Recipe 71: Jamie’s steak and ale stew

October 29, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Posted in Casseroles, savoury | Leave a comment
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After occasional moments of sunshine and warmth (I think we did have Summer – but it was about 4 weeks of sunshine spread over 4 months!) Autumn has set in… and one of the great upsides of Autumn is that slow-cooked stews and jacket potatoes become increasingly enticing. I had some Guinness in the cupboard from making Nigella’s Guinness gingerbread (which i failed to blog about  – but was fantastic), so thought I would try a beef and ale stew. After a little bit of internet browsing I came across a deeply straightforward steak and ale stew on Jamie Oliver’s website.  So on Saturday afternoon, ahead of a cosy evening on the sofa watching a film with Dimity I made the stew…

Making it: Very straightforward – the onion and vegetables were sweated off in the pan for 10 minutes and then all the other ingredients added. Jamie said not to bother browning the meat – vindicating my usual lazy decision not to bother – I really can’t tell the difference in a stew and not having to brown the meat makes it much quicker and less smelly to prepare! Then it was shoved in a low oven for 3 hours and then cooked uncovered for the final 30 minutes to thicken up. I also put some potatoes in the oven for the final 90 minutes to eat with it.

Eating it: We were tormented by the amazing cooking smells for 2 hours, so by the time we got to eat it – we were most anxious to try it… and the taste was as good as the smell! A deeply satisfying, filling and flavoursome stew – perfect for a chilly evening.

Next time: I’ll probably make double the recipe and stash lots in the freezer. Also I might try to not be in the house while it is cooking – the smell was just too good!

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Recipe 70: Potentially perfect Proustian chocolate chip cookies

October 24, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Posted in baking | Leave a comment
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Growing up I was privileged to know a wonderful American family who had attending the same church as my family.  During the years they lived in the UK I was a regular visitor to their house with my family, for youth group events and just to hang out with my friends Sarah and Cindy. Being American, they had bought some strange and wonderful eating habits and foods to our bit of Surrey:  I remain forever grateful for being introduced to ice-cream as an accompaniment to chocolate cake (in honour of birthdays).  But my absolute favourite was Vicki’s chocolate chip cookies, that were more or less permanently on offer in the house – either made with chocolate chips or M&Ms (and most exciting at Christmas when the special festive colour mix of red and green was shipped over from the States).  These were perfect chocolate chip cookies – with a gooey middle even when cold, and quite thin having spread out in the middle and slightly crisp edges. When I got married, Vicki gave me the recipe, and once tried them out…But in my immaturity as a baker, they didn’t come out right… and I lost the recipe. So I have always been on the quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie that would magically, in the manner of Proust and his madeleines (not that I have read Remembrance of Things Past) to evoke the teenage treat, and the person I once was… and remember the best of those years.

Over the last decade I’ve tried many recipes, tweaked a few promising ones – playing around with the type of sugar and the temperature and cooking time… but never quite got there. But a while back, while discussing how much I love the Hummingbird Bakery books with my friend Kath – she told me I must try the chocolate chip cookies from the first book. So this weekend, in preparation for having some girls over for afternoon tea, and an eye on taking some baking into the office – I thought I should try them out.

Making them: very promising start – the recipe makes a huge quantity and starts with butter and soft brown sugar beaten until soft and fluffy (which is an utterly delicious substance on its own). Then eggs and vanilla are beaten in, then flour and finally chocolate chips (the recipe suggested chopping chocolate – but I’m lazy so chocolate chips it was). I dollops heaped dessert spoons over 3 baking trays – making about 40 cookies in total. I left lots of space between the cookies to allow for spread – but it was insufficient because these cookies melted in the oven to flat cookies and in place they merged. But once they were out of the oven I was able to split them up once more – although none was a particularly perfect shape.

Eating them: I was pretty sure they were going to be good from the leftover batter. But then one of the baked cookies broke in half as I was transferring them to the wire cooling trays. Obviously I couldn’t  serve my guests a broken cookies: i just had to test… and I was transported back to my teenage years… soft, gooey cookie with molten chocolate bits. My near-Proustian moment had come.
Later, when they were cooled, and I had company, I had to have another – just to check – and yes – it was indeed as close to the perfect cookie as I could imagine – even when cold they had the appropriately slightly fudgey centre (previously the closest thing to near perfect has been the occasional Millies cookie – but they are not right for other reasons). Happily my other guests without the time taste machine also thought they were delicious.

Next time: I will allow more space between the cookies as they more than doubled in size once in the oven!

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