Beef in Homebrew with Horseradish and Chestnut Dumplings

Today my Chestnut flour finally got its first outing.

It is very precious so I wanted to use it for something special.  While furtling about in my freezer yesterday I found some organic stewing steak I had forgotten about and decided this would be the perfect partner for my flour.  Using John Wright’s recipe as a base, I tweaked and adapted the stew to suit my ingredients while remaining faithful to the dumplings.

It was incredibly satisfying to use so many of our own produce.  The carrots could not have been fresher as I pulled them up only minutes before using them.  The onions were also grown by the Captain as were the herbs and horseradish root.  Digging up the latter proved to be every bit as tricky as all my foraging books promised and preparing it was a nightmare.  Next time I think I shall dig out a pair of discarded swimming goggles from the long gone days of children’s swimming lessons.  Whether this will help remains to be seen but for those of you who have not had the unique pleasure that is grating fresh horseradish root, all I can say is, think of chopping the worst onions in the world and then multiply by one hundred.

Obviously, the beer I used was the Captain’s homebrew.  I suppose any old beer would do, but it will not be the same.  Clearly 🙂

Anyway.  Whether I am just biased after concocting such a home produced meal complete with foraged ingredients, but I have to say that the results were rather splendid.

Beef in Homebrew with Horseradish and Chestnut Dumplings

Serves 4 with dumplings and enough stew for freezing

25g butter

250g onions, chopped

275g streaky bacon, chopped

1250g stewing steak, cubed

25g plain flour

25g chestnut flour

1litre homebrew bitter

2 tbsp tomato purée

4 bay leaves

several sprigs of fresh thyme

1 heaped tbsp cornflour

For the dumplings:

  • 75g self-raising flour
  • 25g chestnut flour
  • pinch of baking powder
  • 50g freshly grated horseradish
  • 50g shredded suet
  • about 75ml water
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a large/deep frying pan and cook the onions with the bacon, until the onions are soft and the bacon beginning to brown.  Transfer to slow cooker using a slotted spoon.  Brown the beef in batches and transfer to plate.  Return to pan and sprinkle with flours stirring well to mix and thicken the juices.  Transfer to slow cooker.  Pour homebrew into pan, gradually, stirring well to mix in all the sediment.  Add tomato purée, herbs and salt and pepper.  Bring to boil stirring in cornflour mixed with a little water then pour over meat in slow cooker.  Leave for several hours to cook until tender.

One and half hours before serving make the dumplings.  Mix all the ingredients except the water in a bowl.  Gradually add the water, kneading lightly into a soft dough.  Shape into small balls of about 3cms in diameter.  Remove the lid of the slow cooker and sit the balls on top of the stew.  Replace the lid and leave.  Serve when dumplings cooked.

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Chickweed Pakoras

Inspired by my afternoon’s foraging with Edible Eastside at the weekend, I strolled around the garden yesterday with a new eye.  Actually, a properly new eye would really be quite nice.  Mine is decidedly wonky.  My newly opened eyes were scouring the garden for edible weeds, the likes of which Pam pointed out.  I am sure there were loads.  But I could not find them.  I was about to give up when I spied the most enormous crop of chickweed.  Can you call chickweed a crop?  I think most gardeners call it a nuisance.  The Captain uses far less savoury words for it.  But my heart soared at its lush verdant presence 🙂  We had found some nice samples along the towpath on Saturday but this was soft and green and bushy and bursting with health making the towpath version look positively paltry in comparison.

I have been wanting to make John Wright’s Chickweed Pakoras, from his Hedgerow River Cottage Handbook, ever since I first bought the book back in the spring but have not managed to get my act together to do so.  Yesterday was the perfect opportunity.  My youngest turned eighteen on Sunday.  He received a DIY Curry Kit as a gift and was planning to treat the Captain and I to Chicken Timitar Masala so my find could not have happened at a better time.

Living in a large multicultural city made getting hold of gram flour a simple matter of visiting my local supermarket.  Asian stores will stock it if it is not that simple for you.  50g a chickweed is approximately a couple of handfuls.

This was such a simple recipe to follow and the results were good too.  The only thing I will do differently next time is to add less salt.  But it is one I will definitely be repeating.

Chickweed Pakoras

Makes 8

100g flour

1tbsp medium curry powder

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp sea salt

About 120ml water

50g Chickweed, washed, dried and roughly chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

Vegetable oil for shallow-frying

Mix the flour, curry powder, baking powder and salt together in a bowl, then slowly stir in enough water to form a paste the consistency of mustard. Mix in the Chickweed, onion and garlic, stirring until they are well coated in the pasted.

Heat a thin layer of oil in a heavy based frying pan. When hot, spoon in heaped desssertspoonfuls of the pakora mix to form little cakes, spacing them well apart. Cover with a lid and cook over a medium heat for about 5 mins until crisp and golden brown on one side. Turn the cakes over to brown the other side. Drain on kitchen paper and serve at once.

Cider House Rules – or making cider with minimal equipment and little knowledge

Today our house turned into a Cider House.  It has not, in the past, been known as my favourite beverage.  But I am quietly confident that I will love it from now.  At least, I will love the cider I have made.  I know this because I already do love it.  I have long been admiring the apples hanging from the tree in our garden.  I do not know what variety they are but they look lovely and their flavour is beautiful.

Unfortunately the texture leaves something to be desired.  Eating them is a little akin to chewing a feather pillow.  It has grieved me to leave them to rot but I have no freezer room, and what with the operation and all, have not really been up to organising something more imaginative.  However, the lovely John Wright, of River Cottage fame, came to my rescue with an article he wrote back in September that someone kindly retweeted on Twitter.  John uses a proper apple press but I don’t have such a thing so I did some more rummaging on the t’interweb and discussed the problem with the Captain, knowing he is a practical sort of chappie.  At the very moment I discovered this YouTube video, he burst into the room having reached the same conclusion.  A car jack would apparently solve all our problems.  Of course, it remains to be seen whether or not the end results are drinkable, but we are hopeful.

This is how we went about it: first of all, I washed the apples in the sink.

If anyone can identify them, I would love to know what variety they are.  Once washed, I roughly chopped them, removing any bad bits or grubs and smashed them up in batches using the pulse setting of my food processor.  Traditionally, this stage is done by crushing the apples in a bucket with a stick but that really would have been much too much like hard work.  John Wright suggested using a hand-held blender but mine really wasn’t up to the job so I decided a food processor was really only the next logical option.

We found that the finer the apples were chopped, the more juice they yielded, so my later batches became mushier than the above photo.  Whether this was down to the variety of apple or not is open to debate.

The general advice was once the apples were crushed, they needed to be wrapped in smallish quantities in muslin before pressing.  I found that 2-3 quantities from my processor were about the right amount for a muslin square from Tescos baby department.

While I was doing this, the Captain and the seventeen but very soon to be eighteen year old had been busy constructing the press.

True, it is an apple press that Heath Robinson would have been proud of but it cost us absolutely nothing to construct as all the varies bits of wood used were from the shed, apart from the main platform and that had started life as a cupboard aboard Wand’ring Bark.

So even our cider has a boaty link.  Best of all, and perhaps a little to our surprise, it actually worked!  There was great excitement when with only a little pressure, the juice began to flow.

The advice I had found about pressing all spoke of patient and not hurrying the process, and to press the 11 kilos we had, it took a couple of hours.  Using the food processor made it a lot easier and to have been smashing the apples by hand for that length of time would have been exhausting.

Once the juice had been extracted the remaining apple was dry, crumbly and really fit only for composting.

When we had pressed the lot, we had a respectable total of just under 6 litres.  We decanted the liquid into two demijohns and added 1 1/2 crushed campden tablets to keep the bugs at bay.  Cotton wool then bunged the necks until tomorrow when we will add about 1 1/2 teaspoons of brewers yeast.

The whole process involves a bit of siphoning and decanting and bottling but all in all, it was a pleasant way to spend the morning, cost very little and will hopefully produce something worth drinking.  We have left it too late to be ready for Christmas but late January should see us enjoying a glass.

Vegetable Jam

When we returned from our trip up the Caldon Canal I was not expecting the garden to be particularly overrun with produce.  I knew the brambles would have been prolific and the raspberries would have produced a creditable amount but the courgettes had been looking peeky before we left, the onions were doing well but we were not going to be overwhelmed by them and the carrots were not yet ready.  It did not cross my mind to even consider the greenhouse.

Thanks to the leaf mould the Captain’s tomatoes have fallen prey to, I had crossed the greenhouse off my list of Areas of Potential Edible Growth in Need of Checking on Return list.  It was only because I forgot to pick up some tomatoes in Tescos that I thought of venturing into its glazed confines and having a furtle.  The tomatoes are still in disarray but I did find enough to eek out a salad.  The real excitement came from the cucumber plants I forgot existed!  Curled into the most extraordinary shapes were several magnificent specimens.  I wish I had taken photos but alas, I did not.

There is nothing quite like freshly picked fruit or vegetables of any description but the cucumber I chopped up for my lunch was exquisite.  Sweet, succulent and dripping with an almost melon-like flavour, it was all I could do to stop myself eating the entire vegetable.  Its sweetness reminded me of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recent article in The Observer about vegetable jams.  I had saved Hugh’s recipes to experiment with and am hoping our carrots will provide enough for at least one batch of Carrot Jam.  I quite like the idea of planting some Lemon Verbena for use next year too.  Consequently, I decided to do a bit of research and see if I could come up with a recipe for Cucumber Jam.

After a bit of rummaging, I came up with one that I think needs some tweaking.  Next time I will peel the cucumber (purely for aesthetic reasons) and half the root ginger.  I think that combination will result in a mixture that will be sweet enough to grace the best buttered toast or crumpets around as well as being suitable for savoury uses.  If you like a ginger kick, and I do, then the recipe as it stands is superb with a good strong cheddar or some other sharp cheese.

Cucumber, Vanilla and Ginger Jam

500g cucumber, finely diced

80g fresh root ginger

1 vanilla pod

350g jam sugar

Place sugar in preserving pan with cucumber.  Slice vanilla pod into two and scrape out seeds.  Add seeds and pod to pan.  Peel and grate root ginger into pan.  Stir well and leave for 2 hours.

Bring slowly to the boil stirring continually until sugar dissolved.  Once sugar dissolved, boil rapidly for about 10 mins until set acheived.  Pour into sterilised jars and seal.