Beef casserole, perfect for cold winter days!

1 Mar

 There are so many things I love about autumn and winter.  The dark nights when you can snuggle down in front of the fire, warm milky drinks to take to bed, long walks, wrapped up in scarves, gloves and hats and last, but definitely not least, thick warming casseroles, full of goodness and comfort.  I have been making this casserole for as long as I can remember.  My Grandma used to make a casserole out of ‘leg meat’.  I’m not really sure what cut this is, maybe it is peculiar to Derbyshire butchers.  I’ve often asked for it only to be given a blank look.  I have a feeling it is shin of beef but cut long ways instead of across.  Whatever it was, she used to cook it simply in water with maybe a bit of salt.  The result was incredible and the gravy to die for.  Oh well, enough of my memories. 

My version always uses braising steak.  Over the years the recipe has evolved.  Initially I would cook it like my Grandma, then, when we had the children and money was short, I started added vegetables to bulk it out.  Since then I have taken to adding some chopped tomatoes which give a great consistency to the gravy.  What we eat today, therefore, pays little resemblance to my early offerings but the flavour is simply delicious, accompanied by a big helping of mashed potatoes to soak up the gravy.  

Anyway, here is the recipe.  If there is left over meat it is fantastic in a cottage pie.  Simply line a pie dish with a layer of the meat and vegetables cut up into bite sized pieces and top with  potatoes and swede mashed together with a little low fat fromage fraise

Beef casserole                        Serves 4-6

  • 1 kg/2 lbs 4oz lean braising steak, fat and sinews removed and cut into large pieces
  • 4 white onions, peeled and halved
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and halved
  • Frylight sunflower oil or 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 x 400g can of chopped tomatoes
  • 500 ml water
  • 1 beef stock cube (knorr)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/170C fan/gas 4.
  2. Add 1 tbsp oil to a large non-stick ovenproof casserole with a lid.  Don’t worry if you don’t have one, simply make in a large frying pan and transfer to your casserole when it is ready to go in the oven.  Brown the pieces of beef over a high heat.  The intention is to sear the meat and retain the flavours.  Do this in batches if necessary as you don’t want the meat to steam instead of searing.  When brown remove and reserve.
  3. Add 1 more tbsp of oil to the same pan and add the onions and carrots.  Cook for a few minutes until they start to go a light brown.
  4. Add the tomatoes and water and crumble over a beef stock cube.  Season well.  When boiling return the meat to the dish with the bay leaves.  There should be enough water to almost cover the meat and vegetables but not drown them.  If not add a little more.
  5. Cover the casserole and cook in the oven for 2 hours, checking every now and again to make sure it is not going dry.  Check the meat is tender, if not give it another half an hour.   Remove from the oven and serve with mashed potato, pouring the lovely gravy over them.

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Chunky chilli, spicy and low in calories!

26 Feb

 How often do people start a weight loss programme and give in because the food is tasteless and boring.  This dish is just what the doctor ordered, Chili con carne!  I am using another Judith Wills recipe from her book of low fat meals, and I have made it more times than I can remember.  I love the rich flavour and the chunks of beef that gives a much better texture than mince, more commonly used in chilli.  I’m making a huge pan full today, enough for our dinner, meals on wheels for my kids and, hopefully, some left over to freeze for another day.  It’s great served with jacket potatoes, topped with grated cheddar, or simply with rice and maybe a side salad.

Chilli con carne is simply a spicy stew, derived from the Spanish Chilli con carne, and is the official dish of Texas.  In the 1880’s, brightly dressed Hispanic women known as ‘chili queens’ would light fires of wood or charcoal around downtown San Antonio, in areas where the public were likely to gather, and reheat huge cauldrons of precooked chili to serve to passers-by.  The aromas coming from their pots was a potent sales pitch and soon they were accompanied by groups of musicians to make it more of a carnival atmosphere.  In 1937, new sanitary laws came into force, requiring the chili queens to adhere to the same standards as restaurants.  I can hear all the shouts of ‘Health and Safety spoil things again!’.  The street cuisine disappeared overnight, although there was a brief remission in 1939, the laws were made permanent in 1943.

Last year we grew chillies for the first time.  If you have ever done this, you will know how profuse the chillies are on the plant.  I think we must have had at least one hundred.  If you find yourself in the same boat, and don’t know what to do with them, they freeze beautifully, whole, exactly as they are when you pick them.  When you are ready to use simply take a frozen chilli out and it can be used whole, sliced or chopped from frozen.  If you don’t want the seeds, simply knock them out of the frozen slices before you chop.

There are an incredible number of recipes to be found for Chilli con carne, most of which contain beans and tomatoes.  This is my favourite and I promise, you will never know it is low-calorie!  For those on a Slimming World diet, by my calculations, free if you use the spray oil and only 3 for people if you measure the oil accurately.

 

Chilli con carne     Serves 4

  • 1.5 tsp groundnut oil or Fry light sunflower oil spray 
  • 400g (about 1 lb) braising steak, trimmed of fat and sinews, and cut into about 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper. deseeded and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 fresh red jalapeno chillies, chopped (leave the seeds in if you like your chilli hot)
  • 1 tsp Tabasco sauce
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 400g can red kidney beans, drained
  • 250ml beef stock
  • salt and black pepper
  • Chopped coriander to serve (optional)
  1. Heat half the oil in a large, lidded, non-stick pan and fry the meat over a high heat until brown all over.  Do this in batches rather than overfill the pan as the meat will steam rather than fry.  Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and reserve.
  2. Add the rest of the oil, reduce the heat and saute the onion, garlic, chillies and pepper for 10 minutes.  Stir occasionally and be careful they do not burn.
  3. Add the paprika, Tabasco and cumin, stir and cook for 1 minute more.
  4. Pour in the tomatoes, tomato puree, beans, stock and seasoning, stir well, bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low.  Return the meat to the pan, check for seasoning and ‘hotness’ then cover and simmer for 2 – 2.5 hours until the sauce is thick and rich and everything is tender.

NB:  The heat of the chilli will mature during cooking so when you test for ‘hotness’ you will need to account for this.  It is better to add a bit more Tabasco at the end than try to reduce the heat, which is almost impossible. 

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Chicken and mushroom casserole

22 Feb

imageIt was bound to happen! After years of cooking, firstly to relieve stress then simply because I loved it, I have got to lose weight. I doubt I will ever be thin, you know what they say ‘Never trust a skinny cook’, but a couple of stones lighter will be better for my health and my self-esteem. So, grabbing the bull by the horns, I’ve joined Slimming World. I love their attitude to food, my only concern is having to change my style of cooking to reduce the fat content and avoid Syns! This is my first attempt. It was delicious and only 3 Syns per person by my calculations but please check this is right.  This will not make any sense to those not on slimming world but suffice it to say it is very low fat and healthy. Here is the recipe.

Chicken and mushroom casserole        Serves 4

  • Fry light oil spray
  • 100g lean back bacon, all fat removed and cut into strips
  • 2 medium onions thinly sliced
  • 8 chicken thighs, skinned
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp seasoned flour
  • 2 tbsp brandy
  • 200g mushrooms, sliced
  • 125 ml white wine
  • 400 ml chicken stock (made with 2 organic stock cubes)
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper
  1. Spray a large non-stick skillet with oil. Fry the onions and bacon over a medium heat until the onions are tender. Remove and set aside.
  2. Spray a little more oil into the pan and fry the chicken in batches until brown on all sides.
  3. Return the onion and bacon to the pan with the garlic, flour and brandy. Stir and cook for 1 – 2 minutes.
  4. Add the mushrooms, wine, stock, herbs and seasoning, stir well and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer gently for 45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
  5. Check the seasoning and serve with potatoes and vegetables of your choice.

 

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Fried fish with ginger noodles

18 Feb

imageI was a bit concerned when I made this as my husband hates batter or anything fried in breadcrumbs. In actual fact, this was nothing like a batter. The rice flour merely coats the fish to hold it together when you are frying it and the outcome is absolutely delicious.  It is an incredibly easy dish to prepare, you just need to remember to start early enough so you have time to marinade the fish before cooking.

The recipe uses rice flour.  Rice flour is a form of flour made from finely milled rice. It is a particularly good substitute for wheat flour, which causes irritation in the digestive systems of those who are gluten-intolerant. Rice flour is also used as a thickening agent in recipes that are refrigerated or frozen since it inhibits liquid separation.  Having spent a lot of time in abroad I realise that not all ingredients are readily available everywhere. If you can’t get rice flour try substituting corn flour, I’m sure you will get a similar result.

As with all Stir-fry recipes it pays to prepare all your ingredients before you start cooking to ensure the textures are correct and ingredients are not overcooked.

I found the recipe in an Olive cookery magazine but it is not available on their website so I have written it out below.

Stir-fried fish and ginger noodles                          Serves 4 (depending on appetite)

  • 400g skinned fish fillets (I used cod as it is thick and holds together well)
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp rice flour
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 8 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 5 cm piece of root ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 large red chilli seeded and chopped
  • 50g mangetout, finely sliced
  • a bunch spring onions, finely sliced
  • 200g dried egg thread noodles
  1. Remove any stray bones from the fish and cut into 2 inch pieces. Put in a shallow dish and pour over the soy sauce. Marinate for 30 minutes.
  2. Remove the fish from the dish and reserve the soy sauce. Dust lightly with the rice flour.
  3. Whisk the fish sauce, sugar, shrimp paste, lime juice and reserved soy sauce together until the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Heat 6 tbsp of the oil in a wok over a medium heat. When hot, add the fish in batches and fry for 2 -3 minutes per batch, turning so they become crisp and golden on all sides. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.
  5. Discard the oil and wipe the pan.  Return to the heat and add the remaining 2 tbsp of oil.
  6. Add the ginger, garlic and chilli and fry for 1 minute until fragrant. Be careful not to burn!
  7. Add the mange tout and spring onions, stir well then add the sauce and a splash of water to make a thick sauce.
  8. Simmer for 1 minute then stir in the fish pieces carefully so as not to break up and warm through over a low heat for 2 -3 minutes.
  9. In the meantime, cook the noodles as per packet instructions. Drain well and serve, topped with the fish stir-fry.

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Thai red chicken curry – mild and delicious

17 Oct

DSCI0063If you like spicy food but don’t like the heat then this curry is perfect for you.  It is mild and creamy and full of wonderful flavours.

The recipe uses rapeseed or vegetable oil and I thought, it would be good to find out a bit more about ‘fats’.

All fats are high in calories, so it’s important to bear this in mind if you are watching your weight. However, your body does need to have some fats.  The most common concern, after weight gain, about eating fats is the effect they have on your heart. Here is what the British Heart  Foundation has to say on the matter.

‘In terms of your heart, it’s important to think about the type of fat you are eating.

Swap saturated fats for unsaturated fats

Butter, lard, ghee, palm oil and coconut oil are all high in saturated fat.  Too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which can increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease. Where possible replace saturated fats with small amounts of monounsaturated  and polyunsaturated fats.

Avoid trans fats

Avoid these wherever possible. These fats are most likely to be found in foods such as biscuits, cakes, pastries and deep-fried foods.  Trans fats occur naturally in small amounts in dairy foods and meat, however it is the industrially produced trans fats which have a similar effect to saturated fat, as they can increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood.

Have monounsaturated fats in small amounts

Olive oil, rapeseed oil and spreads which are made from these oils, as well as some nuts and seeds, are all high in monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats can help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

Have polyunsaturated fats in small amounts

Soya, vegetable and sunflower oils, spreads made from these oils, nuts and seeds like walnuts and sesame seeds, and oily fish all contain polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels and provide essential fatty acids.

Top tips to help you reduce your saturated fat

  • Swap butter, lard, ghee and coconut and palm oils with small amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as olive, rapeseed or sunflower oils and spreads.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and make sure you trim any excess fat and remove the skin from chicken and turkey.
  • Instead of pouring oils straight from the bottle, use a spray oil or measure out your oils with ateaspoon.
  • Read food labels to help you make choices that are lower in saturated fat.
  • Opt to grillbakesteamboil or poach your foods.
  • Make your own salad dressings using ingredients like balsamic vinegar, low-fat yoghurt, lemon juice, and herbs, with a dash of olive oil.
  • Use semi-skimmed1% or skimmed milk rather than whole or condensed milk.
  • Cottage cheesericotta and extra light soft cheese are examples of low-fat cheese options. Remember that many cheeses are high in saturated fat so keep your portions small – matchbox sized. Opt for strongly flavoured varieties and grate it to make a little go a long way.’

http://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/prevention/healthy-eating/saturated-fat.aspx

It looks like eating healthily will also help us lose weight.  Bonus!

Here is the recipe.

Thai red Chicken curry                             Serves 4

  • 2 tbsp rapreseed oil
  • 2 banana shallots, sliced
  • 3 – 4 chicken breasts, skin removed and cut into strips
  • 2 tbsp red thai curry paste
  • 1 x 400g can coconut milk
  • 150ml chicken stock
  • 1.5 tbsp Thai fish sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced
  • 100g baby spinach leaves
  • juice of half a lime
  • small bunch of basil, leaves torn
  • small bunch coriander, chopped
  1. Heat the oil in a wok and fry the shallots for a couple of minutes until softened.  add the chicken and fry for 5 minutes or until lightly brown all over.
  2. Stir in the curry paste and cook for 1 minute then add the coconut milk, stock, fish sauce and sugar. Stir then add the red pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes.
  3. You can freeze the curry at this stage if you want, in rigid containers.  Defrost thoroughly and ensure it is heated through then continue with stage four.
  4. Add the spinach, lime juice and herbs, mix to combine then cook for 1 minute.  Serve with boiled rice.

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Sausage hash with fried egg

13 Oct

DSCI0342There are times when I have lots of bits and pieces of food left in the fridge that need to use up and I made this recipe for just such an occasion.  It is almost like a breakfast in one pan as it contains all the thinks I like for a good old English Breakfast but it is all cooked together. We had it for lunch one day but I am sure it would make a great brunch or breakfast dish.

Did you know there is actually an English Breakfast Society?  This is what they have to say about the history of the English Breakfast.

 

The full English breakfast is a centuries old British tradition which dates back to the early 1800’s, when the Victorians first perfected the art of eating breakfast and elevated the most important meal of the day into an art form.

When the Victorians combined tradition with the most important meal of the day, they created a national dish, one that is widely loved to this day and regularly enjoyed by millions of English breakfast lovers all over the planet.

The breakfast table was an opportunity to display the wealth of the estate and the quality of the meats, vegetables and ingredients produced on the surrounding land and a chance to show off the skills of the cooks who prepared a vast selection of typical English breakfast dishes every morning, for the residents and guests of the house.

The gentry used to love their breakfast feasts and in the old Anglo-Saxon tradition of hospitality, used to provide hearty full breakfasts for their visiting friends, relatives and neighbors. The gentry used to enjoy a full breakfast before they went out to hunt, before a long journey, the morning after their parties and when reading the mail and periodicals of the day.

Breakfast served in these country houses was made up of ingredients sourced from farmers based on the estate, the meats were cured and cooked using regional recipes and methods. Their breakfasts were made up of traditional English dishes, cooked in a typical English way and it was here that the idea of the traditional English breakfast began.

This recipe may not fit in with their ideals but it is definitely delicious.

Sausage hash with fried egg               Serves 2

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 8 new potatoes cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 2 good quality sausages of your choice
  • 3 rashes of unsmoked streaky bacon
  • 1/2 green chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
  • 1/2 red pepper, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • small handful of parsley, chopped
  • salt and black pepper
  1. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan and gently fry the potato for 10 minutes until it is starting to soften and go golden.
  2. Skin the sausages and break up the meat into small nuggets. Add to the potato.
  3. Using scissors, snip the bacon into thin slices and add to the pan along with the onion, chilli and pepper.
  4. Stir to combine them all and continue to cook until the vegetables are tender and the sausage cooked through.
  5. Add the parsley and season to taste. Mix carefully.
  6. In a separate pan fry two eggs.
  7. Serve the hash immediately, divided between two plates with an egg on top of each.

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Chicken fricassee with cider and mushrooms

9 Oct

DSCI0120If you look through the chicken dishes in this blog you will find a number of recipes that include tarragon. That is because chicken and tarragon are a match made in heaven.  This dish is no exception and tastes absolutely delicious. I have used cider to make a sauce for pork before but I think this is the first time I have used it to make one for chicken.  It really does give the dish a fantastic lift. Here are a few facts and trivia on tarragon.

  • The word “tarragon” comes from the French word “estragon” meaning “little dragon,” hence the nickname “dragon’s-wort.”
  • It is the leaves of the herb Artemisia dracunculus. The slender dark-green leaves have a pleasant anise-like flavor and aroma.
  • Tarragon blends well with other spices. It is used in sauces, especially Bearnaise sauce and tarragon vinegar. In French cuisine it is an integral part of fines herbes and dijon mustard.
  • Tarragon was used by the Greeks as early as 500 BC. Like the French, the Arabs named it “turkhum” which means dragon probably because they found the taste to be exceptionally strong or because of its serpentine shaped roots.
  • Tarragon came to France from the plains of Siberia in the 15th century by the Arabs who had been using it since the 13th century
  • Tarragon leaves are rich in iodine, mineral salts and vitamins A and C. In the past tarragon was used to prevent scurvy. It is also used as an appetite stimulant and digestive tonic by naturalists.

Here is the recipe. I found it in a Good Food Magazine, the link to it on their website is below. I didn’t make the parsley croutons as I preferred to serve mine with mashed potato to soak up the wonderful sauce.

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/chicken-cider-fricassee-parsley-croutes

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