Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Frugal Feasting

The good news is that the credit crunch has hit everyone, so - perhaps not surprisingly - sales of the highest quality foods have slowed down, and to keep regular customers coming back for more, many of these foods can now be found 'on offer' from time to time.

As lean times are still with us, before things begin to get back on track, NOW is the time to begin stocking up with quality when of offer (because we probably will never be able to afford them again) and by doing more home-cooking and a bit of 'grow our own' we should all be able to enjoy (even if only for the next couple of years) the pleasures of eating like kings on paupers pay. In some ways, the credit crunch has been more of a help than a hindrance to those who love to cook.

The recipe today is an example of good eating. Similar to Daube de Boeuf, this is a cheaper version of the Beef Carbonnade, but instead of using stewing steak (my normal choice), the less expensive (and more flavoursome) shin of beef is used. I suggest using (dare I mention the word again) quality shin, because this will give the 'gravy' plenty of flavour, as we can get away with using less meat than suggested (and more veg) if we prefer. Whenever possible make quality (there I've said it again) meat go half as far again. This way we can afford to buy it.

One tip - when stretching meat- is to cut casserole cuts into small chunks so there will appear to be more to go round. Finding only two chunks in a serving looks downright mean, finding several smaller ones and we feel satisfied we have had our fair share. Life's like that.

Myself just love the flavour of this dish, especially the 'gravy', so tend to add more liquid than the recipe states, just so there is some left over to thoroughly heat through and have as soup the following day (or surplus gravy can be frozen).
A dark stout (such as Guiness) is too strong in flavour for this dish, so use a lighter brown ale, OR use less of any ale and make up the shortfall with beef stock (made from a cube). Add more flavour by using beef stock instead of water when covering the beef.

For those who grow their own herbs, the bouquet garni for this dish would be 1 bay leaf, and a couple of sprigs of both thyme and parsley. Chefs often use just parsley stalks when making a bouquet garni as these have as much (often more) flavour as the leaves (which can then be used in another dish - another example of making something go in two directions). A traditional way to make the 'garni' is to push the herbs into the curve of a short piece of celery, tie the lot together with string, then tuck this in the casserole pot with the end of the string hanging over the edge so that it is easily removed when ready to serve.

If we haven't the milder Dijon mustard, we can use dried English mustard powder that has been blended with milk, as this makes it less 'hot' than when made with water. French bread stales very rapidly, but French sticks being cheap enough to buy, it is worth using this, and any remaining bread can be cut into chunks (or sliced almost through and spread with garlic butter between the slices) then wrapped tightly and frozen to be used at a later date, perhaps served with soups, or heated as garlic bread.

This dish is one that seems to go a lot further when served spooned into LARGE individual Yorkshire puddings. Being a carbohydrate, this pudding takes the place of potatoes, and if wishing to serve it in this way, the mustardy buttered bread could also be omitted. Whichever way you wish to serve, this dish eats well with a green vegetable, carrots and or parsnips. A good winter dish and one we will enjoy eating this chilly weather. Carbonnades a la flamande: serves 4 - 6
3 tblsp sunflower oil
2 - 3 large onions, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped or crushed
1 - 2 lb shin beef
3 - 4 tblsp flour
salt and pepper
half pint (300ml) brown ale
1 tblsp light muscovado sugar
water or beef stock
fresh bouquet garni or tsp dried mixed herbs
2 oz (50g) butter, softened
1 good tblsp Dijon mustard
6 slices French bread
Heat half the oil in a frying pan and gently fry the onions until softened and just beginning to turn brown. Meanwhile cut the shin beef into fore-finger sized strips, no more than half inch (1cm) thick. If you are using less meat, cut each strip into three chunks.
When the onions are beginning to change colour, stir in the garlic. Fry for a couple more minutes then, using a slotted spoon, transfer contents of the pan to an ovenproof casserole dish.
Put the flour into a bag with some salt and pepper to season, add the meat and toss until each strip is coated with flour.
Raise the heat under the pan and add the remaining oil, then brown the meat in two batches (doing the lot in one go will reduce the temperature of the oil, and the meat needs browning not 'stewing'). As the the meat is browned, add to the onions in the casserole dish.
To the juices in the pan, add the beer, stirring the pan base to add residues into the liquid. Bring to the boil then stir in the sugar. When the sugar has dissolved, pour over the meat. Add the bouquet garni (or dried herbs) and pour in enough water (or beef stock) to cover the meat. Cover and cook in the oven for 2 - 3 hours at 160C, 325F, gas 3. Check after the first two hours, give a stir and add a little more (boiling) water or stock if necessary.
While the Carbonnade is cooking, mash together the butter and mustard and spread it thickly onto the sliced bread. Half an hour before serving, place the bread - butter side up - on top of the meat and cook, uncovered, for a further 30 minutes or until the bread is crisp and golden. Serve immediately.