Tag Archives: leftovers

Sweet and Sour Horse

No, not Tesco’s latest tasty offering, but a re-post of something I originally offered at the start of the year of the rabbit, reheated for the year of the horse. Though having watched Ken Hom eat a traditional dish of fried rabbit’s head in Chengdu on TV this morning, perhaps horse wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. Whatever your choice of meat, veg or tofu – a happy, prosperous and healthy year of the horse to one and all! 

Sweet and Sour Sauce in a Yin and Yang bowl

Learning a language as an adult is far more difficult than doing so as a child when the relevant bits of our brains are more plastic, malleable and hungry for linguistic stimuli. And as it is with language, so with tableware. I could read English by the time I went to nursery school, but I didn’t meet my first pair of chopsticks until I was in my twenties. By then I could speak knife and fork with ease, and could happily conjugate the correct cutlery course combinations for soup, fish, cheese etc. But my adult mind has never mastered more than a rudimentary grasp of chopsticks. My fingers lack fluency, and even when I do successfully manage to convey a morsel of food to my mouth I’m sure it’s done with a thick English accent, clearly audible to anyone within spitting distance whose mother tongue is chopsticks.

I learnt years ago that to leave one’s chopsticks in a bowl of food shows disrespect for one’s ancestors [that’s what the rests are for people, do not dis the dead], but I’m usually more worried about the disrespect for my dining companions shown by showering them with flicks of my food.

However having recently received some smart new pairs emblazoned with the animals of our birth years I decided we needed to inaugurate them at the dawn of the year of the rabbit. And that’s where a sticky sauce like this comes in very handy for a chopsticks dunce like me. It’s effectively food glue, and I’ll be less likely to starve if I can use it to entrap some errant grains of egg fried rice. There’ll be forks involved before we’ve finished for sure, but like learning just a few words of a new language, at least I’ll feel like I’ve made an effort.

“Gung Hay Fat Choy!”

Very many recipes suggest this same basic technique and combination of ingredients though the proportions vary slightly. I’m not sure how traditional an ingredient tomato ketchup is but it’s certainly popular! Take 100ml of Chinese rice vinegar, 3.5 tbsps brown or cane sugar, 2 tbsps tomato ketchup and 1 tsp of soy sauce. Boil all together in a small pan for a couple of minutes and then thicken with a rounded tsp of cornflour mixed with water. This gives you quite a thick, dark sauce which is probably best for dipping.

I wanted something looser and less intense, so added 200ml of passata, 100ml of water and another good glug of rice vinegar. If you’re doing the same taste the sauce and adjust with more vinegar or sugar to balance the sweet and sour. Quickly stir fry an onion and a pepper [roughly chopped], add cooked chicken [unsurprisingly leftovers in my case], then the sauce and chunks of tinned pineapple. After a quick bubble and stir it’s time to check and adjust again.

I had another wok on the go to fry cooked rice, spring onion, small strips of chilli, some finely shredded smoked duck, peas, a beaten egg and a generous splash of soy sauce. Fried rice is another good place to use up scraps of this and that – the duck was leftover from our recent fondue. If only I’d had a bit of rabbit.

The sauce itself is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. If you prefer not to have it with meat then some fried tofu would eat very well.

Christmas Pudding Ice-Cream

Serving suggestion – holly garnish optional!

Christmas Pudding Ice-Cream decorated with holly leaves and berries

It turns out, at least according the Barrister down the pub last night, that not everyone has leftover Christmas pudding to hand come February. Who knew? If you are such an unfortunate soul you can now buy them year round, or you could try this with just the soaked and spiced fruits from my pudding recipe. Or even make another pudding – why confine something so good to the depths of December after all?

With this I managed to combine Christmas pudding with Christmas present as I was lucky enough to receive, in a hamper of gourmet treats, a jar of tonka beans. Wrinkly little wonders they are too, with a perfume like vanilla and hay. Sorry US readers but apparently they’re illegal in the States, though it sounds as though the odd speakeasy-style foodie boutique will smuggle you in a few if you know where to ask! Something to do with a supposed toxicity which relies on you eating your own body weight of beans in one sitting. No such worries here in Europe, and so far no-one who’s eaten this has died.

My esteemed friend and colleague the Shropshire Statistician had also just delivered me a dozen spankingly fresh eggs straight from her own hens, which made a gloriously golden custard. If you don’t have a chicken coop handy do lay your hands on the freshest eggs you can find.

To make about a litre of ice-cream

  • 300ml double cream
  • 300ml whole milk
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 6 medium egg yolks
  • 1 dessertspoonful vanilla paste
  • 1/3 of a tonka bean, finely grated
  • a pinch of grated nutmeg
  • a good glug of brandy
  • 100g clotted cream [optional]
  • 150 – 200g of Christmas pudding, crumbled

Combine the milk, cream, sugar, vanilla, nutmeg and tonka bean in a pan and heat to just below boiling. Whisk the egg yolks. Add a ladelful of the hot liquid whisking all the while, then tip this back into the pan and cook, stirring ceaselessly, over a very low heat for 6 to 8 minutes, by which time the custard should just coat the back of a spoon. Stir in the brandy.

Allow the custard to cool completely, even overnight. Or, as I did the other day, improvise your own blast chiller by taking a stainless steel bowl of custard out into the garden and packing all around with the snow from the garden table. Cover with clingfilm and a tea towel and, one bottle of wine down the pub with your mates later, it’s totally chilled – and so are you…

Whisk the clotted cream [if using] into the chilled custard and churn in an ice-cream machine for an hour, adding the crumbled pudding [or soaked, spiced fruits] for the last five minutes.  Freeze.

Sweet and Sour

Sweet and Sour Sauce in a Yin and Yang bowl

Happy New Year to everyone celebrating the Spring Festival – may the year of the rabbit bring you prosperity, happiness and good health.

Learning a language as an adult is far more difficult than doing so as a child when the relevant bits of our brains are more plastic, malleable and hungry for linguistic stimuli. And as it is with language, so with tableware. I could read English by the time I went to nursery school, but I didn’t meet my first pair of chopsticks until I was in my twenties. By then I could speak knife and fork with ease, and could happily conjugate the correct cutlery course combinations for soup, fish, cheese etc. But my adult mind has never mastered more than a rudimentary grasp of chopsticks. My fingers lack fluency, and even when I do successfully manage to convey a morsel of food to my mouth I’m sure it’s done with a thick English accent, clearly audible to anyone within spitting distance whose mother tongue is chopsticks.

I learnt years ago that to leave one’s chopsticks in a bowl of food shows disrespect for one’s ancestors [that’s what the rests are for people, do not dis the dead], but I’m usually more worried about the disrespect for my dining companions shown by showering them with flicks of my food.

However having recently received some smart new pairs emblazoned with the animals of our birth years I decided we needed to inaugurate them at the dawn of the year of the rabbit. And that’s where a sticky sauce like this comes in very handy for a chopsticks dunce like me. It’s effectively food glue, and I’ll be less likely to starve if I can use it to entrap some errant grains of egg fried rice. There’ll be forks involved before we’ve finished for sure, but like learning just a few words of a new language, at least I’ll feel like I’ve made an effort.

“Gung Hay Fat Choy!”

Very many recipes suggest this same basic technique and combination of ingredients though the proportions vary slightly. I’m not sure how traditional an ingredient tomato ketchup is but it’s certainly popular! Take 100ml of Chinese rice vinegar, 3.5 tbsps brown or cane sugar, 2 tbsps tomato ketchup and 1 tsp of soy sauce. Boil all together in a small pan for a couple of minutes and then thicken with a rounded tsp of cornflour mixed with water. This gives you quite a thick, dark sauce which is probably best for dipping.

I wanted something looser and less intense, so added 200ml of passata, 100ml of water and another good glug of rice vinegar. If you’re doing the same taste the sauce and adjust with more vinegar or sugar to balance the sweet and sour. Quickly stir fry an onion and a pepper [roughly chopped], add cooked chicken [unsurprisingly leftovers in my case], then the sauce and chunks of tinned pineapple. After a quick bubble and stir it’s time to check and adjust again.

I had another wok on the go to fry cooked rice, spring onion, small strips of chilli, some finely shredded smoked duck, peas, a beaten egg and a generous splash of soy sauce. Fried rice is another good place to use up scraps of this and that – the duck was leftover from our recent fondue. If only I’d had a bit of rabbit.

The sauce itself is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. If you prefer not to have it with meat then some fried tofu would eat very well.

Fondue of Lancashire Bomb, Roasted Garlic and Zinfandel

 Fondue of Lancashire Bomb, Roasted Garlic and Zinfandel which is surprsingly purple!

Do not adjust your sets – this is supposed to be purple. It’s the red wine you see. Anyway it’s three for the price of one today, two fondues and a leftovers tip.

Here’s a game for you to play – try mentioning the word ‘fondue’ in conversation and see how long it is before someone says ‘retro revival’, or something similar. Well I’m sorry, but it’s got to stop. Fondue is no longer in ‘revival’. It is, officially, revived! Delicious but easy to prepare food which is ideal for sharing with friends is not only very contemporary but indeed a timeless concept, so ditch the flares [unless of course they’re the latest ‘revival’!] and dig out your fondue sets.

I’m done lecturing now.

For several  years I have owned a copy of the excellent recipe collection “Fondue – Great Food to Dip, Dunk, Savor and Swirl” by Rick Rodgers, but am so partial to my standard recipe that I have seldom strayed from it. Until now. ‘My’ recipe is not really mine at all but was given to me by my good friend Sophie Scott whose genius as a neuroscientist is equalled only by her genius in the vegetarian kitchen. Sophie, please forgive my meaty intrusions [and people, I will not tell you again about sniggering at the back!]. To make it use 200g each of Emmental, Gruyere and Keen’s Cheddar and 550ml white wine and follow the method below.

One of Rick’s recipes in particular had always intrigued me – a simple but intriguing mixture of fruity red Zinfandel, sweet roasted garlic and sharp cheddar. Then it occurred to me to substitute the cheddar with Andy Shorrock’s glorious Aged Lancashire Bomb [if you haven’t yet met the Lancashire Bomb you clearly haven’t been to yellowwedge cheese lately] and the excitement generated provided the momentum to break free of my customary ways. I have made some other slight changes to Rick’s recipe. If you want to see the original do buy the book [click on the picture below to find it on Amazon] – it’s a worthwhile investment.

Fondue, a book by Rick Rodgers [click to buy on Amazon]

Even the greatest fondue can be elevated further by the choice of dipping ingredients. My top tip?
V A R I E T Y. Yes there must be bread, but it doesn’t all have to be the same. A baguette is almost compulsory but accompany it with one or more others. We had a potato and rosemary sourdough. Cherry tomatoes are good, as are big chunks of mushroom sautéed with garlic, rosemary and a splash of sherry. Raid your local deli or deli counter too. Good chunks of thickly sliced ham, turkey, salami, pieces of smoked duck breast or slices of speck – whatever takes your fancy. What about mini chorizos, or big pieces of grilled Cumberland sausage [or like me, both]? Even pieces of apple and pear can make interesting dips for a cheese fondue. See below for some all vegetable suggestions if you don’t eat meat. Another top tip? Secure slipperier items like tomato or mushroom with a piece of bread on the fork too.

As I mentioned above, this does produce a purple coloured fondue. You might want to warn people about this. If you’re expecting a golden coloured gloop then it can come as something of a surprise. The Shopkeeper never quite got over the shock, and I think enjoyed the meal less because of it. Forewarned is forearmed, and all that.

Feeds six lactose tolerant adults

  • 1 original Shorrock’s Lancashire Bomb, wax and muslin removed
  • 100g Gruyere
  • 100g Beaufort [or if unavailable just use 200g Gruyere]
  • 40g Parmesan
  • 600ml Zinfandel, or other fruity red wine
  • 3 medium sized bulbs and 1 clove garlic
  • Some sprigs of thyme
  • A splash of olive oil
  • 1.5 tbsps cornflour slaked with Kirsch, Vodka, Cognac or water
  • Kitchen foil
  • A fondue set

First roast your garlic. Take the three bulbs, slice in half across their equators and drizzle with the olive oil, some thyme and salt, and re-assemble. Make a foil parcel for the bulbs, add the rest of the thyme and a splash more olive oil, seal tightly and roast in a 200˚C oven for around fifty minutes to an hour. They are done when the garlic is a deep caramel colour and can be easily squeezed from its skin. Squeeze out this sweet fragrant pulp, mash with a fork and set aside.

Next grate the cheese – for this amount I use a food processor. Cut the single clove of garlic in half and rub the insides of the fondue pot well with the cut surfaces.

Prepare your dipping ingredients other than the bread and arrange on a large platter around the base of the fondue. Tear or cut the bread at the last minute so that it doesn’t become dry. Warm the fondue pot over a low flame or in a low oven.

To make the fondue warm the wine in a pan until you see the tremble just before the simmer. Add one handful of cheese at a time, stirring with a whisk until each has melted before adding the next. Once it is all incorporated add the puree of roast garlic and stir well, then add the cornflour mixture until the fondue thickens to your desired consistency. Transfer to the warmed fondue pot and set this atop it’s burner in the centre of the table.

Asking your guests to stir well with each dip will to help to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan. You can also introduce forfeits for dropped morsels of food, but if you go as far as something like removing an item of clothing you might want to have a few stiff shots of the kirsch before you begin!

However much fondue I start with, and however many people are eating, I always seem to end up with about an inch left in the bottom of the pot. If you have the same then allow it to cool, scrape it out of the pot [removing any mislaid bits of bread], and reserve for the following day along with any stray scraps of your meatier dipping ingredients.

The following day…

Sauté an onion and a clove of garlic. Add your leftover pieces of mushroom, ham etc. and a splash of wine. Tip in a tin of tomatoes or some passata, simmer away for a few minutes then stir in your leftover fondue. Serve with some penne or macaroni, straight away or as a pasta bake.

At the risk of sounding obvious all of the above can serve as a vegetarian feast by omitting meaty dipping ingredients. The list of vegetable alternatives is endless, but why not try some chunks of caramelised fennel, charred wedges of red pepper and sautéed baby onions? With the exception of tomatoes I find that cooked [but still crunchy] veg make happier fondue bed fellows than raw.

Coq au Vin Pie

Puff pastry pie crust decorated with pastry leaves

Half a leftover chicken in the fridge. Half a leftover bottle of red wine in the kitchen [no idea how that happened, must have been a guest]. There are also mushrooms, shallots and bacon lardons in the house. The stage seems set for a Coq au Vin, but I’m in the mood for a pie, so it’s time for the best of both worlds. Anyway, what is a pie if not a casserole in a pastry coat? Or a casserole if not an exhibitionist pie?

More than enough for two

  • 8 shallots
  • 120g button mushrooms
  • 70g pancetta or bacon lardons
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 300ml red wine
  • 50ml brandy
  • 300ml chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • A dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 150g leftover chicken, torn and / or diced into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 sheet ready-made puff pastry

Slowly fry the lardons over a low heat until browned.  Turn the heat up a notch and colour the shallots and mushrooms in the fat from the lardons. Add the garlic towards the end and soften without colouring. Pour in the brandy and reduce until almost gone, then do the same with 50ml of the wine. Tip in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring. Introduce the rest of the wine, the chicken stock, and the Worcestershire sauce, stir well and simmer for around 10 minutes. Then in with the lardons and chicken and give them a couple of minutes to warm through. Check and adjust seasoning.

You can now leave this until needed or go straight to the pie stage, for which…

Top with the puff pastry using any trimmings to make decorations of your choice – whatever I try usually ends up looking like leaves, so I usually go straight for leaves. Brush with beaten egg or milk and pop into a 220 degree oven for 25 minutes. This should give you lovely risen golden pastry but the innards will be piping hot so give it a minute or two to calm down before serving.

Risotto of Peas, Mint and Paski Sir [with or without leftover lamb!]

Another risotto, but a traditionally made one this time – albeit with a less than traditional ingredient in the form of Paški Sir, of which more later. For a vegetarian version omit the lamb and use vegetable stock.

 Paski Sir, a Croatian ewe's milk cheese

Since my old friend Geoff first taught me to make a proper risotto in his tiny Battersea kitchen some twenty odd years ago I’ve always found it a really gratifying way to spend twenty odd minutes of my time. It does demand your 100% attention for a while but your efforts are repaid many-fold, and the constant, controlled stirring and the slow addition of stock have a meditative rhythm all of their own.

Paški Sir is a hard ewe’s milk cheese from Croatian island of Pag, and we think it’s quite a discovery. The cheese has the sweetness of sheep’s milk, hints of the herby meadows where the sheep graze, and gains further complexity by being rubbed with olive and ash before maturing. Last time I checked yellowwedge cheese was one of only two UK stockists but after its recent success at the World Cheese Awards [winning the Barber’s Trophy for Best New Cheese] I’m pretty sure that there will soon be plenty of others.

Use a good flavourful stock for this dish, perhaps reduce one you already have until further intensified. I had a bulb of roasted garlic to hand and added this to my stock for its sweetness and depth of flavour.

The leftover lamb is not essential, and if making a vegetarian version clearly you’ll want to leave it out, but I had some leftover shank from an earlier braise and the other ingredients – peas, garlic, mint for heaven’s sake – seemed to be crying out for it. And as I had hoped it worked well with the Paški Sir, but then ewe’s milk cheeses do have an almost incestuous affinity with lamb. If you don’t believe me trying following your next roast lamb dinner with a cheese board of Wigmore, Beenleigh Blue and Paški Sir [or Manchego if you can’t get hold of any]. If you are using it tear and / or chop the lamb into small slivers and nuggets. Be sure to do this and all the other prep before you start.

The shopkeeper has a deep seated aversion to re-heated lamb [I have not been able to cook proper shepherd’s pie at home for over 15 years!] and there was much grumbling and muttering about potential take-aways during the preparation, but in the end the entire bowlful disappeared without complaint. It may even have been enjoyed.

Easily feeds two, especially when one of them doesn’t want any in the first place

  • 175g risotto rice
  • 60g butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 fat clove of garlic, or a couple of skinny ones, crushed
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1.5 tsps mint sauce
  • 200g frozen peas, defrosted
  • 750ml of good chicken or vegetable stock [see above]
  • 75ml vermouth or white wine
  • 120g leftover lamb [optional]
  • 120g Paški Sir, two thirds finely grated and one third coarsely grated or shaved into ribbons

Melt the butter and add the onions, some salt and about a teaspoonful of the mint, the rest of which will be added towards the end. Sauté over a low to medium heat for 10 minutes until softened, adding the garlic for the last two minutes. Meanwhile heat the stock in another pan and hold at a barely trembling simmer. Add the rice to the softened onions, stir well to coat with the buttery juices and give it minute or two more.

Turn up the heat under the risotto pan and add the vermouth. Stir constantly, around and in a figure of eight, exposing the hot base of the pan where the returning liquids will turn to steam and cook the rice. Once the liquid has all but disappeared add a ladleful of hot stock and repeat. Continue in this manner for around 15 minutes.

Test a grain or two of rice between your teeth, it should be almost cooked with a bit of crunch still at the core. If not continue as above, testing after each ladleful of stock has been absorbed. Now add the lamb, and a ladle or two more of stock. With the last addition of stock add the mint, parsley, peas, mint sauce and finely grated Paški Sir.

The risotto is ready when the rice is just al dente and the consistency is creamy and moist, usually after around twenty minutes. If necessary add a final dose of stock, turn off the heat and allow to rest, covered with a clean tea towel. Check the seasoning, you’ll want plenty of black pepper, top with the rest of the Paški Sir, and serve.

Peas and Mint

Chicken Stock

Chicken Stock

There is no more heinous waste-crime in my book [and it’s quite a thick book, but this one is written in red, and underlined] than to throw away the remains of a roasted bird before they have visited the stockpot. I once went for Sunday lunch with a large group of friends to a pub which served whole roast chickens to share, and insisted that the resulting five carcasses be wrapped and bagged for me to take home – there was chicken stock in the freezer for weeks! Age of austerity or not, there’s no way you should just bin those bones.

  • The carcass, skin and any juices / jelly / trimmings from your roast bird
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 sticks of celery, chopped
  • A glug of white wine / vermouth / brandy / dry sherry
  • Salt
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • Bay leaves
  • Any other herbs of your choosing

Firstly place your carcass etc. in the pan and turn up the heat for a while before adding any of the other ingredients. The skin and bones will start to sizzle and spit and release their aroma and flavour. Now throw in your choice of booze and allow this to quickly bubble away. Vermouth and wine [the end of last night’s bottle is fine] work well, brandy gives good depth of flavour to the finished stock, or chose something else if you have a specific job in mind for the stock. For instance when making the chicken, garlic and brie pie posted here I used a fino sherry which on its own partners very well with brie, and I wanted to see if they got along just as well here[*].

Throw in the holy trinity of aromatic veg, the onion, carrot and celery, and give all a good stir. The choice of herbs is also dependant on what you want to do with the finished article but I always add a bay leaf or two and some parsley stalks if I have them lying around, which of course you do if you’re using the leaves elsewhere! Again when making the pie I knew there’d be thyme involved some added some to the stock too. There’s no need to spend time making neat little bouquets garnis with the herbs, you’ll be straining everything through a sieve so just plonk everything in the pot. Pop in the peppercorns and a generous helping of sea salt then add enough boiling water to submerge the contents of the pan and return to the boil. Skim off any scum which floats to the surface and having reduced the heat allow this to simmer uncovered for 45 minutes to an hour.

Taste your stock as you go and don’t be scared to up the seasoning until the flavour is as you want it; if you’ve ever been disappointed by the flavour of a homemade stock the most likely cause is excessive caution with the salt. After an hour the solids will have done their work and you can strain off the liquid and discard them, but for additional richness and intensity you can continue to reduce the stock if you wish. And there you have it – the starter for soups, risottos, sauces and so on – for not much more than an hour of your time, the price of a few vegetables, and some leftovers which would otherwise be wasted. And you won’t have me turning on your doorstep and waving that book!


[*] They did!

Chicken, Garlic and Brie Pie

A whole Brie in its box

Does this sound just a tad odd to you? It did to me too when I first purchased it from one of my favourite pie makers, but it works like a dream [if you dream of succulent savoury pies that is – and who doesn’t?]. So I’ve pinched the idea from them but in the absence of a detailed recipe on the label have had to construct my own. The original was a full short-crust pie affair but I bought a packet of ready-made puff and lazily draped it over the top. I make no apologies, that’s my kind of pie. And this is one of those great ways to use up your leftover roast chicken, in fact it’s a good excuse to cook more than you need in the first place!

For two or three – depending on how hungry you are:

  • ½ a small leftover roast chicken [my original bird weighed around 1.4kg], meat roughly chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 140g Brie de Meaux
  • 1 dessert spoon plain flour
  • 170g standard closed cup mushrooms, cut into 1/2 cm dice
  • 350ml chicken stock made from the carcass of the bird – see separate post
  • 4 tblsp double cream
  • 1 good glug of pale sherry, white wine or vermouth [this may depend on what went with on with the stock (see above) but feel free to go where your heart takes you], plus a good glass of wine for the chef
  • A small sprig of thyme
  • 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, defrosted
  • 1 egg

Sauté the onion in a little olive oil until softening nicely. Add the garlic, mushrooms and thyme, and cook for a few minutes more. You can pick the leaves from the thyme if you have time [do you see what I did there?], or you can tie it with string, bruise the bunch between your palms and toss it in the pot for later retrieval, which is easier. Add the flour and stir for a few minutes more without allowing it to catch. Now’s the time to add the sherry / wine / vermouth and, after a brief bubble and stir, the stock.  Return to a simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, and allow to thicken slightly before introducing the chopped chicken to warm through thoroughly, and then the cream. You may find that the large surface area of the multitudinous chicken pieces causes the sauce to become thicker than you’d thought – if so just add a little more stock but remember that you will want the base to have some body, so don’t overdo it. Having removed the thyme bouquet [if using] tip all the rest into a suitably sized pie dish, and as it cools slice your Brie into chunky slivers and distribute them evenly, tucking them into your saucy base. Now is the time to  take your chef’s glass of wine and relax somewhere for 10 minutes whilst your pie filling does the same – you’ve been working hard, you deserve it…

Back in the kitchen? Top your pie dish with the pastry and use any trimmings to make leaves [classically], diamonds [very 70’s revival], hearts [if, and only if, you’re about to propose] or whatever shapes your imagination suggests, place these on top, and brush with the beaten egg. There may be some slight spillage around the edges so sit the pie dish on a tray and place into the middle of a preheated 220˚C oven for 25 minutes. Please resist the temptation to peek for at least the first 20 minutes, which will be more difficult than it sounds, but a puff pastry can easily sulk if it isn’t given enough privacy in the early stages of its development.

I first served this with cauliflower cheese [another leftover from the day before] which turned out to be a mistake – too rich and too many competing flavours. I would recommend some simply mashed potatoes [butter, milk, a pinch of nutmeg] and some peas or other greens. The pie should have the space to sing with just a competent supporting cast who don’t attempt to grab the limelight.

Brie de Meaux

The Never Ending Fillet!

Mmmm, beef fillet. Luxurious, indulgent, and not something you’d eat every day. Not, that is, unless you’ve been living here for the last few days. What began as a South African braai [or barbecue for the non-Afrikaans speaking] in honour of the world cup host nation has, mercifully given the price of fillet, metamorphosed into a medley of delicious dishes. But let’s start at the beginning…

‘Gemsbok fillet in red wine and soya sauce’ read the recipe, helpfully adding that in the absence of Gemsbok any South African antelope could be used. A trip to my local butchers however failed to turn up a single specie of antelope and the decision was soon taken to replace the prancing prince of the plains with a cow. ‘Enough for six’ I told Mr Armstrong and left with a hefty slab of the finest fillet [c. 1.5 kg] ready to submerge it in what I like to think of as a spa treatment for meat, a deep, dark marinade which the recipe said should be composed of the following:

  • A bottle of Merlot [though I had an open Pinot Noir and used that instead]
  • 125 ml soy sauce
  • 125 ml olive oil
  • A tablespoon of soft brown sugar
  • 5 or 6 crushed garlic cloves
  • A small thumb of grated ginger
  • A small teaspoon of crushed coriander seeds
  • 2 or 3 finely shredded chillies [I left the seeds in despite being told to do otherwise]
  • And without being asked to do so by the recipe I couldn’t resist throwing in a couple of torn and fragrant bay leaves

Despite the South African provenance of the recipe there’s a clearly oriental bent to these aromatics which I have previously combined with red wine, Chinese five spice and honey when cooking duck, but the beef [as I’m sure would have the Gemsbok] appeared very much at home with its new playmates and became a darker ruby red with every turn over the next 8 hours.

Now it would seem from the recipe book [Cape Wine Braai Masters – free with 6 bottles of South African Wine!] that your average South African barbecues roughly three meals per day, but I’m British and with English summers being what they are I probably cook over coals that many times per year, and as such I think I lack the natural confidence with charcoal which comes from the life lived largely outdoors. So the fillet had its prescribed 20 minutes per side on the barbecue, with regular basting, but there was an oven waiting at 200˚C and off it popped for a further 20 minutes in there to be on what we Brits would call ‘the safe side’. Whilst the meat finished and rested I reduced the remaining marinade to a thick sauce which needed only a sparing drizzle over the thickly sliced meat. The result was meltingly tender meat, still rare at the core and with an intensely flavoured outer crust, but without knowing the exact temperature of the charcoal etc I can only suggest using the ‘poke test’ one would apply to a fillet on the grill to check when the meat is cooked to your liking.

The same book contains a great recipe for a simple but splendid tomato salad with mixed varieties of tomatoes [as many as you can find], diced red onion, finely chopped red chillies and basil with a lemony vinaigrette which eats very nicely with the beef on a warm summer evening.

Well received as the fillet was by the braai guests I was left with about half of the meat and a good quantity of the marinade / sauce. Perhaps I should have scaled to quantities to take account of the Sosatie marinated pork chops and the Bobotie spiced chicken [ostrich, it seems, is no easier to come by than Gemsbok]. Ah well, there are worse things to worry about in life than what to do with a hulking great chunk of steak and some intensely fragrant cooking liquors. And despite the summer heat I was inexorably drawn, wherever else I looked, in one direction. The direction — of cottage pie!

EPISODE TWO – THE PIE.

I do have an old fashioned hand cranked mincing machine, inherited from my mother, but it’s suction foot doesn’t suck properly anymore and the laborious job of feeding flesh into its gaping jaws and winding [and winding, and more winding!] the handle whilst trying to keep it in one place is actually nowhere near as much fun as mum made it look. So mincing by hand with a chef’s hatchet seemed the best way forward, first with, then across the grain of the meat. I have seen Chinese chefs do this to raw pork with a cleaver in each hand, but again it’s probably one of those things where a lifetime of practice pays dividends so I took the slow and steady route.

An onion was chopped and sweated, in went some more garlic, then some quartered button mushrooms [for some reason known only to The Shop Keeper we have a fridge FULL of mushrooms] and some finely diced carrot. And was that half a fennel bulb lurking in the salad drawer? Why not.

Next a good squeeze of tomato puree, a dash of umami paste, and a glug of fruity rose [also, ahem, open], which all cooked out for a few minutes more. Then in with the hand minced beef, the remaining marinade / sauce, a good quality tin of chopped tomatoes, and, as it looked a little thick, another good glug of wine. Oh and a couple more bay leaves from the neighbours’ garden. Then it’s simmering time. Gentle simmering that is, we are after all cooking with fillet steak and not boiling brisket.

And having tipped the result into a pie dish more than big enough for two – there’s still enough left over for another day! [see Episode Three]

I always let a cottage or shepherd’s pie filling cool before attempting the topping. The filling become firm when cold and as such it’s far easier to get a nice even coating of mash. And I wanted this mashed potato to be bold enough to hold its own against the richness beneath so added a generous grated handful of full bodied, meatily mature Comte which had somehow managed to squeeze into the fridge amongst all the mushrooms. So, mash on, top swirled with the tines of a fork, brush with melted butter and into the oven until golden on top and bubbling around the edges. At which point allow to the pie to sit and [literally] chill for a few minutes before serving. The taste buds of a scalded tongue would struggle to savour the delicate complexities of your creation.

There is an ongoing debate between The Shop Keeper and I as to the perfect accompaniment for such a pie, that being garden peas or baked beans. On a cold November Monday with an M&S cottage pie I’m quite happy to take the path of least resistance and open a can of Heinz, but for a pie of this refinement nothing less than the king of the greens will suffice. In case you’re wondering, we ate this one with peas.

EPISODE THREE – THE SKY […’s the limit? OK this is a really crap heading but I’m about to write about tortillas and nothing appropriate rhymes with ‘Braai’ and ‘Pie’]

Don’t forget, this beef is amongst other things, a spicy little number – remember all those chillies way back in the original marinade? They’ve mellowed somewhat by now, but they’re still there. And so the last hurrah for this saucy little cow is to be in a meaty tortilla.

This won’t be the traditional chilli filling but I’m looking forward to the rich and slightly spicy mixture wrapped in a warm flour tortilla, and topped with sliced avocado, a tomato, lime and chilli salsa, and a dollop of soured cream. There’s only one thing missing – the cheese. Luckily we didn’t use all of that Comte, and I think it’s about time that this fillet and that particular fromage were reunited…