Food cooking and eating – stories and ideas from a passionate foodie

Archive for March, 2011

Family Buffet – so hard to be green!

We had one of those great old family knees ups on Saturday.  A Golden Wedding Anniversary for my Auntie Rene and Uncle Fred.  I’d left Liverpool 30 odd years ago, so there was a lot of reacquainting.  Rene is my mums sister, so I do see the immediate family a lot.  But Uncle Fred’s?  Well, we all had to be tutored first (I half expected PowerPoint or at least name labels (and why not?)).  The last time I had met Ena, Kenny and Mavis, and Conny was when I was a teenager in the 1970’s

But they were up for a party.  Uncle Fred was always the quietest in the family – studious, planner, maths prodigy – went into Time and Motion studies with electronics giant Plessey.  Always thought work stuff was a bit overblown.

We had the usual party crews:  Main room, so as not to miss Man Utd against Arsenal (no cheering from the Scouse crowd, as Man U won!).  The singing and dancing in the dining room crowd – who appeared drunk before we even started, but that was just 80-year-old exuberance, I think.  And the absolute stalwarts – never moving from the kitchen (or booze – not sure which had the biggest draw, really).  The other two groups mingled nicely.

Michael had got caterers in, and all the sandwiches (called butties in Liverpool), and prawns with dipping sauce, plus potato skins with brie and tomato relish, arrived on trays, and did look like a lot.  About half of it went, but all the beer got drunk.  And so did we.  Merry, giggly, full of stories and old days.

The old days reared their head though, because we weren’t allowed to leave any of the food.  I suppose growing up during times of rationing makes people see food for what it is – important, expensive, and not to be wasted.  So we all got sent home with a food parcel!  Even if we didn’t eat it all, we had to have a go.  And so it was. We made an effort, but the local seagulls also had a feast too (I know you shouldn’t – but they seemed to enjoy it).  Family parties – great fun!

Crowning glory – dumplings!

One thing with the ‘warming stew / casserole’ recipe and back chat was I didn’t make it clear that you don’t need a slow cooker to achieve great casseroles.  If you have one – they are great fun for this sort of thing, and use tiny amounts of electricity.You can just as easily do this in a casserole pot either on the hob or in the oven, of course.  I know you have worked this out already, but just in case…

One thing is true though, Suet dumplings really do add a dash of complete cuddly comfort to a fine and tasty stew.  The Atora Suet packet is nicely old-fashioned itself, so makes you feel a bit ‘motherhood and apple pie’ just opening it!  The recipe for the dough is twice the weight of self-raising flour to suet.  As I was only making enough for 4 small dumplings, I used 1 ounce of suet and 2 ounces of self-raising flour.


All you do is mix the two ingredients in a medium sized bowl.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  I also add a good slug of dried mixed herbs.  It may feel like a lot – but a whole dessertspoonful disappears quite quickly into the mixture.  Add a little (two or three dessert spoons to start) and mix this into the flour and suet (and seasonings).  You can mix it in with a knife.  Keep stirring it around adding little bits of water until it balls up and sticks together.  I think this is what pastry chefs mean when they say “the dough needs to come away clean”.  If this is the case – then the bowl has almost none of the mixture sticking on it, and the dough is about tennis ball sized.  Put a spoonful of flour onto your hands (or some from a flour dredger if you have one) (nice things – worth having).  Then pick up your ball of dough, with the flour stopping too much of it sticking to you, and rip it into 4 pieces.  Roll them into balls between your palms.  Lift the lid on the casserole pot or slow cooker, and place them on top of the bubbling liquid.  get that lid back on quickly!  The dumplings cook in  th steam above the stew.  This is why you shouldn’t lift the lid until they are cooked.  If you keep peeping, they will not cook, and will probably end up like bullets.  You have been warned!

The recipes for dumplings always say 30 minutes.  My experience says they need longer – at least 45 minutes, or even an hour.  And this is one thing that works better in a casserole dish in the oven or on the hob – because the temperature is just a bit higher, so you seem to get fluffier dumplings.

Enjoy, again.

You Tube video of making the dumplings:

It’s a cold day – how about a warming stew?

OK – it’s one of those link things.  The link takes you to my You Tube channel and has the how to bits for this recipe. It is very easy to pull a stew together, and is definitely one of the best meals to give you a real feel of inner cuddle.  I love them best on cold wet days.  Today is actually very cold and dry – winter sun, and rather nice.

One of the best things about using the slow cooker is when you come in after a Saturday afternoon stroll.  The sweet smell of the casserole (or stew as I still call them!) pervades the whole house.  I don’t know about you, but it feels to me like the house feels warmer.  Can a smell be warm?  It does feel like it…

Not many ingredients:

  • 3/4 lb of good stewing steak, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes (Look, if you want metric, find a conversion table) OK?
  • A chopped onion
  • 7 small mushrooms or 1 large one – washed and chopped into pieces about 1/2 the size of the meat chunks
  • Optional – a de-seeded and chopped pepper – red ones look good in this
  • A can of Guinness or other favourite dark beer
  • Salt and pepper

Slow cookers don’t like thickening agents – it stops them working well, because the flour tends to stick to the warming element and sort of seals it so the temperature is then too low.  So just fry the meat first, then the onions, then the peppers and mushrooms.  Chuck them into the slow cooker and switch it on.  Wash out the pan with the Guinness, and transfer that to the slow cooker.  Make sure the ingredients are covered by the liquid.  I tend to put a little mushroom ketchup (very liquid – be careful!) and a squirt of balsamic glaze (great stuff – every home should have a bottle), and some dried herbs and a bay leaf if you have them.  Salt and pepper to taste, and maybe some garlic salt if you have it.  That’s it.  Leave the lid on, and 6 hours later your stew will be ready to have some dumplings added.  An hour later, when you have made mashed creamed potato, you can have glorious and calm exciting cheap robust and immensely tasty old-fashioned food.  I will tell you how good it was tomorrow, along with tips for the dumplings and the mash. I can feel your jealousy from here.

if you want some instant thought:

As promised – foolproof Rice, every time!

There is boil in the bag.  There’s easy cook rice. And now there is Phil’s foolproof, works every time never need to worry again rice!

Funny stuff rice.  Staple carbohydrate for the majority of the world’s population.  A strange growing plant – it does like it’s feet in water, in the paddy fields.  But it is still a member of the Grass family (Poaceae – used to be called Gramineae, for those interested).   It’s got the second highest distribution around the world – behind Maize.  The flooding prevents weed growth, making life easier for the rice itself.


Funny thing really – I find my method so easy I don’t bother with the others!  Easy cook has a lot of the starch washed off.  You will often find it in restaurants, especially if there is a buffet.  It looks good, plumptious and shiny, but has less flavour to my taste buds.

So, a fascinating plant.  I learnt this method after myself and J had our very first dinner party.  Complete disaster!  We thought you should buy an expensive cut of meat to honour our guests.  But fillet of pork is designed for fast roasting in the oven – nt a long slow cook as a stew.  The meat disappeared.  The guests arrived late – and I had already cooked the rice, but left it in it’s water! It was like wallpaper paste.

We served the stew as a soup starter, threw the rice away, then ate all the cheese we had in the entire house.  And everyone got completely pissed – there wasn’t enough to eat, but there was a lot of wine.

Perfect Rice

I am assuming two adults:

  • 5 fluid ounces of long grain rice (the Queen of rice is always considered to be Basmati – and it is worth it.  You measure this in a liquid measuring jug
  • 10 fluid ounces of boiling water
  • salt
  • dried coriander
  • a small nub of butter (about the size of the last joint of your thumb)

Put the nob of butter in a pan which has a well-fitting lid.  Turn heat on medium.  Boil the kettle with at least half a pint of water in it.  Pour your rice from its jug into the pan, and swiggle it around to get the grains covered and glistening.  Add half a teaspoon of salt and the same again of the coriander.  Measure out 10 ounces of the boiling water.  Tir=urn the heat to minimum under the pan, and pour the water in carefully (it will make a lot of noise and be a bit splashy).  Push any stray grains under the water.  Set the lid on tight, and the timer for 13 minutes exactly.  Not 12 or 14 – which is what recipes say because we hate the number 13!  Turn off the heat when the dinger goes, and marvel at your gorgeous and dry rice, steaming away.  Wonderful isn’t it?

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