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24th January 2021
Two and a Half Men
A Nuclear Sunset

Welcome to 2021!

Honestly it's just like a sitcom here - two brothers doing their best to bring up a young boy in trying circumstances. I should write a book!
But It's going to be a slim month or two on the cooking front, now that I'm now doing my best to lose some winter OK, and the rest... pounds by indulging in my patented raw food diet. Plus crisps. Which are a kind of raw food too, right?

While it makes meal times a good deal less interesting, it does make them easier, since the Philistines are perfectly happy eating plain boiled vegetables and something from the freezer baked in the oven. Which leaves me more time for chopping lettuce.

On the subject of vegetable boiling, though more for my benefit than yours 🤟😝👆, here are my timings for the daily churn of producing vegetables not too crisp and not too soggy on my gas stove: Have an incompletely-raw chicken salad. Made from the remnants of a chicken slow-roasted for Philistines decidedly luckier than me.

Blue Cheese & Chicken Salad
salad fowl
A sort of over-complicated caesar-y chicken salad.

Ingredients
Method
First roast your chicken 😉
Halve the avocado, remove the stone, scoop the flesh from the skin with a spoon and cut into smallish cubes. Drizzle with a little lemon juice or white wine vinegar to slow down the browning process enough to be able to serve it still green.
Shred the chicken.
Mince the anchovies.
Cut the sweet gem lettuce leaves in half lengthways, then cut into fat slices.
Drain the sweetcorn.
Core, seed and dice the red pepper.
Cube the cucumber.
Chop the red onion.
Dice the celery small it would be the first thing I'd leave out.
Mix everything together then crumble over blue cheese.

Make up a dressing from mayonnaise, some of the anchovy olive oil (they used only the finest quality oil right?) and vinegar.
If you want to keep the dressing white for the aesthetics then you'll have to use white wine vinegar. But if you aren't so fussy a splash of soy sauce and balsamic vinegar goes down quite well.
You can add in some grated parmesan too, if you like. At least that's white.
Season with salt and, if you like, white pepper.
Rather good. You might crush some garlic into the dressing too.

Slow Cooked Chicken Casserole
fowl main crockpot
A chicken casserole done in the slow cooker. Pretty good if I say so myself ;)

Serves 8

Ingredients
Method
Peel and chop the root vegetables into fat chunks. Remove any damaged outer leaves from the sprouts and trim their stems.
Put them all in the slow cooker.
Feel free to add any chunked broccoli or cauliflower stalks you might have hanging around too (after trimming away any stringy parts). And some celery.

Roughly chop the onions (or cut them into segments). Heat olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion until they begin to colour around the edges then add to the slow cooker.
Chop the bacon or the chorizo into pieces or matchsticks. Peel the garlic and cut up any larger cloves. Fry the bacon and the garlic until the bacon is crisping and the garlic begins to colour.
Add everything to the slow cooker.

Cut up the chicken thighs if you like I didn't, but then mine were still partly frozen!. Coat with a little olive oil and dress with ground black pepper and some of the paprika and seasoned flour too - if you like. Add more oil to the frying pan if necessary and fry the chicken pieces until they are lightly browned all over.
Add to the slow cooker.

Add the tomato purée to the frying pan and cook a little then empty in the tinned tomatoes and simmer until thickened and reduced.
Add to the slow cooker.
Pour the stock into the frying pan and simmer until well reduced.
Add to the slow cooker.
Add the tin of beans, the olives, capers, bay leaves, the soy sauce, the rest of the paprika and any herbs you like fresh or dried thyme and oregano leaves. Season, and add more stock if necessary - though there should be barely any liquid in there.

Turn the slow cooker on low for 8-9 hours or high for 4 hours, with maybe a stir about half way through.
Serve with mash and, if you can figure out how to manage it in a slow cooker, dumplings.
Rather good.
You might want to fry a little flour added at the beginning or stir in a little cornflour at the end to thicken it up. Definitely don't add too much liquid.
Concerning dumplings; Contrary to everything you might assume from every single instructional on the inter-webs telling you they'll be ready in 30 minutes, trying to cook dumplings in your slow cooker will make you cry. I had my dumplings (golf-ball-sized) cooking, on top of the stew, on high, for 2 hours and they still weren't cooked. I even tried covering the pot with cling film to keep in the heat.
You might do better if you make them barely the size of marbles, but I doubt it.
Furthermore, 3½ hours for smallish parsley dumplings is a bit too long - if it's possible to overcook dumplings, these were overcooked. It would seem the sweet spot is somewhere between 2 and 3 hours.

Slow Cooked Beef Stew
main meat crockpot
Here's what I put in mine, but some celery wouldn't have gone amiss. And I'd have put in some bacon too, if I'd remembered.
Probably a splash or two of soy sauce would help deepen the flavour.

The pâté was something I needed to use up and this seemed a good way to do it. It definitely enriches the stew.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients
Method
Heat a puddle of oil in a frying pan. Shake the beef cubes in a bag with the seasoned flour and fry quickly in batches over high heat, turning until they're nicely coloured.
Add to the slow cooker.
Fry the ginger over medium heat until it begins to caramelize, then add the onions and fry until they too begin to brown, then add the garlic and fry for a few more minutes. Stir through the tomato purée and cook until it loses its harsh flavour then tip everything into the slow cooker.
Clean the frying pan out with the beer, reducing it by about half, then add to the slow cooker. Mash the pâté into a little of the stock pressing it through a sieve if it remains persistently lumpy. Add to the slow cooker.
Trim away the outer leaves of the sprouts and roughly chunk the vegetables. No need to peel the potatoes or the carrots, if they're clean. Fill the slow cooker with them, throwing in a couple of bay leaves and the dried herbs. Pour in enough stock to barely cover and add a splash or two of Worcestershire sauce and maybe some soy sauce.
Grind up the spices and the dried mushrooms an electric grinder is ideal with a little sea salt.
Add the paprika and sprinkle over the stew.
Ground dried mushrooms are a great way of flavouring stews if you're cooking for fussy eaters who don't like the squeaky texture of whole mushrooms. Plus a little goes a very long way.
Chop up the parsley and keep it for a garnish (though you can throw the chopped stalks into the stew too).
Not too dusty 😉

Fondant Potatoes
staple side
This time I took the opposite approach to fondanting my potatoes - frying them in butter first, then finishing them off with stock in the oven.
I had a slow-cooking pork joint in at Gas Mark 3, so I sat the potatoes in the covered frying pan on the top shelf for an hour which seemed about perfect.

If you were cooking them on the stove-top it would probably only take half the time. I reckon they probably do taste better boiled first then finished in the butter, but this method was pretty low maintenance. You don't get that crunchy finish, but the potatoes are meltingly soft and well flavoured.

You can halve the potatoes lengthwise or crosswise, as I did here, to get two more equal flat sides. Take your pick.

Serves 4

Ingredients
Method
Peel the potatoes, halve them and pare the opposite sides down flat.
If you soak them for half an hour you'll remove the excess starch and help with the browning. Dry them thoroughly afterwards.
Melt most the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat until it starts to foam. Place the potatoes in the pan and cook for about 5-6 minutes until they're golden on the bottom. Then turn them over, add the garlic and herbs and the rest of the butter and cook for the same time again.

Carefully add the stock and season well.
Cover and simmer gently for about half an hour until the potatoes are tender. Or put them in a 160°C/325°C/Gas Mark 3 oven for an hour, or a 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 oven for about half an hour.
Keep warm before serving.

Slow Cooker Beef Curry
curry meat main crockpot
This turned out to be an excellent training curry for a young Philistine, though the elder Philistine did complain it was not as spicy as the aroma had led him to believe.
I slightly enhanced Lulu Grimes slow cooker recipe by the addition of fruit. And, of course, more spices.

Serves 4

Ingredients
Method
Heat your slow cooker if you need to.
Mix the powdered spices with a little water to make a paste.
Cut the beef into chunks and halve the potatoes or cut them up into hefty chunks no need to peel them.
Crush the garlic, grate the ginger and roughly chop the onion.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil or ghee and add the cinnamon and cardamom pods. I forgot the cardamom pods. Didn't seem to do the curry any harm. Fry until they sizzle and release their fragrance. Add a pinch of crushed chillies to taste.
Coat the beef pieces generously in seasoned flour and fry in batches in the oil until browned all over and tip into the slow cooker with the raw potatoes.
Re-oil the frying pan and fry the onion over a low heat until it starts to soften. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for 1 minute.
Having no fresh ginger I added 1½ tsps ginger powder to the other spices.

Add the spice paste and fry for 1 minute or until the spices start to smell fragrant. Add the coconut milk and bring to a simmer, then tip everything into the slow cooker.
I used a very thick, high quality coconut milk, so I cleaned the frying pan out with stock, reduced it, and added that too.

Cook for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low. Peel the mango and cut into cubes. Add to the pot with 2 hours to go. You can throw in the stone too, from which you won't quite be able to cut away all the flesh. Don't try to eat it though 😉
When ready, dress with coriander and serve.

Delicious!

Methi Matar Malai
Creamy Peas and Fenugreek Leaf Curry
veg curry side
I was going to attribute this to Srividhya's post, but her website is so full of gibbering spam as to be unusable. So I won't.

I had no poppy seeds, no fresh ginger (for which I substituted ½ tsp ginger powder), no chillies (this was cooked for softies) and no fresh fenugreek, so I used dried.
You might need 50g/2 cups of fresh leaves. If you can find them.

Serves 4

Ingredients
Method
Strip the fenugreek leaves from their stems, rinse thoroughly and chop roughly.
Soak the poppy seeds if you have any and broken cashews in ½ cup of water/milk for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile heat a little oil in a frying pan fry the whole spices until they sizzle and release their aroma. Then add the onions and green chillies if using and fry for about 10 minutes until soft and light brown around the edges. Add the garlic and the fresh ginger and fry a little more until the oil separates and the harsh aroma is cooked off.
Allow to cool slightly then tip into a blender along with the soaked nuts.
You can remove the whole spices if you like, or leave them in as long as you blend them all up very smoothly.

Heat more oil or ghee in the frying pan and sauté the paste briefly until the oil separates and any harsh aroma has cooked off add the ginger powder now if using.
Add about ¼ cup water with some salt and cook, stirring regularly, for 5-10 minutes until the sauce thickens then add the fenugreek leaves fresh or dry and cook for another 5 minutes.
Add the peas as many as you like really and warm through gently.
You can pre-warm frozen peas in a pot of boiling water, if you like. If you want to use fresh peas you should probably cook them a little first to soften them up.
Finally, add the cream, stir and simmer on a low heat for a couple of minutes.

Serve with a sprinkle of garam masala, some chopped coriander or a squeeze of lemon juice.
Really quite good, to say I had only half the necessary ingredients!
Add a little sugar if you find the fenugreek too bitter.

Kookoo
Persian Omelette
starter side veg main
A sort of Iranian omelette eaten hot or cold as a starter or a side dish, or a vegetarian main.
Went down like a Persian balloon P.b. Pb. Lead. Geddit? Oh well, please yourselves....
Suffice to say, no-one went cuckoo for Kookoo 🙁

Serves 8

Ingredients
Method
Wash the cauliflower and cook in salted water. Mash and leave to cool.

Chop the onions and fry in a little oil until soft and golden. Stir in the turmeric and put aside to cool.

Wash and chop the parsley you might consider coriander instead?. When all the ingredients are cool, mix the cauliflower, flour, baking powder, onions and parsley.
And salt. This really needs some salt!

Heat enough oil to cover the base of a large frying pan. While the oil heats, beat the eggs until frothy, then stir in the cauliflower mixture. Pour into the hot oil, then immediately reduce the heat, cover and cook over a gentle heat for 25 minutes until firm.

Turn over and cook for a further 10 minutes. Serve immediately with mixed pickles and fresh herbs.
I rather liked it - surprisingly fluffy and airy. I did add some mayonnaise and piccalilli juice too. Which might have helped to put off the Philistines.

Steak and Blue Cheese Pie
main meat
Stilton, would be the traditional blue cheese of choice, though I used Cambazola - a mild blue cheese suitable for curdophobic Philistines.
It's best to start this pie a day or two ahead with a bag of well-fatted beef bones. Which you will boil up for a couple of hours with diverse herbs and alliums. You can then skim off the thick layer of dripping with which to make your pastry, and reduce the stock almost to demi-glaze to make the sauce. Yum!

My experience is that if you have a really good, well-reduced stock you shouldn't use too much (or any?) flour to coat the meat since the sauce may turn out unnecessarily gloopy. If you otherwise have only thin gruel, then gloopy is probably your best hope.

Serves 6

Ingredients
Method
Make the Pastry
Cut the well-chilled fat into 1cm cubes. Dripping (or lard) is good for pastry crispness since it doesn't melt until cooked leaving a nice pastry honeycomb structure behind, but butter is good for flavour. So a mixture of the two is ideal. Add the mustard powder and salt into the flour then cut in the fat without overworking the mixture, or letting it get too warm. You don't need to rub away all the fatty chunks.
Cut in ice cold water until the mixture just clumps up. Roll into two flattened balls (one twice as large as the other), wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for half an hour or so.
If you like, for added richness, you can mix an egg yolk or two into the water. It's probably not really worth it for a strongly flavoured pied crust like this one though. You can also add chopped herbs to the mixture.
Dust your chilled marble slab with flour and working quickly roll out the larger ball, lift (rolled around your pin if necessary) and drop into your pie dish, gently pressing the pastry into the bottom. Cover the pastry with foil, fill with baking beans or sugar and bake blind at Gas Mark 5-6 for about 15 minutes or until the pastry becomes firm around the edges, then remove the beans and the foil and return to the oven on a lower shelf to finish off for 5-10 minutes until all the pastry is a light tan colour. If you like you can paint the inside with beaten egg white to seal the surface. Don't let the egg white pool though, or you'll end up with some unpleasantly rubbery sheets in the bottom.
Set aside to cool.

Make the Filling
Cut the steak braising steak will do into 1" chunks and roll them in flour seasoned with salt and pepper and mixed with a few teaspoons of English mustard powder. Place a layer not too closely spaced in a hot frying pan with a generous amount of oil and leave to fry until they develop a nice bottom crust, then flip and caramelise the other side. Brown in batches, as necessary and set aside.
Add the chopped onion and more oil if required and fry gently until beginning to brown at the edges. Stir through chopped garlic and fry a little. Pour in a glass or two of pale ale and simmer until it bubbles and reduces a little, then add back the steak, cover with beef stock, add herbs, a dash or two of soy and Worcestershire sauce and simmer gently for a 2-3 hours or until the meat is tender. Or you can casserole it in the oven for a few hours. Meanwhile clean and fry the button mushrooms in butter until they take on a little colour. Add to the stew some half hour before it's ready. Reduce the sauce at the end until it is nice and thick. Now you can season it.
Leave to cool.

Fill the Pie
Fill the cooled pastry casing with the cooled filling. Crumble the blue cheese over the top.
Roll out the chilled ball of dough for the pie lid and cover the pie, crimping closed around the edges. Trim, decorate with left-over pastry pieces and make a couple of slits in the crust so it doesn't explode ;)
Chill thoroughly in the fridge or even freeze before cooking.

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4-5 and bake the chilled pie for 1-1½ hours until the crust is golden and the filling pie-ping hot (geddit?). Adjust temperatures accordingly in the process.
A most excellent pie!

Bubble and Squeak Cakes
Fried potato and cabbage
veg vegan staple side
Traditionally a useful way of frying up leftovers from the Sunday roast, and in the 18th Century, apparently featuring leftover meat rather than potato.
Ideally you would have about the same in volume or twice the weight of potato as cabbage, but the ratio is hardly important; add an egg if the mixture won't bind. Use shredded cabbage, brussels, spring onions or indeed any green vegetables or herbs. Even carrots (not my favourite). Possibly peas.

You could just fill the whole frying pan with the mixture, flip and fry the second side to make one giant potato pancake. But these smaller cakes are rather nice. And somewhat easier to manage.

Ingredients
Method
First eat a roast Sunday dinner, leaving plenty of cabbage or brussels, and potato suitable for mashing. (Yes, you can mash cold roast potatoes!) Alternatively boil up some potatoes, let them steam dry you don't want this mixture to be watery and mash them with plenty of butter. Season well.
Then blanch some cabbage without overcooking it, squeeze out the excess water (it's easier with brussels!) and shred.
Mix the mashed potato and the shredded vegetable together. Take handfuls, shape into flattened patties, roll in the flour to coat and shallow fry in a generous amount of lard (or whatever) in a very hot pan without fidgeting them until a nice brown crust develops on each side and the cakes become very soft - so turn them carefully.
Classic!

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