Osso Buco – An Italian Classic

Raw veal shank slices for Osso Buco
Raw veal shank slices for Osso Buco

Osso Buco is a classic Italian dish. It is slices of veal shin, slow cooked in a wine and stock gravy, with the bone in. It literally means bones with holes. Nowadays you should use high welfare rose veal from the UK.

The quantities suite 4 people, reduce as required. Some recipes have a little tomato passata or puree in them but I don’t think this is required.
The Gremolata is a great addition to the dish because the sauce is rich and buttery. It cuts right through. The lemon zest and parsley gives a fabulous zing. Some recipes have crushed garlic in the gremolata but I omit as I find it can be a bit too raw and electric flavoured. Add what you like. I chop the parsley onto a board and then zest the lemon skin over the chopped parsley, this works well.
Traditionally served with Risotto alla Milanese which is a simple saffron risotto.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 25g flour, to dust
  • 4 pieces of veal shin, about 4cm thick, if you can get them, or if they are thinner that’s fine, they may be slightly quicker to cook. You don’t need to trim any fat from this as it will mostly render down, and the outer ring holds the piece together.
  • 50g butter
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stick, finely chopped
  • 1 head of garlic, cut horizontally
  • 2 strips of lemon zest, just slice down the side of a lemon cutting the yellow rind off, about 2cm wide
  • 4 sage leaves, if they are very large then reduce the quantity, sage is a powerful flavour and needs to be in balance
  • 200ml white wine
  • 200ml good chicken stock
For the gremolata
  • 1 unwaxed lemon, zest finely grated. If you can’t get unwaxed them just rub and wash a lemon to remove the wax.
  • 3 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Method

  1. Use a hob-proof casserole dish wide enough to hold the meat in one layer, over a high heat, and add the oil. Put the flour on to a small plate and season generously, then use to coat the meat. When the oil is hot, add the meat to the pan and brown well on both sides until golden and crusted. Set aside on a plate. You will probably get enough salt from the seasoned flour so don’t add more till you check the seasoning when it’s cooked.
  2. Turn the heat down and add three-quarters of the butter to the pan. When melted, add the onion, carrot and celery, plus a sprinkle of salt, and cook until soft. Add the garlic halves, lemon zest and sage to the pan and cook for a few minutes more.
  3. Turn up the heat then add the wine to the pan. Return the meat, standing it on top of the vegetables, and bubble until the wine has reduced by half. Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer.
  4. Turn the heat right down, cover and simmer for one and a half to two hours, carefully turning the meat over every 30 minutes, until it is tender enough to cut with a spoon. Meanwhile, mix together the gremolata ingredients.
  5. Dot with the remaining butter and allow to melt into the sauce, then serve with the gremolata and Risotto alla Milanese or wet polenta.

Beef Stroganoff – A ’70s Classic

Beef Stroganoff is a really nice dish much maligned by its ‘70s reputation. There are lot’s of variants, but here’s mine. Another tip of the hat to Felicity Cloake.
Key points in this are:
  • You are preparing a sauce for a steak with onion, mushroom, stock and soured cream
  • Then you are essentially cooking a steak to your preference, with seasoning, and letting it rest before cutting into strips
  • Serve the steak and sauce together with rice or frites or sauteed potatoes.
These quantities should serve 4, about half a steak per person. Adjust quantities for your preferences.
Some of this can be made in advance, specifically cooking the onions and the mushrooms. It’s then just a case of cooking the steak and amalgamating all the other ingredients.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium-sized sirloin steak
  • Salt
  • Ground allspice (I think this needs to be here as a flavour element, but find your own strength preference. I like a light sprinkle on the steak)
  • 50g butter
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 300g white or chestnut mushrooms, left whole if small, or cut in halves or quarters
  • 250ml sour cream
  • 1 tbsp Sarepska or Dijon or English mustard to your taste
  • 150ml beef stock (I find the decent supermarket liquid stocks pretty good and a lot less faff than making your own. They have long shelf lives too. If you have homemade then use it. You also will get something like 500ml in the supermarket stock. Freeze the leftovers in measured amounts, say two bags of 150ml, and they can be used for future adventures.)

Method

  1. Allow the steak to rest out of the fridge for about hour to come to room temperature (you should always do that anyway.)
  2. Melt the butter in a pan and cook the onions gently till they are soft, this usually takes 20-30 minutes
  3. Remove the onions onto a plate to the side and cook the mushrooms to your liking, also removing them when cooked and set aside with the onions
  4. Now add the mustard and soured cream to the empty pan, stirring to amalgamate.
  5. Whisk in the beef stock, slowly at first as this makes it easier to incorporate
  6. Add the onions and mushroom back to the pan and bring back to a simmer. At this stage the sauce is ready and you reduce/taste/season as much as you prefer.
  7. Before cooking season the steaks to your taste with salt and the ground allspice
  8. Now cook the steaks to your preferred amount. I like medium rare.
  9. Let the cooked steaks rest just as you would normally do for about 5 minutes
  10. Just before serving you can cut the steak up. Depending on preference you can trim the fat or leave. Cut across the steak into 1cm wide strips.
I don’t cook the steak further or add it to the sauce as this can make it chewy, in my opinion.
How to serve? It’s up to you. I like it with rice. So I serve in a bowl with plain basmati rice. Then I spoon over the sauce, and then I add the strips of beef on top so they can be seen. You might prefer the beef first and then the stock. It can probably stand a small sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley
Traditionally it’s served with a sort of straw potatoes or frites but this can create quite a bit of last-minute cooking, making chips to be crisp etc. Or buy some frites from M&S. Would also work with some rosemary roasted new potatoes I think.

Macaroni Cheese

Macaroni Cheese, or Mac Cheese to most, makes a great Saturday evening pasta bowl dinner while catching up with that DVD backlog or the latest “Strictly…”.
This probably serves 3 people or a very hungry couple with some leftovers for supper or the following day’s lunch. (I have to say that microwaved leftover Mac Cheese is definitely a good thing.) Personally, I like Marshall’s small macaroni pasta tubes though some prefer a penne size where more sauce can get into the tube.  Cheese-wise I like the slightly milder Gruyere, though there’s nothing wrong with a cheddar. I like it fairly traditional and simple. If you think pre-seasoning the milk with bay and shallot is a load of old cheffy guff, then don’t. I sometimes put a small amount of thinly sliced tomato on top and then sprinkle the grated cheese, tomato haters won’t. If things like chive are anathema to you then leave ’em out.
Ingredients

  • 60g plain flour
  • 60g butter
  • 1 tsp English mustard powder, or 1-2 tsp of dijon mustard
  • 850ml Milk (I use semi-skimmed but any should do)
  • Bay leaf
  • Nutmeg
  • 250g Macaroni pasta
  • Gruyere cheese 200-300g to taste
  • 1-3 tbsp chopped chives (to taste)
  • Seasoning (salt & pepper)
  • Tomato (optional)
Method
In summary, you make a roux, to make a béchamel sauce. Cook the pasta. Combine with the béchamel (into which you put three-quarters of the grated cheese). Sprinkle with cheese and oven bake for 15-20 minutes. In detail….
  1. Up to an hour before warm the milk with the bay leaf (and some peppercorns, if you like, even a few slices of onion or shallot wouldn’t go amiss) and leave to infuse for 60 minutes. This adds a nice warm bay/savoury flavour to the milk.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180C Fan
  3. Put a big pot of salted water on to boil in preparation for the pasta
  4. Melt the butter in a pan, and then whisk in the flour to make the roux. Let it cook off on a low heat for 4-5 minutes. This prevents the béchamel having a floury taste.
  5. Make the béchamel by slowly adding and whisking in about half to two-thirds of the milk. (Making it too milky at the start means the milk might burn on the bottom of the pan. You can add the last of the milk later.)
  6. Simmer the béchamel very gently for about 5 minutes, again this cooks out a flouriness. Add a pinch of salt and a good twist of black pepper. Also, grate in a decent amount of nutmeg. I find about a third of a whole nutmeg is OK. Find what works for you.
  7. Put the pasta on, 10 minutes is fine. Keep stirring the béchamel as it continues to simmer so it doesn’t burn.
  8. Grate the cheese, a coarse grate is Ok, and it’s quicker.
  9. Add the last of the milk to the béchamel to warm up
  10. One minute before the pasta is ready put in about three-quarters of the cheese to the béchamel, so it begins to soften and melt into the sauce, taking the pot off the heat.
  11. Stir in the chopped chives if you are using
  12. Drain the pasta and put in your oven dish
  13. Add the cheesy béchamel and stir gently to mix through
  14. Add tomatoes on top or any other garnish if using. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and a smirr of Nutmeg
  15. Cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes
  16. If it’s too pale on top turn the heat of the oven up to max for 6-8 minutes to brown the top slightly
Remove it from the oven and let it stand for at least 5-6 minutes to settle and cool slightly. Serve in pasta bowls, which you won’t need to pre-heat as it’s such a hot dish.
Variants
  • You could add some browned pancetta to the béchamel sauce
  • Mix some breadcrumbs with parmesan and layer the top with this to form a crunchy texture

Chicken & Mushroom (or Leek) Pie

A completed Chicken and Mushroom Pie with Golden Pastry
Chicken and Mushroom Pie

I love chicken and mushroom pie. Substitute some leeks if you don’t like mushrooms. I particularly like this as it has a good chicken flavour. Some people might argue it’s not a pie because it only has a pastry lid, but it’s a pie to me.

A well-flavoured stock is the secret of a nice chicken pie. And the poaching of the chicken leaves the meat soft and succulent. I like the chicken cooked in advance.

It’s a great one to do in advance all up to the pastry stage. The chilled filling can be in the fridge (well chilled, this is better for the pastry which must go on a cold filling, anything warm partly poaches the pastry before it rises, and makes it very soggy) in the dish just waiting for its pastry lid. Indeed, to save even more last-minute fuss, the pastry lid can also be added when the filling is cold and kept in the fridge, so the pie just needs glazed and then 30-40 minutes in the oven to warm (remember, the chicken is already cooked.)
Ingredients
  • Chicken big enough for the size of pie you want
  • Onion, carrot, celery, herbs (tarragon/parsley is nice) for stock
  • Milk or cream (I use semi-skimmed milk and it’s just fine. A lot of cream makes it heavier)
  • Portobello mushrooms, enough for the pie depending on how many mushrooms you like. If it’s autumn and you get wild mushrooms then use them.)
  • More herbs for the sauce (tarragon and/or parsley)
  • 30g butter
  • 30g plain flour
  • Nutmeg for grating
  • Shop bought rolled puff pastry (life’s too short to make puff pastry)
  • Beaten egg to glaze
 Method
  1. Cook the chicken gently in a casserole of water with herbs and veg. Don’t make the casserole to big in relation to the chicken or you get a weak stock. A tight-fitting casserole is best, you only need about 500ml of stock. Cover the chicken and cook for about 60-75 minutes, depending on the size of the bird. The stock should just blip gently on the stove, it doesn’t need a hard boil.
  2. Drain, sieve and reserve the stock from the cooked chicken, you will use this to make a sauce for the pie
  3. Once cooled pick the chicken meat from the carcass and cover. You may want to keep it in the fridge if you won’t use it soon. Discard the carcass as the flavour has been removed when you made the stock.
  4. Sauté the mushrooms and set aside with chicken
  5. Reduce the stock, if required, with the herbs to about 500ml to concentrate the flavour
  6. Make a roux of the butter and plain flour
  7. Add the stock slowly and in small batches to make a sauce
  8. Add a splash of milk
  9. Season the sauce with salt and plenty of pepper, and a grating of nutmeg
  10. Add the sauce to the chicken and mushrooms, mixed together in a pie dish and chill in the fridge until properly cold
  11. Once cool add the pasty top, glaze with egg and make a hole for steam
  12. Cook for about 30-40 minutes at about 180C fan, until the pastry is golden and the filling hot. If it’s getting too dark you can turn the temperature down 10-20 degrees to allow the filling to fully warm. A temperature probe is brilliant for checking it’s fully warmed through by sticking it in the steam hole you made.
Variants
  • Try some sautéed leeks instead of the mushrooms
  • You could try adding some rehydrated porcini mushrooms but watch you don’t overpower the flavour of the chicken
  • You could add some leftover cooked ham to make chicken and ham pie

Rice Pudding – A School Dinner Classic

Rice pudding is one of the great classics of our childhood and school dinners. You might even remember the Ambrosia tinned rice pudding. Loved and loathed in equal measure. If like me, you loved it, or you fancy giving it another try this is the recipe for you. Based on a recipe by the wonderful Simon Hopkinson, his is by far the best I’ve come across, from his book “The Good Cook.”
Simple and easy, the ultimate comfort food. It’s relatively quick to assemble followed by a slow cook. It’s also best served lukewarm or about room temperature. So it’s good for doing in advance for that retro school dinner themed dinner party.
Raisins, a welcome fruity addition or an abomination of the devil? It’s up to you. Load ‘em up or leave ‘em out.
Ingredients
  • 40g butter
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 100g pudding rice or Spanish paella rice (a short grain rice, not something like basmati.) It sounds too little and looks too little when you cook, but trust the recipe, it’s right.
  • ½ a vanilla pod, split lengthways
  • 1 litre full cream milk (I usually have semi-skimmed in the fridge so I reduce this by 100ml and add an extra 100ml or double cream.)
  • 150ml double cream (add more if using semi-skimmed milk)
  • pinch of salt
  • generous freshly grated nutmeg, as much or as little as you like
  • Raisins (as many or as few as you prefer, even none, the pudding is great on its own.) Add them at the same time as the milk.
Method
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 140C fan
  2. Melt the butter on the stove top in either a casserole you will cook the pudding in or a suitable pot
  3. Add the sugar and stir, heating gently, till the butter and sugar are soft and amalgamated
  4. Add the rice and the vanilla pod
  5. Stir the rice into the sugary mix. It will coat the rice and the rice will heat up.
  6. After a minute or two add the milk. The cold milk cools the rice mixture and some lumps may form, but don’t panic. Keep stirring and the lumps will dissolve as the milk warms.
  7. Add the cream and salt, and half the nutmeg, and bring it all to the simmering point
  8. Now it’s oven time. Grate over a good amount of nutmeg on the settled milk, don’t stir it in as this will become part of the lovely caramelised topping.
  9. Put it in the oven for 60-90 minutes.
  10. The pudding is ready when a light skin has formed and it is mostly set with a wobbly middle.
  11. Take it out to cool. Best served either lukewarm or at room temperature.

Vanilla Ice Cream

Delicious on its own or use this as a base for any custard-like ice cream (eg. Toasted Oatmeal). Omit or reduce the vanilla depending on your intended end product.
I have to confess I now use a temperature probe (they cost a few pounds and are invaluable.) The temperature for the custard must be no more than 80C. A minimum is 70C. So I aim for about 75C. You can do this by eye by observing how the custard thickens and runs off the back of a spoon. The temperature probe approach makes sure you cook the eggs enough for safety but not enough to scramble them.
Ingredients
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 300ml full-fat milk
  • 300ml double cream
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
Method
  1. Place a container in the freezer to chill (to hold the ice cream once it’s made). Split the vanilla pod lengthways, scrape the seeds out with the point of the knife and tip into a pan with the milk, cream and pod. Bring to the boil, then remove heat and leave to infuse for at least 20 mins. For the best flavour, this can be done a couple of hours beforehand and left to go cold.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the sugar and egg yolks together for a few mins until they turn pale and fluffy.
  3. Put the vanilla cream back on the heat until it’s just about to boil, then carefully sieve the liquid onto the yolks, beating with the whisk until completely mixed.
  4. Pour the custard back into the pan and cook on the lowest heat, stirring slowly and continuously, making sure the spoon touches the bottom of the pan, for about 10 mins until it is about 75C.
  5. Allow the custard to cool in the fridge until completely chilled. You may want to stir occasionally or keep a lid on it to prevent it forming a skin
  6. Chill the container you intend to hold the finished ice cream in the freezer. A warm glass bowl, for example, will just melt the finished product, so pre-chilled is best. A plastic container shouldn’t need to be chilled.
  7. Put the chilled custard in your ice cream maker and churn.

Venison Casserole

Venison casserole is a great autumn classic. As with all these things, you can put in whatever root vegetables you have to hand. Just be careful with longer cooking times.
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons rapeseed or sunflower oil, or dripping/lard (I use lard)
  • 250g home-cured bacon belly, or bought pancetta, cut into 1cm lardons
  • 1.5kg venison neck and shoulder meat, stewing cuts, cut into large chunks
  • 2 onions, finely sliced
  • A few whole small shallots are nice if you have them
  • 2–3 large carrots, cut into 3cm chunks
  • 2 Celery stalks, sliced finely
  • 1 Swede (Turnip or Neeps to us Scots) diced into 2.5cm chunks
  • 200g Chestnut mushrooms sliced or cut into chunks
  • 6–10 juniper berries, bashed slightly
  • 2 bay leaves
  • A large sprig of thyme, some rosemary would also be OK
  • About 500ml beef, venison, chicken or game stock
  • 350ml red wine
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Method
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 150C fan
  2. In a large casserole soften the onion, celery, shallots and pancetta
  3. After a few minutes add the carrots, mushrooms and saute on a lowish heat till the liquid from the mushrooms is gone
  4. If you like a thicker sauce then you can add a dessert spoon or table spoon of flour to the pan while is just has the fat, to make a thickening roux. If you do this watch it doesn’t catch and burn while you brown the meat.
  5. Meanwhile brown the venison in a hot pan in small batches and add to the casserole as they are browned
  6. Deglaze the browning pan with some of the red wine
  7. Add the red wine to the casserole and turn the heat up to reduce the liquid by half
  8. Add the juniper berries, bay leaves, and herbs as a bouquet garni
  9. Add enough stock to just cover the ingredients, add a little water if you need it.
  10. Add some salt and a decent twist of pepper, you can finalise the seasoning after cooking
  11. Put in the oven for about 3 hours, longer if it needs it.
  12. After the first hour put in the swede. (If you put it in at the start it can almost dissolve.)
Fabulous with red cabbage and mash.

Bread – Easy and Simple To Make

Baked Bread
Baked Bread

This is my normal non-sourdough bread. I like the overnight fridge proving as it is much better for the gluten, flavour and crumb of the bread. The is quite a wet mix so is very delicate even when proved. It tends to make a flatter loaf but I find it has a good crust, crumb and flavour.

This bread is little effort in terms of time preparing or working on the dough. The elapsed time is quite long because of the slow prove (which benefits the flavour etc) so some planning is required. I like to make the dough in a mid-evening, removing from the fridge in the morning when I get up. This allows me to bake the bread by about midday.
Ingredients
  • 350g strong bread flour
  • 150g Spelt wholemeal flour
  • 10g salt
  • 7g sachet of dried yeast
  • 365g about room temperature water
Method
  1. Put the dry ingredients in a large bowl keeping the salt separate from the yeast. I put the yeast in first and the salt last and this works fine.
  2. Add the water.
  3. Baked bread showing crumb
    Baked bread showing crumb

    I use a dough hook on my Kitchenaid to mix it till it’s a decent dough, this only takes about 2-3 minutes. Otherwise, mix with the fingers of one hand till it is a dough and all the dry flour has been incorporated.

  4. Leave it for about 30-60 minutes at room temperature until it has risen by about 50%. It may take longer depending on temperature. This is the autolyse and helps the gluten and flavour.
  5. Now put it in the fridge to prove for about 8-12 hours. Overnight works for me.
  6. Remove from the fridge and knock the dough back into the bowl.
  7. Leave it out for about an hour in the morning. Then shape it. Tip it onto a well-floured work surface and create the shape you want by gently handling the dough. Then place on a well-floured baking sheet or into a dusted banetton to finally rise before baking. This will take an hour if warm or probably 2-3 hours if the dough was in the fridge, depending on the room temperature.
  8. Preheat your oven to the maximum temperature, usually about 250C (fan). If using a baking stone put it in at the beginning so it gets really hot. (Or you can bake in a Le Creuset, using it as a Dutch Oven)
  9. If not using a Dutch Oven approach, boil a kettle of water and put an empty dish in the bottom of the oven. A few minutes before you put the bread in the oven fill the dish with boiling water to create a moist atmosphere in the oven.
  10. Score the bread with a razor or sharp knife as you prefer before baking. I often leave uncut as the bread is very soft.
  11. Either place the baking sheet in the hot oven or gently put the loaf from your banetton on your hot baking stone (take the stone out of the oven to do this.) Turn the oven down to about 220C (fan)
  12. Bake for about 30-35 minutes. I like to have a darker crust so I turn the oven back to the maximum temperature for the last 5-8 minutes depending on colour before removing the loaf to a cooling rack.

Toad In The Hole

Tip of the hat to Simon Hopkinson and Felicity Cloake. Toad in the Hole is a classic, everyone should have this at least once a year.
Ingredients
  • 3 tbsp beef dripping or lard
  • 6 decent sausages (I tend to use Cumberland)
  • 2 eggs
  • 100g plain flour
  • a pinch of salt with the flour according to taste (This is optional. The sausages tend to be salty and I think a more bland batter is a nice contrast.)
  • 85ml whole milk (if you can be bothered you could gently warm this with bay leaf/peppercorns, perhaps even some sliced shallot, and leave to infuse and cool for an hour or so. Just sayin’)
  • 85ml ale, (you’ll just have to drink the leftovers)
  • 1 tsp – 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard to taste
Method
  1. Warm and infuse the milk if you fancy.
  2. Put the eggs in a large bowl and beat, until thick (a decent beating gives a lighter texture to the finished batter.) Beat in the flour and milk alternately until smooth, then stir in the ale and mustard and leave to sit for 15-20 minutes so the flour can properly hydrate.
  3. Preheat the oven to about 200C fan. Heat half the fat in a frying pan over a medium heat and brown the sausages on all sides (another bit of worthwhile effort). You don’t need to cook them through, this happens in the oven, but the colour equates to flavour. Nicely browned but not burned.
  4. Put the remaining fat in a roasting dish, can be metal or earthenware, but good heavy metal is excellent and put it in the oven till it’s really smoking hot.
  5. Once the sausages are browned all over, and the batter has rested, get the really hot dish and pour in the fat from the sausage pan, followed by the batter, which should sizzle as it hits the tin. You can set the roasting dish on a stovetop ring while you do this to keep the heat high.
  6. Add the sausages and return to the oven.
  7. Bake for about 35 minutes until well risen and golden, then serve your Toad in the Hole immediately.