Chille con Carne

I didn’t make this tonight, but I have tested this recipe often enough to know that it is the best. It is from The Organic Meat Cookbook by Frances Bissell. I’ve had this book for a while, and just about everything that I have made is delicious. This recipe can be made with beef mince, or with finely chopped venison. I don’t like minced venison, just doesn’t work well.

This can be served with rice or bread, with yoghurt as a side dish.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 680g minced beef or diced venison
  • 2 cans of red kidney beans, or 450g dried beans, scalded and then soaked overnight
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3 tsp ground cumin
  • 3 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 280ml stock
  • salt and pepper
  • chopped coriander or parsley

METHOD:

  • In a large casserole dish, fry the onion in the olive oil until it is golden.
  • Add the mince or finely diced meat, and cook until browned. Stir in the spices so the meat is well-coated.
  • Add the tomatoes, stock and beans, and enough water to ensure all the ingredients are covered.
  • Simmer very slowly in the oven for 3-4 hours.
  • Check the seasoning just before serving, and garnish with chopped herbs.

Minced Meat Curry

One of my stand-by recipe books is a rather unglamorous and battered book, called the Complete Farmhouse Kitchen Cookbook. In my quest to cook about 40 different recipes with beef mince, I tried this, and it was delicious. I served it with plain basmati rice, and used up some coconut milk that I had, rather than following the recipe exactly.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 green chillies, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh ginger root
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp turmerig
  • 450g minced beef
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 cup of frozen peas

METHOD:

  • Heat the oil, and gently fry the onion.
  • As it becomes well cooked, almost beginning to brown, add the garlic, ginger, chillies and the spices, and stir together until well mixed.
  • Add the meat and continue to cook over a low heat.
  • Once is browned, add the tomato puree, and the coconut milk, mix together and bring back to a simmer.
  • Cover and simmer slowly for around 1 hour.
  • Add the peas and cook for another 10 minutes before serving.

Turnip Soup

I have lots of turnips still standing in the garden, the last of the winter vegetables. They are fantastic things, yellow and spicy and fresh after a long winter. My only gripe about turnips is finding ways to cook them. Usually I mash them with potatoes, or, more recently, I have been dicing them and roasting them for 20 minutes in olive oil and pepper. Tonight I discovered why I had found so little in the way of recipes in my books and on the web: the English think they are swedes, and the French and the Americans seem to think they are called Rutabagas. Anyway, no matter what they are called, tonight I tried out this soup. It is from Lindsey Bareham’s incomparable recipe book, ‘A Celebration of Soup’.

 INGREDIENTS:

  • 75g organic butter
  • 2-3 shallots, finely chopped,
  • A bunch of parsley
  • 450g diced turnip (about one large, or 2 small), home grown
  • salt and pepper
  • 1.1 litres of rich stock (I used some game stock, but ‘Marigold’ stock is fine
  • A pinch of saffron, if available (optional)
  • 100ml double cream

Method:

  • Heat the butter in a large pan, and soften the shallots in the butter for about five minutes
  • Add the parsley stalks (or dried herbs, if fresh parsley is scarce) and the turnip along with a pinch of salt. Stir, and make sure everything gets well coated in butter.
  • Cover the pan and simmer on low for about fifteen minutes.
  • At this stage, the turnip is tender and sweet and could be served as a vegetable dish in its own right.
  • For to make the soup, add the stock and saffron, bring to the boil, and simmer for 30 minutes
  • Blend the soup with a soup wand, and reheat.
  • To serve, whisk the cream with the finely chopped parsley, and swirl into the soup.

I served it with brown toast. However, you could make croutons, and the book suggests polenta chips: small slivers of cooked polenta, coated in oil and grilled to create a crunchy exterior. Very good indeed.

Why I Love My Freezer

Most of my recipes start from trying to eat locally. However, this is quite hard to do at this time of year unless you eat a lot of smoked salmon and turnip. I exaggerate, of course, but early spring is a lean time for eating from the garden. Locally produced food is of such wonderful quality, but the reliability of supply means that it is hard to stock to local food only.

And now, here is the reason for loving my freezer. I still have broad beans, home grown from last summer, and tonight I had a most delicious stew made with local beef. Both of these were only available for a limited period last year. We also picked boxes of brambles at a secret location possibly near you, and I have these stashed away, ready for when I am inspired to use them.

In fact, there’s not much that can’t be frozen. I also cook large portions of food, and we regularly eat half and freeze half for another time. It is also a good way of stashing food that is cheap at the co-op: what to do with reduced cost punnets of fruit and no jam jars? Freeze until you have time to make jam! You can also freeze yoghurt, and many other co-op specials. The Scottish Co-op is very good at pricing to sell rather than throwing away, and it is one of the supermarket chains that has done the most to reduce waste: as a result, some things are cheap on the day they expire and they can still be frozen for later.

 The website ‘Love Food, Hate Waste’ has an excellent freezer section with ideas on how to get the most from your food and your freezer. I have started saving the breadcrumbs that used to get swept away: in freezer bag in the fridge, they are ready for use in a second. They also suggest freezing all kinds of things like portions of mashed potato, or grated cheese.

But the reason why my freezer is my best friend, first and foremost, is because it brings me one step closer to eating local food.

Freezers and the environment

To everything, there are two sides. A freezer may help me in my quest to spend my money locally and invest in the local economy. However, they also account for around 20% of the energy used by domestic electrical appliances. The EU has helped us improve our buying habits and also our waste management for old fridges and freezers. The energy labelling system was introduced as a consequence of consumer and political pressure. As a result, over the last 15 years, the energy efficiency of domestic appliances has increased by up to 20% every four years.

The EU energy label has been in place for over a decade. It rates efficiency in colour bands from A to G, with green A being the best, and G being the worst. There are now additional classes called A+ and A++. It is now the law that the label must be shown on all refrigeration units. Generally, chest freezers are not as efficient as upright models. A freezer bought before 1999 could be anything up to a G rating. New laws state that labelling information should also state energy consumption; remember that a larger appliance may use more energy, even if it has an equivalent rating.

There are several features to look out for to make sure your freezer is even more environmentally friendly. Some relate to the kind of freezer you buy, and other features are more to do with how you use your freezer. So-called ‘Frost-free’ freezers are more efficient, as defrosting and refreezing uses a significant amount of energy. The frost-free models do not use any more electricity to run, and save time. Look out for fast freeze settings; these use extra energy, and should be used cautiously. There is also a trend to buy bigger and bigger freezers. A big freezer, however good the rating, is going to use more power than a smaller model. Also try to buy a freezer that is CFC-free (check the label). For the most efficient and ethical freezer purchases, try looking at www.which.net or www.sust-it.net. I also looked at the ethical consumer website. Then try and buy locally.

As for using your freezer more effectively, let me dispel one myth for you straight away: a full freezer uses just the same energy as an empty one, no difference. On the other hand, a door left ajar, a damaged or dirty door seal, these really rack up the energy consumption. Look out for freezers with door alarms to prevent the door getting left open by accident. Some features of freezers can minimise heat loss when the door is open: transparent drawers let you see what you are looking for quickly. I also use a lot of labelling for stuff in the freezer for the same reason. It is also a good idea to invest in a freezer thermometer, and adjusting the settings to keep the freezer around -18C. Try not to install your new freezer in a hot place; that won’t help it work at all. Avoid direct sunlight as well, for the same reason. It seems obvious, but don’t put hot food into the freezer; let it cool first.

New freezer, old freezer: Is it ethically OK to chuck out an old freezer that works OK and get a new one? Not easy to answer. It is not just about comparing the energy efficiency; this about the environmental cost of getting rid of the old one, and the materials and energy consumed in making and transporting the new one. For a fridge that is greater than five years old, replacement is often the best environmental option, as long as your new freezer is rated A+ or A++. 

Under EU regulation, shops must help customers recycle old freezers, amongst other things. This may be that they support the council’s recycling scheme, or offering something similar. When buying a new appliance, see if they will take away your old one. CnES has its own appliance ‘recycling’ site at Market Stance. I’m not sure how it works, but they are not being added to the general landfill site, and hopefully they are managed to ensure that CFCs do not leak out into the atmosphere.

You could always freecycle your old freezer, offering it to someone who would not be able to purchase their own. However, I wonder… if it was too inefficient to justify using it yourself, how can you then justify allowing someone else to use it? Oh, how I lie awake at night, fretting! But on the plus side, think of all the wasted food that has been avoided, and all the local food that has been consumed.

Banana Loaf

Banana loaf
The classic banana loaf

INGREDIENTS:

  • 225g plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • pinch of salt
  • 100g butter or margarine
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice (or more)
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 2 bananas, mashed
  • 1 tsp grated lemon rind
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • granulated sugar for the glaze

METHOD:

  • Heat the oven to 180C and grease and line a loaf tin
  • Sift the dry ingredients together
  • Rub the butter into the flour until it is the size of breadcrumbs
  • Add the sugar and any spices such as ground cinnamon, or allspice, and any dried fruit.
  • In another bowl mix the milk and lemon juice
  • In a third bowl, mash the banana and add lemon rind
  • In a fourth bowl, beat the eggs.
  • Add the milk and lemon juice to the mashed banana and mix well.
  • Add the eggs to the mashed banana mixture and mix well.
  • Add the mashed banana mixture to the dry ingredients, and combine well – do this step fairly quickly, and turn the mixture into the prepared loaf tin. Time is of the essence once the wet and dry ingredients are combined.
  • Sprinkle the top with granulated sugar and into the oven for 1 hour 15 minutes.

Risotto with Beef and Tomato Ragu

You can make this with any left-over bolognese Ragu, or do as I did – make the ragu from scratch. I made double, ate some for tea with pasta, froze some, and made the risotto with the rest. This is from Risotto Risotto.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 stick of celery, diced
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 slices of unsmoked bacon, chopped
  • 250g minced beef
  • 1 glass of red wine
  • 400g can of tomatoes, pureed in the tin
  • 1 bayleaf
  • salt and pepper
  • 500g risotto rice
  • 1.5 litres of stock
  • 25g butter
  • 50g grated parmesan

METHOD:

  • Make the ragu sauce first, preferably the day before. Fry all the chopped vegetables and bacon in the oil until the vegetables are soft.
  • Add the mince and the wine, and fry until the meat is brown and the alcohol has boiled away.
  • Add the pureed tomatoes, bayleaf, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and leave to simmer for 2 hours until rich and dense. Check frequently to ensure that it is not ‘sticking’.
  • Next, add the rice to the ragu, and stir at a simmer until the mixture looks dry.
  • Keep the stock on the boil, and add a ladleful at a time, stirring constantly and allowing the liquid to be absorbed before the next ladleful is added.
  • Continue in this way for around 20 minutes; the rice will be firm and cooked through, and the risotto will be creamy. Take the risotto off the heat, remove the bayleaf, and stir in the butter and parmesan cheese.
  • Cover and leave to rest for a few minutes, before transferring to a warmed platter and serving.

Moroccan Beef and Fig Stew

This is one of a series of mince recipes. I have just bought a large quantity of mince from Dr Louise, who is downsizing her herd. Delicious dishes, I’m sure the great quality of the meat has a lot to do with it.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 450g minced beef
  • 1 tbsp butter or vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 1 stick of celery, diced
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 3 tsp ras-el-hanout
  • 8 dried figs, finely chopped
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp tomato puree
  • 150ml stock
  • Coriander leaf, chopped
  • 2 tsps lemon zest

METHOD:

  • Heat the oil or butter in a large pan over a medium heat, and gently fry the onion, garlic, carrot, celery, paprika, cumin and ras-el-hanout. Stir together and let this gently cook for around five minutes.
  • Add the beef, stir and cook until it is all well mixed, and the mince is browned.
  • Stir in the figs, tomatoes and tomato paste, then pour in the stock. Bring to a simmer, and let it cook over a low heat for 20 minutes.
  • Stir in the coriander and lemon zest just before serving.

I served this with nan bread.

Goose Bhuna

This recipe was inspired by seeing a bhuna recipe on ‘grubworm’ but when I went to download it, we had an IT failure, so I used a similar bhuna recipe from a book. The flavour is fantastic. The main feature of a bhuna is that the sauce is cooked right down to a sticky paste that adheres to the meat.

Seasoned Pioneers can supply just about any spice or herb that you can’t source locally.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 4 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 dried chillies
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 2 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4cm ginger root, grated
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 can of chopped tomatoes
  • 15 curry leaves
  • 4 goose breasts, cut into thin strips
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 250ml water
  • a pinch of garam masala
  • freshly chopped coriander leaf to garnish.

METHOD:

  • Toast the spices in a small pan for a minute or two, until the mustard seeds start to pop. Take off the heat, cool, and grind in a pestle and mortar with the salt.
  • Put the onion, ginger and garlic in a food processer and blend until the onion is in small chips.
  • Fry the chopped onion mixture in a little vegetable oil, until the onion is starting to brown.
  • Add the tomatoes and curry leaves, and cook until the sauce starts to thicken.
  • Add the ground spices, keep stirring, and after five minutes, add the water, and bring back to a simmer.
  • Put a lid on the pan and simmer on a very low heat until the sauce is really thick. This can take quite a while, an hour or so.
  • Meanwhile, around 10 minutes before serving, fry the goose in a very hot pan for around 5 minutes, and then add to the thickened sauce, stir and reduce the sauce further.
  • Sprinkle with garam masala and garnish with the chopped coriander.

Serve with plain rice, and a glass of cold beer. The flavour from the freshly roasted spices is amazing.

Tartiflette

We make this frequently at home, because it is easy, and it is a top comfort food. For a vegetarian option, leave out the bacon.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1.2 kg waxy potatoes
  • 200g diced smoked bacon
  • 1 onion, finely sliced (you can add garlic if you like)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil or butter
  • Salt, pepper, nutmeg
  • 1 reblochon cheese (a softish cows’ milk cheese)
  • 2 tbsp creme fraiche or sour cream
  • 1 glass of dry white wine (Apremont for preference: it has a fresh light taste)

METHOD:

  • Peel and boil the potatoes for ten minutes, drain and leave to cool
  • Gently fry the onion in the oil, and add the bacon. Cook until the onion and bacon are beginning to brown slightly. Season with salt and pepper, and a grate of nutmeg
  • Butter a gratin dish large enough to take all the ingredients. Slice half the cooked potatoes thickly, and make a layer over the bottom of the dish
  • Add half the onion and bacon.
  • Use the rest of the potatoes, sliced to make a second layer and top with onion and bacon.
  • Pour over the glass of wine
  • Spread the creme fraiche over the top, then halve the reblochon lengthwise, and put this cut-side down over the potatoes.
  • Bake at 200C for 15 to 20 minutes, so the cheese has melted into the potatoes.

Delia Smith’s Parsnip and Cheese Roulade with Sage and Onion Stuffing.

We had the big family Christmas this year, twenty people with five vegetarians. I made this for Christmas Day, and served it as an alternative for turkey et al. It was delicious, but it took quite a bit to find a corner to make it in while all the turkey and trimmings were being prepared. I used the recipe in Delia Smith’s Christmas – a very fine book indeed.

INGREDIENTS:

For the stuffing:

  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 50g butter
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh sage
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 75g panko breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper

For the roulade:

  • 100g grated hard cheese
  • 50g butter
  • 25g plain flour
  • 275ml cold milk
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 40g chopped and toasted hazelnuts
  • 1 tbsp grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper

For the parsnip filling

  • 3 large parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • 25g butter
  • 2 tbsp double cream
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • salt and pepper

You will also need a clean tea-towel, greaseproof paper or tin foil, and a swiss roll tin, or similar baking tray.

METHOD:

  • Preheat the oven to 200C gas 6
  • Make the stuffing layer first. Melt the butter in a small pan, and fry the chopped onions for around five to six minutes, until translucent.
  • Add the herbs, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper, and stir together.
  • Meanwhile, line the swiss roll tin with greaseproof paper, silicon paper or greased tin foil.
  • Make a thin layer of the stuffing in the swiss roll tin.
  • Next, make the cheese layer. Put the butter, milk and flour together in a saucepan. Heat this on a medium heat, stirring until thickened, season with salt and pepper and continue to cook on a low heat for a couple more minutes.
  • Put the sauce aside to cool. Separate the eggs, making sure the egg whites are in a grease-free bowl. Add the egg-yolks to the white sauce, and whisk them in. Next, add the grated hard cheese, and stir until it is melted in. Check for seasoning, and add salt and pepper to taste.
  • In a large bowl and clean whisk, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. (I got my sister to do this.)
  • Fold the cheese mixture into the egg-white: Start by adding a little of the egg-white mixture to the cheese sauce and then add the cheese sauce to the egg-whites, fold a spoon at a time until well mixed. Take care to ensure that the mixture retains as much air as possible.
  • Pour the cheese mixture over the stuffing and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until set. It should be springy and feel firm.
  • Last layer: make the parsnip filling. Boil the chopped parsnips for at least 15 minutes, until soft.
  • Mix the cooked parsnips with butter, double cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Have a really good go at this to make smooth paste.
  • Assembly: Put the tea-towel on the table and sprinkle with toasted chopped hazelnuts.
  • Turn out the stuffing/cheese layer onto the hazelnuts. Spread the parsnips onto the stuffing layer, and then roll up the roulade along the longest side, using the teatowel to ensure it ends up as a round shape.
  • Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with grated parmesan.

I found this to need a bit of reheating at the end to ensure it was hot enough to serve with the turkey. Turn the oven down to 180C, cover the roulade with tin foil, and heat through for around 20 minutes.