Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mincing Matters

Because we all have now to consider the cost of everything we buy, am giving today a few 'minced meat' recipes that use less that we would expect to feed four, and particularly useful when we wish to buy the more expensive 'quality' minced steak, as then the dish will cost no more than following a similar recipe that uses the full amount of cheapest mince.

The first recipe is almost a 'chilli wrap', and we can choose between filling pitta pockets with the cooked mixture, or tucking it inside cripsy taco shells (or even wrapping the 'meat, salad and salsa' in a warmed flour tortilla). Although more a light lunch or supper dish, this is still a 'balanced meal', and remember we don't have to stuff ourselves sick to keep ourselves alive - especially when we use quality ingredients. Only 1 oz (25g) mince is needed per person in this recipe as the red beans also contain protein.

Beans 'n Beef Pockets: serves 4
4 oz (100g) minced steak
1 tblsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
half tsp chilli powder
half tsp ground cumin
1 x 300g can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 tblsp tomato paste
4 fl oz (100ml) water
1 pint measure, finely shredded iceberg lettuce
1 small onion, finely chopped
quarter cucumber, seeds removed, finely chopped
1 tomato, seeds removed, flesh finely chopped
half tsp chilli sauce OR half tsp each oil and lemon juice
8 pitta bread or taco shells
Put the minced steak in a bowl with the garlic and olive oil and work together with your hands so the 'grains' of meat are separated and coated with the oil, then heat a dry frying pan and sprinkle in the beef, stirring until thoroughly browned all over. When nearly cooked, stir in the chilli powder and the cumin, fry for 1 minute then stir in the tomato paste, the water and the red beans. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes to thicken the mixture (remove lid if you wish to thicken it further).
Meanwhile make the 'salsa'. Mix together the prepared onion, cucumber, tomato and chilli sauce (or oil and lemon).
When the meat is cooked, remove from heat but keep warm. Place the pitta bread or taco shells in the oven (180C, 350F, gas 4) for five minutes to heat through (with care this could also be done under a grill - and I have heated pitta successfully in a toaster, giving them just a few seconds, no longer or they would dry up).
To serve, line each pitta 'pocket' (or taco) with shredded lettuce and a little of the salsa, top with the meat filling, and finish with a further topping of the remaining salsa.

This next 'mini-mince' recipe admittedly uses more meat than above, but still only 2 oz (50g) per person. That's my type of cooking. The pies can be made in deep muffin tins, or the shallower and wider Yorkshire Pudding tins, or use any small tin of the size you wish. You could also make one big pie.
Puff pastry is used, but no reason why short-crust couldn't be substituted. Use what you have. If you wish to make larger pies (but still use the same amount of meat), allow for extra pastry and to the filling add diced cooked (or grated) carrot, increase the size of the onion, add more peas. By now you know exactly the way my mind works when it comes to making the meat go further..
If using a cube to make the beef stock, only use a quarter or it might end up too salty.

Beef and Vegetable Pies: makes 6
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
11 oz (300g) minced beef (pref steak)
1 x 400g chopped tomatoes
1 - 2 tblsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tblsp tomato paste
4 fl oz (110ml) beef stock
2 oz (50g) frozen peas
salt and pepper
3 sheets ready-rolled puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
Put the oil in a large saucepan, and fry the onion over medium heat for a few minutes until softened, then stir in the mince and cook until it has changed colour. Fold in the tomato paste, the chopped tomatoes, and the W. sauce, finally adding the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes. The mixture needs to be fairly thick. Remove from heat, stir in peas and leave to cool.
Use whichever sized tin you choose (see above) and cut the pastry to line the base and sides, pricking the bases (if using puff pastry), then line with parchment, fill with baking beans (if using puff pastry chill for half an hour) then bake blind at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 10 minutes, then remove paper and baking beans. Leave to cool before filling with the mince mixture. Brush edges of pastry with egg, and top with pastry lids, pressing edges down to seal. Brush tops with remaining egg, and bake at the same temperature for 15 - 20 minutes until golden brown. Leave in baking tins for 5 minutes before removing and serving with chosen vegetables or a crisp salad.

A way to 'extend' the more expensive minced steak is to mix it with minced pork (a traditional blend in parts of Italy when making spag.bol meat sauce). The recipe below uses even cheaper chicken livers with the beef, based on the original recipe from Bologna..
Serve this sauce with spaghetti, layered between sheets of lasagne, or as Cannelloni (filled tubes of pasta), or in any way you choose.

Bolognese Meat Sauce: serves 4
3 rashers bacon, finely diced
2 tsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot (approx 2 oz/50g), finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
12 oz (350g) beef mince
6 oz (175g) chicken livers, trimmed, finely chopped
8 fl oz (225ml) milk
1 oz (25g) butter
8 fl oz (225g) beef stock
2 tblsp red wine
half a 400g can chopped tomatoes
2 tblsp tomato paste
Fry the bacon with the oil in a heavy frying pan, and keep stirring until just turning crispy. Add the onion, carrot, celery and continue frying gently until the vegetables have softened, then stir in the beef mince and chicken livers. Continue stirring and turning the contents until the beef has changed colour, then add the milk and butter, then leave to simmer (but still stir occasionally) until the liquid has nearly disappeared.
Add the beef stock, red wine, chopped tomatoes and the tomato paste. Stir to combine, then simmer (uncovered) for about an hour (add half an hour longer if using cheap mince). Then it is ready to use/serve as you wish.

Final recipe today is a 'one-pot' dish based around an Italian soup that gets the best from veggies we have in our kitchen, and with the addition of canned beans AND meatballs turns it a proper 'feast in a dish'. 'Minestra' is 'minestrone soup' made without meat. Some recipes also include shredded white cabbage when making this soup. Today's recipes starts off as 'minestra', with the meat (balls) added towards the end.
Traditionally, this dish would be made with 'risoni' - a rice-shaped pasta, but orzo could be used instead. Some cooks use long-grain rice, and some prefer to use small pasta (tiny pieces of broken spaghetti are as good as). If you wish, minced chicken could be used instead of pork. If the balls are made with minced beef, then allow a longer frying and cooking time.
When making a large amount of meat balls, fry in batches otherwise they cool the fat down too quickly and then the meat tends to steam/braise rather than fry.

Minestra with Meat Balls: serves 4
9 oz (250g) minced lean pork
1 tsp paprika
1 egg
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tblsp tomato paste
2 tblsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 carrots, finely diced
1 rib celery, sliced then diced
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
15 fl oz (425ml) chicken stock
15 fl oz (425ml) water
2 courgettes, finely diced
1 x 400g borlotti, haricot, or pinto beans, drained
4 oz (100g) risoni (see above) or rice/pasta
salt and pepper
Put the pork, paprika, egg, half the onion, and half the tomato paste into a bowl and mix well together, then roll heaped teaspoons of the mixture into balls. Put the oil in a deep frying pan over medium heat and fry the meatballs until browned all over. Then - using a slotted spoon - remove meat balls and set aside. Stir the onion into the oil in the pan and cook until softened, then stir in the garlic, carrot and celery. Cook/stir until the vegetables are just tender, then stir in the remaining tblsp of tomato paste, the chopped tomatoes, stock and water, and bring to the boil, then stir in the remaining ingredients, adding seasoning to taste. Return the meatballs to the pan, spooning over the sauce, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve in individual dishes, sharing the meatballs between each.