As much as I cheerfully kept my food blog going last year, I felt like I didn't cook all that much. Well, I did, but I didn't cook very many NEW recipes. I kept returning to old favourites over and over again, like chorizo pasta, peanut curry, coconut dhal and burrito bowls. Don't get me wrong, my parents wouldn't have minded if I'd made something different every night, but I minded. I didn't want to be under their feet all the time, so I relied heavily on batch cooking, which meant I'd spend a day once a month or so to fill up our freezer drawer with meals.
And it worked, but I missed what I love most about cooking - learning new skills, finding new flavours and experimenting with different things. So when we moved into our house, one of the first things I unpacked was my cookbooks. You see, having my own kitchen again is so much more than just space. It's having complete ownership of what's in the cupboards and the fridge, which sounds like a little thing, but when you're sharing that space it's sometimes hard to remember what's in there, or even to guarantee that what you left in there will still be there when you get home. We've all been in that position, right?
When we moved, I was convinced I wanted to replace the kitchen, but now I'm not so sure. Yeah, I'd love to replace the faux-wood cupboard doors with a calming cream, but it's actually a really good size with tons of storage, and lovely to cook in. I also get the impression it had hardly been used by the previous owner, apart from the oven which was pretty appalling. I attacked it with liberal amounts of Oven Pride (which I find terrifying but oh-so-satisfying) and it's much better, but I'm dreaming of replacing it eventually with a nice shiny hob (with no rust stains, the dream) and a big old oven. Currently eyeing up a nice cream double oven from Belling kitchen appliances, even though I'm not sure we can actually fit a double oven in. Oh well. One day I'll have my dream cream-and-wood farmhouse kitchen, I will. And until then, I must count my blessings, and remind myself that what we have now beats the oven we had in our flat by a long way, which was tiny, terrible, and only had one shelf. The wooorst.
Aaaanyway. I've already been racking up the new recipes since we moved. From curries to chilli to stew to meze, I'm loving experimenting again. I think my favourite new cookbook is one of Jamie Oliver's latest, Super Food Family Classics. You know when you just want to make EVERYTHING? That. Anyway, his beef and ale stew recipe is to diiiie for. He recommends serving it with mustard spiced pearl barley, but I serve it with mash, because I don't understand why you wouldn't have mash when you could have mash.
Here's my variation on it. It's pretty close to Jamie's, but I add a bit more beef and a bit more veg, and spend some time thickening it at the end, too. And I add mash. Did I mention the mash?
Beef and Guinness Stew
(adapted from Jamie Oliver's Super Food Family Classics cookbook)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
100g silverskin pickled onions
1 large red onion
3 large carrots
4 sticks celery
15g fresh thyme
20g dried porcini mushrooms
800g braising, stewing or skirt steak
1 beef stock cube
1 litre water
220ml Guinness (half a can)
Cornflour, as required
250 cals / 4 Weight Watchers Smart Points (without mash)
2. Put the pan on a medium heat with a tablespoon of oil and the pickled onions. Peel and quarter the regular onion, then pull the quarters apart into petals and add to the pan.
3. Keep an eye on it, stirring regularly, while you slice the celery and carrots into 1/2cm thick, and chop the mushrooms into chunks.
4. Add it all to the pan, then strip the thyme leaves from the stem and add them too.
5. Allow everything to cook for around 10 minutes, stirring regularly, while you peel and chop the swede and finely chop the dried porcini (I used scissors to cut the porcini, because it was so tough!).
6. Stir both into the pan, then add the beef (if it's not already diced, chop into 3cm chunks).
7. Add the Guinness and crumble in the stock cube, now add the water. My pan wasn't quite big enough for a litre, so I just filled until I could fill no more.
8. Bring to a simmer, give everything a gentle stir, then cover with the lid and cook in the oven for two hours.
9. After two hours, transfer back to the hob and add 1-2 tbsp of cornflour slurry to the pan, and bring up to a simmer to thicken the sauce. Add more cornflour / water as required until you get to your desired consistency. I cooked it for about another 20 minutes to thicken it sufficiently.
10. Serve with green vegetables and mounds of buttery mashed potatoes. And a glass of red wine. You've earned it.
This is delicious. It's cosy and hearty and warming, but also packed with vegetables and really not unhealthy, even though it tastes like it should be. I made this yesterday when I had friends round for lunch - it's an excellent dish for entertaining, as it only uses one pot and you can keep it warm in the oven for as long as you need to. Plus, it even made a couple of portions for the freezer. Lovely.