Sunday, 29 June 2014

The perfect roast beef and Yorkshire puddings

How do you cook the perfect roast beef and Yorkshire puddings? 

This recipe is really simple. It will help you create a beef joint that is crispy and caramelized on the outside and pink in the middle, fluffy roast potatoes and puffy Yorkshire puddings. But as always, the key is not to skimp on good ingredients. And also, don't feel compelled to over complicating it with garlic and herbs. Keep it simple for the best flavour. And as this dish is more a British institution than just a meal, then it deserves to be done properly. Once you've tried it cooked this way, you will never want to go out to a pub or restaurant for Sunday lunch again.

Ingredients (dinner for 6 adults or 4 adults and 4 children):

1.5kg beef joint. Go to a good, independent butcher rather than a super market and buy a matured, hung sirloin joint (or a cheaper alternative might be a rib-eye joint). And get your butcher to trim, score, roll and tie it for you. My own preference is for Welsh Black beef, but there are plenty of other types of good, pedigree beef around. 
1 onion, roughly sliced
25g of unsalted butter

200g plain flour
3 eggs
300ml full fat milk
20g of beef dripping (your butcher should have some, if not use cooking oil)
Salt and pepper

6 King Edward Potatoes, peeled and halved or quartered
A tub of goose fat (again, your butcher will have it, but if not, you'll have to use olive oil)
1 tea spoon of Mustard powder
A small palm full of rosemary leaves, finely chopped

A table spoon of cornflour
1 litre of strong beef stock (if you are using cubes or stock pots, dissolve 4 in a litre of boiling water)
(A sprig of thyme - optional)

The cooking:

Your first job is to make the batter for your Yorkshire puddings. If you are reading this recipe in time, and you are still aiming for the "perfect" outcome, then ideally this should be done the day before you are eating them and kept in the fridge over night. Don't panic if you haven't planned that far ahead. As long as you give it about an hour it should be fine (albeit, not perfect).

In a mixing bowl, season your plain flour with plenty of salt and pepper (stir it in), then add your eggs 1 at a time making sure each one is absorbed into the flour before adding the next. Then gradually pour in your milk. A few splashes at a time, stirring it in thoroughly as you go. Once all the milk has gone in, whisk the batter smooth to make sure that there are absolutely no lumps. Then cover your bowl with some cling film and leave it in your fridge over night.

Next job, beef preparation; allow your beef to "chambreuse" or acclimatize to room temperature before you roast it, rather than put it in the oven straight from the fridge. Half an hour should be enough. While it is standing, sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and dot the top with slices of unsalted butter. That's it. That's all you need.

Lay your onion slices in a heap in the middle of a roasting tin and place your beef on top. Preheat your oven to 220 degrees. Once at temperature, put the beef in (uncovered). After 20 minutes, reduce the temperature down to 200 degrees and roast for a further hour. It is really important that every 10 minutes or so you baste the beef with its own juices. The added acidity from the onion will also help ensure that the juices you are basting the meat with will make it really tender when cooked. Once the beef is done, you will need to let it rest for 30 minutes before carving it. It will secrete a lot of liquid while resting which I suggest you may want to add to your gravy, so I would normally place the beef on a wire tray over a bowl so as it rests, all the liquid is being captured.

While the beef is still cooking, put your peeled potatoes in a covered pan filled with cold, salted water. Bring the water to the boil with the potatoes in it, and once bubbling, boil your potatoes for 10 minutes (or longer if they are especially big). While they are boiling, spoon the goose fat from your jar into an oven proof dish or roasting tin and put it into the oven with the beef for 2 to 3 minutes to melt thoroughly. Once your potatoes are done, drain all the water from the pan, then holding the lid firmly in place, give the pan a really good shake so the potatoes inside crash into the sides of the pan and each other. This is what will make them fluffy once roasted. Using a slotted spoon, lift each potato out of the pan and into the hot goose fat, rolling them thoroughly so they each get a full coating of the hot fat. Then sprinkle them with mustard powder, salt, pepper and coarsely chopped rosemary leaves. Turn them all over, and sprinkle the other side as well. Put into the same oven as the beef and roast for 45 minutes, (or until golden and crispy all over). Turn them every 12 minutes or so to stop them from sticking.

Now your Yorkshire puddings need to be cooked at 220 degrees (a lot hotter than the beef and potatoes) so if you have 2 ovens, happy days. If not, you will need to plan for this. The good news is, they cook in 30 minutes - the same amount of time you need to leave your beef to rest before carving, so as long as you time your spuds to be ready at the same time it need not be a drama (but you will obviously need to either keep them warm or reheat them for serving). I usually bake my Yorkshires in a baking tin intended for making small tarts and pastries. Before baking your puds, distribute equal sized lumps of beef dripping into each cup in your baking tin and put it in the hot oven until all the dripping has melted down to a hot liquid. Using a ladle, spoon your batter into each cup so it is full and return the tin to the oven. Make sure you have allowed plenty of room for the puddings to rise (because they rise a lot!!) and do not open the oven door until the half hour is up and they are cooked. If you like them crispy, leave them in for an extra 5 minutes or so.

Finally; your gravy. Drain away all bar two table spoons of meat fat from your roasting tin and warm it on a medium heat on your hob. Add a table spoon of cornflour and using a wooden spoon, stir the flour into the fat and make a paste. Stir it for a couple of minutes until it starts to darken in colour. Then start to add your stock a few splashes at a time. Be prepared for the fact that it will congeal. Just keeping stirring through it, so it stays smooth, and keep adding more and more stock to thin it out. Once all the stock has been added turn the heat up high, add the juices collected from the resting beef joint, and the onion slices that were roasting under the meat and stir it all together. If you want to make a more "herby gravy", an optional extra would be a couple of sprigs of thyme. It's not necessary but some people prefer it that way. Once you have reached the desired thickness for your gravy, strain it to remove the onion (the thyme if you added any) and any lumps, return it to your roasting tin and let it simmer for 5 to 10 minutes or until you are ready to serve it. It should continue to darken through the simmering. Whisk it through to make sure it is thoroughly smooth and de-glazed before serving.

Dish up with carrots, peas and may be some cauliflower with cheese sauce as well if you're feeling flash. It will knock your socks off it's so good and just what you need for a family get together. Enjoy with red wine.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Italian Lamb and Pea Casserole

Italian Lamb and Pea Casserole

I have to confess; I first came across this recipe on an episode of BBC TV's "Saturday Kitchen" and I've changed it very little. It's great if you have many mouths to feed as it will easily feed 6. Last time I prepared it was at my parent's house in southern Spain for a dinner party. I went to the local market on a boiling hot day to get everything I needed. But I could not find chillis any where on any of the stalls. And to make matters worse I didn't know what the Spanish word for chilli was so I asked one stall holder who appeared to have every other type of spice known to man except chillis. "Pimienta" I said (which means pepper) and mimed that I had eaten something hot by fanning my mouth with my hand (just like a twat would!). Any way, it worked. The woman exclaimed "Ah!Chiles!" (so I felt even more like a twat!). She then walked into the house behind the stall, disappeared through a door and brought one from her own kitchen and refused to charge me.Such kindness. Actually, that is all assuming it was her house! This is great peasant food. Rustic, filling, simple but bounteous in flavour.


1kg of shoulder of lamb, off the bone and cut into 1 inch chunks (your butcher will do that for you. You will usually have to buy the whole shoulder. It does not really matter if it is exactly 1kg or not)
One 50g Tin of anchovy fillets in oil
2 sweet, white onions sliced
1 large carrot thinly sliced
2 celery stalks thinly sliced
5 garlic cloves, crushed under the blade of your knife and chopped
Handful of fresh thyme sprigs
250ml of white wine
20ml of white wine vinegar
250g of tiny little petit pois or generally small peas (frozen ones perfect)
400g of Pembrokeshire new potatoes (skin on) cut into quarters
200g cherry tomatoes cut in halves
1 red chilli cut into slices

You'll need olive oil and coarsely ground sea salt and black pepper
And buy a Tiger bloomer loaf (all the super markets do them these days) and cut into thick slices to make toast to eat with it (so it mops up the lovely sauce).

The cooking:

Start by putting your lamb chunks in a bowl. Really liberally season with coarsely ground black pepper and sea salt and leave to one side for about 10-15 minutes. While that is rendering you can crack on with all the slicing ('cos there's quite a lot with this one). Once you've got all your ingredients prepared, heat about 80ml of really good, extra virgin olive oil in a large, heavy pan.

First, fry your sliced onions, carrot and celery on a medium heat (not too hot as olive oil tends to burn at high temperatures and takes on an unpleasant smell and taste). After about 4 minutes, when it all golden, add you garlic, anchovies, chilli and thyme and continue to cook, stirring until the anchovies have completely dissolved. Add your lamb and maybe a splash more olive oil and fry it until it is browned on all sides.

Pour in your wine and cook it down until the volume has roughly halved, then add your vinegar, stir the whole lot in and then turn your heat down low to a simmer. Cover the pan and leave it bubbling for 20 minutes. Stirring occasionally.

Once your 20 minutes is up, pour in your potatoes and cover again, and cook for a further half an hour. Then you add your tomatoes and your peas and cook for another half an hour with the lid on. Stirring occasionally to keep it from sticking or catching.

For your last 10 minutes or so, cut your bread into slices and toast under a grill on both sides. 

This is a really good dish for a big family or a night when you have some friends around. I like to serve it by giving everybody a bowl, a glass of full bodied red wine and cutlery each, then plonk the casserole in the middle of the table with a ladle in it, and a plate next to it with a big pile of toast. Then just sit back and let every body get stuck in. Terrific!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Chicken in white wine, mustard and cream

Chicken in white wine, mustard and cream

I have mentioned before, that my inspiration for a lot of the recipes in this blog come from me having spent my summer holidays as a boy, with my mother's family in the Charolais region of Burgundy in France (the gastronomic capital of the world!). This dish is especially typical of the fantastic food my auntie used to cook for us when we stayed with her. And it consists of a lot of the great, local ingredients Burgundy is famous for: Chicken from Bresse to the east, white wine from the Maconnaise to the south, mushrooms from the Auxerrois to the north east, mustard from Dijon in the north and cream from the famous cows of the Charolais itself.


2 fresh chicken breasts with the skin on
A hand full of small, closed cup button mushrooms
50ml of white wine
25ml of cream
Dessert spoon of Dijon mustard
100ml of boiling water
1 chicken stock pot or cube
2 tea spoons of corn flour
25g of butter


Preheat an oven to 200 degrees centigrade. Prep your chicken breast by giving them a swill under the tap, then lay them on a chopping board skin side up. Pour a drop of sunflower oil into your hand and massage it into your chicken breasts. Then break about 1/4 of your stock pot off from the rest and also rub that into them. Then season with salt and pepper. 

Warm a deep pan on the hob, and once ready, place your chicken breasts into it, skin side down and seal on a medium heat. Occasionally give them a prod with a fork to stop them from sticking. Once the skin side is golden brown and crisp, turn them over and seal the meaty side so it is golden brown as well. Then place your chicken breasts into your pre-heated oven and bake for 20 to 22 minutes. Make sure you test that they are properly cooked before serving up by prodding a skewer or pointy knife into the fattest part of the breasts to be sure that the juices run clear. If it is pink, pop them in for a bit longer, but not so long they dry out. 5 minutes tops should do it.

10 minutes before your chicken is due to come out of the oven, get started on your sauce by mixing what's left of your chicken stock pot with the 100ml of boiling water to make your stock. Then, melt your butter in the pan you sealed the chicken in, on a low heat. Once it is melted scoop in your corn flour and stir to make a roux (the base of your sauce). Turn the heat up, still stirring, so the mixture starts to froth in the heat, then add your wine. This should make the mixture coagulate. Don't panic about it. Just keep stirring until it is smooth. Add your stock and whisk until the sauce is smooth. Turn the heat down and add your mustard and your cream and continue to whisk. The sauce is meant to to be about as thick as a standard gravy. If your mixture is a lot thicker than that then add more wine (a little bit at a time) until you have the desired smoothness. If it's too runny, keep the heat turned up for a bit longer until it thickens. If nothing happens, add more butter. This should still leave you 4 -5 minutes to quickly fry your mushrooms in a knob of butter.

When you take your chicken from the oven, plate it up either on a bed of rice or with chips (as you will want something to mop up this sensational sauce) and I would recommend some french beans and asparagus if its in season. Pour what ever liquid is left in the roasting tin that the chicken came out of, into your sauce and stir it in. place your mushroom on top of your chicken breasts and smother with sauce. It is not a decision you are ever likely to regret!

Sunday, 8 June 2014

French apple tart (Tarte aux pommes)

French Apple Tart (Tarte aux pommes)

When I was growing up, my family and I would stay in a gite somewhere near  Honfleur or Coutance for a week every Spring. One thing I always looked forward to on these holidays was a trip to the boulangerie - patisserie in the nearest village where we would invariably buy a Tarte aux Pommes (the regional speciality, or "specialite de la region" as they say), along with our croissants for the morning. And we'd take it back to the gite, to have as a dessert after dinner. Having grown up with this as the pinnacle of treats, imagine my surprise when I found out that this rather impressive looking, and fantastic tasting tart is so easy to make, although it does need a bit of time, so not something you can throw together in an evening after work I'm afraid. But none the less, it is yet another classic example of how simple "peasant food" can be as good as it gets.


175g plain flour (and more for dusting, rolling and a couple of spoonfuls for the frangipane)
250g butter (I know!!)
1 egg
2 egg yolks
100g caster sugar (and a bit more for sprinkling)
1 dessert spoon (or a cap full) of calvados (Normandy apple brandy) or brandy
100g ground almonds
3 tablespoons of water
5 table spoons of apricot jam
3 or 4 large cooking apples

The cooking:

Start by mixing together the flour, half your butter, one of your egg yolks and the 3 tablespoons of water and mix to a dough that you can knead with the ball of your hand. If it is really sticky to the touch then you might have added a whole egg rather than just the yolk? Duh! I know because I've done that before! But if you have not made this school boy error but still find it overly sticky, just add a bit more flour. If it is so unsticky, it is not picking up all the dry mixture in your bowl, then add a tea spoon more of water. Once you have a dough ball, wrap it in cling film, and put it in a fridge for about half an hour (or until it firms up).

While that process is under way, make your frangipane. You need to soften up the other half of your butter, by cutting it into small cubes, then popping them in a small, oven proof mixing bowl and in to the micro wave for about a minute. Once soft, pour in the cater sugar and with a wooden spoon and some muscle, stir together into a creamy consistency. Leave that to one side and beat together your remaining egg yolk and an egg in a bowl. Now gradually, bit by bit, add your beaten egg mix to the creamed sugar and butter, stirring furiously after each drop to keep the mixture creamy, otherwise it will curdle and separate. Once your eggs have gone in, add your calvados (or brandy will do if you haven't go any). Once it has all been blended together, pour in your ground almonds and add a couple of tablespoons of flour as well to give the mixture some weight, and stir the whole lot together until it is all perfectly blended.

Now might be a good time to preheat an over to 200 degrees centigrade.

When your 30 minutes on your dough ball in the fridge is up, take it out of the fridge, dust a surface with some flour and roll it out until it will fit into 30cm pie tin. Grease your pie tin with butter, then lay your pastry into it, pushing down into the corners and sides and prick all over with a fork. Then pop it back into the fridge for another 15 minutes or so.

When your base has firmed up in the fridge, take it out, and use a spoon to evenly spread your frangipane into it. Then peel, core and slice you apples, laying the slices in a spiral pattern on top of your frangipane base. Start from the outside and work inward, making sure at least one edge of each apple slice is buried into the frangipane.

Put your pie tin into your preheated oven for 20 minutes then drop the temperature down to 180 degrees. After 10 minutes, take the tart out of the oven and sprinkle liberally with sugar and then return to the oven for another 10 minutes. Meanwhile scoop your apricot jam into a ramekin (or anything small and oven proof really), add a couple of spoon fulls of water (to help liquidise it) and put it in the oven to warm up as well.

When the 10 minutes is up remove your tart and remove the ramekin with the jam in it.  Give the jam and the water a good stir to mix together so it is a runny liquid, then with a pastry brush, brush the jam solution all over your tart to give it a nice, golden glaze. Then  put it back in the oven for the final 5 - 10 minutes, or until the edges of the apples have just started to catch and the rest of the tart topping is golden all over.

Take it out of the oven and cool it on a wire rack.

When it's at room temperature, serve it cut into slices, with a posset of really thick cream (clotted cream would be ideal) on each plate, and dust with a sprinkle of icing sugar. 
Get you you debutante!

Monday, 2 June 2014

Plaice baked in cream with chives

Plaice baked in cream with chives

This is a traditional dish from the South Coast of England. It is a proper fisherman's supper. If you have ever wondered; how can I make a fantastic fish dish with the least effort? The answer is this. In fact, if there was a Venn diagram showing where tasty dishes and simple dishes over lap, this one would be smack in the middle. You get the message; it's tasty and simple to cook. And the fact that this is being posted on a Monday evening tells you all you need to know. I managed to knock this up this evening while on a conference call.


2 fillets of plaice (or sole would work just as well)
75ml of single cream
Small hand full of chives, finely chopped
About the same amount of parsley leaves finely chopped
2 knobs of butter
Juice from 1/4 of a lemon
Small sprinkling of nutmeg
Salt and Pepper for seasoning

The Cooking:

Preheat an over to 200 degrees centigrade.
With one of your knobs of butter, grease the base and sides of a small oven proof, shallow dish. Lay your plaice fillets inside then pour your cream over it until it's covered. If the fillets are too large to fit in, don't worry about tucking the edges in. No need to be neat with this. Sprinkle over the top a dash of nutmeg and salt and pepper, then pop it uncovered into your oven for 15 minutes. 

Just before the time is up, melt your second knob of butter in a skillet or small frying pan on a low heat. Once the time actually is up on the fish, plate up the fillets with a slotted fish slice, and pour the liquor from the dish it was baked in, into the melted butter. Squeeze the juice from your lemon segment, toss in the parsley and the chives and give it all a good stir with a wooden spoon, until everything is blended together and smooth. Spoon your sauce over your fillets.

Serve up with chips, creamy mash or rice and some seasonal fresh veg. Don't thank me. I know!!