Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Rich beef and barley stew

I didn't realise it had been nearly 2 weeks since my last post, I haven't really done much since I last posted other than catch up on sleep and spend time with friends that I hadn't seen for ages. I had hoped to get back into regular blogging again but then illness struck, it's the lurgy season and it seems to have found me. But I'm not going to let that stop me from sharing this delicious hearty rich beef and barley stew recipe with you. I first made a version of this back in the summer when I had a busy batch cooking session and didn't get chance to write it up. I've tweaked the recipe a bit since then to create a stew that is warming and comforting now the temperature has dropped.


A few weeks ago I was sent a selection of wines by Frontera to take part in a blogging challenge to come up with two recipes using their wines for the chance to win a £500 holiday voucher. Frontera are a Chilean wine brand (retailing at £5.99 a bottle) who like to include a little poetry on their bottles. This is in the form of the traditional Chilean Lira Popular and for the Merlot, which I've used in this recipe, their poem is below.
It was a little blackbird // That gave me my name // Mirlo they called it // beautiful and dark //
Two things we share // Along with a joyful song // Grapes with magical roots


As part of my challenge I've been tasked with coming up with my own little poem to accompany my dish. Writing poetry was never my strong suit in English lessons at school but I'll give it a go at the end of this post.

I haven't browned the meat first for this stew, I've cooked it both ways and it tastes just as good adding the meat last, this also makes the preparation easier. To give a lovely thick sauce I've added a few generous handfuls of pearl barley to soak up just enough of the liquid and to make the stew more filling. The stew has a bit of a kick from the chilli powder which is just what you need if you're feeling the cold. It also has a fabulously rich smoky flavour from the smoked bacon and the smoked paprika, these are two of my favourite ingredients.

Ingredients - serves 6

1 large onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2-3 stalks celery, diced
6 rashers smoked streaky bacon, chopped
4 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
1.5 heaped tsp smoked paprika
1 beef stock cube, crumbled
1 tsp hot chilli powder
250ml red wine, I used Frontera Merlot
100g pearl barley
600g diced beef stewing steak
1 tin chopped tomatoes plus 1/2 to 3/4 tin of water
1.5 tbsp tomato puree
1 heaped tsp dried thyme
2-3 large dried bay leaves
freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tbsp olive oil

  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan or flameproof casserole over a medium heat and fry the onion, carrots and celery for 5 minutes until slightly softened then add the bacon and garlic and fry for a further 5 minutes. 
  • Add the spices and the crumbled stock cube, stir well and cook for 1-2 minutes then add the wine. Bring to the boil and then simmer rapidly for 3-5 minutes until the wine has reduced slightly. 
  • Next add the beef and the barley followed by the tomatoes and water. Give everything a really good stir then add the herbs and season with black pepper. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to the lowest setting, cover with a lid and leave to simmer for 2.5 hours. Serve in bowls with crusty bread or with mash and some seasonal green veg on the side. 


Serving the stew with a large glass of wine is also highly recommended. Although I'm not normally a fan of merlot (I tend to prefer cabernet sauvignon or shiraz) I actually really enjoyed this wine to drink on it's own as well as cook with. It was full bodied with a rich fruity flavour and not too dry. 

Now on to the poetry. 
On a cold winter's night// A bowlful of hearty stew's needed// to keep the chill at bay//
Flavoured with paprika// and a glug of red wine// It'll warm you up in no time

Disclaimer: I was sent 5 bottles of wine by Frontera to come up with a recipe to enter into their bloggers challenge. I was not paid for this post and all opinions and dubious poetry at the end are mine. 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Chilli Con Carne - My Way

I think this has been the longest gap I've ever had between blog posts. After 4 years of hard work (and some procrastination) I finally submitted my thesis on 31st October, all 63,500 words of it. I had to stop blogging in October as I just didn't have the time or the brain space to devote to writing about food. Once I'd submitted and gone out to celebrate I ended up spending a lot of my time sleeping and generally resting as well as feeling under the weather. Today is the first time that I've felt well enough to get back behind the laptop and start writing again, I struggled to write emails last week as my fingers just didn't want to do any more typing and my brain didn't want to think of any more words. I've missed blogging and interacting with everyone so I'm looking forward to writing more posts very soon and catching up with reading my favourite blogs. Even though I was very busy with my writing I still found time to come up with 2 new flapjack recipes (excellent writing fuel) which I'll be posting once I get round to baking them again and taking photos. My PhD journey isn't quite over yet, I still have a viva voce examination to get through where I defend my work in front of two examiners. I don't know when this will be yet, probably not until early next year now. So now the next thing I have to do is find myself a job!

The recipe in this post is one that I wanted to post about a month ago but time got away from me. This is my chilli con carne recipe, a dish that I've wanted to share since I decided to start including other food on the blog besides baking. The only reason it hasn't featured sooner is because I always forget to take photos. This is my ultimate comfort food dish because it reminds me of home even though my recipe has evolved quite a bit from the original version my Mum taught me. Every Saturday when I was little we would have chilli for tea and we'd be allowed to sit in the lounge instead of at the table and watch Gladiators. As we got older, my two younger brothers and I were all taught how to cook chilli from the age of about 14-15 and we'd take it in turn to cook it each Saturday evening.



When I left home at 19 to start uni I was very glad that my Mum had taught me how to cook chilli and a few other basics so I could experiment and create my own versions of my favourite dishes. For the chilli I started off by adding red pepper then over the years I gradually started playing around with the spices to give a deeper flavour than just using chilli powder which is what my Mum did. I now use cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and chilli powder. I also add some cocoa powder to my chilli which I started doing because I love the combination of dark chocolate with chilli but I don't always have dark chocolate in the cupboard however there is always a tub of cocoa powder.

Since leaving home I've tended to cook chilli about once a month and it was the first meal I served to my boyfriend in my flat in student halls where he claimed not to like spicy food. My response was 'tough luck' as this is all I've got and it has ended up being his favourite meal and the one that he will always request whenever he's feeling a bit rundown. I'll be honest, we always eat massive portions of this and I only ever get 4 portions out of the pot though if you're not as greedy as us then this chilli will easily serve 6. I've found that chilli often tastes better reheated the next day and it also freezes very well.


Ingredients - serves 4-6 with rice, jacket potatoes, flat breads or whatever else you fancy.

2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 whole cloves
1 heaped tbsp hot chilli powder - use mild chilli powder for less heat
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of allspice
1 scant tbsp cocoa powder
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped - ramiro peppers are my favourite to use
4 fat garlic cloves, crushed
6 rashers smoked streaky bacon, cut into small pieces
500g beef mince
2 tins of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
1 heaped tbsp tomato puree
freshly ground black pepper (I never add any salt as I think the bacon adds enough salt)


  • Start by getting the spices ready, put the cumin, coriander and cloves into a pestle and mortar and grind as finely as you can. Then add the rest of the spices and the cocoa powder and mix them all together and set aside.
  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan or casserole pot over a medium heat and fry the onion for a few minutes until starting to soften and then add the red pepper, bacon and garlic. Continue to cook for about 5 minutes stirring frequently. Add the spices and fry for a couple of minutes until fragrant and the onion-bacon mix is thoroughly coated in the spices, if things start sticking then reduce the heat slightly.
  • Next add the mince, break it up with a wooden spoon in the pan and fry until browned all over. Be sure to scrape up any bits of spice that may have stuck on the bottom of the pan, the fat from the meat will help loosen them. 
  • Once the meat is browned, add the kidney beans followed by the tinned tomatoes and stir well so that everything is incorporated. Add the tomato puree and season with plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Bring the pan to the boil and then cover with a lid, reduce the heat to low and simmer covered for 45 minutes stirring once or twice, then remove the lid and simmer for a further 15 minutes to help the sauce thicken slightly. 
  • Serve straight away or if you're cooking for the freezer, divide into suitable containers, cool to room temperature and then freeze. 




I'm convinced that my chilli is nicer than the versions my Mum and brothers cook though I'm sure they'd beg to differ. As everyone makes their chilli in a different way, I've rounded up a few different versions (both meaty and veggie) from the blogosphere.

Helen's chilli con carne
Kellie's black bean quinoa chili
Camilla's turkey chilli with baked beans
Jacqueline's vegetarian chilli wraps
Kavey's chocolate chorizo chilli con carne

I'm linking this post up with a few blogging challenges. Recipe of the week, Cook Blog Share and Tasty Tuesdays.

  




Friday, 3 October 2014

Marbled Muffins

I love baking muffins, they're so quick to make and they double up both as a snack or even a quick breakfast. Sometimes I make healthier muffins filled with fruit, other times I like to make more indulgent muffins. These certainly fall into the latter category.


I made a marble cake for a bake sale in my department recently and I loved how pretty the swirls of chocolate and vanilla cake looked together and that is what influenced these marbled muffins. I was recently invited by Steenbergs to choose a selection of spices to try out in my baking and I've used a couple of them here to flavour these muffins. The chocolate part of the muffins is flavoured with mixed spice and the white part of the muffin is flavoured with tonka bean, an ingredient new to me that I was keen to play with. When swirled together you get a wonderfully fragrant sweet spicy flavour that complements the chocolate very well.



Tonka beans are the dark wrinkled seeds of a flowering tree (Dipteryx oderata) native to Central America and the northern part of South America. They look a bit like almonds in size and shape and they have an amazing fragrance. When I first opened the jar I couldn't stop sniffing it. It's a complex fragrance that initially smells like vanilla and pear drops. Taste wise it is also quite similar to vanilla but much more fragrant and almost slightly floral.


Before baking with it I decided to try a little grated tonka bean over some sliced nectarines, cocoa nibs and yoghurt and my tastebuds were singing. It seemed to somehow enhance the flavour of the fruit and the cocoa nibs and add an extra layer of sweetness. I knew then that I wanted to have a go at baking with this in something chocolatey. I decided mixed spice would work well in this recipe after reading a bit more about tonka beans on the Steenbergs website and seeing that their tasting notes mentioned hints of cinnamon and cloves. The flavours in these muffins certainly complement each other very well and they smell great even before you put the tray in the oven. I'm looking forward to using the organic fairtrade mixed spice in my Christmas cake this year as it smells so good.


The method for making these muffins is nice and easy, it just requires making 2 batters instead of 1 and then giving them the briefest of mixes to swirl the light and dark batters together. If you can't get hold of tonka beans then you could use vanilla instead and get a similar flavour though it won't be quite as heady and aromatic as using tonka.

Ingredients - makes 12

For the spiced chocolate batter:
100g self raising flour
50g cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice
100g golden caster sugar
150g plain yoghurt
50ml milk
45ml sunflower oil
1 egg

For the tonka bean batter:
200g self raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
100g golden caster sugar
1/2 tonka bean grated
150g plain yoghurt
50ml milk
45ml sunflower oil
1 egg

  • Preheat the oven to 200C and line a muffin tray with paper cases and get out 2 mixing bowls.
  • In the first bowl make the spiced chocolate batter by first of all mixing together the yoghurt, milk, oil and egg with a fork and then adding the remaining ingredients and mixing until just combined. 
  • In the second bowl make the tonka bean batter by first of all mixing together the yoghurt, milk, oil and egg with a fork and then adding the remaining ingredients and mixing until just combined. 
  • Add the chocolate batter to the tonka bean batter and fold 2-3 times, no more than this as you will lose the marbling in the muffins. 
  • Spoon the marbled batter into the muffin cases and then bake for 25-30 minutes until risen, golden and an inserted skewer comes out clean. 

Here's a few more baking recipes from around the blogosphere using Steenbergs spices. 

Speculoos cupcakes from Maison Cupcake
Za'atar & olive focaccia from Fab Food 4 All
Roasted mushroom flatbread pizzas with lemony garlic sauce from Kellie's Food To Glow

I've got a few ideas in mind for using the other goodies Steenbergs sent me and no doubt some of those will end up on here at some point once my thesis is over. I'm loving the green chai tea I selected, excellent fuel for writing in the evenings.

Thank you to Steenbergs for letting me choose a selection of products to try out, as always all opinions are my own and I was not paid for this post.