Thursday, 30 September 2010

Beef and leek (and cumin) stew

Well, this was something of a desperation throw together on Sunday as I'd bought some beef for casseroling and had some excess leeks. So, with a big thanks to Michelle for the idea of using ground Cumin in heroic quantities, here was the result, which I found really palatable and as I wanted something which just required re-heating for a few days to give me a little break from cooking from scratch every night...

  • 3 large leeks sliced into 1/4-1/2" slices (including the green bits still in the staff)
  • 2 medium onions chopped
  • 2 medium sized carrots, sliced (1/8" slices)
  • 400 grammes of potatoes, cut into 1/2" chunks
  • 440 grammes of casserole steak, sinew removed and cut into 1/2" chunks
  • 200 grammes of lardons
  • 2 large tomatoes, skinned and deseeded and chopped up
  • 3 medium mushrooms, brushed clean and chopped (you guessed) into 1/2" chunks
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 1 tbsp of ground Cumin (jeera) (or more - make sure everything has some)!
  • 3 chillis (50K on Scoville) finely sliced - NOT deseeded
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • beef stock as needed
  • 200 ml of red wine
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 10 dashes of Nom Pla (Thai fish sauce)
  • 30 grammes of leaf coriander chopped up

In a big casserole,
  1. Add the lardons to some sunflower oil and gently fry for a while (ca 2 mins)
  2. Then add the beef and continue frying until lightly browned
  3. Add the cumin and stir in until every piece of beef has got some
  4. Add the onions, garlic, leeks and chillies and carrots and turn over until all coated in oil, fry gently for a minute or so; repeat with the remaining veg
  5. Add the red wine, the juice of the lime, the Nom Pla, and top up with the beef stock (a beef bouillon cube will do fine) until almost at the top of the ingredients, add the bouquet garni
  6. Put the casserole into the oven and cook on Gas Mark 1 for 4 hours;
  7. Then reheat at GM 4 for an hour when you intend to eat it, adding the coriander with 20 minutes to go.
I shall be doing this one again as it's great for Winter days; no need to cook the potatoes so, if you're health conscious, just add some fresh green veg to round it out. Cumin marvellous!

Update: I did this again, following this recipe last weekend and I can honestly say that I really, really like this - you don't actually need the tomatoes. I reckon also that for my palate a little more Cumin works... (1.5 tbsp next time) .

Monday, 27 September 2010


I remember when I was first struck by the power of poetry. Always shy, I - 6' by 11 years old; I had trouble talking to girls, boys too. I wrote poetry; on the fly (so to speak) for petals unfurling. Always flattered these were; dunno why, came off the back of my mind - a gift that prospered with tarot and star scrying.  I had trouble seeing through surface, but haiku helped; like a mirror for a troubled mind. Fixed the things that moved, set free, the things that should be.

Bones ache, skin breaks and
things happen. never mind -
So happy now I's olden times.

More things fixed and more moving. Joy.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Dorset Naga Chillis

This is going to be a mega-short post; I made my usual chilli con carné recipe (elsewhere in the blog), but for the chili element I took the plunge and bought some Naga chillis (5 chilli marks) - not cheap 10g for 74P. But I'd been eyeing them for some time and wondering whether they were worth it.

Chopped up they probably made about a half a teaspoon full (I also used about 8 ordinary chillis (2 chilli mark)). And they do actually add something of a real feeling of heat and flavour to the dish. But do be very careful when cutting them up - I washed my hands five times and still there was a trace of it on them! My view: worth it!

Addition: I've just looked up the Scoville rating for these and they're 923,000 on the scale! Blimey, no wonder I needed so little. That's some 19 times hotter than what I usually use and I don't feel such a wuss for washing my hands so much!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Un-Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Well, just a quick update. Seems I am now un-redundant for at least another six months. Which is something of a relief given the current job market as is and as is about to be; as I'm approaching (nay, rushing towards) 60 and with cropped white-grey hair, it's not exactly as though I am in the best demographic age-wise. The odd thing is that I have stunning references (I read them and wonder who is this paragon of an employee!) from my past jobs going back to the 1970s. And for 25 years I never actually applied for a job, I was always head-hunted.

And this is over different careers and industries - librarian, computer support specialist, CBT producer, designer, trainer whiz kid, and latterly all-singing, all-dancing office manager (before you ask, I manage myself). The consistent thing that appears through all are words like 'responsible, articulate, professional, reliable'. And oddly they're right, but what I don't understand is why everyone else isn't at least three of those things. Oh well, it's nice to have as your resumé 'a good egg'!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

The past is always with us

A while back I embarked on the slightly dim-witted exercise of tracing back as much of my family tree as I could find using on-line resources. I also had my recently inherited archive of material from my mother, with all the usual certificates. A strange exercise which took me right into the heart of Dickensian London; the great majority of my ancestors lived in the tenements and stews in Clerkenwell, Shoreditch and around St Pauls.

What fascinated me was seeing that my great, great grandmother was, in one census, a matchbox maker - this was piece work almost certainly for Bryant & May and unbelievably hard work at that - they had to make about 1,000 boxes a day for pennies; if they didn't meet their target, they lost their job. The big 'advantage' of this was that the materials were collected - pre-dawn - and then worked on throughout the day, the rest of the family helping in one way or another and delivered in the darkness at the end of the day.

Her husband was in the print, as they say. At that time she had three children; she, her husband and they lived in one of these tenements and were one of seven different families all of a similar size living at the same address. They had no running water, toilets were outside and non-flushing, lighting came by candles and heating by coal. I know this tenement, from my research, had a cellar area (which flooded occasionally) and three floors, with about 3 rooms on each floor of various sizes. In square footage this is about half that of my current abode, 34 people lived in these conditions in that space.

It's barely credible, but it happened and it was commonplace. Common in every sense of the word. Disease (not a surprise), infant mortality rates of over 50%, were prevalent. Unless you had talent or money, that's where you ended up. But, and this is the big but, it shows you how bad conditions were in places like Lincolnshire and Norfolk that walking to London was preferable to remaining! The Irish part of my family came from Wexford at around the time of the great potato famine - a bit difficult to determine exactly who was who at this time, because two of my maternal ancestors were brothers, wait for it, both named Albert John - one was named Albie, and the other Bertie*. They married two sisters.... Ellen Mary and Mary Ellen. It doesn't help that I only have the documents for one of these unions, and that my mother couldn't remember which was which when she was alive!

I managed to get back seven generations before coming across a real showstopper - a female ancestor with a surname that doesn't exist - the registrar even put down two surnames for her on the marriage certificate. Which is another window into the past, because both she and her husband signed with a cross.

The reason it's a slightly dim-witted pursuit is that none of my generation in my immediate line has any children or prospect of children, but I still found it fascinating. What triggered the post was a segue from using Google map pictures to try and find a place in London and was minded to have a look at my earliest remembered front doors. These were my two grandfathers' doors in Fleetwood Street, Stoke Newington. We called one 'pink grandad' and the other 'green grandad' after the colours of the doors; thanks to Google I can now report that the green door is now blue, but, 55 years on, the pink door is still pink! Amazing.

*Bertie Knight was for many years the producer at the London Palladium. For some really odd reason which is lost in the midst of time, he and my grandfather fell out, so I never actually met him or my cousin Paul Knight who, until 2003 was a prolific producer of TV dramas. Odd how life goes