Saturday, April 21, 2007

Something for the Weekend?

Over 30 years ago, when forced to cut costs. the first thing to go was the weekend joint. Instead, cheaper cuts of meat were substituted and made into casseroles, cottage pies etc. It was in those days it was normal to served potatoes with every main dish - either boiled, mashed, jacket or chips so the meals were fairly 'ordinary'.
Once I had become more confident I experimented using pasta, so spag. bol. and lasagne began to be served. Later chilli con carne, and much later - curry. Nowadays, of course, with the endless TV cookery programmes (I watch as many as I can stomach), the world is your oyster (if you will excuse the pun) when it comes to which dish to serve.

Now there are only the two of us to feed, a joint hardly seems a worthwhile buy. Personally I believe that a roast needs to be as large as possible to get maximum flavour. So occasionally but rarely, I do buy one monster, to be eaten hot the day it is cooked, the the remainder chilled and then sliced cold to freeze away as is, or in boxes with gravy.
A reminder here of a really good tip mentioned when I began my postings, and worth a repeat. If you use those metal containers (with lids) to freeze away portions, line them first with layering tissue (or use a small plastic bag) before putting in the contents, fold over the tissue before putting on the lid, then - once frozen - the contents can be taken out and stored in a large plastic bag with others of the same kind (the containers will be quite clean and can be used many times). Always, ALWAYS, put a piece of paper in the bag so that you know what the contents are. A lot of frozen food (especially raw frozen meats) often look identical.

Still avoiding buying a joint, these days I would - especially on a Sunday - prefer to serve something simple like the recipes below:
Ragout of Beef: serves 4 - 6
1 lb ( 500g) braising steak, cubed
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, thinly sliced
bouquet garni *
1 - 2 tblsp tomato puree
1 tblsp flour
beef stock (approx half a pint/ 300ml)
Put the flour into a bag and add the cubed beef. Shake well to coat. Put some oil (even better use beef dripping if you have some) into a casserole pan and when hot, tip in the beef (save any flour that might be left, fry the beef, turning until browned all over. Stir in the onions and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally for about five minutes. Add the tomato paste along with any remaining flour, stir and add the stock. Push in the bouquet garni. Cover with a fitted circle of parchment paper and then place on a lid. Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer very gently for about one to one and a half hours until the meat is tender.
Remove the paper, the herbs, season to taste, and serve with a green vegetable and creamy mashed potatoes.
* To make a bouquet garni, take one wide curved rib of celery (about 4 to 6" long) and in the hollow place a few crushed peppercorns topped with sprigs of thyme and parsley stalks and a bay leaf. Tie round with string.
Alternatively cut up the above into small pieces and put into a square of muslin. Gather up the corners and tie securely with string.

Speedy Lunch for a Summer's Day : serves 2 - 4
2 large chicken breasts, skinned, sliced in half then cut into fingers
1 lime, zest and juice
2 oranges, segmented
1 large or 2 smaller ripe avocados
4 spring onions, thinly sliced diagonally
bunch watercress, main stalks removed
Fry the prepared chicken pieces in a little olive oil. After 10 minutes add the lime juice and zest and heat for a further minute.
Meanwhile, cut the avocado into small chunks and put in a bowl with the orange segments, add the sliced spring onions and watercress. Place on individual plates with the chicken on top.
Tip: To bulk this up you could add some chopped walnuts or flaked almonds. Perhaps some diced red bell pepper for colour, or sliced Peppadew for colour and zing. For a more substantial dish serve with egg noodles (soaked in boiling water , drained and tossed in sesame oil.
Don't forget that the avocado stones. will grow into large plants.

Sweet and Sour Pork: serves 4
1 lb (500g) pork tenderloin
1 onion cut into chunks
1 small can pineapple chunks in syrup
1 tblsp tomato puree
1 tblsp honey
1 tsp soy sauce (optional)
5fl oz chicken or vegetable stock
1 small can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp cornflour
Cut the pork into thick slices, then into cubes. Fry in a little oil until light gold (about 6 minutes). Remove from the pan. If necessary add a little more oil and fry onions until softened. Add the pineapple, tomato puree, honey, soy sauce, the stock and a little of the pineapple syrup from the can. bring to the simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Stir a little water or pineapple syrup into the cornflour and add this to the pan, then add the pork, stir and simmer until the sauce has thickened - this will take about 4 -5 minutes.
Serve with egg fried rice (the microwave sachets take only 2 minutes), or noodles.
Tip: to extend the dish, make thin pancakes using one large beaten egg only (no flour), and put one on top of the other (one egg should make 3 pancakes). Roll up, slice thinly and scatter these 'egg noodles' over the top of each portion.
Variation: this dish could be made with cubed chicken, or prawns or both. Don't overcook the prawns, these can always be added later during the cooking.