JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Beef and prune stew

Last weekend, we had all of Lucius's colleagues and their families to lunch. 18 of us. Two tables, one for adults, one for children, presided over by Lettice, who was the only one of our four at home. Lucius said we should have stew, and this is what I made, slightly adapted from Tamasin Day-Lewis's Good Tempered Food. Next time I'd leave out the prunes, as the children didn't like them, and I thought they distracted from the rich tastes created by so many spices.

The amounts given here are from the original recipe, which she says does four. I multiplied by four, and there was tons left over (v useful in the freezer, we've already eaten some with another set of friends).

350-400g soft prunes, soaked in orange juice for a few hours
1kg chuck beef, cubed
4 medium onions

1 tsp each of:
coriander seeds
cumin seeds
dried ginger

2 pieces of orange peel
2 bay leaves
stock or water

Slice the onions and soften in olive oil in a heavy casserole pan. Chop a little celery and some garlic, and cook with the onions for a minute or two. Add 2-3 tablespoons of flour. Add the meat (I do not bother to brown it, but if this is something you always do, then go for it). Dry fry the seeds and bash them in a mortar with the cinnamon and ginger (TDL is a purist, and does all four, but I am not, and it still tasted good). Chuck in all the spices, not forgetting the cayenne (you can put less of this, but, even if you don't like hot food, do put some in, because it really does add a depth of flavour). Add the drained prunes, orange peel and bay, and just cover with stock or water. Bring to the boil, and simmer for about an hour and a half.

This is better made the day before, so that the flavours can settle, and so that you can remove any fat that has risen to the surface and solidified. Serve with some chopped coriander or parsley, and harissa, which you can buy in the supermarket. TDL gives a recipe for it, and I will try it one day, but not when there are 18 people coming to lunch!

I served this with mashed potato, delicious canneloni beans (this season's - I bought them in France at half term, and they are so fresh they don't need soaking before cooking) which I strewed with herbs from the garden (sage, thyme, some tarregon which was particularly good), kale, and frozen peas, which were by special request of Lettice.

Some vegetable dishes

Stuffed celeriac

I made this on Saturday evening, to go with roast pheasant, and it was delicious. The inspiration was from an article in Saturday's Guardian by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, but I didn't follow his instructions, because his version uses cream. Mine, using low-fat creme fraiche, is a definite improvement (sorry Hugh!), not just because there are fewer calories and less fat, but also because creme fraiche gives the finished dish a sharp flavour - tastier than the bland sweetness of cream.

Peel and slice one medium-sized celeriac - mine was about four inches in diameter, weighed 450kg (sorry about the metric/imperial muddle here!), and had been sitting in the fridge for a couple of weeks. The thinner the slices, the quicker this will cook, so it's worth taking trouble. It's easier if you cut the celeriac in half, so that the slices are D-shaped. Arrange in overlapping slices in a greased gratin dish.

Chop finely two cloves of garlic, one red chilli (fresh or dried, whichever you have to hand), 3-4 anchovy fillets, and the leaves of a large sprig of rosemary. Mix all this with 300ml of low-fat creme fraiche, and pour over the celeriac. Drizzle with a little oil, and put in a hot oven, 190C, for about 45 minutes.

Stuffed mushrooms

Ideally, you will have used anchovy fillets from a jar for the celeriac. I had to open a tin for this, so there were some left over. Not wanting to throw them away, or to have them making a greasy mess in the fridge, I used them to make a stuffing for mushrooms, which we ate for supper on Sunday evening. This is how I did it:

Finely chop one very small onion, and the stalks of four large mushrooms. Gently stew in a frying pan with 5-6 anchovy fillets and their oil (I'd use the whole tin if I was opening one). After a few minutes, add a little chopped garlic and cook for a minute. Add enough brown breadcrumbs to make a stiffish mixture. Mix in some chopped herbs - I think I used a little parsley, thyme, and some sage. Divide this mixture between the four mushrooms (which should be in an ovenproof dish or tin), pressing down well. Cover with a little white sauce, drizzle liberally with oil, and bake in a hot oven for half an hour, when the mushrooms should be cooked through and the stuffing heated through and brown on top. If not, put them back in the oven for a few more minutes.

This sounds a bit of a fiddle, and would be if you had to do it all at once. I always make "too much" white sauce, because it keeps well in the fridge, and is useful for this sort of dish, or to put on leftover vegetables. I also keep "fresh" brown breadcrumbs in the fridge, because they have myriad uses, because they keep well, and because I can't bear to throw away bread, particularly if I made it in the first place.

Parsnip crisps

This may not be what you were expecting to see in a kitchen dedicated to lower-fat, low-cholesterol cooking. I have come to see that the main thing to avoid is processed food, and making these crisps confirmed that in an unexpected way. They were fun to make, but it was time-consuming (about half an hour). If you only ever ate crisps you had made yourself, you couldn't possibly eat more of them than was good for you. I think home-made crisps may be an occasional treat here from now on - I enjoyed making them, while I chatted to my 14-year-old son Alfred, who was fascinated by the process. It was the sort of undemanding cooking that makes you feel like a cordon bleu chef. And they had so much taste that there was no need for salt. They provided a very good "crunch" as a side dish with our pheasant.

You need one large parsnip, a potato peeler, some vegetable oil, and a small frying pan. Cut thin ribbons from the parsnip, and fry them for a minute or two on each side in half a centimetre of shimmering hot oil. It is important that you fry them in a single layer (this is why it is time-consuming), and that you heat the oil up again between batches. Drain them on kitchen paper, and, when they are cool, store them in an airtight box.

Quick roast parsnip soup

There was a little parsnip leftover, horribly mis-shaped. I cut it into very small pieces and put it in a hot oven for a few minutes. When it was cooked, I mixed in an equal quantity of "leftover" roasted onions and pureed it with a little stock (although water would have done just as well). Ten minutes from start to finish,with two one-minute bursts of activity). Just enough for Lucius, who came in late for lunch after playing a tennis match.

Purple sprouting broccoli

This weekend we ate the first purple sprouting broccoli of the season, plain, because it was such a treat. But next time I may well chop in a little fresh chilli, or a little chilli jam, or fry some breadcrumbs with garlic and anchovy to strew over them. I love the seasonality of purple sprouting, the king of winter vegetables, and I look forward to it in just the same way as I look forward to the first asparagus in May.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Roasted parsnip soup

This is a quick, cheap and delicious soup, full of flavour (particularly if you use homemade stock, although you don't have to).

Peel and slice a couple of onions, put in a roasting tin and drizzle with a little oil. Roast in a hot oven for about 30 minutes. Cut a couple of parsnips into chunks, put in a roasting tin with a little oil and roast for 20 minutes. You are aiming to end up with similar amounts of the two veg.

When they are done, whizz them in the food processor with some stock - I used the pheasant stock I made last week with the carcasses of a brace of pheasant (£5 from the butcher), some onion, carrots and peppercorns.

Wonderfully warming on a rainy, thundery day like today.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Roast parsnips with mustard seed

My veg box had lots of parsnips this week ... this was a particularly delicious way to eat them:

Peel and cut 4-6 parsnips into even-sized wedges. Mix together 2tbsp olive oil, 2tbsp runny honey, and 1tbsp mustard seeds. Add the parsnips, making sure they are completely coated with this sticky mix. If there's not enough, add a little more oil. Empty everything into a roasting tin, and cook in a hot oven for about 40 minutes.