WEEKLY CAR DIARY – MORE VANS, MORE LE MANS AND A MAGICAL GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF

Just vans this week but one of those took me to Le Mans and back for the second time in seven days! I didn’t want to give “my” trusty Peugeot Boxer back after our adventures together:-

Sunday to Tuesday: Peugeot Boxer (very)LWB 2.2 HDi (130hp), Leicester to Le Mans to Leicester to Aston Martin, Gaydon to Rugby where it was bye bye Boxer

Thursday: Fiat Doblo van 1.3TD, West Bromwich to Lewes, East Sussex

Never underestimate a modern vehicle. The prospect of driving almost 200 miles in a dull looking van with a silly name and only a 1248cc engine would be unthinkable to some. And this was a very basic van – no aircon and it had wigglesticks to manually adjust the wing mirrors (which is quite rare these days). But myself and two colleagues all agreed that our Fiat Doblos dobbled along surprisingly well. No problem at all sitting reasonably quietly and comfortably at 70mph on all five motorways between the West Midlands and Lewes on the south coast.  When we collected the Doblos, all three had zero miles on the clock – first time I have ever come across that. Bizarrely, all three of us arrived at our destination at more or less the same time having followed exactly the same route but one van had six fewer miles on the clock. I forgot to ask my colleague whether or not he had driven the last three miles backwards (although I suspect it’s a myth that the mileage goes down when you reverse in a modern vehicle).

I missed a trick in last week’s post about my trip to Le Mans. In one breath I mentioned a well-known celebrity baker and in another, Harry Potter’s magic baguettes. Why didn’t I connect the two? They don’t call me Flash for nothing. What a great technical challenge that would be in the next series of the Great British Bake Off!! If there is enough time between the commercials, the contestants would each be required to bake three magic baguettes – one with a Phoenix feather in (Harry’s), one with a dragon heartstring (Hermione’s) and one with a unicorn tail hair (Ron’s). The contestants would not be permitted to use yeast. Instead, they would each be given a magic baguette baked earlier by Paul Hollywood. With this, they would attempt to get the correct rise on their own baguettes by invoking the Wingardium Leviosa spell.
Judging would be based not only on the usual criteria such as texture, taste and the “bake” but also the effectiveness of each magic baguette at some popular spells, e.g. ALOHOMORA! (to open an oven door), ENGORGIO! (to make the baguettes twice their original size) and EXPECTO PATRONUM! (to conjure up a Patronus in the form of Mary Berry). Extra points would be awarded to the contestant who is able to magic GBBO back onto the BBC and get the real Mary Berry back.
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Early last Monday morning; all loaded up at the Aston Martin gîte and ready to return home.

My second trip to Le Mans went smoothly apart from the return trip through the Channel Tunnel. Coming back the day after the end of the 24 hour race, I joined a constant stream of British cars on the autoroute heading for the Channel crossings. In fact it was a bit of a mobile motor show. Various exotic cars, sports cars, classic cars, boy racer mobiles and a Honda Jazz from Chipping Sodbury. Result: chaos at the Tunnel but I did get a nice text from Eurotunnel apologising for the delay.

 

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Joining the British throng for a pit stop on the way back to the Channel. No driver change though – I was the only driver on my team.

These two trips to Le Mans were my first experiences of using the Channel Tunnel. Apart from that last return leg, it was fast and efficient but if you are driving long distances either side of the Channel, there is still a strong argument for the ferry. Especially on that last crossing, I would have been glad of a decent break, a hearty meal and the opportunity to stretch my legs properly whilst breathing fresh sea air. Instead, I was stuck inside a tin box with air of dubious quality and had to stop for a break on the motorway after leaving the train anyway, thus negating some of the time saving (the ferry crossing takes about 55 minutes longer than the train). Eurotunnel definitely has its merits but the ferry does too!

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Typical gloomy view when travelling on Eurotunnel.
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Typical view when travelling by ferry. OK, I’m cheating – this was coming out of Portsmouth not Dover. But on the ferry from Dover you will get views of the famous white cliffs.

Colin

RIDICULOUSLY SIMPLE HAKE WITH EGG SAUCE, A BIT ABOUT BERGEN & ATMOSPHERIC CHINESE TAKE-AWAYS

Just so you know, the hake with egg sauce is nothing to do with China – it’s Norwegian (read on, all will become clear). In my old life when I did serious work, I often had to travel to Norway on business – usually Bergen or Stavanger and once to Oslo. A beautiful country, as we found out in 2005 on a family holiday in our motor caravan. On one business trip to Bergen, I had a particularly memorable and tasty meal. The starter was “creamed reindeer on toast”. This sounds like a colloquial description of a reindeer after an unfortunate coming together with a large truck on a quiet Norwegian road but it was absolutely delicious. I wasn’t sure what to expect – would it involve a very large, reindeer-sized slice of toast? Actually, no. It was about the size of a Ritz cracker and topped with finely chopped reindeer meat (don’t worry children, no sign of any red nose) in a creamy sauce which may have involved some brandy. Yum!

I was very intrigued by a main dish on the menu described as “haddock with egg sauce”. What on earth is egg sauce? Only one way to find out. Actually, there’s two ways – I could have asked the waiter but my Norwegian wasn’t up to it (let’s gloss over the fact that the waiter, like most Norwegians, spoke excellent English). So, I ordered the haddock with both egg sauce and high expectations. Perhaps egg sauce is a Norwegian variation of Hollandaise sauce? Maybe with grated troll for true local flavour? The dish duly arrived complete with the eagerly anticipated sauce which was ….(drum roll)…. crumbled up hard-boiled egg!

HOWEVER, this was absolutely fine because a) I like hard-boiled egg and b) there is no better place in the world to get really fresh fish than Norway and, in particular, Bergen. This dish was all about simplicity in order to highlight the high quality and freshness of the main ingredient and I can testify that it did just that. By the way, if you are ever in Bergen, make sure you visit the fish market – it’s fascinating just to wander round. Then you can visit Bryggen, the famous old wooden wharf and UNESCO world heritage site, go up a cable car or funicular railway (Bergen is known as the city of seven mountains), go to the excellent aquarium or on a “Norway in a Nutshell” day trip down stunning fjords and up a spectacular mountain railway in Flam. Bit of a boring place really.

2005_131The Bryggen Bergen
Brightly coloured wooden buildings in Bryggen, Bergen rebuilt after a great fire in 1702. This was an important trading centre dating back to 1360.

A couple of weeks ago, our local supermarket had some fresh thick, chunky looking hake fillets – along with haddock, this is another member of the cod family. Supermarket? OK, not a patch on what you could get in Bergen but they looked the part. So, for a quick midweek meal I cooked hake with egg sauce and mustard mash. Cooking the whole meal took as long as it takes to make mashed potato. We have a two tier steamer so I was able to steam both the fish and vegetables above the pan in which the spuds were bubbling away. Here’s what I did for two of us:-

  • Peeled and chopped potatoes and put on to boil.
  • Put one egg on to boil, simmered for about 8 mins once it had come to the boil.
  • After potatoes had been boiling for about five minutes, I put the fish on to steam above them.
  • About five minutes later, put vegetables on to steam above potatoes and fish.
  • I steamed the fish for about 10 minutes. The time needed depends on thickness – steam until opaque, the fish will flake (test the fillet you will serve to yourself and keep your guests’ fish intact!!) and it’s hot in the middle (skewer/burnt lip test).
  • When cooked put the fish on a warm plate in warm oven.
  • Rinse the hard-boiled egg once in cold water so shell is cool enough to handle but egg will still be warm. Peel and crumble the egg. Maybe mash with a fork or cheat like I did and put through an egg slicer twice – lengthways then sideways (or vice versa if it’s Tuesday).
  • Toss the egg in a some melted butter and add some finely chopped, fresh parsley (this may be my own tweak – can’t remember if the Norwegian version included this).
  • When the potatoes and veg are ready, mashed the potatoes with milk and lots of butter. You need lots of butter because, despite the title of this fish dish, there is no real sauce so the potatoes would otherwise be rather dry. I like lots of freshly ground black pepper in mash too.
  • Add wholegrain mustard to the mash and mix in. You can add the mustard bit by bit (i.e. teaspoonful by teaspoonful, not grain by grain) until you get the strength of mustard taste that suits you.
  • Serve!!
Hake with Egg Sauce
Hake with Egg Sauce and Mustard Mash

You can of course try a different type of fish (er, haddock?!). If you don’t have a steamer, try poaching the fish or wrapping in foil and baking in the oven. Personally, I don’t think this dish would work with grilled fish because I think it calls for the really pure taste of steamed or poached fish. However, there is no law…..

On the subject of egg slicers, next time you have a Chinese take-away, try placing one of your children or the butler in the corner of the room and give them an egg slicer. Ask them to pluck the strings at random and fairly slowly. They can also throw in the occasional strum. This produces a remarkably authentic oriental sound and will provide an atmospheric aural backdrop to your sweet and sour. Better still, if you have one of those folding oriental screens, place child/butler behind that.

Using an egg slicer as a musical instrument is not my idea. It is a little known fact that both Eric Clapton and the Who’s Pete Townshend cut their musical teeth on the family’s egg slicers on the path to becoming guitar legends and before they could afford actual guitars. Despite an egg slicer’s naturally oriental tone, both Eric and Pete were able to wring convincing bluesy sounds from their improvised musical instruments. Eric progressed more quickly because Pete kept smashing up his family’s egg slicers. His progress was therefore intermittent because he was forced to save up his pocket money in between purchasing replacements. On the other side of the Atlantic, a young Robert Zimmerman (later to become Bob Dylan) also learnt his trade using an egg slicer. Some say this inspired his 1969 hit, Lay Lady Lay.

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An early Clapton egg slicer. An anonymous buyer shelled out over £5,000 for this at auction recently. No Townshend egg slicers survived.

And finally (phew!), another true fact but a slightly embarrassing one – although pertinent since I have been to France twice in the last week. My name, Colin (a diminutive of Nicholas supposedly), is also a French word. It means hake! My old proper job was quite international and my French colleagues were always polite enough to not mention this, let alone titter when I was introduced. They would just stand there silently opening and closing their mouth, I assume because they were astonished at meeting someone named after a fish.

Au revoir for now,

Hake Colin

WEEKLY CAR DIARY – POSH STUFF & SOUTHEND WITHOUT THE SEA

Quite busy this week so I earned a few pennies. You couldn’t earn a living doing this driving work because it is very poorly paid. I think of it as a pleasant pastime with the bonus of a bit of pin money. Enough for the weekly gruel ration and to fund my wife’s turmeric habit. This golden spice is the latest superfood discovery in our household. Half a teaspoonful in porridge (I haven’t plucked up enough courage to try it myself yet) apparently ensures eternal life and cures every form of illness known to humankind, except jaundice. Well, it may cure jaundice but since turmeric turns you yellow, it is difficult to tell. Anyway, here’s what I drove this week:-

Monday: Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 R-Sport manual and Land Rover Discovery Sport TD4 180 HSE auto, Rockingham, Northamptonshire to Leicester

Tuesday: Vauxhall Vivaro van, Bourne End, Buckinghamshire to Aldershot, Surrey; Peugeot Expert van (2012), Aldershot to Blackbushe Airport, Surrey

Thursday: Bentley Mulsanne Speed (2015), Leicester to Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Friday: Mercedes E220d AMG Line auto, Nottingham to Leicester

So, mostly quite posh fare this week apart from the two vans on Tuesday, although the Vivaro (a Renault Trafic with a Vauxhall badge) is a lovely van to drive.

You may have noticed I delivered cars to Rockingham twice last week and collected a couple from there on Monday. That’s because horse trials were held on Rockingham Castle estate last weekend (scene of one of my best driving days out!). Apparently, the atmosphere at the trials was tense as five horses were found guilty and two were acquitted. One horse was sentenced to life imprisonment. That’s a lot of porridge and, if he adds turmeric, a very long time. Daylight Robbery is still protesting his innocence but with a name like that, I think he’s flogging a dead …. Sorry, think I better stop there.

Driving the Jaguar XE back from Rockingham confirmed a niggle about this car that I had when I drove another manual example last year – the whole experience of changing gear leaves a little to be desired. The gear change itself is not the slickest, I don’t find the flat-topped, brushed aluminium gear knob very tactile (maybe that’s just me) and the slightly high, fixed centre armrest under your elbow doesn’t leave your arm in a totally natural position for changing gear manually. Maybe they forgot about the manual version when designing the armrest because it would not be an issue in an automatic (by all accounts, the eight speed automatic available in the XE is very good). Apart from that niggle, the XE is great. You really feel a part of the car, the steering is sharp and precise, it rides well and there is plenty of punch from the 180hp diesel engine.

Taking a Bentley on a trip to the seaside on one of the hottest day of the year sounded nice and indeed, until I got to within six miles of my destination, it was. However, my plans to have a quick peek at the sea en route to the train station after delivering the car were scuppered by a serious incident on the main route into Southend-on-Sea. I sat stationary on the A127 dual carriageway for quite a while as emergency vehicles picked their way between the two lanes of traffic. Eventually, a policeman wandered along (on foot) and started getting the cars and vans just behind me to turn around and drive the wrong way down an entry slip road. Then it was my turn. So, there I was coaxing the 5.6 metre, 2.7 ton, £200k+ leviathan round 180 degrees across two narrowish lanes of the A127 under the watchful eye of the policeman and several of my fellow motorists sitting in Golfs, Clios and Transit vans. Half of them were probably thinking “Damn fine motor car. Best of British”. The other half: “Filthy rich b*****d” or worse. I wanted to wind down the window and assure everyone that the car wasn’t mine. However, that may not have been a terribly good idea in front of a policeman. Could have led to an awkward situation (although I don’t think I look like a car thief but then again, I am a bit biased).

It took me well over an hour to do the last six miles and I had a train to catch, so no glimpse of the sea. The Mulsanne Speed I drove last year had an all-black interior. Thursday’s car had lots of off-white leather to lighten the mood and, in my view, looked much better for it. In fact, the almost white leather together with all the very shiny chrome embellishments gave the interior a nautical feel, like the interior of a super yacht. The fact that the Mulsanne is the size of a pocket battleship and its long bonnet noses majestically ahead of you like the bows of said battleship (complete with winged Bentley figurehead) furthers the nautical impression, so at least I had some sort of maritime experience. If you want to read more about the Mulsanne Speed (and a visit to Middle Earth) check out my epic two-part post here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).

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The interior of the Bentley. Not a bad place to be.

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

WEEKLY CAR DIARY & ASTON MARTINS GALORE!!

If variety is the spice of life, this week was a vindaloo:-

Monday: Ford Transit Connect, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire to Leeds. Ford Fiesta 1.0 turbo Zetec, Manchester to Leicester.

Tuesday: Ford Fiesta 1.0 Turbo Zetec, Leicester to Brentford, Middlesex; Kia Cee’d 1.6 diesel, London to Leicester

Wednesday: Aston Martins galore – Rapide S (2014), Vantage S manual (2016), Vantage S auto (2014), DB7 Vantage (2003), DB9 (2014), DBS (2012), all for about 8 miles each! Second Rapide S (2014) Derby to Scunthorpe; Mercedes C220d, Scunthorpe to Derby.

Friday: Ford Focus Titanium 2.0TDCi, Thurleigh Airfield, Bedfordshire to London SE1.

Monday saw Episode IV in the Rebel Alliance’s mission to supply X-wings to satellite station Sky. Or was it Episode I?? Like George Lucas, my episodes count can’t I.

Wednesday saw something a little out of the ordinary. Seven Aston Martins in one day – all 5.9 litre V12s. I was just told to turn up at Aston Martin Derby who needed a driver for the day. Most of the time was spent taking some of their used stock for a run down the A52 dual carriageway to give each one a drink of their favourite super unleaded. The grimmest of tasks, I know and the weather was miserable too – all warm and sunny.

I got to know the lady in the petrol station quite well. Her name is Philomena Wingnut, she lives on a canal boat called the Mary Rows (it has no engine) and she has a life-sized tattoo of Richard Hammond down her left thigh (apparently). People began to notice our frequent meetings and all those loyalty points she was giving me so to stop tongues wagging we are having to get married next week but don’t tell the wife. Anyway, before 1pm I had driven five different models of Aston Martin. Shame there was no Vanquish or DB11, but let’s not get greedy, eh? Here are some brief thoughts on each based on an 8 mile drive, except the second Rapide in which I drove about 70 miles to somewhere near Scunthorpe:-

Rapide S – a five door family hatchback. Starting up all these V12 Astons was an occasion in itself. Pushing the button instigates lots of dramatic whirring noises followed by a loud bark. The Rapides were no different and on the move, they would growl even under mild acceleration. When cruising you can always hear a muted engine note just to remind you that there’s a 5.9 litre V12 lurking under the bonnet but it is perfectly civilised. The one I took to somewhere near Scunthorpe was quite comfortable but had an annoying rattle coming from the back. The source was nothing to do with the car, it was a very rattly child seat. Told you – this really is a five door family hatchback (albeit with a luxury leather-clad interior).

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Rapide S. Most of the cars were untaxed so I had to stick trade plates on – with hi-tech gaffer tape!
Vantage S Manual.  You could tell straightaway that this is an absolute little hooligan of a car. Growling, howling and snarling loudly the whole time. If it had nostrils, fire and smoke would be blowing out of them. Obviously very quick off the mark – really exhilarating and I didn’t go over 70mph (truly). You sit a bit lower and the suspension is noticeably harder than on the other Astons so 70mph feels much faster than say, in the Rapide. This was the only manual I drove, a seven speed box with dog leg first (just like a Reynolds Boughton RB44 but there the similarity ends!!). The shift was quite stiff and the clutch heavy so an interesting challenge.

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Vantage S manual with its aggressive snout. Or slightly creepy face? you decide.
Vantage S Automatic. As above but with a slightly hesitant self-shifter. This one had a fetching red stripe down the black centre console. Added to the drama.

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Vantage S auto waiting for petrol pump to become free and to see Philomena Wingnut for the nth time.
DB9. Somewhere between the Rapide and Vantage S in manners and probably the most beautiful. Good combination of brute force with some civility if you want it.

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The DB9. Stunning.
DBS. To be honest, on such a short drive I couldn’t tell the difference between this and the DB9. Even the interiors looked the same. Hang on, yes I could. One was metallic bluey silver (“Skyfall” – what else?) and one was black (probably “Taxi de Londres” or something).

DB7 Vantage. About 14 years old and looked a bit antique inside. Lots of wood to go with the leather and smelled liked a classic car. For some reason I was surprised when it made a proper and youthful sound on start up. Still went well too.

Lots of Astons
Vantage S manual again and the DB7 Vantage in green
The pick of the bunch? For me, the manual Vantage S. Enjoyed not just the outrageous sound track but also the challenge of mastering that slightly awkward clutch and gearbox and driving it smoothly. Might be a bit wearing on a long journey though!

I have driven a couple of Aston Martins before. Last year I drove a DB9 round a track in absolutely torrential rain. Surprised at how fast the instructor got me to go in those conditions. If I had been on my own I would have tiptoed round. All credit to him.
About thirteen years ago I had a day driving classic cars. Eight cars in total from the Classic Car Club in Birmingham (don’t think it exists anymore) to the Cotswolds. The eight cars included the recently restored beauty below. Slightly disappointing to drive mind you. Took a while to gather its skirts when accelerating and cornered like a battleship.

Classic Aston

All in all Wednesday was an unusual and interesting day. Had ostrich for my evening meal when I eventually got home (but not ostrich vindaloo). Don’t know why I mentioned that. Probably because it was unusual and interesting (and delicious).

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Another Aston. Oops, no – its Friday’s Ford Focus. Silly me. But it’s an Aston sort of colour and if you screw your eyes up, that grill looks a bit like …….
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