Despite almost universal condemnation, the winning recipe from Cookery Lotto, was Creamed Spinach from ‘The Prawn Cocktail Years’ by Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham.
All I can say is, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Anyway, spinach is good for you.. it says so on the packet. In fact the word “Superfood” is used. And if you were to add cream and butter to it… would that make it a super Superfood? It just gets better and better.
So, let’s get started – you’ll need
Spinach (at least a large bag full, the recipe in ‘The Prawn Cocktail Years’ says 1.4 kg.. but that really would make a huge amount.
Salt and Pepper
You will only need 2 cloves and you will need to grate the nutmeg – most jars have a lovely little grater inside!
First of all, you need to get a large pan of water boiling away, so you can blanch the spinach
That only takes a few seconds – you need to dunk the leaves under the boiling water and then get them out and drained and rinsed in cold water.
Let that spinach cool then really squeeze it dry, ready to chop finely once it has cooled.
Meanwhile, prepare the bechamel sauce.
First though you have to flavour the milk you will be using in it by finely chopping the onion and putting that in a pan with 150ml of milk, along with the two cloves. Get that to simmering point for a few minutes and then take it off the heat and let it steep for about 30 minutes to really get the flavours infused through the milk.
Melt 50 g butter
then add 50 g of plain flour and stir it to make a roux and cook it gently for a few minutes to get the floury taste out.
the infused milk into the roux and stir quickly and throughly to get rid of any lumps.
See? Stirring quickly turns it into a gorgeously smooth sauce. It is thick, and you will probably think it is too thick but it’s not. You’ll be adding the spinach to that and you don’t want it to be runny.. the spinach has to be kept in suspension. You’ll see…. keep it on a low heat and cook it for about 15 minutes, stirring every now and then.
Remember I said squeeze that spinach till it’s dry? You need to chop it finely. No big lumps, eh?
Then…. add the spinach, 50 ml of double cream, a good grating of nutmeg and some pepper and stir it…..look at it……
Still green… a lovely, bright green. Bound in a delicious cream sauce….. not, as you will be whining ( yes, you know I am looking at you!) not, as I said before, slimy in the least… just the smoothest, most gorgeous, silky, tasty spinach ever.
When I was back in the North, visiting the family, I went to the local butcher’s and bought, amongst other things, a big piece of beef skirt – a long flat piece of beef from the underbelly of the cow. The French call it ‘bavette’ and seem to value it more than we do. It is really tasty ( and by that I mean REALLY tasty) and you can either cook it slowly to tenderise it or give it a marinade and cook it quickly, keeping it relatively rare and serving it as as a steak.
Well, it is the weekend…. steak and chips and a glass of red seemed an excellent choice.
I don’t have a deep fat fryer because I really don’t like the smell of frying circulating everywhere through the apartment and also because, coward that I am, I’m always scared it will catch fire. So the chips would have to be made in the oven. That’s OK though, they still taste good. I suppose you could also say they were good for you because they aren’t deep fried.. they’re baked!
First, get your things together for the marinade – you need
Lea and Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce
Soy sauce ( I used some Sweet Soy Sauce, because that was at the front of the cupboard. Otherwise use ordinary soy)
Chop, or crush, your garlic. Mix it with 4 tablespoons of oil, 2 tablespoons of Lea and Perrins and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce. Add some salt. Give it a whisk together with a fork….
See this piece of wonderful beef skirt? Maybe we should call it bavette, like the French. It sounds so much better, don’t you think? And not expensive… this cost me £4.56. Look at the size of it!
Then, with your fork, give your wonderfully inexpensive piece of beef skirt a good jabbing. This will help the marinade sink in…
The marinade is essential to prepare it for a quick grilling – that keeps it tender.
Leave it for a couple of hours (though if you were incredibly organised you could even leave it to marinade overnight. I’m not, so I can’t really tell you if it makes it dramatically better. Two hours works fine for me) Keep turning it so it gets an even marinade.
Peel and cut your spuds into chips.
Then boil them for 3 or 4 minutes in salted water, drain them and shake them dry.
Sprinkle them with oil and a shaking of salt ( I always use Maldon because I love the large crystals and I think it tastes ‘cleaner’ than ordinary table salt. I’m sure there’s a bit of a chemical tang to pouring salt but maybe that is just me being pretentious.)
Make sure the chips have a light coating of oil by rolling them about a bit on a greased sheet and then put them in a hot oven – 170 degrees or so. Because you have partly cooked the potato it will only take about 15 to 20 minutes to cook properly and brown to a delicious chip crispiness.
Now…. heat your grill till it is as hot as it can go. The aim is to get that steak cooked as quickly as possible, leaving the inside pinkish. That will keep it tender. Whack it on the grill and cook it for 8 to 10 minutes, turning it once. It will be gorgeously, glisteningly brown and still pink in the middle.
While that’s cooking, you have enough time to make a delicious garlic sauce by chopping some garlic finely, heating it in 4 tablespoons of butter and adding a teaspoon of Worcestershire Sauce. Simmer it gently and get ready to put everything together…..
Take the steak out and slice it across the grain – that’s the short side… so it looks like this….
Pile your chips up.
Put the sliced steak on the plate and pour some delicious garlic sauce over the meat.
Pour a glass of red wine.
Remember to wipe your mouth afterwards – that will remove the garlic sauce that may have dribbled and the self satisfied smirk that will be all over your face after making such a delicious meal for two for just over £5.
In the very first Cookery Lotto, Looby selected “The Prawn Cocktail Years” by Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham using the completely random method of picking a number and then I counted along the bookshelf. That’s fair enough, isn’t it? We don’t need fancy machines to give us our answers. The National Lottery could learn a lot from us. Cheap and efficient!
“Here they all are, fresh as paint, as if they’d never been away. Why did we let them go? Neglected, derided, dismissed as hopelessly naff, in what dismal Midlands eateries have they been waiting out the years of shame? No matter, they’re back. Prawn Cocktail, Steak and Chips and Black Forest Gateau are the signature dishes of The Prawn Cocktail Years, a bravura collection of favourite restaurant dishes from the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies–years when Britain was learning to eat out.” – Amazon
How could you not like a description of a book like that?
The next step was to find the recipe in there…. first off the mark was Els, texting in from work …. no 49
and…. as you can see, the recipe is Creamed Spinach! Bit of a bonus that, for me, because I love creamed spinach. I would eat it once a week at least. Maybe daily.
In essence, it is blanched spinach, finely chopped and added to a creamy bechamel sauce with a grating of nutmeg. An unctuous, smooth, tasty helping of spinachy gorgeousness….
The Bear cries when I make him eat creamed spinach. He’s very odd like that. He has a spoonful and then screws up his face and says he can’t eat it. But he can, you know, and even admits that is isn’t that bad.
That, I think, is the secret to spinach. Make it nicely and it becomes the most delicious, savoury, creamy vegetable with just a bit of a tang to it and it is oh-so-good for you. Serve it with some roast meat and you have heaven on a plate. I’m thinking some roast pork would be good. Sunday lunch it is then!
So tomorrow’s shopping list will include spinach, double cream, milk and an onion. From the store cupboard you’ll need cloves, nutmeg, flour, pepper and some butter from the fridge.
Well, I know how easy it is to have good intentions…. to make plans that somehow just get a little bit sidelined. Life’s like that. I read cookery books, for example, and think that I’ll try this recipe or that menu.. and then I carry on doing the same things I normally do because I’m tired, or in a rush, or I’m just back from work, or when I did the shopping I just grabbed the old familiars so I could get out of there and get home.
But that is going to change. And you, my dear friends, are going to make me change. The added advantage for you, of course, is that I do the work, you get to look at it and see if you will do it yourselves.
So, I have lots of cookery books….. you’ve seen one bookshelf. Here’s another. There are 132 cookery books within easy reach.
Now that photograph isn’t brilliant (I’m not going to win awards for my camera work) so you won’t be able to read the titles and that rules out, to some extent, you lot picking the book other than randomly.
And I’m not going to tell you whether I start the count from the bottom or the top. But I will be fair – there’ll be no cheating on my part….. all you have to do is pick a number and that will be the cookery book I work from. Then pick the page number. I will cook the recipe (Frantically crossing fingers that I don’t have in there a recipe for sheep’s eyeballs or one involving 2 kilos of very expensive caviar)
Now that, I should think, will introduce some new ideas into our cooking. And yes, I say “Our” because I want you to try them too!
Things are very different in the North and I don’t mean that as a comment on the economic situation. My kitchen here is completely unlike the apartment kitchen where I spend most of my time. The view is certainly different – I’m not high above the city, looking down on the houses and streets below me. Here, when I look out of the window, I can look straight out onto the only road through the village and even see the village water pump.
I haven’t done any cooking today because I have been busy with visiting the family. I did do a lot of shopping, though, and have been to our local butcher to stock up on meat for the freezer. I have come home weighed down with rabbits, woodpigeon, oxtail, belly pork, lamb shanks, brisket, suet, beef plate and little lamb joints. A hint, there, of the type of cooking I shall be doing when I get back to the city…. slow, long cooked meaty dishes to keep the chill of the autumn and winter away.
I’m going to bring more of my cookery books down with me to add the collection I have in the city and that gave me an idea…… I shall count all of my cookery books (they are randomly shelved) and ask any of you to pick a number. That will give me the cookery book I will work from. Then, I see how many pages are in the book and someone else will pick a number and that will give me the recipe to work from. Cookery Lotto!
It’s so easy to stick to the same recipes all the time, the tried and trusted ones that you always make – from now on there’s every chance the chosen recipe will be something I have never cooked before. See what I do for you?
Sometimes, even in the best planned kitchens, there are leftovers. Sometimes, the best planned kitchens ENSURE there are leftovers! I knew I had to drive North, leaving the Bear to fend for himself and though he is perfectly capable, he has a very busy week and might just have trotted off to buy a sandwich. What he needed, I thought, was a Pastryless Pie – he could cut slices and take it in with some salad leaves. Far better for him than a shop bought sandwich. And he gets some greens into his diet.
I suppose the Pastryless Pie is really a kind of frittata, a sort of mutant child of a Spanish omelette and a vegetable quiche. Without the pastry, obviously. Now before you shudder and dismiss it….. Look at it… a beautiful, softly quivering slice of gorgeousness!
And really, not much work at all. No tricky pastry to deal with, so no trauma with blind baking and red hot ceramic baking beans bouncing round the kitchen when you try and take them out of the pie crust and manage to drop the corner of the baking parchment… no comedy style lurching around as you stand on a baking bean and it rolls around underfoot…… oh sorry, I was letting a personal trauma affect me there.
So back to the pie. The ingredients vary but the constants HAVE to be eggs and cream or milk and some cheese. Because there isn’t any pastry, you can imagine that putting the quiche like filling in without a liner would make things very messy. You can buy cake tin liners which are one of the greatest things ever. I got these at Lakeland but I assume they are available everywhere
You also need a tin to put it in. I use a springform tin (That’s one where there is a clip that you fasten and it tightens the sides round the base. It makes everything very easy to get out as the pie or cake remains on the base and the sides lift off.)
First of all, select some ingredients.
140 ml pot of cream
Packet of Parma ham, or proscuitto – maybe 6 or 8 slices
Cold boiled potatoes – just a few
A small courgette (ooh those hidden vegetables…muahahaaahahaaaa!)
Some steamed broccoli
Sweetcorn if you like it (although it is in the picture, it didn’t actually make it into the pie because when I peeled the husk back and cut the kernels off, they looked all pale and unripe)
Sweet potato – I had some spicy roasted cubes left, so they went in.
Leeks – not the two of them – when I started chopping I actually only used half of one.
Now before you say that you don’t like this or that, just carry on reading then go and look in your fridge. Maybe there is something there you like better?
Pop the liner into the tin and then carefully peel apart your slices
of proscuitto or Parma ham. Drape it round the sides and leave a bit hanging over the top. You don’t have to completely cover the outside.
Then prepare the rest of your vegetables – slice the potatoes (not too thin) and break up the broccoli florets into small pieces. I shred a courgette as it sort of disappears into the filling, which is handy, seeing as some people object to them. As I say, what the eye can’t see, the mouth can’t whine about .
In a bowl, whisk the eggs and the cream together with a bit of salt for seasoning. Grate the cheddar into it – it goes all lumpy, but that’s a good thing. When it bakes it all comes together wonderfully.
I bought Emmental presliced, for no other reason than when I went to get somethat was all there was. Turned out to be a good idea actually – I took it out of the packet and just sliced it. See the picture? From the top left – shredded courgettes, left over cubed spicy roasted sweet potato, sliced Emmental, cold boiled sliced potatoes, finely chopped leeks, sliced tomatoes and the broccoli. Now you start to put it together. Put the oven on to pre heat at 160 degrees
Potatoes on the bottom so there is a bit of a base to the whole thing. Then the broccoli and the sweet potato in a rather fetching pattern – think of the slicing of it… oh, so pretty!
Scatter in the leeks and courgette – look at the lovely greenness!
Now pour in your lumpy eggy, creamy (or milky), cheesy liquid, giving the pie a gentle shake so it settles evenly through all the vegetables. Scatter the sliced Emmental over it and the little tomatoes, which you have cut into quarters.
See the ends of the ham? Flip them over, just like this. Then put it in the oven.
Turn around and walk away for maybe 30 – 40 minutes. Have a quick look after 30 minutes… it is browning nicely? Does it need to be turned? I have a terrible oven that cooks unevenly so I have to keep turning things so they get an even colour.
When it is looking evenly browned, using oven gloves (no burned fingers please!) gently shake the tin – it should be firmish. Give it a prod, if you like – it shouldn’t be rock solid, it should have a nice, gentle give to it. Does it smell nice? Does it look a bit like this?
Let me tell you, that smells gorgeous. There’s a bit of a delicate wobble to it but there are no evil runny bits.
It’s quite pretty, really. And even people, (I shan’t name names as he may be reading this) who have to be dragged kicking and screaming towards broccoli, (The Bear’s only flaw) manage to scoff this.
So, you see how easy it is? A bit of chopping. A bit of layering. A bit of mixing and that’s it.
It slices well and is good to eat the day you make it or to take to work or school in a packed lunch. You can put in vegetables that you have left over from other meals and, presumably, they would be vegetables that you would like seeing as you cooked them anyway. How very moneysaving! How very tasty.
…. it is the beginning of October, the beginning of this blog and, it seems, the beginning of Autumn. When I got up this morning instead of being able to see for miles from kitchen window, it was cool and misty. When I went out onto the balcony there was a definite chill in the air. The kind of chill that suggests a need for big meaty dishes.
The Bear had set off early to work and crept out trying not to wake me so I thought I would make a decent effort in return and have something ready for him tonight. I also needed to make sure there was enough for him to eat tomorrow night as I was going back to the north for a couple of days. Not that he couldn’t cook for himself, but I had plenty of time and he was busy. Might as well make myself useful. What I wanted was something with minimal effort and maximum kudos. I had bought the November issue of “delicious.” at the weekend and one of the recipes in the slow cooking section, Spiced Shoulder of Lamb, sounded just the sort of thing for a chilly day – with the added bonus of gorgeously aromatic smells filling the apartment while it cooked. The sheer simplicity of the recipe meant that it had a lot going for it as certain of my friends (yes, you know who you are) prefer not to exert themselves too much…… and they need encouragement.
It did suggest making it in a slow cooker but as the one I have is a very small two person pot and this recipe serves 4-6, then it seemed a good idea to do it on a low heat in the oven all afternoon… and that would also warm the place up a bit.
Spiced Shoulder of Lamb from delicious. November 2009 issue
1.5kg shoulder of lamb,
good pinch of saffron,
1 onion finely sliced,
2.5cm bit of ginger, peeled and cut into matchstick sized pieces,
2 garlic cloves,
1 tsp chilli flakes,
1 tsp coriander seeds,
1 tsp. cumin seeds,
2 tsp garam masala.
I bought a piece of rolled shoulder – not for any other reason than that was what Mick the butcher had.
The lamb was browned all over in a hot frying pan before I put it in my Le Creuset casserole. While that was browning, I soaked the saffron in 2 tbsps of warm water and started on the paste. All of the other ingredients needed to be blitzed to a rough paste and then the saffron and water added. The paste was seasoned well and then rubbed all over the lamb
That was it. Into a preheated oven (160 degrees/140 degrees, fan assisted/gas mark 3) and leave it to do its stuff for 4 or so hours.
Now I’m just lolling around while the apartment smells gorgeous…… ‘delicious. ‘ suggests serving it with couscous, which I will make later and making a garlic, mint and yoghurt sauce to go with the lamb.
The sauce is made with 150ml Greek yoghurt, 1 crushed garlic clove and a handful for chopped fresh mint, all stirred together .
So, my friends, do you think you can make this? It’s not hard is it? Five minutes work and then leave the oven to deal with it?
Lamb – the finished dish
Finally… after several hours, the Bear returned home from work and demanded to be fed. I should have taken a photograph of it before I took the string off (carefully with scissors… no running around waving knives, please!) and broke up the meat with two forks.
Oh, and then we took several portions out so there was a lot more than this. It really did fall apart. It really was soft and luscious. I made the couscous – which for coeliac/gluten intolerant amongst us wouldn’t be appropriate, you’d be better off with a jacket potato – anyway, for those that can eat couscous it is a simple matter of pouring boiling water on it and letting it fluff up.
I made the sauce with Greek yoghurt, some chopped garlic and the last handful of mint growing in the pot on the balcony. I just put it in a jug and whizzed it till everything was smooth then put it in the fridge to chill. I think if you make the lamb then the yoghurt sauce is a must have – it gives the finished dish a bright sharpness and livens up the couscous.
I possibly could have presented it more attractively but after a full day of taking photographs whilst cooking (I kept forgetting… I was into “The Zone”) and trying to upload them… well, by the time it got to putting it in a dish, I just dished up. No doubt the style gurus amongst us will suggest a white dish for better effect but hey ho… I have these. I like them. They’ll do.
Final thoughts? It was easy, it wasn’t expensive (£5 for the lamb and that is from my butcher who doesn’t do cheap) there’s enough there for at least 6 people. The apartment smells nice, the Bear seems happy. You can prepare it and stick it in the oven or the slow cooker and then get on with other stuff. It is very forgiving if you don’t know when you will be serving it up. I say do it. You won’t regret it….