Clear out cassoulet

I cook from recipes, which I get from cook books, tear out of newspapers and magazines, or copy off friends. Each recipe has its own selection of different ingredients, at times particular to that recipe alone and incompatible with any other. The result? Every now and then, I find myself with a selection of ingredients that, because they were not fully used in their particular recipe, are never used again. What a waste.

On this occasion, I found myself with a surplus of, among other things, broad beans, thyme and tomatoes. Having no idea what to do with them, I glanced through my flavour thesaurus to see if there was a dish that could use them.

In the thyme section, I chanced by a recipe contained in an amusing anecdote about the author's stay in France during a rain-sodden holiday. She wrote of putting oil into a cast-iron pot, adding sausages, roughly sliced onions and "a jar of sinister looking beans", with a sprig of thyme, some garlic, salt, pepper and a slug of wine. She placed the pot in a hot oven until she took it out and dined happily on a dish that she described loosely as a cassoulet.

No measures or cooking times were given in this story, but it was inspiring enough for me to raid the larder and fridge for a number of ingredients, with one or two additions bought from local shops:

a large glass of red wine
two large tomatoes
a pack of eight sausages (bought)
a head of garlic
a bunch of thyme
two large onions (bought)
a head of broccoli
half a bag of frozen broad beans

I adapted the author's instructions where necessary, frying the chopped garlic and onions for about five minutes in hot oil until soft, adding the chopped sausages for another five minutes of frying and adding the chopped broccoli and chopped tomatoes after for another two minutes.

Pouring in the glass of red wine, I then dropped in the thyme and the frozen beans before I brought the whole lot to the boil. All this time, I had been heating the oven to 180ºC. I took the pot off the heat and placed it into the oven for about 30 minutes. I had no idea if I was doing the right thing, so I took my mind off the venture with some ironing.

Half an hour later, I braved the pot to take a look:

Well... it looked cooked, if a little unattractive, but smelt lovely. I added it to some newly cooked sticky basmati rice and it was delicious.


In fact, I liked it so much that I made it again the following week, with slightly different ingredients including some herbs from my garden:

a large glass of red wine

the rest of the frozen broad beans
one large onion (bought)
four cloves of garlic
ten sage leaves (garden)
a sprig of thyme (garden)
a pack of eight sausages (bought)

My method was similar to before, with the onions, garlic and sausages being fried before adding the wine and the rest of the ingredients, bringing them to the boil and placing them in a hot oven. Again, I was unsure that this was the precise method, but the result went exceptionally well with a plate of rice.

Yum, part two.

On researching cassoulets, I found that the dish is a rich, slow-cooked casserole. I found further details of deglazed pots, white beans and aromatic vegetables. I may return to this dish to cook it properly, maybe eschewing frying to rely entirely on a slow oven, or simmering the whole lot on the hob. But for now, this remains a great way to free up much valuable larder and fridge space.


The Devil's Fish Strikes Back

I thought that I was rid of my anchovies. I thought that I wouldn't need to cook with them again. No more tangy weirdness annoying my palate.

But I was wrong. I was so, so wrong...

I looked in my fridge to find three remaining anchovies in a Tupperware box: my nemeses, waiting to be added to an innocent, unsuspecting recipe. I couldn't throw them away; I can't bare to waste food. I had to find another recipe that used them... fast.

Like a man possessed, I tore through my cookery books, until I found the very thing within the Fabulous Baker Brothers volume: roast leg of lamb with baker's potatoes; featuring those three pesky anchovy fillets in the ingredients. Marvellous.

A prepared leg of lamb. Big, isn't it?

Those ingredients in full:
one leg of lamb, top bone removed, with the shank bone left in;
three garlic cloves, sliced;
three anchovy fillets, chopped;
large sprig of rosemary, chopped;
30ml extra virgin olive oil;
salt and pepper.

For the baker's potatoes:
three large onions;
two garlic cloves;
100g butter;
eight large Maris Piper potatoes;
500ml chicken stock.

I mixed the garlic, anchovy, rosemary and olive oil together before rubbing them over the lamb, inside and out. I seasoned it with salt and pepper before tying the lamb up with some string (possibly the most "cook-like" experience of my life so far) before setting it aside for later.

My most "cook-like" experience so far...

I melted 75g of the butter in a pan and cooked the sliced onions and garlic until soft and golden. Some seasoning followed before they too were put to one side. I preheated the oven to 200ºC.

Next came the potatoes, which I peeled and sliced as thinly as possible, before layering them on the bottom of a large baking dish, followed by a layer of the cooled onions. I seasoned then repeated the process, keeping the layers going until I was left with a layer of potatoes on top resembling fish scales.

The lamb went on top of these potatoes before being placed in the hot oven to brown over about half an hour, after which I reduced the temperature to 180ºC. For a medium cooked lamb, with the centre pink, but the fat well rendered, one is advised to keep it cooking for another hour. I went for an hour and a quarter. Next time, I may go for an hour and a half: I found a bloody centre a touch disconcerting.

How do you like your lamb done, madam / sir?

I took the dish out of the oven and removed the lamb to wrap in tin foil and rest for at least 25 minutes. Turning up the oven to 190ºC (its highest temperature; go up to 220ºC if your oven's more advanced than mine), I dotted the remaining butter around the surface of the potatoes and returned them to the oven for 20 minutes: this was to brown and crisp the top of the potatoes, most of which had been obscured by the lamb 'til now.

And that was it. Quite an undertaking, really: the lamb cost a little more than I was expecting and was blooming enormous, even after cooking; for goodness sake, invite some people around to eat this with you because you won't make it alone, even over the course of a week (I speak from experience...)

Blimey, better get some friends over!

To serve, slice the lamb thinly to accompany the soft potatoes, soaked in delicious lamb juices.

Again, the inclusion of the anchovies added beautifully to the meat's flavour. That said, it's some time since I've cooked this and I haven't dared go near the Devil's fish since. Maybe I should try them again, on a pizza, maybe? Nah: no chance, mate!


Perfect pound cake

This holiday weekend should have provided an opportunity to try out some new dishes.  Instead, I returned to something old for our Easter Sunday dessert.

I've received a lot of good recipes from both of my grandmothers over the years.  Indeed, Grandma's shortbread has already made an appearance on this blog.  However, nothing has been made quite so often in the Glennie household as the following recipe for pound cake, which comes down from family on my mother's side.  For such a seemingly simple recipe - a pound each of flour, sugar, butter and eggs, plus a few other bits and pieces - it is surprisingly hard to get it right.  Gramary is the only one who has managed to do it consistently, and I have spent years trying to live up to her standards.  If you don't follow the instructions to the letter, or leave it unattended in the oven for too long, you're likely to end up burning the top, or turning the cake out from the pan only to see half of it still stuck to the bottom.

However, the rare times when you do get it right - and last night was one of them for me - there is perhaps no cake so sublime.  It is light enough that you (almost) don't feel guilty having two or three pieces at a time, and has a lovely uncluttered sweet flavour that won't send you into a sugar shock.

There's a reason it is always first choice for birthdays and other special occasions in our house.

Ring-Mould Pound Cake

1 cup margarine
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 tsp ground mace
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups sifted cake flour (I've never been able to figure out what cake flour actually is - something North American - but you can substitute with regular flour: just remove 2 tbsp for each cup)
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup milk

Sift the flour, mace, salt and baking powder three times.  Time-consuming and a little annoying, but whatever you do, don't skip this step. 

In a separate bowl, cream the margarine and the sugar.  Add the eggs to the mixture, beating after each one, and then do the same with the vanilla.

To this, add the flour mixture a little at a time, beating it in well.  As the mix starts getting stiffer, add in the milk and beat - alternate the two until the flour and the milk are used up and the mixture is a smooth and fluffy consistency.

Pour the whole lot into a greased and floured ring mould cake tin and spread it evenly - it should fill about 2/3 of the tin.

Here comes the hard part - judging how long and at what temperature to bake the cake.  Our original recipe says to bake it at 350 degrees for an hour and then at 300 degrees for a final five minutes.  But I'd keep an eye on it and check after 45 minutes to make sure it isn't burning.  Basically you're good to go when the top of the cake is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.  Leave it in the pan for 5 minutes after it comes out of the oven, and then invert on a wire rack and allow to cool completely.  Serve with fruit, ice cream, or nothing at all.  Preferably accompanied by a little Van Halen

Et voila!  Happy Easter, dear readers.


Post St. Patrick's Day stew - no pun intended.

Calling all crock pots.  Or perhaps just all crocks, for on cold and snowy days like today, I feel quite 'crock-ish'.

I am not Irish. I have, to my knowledge, no Irish blood but David (and therefore our children) have quite a bit and at some point in the dim and distant past, the Fitzgeralds, of whom his paternal grandmother was one, were in some way connected to the Kennedys.  I'm not sure if this is something to be proud of or embarrassed about so we don't think about it.

But Irish or not, one cannot escape the St Paddy's day fervour that grips the nation and the wildest celebrations seem to occur amongst the non-Irish population.  I ignore it as a rule, but for some reason this year, I decided to try something vaguely Irish during the week.  I had hoped perhaps the kids might make it to dinner tonight but in fact with the snow, we didn't even make it to Greenwich so dinner in the provinces was the two of us plus a huge pot of wonderful stew.  We ate it, gazing over a wintry landscape and there are a lot of leftovers.

This is my variation on Irish Stew.   No, make that just a stew with Ireland in mind.  I didn't even think to blog it until it was ready to serve so the pictures are what I got with my phone at the last minute.  The stew,  however, was very good and Kit will be getting a portion tomorrow since he couldn't be here tonight.

Alison's non-Irish Irish Stew

1 kg venison (or beef if you prefer) cubed
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 - 3 tablespoons plain flour
seasoning to taste
pinch cayenne pepper
1 or 2 onions, chopped (one large is fine)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 - 6 small carrots chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
400 ml Guinness
1 tsp dried thyme
2 apples, any kind, chopped in 2 cm chunks

Place chopped onion, carrot and celery in the bottom of the slow cooker.  Toss meat in seasoned flour and brown in a frying pan.  Transfer to slow cooker.  Fry garlic (add a little more oil to the pan if necessary) and add Guinness, then tomato paste and blend thoroughly until it thickens.  Season again and add pepper flakes and thyme.  When it comes to a boil, pour over meat and veg and set cooker on low for about 6 hours.  An hour before you want to serve it, add and mix in the chopped apple.

Serve over mash with any veg you choose.  We had to choose peas as we had some that needed eating up but any root veg would go well (or you could add more veg to the stew) and skip the extra pan that needs to be washed up.

Serves 6 unless one is Kit and then it's more like 3.  


Em's Favourite Things Mini Pie Cups

Happy Pi Day! I couldn't let the occasion pass without indulging in some thoroughly unmathematical culinary celebrating, but I was grimly determined not to venture out in the cold, so I improvised based on the awesome things I already had in my house. This makes four mini-pies in those little glass ramekins the likes of which you get creme brulée in.

About 200g of Millionaire's Shortbread (that's roughly 13 mini ones - the Co-op does them in boxes of 15, you will inevitably eat at least two ;))
1 cup flour
1/4 cup margarine

125g cream cheese
Generous dollops, to taste, of peanut butter and nutella.
Approximately 1 shot of coffee (optional, adjust to taste).

Preheat oven to 200c.

Crush/crumble/smush the shortbread, caramel, chocolate and all. Microwave until the caramel melts (I left it in for two minutes on high but I reckon it didn't need that long). Mix the flour and marge (which will melt in the process) in quickly and thoroughly. Adjust proportions so it holds its shape without crumbling.

Press into dish(es).

Bake crust for about fifteen minutes, remove early if it rises/browns too much.

Add filling. Return to oven for five minutes.

(You could also, at this point, leave the crust to cool, then add the filling and chill it instead.)

Leave to cool and set.



Guerrilla pancakes

Calling all Enid Blyton fans.  Anyone who grew up reading her books will probably remember their way 'in' to Blyton-land.  For some, it will have been the capers of the Famous Five or the Secret Seven.  Others might have come to her via the boarding school shenanigans of the girls of Malory Towers and St Clare's.  For me, it was the Adventure Series.  These were the stories of Philip, Dinah, Jack, Lucy-Anne and their parrot Kiki, two brother and sister pairs who always managed to fall into an amazing adventure every time they went on holiday.  The locations varied - a mysterious valley, a cruise through the Greek islands, or a wild Welsh mountain - but some things never changed.  Philip would always acquire some bizarre and wonderful pet, the gang would constantly manage to fall afoul of nefarious men up to no good, and Lucy-Anne would invariably have occasion to exclaim, "Food really does taste better when eaten outdoors!".

A slightly roundabout way of getting to this blog, but I've had Lucy-Anne's refrain in mind after some recent adventures of my own.

Last week was Shrove Tuesday.  Otherwise known as 'Pancake Day', or the final opportunity to stuff yourself with carbohydrates and sugar before giving one or the other - or both - up for Lent.  I never do either.  I like my food too much, and I prefer resolutions of the 'taking new things up' variety.  But I'll never turn down the chance to eat pancakes when it is offered.  I haven't managed to celebrate Shrove Tuesday for a number of years; I always seem to be busy in the evening on the day it rolls around.  This year looked like it was going to go the same way, as friends and I had plans to go to an immersive theatre experience being staged by dreamspeakthink at Somerset House (worth checking out before it ends on March 30th, for any Londoners reading this blog).  Then Matt came up with the crazy? genius plan of making pancakes somewhere outside, en route to the performance.  I thought he was kidding, up until the moment he bought a portable gas cooking stove.  Then it was game on.

My role was to choose and make the recipe, so I got to insist on North American style pancakes.  None of your fiddly European crepes, thank you very much!  On the morning in question I forgot to write out the recipe we've been using in our family for decades, so I had to source an alternative online.  It had to be something pretty basic, but this one did the trick.  If you're making it at home, you can't go too far wrong with the following, which is supposed to serve 6:

  • 450ml (16 fl oz) semi skimmed milk
  • 150g (5 oz) caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 250g (9 oz) plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
  • maple syrup, and plenty of it (for there is nothing in the world that can't be improved with maple syrup - that's just a fact)

The logistics were a little tricky.  I had to mix up all the ingredients listed above in our terrible little kitchen at work, where there is barely the room or the equipment for making a cup of tea.  Then transfer the batter to an airtight container and pray that it didn't explode in my bag.  Later, we had to find just the right location.  Somewhere that wouldn't involve sitting under a dark bridge, but that wouldn't be too obvious either.  The Southbank it was - home to most of London's best cultural experiences.  Fortified against the sub-zero temperatures by some fancy cocktails from the BFI bar, we set up our guerrilla restaurant on a picnic table outside the Festival Hall.  And amazingly? It all worked beautifully.

Turns out Lucy-Anne was right.  Food really does taste better when eaten outdoors, with a spirit of adventure.  But only in the company of the right people.


Pecan Muffins

It's cold outside, and I don't have anything left to have for breakfast tomorrow.

So I made these:

This recipe was the second result when I googled "pecan muffins" - pecan pie was my stable of the festive season and I had a bag of the nuts left over.

I followed it to the letter - possibly why this has turned out to be my most successful baking endeavour in some considerable time - and they're delicious as it is, so I'm not going to repost it here. Go give the good people who came up with it the hit! It was super quick, these taste as good as they look, and other than the pecans there's no unusual ingredients or techniques involved in making them so these could be a good staple to throw together for a short notice thank you gift or something similar. Enjoy!


Agnes' shortbread

Father knows best!

Or at least Alex's does, when it comes to shortbread.

My late mother-in-law, Agnes Glennie, was a competent cook.  Yes, she was fairly conventional in her creations but all credit to her that she always bought the best cuts of meat (which she then stewed, but never mind), the freshest and highest quality produce from markets rather than supermarkets when possible, and she always excelled at baking.

If you ask any Glennie what they will remember her for when it came to her cooking, each of us would say without hesitation, that it was her Christmas shortbread.

Shortbread comes in many guises.  Dear reader, you will have your favourite recipe and preferred consistency and shape of this form of biscuit.  Some are 'shorter' than others. There are petticoat tails, rounds, bars and Sainsbury's used to produce a wonderful wholemeal variety that was not short in any way but that disappeared shortly after the packet was opened.

Agnes made several batches every December and it was never fail, never!   She used a set of ancient, sturdy and beautifully-shaped Christmas cookie cutters (as she only ever made it at Christmas and although it froze wonderfully, it only lasted a short time as we couldn't resist.  In times of crisis, Kit and I used to eat it straight from the freezer).  Sadly the cookie cutters were put in the charity box when her kitchen was being cleared out, but we found some suitably festive ones last month, dusted off the recipe, the rolling pin, then dusted the pastry sheet, rolled up our sleeves and got to work.  Actually it was David who made them on a dreary Sunday afternoon shortly before the New Year and they were such a success that he repeated the exercise again in January.  There may be some inherited baking talent hidden away after all.  David's shortbread was very good but not, even he will admit, quite the same as his mother's.  Still, there isn't much left of the batch he made yesterday.

For those of you who like shortbread, give this one a try?

(Use North American cups)

4oz butter
4 oz margarine
½ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp vanilla essence
2 cups plain (all purpose) flour, sifted
extra flour for dusting board and rolling pin

Cream butter, marg and sugar together with a electric mixer.  Agnes probably did it by hand but sometimes life is too short during the Christmas season.  Beat in the vanilla.  Add the flour gradually, beating in well and when it becomes too stiff for the beaters, use elbow grease, as it were!

Turn onto a floured board and knead a few times, adding more flour if the dough seems a bit sticky.  Roll out to a thickness of ¼" and cut into shapes.  Agnes used to decorate the top with red and green coffee sugar but we've yet to find that in the UK. The sugar adds a festive touch if you can get it.

Bake on an ungreased sheet at 150ºC (350ºF) for about 20 minutes.  They shouldn't be allowed to brown and if the edges are looking 'done' before the 20 minutes is up, then take them out at once.  Allow to cool on a rack.  Makes 24.


Cooking in other people’s kitchens

Sometimes, cooking is about making do in a kitchen you did not have a hand in planning or equipping. It’s about dealing with someone else’s preferences, moving into someone else’s life for a spell.

The kitchen we use in Paris belongs to people who spend very little time there and who do not cook much. They have a vast array of different types and flavours of tea and no decent bread knife. Two venerable Le Creuset casseroles and no spatula. Acres of crystal wineglasses and only two coffee mugs.

There is a history to the place. In the 1980s, it was the pied-à-terre of a New York couple who ran a high-end travel agency, sending clients to Paris on the Concorde (there is at least one piece of Concorde memorabilia in the place). It was used for entertaining, hence the cupboard full of champagne glasses. These were people who went out to eat. Did I mention it is near the Champs-Elysées?

Little has changed since the 1980s, including the pink bathroom and the tortoiseshell cabinet fronts in the kitchen. However, on our recent visit in December 2012, we were delighted to find a new oven (the old one had long since died) and a new cooktop as well.  

We always bring our own small “batterie de cuisine” with us. A sturdy bread knife and a very sharp knife for regular kitchen tasks are at the top of the list. Plus spatula, tongs, vegetable peeler, and an efficient corkscrew. My apron, two oven gloves, and some extra dishtowels. We have bought things and left them there: this time it was a cheap pair of kitchen scissors and a couple of Rubbermaid containers for leftovers (I guess nobody previously had made food that involved leftovers).

In an earlier posting on this blog, I asked what kinds of things people felt were pantry staples; here I’d like to ask what sort of equipment my fellow cooks consider indispensable. Do you absolutely have to have a whisk or can you manage with a fork? Do you long for a wooden spoon, or are you OK with a plastic one? Do you need oven gloves (I do), or will a folded dishtowel do?

And what kind of recipes can you make in an unfamiliar environment, using ingredients from a foreign supermarket or street market? Pasta and risotto are widely available and endlessly variable. Salads are always an option (and one can buy lovely prepared salads in Paris). I always make my old standby, pork chops piquant, with Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, and cornichons. But on occasion, I will lash out and try something new. Once it was rabbit in mustard sauce. This time I had a go with magret de canard. A qualified success, but I learned a few lessons for next time.

Here, for the record, is my old standby, culled from a copy of Saveur magazine circa 2002. The article had been written by a fellow who had discovered it in a 1970s paperback French cookbook. He had lost the original book, but had recreated a version of the original that uses some of our favourite flavours. We have tweaked it a bit.  

Pork Chops Piquant

5 tbsp. olive oil
2 lbs. thin-cut pork chops
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 shallots, peeled & diced
6 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 cup white wine
8 cornichons, chopped into small pieces
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard

Heat half the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Season chops with salt and pepper. Brown chops on each side, about 1-2 minutes per side. Transfer the chops to a plate, and cover to keep warm.

Add the rest of the oil, over medium-high heat. Sauté the chopped shallots, until they begin to brown. Add vinegar and stir for a minute or so. Add wine and cook for a few minutes, until it thickens. Stir in cornichons, mustard, and any juices from the chops. Lower the heat and stir until the mixture makes a thick sauce. Put the chops back in, warm them through, and serve.

This recipe serves 4 people. For 2 people, use less pork, but about the same quantities of the other ingredients, because the sauce is what it’s all about.

The only picture I can offer is one of Norman wearing my apron and doing the dishes in the Paris kitchen. There is a dishwasher, but since there are so few everyday dishes in the cupboards, we do most dishwashing by hand. That’s why we bring extra dishtowels.

Happy New Year to everyone who reads or contributes to Eat and 2 Veg.