Thursday, 20 August 2009

Making gravy for roast dinner

After the last two articles on how to cook traditional roast beef and crispy roast potatoes, I have to finish off this little series with how to make traditional gravy. This is something that seems to mystify many people who often resort to ready made gravy granules or packs. I am not one to chastise or put down those who prefer gravy granules for the convenience. Goodness knows I was dependent on good old Bisto for a long time especially in my early days of learning to cook British dishes. But once I learned how to make gravy from scratch and realised how easy it was, I never looked back.

It is not a complicated business. As long as you have on hand a good solid-based flameproof roasting tin (that you should be using to cook your roast in) and a wooden spoon, you are good to go.



Juices left in the roasting tin from cooking meat
1 tbsp plain flour
500ml hot stock (beef/chicken/vegetable) or water from cooking vegetables (actual amount depends on the consistency of gravy you prefer)
100ml red or white wine (optional, to replace some of the stock)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. After the roast is cooked, remove from the oven and set aside on a chopping board or plate to rest while you make the gravy, finish off the potatoes and other vegetables. Spoon off extra fat from the meat juices in the roasting tin, leaving about 1 or 2 tablespoons.
2. Place the roasting tin directly on the hob on low heat. Simmer until the juices and fat are hot. Using a wooden spoon, gently scrape the bottom and sides of the roasting tin to incorporate crusty bits into the juices; this is where all the good caramelised flavour is.
3. Add the flour and whisk the mixture quickly with the back of a wooden spoon. Mix quickly and evenly to produce a smooth paste. If you are replacing some of the stock with red (for beef or lamb) or white (for pork or chicken) wine, add it now. Pour in the wine and whisk to mix. Let the mixture simmer on medium heat until slightly reduced and the alcohol has evaporated.
4. Then slowly pour in the stock a little at a time and whisk well after each addition. Simmer on medium heat until thickened to your liking. If the gravy is too thick, add more stock; if it is too thin, simmer it for longer and it will reduce and thicken. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour into a gravy bowl or jug and keep warm until serving.

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Friday, 14 August 2009

Roast potatoes

These roast potatoes (or roasties) were made to accompany the roast beef last weekend. I tend to cook the healthier version normally, using much less oil, but sometimes you just want the traditional taste of good roast potatoes - crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

Roast potatoes

The amount of potatoes to use depends on how many people you are serving, how greedy you are feeling, and how many people would want second helping. I generally estimate 1 medium sized potato per person, with a little extra if it is a special occasion and people would tend to indulge in second helpings. I prefer to use a more waxy potato variety for roast potatoes and potato wedges, and a floury variety for mashing. This webpage provides a good guide to the different varieties (UK) and their suitability for different cooking methods. Here in Canada, I tend to use Yukon Gold or red potatoes for roasting and salads, and Russet potatoes for mashing or jackets.

Ingredients (serves 2)
2 medium potatoes, peeled and washed
Approx 100ml (you need about 1cm of oil at the bottom of your roasting tray) of vegetable oil (lard or dripping is traditional)
Salt and pepper

1. The oven should already be on from cooking the roast. You can place the tray in the oven as it is and then turn up the heat later to 425F/220C/gas mark 7 after the roast is done. (The roast needs to rest for at least 30 minutes anyway before serving, giving you time to finish the potatoes). This next step is critical for crisp roasties: place the roasting tray with oil on the highest shelf of the oven. The oil needs to be very hot by the time you put the potatoes in.

2. Cut the washed and peeled potatoes into fairly even-sized pieces, leaving the small ones whole. Parboil in a pan of water for about 10 minutes. Take out a piece and run the tines of a fork along the surface, if the outer surface is fluffy, it is ready for the oven. If not, give it another minute or two.

3. Drain off the water. Replace the lid on the saucepan, hold it firmly shut (with an oven glove or thick kitchen towel to protect against the heat) and shake the saucepan vigorously up and down a few times. This shaking roughens up the cooked edges of the potato and makes them and fluffy – this is another key component of achieving those crunchy and crispy edges.

4. Remove the roasting tray of hot oil from the oven (be careful!). Place the potatoes into the hot fat, turning and coating each piece so that they are all coated with the hot oil. Then place the tray back on the highest shelf of the oven and leave to cook for 40-50 minutes or until golden brown. You can turn them halfway through cooking but they should brown fairly evenly on their own. If the potatoes are ready before serving time, turn the oven off and leave them inside (not for too long though, or they may start to dry out).

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Tuesday, 11 August 2009

English roast beef

This past Sunday was the first time I cooked a roast dinner for a while. I was away in Asia July and then there was that crazy heatwave when I returned I couldn't even bear to boil water in the house, not to mention use the oven. Thankfully the weather has cooled down a lot and I was able to do a roast dinner again for Sunday.

(I tend to line the roasting pan with foil to make for easier cleaning, and also because the non-stick coating of my roasting tin is kind of wrecked!)
Joint of beef ready for the oven

I cook roast chicken fairly often, but nothing says traditional English like a roast beef Sunday dinner. The quality of the meat is key to how good the roast is. Buy a joint from a reliable local butcher or a supermarket that specialises in good matured beef. A layer of fat around the joint will help prevent the meat from drying out in the oven. You can always slice the fat off when serving if you don't wish to eat it (although it does turn beautifully crisp, so bad but so good). For the joint, feel free to buy sirloin tip, inside/outside round or rib roast, depending on your budget and the recommendation of the butcher.

Roast beef out of the oven

Ingredients (serves 5-6, or plenty of leftovers for 2):

2.2 lbs (1kg) joint of beef
1 tbsp English mustard powder (optional)
1 tbsp plain flour
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small carrot
1 small onion

1. Preheat the oven to 450F/220C/gas 8. Place the beef in a roasting tin on top of the cut onion and carrot. The vegetables act as a trivet and is a good base for making gravy later. The onion will caramelise and give the gravy a dark and rich flavour and colour.

2. Dust the mustard powder and flour all over the surface of the fat (this helps make the fat crispy). Season all over the surface with freshly ground pepper and salt.

3. Place the joint in the middle of the hot. After 20 minutes turn the heat down to 375F/190C/gas 5 and continue to cook for 45 minutes (for rare). While cooking, baste the meat with the oil and juices two or three times. To check the doneness of the beef, insert a thin skewer towards the middle and press out some juices: the red, pink or clear colour will indicate to what stage the beef has cooked.

4. Remove the cooked beef to a board for carving. Cover loosely with a foil and leave it to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving (while the roast is resting you can turn up the heat in the oven to finish the roast potatoes or Yorkshire puddings, if serving them). This resting period is essential to allow the meat to relax and stay tender and juicy. After the resting time, cut and remove the string and fat and slice the beef thinly to serve.

Medium-rare roast beef

Note for cooking time:
After 20 minutes at 450F/220C/gas mark 8, turn the heat down to 375F/190C/gas 5, and d continue to cook for 15 minutes per lb (450 g). This will give you rare roast beef. To that time, add 15 minutes extra for medium-rare or 30 minutes extra for well-done.

Next up: how to make crispy roast potatoes and gravy.

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Friday, 7 August 2009

Summer berries yogurt cake

It is difficult not to notice that berries are in season in the northern hemisphere right now. Supermarkets and grocers seem to be overflowing with raspberries and especially blueberries. Blackberries are also just coming into season.

Summer berries yogurt cake

I found this summer berries yogurt cake recipe last year (on Elle's New England Kitchen) and have really enjoyed it with the season's bounty; it is pretty flexible too. Feel free to use raspberries, blueberries, blackberries or a mixture, whatever you have fresh or from the freezer. The cake is also relatively low-fat; it uses less butter but the yogurt keeps is very moist. Low-fat or non-fat yogurt is fine; plain, vanilla or raspberry flavoured yogurt will also work. You can also use any citrus zest, lemon, lime or even orange.

I already had lots of fresh blueberries at hand and some raspberries in the freezer. The addition of blackberries was more of a whim, after I noticed the glorious amount of blackberries that have started to appear on huge bushes by the beach close to where I live. Yesterday morning, I walked down to the beach and picked blackberries to be used in the cake. And there they were, blackberry bushes as far as the eye could see (well, almost, but it was a lot!)

Plump blackberries
As far as the eye could see

It was a most enjoyable morning, even if I ended up with purple fingers!
Picking blackberries by the beach

The bounty, which was more than I needed for the cake since I would be using other berries too.

Ingredients (serves 8-10):

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, cut into cubes and softened
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
170ml (1 small carton) plain yogurt
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
150g/1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries/blueberries/blackberries
Zest of 1 lemon or lime

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Grease and flour a 9 inch loaf pan.
2. In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt, and set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl at medium speed, beat the butter and the sugar with an electric mixer until creamy.
4. Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the yogurt, until well blended.
5. Fold in the flour mixture, about a quarter at a time. Then gently fold in the berries and zest.
6. Pour the batter into the loaf pan. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 70 minutes until the top is lightly golden and a skewer inserted near the centre comes out clean.
7. Remove the cake from the oven and leave in the loaf pan for 10 minutes. Then remove the cake from the loaf pan and let cool on a wire rack before.

Lovely on the bush
More to come

Lovely on the plate

And lovely in my tummy

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