Friday, 21 February 2014

Blessed Cold Snap

There is nothing like a bit of a chill in the air - it makes me want to cook. Cold weather food, a roast, hearty casseroles and puddings. An old fashioned pudding such as bread and butter custard/pudding, fruit crumble, steamed puddings and pies are well received by most. Even the most stringent of dessert avoiders seem to weaken and have a little.

As a child the bread and butter pudding was made with white bread and sultanas, however, I use fruit loaf, wholemeal bread, sour dough or a combination of any odds and ends of bread. For a truly indulgent version use croissants or brioche.  Many excellent variations can be made from this basic recipe, the idea is that you use whatever fruit and flavourings you like or have in your pantry. I use cream and milk for the custard but it can be made with milk only. Sometimes I add a little liqueur, Grand Marnier is nice in the glace orange version. The technique is simple, mix the flavourings in with the bread or croissants, pour over the custard and bake. Make it in a large dish or individual dishes. It can also cooked in the microwave on medium high in 1 minute bursts. It will not go brown and crunchy on the top if cooked in the microwave.

8 thick slices bread buttered or 3-4 croissants
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk* can use 2 cups milk instead of cream
1/2 cup cream
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 -2 teaspoons vanilla

dried fruit, chocolate, glace orange/peel, tinned cherries

Combine eggs, milk, cream, sugar and vanilla in a bowl, Whisk with a fork to create the custard.

Cut the croissants or bread into smaller pieces/ fingers and put into a greased casserole dish. Add flavourings.

For these individual puddings I made a cherry and dark chocolate version.

and a cranberry and glace orange version

Pour over custard mixture. If time permits I leave it stand for awhile so that the bread /croissants absorb some of the custard.

An additional bit of luxury is to sprinkle some coffee sugar over the top just before baking. Traditionally, the puddings are baked in a water bath, however, I cook them in a 150 deg oven with no problem. Bake until custard is just set. Serve warm or with cream/icecream. Leftover pudding reheats well in the microwave.

Some other versions to try raspberry and white chocolate, blueberry and dark chocolate, banana or stick to dried fruits such as sultanas, raisins and currants. Mixed fruit and fruit medley can also be used.

quick dinner
chicken casserole from the freezer, microwaved jacket potato and beans from the garden
When I make a casserole I tend to make lots and freeze it. I cook it in a large electric frypan or in a big baking tray in the oven. Long slow cooking is the key to tender meat and robust flavour. Use tough cuts of meat preferably with a bone for extra flavour. I keep the pieces large. Shin of beef or brisket on the bone are good, lamb shanks cut in half. Remove bones from the meat before freezing or if the family struggle with bones before serving. Oysterblade, gravy beef and chuck steak are good boneless cuts. If using chicken buy thighs or marylands. One cooked, refrigerate and leave the casserole for a day. It is easier to remove the bones from the meat if you separate the meat from the sauce. Cut large chunks of meat into smaller pieces if you like smaller pieces.

I always have tinned tomatoes and passata/tomato puree in the pantry. Mandarine peel, as with other citrus, is a nice addition. I make this when mandarines are in season. Put the peel in a cane basket on the bench and allow it to dry out. It needs to be totally dry so leave it for at least a week or longer. Store in an airtight jar. It can also be made in a dehydrator if you have one.

This basic casserole  recipe is a guide. It can be made with whatever meat and vegetables you like.

Basic Casserole

meat of choice (beef, lamb chicken) at least 1 kg, I usually use at least 2 kg
small amount of oil
1 large tin tomatoes
1 jar passata/tomato puree
 ground black pepper
6 cloves garlic or more, chopped/crushed
1-2 bayleaves
 dry white or red wine/stock/water
Diced vegetables –onions, celery, carrot

mandarine peel – broken into small pieces
fresh thyme - small sprigs
2 fresh chillis chopped or generous pinch of chilli flakes

other vegetables to taste eg mushrooms, parsnip

Heat a small amount of oil in pan. Brown the meat. Do this in batches so that you get a nice golden colour.

Add onions and allow to brown a little, add carrot and celery and continue cooking for a few minutes. Add garlic and chilli if using.

Add  tomatoes, puree, wine/stock/water, pepper and bay leaves and thyme. Make sure meat and vegetables are covered.

Cover and simmer on low heat until meat is tender and bones can be pulled away or put in baking dish, cover with foil and cook in oven 140 deg C. The liquid should reduce.

If freezing put into plastic containers. It can be useful to have single, two person and then larger portions. I usually put the meat in first so that I can work out the portion and then add the amount of sauce that I need to match the number of portions. I freeze any leftover sauce to use with pan fried chicken pieces or chops. It can be defrosted in the microwave as you need it. 

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