Monday, 25 March 2013

Winner Alright!

Right, well the horse jokes have abated slightly, but there’s no doubt that the word ‘burger’ still leaves a nasty taste in most people’s mouths... But there's a long weekend on the horizon, and why not treat yourself an equine-free delight...

I have to admit to being slightly smug as it’s a long time since I bought a pre-made burger from any source – artisan butcher or supermarket. And I can still remember the burger that made me want to make my own and it was consumed in the Avoca Cafe in Rathcoole... I have an annoying habit of eating like a Masterchef contestant in a John Torode-led taste test and on this particular occasion it must have taken me a full thirty minutes to eat this burger as I tried to work out how I could replicate it at home.
Anyway, below is my take on the Avoca-style burger. I’m in no way saying that it even remotely resembles what was in that legendary burger that day but it sure as hell is better than anything I’d ever cooked at home before.
I’m assisted in my homemade burger making by a nifty gadget I bought once at a Tupperware party called a ‘burger press’ and it does help make a lovely size of compact and uniform burger.
Serving suggestions:
I personally don’t see any point in making a lovely artisan burger and lopping it between two hideous cheap ‘bundy’ buns, so I generally try to buy some nice floury white baps or some lightly toasted ciabatta (sliced to fit if need be). Also you can’t beat some nice tasty relish on your burger bun, some rocket and thick slices of tomato-y tomatos…
Other optional extras are slices of good cheddar cheese, raw red onion or fried white onion, onion rings and of course, chips. For chips we generally use sliced new potatoes drizzled in olive oil and cooked in the oven, sprinked with smoked paprika when done, or sweet potato chips, also done in the oven…

Anyhow, here’s my burger recipe:
500gr GOOD QUALITY minced beef
1 large egg
8 sprigs of parsley finely chopped
3 spring onions finely chopped
I large dollop of tomato sauce or brown sauce if you prefer
Dash of Worcesterhire sauce
(optional additions: I finely chopped de-seeded chilli  or 2 teasp of wholegrain mustard)

Anyhow bung the whole lot into your food processor or mix well by hand. 
Then divide up into six or eight (depending on the size of your desired burger!)
Roll into balls then flatten into patties (or use your burger press) and cook to taste. Remember these will be quite chunky so if you don’t want them pink on the inside then you could finish in the oven.

Let us know how you get on!

Margaret xx

Yum yum yum…

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Meatballs - A Family Favourite

Oh my word - there must be a blue moon or similar - two dinner recipes in a row from Sarah, and not a mention of cake?!! Miracles can happen, it appears.

So, getting mince today and I thought that I just couldn't face bolognaise again (we've been having a phase and usually make a massive pot so last week we had enough for two days, and then I ended up staying late at a friend's house and scoffing some of her bolognaise that she kindly gave the girls so I didn't have to rush home). Basically, the girls have discovered they like meat, but haven't quite made the leap to a chop / steak  roast type piece of beef yet (we're getting there - those super fussy "fish finger only" days are long gone now, thankfully) so I am truly fed up of mince in all it's guises; we've had loads of bolognaise, heaps of shepherd's pie (or should that be cottage pie? We always only ever called shepherd's pie - incorrectly  as it happens, but I'll stick with that), burgers (oh, home made burgers in a bun with some home made wedge-style baked chips is a happy Friday evening treat in this house - I urge you to try them soon, I know my DinnerSister Margaret is planning a chat about them shortly in these "horsemeat burger" days); anyhow, I digress (for a change). Back to mince, I was a bit browned off with it (see what I did there, "browned off", eh? Eh?!). And then I had a mini-brainwave, of sorts, and remembered a really obvious one that had slipped my attention - meatballs. We haven't had them in AGES, and I reckoned the kids would love them. I know I do... I mean, who doesn't?! (My mince-hating sister need not answer... and no, mince does not look like brains, really, since you ask and yes, that is mostly just you - I mean, now you say it, I can see a certain resemblance; but no, they aren't that alike!)

A bit like bolognaise, meatballs is the type of recipe for which everyone has there own version. I offer you here the version I cooked tonight - taken originally from Jamie Oliver's original book, "The Naked Chef", it has been well adapted over the years (as a good recipe should be, to suit yourself and your own palate) and now with the addition of slightly fussy little ones, has been beefed up with lots of veg - I honestly even threw in a really small bit of turnip into ours today! (What can I say - there is a turnip backlog in the house, we don't even like it much but it is a great thickener in a sauce or a soup, so I thought, "what the hell?!")

Ready for the pot
Oh - a little addition here, see below in the ingredient list*. The recipe calls for 2 slices of bread, crumbed. I always use up the end crusts of a sliced pan by turning them into breadcrumbs - slightly stale bread is ideal. There is usually one or two slices and the two heels, so I just whizz them up in the processor, pop in a bag and freeze. Yesterday, I also included the tail end of a white loaf that we had at the weekend, from Superquinn (you know the sort of, "slice it yourself" affair, gorgeous and a regular Saturday treat in our house). So I was able to gauge "2 slices" relatively well - I just chucked in a few fistfuls. (So unlike me, am so usually "Ms Precise"!)

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

(à la Jamie Oliver, pg 133 & pg 237 of "The Naked Chef")
serves 4 - 6

For the tomato sauce

  • 1 onion
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 medium carrot
  • Half a red pepper
  • About 3 medium / large mushrooms
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 carton of passata
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Tomato puree
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • A pinch of ground nutmeg
  • A pinch of caster sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Whizz up all the veg in the processor (mine is small, and I need to do this in batches) and fry off in a large saucepan - bearing in mind that the minced veg seems to take a little longer to cook off
  2. Add the passata and the tinned tomatoes (my two give about about lumps of chopped tomatoes, but I find the passata a bit thick so I risk a tin! Otherwise skip the passata and go with three tins of tomato)
  3. Add the oregano, balsamic, a good dash of W. sauce, a good squeeze of puree (about half a tube) and even a squeeze of ketchup too (Heinz all the way, in this house) and season well with plenty of pepper and a little salt
  4. Bring to the boil and gently simmer for one hour (Jamie suggests - I managed about 20 minutes!)
  5. Some fresh basil would be good at this point; again, I'm still waiting for ours to grow

For the meatballs

  • 2 lbs good minced beef
  • 2 slices of bread, crumbed* (see note, above)
  • 2 tsp of dried oregano
  • 2 tsp mixed herbs
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • olive oil, for frying
  • 1 quantity of tomato sauce (see above)
  • 125g mozarella cheese
  • Fresh basil (I forgot this tonight, but would usually include it)
  • Oil, for frying (I usually use rapeseed oil)
  • Optional ingredients
    • 1 onion, finely diced
    • 1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
    • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • Preheat the oven to 200C / gas mark  6 /  400F
  1. Add the breadcrumbs, oregano, mixed  and egg to the minced meat in a large bowl, then season well
  2. At this stage, you can add the optional ingredients - I would if it was just for myself and Himself, but I know the two fussy pants' would baulk, so I don't bother anymore... But fry them off lightly first and then leave to one side to cool, so you add them cool. Nothing worse than biting into a lump of raw garlic in your dinner and still reeking of it three days later! The same optional extras work well with burgers, incidentally
  3. Mix well with your hands to combine (I find it impossible to mix this gunge with a spoon, and I know my hands need to get in there in a minute to roll, so you might as well go for it)
  4. With damp hands, roll the meat mixture into balls the size and shape you want (I prefer them slightly smaller, and I think they dry out less this way, although tonight's were a little large). These can also be prepared in advance and can be stored in the fridge, on greasproof paper and covered in clingfilm, for up to a day
  5. Put a thick bottomed casserole dish / le Creuset type /  heavy saucepan on a hot flame and heat til very hot, then add plenty of oil, for frying, swirling around to coat the bottom
  6. Add the meatballs and fry them brown all over, being careful not to break them up but just moving them around the pan to ensure they brown evenly (I find two teaspoons easiest for this, as a fork can split them)
  7. Frying the meatballs
  8. Turn the heat down and cover with the tomato sauce, plenty of ripped up basil and a little broken up mozarella and grated Parmesan (again, this is something I save for the adult version, but I urge you to do it, it is FANTASTIC!), then stick the pan into the oven and bake for about 15-20 mins, until the cheese is golden - just enough time to cook the pasta!
This is great variation on "comfort food", especially these unseasonably cold days, enjoy with a glass of good red, close your eyes and imagine you are in some Italian dream!

Sarah xx

Monday, 4 March 2013

A Tasty Casserole - Chicken & Chickpeas

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How do you measure the success of a cookbook? As the wife of a chef with a keen interest in baking (what do you mean, you hadn't noticed?!) I am often given cookbooks as a present; often ones that I wouldn't have bought myself. My mother-in-law got me Tana Ramsay's "Real Family Food" one Christmas, I presume because Himself rates her husband Gordon so much. Now, there is no way I'd ever have bought this as I reckon it's just cashing in on her husband's name - but, I have to say, I like the recipes. One in particular I use a lot, and I think that this is the measure of a successful recipe book... If there is even one recipe in the book that interests you enough to try once and turns out to be so good that you return and make it time after time - that was a worthwhile purchase and the book has been a success.

So here's a family favourite in our house, Tana's "Chicken and Chickpeas", vaguely Morroccan-ish with a bit of Italian thrown in for good measure. A really tasty "laid back supper", as suggested by the author, but also good enough to serve at an informal dinner with friends around the kitchen table (my favourite kind of dinner party - kids asleep upstairs, so no babysitter fees, plenty of wine and good chat). It's also pretty easy; dice an onion, fry off some chicken pieces and then the onion, bung in chickpeas, tomatoes and a few other bits and sling it all in the oven for an hour and Bob's your uncle.

Chicken & Chickpeas

Serves 4 (even if just making this for the two of us, I would make this amount of sauce anyhow as I like a saucy dinner, although I might cut down the amount of chicken. This scales up very easily though)

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 8 chicken legs (I usually use 4 chicken breasts on the bone, or the leg joints, "the oyster cut"… leave the skin on)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped (if just for two, I'd only use one onion)
  • 200ml / 7fl oz red wine
  • 400g / 14oz tinned tomatoes (1 tin)
  • 300ml / 11fl oz chicken stock or boiled water with a chicken stock cube dissolved (I use the latter option)
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 400g / 14 oz tin chickpeas
  • Large bunch basil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 head of garlic, broken into cloves with the skin left on
  • Preheat the oven to 180ºC

2.    On the hob, heat the oil in a casserole / large saucepan until it shimmers.  Add the chicken and brown on all sides, then remove and put to one side.

3.    Turn the heat down and add the chopped onions. Stir well to make sure the onions absorb all the chicken sediment at the bottom of the pan.

4.    When the onions are soft and have just started to colour, add the red wine and turn up the heat.  The wine will bubble and spit, so be careful (this doesn't actually happen when I do it as my big saucepan is non-stick).  Keep boiling until virtually all the wine has evaporated and the onions are stained red.

5.    Add the tinned tomatoes, stock, balsamic vinegar and chickpeas.  Rip up half the basil leaves and throw into the casserole.  Season with plenty of salt and pepper, stir well and bring to the boil.  Turn the heat down to a simmer and carefully arrange the drumsticks on top of the tomatoes and chickpeas.

6.    Sprinkle the whole garlic cloves over the top (I usually don’t use the whole head of garlic when it’s just for the two of us, I just use the smaller cloves from the bulb – but I do use lots of them).  Cover the casserole dish with the lid and place in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and return to the oven for a further 30 minutes.

7.    Sprinkle the remaining torn basil leaves over the chicken pieces, check the seasoning and serve immediately.

8.    Serving suggestion is a loaf of crusty fresh bread and a crisp green salad – personally, I prefer floury potatoes as there is a lot of sauce and it’s lovely to let the spud soak it up a little. I'm sure it would work equally well with your carb of choice though; be that pasta, rice or cous cous - I think cous cous would work very well, actually, although do make sure to soak it in chicken stock rather than just plain boiling water, it gives much better flavour.

Sarah xx

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Birthday Cake - a postscript on scaling up

The more bling the better, when you are six!
Oh DL fans - the panic! Just starting to make a birthday cake for my not-so-little-anymore 6 year old DinnerBaby, and I decided that I should go BIG - we're off to the playcentre this afternoon and we need to supply the cake. Selfishly, I decided that I should make a much larger cake than my usual 8 inch round cake so that there would be enough left over for us as well, not just the vultures that are a gang of six-year girls!

Anyhow, this time last year I made a couple of 9 inch square cakes (as pictured in a previous post) so I reckoned that would be perfect. So off I went to get the notes from then, as of course I can't remember the details of scaling up the recipe that I worked out back then. Bear in mind that the party is at 3pm today and it is 11.30 at this stage, so you can imagine my panic when I can't find the notebook and remember how I threw it out recently.... Cue frantic searching and googling "scaled up cake recipes" and dodgy calculations with a pen and calculator trying to work out fractions of eggs, all the while screaming inside my head "I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS!"

Sketchy note
Luckily, I found a dirty scrap of paper in my my Delia Smith book when I went to check my "master" cake recipe. Now, even by my standards, these details are on the sketchy side, so I thought I would record them for posterity here - and in case anyone else ever wants to scale up or down a recipe!

Just a note before I start - this is all in old "imperial" measurements. Mostly because that is what my Mum used for making cakes so it's "in my head" even though I use metric mostly for everything else. Also, these are basically the old recipes, which would all have been pounds, ounces and inches as well. Plus, it's so easy to remember 3-6-6-6 as the basic master cake recipe (as in, 3 eggs and 6oz each of sugar, flour and butter) that this is how I work it. Feel free to convert to metric if you are happier to work in grams.

The basic rule of thumb, according to Delia, is that if you have a round tin then you go an inch down, so my inverse of that means an inch up for a larger tin. My usual 3-6-6-6 cake is for 8' round tins, the square tins I have are 9' so I went with a scale up for 10' round - does that make sense?! I also cooked it at a slightly lower temperature and for about 3 mins longer than my smaller round cake. But now I've just tied my brain in a knot, so perhaps it would be easier for me just to give the recipe I used for the 9' square tins. As ever, all ingredients need to be at room temperature - you should be able to press the flat side of a knife through the butter with no effort.

The cake can look skimpy in the tin, don't worry
  • 5 large eggs
  • 10oz self-raising flour
  • 10oz caster sugar
  • 10oz soft butter
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp  vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder (if making a chocolate cake)
  • Preheat the oven to 160C
  1. As per normal, add the flour, eggs, sugar, butter and baking powder (and cocoa powder, if using) to a large bowl and just go in with the electric mixer - slowly at first as there is a lot of flour and you don't want it all to blow up in your face! Then increase the speed and mix for a minute or two
  2. Add the vanilla and milk, mix again and the cake should now be a good "dropping" consistency, that is it should drop nicely off the spoon when given a sharp tap
  3. Divide the mixture between your two tins, taking care to smooth the top out evenly. It does look like very little in the tin, but don't worry
  4. Bake for 30 mins at 160C, it might need a couple of minutes longer as it is a bigger cake, but really no more than 3-5. It is done when the top is nice and springy to the touch and an inserted skewer comes out clean
  5. Leave to cool in the tins for 5 mins before turning out onto wire racks to cool completely, before icing to your own - or rather, your 6 year old's own! - taste. We used pink buttercream for the middle, chocolate ganache on top (you'll find that recipe on the Boston Cream Pie post) studded with smarties and silver balls and then sprinkled with edible glitter and sugar sprinkles.... You'll find that bling, colour and sugar is what is most appealing to 6 year olds, not sophisticated good taste!
So, to summarise - I hope you were paying attention, class! If you usually use a round tin and want to make a square cake, your tin needs to be one inch smaller. If your square tin is bigger, then scale up  accordingly, so a square tin that measures one inch bigger will require plenty more ... I decided on two extra eggs and the corresponding amount of sugar, flour and butter. The tins are big though, so they would take more mixture if required; you'll probably need to cook them for longer though.

Give it a whirl - it worked for me, and you can probably tell I was flying by the seat of my pants! If you are considering scaling up or down a recipe, you can obviously already cook cake, so there is no need to worry, your judgement will see you through.

Sarah (on a sugar high, after a huge wodge of cake!)