Beef and Sun-Dried Tomato Stew

Beef and Sun-Dried Tomato Stew

Before she became a TV celebrity Mary Berry was known as an Aga cook who ran courses on how to get the most out of your Aga as well as for writing The Aga Book which I believe is still given to every new Aga owner when their new oven is installed. My mother-in-law, who has owned a few Agas in her time, learned how to make this stew on one of Mary Berry’s courses and wrote it out for me many years ago because she thought it was so simple yet so delicious. I never got round to making it then but when I found a jar of sun-dried tomatoes which needed using up in my fridge recently, the recipe sprang to mind and I dug it out.

You can make this the day before, refrigerate it overnight and reheat it gently in the simmering oven the next day. I have never worked out why but casseroles are often better when made a day ahead.

The quantities of wine and stock given here are approximate because, as we Aga cooks know, you tend to need less liquid in an Aga. I start with the wine and stop pouring when the meat is almost but not completely covered. You can always add stock later on if you think it needs it.

Beef and Sun-Dried Tomato Stew

(Serves 4 generously)

Ingredients

  • 800g braising beef, cubed
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • Approx. 250ml red wine
  • (Approx. 250ml beef stock: see above)
  • 10-12 sun-dried tomatoes, halved
  • 10g dried mushrooms (I used porcini)
  • 1 red or yellow pepper, deseeded and sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 tbsp apricot jam
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée

Method

  • First you need to brown the meat. To avoid splashing oil everywhere you can do this in the roasting oven, as I did when I made boeuf bourgignon
  • Spread the beef out on your large baking tray, lined with bake-o-glide if you like, drizzle it with olive oil and season
  • Slide the tray onto the first runner and leave it there for 5 minutes before moving it to the floor of the oven for a further 5 minutes, by which time your beef should be browned
  • (You can of course brown your meat the conventional way, in batches in olive oil on the boiling plate)
  • Meanwhile in a large casserole gently fry your onion and pepper slices in a tablespoon or two of olive oil (if your sun-dried tomatoes come from a jar you can use some of the oil from that), starting it off on the simmering plate before covering it and putting it in the simmering oven
  • Pour 100ml of hot water onto the mushrooms and put them to one side for 15 minutes
  • When the onions and peppers are soft place the casserole on the boiling plate, add the beef and stir the flour into it
  • Add the red wine and, if required, the stock and bring to the boil
  • Stir in the tomato purée, mushrooms with their soaking water and apricot jam
  • Cover and place in the simmering oven for a minimum of three hours until the beef is tender. Add seasoning to taste

This is delicious with mashed potato but I think I prefer it with rice. Serve with a green vegetable too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lemon and Ricotta Cake

Lemon and Ricotta Cake

The first lemon and ricotta cake I made was not a success. It was a Jamie Oliver recipe and didn’t really work, producing a rather dense cake. It may of course be entirely my fault and I might try it again one day. On the other hand, I’m not sure why I’d bother because yesterday I made a Diana Henry version from her book Simple and it was light and moist and delicious.

This cake works as an afternoon tea cake but also as a dessert served perhaps with some berries and crème fraîche or whipped cream. It’s best eaten slightly warm. It’s the ricotta that makes the cake moist but it also means it doesn’t keep that well. Don’t do what I did and make it on a day when hardly anyone’s around to share it with you because it really is best eaten on the day it’s made. If you do have some left, wrap it in clingfilm and refrigerate it. This is what I did and the next day I gave it a blast (a minute or two at high heat) in the microwave to warm it up a little and it freshened up beautifully. I was thrilled when our Italian friend, who is very particular about the food of his homeland and whose late wife was the most wonderful cook, gave it his approval.

Lemon and Ricotta Cake

Serves 8 (depending on hunger/greed)

You will need a 20cm springform tin, lightly greased and base-lined (with bake-o-glide)

Ingredients

  • 175g unsalted butter, softened
  • 175g golden caster sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 4 unwaxed lemons and the juice of 3
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 250g fresh ricotta, drained in a sieve
  • 100g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 25g ground almonds
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Icing sugar to serve

Method

  • Beat the butter and sugar together in an electric mixer until light and fluffy
  • Lightly beat the egg yolks with a fork and gradually add them, beating well after each addition
  • Stir the lemon zest and drained ricotta into the batter
  • Whisk the egg whites until they form medium peaks
  • Stir the lemon juice into the batter, then fold in the flour, almonds and baking powder
  • Fold two big spoonfuls of the egg whites into the batter to loosen it, then fold in the rest
  • Scrape the batter into the prepared tin
  • Put it in the baking oven and bake for 45-50 minutes; a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean once it’s cooked
  • Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes or so, then remove the springform ring and let it continue to cool, although as I mentioned above it’s delicious served slightly warm
  • Dust with icing sugar to serve

 

 

 

Short English Biscuits

Short English Biscuits

This is a recipe passed to me years ago by my 93 year old mother-in-law. She used to knock up these biscuits for my boys when they came home from school, or make a batch to go with fruit and ice-cream for our Sunday dessert.

I made them today to accompany strawberries and whipped cream. I know it’s only April and the temperature outside makes it feel more like March, but the strawberries in Waitrose looked so beautifully red and plump, I couldn’t resist buying them. They did not disappoint.

These biscuits are buttery, short and light and couldn’t be easier to make.

Ingredients

For about 16 biscuits

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 175g butter, softened

Method

  • Place all the ingredients in a food processor or mixer and mix until combined in a soft dough
  • Turn out onto a floured surface and roll out to a thickness of approx 5mm
  • Cut out into rounds, using a 7cm cutter
  • Slide a metal spatula or a large palette knife under each (rather delicate) round and place on the full size Aga baking tray lined with Bake-O-Glide. You will need to do bake these in two batches
  • Place the tray on the third rung from the top of the baking oven for about 10 minutes until the biscuits are golden brown
  • Leave them on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack

Cardamom and Lemon Cookies

I know it’s not very modern but I had a quiet couple of days this week.  Yes, that’s right, I wasn’t rushing around like a mad thing; I pottered about, mainly at home, and it was lovely.  Such days are rare, although admittedly a little less rare now only one of my sons lives here permanently.

That’s not to say I was idle.  My activities included the following; cleaning bathrooms; laundry; ironing shirts; meeting a friend for coffee (one of my favourite pursuits); having a friend over for coffee (different friend, different day); tweeting (Twitter was rather compelling on Wednesday, following Mr Cameron’s “bunch of migrants” remark); walking the dog; vacuuming my mother-in-law’s flat (despite being nearly 91 she insists on doing housework but I help out occasionally); cooking (Middle Eastern lentils and rice was delicious); watching the celebrity Great British Bake-Off (I thought Samantha Cameron was lovely and – spoiler alert – a deserving winner); baking cookies.  I fear it all sounds terribly dull to you, but I enjoy days like that: they are a chance to catch one’s breath.

The cookies I baked were these:

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Cardamom and Lemon Cookies

The recipe is on the BBC website * and is by the Hairy Bikers, but it was my mother who drew it to my attention.  She is Norwegian and always makes Norwegian biscuits in the run-up to Christmas, which she then brings to us when she comes on Christmas Eve.  Some recipes she inherited from my grandmother (or “Mommo” as I called her) and have been around for many years, so the Hairy Bikers should be flattered that their recipe met with my mother’s approval.  She enjoyed watching the programmes they made in Northern Europe (I must admit I only caught one or two of them).  There is something special about baking things from recipes that have been passed down the generations.  My eldest son adores his great grandmother’s Lebkuchen (a Christmas treat originally from Germany) recipe and he and his girlfriend make them together.  In fact, they made a batch while they were with us over Christmas but I’m not ready to write about them yet because it was difficult to work out which Aga oven(s) to use and how long to bake them for.

You might be surprised to learn that cardamom is not just a spice for curries but is widely used in Scandinavian baking.  On the other hand, with the huge interest nowadays in all things Nordic, whether it be food or Noir TV series, you might not be in the least surprised!

As you can see from my Instagram photo above, I did not use a cookie stamp as described in the recipe; I simply pressed a fork onto the balls of dough to flatten them slightly before they went in the oven.

Hairy Bikers’ Cardamom and Lemon Cookies

Ingredients

  • 225g butter, softened
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 1 lemon, zest only
  • 250g plain flour
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 3 tsp ground cardamom or 1 heaped tsp cardamom seeds, ground in a pestle and mortar

Method

  • Preheat conventional oven to 190ºC
  • Line 2 baking trays with bake-o-glide** or baking parchment
  • Using an electric hand-whisk or food mixer (I used my KitchenAid), beat the butter, sugar and lemon zest together until pale and fluffy
  • Beat in the flour, almonds and cardamom until the mixture is well combined and comes together to form a stiff dough
  • Roll the dough into 24 balls and place 12 on each baking tray, making sure you leave space between each one
  • Press a fork onto the balls of dough to flatten them slightly
  • Bake, one tray at a time, in the middle of the Aga baking oven, for 14 minutes until the cookies are pale and golden.
  • Leave them to cool on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack

* I updated this post today, 17 May 2016, following the news that the BBC was going to close its food website.  It’s therefore likely that the above link will soon no longer work.

**I always use bake-o-glide on my baking trays.  It’s brilliant stuff: non-stick and can go in the dishwasher.  I buy it via the Aga Cookshop website.

When my youngest son returned from his run yesterday afternoon he was very pleased to find something home-baked and sweet to aid his recovery.