Sunday, February 19, 2017

Beef and Fennel Stew

The weather was getting warmer, but the days for body-warming stews were not yet over. So I wanted a light, springlike beef stew. Why not, I thought, use fennel bulb as the vegetable ingredient? And there was a little ouzo left in a bottle to add to the aniseed flavours. Moreover, fennel bulbs were plentiful and cheap in the market.


You will need:
Fennel bulbs
Stewing beef
Pepper and salt
Star aniseed
Ouzo, Pernod, or other aniseed drink
Beef stock cube
Herb or herbs tied with string (optional)

In a saucepan or casserole, fry a chopped onion in oil until the pieces become transparent. Sprinkle over some plain flour. Stir.
Add chopped stewing beef, 2 star aniseeds, a crumbled beef stock cube, pepper and salt, some ouzo or other aniseed drink (be careful that it doesn’t flare up), lots of chopped fennel, and water to cover.
I first added some prunings of sage, rosemary and thyme tied with string. This adds flavour but is not necessary.
Boil the stew slowly for some 3 hours more or less, depending on the quality of the beef.
Should you have added herbs to the top of the dish, extract and discard them before serving.
The end result is light and delicious, so much so that it would be wise to make enough to serve the following day.


Chicken Stew with Multiple Goodies

This dish has many variations and each one is a winner. The first of my versions started with onions and garlic, flour, black olives, chicken, white wine, pepper and salt. Since then I have varied the ingredients as I thought appropriate for the time. It is a wonderful dish, cooked with your own choice of spices and vegetables. It is so easy to do – and inexpensive as well. 

You will need:
Onions and garlic
Herbs, spice or spices
Black or green olives
Citrus and/or vegetables
Pepper and salt
Stock and/or white wine

Cook chopped onions in oil until transparent in a saucepan that will hold your chicken or chicken pieces pretty snugly.
Add a little flour, spice, spices or herbs of your choice, like ginger, thyme, turmeric, saffron, sage, paprika, five spices, cumin, etc., but only one or two. Don’t overdo it.
Now add potato chunks, lemon or lime chunks, green or black olives (without stones). Or you could add any other fruit or vegetable from prunes to swedes should you feel like it.
Salt and pepper your mix.
Just cover the ingredients with chicken stock, white wine, tea or other stock (made from stock cubes). Bring to the boil and cook the chicken very slowly until the meat is done, say around 25 to 30 minutes, or a little more for a large bird and more solid vegetables.
Serve and eat it right away, or better still, leave the dish until it becomes cold. Then extract the chicken to skin and bone it, returning the carved meat to the lovely juices. Heat through when wanted.
Being a main course that can be made well before other preparations for the meal, there are huge advantages to be had – especially for those at the table who dislike dealing with skin and bones.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Complications of Life

An imaginative journalist writes in our Sunday newspaper.
He has just written on the advantages of divesting ourselves of gadgets large and small.
We are rather in advance of his recommendations.
He suggests that we do without a second car. We no longer even have a first one. But we are blessed with an excellent public transport system, almost at our door.
He says, and must know, that coffee machines are complicated, need much attention, and contribute to considerable waste pollution.
We can tell him that to make the best real coffee you do not need a machine. Just get a supplier of roasted coffee beans to grind your favourite kind on the Turkish ground setting. Then it is a simple matter to put a teaspoon or so of this into cup or mug and over it pour boiling water. Stir once to settle the grounds and add whatever is to your taste. There will be residual grounds at the bottom of the cup or mug, but that is a minor inconvenience en route to obtaining the best coffee simply and at a reasonable price.
Most machinery in the house can cause trouble, expense and wasted time. I am the dishwasher that works, and can do it quickly with the minimum of hot water and with no extra fossil fuel power - only using my own manpower. But I do need the help of nature by soaking crocks, etc. in a sink of detergenty water overnight, thus loosening and softening any adhering food. The resultant clean crockery, cutlery and pans, are then stacked in a draining basket and rinsed with hot water before drying naturally. Cutlery is then stored within sight in a divided container as used in restaurants.
(Margreet uses a clothes washer and dryer.) 

As for those myriad electronic internet gadgets, that seem to try everyone’s patience, Margreet suffers like the rest. And here is where I cheat a bit. I write on a Windows 95 and transfer my words to her Apple via a 3 ½” floppy disk. She is pleased to transfer my words to the ether as she, like most people now, are cleverly hooked.
Our approach to the television is that everything is missable. But for our New Year’s picnic feast in bed, we did find an annually viewed short film from the internet. This brief comedy, featuring Freddie Frinton some years ago, is much loved on the continent and called “Dinner for One”. So stored items on the computer did come to our aid for the celebration.
Of course, in reality, to give up electronic communication in this day and age would, for those on the net, make life both tedious and slow. There’s no going backwards, leaving those of us who believe that simplicity is the key to a happy life to struggle a bit, such as payments via the net being sometimes obligatory. But to call for transport by car, which usually takes less than 4 minutes, and not having to tip the driver, is, to me, a real bonus.
Back to objects around us. Which ones do I treasure and that are failure-free? A hand-operated soup Mouli is a wonderful way of turning mixed ingredients into delicious soup, leaving behind unwanted fibres. A blender for such, chews up everything, often producing a sludge or slime of liquid. But I do use my blender to make breadcrumbs from oven-baked slices of bought white bread. And in it I powder porridge and bran to mix with melted kidney fat for my half coconuts that provide wild birds with winter sustenance.
An electric coffee grinder is used not for coffee but for dry spices with which to make curries. Lately I have used it as the French do for foie gras, by grinding green peppercorns and sea salt to make a condiment. This mixture is also excellent as a dip  for hard boiled eggs, such as quails’ eggs.
Our slow cooker does just that at a mark of 1 ½. Ingredients are put into it and forgotten for hours – depending on the contents. It also cooks slices of aubergine at its maximum heat, on the grill pan part, for a first course, when oil, salt and oregano are then added.
Our toaster doubles up as a heater for Arab bread when each half slice is opened up and devilled eggs added. (Devilled eggs just being scrambled eggs with Dijon mustard.)
An electric kettle, made of toughened glass has been a huge success, showing just how much hot water is wanted and when it is coming to the boil. What scale and impurities form inside are quite visible and can be emptied out.

So I really have moved with the times in some respects, but still maintain that we can rid ourselves of unnecessary encumbrancies, and that simplicity leads to a happier life.