it works for me). I have no idea if Marmite is sold outside the UK (Australia has a similar thing, Vegemite). Marmite is a thick black, salty tasting, savoury spread made from yeast extract – a by-product of the beer brewing industry. I’m not selling it that well, am I? But in the UK, people love Marmite. Or they hate it. There’s no middle ground.

CHEESE AND JAM (JELLY)

Some people nod knowingly when you mention this classic, others look at you as if you are a swivel-eyed loony. Why? It’s not that far removed from fruit and cream. Cheddar, a proper Red Leicester (not orange rubber) or a creamy white cheese like Wensleydale or Cheshire together with marmalade or apricot jam are my favourite combinations.

FISH FINGER SANDWICH

The ultimate kiddies’ sandwich. At least in the 1970s it was. And for me it had to have a good layer of Heinz Salad Cream on, rather than the ubiquitous tomato ketchup. Again, I think salad cream may be a British peculiarity even though Heinz is a US company. It’s a sort of a poor man’s mayonnaise with a more vinaigry taste and that’s what people had on their salad (and fish finger sandwiches) back in the seventies. Now we are all more sophisticated, salad cream sales have plummeted and mayonnaise rules. Except in Birmingham.

As an aside, someone I know used to love fish fingers when he was little but hated fish. When he found out fish fingers were made from fish(?!!?), he stopped eating them. (I concealed your identity there, little brother. Oops.)

THE CHRISTMAS SANDWICH

The ultimate sandwich and part of my Christmas Day ritual since I can’t remember. As a kid, I may even have looked forward to the Christmas Sandwich as much as the traditional Christmas turkey dinner (which I love). This was because, when it came to making the Christmas Sandwich, there was no grown up around trying to force feed me Brussel sprouts. I would sneak into the kitchen some time after the end of The Great Escape and before waking up the adults in time for the Morecambe and Wise Christmas show. There I would cram a two slices of bread full of turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. Fabulous. Only 32 sleeps to the next one!

By the way, does anyone remember a BBC sitcom called Colin’s Sandwich(!!)? My reputation obviously came to the attention of Auntie Beeb. It was broadcast between 1988 and 1990 and starred the late Mel Smith. Probably not the BBC’s finest hour.

Colin

* That’s “BirmingGum“, England not “Birming [pause] Ham” in the sweet home state of Alabama, USA.

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CHEATING AGAIN – CRACKLINGLY GOOD TENDER ROAST PORK

I have the same problem with roast pork as I do with roast beef. Just chucking a lump of pork in the oven to roast it in the traditional way usually results in a less than tender outcome. Years ago, I adopted a foolproof method for fall-apart roast beef and shared that in a post back in April. To date, it is my most popular post. Jamie Oliver eat yer heart out (that seems an oddly distasteful phrase in a post about meat).

After years of trying, I have just worked out a cheat’s method for fall-apart roast pork. As a bit of bonus, I managed to produce some cracking crackling which, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting. Plus the meat comes out of the oven with the gravy already half made. I won’t lie, the method I used was akin to making pulled pork but with some variations (and no spices or barbecue sauce). I started with a 1.5kg (very roughly 3.5lb) pork shoulder joint with that all important layer of fat and skin for the crackling and here’s how I muddled through:-

– Preheat oven to 220ºC.
– Make up at least one pint of chicken stock.
– Put the joint in a roasting tin and rub some roughly chopped fresh sage on to the flesh (of the joint not yours or that of your nearest and dearest; save that for later after the kids are in bed).
– Dry the skin with kitchen paper. Score the skin in lines about 1cm apart and sprinkle with a bit of sea salt. Scoring thick pig skin requires a very sharp knife so watch your fingers. Mind you, if one of your digits does stray into the dinner, it’s quite possible no one will notice. Survivors of plane crashes in the Andes reckon that …. No, I’ll stop there; some of you may know where I was going with that one.
– Peel a medium sized onion and chop into eight segments; place these in the roasting tin around the pork. Top tip: I do this with roast chicken as well. The onion blackens and adds colour and flavour to the gravy. Add enough chicken stock to cover the bottom of the tin.
– Put in the hot oven for 30 minutes. Check after fifteen minutes to ensure that the stock is not evaporating too quickly, especially if your roasting tin is a lot bigger than the joint (add more stock or water if needed).
– After 30 minutes, take the joint out of the oven and turn the oven down to 130ºC (we have a fan oven so maybe 150ºC in a conventional oven?).
– Pour about half a pint of the chicken stock into the roasting tin and cover tightly with foil.
– Return to the oven but don’t start on the sherry yet because the joint will be in there for three hours. In the meantime, you can instruct your sous chef to prepare the potatoes and vegetables while you put your feet up (maybe a little sherry now wouldn’t do any harm….).
– After three hours, take the joint out of the oven and whack the heat back up to 200ºC in preparation for your roast spuds and the crackling.
– Put the joint on a warm plate and, with a carving knife, take off the skin and its accompanying layer of fat all in one go. Put the skin on or in a tray or tin suitable for going in the oven. The only thing I could find that wasn’t ridiculously large was a small pie/Yorkshire pudding tin – essentially a tray with four round depressions in. This was quite handy because during cooking, the fat collected in the depressions below the skin.
– Wrap the joint in a double layer of foil and leave to rest somewhere out of reach of the dog/cat/reticulated python or other carnivorous pet.
– Pop the skin back in the oven once it’s up to temperature. You will probably want to put your potatoes in to roast at this point but I’m not going to tell you how to make roast spuds.
– I can’t remember exactly how long I left the skin in the oven and, no, that’s nothing to do with the sherry. Probably 20-30 minutes but keep an eye on it (if your smoke alarm goes off, it may be overdone). I did pour the fat off part way through cooking though. A lot of my cooking is based on gut feel and the colour of the smoke. Fortunately (most of the time), I have the gut feelings when cooking and not after eating the results of my travails.
– While your pig skin is turning to crackling and your spuds are roasting, you can make the gravy.
– Hopefully, you kept all the stock and meat juices in the roasting tin! I should have mentioned that. Skim off any excess fat with a tablespoon, put the roasting tin on the hob, add the rest of the stock that you made up way back before all that sherry, scrape all the meaty bits off the bottom of the tin and thicken the whole lot with some cornflour (corn starch). Et voilà! Decent gravy without a horrid instant gravy granule in sight.
– For complete beginners, don’t just chuck the cornflour into the gravy otherwise you’ll end up with loads of little white lumps. Instead, put a couple of heaped teaspoons of the stuff into a cup and mix in a little cold water. Stir the mixture quickly then slowly and marvel at the weird properties of the non-Newtonian fluid that you have just created (this bit is completely irrelevant to the making of the gravy by the way). Then pour it into the gravy over the heat while stirring constantly until it boils and magically thickens. If it’s not thick enough for you, mix up a little more cornflour. If it’s too thick, swear at me and remember to use less cornflour next time … or simply add a bit more stock, water or even wine(!) to the gravy.

– Another top tip: if skimming fat off the meat juices with a spoon is too fiddly for you, use a turkey baster (one of those things with a squidgy bulb at one end) to suck up the juices from under the fat. Put the juices in a jug and then pour the fat out of the roasting tin. If there are lots of meaty bits and residue in the tin, then pour the juices back into the tin to make the gravy – those bits and residue are extra flavour, so don’t waste them!

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Very tender roast pork with light, crunchy crackling on the side (waiting to be broken up and dipped in apple sauce). Oh look, the sherry glass appears to be almost empty. Who drunk that?

– Finally, you can serve up (phew, at last). Some apple sauce to accompany your roast pork is a must and a homemade sage and onion sausagemeat stuffing ball wouldn’t go amiss either. The joint I cooked was so tender that the slices were only just holding together as I carved them. Miraculously, the crackling was the best I have ever made. It was light and crunchy so no teeth were broken in the eating. Dipped in the apple sauce, it was a slightly​ salty, wicked delight.

The 1.5kg joint provided about five portions or, for any readers in the US, a modest starter for one. Sorry, just kidding. When I had a proper job, I worked for a US company for 25 years so I travelled to the States frequently. It was noticeable how portion sizes in restaurants did become more sensible over that period. In the last few years, the occasional vegetable even put in an appearance. But that’s enough about the Kardashians.

Colin

HALF-WAY HOLLANDAISE SAUCE. SHERRY REQUIRED

I have neglected the cooking side of my blog in recent weeks partly because there has been so much other stuff to write about and partly because there are so many brilliant cooking blogs out there that put my feeble efforts (and dodgy smartphone photos) to shame. However, a little adventure in the kitchen at the weekend has prompted this post. I have always loved the eggy, buttery, unctuous confection that is hollandaise sauce and always thought I should have a go at making it myself. I have been put off in the past because I had heard it is quite tricky and that things may “split” if the nascent sauce gets too cold … or too hot. No room for error then. But, putting all my fears aside, the time felt right at the weekend to give it a go. After all, both kids are back at university, so that was two less people to poison. As it happened, the results were fine and in an unexpected way – a way that will be music to the ears of lazy or less than gifted cooks (and possibly weight watchers too).
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Here’s one I got away with – half-way hollandaise sauce. Looks OK doesn’t it? Light and even a little frothy. With grilled salmon, carrot and potato rösti and steamed veg.
I’m one for short cuts and not bothering with recipes but this would have to be an exception. So, I trawled through a few recipes and found that there is a surprising amount of variation. I immediately discarded recipes that required butter to be melted and separated, runny stuff from solids (too much of a faff) and those that required use of a double saucepan and/or food processor. I know food processors are supposed to be labour saving devices but it’s too much effort to dig out our little-used machine from its dark, cobweb-festooned cupboard, wash all the bits, use it to make a few tablespoonfuls of sauce, wash it…..

In the end, here’s what I did and what I used for two servings:-
One large glass of chilled sherry*. This goes into you not the sauce. If you’re going to make Dutch sauce, you need a bit of Dutch courage.
Two egg yolks. If the prospect of separating egg yolk from egg white sounds more frightening than separating butter, don’t panic and read on.
About 1oz/25 g of chilled butter (as chilled as you will be after the sherry)
One tablespoon fresh lemon juice. You can try the bottled variety if you like but don’t blame me if your spouse leaves you and the house falls down.
That’s all! Oh, a smidgelet of salt and pepper if you wish. It doesn’t sound like much butter does it? The recipe called for more but that’s where my hollandaise adventure took an unexpected turn.
Expert cooks can skip this paragraph (and in fact this whole, heretical post) but for novice egg workers ……. To extract an egg yolk from a complete egg, crack the egg on the edge of a bowl but just enough so that you can then pull the two halves of the shell apart with your thumbs. Hang on, not yet. First make sure that the egg is above the bowl and that the egg is upright. Now pull the shell apart. The yolk should will remain in the bottom half of the shell while most of the white cascades with a slop into the bowl. Now tip the yolk from one half of the shell to the other a few times to get rid of the rest of the egg white. There may be a small amount of white that refuses to part with the yolk but that doesn’t matter – the cooking gods and the hollandaise will turn a blind eye. If you’re a first timer, it may be best to attempt this before touching the sherry. If it all goes horribly wrong, give up on the hollandaise sauce and have an omelette.
Now you can get started proper (with the sauce and the sherry). Put the eggs yolks into a small saucepan and whisk until “lemon yellow and slightly thick”. I’m already thick so I was half way there – haha. About 1 minute the recipe said. Haha again – I frantically waved my balloon whisk around for longer than that until I convinced myself I could notice a change. I must be a feeble whisker (that sounds odd) but ultimately everything was fine. Then whisk in the lemon juice (NB. all this is happening without any heat – other than excess body heat generated by all that whisking).
Now add half the chilled butter … man (my butter was so chilled it was called Dylan**). Place over a low heat and whisk continuously while the butter is melting and until the sauce thickens and you can see the bottom of the saucepan between strokes. In reality, since I was making half the quantity compared to the recipe, I could see the bottom of the pan right from the start! So, just continue until it thickens. I also used a VERY low heat, the smallest ring on our gas hob and a metal simmer plate on top of that.
Next, remove the pan from the heat and beat in the remaining chilled butter. Now here’s the twist. The recipe told me to then whisk in, a little at a time, three more ounces (150g) of melted butter (and yes, that was the corrected quantity for just two servings). To its credit, it did not call for separated butter – that’s why I chose this particular recipe. So, I had a carefully weighed amount of diced butter waiting to be melted in the microwave but I thought hang on, the contents of the saucepan were already doing a passable impersonation of hollandaise sauce in terms of colour and consistency. A quick dip and lick of the little finger confirmed that, taste-wise, it could pass as the Dutch delight and there was a reasonable quantity to provide several elegant tablespoonfuls over a couple of grilled salmon fillets. Why waste time and an unhealthy amount of extra butter going any further? So I stopped there and behold, Colin created half-way hollandaise sauce.
I did carry on heating my creation because I had used such a gentle heat that, although the butter had melted, the sauce was not warm enough to serve. So, I left it on the simmer plate until it was a decent temperature (serious, important point because of the raw egg), whisking frequently but not continuously while I attended to frying rösti, grilling salmon, steaming vegetables and sipping sherry. Never before have so many tasks been attempted by a male of the species. Finally, you may wish to add a touch of salt and pepper – or even whisk in some melted butter if you want more of a hollandaise swamp on your plate.
It’s now four days since consumption of my hollandaise heresy. There have been no ill effects and I have recovered full use of my whisking arm (when I went swimming on Sunday morning, I only managed to go round in circles). We need a new bottle of sherry though.
Colin
* Sherry is probably a bit of an old-fashioned drink nowadays but a glass of chilled sherry before our Sunday dinner is one of our guilty pleasures. Here I broke the rules and had a glass on Saturday. We used to buy Croft Particular, a rather pricey pale Amontillado (I’m in danger of sounding knowledgeable there  – I know Amontillado is a type of sherry and not an armoured mammal native to the Americas but that’s about it). After forgetting to pick up a bottle on a trip to Sainsbury’s, we later grabbed a bottle of Aldi’s own brand cream sherry in desperation (so we thought at the time). It’s a different style of sherry but we haven’t looked back. It’s about half the price and, apparently, it has won awards.
** Readers of a certain age will understand this Magic Roundabout reference.

TOP HAT AND AN IMAGINARY POSH PICNIC

We went to see a production of Top Hat last week – the musical based on the 1935 film of the same name (Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, famous tunes by Irving Berlin). But this was no ordinary theatre visit because the venue for this glitzy, humorous song and dance fest was rather special. Hidden away in the grounds of a south Leicestershire country house hotel, the open air Kilworth House Theatre is a magical place to see a show. A gently sloping field equipped with picnic tables leads down to a lake and a small but beautifully formed wood. The theatre itself is situated in a clearing in the woods and, to reach it, you walk through the trees on a board walk strung with lights. What an entrance – quite a sense of, er, … theatre. It is difficult to refrain from sprinkling this post with the adjective “magical” (I’ve already used it once) but it truly is. Someone has obviously waved a magic baguette over Kilworth to create a unique place where the atmosphere is wonderful and the real world is easily forgotten.

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Kilworth House. Truly magical – even in the rain.
When enjoying the show, you are not entirely exposed to the elements as a modern steel structure supports a sail-like tarpaulin roof to keep the worst of the elements off the substantial auditorium and most of(!) the stage. But look to each side of the stage and there are just trees for walls. And enjoy the show you will, because the productions at Kilworth are truly top class – London West End quality in a better setting. We first went four years ago and are kicking ourselves for not getting round to it before. They put on two musicals every summer and, so far, we have seen Anything Goes, Singin’ in the Rain (it rained!), West Side Story, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Kiss Me Kate. I think the Daily Telegraph once described Kilworth as British theatre’s best kept secret. So, I’m spilling the beans.

Our ideal Kilworth House Theatre evening starts with a picnic in the grounds which is quite the done thing. For our visit last Friday, I had it all planned but unfortunately the fickle British weather was against us and we had to abandon those plans. However, let’s pretend we did have our picnic which consisted of the following (sounds a bit posh but would have been dead easy):-

  • A salad of lightly smoked salmon fillet, slivers of fresh orange (i.e. segments without the skin) and watercress drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and a bit of freshly squeezed orange juice. The salmon is the sort you have to cook (although you can sometimes find ready-cooked), not traditional “raw” smoked salmon.
  • Home made potato salad – new potatoes, snipped chives, mayonnaise plus the vital ingredient – Greek yogurt. The Greek yogurt lifts the whole thing from just being potatoes in mayonnaise. Ordinary natural yogurt may do, especially if you are Turkish (I haven’t tried it myself).
  • Home-grown cherry tomatoes. One of the few things we grow in our garden with moderate success. I’ll let you off if you buy them.

A zingy Sauvignon Blanc would probably have washed the above down nicely. However, the lack of a picnic did not spoil our evening as the show was fabulous, despite the downpour throughout most of the second half. Thank goodness for that roof – that’s a definite plus over Cornwall’s admittedly more spectacular Minack theatre where you are completely exposed.

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A more well-known secret – the spectacular Minack Theatre in Cornwall. Even if you can’t get to see a show, it’s worth a visit during the day. Costs just a fiver.
The musicals are not the only entertainment put on at Kilworth. In between or usually after the musicals’ run has come to an end in late summer/early autumn, they sometimes have a few one night stands – comedians (e.g. Ken Dodd, Jasper Carrott, Paul Merton) and music acts (e.g. Hollies, Paul Carrack, The Manfreds) and many tribute bands like Talon (the Eagles), Björn Again (ABBA), UK Pink Floyd Experience. In the winter there is also indoor entertainment in the hotel’s Orangery (usually combined with a dinner).

What’s the definition of an optimist? Someone who hopes that The Jam will one day re-form. I know, it’s impossible. However, I did see the unsubtly named “From The Jam” live at Kilworth four years ago. The Jam’s original bassist, Bruce Foxton, former Big Country drummer Mark Brzezicki (who has worked with loads of big names in rock) and a bloke doing a passable impersonation of Paul Weller. They were absolutely brilliant. This was an All Mod Cons anniversary tour so they played that classic Jam album from start to finish then just about every other Jam hit you can think of. So, if you are a pining Jam fan, get along to see From The Jam – it’s 90% there.

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The mighty Jam in their heyday. From the Jam with Bruce Foxton (right) are well worth a look if you are still pining after 35 years.
Colin

VERSATILE SPINACH WITH CHILLI PESTO NEW POTATOES

We have just discovered chilli pesto – entirely by accident. Thought we had picked up a jar of the usual red pesto but it turned out to be the chilli variety and it’s rather nice (we got Aldi”s version). I have combined new potatoes and spinach before but thought I would try adding the pesto as well. Give it a whirl and try serving with grilled fish or meat. It’s quick, dead easy and there’s no need for a complicated sauce because the pesto and spinach potatoes do the job for you.

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Served with grilled salmon and steamed carrots and mange tout. Easy!

Here’s what you do. I have given a guide to quantities but you decide depending on how many mouths you are feeding:-

  • New potatoes – enough for all those mouths. They can be kept whole if small enough or cut to uniformly sized chunks
  • Baby spinach, washed. A handful for each person (wash your hands first please). It may look a lot but it does reduce down
  • Chilli pesto – a good heaped teaspoonful per person
  • Butter – as much or as little as you like (but please have some)
  • Black pepper

Boil the new potatoes until tender and while that is going on, chop the spinach. When cooked, drain the potatoes (keep them in the pan, don’t drain using a colander). Don’t worry about draining every last drop of water. Quickly throw in the spinach and butter, put the lid on and leave to steam for a minute or so (that’s why it is not critical to drain every last drop of water). Add the pesto and mix the whole lot so the potatoes are coated. You can do this over a very low light but not for long. Add black pepper if you wish and serve.

OTHER STUFF TO DO WITH SPINACH

A bag of washed baby spinach is a handy  thing to have around. We usually have one on the go in the fridge because it’s so versatile. I am however thinking of suing the makers of Popeye because I have eaten quite a bit of the stuff but, as I think I mentioned in a previous post, my arms are still like Olive Oyl’s. Spinach is rich in iron so if you start eating it regularly you can give up the Mackesons stout. Did you know, up until the 1980’s, pregnant and new mothers in the UK were advised to drink stout to boost their iron levels? I remember my mum drinking it after my baby brother was born. That may have been because of the shock though.

Anyway, here are a few things you can do with spinach (baby spinach is best):-

  • As a vegetable in its own right. Frankly, not my favourite way of consuming spinach but can be livened up with butter, lemon juice and/or garlic or cream and nutmeg.
  • Chop and add it to casseroles (or even gravy!). Can’t really taste it so it’s a good way of getting fresh vegetables into reluctant children or carnivores.
  • Finely chop it and add to a cheese sauce to make posh looking pasta dishes
  • Add to homemade tomato sauce and make more pasta dishes
  • Use as a salad leaf
  • Put in your sandwiches, e.g tuna mayonnaise, coronation chicken (not Marmite or jam, that would be weird)

Colin

FALL APART TENDER ROAST BEEF – HOW TO CHEAT!

This is another one for people who are lazy, less than competent or lacking confidence in the kitchen – or all three. If you haven’t gathered by now, this is the general theme of my cooking posts. Have you ever tried to roast a joint of beef traditionally only for it to turn out a bit dry and less than tender? One of the reasons may not be your lack of cooking skills but rather the absence of fat from your chosen joint. The only time I have really successfully roasted a joint of beef using the tradition method is when I have had a rib joint with thick veins of fat running through it. The fat provides the moisture and keeps the meat tender. However in this low fat era, that may not suit everyone. Or is fat good for you nowadays, now that sugar is deemed to be the ultimate evil? I’m not sure. I can’t keep up with the experts. Everything in moderation, I say.

So, when you see that tempting ultra-lean topside joint of beef sitting on the butcher’s or supermarket meat counter calling out to your anti-fat sensibilities, how would you cook it? Well, why not try “pot roasting” it? That way you get lovely tender meat, ready made gravy and half of your vegetables in one fell swoop! Here’s how:-

Pot roast

  • Get your joint out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you start cooking to let it come to room temperature.
  • Season the joint with salt and pepper.
  • In a hob- and ovenproof casserole dish heat a small amount of oil of your choosing (olive, rapeseed, sunflower, Castrol GTX, whatever). When the oil is hot, pop the joint in and brown on all sides, including the ends. Ideally, you need some substantial weapons with which to manoeuvre and turn the joint. Don’t use your fingers, you will burn them. You would never catch me doing anything so stupid(!).
  • Turn off the heat and add warm/hot beef stock or a combination of stock and red wine until the level of liquid comes at least halfway up the joint (you can be quite generous with the wine if you wish!).
  • Chuck in some big chunks of carrot. You choose how many – think about how many people you are going to feed. No namby pamby thin slices, this is going in the oven for a quite a while so you don’t want them to disintegrate.
  • Put on the casserole’s tight fitting lid and put in the oven, pre-heated to 140/150C (fan). I guess 160-ish C for a conventional oven. Did I mention the casserole dish needs a tight fitting lid? If in doubt, see Tips and Variations below.
  • The last joint I pot roasted was about 1kg and I left it in the oven for between 2 to 2.5 hours. I did turn it over about half way through just so both sides get a good soak.  Obviously for a bigger joint, leave it in a bit longer! If in doubt, slice a little bit off the edge and have a taste. You are allowed to do this, it’s a perk of being the chef.
  • If you want a hotter oven for your roast potatoes, just take the casserole out of the oven when you think its done and keep the lid on while you cook your roasties.
  • Just before you are ready to serve, take the beef out of the casserole, put on a warm plate and cover with foil.
  • Now thicken the gravy. With the casserole on the hob, mix some cornflour with a bit of cold water and add to the gravy. Bring to the boil, stirring all the time and simmer for a couple of minutes (that gets rid of any powdery taste from the cornflour).
  • Serve!

That looks like a lot of steps, but really it is dead easy! Brown the meat, add liquid and carrots, put in oven, go for a walk/a drive in Austin-Healey Sprite/mow the lawn/hide in shed, thicken, serve.

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My Sprite about to go home for its roast dinner.
You might be thinking what’s the difference between this and a beef casserole cooked in stock or wine? Good question but it definitely is different and more like proper roast beef.

TIPS AND VARIATIONS:

  • If you don’t have a casserole dish that is hob- and oven proof, then brown the meat in a pan and transfer to a casserole.
  • If your casserole does not have a tight fitting lid or if it has a vent in the lid, cover the casserole with foil and then put the lid on.
  • Stock from a cube is fine. In my opinion, made up weaker rather than stronger.
  • One day I may try using a bit of beer (bitter/ale, not lager) instead of wine. If you do that before me, please let me know what it is like.
  • I mentioned that this method gives you half your veg (assuming you want more than just carrots with your roast dinner).  However, you could add some frozen peas just before you bring the gravy back to the boil or add tinned beans such as borlotti or cannellini beans when simmering. Strangely, I have never done this myself and am now wondering why not.
  • Depending on the size of your casserole dish, you may end up with a lot of gravy. This is a good thing. Freeze the leftovers for when you next have bangers and mash.

Colin

 

DEEP-FRIED HAND AND A SIMPLE DIP

DEEP-FRIED HAND

I once deep-fried my right hand. I mentioned this in my first ever cooking post, a now legendary thesis on couscous viewed by tens of people. Since then, I have been asked what on earth was I trying to do. Was I attempting to push the boundaries of cuisine to encompass the truly weird and wonderful, 30 years before Heston Blumenthal had been invented? No, of course not. It was simple stupidity. I was in my last year at school and had yet to take my A-levels so I was officially unintelligent.

One Friday evening I was left to my own devices to cook my dinner. My device of choice was an electric deep fat fryer which I realise now had a serious design defect. As I remember it, there was no handle or other obvious means of lifting the lid. So, having let my chips (or “fries” for my international audience) fry for several minutes, I then wanted to see if they were ready to eat. The fryer had an internal wire basket which you could raise and lower and that basket (unlike the lid) had its own detachable handle. Holding this handle in my left hand, I used one end to poke the fryer’s lid half open. With my right hand I operated the mechanism to raise the internal basket and then put my hand in to grab a chip to taste. I know, I know, this was not the cleverest thing to do. And to think of the millions of pounds the British taxpayer had spent on my education up to that point. Whilst my right hand was under the half raised lid and whilst I was focusing on retrieving a chip to sample, my left hand was not really concentrating on its lid lifting responsibilities. The end of the makeshift lid prop slipped from the edge of the lid whose rather hot underside fell onto my right hand. “Ooh ow!” I said. Or words to the effect. Of course my natural instinct was to withdraw my trapped hand PDQ but the fryer was not going to let its prey go that easily. Result: the fryer and its boiling contents rushed rapidly towards the edge of the kitchen counter. I now had a split second to make a decision. Continue to withdraw my hand and allow the fryer to crash to the floor and spew its scalding, oily contents everywhere? Or keep my hand in the jaws of Hell and use a combination of my body and my left hand to check the teetering fryer’s descent and shovel the whole thing back on to the counter?

Now let me explain something (sorry if the suspense is killing you …). I am not one of life’s heroes. In fact, I am made of 70% afraidium and 30% lily liver. Once, on a business trip to China, I saw a table showing the Western calendar year of my birth to be the year of the dragon. Pretty cool, I thought. Until I realised my birthday (being in January) is just before the Chinese New Year, so I was actually born in the previous Chinese year: the year of the rabbit. How very fitting. I never got into fights at school because I always ran away like a frightened bunny at the first hint of trouble.

So the decision was obvious, wasn’t it? Yes, I gallantly rescued the fryer from its fall, leaving my hand inside and prolonging the agony. WHAT?! WHY???! Well, let me take you into the mind of an eighteen year old male for a moment. A grim prospect I know, but focus on the matter at hand and don’t look in any dark places. You see, the notion of cleaning up a kitchen floor awash with cooking oil and half cooked chips is something that the teenage male of the species just could not countenance. In fact, cleaning anything (including himself) is abhorrent to a young male of that age. These instincts were easily strong enough to overcome the instincts of a raging coward.

Finally, I extricated my wilting and somewhat scarlet hand from the infernal machine. That night in the pub, I ordered a pint of bitter to hold in my left hand and a pint of iced water to hold my right hand. Fortunately, not too much damage was done. I think the basket of chips saved me from the worst that the hot oil could do. You will be pleased to hear that a few months later I passed my A-levels and I have never deep-fried either of my hands since. Just goes to show what a good education can do for you. (I frequently try to cook my hands by other methods but I will leave those tales for another day.)

A SIMPLE DIP

SweetChilliCreamCheese 2
I know that’s not coriander in the background! I wasn’t feeling exotic that day.

Having read the above, you may think that the simple dip mentioned in the title is me. That would be understandable but no, I’m going to leave you with the simplest idea for an absolutely moreish dip which is a little bit different. Thanks to my sister for this treat. Making it is not only easy but it is absolutely pain free. Get a small tub of soft cream cheese like Philadelphia or a supermarket equivalent. The low fat versions do the job. Turn it out onto a small plate and pour over some sweet chilli dipping sauce. That’s it! If you are out to impress anyone and convince them you are truly exotic, sprinkle over some chopped coriander leaves (over the dip, not yourself although I suppose it depends on how exotic you want to appear). Fresh coriander leaves are called cilantro in the US; travel, like A-levels, is an education but much more fun.

Whether con cilantro or sin cilantro, simply dig in with your favourite dipping implement (now, now, titter ye not). My dipworthy snack product of choice would be a humble wholewheat breadstick. Mix up the sweet chilli sauce with the cheese as you go and you will find it delicious, creamy and cool. In fact, if you have recently scalded your hand it would probably make a delightfully soothing salve…..

Colin