Sunday, October 28, 2007

Mincing Matters

This first minced beef recipe can be used in several dishes: used to stuff jacket potatoes, or become the base of a Cottage Pie, alternatively serve with pasta or pancakes. You will note that the short cooking time means that a lean quality mince should be used. It is never worth buying cheaper mince as it is too fatty, and takes far too long to cook. But if cost is an issue, cook the meat longer before adding the remaining ingredients. You could also use less meat and more of the rest.
'All Rounder' Minced Beef plus: serves 4
1 lb (340g) minced lean beef
1 onion, finely sliced
1 rib celery, finely sliced
1 x 425g can baked beans
2 tblsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp chilli or curry powder
4 oz (100g) canned or frozen sweetcorn
Use a non-stick pan and dry-fry the mince* for five minutes until browned. Stir in the onion and celery and fry for a further 4 minutes. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and heat through.
If serving in jacket potatoes or with pasta, a good topping of grated cheese adds extra flavour. If serving in a Cottage Pie, mix grated cheese with the mashed potato.
Note: *A chef's tip is to drizzle a little oil over the mince and work it through with your hands before frying, this prevents it sticking together into lumps and thus cooks through evenly.

This next dish makes use of green bell peppers which - if you buy a bag of assorted colours - are the ones least likely to be used. Again another meat filling which could be used in other ways - maybe to layer up between a stack of pancakes (recipe below) or to use as a filling for lasagne. Tip: When fillings seem a bit too chunky to use for dishes such as these, once cooked, blitz for a few seconds in a food processor to make them more spreadable.
Beef and Bean stuffed Peppers: serves 4
4 green bell peppers
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
12 oz (350g) minced beef
2 oz (50g) mushrooms, chopped
1 can baked beans
2 tblsp tomato puree
salt and pepper
Slice the tops from the peppers and remove core and seeds. If necessary trim the bases very slightly so that they stand upright. Blanch the peppers in boiling water for 3 minutes, then drain and refresh in cold water, then turn upside down on kitchen paper to drain.
Prepare the filling by sauting the onion in the oil for 3 minutes then add the beef and cook/stir for 10 minutes until browned. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to the boil.
Stand the peppers upright in a casserole dish and fill with the meat mixture. Cover with foil and bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 40 minutes. Serve with rice or noodles.
Tip: Remove the stalk from the cut off pieces and chop the flesh to add to the meat in the pan. Using these and more mushrooms you could get away with using less meat.

Pancake Layer: serves 4
8 ready made pancakes
1 batch meat sauce (any of the above)
5 fl.oz (142ml) thick yogurt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 oz (25g) grated Parmesan (or 2 oz other hard cheese)
Take an ovenproof dish or roasting tin (one that will hold the pancakes flat) and grease it well. Place a pancake on the bottom and spoon over some of the meat sauce, cover this with a pancake, continue layering ending with the meat sauce.
Mix together the yogurt and the egg and spoon this over the top layer, sprinkle with the grated cheese and bake at 189C, 350F, gas 4 for 30-35 minutes. To serve, cut into wedges and serve with salads.
Variations: Instead of layering, share the fillings between the pancakes and roll each up into a tube. Lay side by side in a greased ovenproof casserole and pour over the yogurt sauce, topping with the cheese. Bake as above.
Another form of presentation is to spread the filling over the pancakes and then fold in half and half again to form triangles. Arrange in a single layer, pour over the sauce and bake as above. Alternatively, if able to fill the pancakes with freshly cooked hot filling, follow the variation but omit the sauce, put plenty of grated cheese on top and grill for 3 - 4 minutes.

This next dessert is a cross between a cheesecake and panna cotta and can be as rich or as low calorie as you wish. If on a diet, use sugar substitute, low fat yogurt and low fat soft cheese.
Very Berry Creamy Dessert: serves 4
1 x 12g sachet gelatine crystals
zest and juice of 1 lemon
7 oz (200g) soft cream cheese or firmish fromage frais
9 oz plain yogurt
2 tblsp icing or caster sugar
9 oz (250g) frozen summer berries, thawed
Pour the lemon juice into a small bowl and sprinkle over the gelatine. Leave for 3 minutes to allow time for the gelatine to absorb some liquid, then stand the bowl in a pan of hot water until it has melted completely.
Meanwhile, mix together the soft cheese, yogurt, half the sugar and lemon zest until smooth. Pour in the melted gelatine and stir to mix well. Divide between four individual serving glasses (leaving room at the top for the fruit), cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for an hour until set. Mix the thawed berries with the remaining sugar and spoon on top of the dessert just before serving.
Tip: Remove the frozen fruit from the freezer while the dessert is chilling, and leave at room temperature to thaw, this way the fruit won't collapse too much when served.

Because some of the ingredients in this next recipe consist of dried fruits, the overnight chilling gives them a chance to soak up some of the liquids, so the more you use the more like an instant cheescake filling it can become. Curd cheese not always easy to find so am substituting cottage cheese, with more details in the footnote. Given enough added dried fruit, natural (esp Greek) yogurt will also end up as a 'cheese'.
Russian Dream: serves 6
1 lb (450g) cottage cheese*
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
2 oz (50g) flaked almonds
2 oz (50g) raisins
2 oz (50g) dried apricots, quartered
2 tblsp lemon juice
half tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp. chopped preserved ginger
half a pint (225ml) double cream
Rub the cottage cheese through a sieve or give it a quick blitz in a blender/processor and mix together with all the other ingredients except the cream. Pile into a pudding basin and leave in the fridge overnight to set. Turn out onto a shallow serving dish (or spoon into individual bowls) and pour over the cream (lightly whipped if you prefer).
Note: *When planning to make a dish which requires curd cheese, buy cottage cheese in advance and freeze it. The freezing breaks down the lumps and it can easily be mashed down when thawed to make a very good substitute for curd cheese.
Another method of making your own curd cheese is to put plain yogurt into a muslin bag and allow to drain overnight - even longer depending upon how firm you wish your curd cheese to be.