Beef Up

I have many friends who are vegetarian or pescatarian, and I respect their views.  There have been phases in my life where I haven’t eaten meat.  I thought that a non-meat diet was healthier and I worried about the future of the planet.  My problem is that I enjoy the taste of meat, and I cannot imagine a permanent future without smoked back bacon.  Over time, however, for health and planetary reasons, I have cut down the amount of red meat that I eat, and I prefer to eat organic meat, if possible.

There was a time not so long ago when every restaurant in London had lamb shanks on the menu – slowly cooked meat that fell from the bone, with a gravy enriched by the marrow.   They were almost always delicious, but I never cooked them at home.  However, I recently saw beef shanks for sale in Whole Foods.  Now obviously cattle have much larger feet than sheep and so the shanks had been sawn into slices.   They were very reasonably priced and so I bought three.   I cooked them last Sunday, and Dad and I differ about our views as to how successful they were.  We both enjoyed eating them, but I felt that they were a lot of effort for the taste; Dad felt that though they were reasonably priced, boneless short ribs of beef are the same price and again much less effort to prepare.  We are undecided as to whether we would make them again, because we were hampered by not having a large enough pan.  When we moved here, we only bought what we thought we would need to prepare food for the two of us and occasional visitors.  Hence we simply don’t have very large casseroles.  Beef shanks are big, and I struggled to fit them into my Le Creuset skillet.  Anyway, if you feel like doing something different, make sure that you start the process 24 hours beforehand and get your timing right!  I was inspired by a recipe by Michael Mina which I found online.

Braised Beef Shanks

(Served 3)

Ingredients

  • A bottle of rich red wine – I used a Bordeaux because I wanted a really big red, and because we had a bottle in the apartment
  • 3 beef shanks
  • 4 cloves of Elephant Garlic, crushed – 8-10 cloves of ordinary garlic
  • 2 celery stick, sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 3 sprigs of rosemary
  • 5 bay leaves – I used some dried bay leaves which I bought in the Caribbean.  They have a slightly aniseed flavour and are much smaller than usual.  I used them because I didn’t have any others.  I would use two ordinary bay leaves
  • Oil
  • 2 tbsps tomato paste
  • Beef stock
  • Salt and pepper

Method

Put all the ingredients except for the tomato, paste oil and stock into a large bowl.  Mix well, cover and put in the fridge for 24 hours.

IMG_1691

Waiting to go into the fridge.

Pre-heat the oven to 150 C / 300 F.

Remove the bowl from the fridge and remove the shanks.  Pat them dry, and season generously with salt and pepper.  Strain the liquid and leave the vegetables in the colander or sieve so that as much liquid comes from them as possible.

Heat half the oil and brown the shanks for about 10 minutes on either side.  Put into a lidded casserole/skillet.

Heat the remainder of the oil and soften the vegetables.  Do not allow to brown.  Add the tomato paste and cook for a further two mins.  Put the vegetables on top of the beef shanks.

Pour the wine from the marinade on top, and add as much beef stock as you have room for (this was my problem).  Bring to the boil.  Put on the lid, and put into the oven.

Cook for 2.5 hours.  Remove the lid and continue to cook for a further 30 mins.

This is the part that I honestly don’t think was worth it.  If I cook beef shanks again, I will simply remove the shanks to heated dish, and then bring the remaining liquid to the boil and reduce to about half.  Skim off the fat (of which there is a lot).  I would have preferred to use a richer beef stock, like the Knorr Stock Pots I mentioned a couple of recipes ago.

What the recipe said to do was to put the liquid through a sieve, pushing through as many of the vegetables as you can.  Bring to the boil and reduce by half.  Skim off the fat.  Adjust the seasoning if necessary.  Serve.

I felt that the dish was very brown and I would have preferred some colour.  We served them with roast Brussels Sprouts (toss the Brussels Sprouts in salt and olive oil – put into a pan and then roast – simple and so tasty) but the effect was still a bit dull for me.

IMG_1695

As served with the gorgeous roast Brussels Sprouts

Enjoy!

 

Feeling Flat

I’m in New York City, it’s January, and it is of course cold.  The Accuweather app on my phone tells me that it is going to start snowing in 12 mins which seems astonishly accurate (which is, I suppose, why it’s called Accuweather – hang around and I’ll tell you if it’s right).  I was in Edinburgh last week where it was a balmy 8º C.  Since it had been well and truly in the minuses over here, I felt quite warm.  Some of you know that I was there to visit my aunt, Aileen, who had a stroke in October and has now returned home.  She will be there until Suzy and I have sorted out everything necessary for her to move into a home.  She’s lived in her flat since she was 7 – 81 years.  It will undoubtedly be a wrench for her to leave her home, where her mother too was brought up from the age of 2.

The stories about that flat are legion.  As you enter the door and walk up to the flat, you’ll notice that there are brass nodules set into the bannister.  These were put in by my great-grandfather, John Mackay, to stop my grandmother from sliding down the bannister.  Since there is a drop of two stories to stone slabs, Nana was braver than I, I tell you.  Nana used to be able to throw a ball over the building (three stories) from the street onto the grass behind, much to the irritation of her twin brother, Angus, and Albert, my grandfather, who could never do it.  Dad swore to me that he saw her do this once, in 1938 when Angus had returned from South Africa for a visit.  The flat was bought in the late 1880s by John Mackay (Grandpa Mackay) and, apart from a period when it was commercially let after Grandpa moved to Friockheim in Angus, and Nana and my Papa were living in Arbroath, it was essentially occupied by Nana, Papa, my Dad and Auntie Aileen.  Various other family members came and went, but Auntie Aileen was always there after 1933.

Nana’s mother died when she was two, and she and her elder sister, Peggy, and Angus were brought up by two spinster aunts, Auntie Katie and Auntie Aggie, sisters of Grandpa Mackay.  Nana met my Papa not long after the Moyes family went to Edinburgh from India, I believe at college, and they wrote to each other during World War I when he was stationed in France.  Papa enlisted in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders but when it was discovered that he spoke fluent Urdu, he was sent for officers’ training.  The war, of course, ended in November 1918, and Papa immediately applied to be demobbed.  He was back in Edinburgh by the beginning of 1919.  He felt he was too old to go back to school, but sat the Civil Service exams.  Auntie Aileen told me proudly last week that thousands of people sat these exams, but that only the top ones were accepted into the Inland Revenue.  Papa went to work for the Inland Revenue.  He married Nana in 1922 and they lived in Arbroath until 1933 when he was posted to Edinburgh, and they returned to Nana’s childhood home.  Initially, renting it from Grandpa Mackay, but after his death in 1949, they bought out Nana’s other siblings’ interests and it was truly their home.

Auntie Aileen told me that she has always slept in the small bedroom.  She was supposed to share the front bedroom with my Dad, but she was scared because she was too far away from her parents.  She said that people have asked her why she doesn’t move into the large back bedroom, but says she could never sleep in her parents’ room.  (By the way, it hasn’t started snowing – should I delete the app?)  During the war, Dad slept in the box room/junk room (always called the Glory Hole).  Even though Suzy and I sorted out some of the stuff last year, there certainly isn’t room for a single bed in there any more.  Auntie Aileen also told me that there used to be a quarter-sized billiard table in the dining room – a proper slate one – and that the family hid beneath this during bombings.  I know that my Papa offered that billiard table to my Dad (after Dad had moved to England) and Dad told me that he’d always wished that they’d had room to take it.

My memories inevitably include food and I was thinking of the milk lollies that Nana used to make (https://chinupdeepbreaths.com/2013/04/12/spring-has-sprung-well-no-not-really/) and of her plastic strawberry.  I was also remembering a lunch in Edinburgh where we all sat around the dining table, and Auntie Aileen gave us each our own cruet set.  Mine was a couple of squirrels, and was definitely my favourite.  Some years ago, Auntie Aileen gave me that cruet set and I was thrilled to pieces.  The thing I didn’t remember correctly though was the size of the table – I truly believed that it was a 12-seater.  When we cleared all the bags and stuff, there was a very ordinary 6-8 seater.  I must have been much smaller then.  We all have memories of playing Rocket Ship, a bagatelle game that took the place of a television.  I can honestly say that I don’t miss having a television when I’m there, but golly this time I missed wifi.  Every time I go, I find a new and interesting book that I haven’t seen before, and the china cabinet contains such treasures as decorations from Grandma and your Papa’s wedding cake, African bead work and Indian silver.

And now the flat is going to be sold.  Doubtless it will be described as being full of period detail, a doer-upper, and in need of some attention.  Suzy and I will have to sort out the contents.  We will have to open those cupboards, drawers and presses that we ignored during the big clear out of last year.  I know there will be some tears, a lot of laughs and probably some astonishment that Auntie Aileen has hung onto something for so long.  What can’t be taken away are our memories.  So if anyone of my family would like to come up to Edinburgh to help with this mammoth task, we can guarantee some good food, some whisky and a heap of ‘Oh my goodnesses’ and ‘Oh heavens, I remembers’, let me know.  Suzy and I will supply the tissues.

As I said, it’s cold, I’m clearly feeling sad, so what did I cook the other day?  Soup, I hear you chorus.  Indeed – you know me well.  I found a head of something called Elephant Garlic in the fridge and see below for why it is called this.  Does what it says on the tin!  I also had a basil plant, some rosemary and a tin of tomatoes so I created Basil and Rosemary Tomato Soup.  I was very pleased with it – Dad was very complimentary and it will be made again.

Two elephant garlic cloves alongside a whole head of normal garlic

Basil and Rosemary Tomato Soup

(Serves 4)

Ingredients

  • Oil – I used ordinary olive oil
  • A medium onion, sliced
  • One clove of elephant garlic, crushed and sliced – probably two cloves of ordinary garlic
  • Two stick of celery sliced with the celery leaves
  • One large tin of tomatoes (approx. 800 g)
  • 10 fresh basil leaves, shredded
  • Two sprigs of rosemary with the leaves taken off and chopped
  • Vegetable stock
IMG_1692

The ingredients, except for the tomatoes, of course!

Method

Heat the oil over a medium heat in a saucepan.  Add the garlic.  Do not allow to burn.  Add the onion and the celery, and soften.

Add the tomatoes and the herbs.  Add about 450 ml / 20 fl oz of vegetable stock.  Bring to the boil.  Cover and simmer.

After about 20 minutes, blend or liquidise the soup.  Check the seasoning.  Serve with a couple of basil leaves.

IMG_1697

 

Enjoy!

 

A Request

I really enjoy feeding people.  Let me clarify slightly – I really enjoy feeding people who like eating what I cook. Feeding difficult eaters has never been particularly joyous for me, but thankfully that occurs much less frequently nowadays.  Children who only ate boiled rice, or who needed tomato ketchup with anything I offered, or whose mothers insisted that everything be organic are firmly in the past, I hope.  I know I have mentioned on this blog that one of the things I miss most about being here in New York is our Sunday meals in London.  I’m not sure when they became so important, but I know that I wanted one meal a week where we all sat down, together, and relaxed and ate.  I do know that it was Nico who said that we should always eat in the dining room because it gave the meal a sense of occasion.  The meals then developed into something more than I had ever envisaged with Dad making themed playlists where we had to guess the theme.  Some were obvious, some less so, and it still bothers me slightly that we never guessed the one where colours were the link.  Friends and family were invited to join us up to a maximum of 14 (the number we can comfortably sit around the table).  Some found us a bit hard to deal with.  Who can forget Jen’s friend, Kat, as we all started singing along and harmonising to Moulin Rouge?  The poor girl looked utterly flabbergasted and you could see her asking herself who these people were and how she’d got here, as she bent her head over her wine.  Some enjoyed themselves but wished in retrospect that they had not given in to Bapu’s offer of a raw chilli.  I can clearly see Ramage and Noah turning dark red as they tried to control the heat that was exploding inside their mouths, head, throats.  The noise was sometimes deafening as people were challenged to defend their statement, and one of Dad’s friends aptly described the banter between you boys as ‘verbal pinball’.  I have often described those meals as resembling the opening credits of Roseanne except that we weren’t eating pizza!  Everyone talking, everyone laughing, everyone drinking and most importantly everyone eating.

We often had roast meat, the ultimate and stereotypical British Sunday meal.  Roast meat was meant for large groups of people, and providing you remembered to put everything into the oven at the right moment (or indeed take it out of the oven at the right moment) it wasn’t a difficult meal to prepare.  Heck,who am I to talk?  We all know that I was rarely responsible for the roasts – Dad was.  My contribution to those roast meals was the starter and the dessert, and I usually prepared the vegetables too.  The actual cooking of the meat rested fairly and squarely with Dad.  He has a much better feel for large pieces of meat than I do, and the only roasts I am truly comfortable cooking are chicken or belly pork.  I am however better at cooking small lumps of meat than Dad and over the years we’ve eaten a selection of casseroles and stews.  Most were based on Grandma’s beef casserole and changed according to what vegetables were in season, what was in the fridge and what I felt like that day.  All were designed so that we could all relax and enjoy the meal.  I cannot bear it when someone is forever jumping up to check something, and isn’t able to participate properly.

One of my absolute favourites casseroles came from The Dairy Book of British Cookery.  I was initially drawn to the name – Dorset Jugged Steak – because I had read about jugged hare in various Regency novels and thought the term sounded romantic.  I now know that ‘jugged’ simply means something cooked in a closed container (the term is still primarily used for hare and rabbit, by the way), and isn’t at all romantic.  Over the years, it’s rarely known in the family by its real name.  Hallie calls it my Christmas casserole because I often cook it when we have people round before Christmas.  It’s also known as The Stew With The Meatballs In, or the One You Always Do When We Have a Party.  Whatever, we all still like it a lot, and the reason it gets cooked so often is because it is so easy.  Hallie asked me for the recipe some time ago and I have been very slow in sorting myself out.  I will give you the recipe as it appears in The Dairy Book of British Cookery, and then I’ll tell you what I changed and why.

Dorset Jugged Steak

Ingredients

(serves 4)

  • 700 g (1. 1/2 lb) stewing steak, cut into 2.5 cm (1 inch) cubes
  • 25 g (1 oz) plain wholemeal flour
  • 1 medium onion, skinned and sliced
  • 4 cloves
  • salt and pepper
  • 150 ml (1/4 pint / 5 fl oz) port
  • about 450 ml (3/4 pint) beef stock, to cover
  • 225 g (8 oz) sausage meat
  • 50 g (2 oz) fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs
  • 30 ml (2 tbsp) chopped fresh parsley
  • 15 ml (1 tbsp) redcurrant jelly

Method

1. Toss the meat in seasoned flour, shaking off excess, and put into an ovenproof casserole.

2. Add the onion and cloves and season to taste.  Pour in the port and just enough stock to cover the meat.

3. Cover the casserole and bake at 170°C (325°F) mark 3 for about 3 hours, until the meat is tender.

4. Meanwhile, mix together the sausage meat, breadcrumbs and parsley and season to taste.  With damp hands, form the mixture into 8 balls.

5. Forty minutes before the end of the cooking time, stir the redcurrant jelly into the casserole. Add the meatballs and cook, uncovered, until the meatballs are cooked and slightly brown. Skim off any excess fat and serve hot.

I rarely make this for four people, usually I am making for twelve, and I cannot be bothered with half-empty jars or bottles.  So at Christmas I put the whole jar of redcurrant jelly in and the entire bottle of port.  I made four times the meatballs because they’re always so popular, but I was careful to skim the fat.  I made the meatballs with Waitrose Premium Sausagemeat because I think it’s worth paying for the better quality.  I used Knorr Rich Beef Stock Pots to make the stock and added one more Stock Pot than I should have.  I wanted the sauce to be really rich and it was.  I put in a couple of extra cloves because subtlety has never been my strong point and I like the flavour.  I have never only had 700g beef as my base recipe because I tend to buy the stewing steak as a slab and prepare it myself, so it is rarely an exact weight.  I don’t think that any of this has spoiled the dish.  Indeed, if I may be so bold, I think it gets better every time I make it.  These sort of dishes were peasant dishes, meant to last without spoiling and meant to fill you up.  They were never intended to be something you precisely weighed everything for.  Anyway, those were my changes this Christmas and if you watch me make it next Christmas it will probably have changed again!  Use the original recipe as your guideline and make it the way you want to eat it.

Enjoy!

Looking Back

The turn of the year is always a time of reflection for me when the busyness of the Christmas season is followed by an inevitable lull.  I spent twelve days in the UK and quite simply had an amazing time.  Although I was ill on Christmas evening and got up very late on Boxing Day, for me, the trip was a total success.  So much so that I cried and sulked all the way back on the flight to Newark.  Dad has learned to ignore me when I’m like this.  He knows that I’ll eventually forgive him for tearing me away from my family and forcing me to live here.  Usually it only takes the duration of the flight to come to terms with it all again, and a swift trip through Immigration and luggage already waiting for us certainly lessened the pain this time.

I am enormously proud of all of you boys and I really don’t like being so far from you.  The trip at Christmas showed me again what amazing men you’ve become.  Andrew, thank you for letting me be with you at the hospital.  I know you were worried that I would upset the doctors, and I’m so sorry the answers weren’t what you wanted, but at least you know.  You and Hallie can create a slightly different future, and I know you’ll make a success of it.  Nico, I am so happy you have found your passion – not everyone does – enjoy it.  Tom, I’m glad you had fun in France even if your snowboard isn’t well.  The first half of this year isn’t going to be easy for you with your studying, but it’ll be worth it in the end.  George, thank you for still sending me your new songs and thank you for listening to my opinions and making me feel that I matter.

One of the big delights for me this Christmas was how little I cooked.  It was a particular pleasure for me to eat meals cooked by you boys, and, George, I’m really impressed with how you create dishes, delicious dishes that taste fabulous.  I hope you all noticed that I’m trying very hard not to be so anal and controlling, and seriously it worked very much in my favour on this trip.   Yumm!

Looking back, 2014 was a good year with very few lows.  I was able to travel a huge amount and my highlights were seeing sea turtles and dolphins; discovering the cliffs at Leucate; watching Whistlejacket at Liverpool PsychFest; my road trip with Matt; and watching the ice on the East River in January.  It makes me sad to realise that my wonderful day out to Bannockburn with Auntie Aileen in September was most likely the last day out she’ll ever have.  Strokes are cruel beasts but she is fighting on as ever.  That war-time generation was made of stern stuff.

And so to this year and predictably I am currently concerned about the weather.  On Saturday we had snow which turned to driving rain, followed by a rise in temperatures to 12º C on Sunday.  It is currently -2º C and apparently will be snowing later and dropping to -12º C on Wednesday.  As always when it’s cold, my mind has turned to thoughts of soup, and I’ve just been talking to Tom so today’s recipe is one that I made up for him.  Occasionally it’s been called Fart Soup – an unfortunate side-effect of this vegetable, I’m afraid, but worth it, I think!  Today’s recipe is

Cream of Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • Medium onion, sliced thinly
  • Clove of garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 2 sticks of celery, sliced thinly
  • 450 g / 1 lb Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and sliced
  • Stock – I usually use vegetable stock, but chicken works well too
  • Small tub of single cream
  • Seasoning

Method

Heat the oil over a medium heat.  Turn the heat down slightly and add the garlic and stir for about a minute.  Do not let it brown.  Add onion and celery, and soften.   Again do not let them brown.  Add artichokes and soften.  Add about 1.2 litre / 2 UK pints (48 fl oz)  of stock and bring to the boil.   Cook for about 20 mins or until all the vegetables are cooked through.

Blend or liquidise.  Add the cream.  Season to your taste.  Do not re-boil – if you re-heat, do it gently!

Enjoy!