French Saturday…Beef Bourguignon.

ClichΓ© as it may sound, I decided this weekend to create a French inspired dinner. Since visiting Paris for a first time I often found myself reminiscing about French dining experience, about little salad on a side with nice vinaigrette, bit of fresh baguettes with rich butter, rich meaty dishes and potatoes…

When we lived in Edinburgh, we were lucky to have an amazing bistro where you can get nice French steak and fries and some of the most traditional dishes at bistro prices…Since we left, in Lancaster there is actually not that much of a French dinner unless you make one yourself or if want a treat, then you’ll find yourself in Quite Simply French ( my husband took me there for my birthday πŸ™‚ ).

A year ago, I watched a movie, which further sparked my interest in cooking French. It is quite famous, Julie and Julia, which tells you a story of an American woman recreating French dishes at home using a book by a fellow American, Julia Child (the first to bring those recipes to America in English). If you have not watched, but love cooking and see it as one of you rescues from modern world at times, you may really enjoy it!

After watching that movie, part of me felt that I wanted to create a cooking blog too or start experimenting with complex recipes. Not shortly after, it was my birthday and my best friends has sent me two copes of Julia Child’s French cooking. These are quite special books I must say. You won’t find in there picturesque images of dishes but you can learn a great deal about various techniques, variation of famous French dishes, secrets of cooking with meat, sauces and baking…

This weekend to decide on my next complex dish to make, me and my husband were doing some blind guessing, randomly choosing the page numbers and checking out the recipe. We stopped on Beef Bourguignon. Previously, I cooked a little bit similar variation of dinner with chicken, famous Coq au vin. Yet, beef is the whole new level. Simply because this dish will take you good 4-5 hours to make.

Autumn has fully arrived to Lancaster

I started a little later, but my advice would be to maybe start cooking a little bit earlier than noon. I got fresh beef, nice full-bodied wine, onions, carrots and bacon larders. Fresh thyme and bay leaf are also important for seasoning! The weather was rather gloomy so if you a re prepared to stay around all day and want a rich meal, this is just perfect!

The full recipe can be easily located anywhere online. The key for this to be right is to make sure that you dry the meat before cooking it, that way it’ll brown nicely and will have even a little bit of crispy skin when all ready.

To go fully French, I prepared fresh vinaigrette made of a table spoon of white wine vinegar, a half table spoon of Dijon mustard and olive oil, gently added to whisked mixture. It goes perfectly over fresh lettuce leaves, that’s all that you need!

For beef, after it’ll have its nice journey in the oven for a good 3 hours, on a side it is nice to prepare onion gently browned and reduced in stock or red wine. Plus, some mushrooms sautΓ©ed. I also made some green beans in the same way in mushrooms, gently sautΓ©ed with butter, piece of garlic, a bit of salt and pepper.

Lastly, as a side, I made Dauphinoise potatoes. I used milk and a bit of Lancashire cheese, which some people of course would replace by nice Swiss cheese but I thought why not use something local πŸ™‚

I had a bit of a strategy with preparations, I first looked after beef and before leaving it to cook slowly, slices the potatoes (leave them in the water so they wont get dark), chopped onions and mushrooms. When about half an hour was left on the meat, given that I don’t have two ovens to cook in different temperature, I left the beef to finalise cooking on a slow heat on my stove and started with baking potatoes. I then prepared onions, mushrooms and beans. I served them in little bowls and covered each with foil once they were ready so they keep warm once the final meal is on the table.

And that is it, really πŸ™‚ Because you virtually cook all day the effort is actually nicely spread and it doesn’t feel like you are constantly in the kitchen, you can watch a movie in between whilst the beef is cooking and have a glass of wine.

Ah lastly, I used full bodied Sicilian wine for the beef and to accompany dinner we went with Chianti! I know I should have had French to make it fully French style dinner but oh well, Chianti goes excellently with this dish!

Bon appetite!

Mexican Saturday this week…

I normally cook a lot of Italian of French inspired dishes. Given my lack of knowledge on various spices I simply do not have a good feel for it yet when it comes to Central or Eastern Asia regional food. Neither, I have a good feel for Southern American and African food even though I am always so overtaken by smells any time I passed by kiosk in a street market that serves authentic African stews…

Keeping up with my newly Saturday cooking tradition, this week I was trying to find something different. I came across interesting Ottolenghi recipe for chicken and chocolate aka Mexican style sauce. I normally avoid Ottolenghi too but always inspired by his recipes and images of his food πŸ™‚ Till only recently I started to feel comfortable looking at a little bit more consuming recipes that may require a handful of special ingredients…so, here we go for this week.

Taco cups with beef

Since I picked a sort of Mexican theme, I also located interesting idea for a starter known as taco cups. I had a bit of mince beef in my fridge that I cooked with a bit of tomatoes and taco style spice. I then placed it with a bit of cheese into little envelopes made of pastry I got from Asian shop (traditionally designed for spring rolls) but in fact perfect for mini pockets that you can stuff with whatever you like.

During my shopping, I also have been fortunate to check out for the first time our local wine shop, Chapel Street Wine in Lancaster. Unusually, those who run the shop have quite a special love for Italian wine, as I do πŸ™‚ They recommended to pair my chicken with a bit of Nero D’Avola which indeed was an excellent choice.

So, here we are. Chicken actually was quite easy to make. Food processor is required to make the marinade and few special ingredients like dry chipotle chillies, cinnamon and a wee bit of dark chocolate. Also a little bit of prep with roasting/grilling peppers that I put in straight away and whiles those were cooking focused on the starter. It worthy the effort though, as the taste that coats the meat and potatoes does resemble a bit of sharp dark sweet taste and nicely both sweet, savour and spicy. Husband loved it so another success and less fear now when I am checking out Ottolenghi’s recipes.

Here it is, enough to two dinners πŸ™‚

Hope you may try this one too!

Seafood Saturday…

Living in the pandemic requires one to compose a set of routines to stick to to have at least some certainty in what’s coming. Over past weeks, I thought I might try to commit to a Saturday cooking adventure every week and I will have to master a new recipe each time with increasing level of complexity where possible…

I also do enjoy creating a meal of few courses at least once to take time to enjoy both cooking it and serving it. This week my plan was to create a chicken dish. However, we passed by our local market to find a fish monger and I decided that fresh wish is that what we are going for this time! I never cooked few things, among them scallops, oysters and tuna steak. Given how expensive this fish can be, I certainly did not want to risk spoiling it…

Yet, I bought a tuna steak and thought why not! To accompany it, I have got mussels to start, crab pasta for the first dish and also prepared a Mediterranean style sauce to go with tuna.

My husband is not a big fun of fish so it was another challenge for me: to create something he might also enjoy πŸ™‚

I cheated a little with the starter, getting prepared mussels from M and S. However, in my defence I must admit that we do not have a proper fish monger in town and I almost never ever seen fresh mussels on sale in the UK, which is great pity given how delicious they can be..

For pasta, I’ve got al dente spaghetti with cooked crab that I lightly warmed up with a bit of olive oil, white wine, lemon juice and lots of parsley…Finally, for my tuna, I cooked gently chunks of juicy tomatoes with garlic and onion, adding then plenty of parsley and basil…Then later, after cooking my tuna I further cooked the tomatoes in tuna fat, white wine and pitted olives with a little bit of capers to add a little fishy taste….

And the main beauty…

While I can sense that my husband wasn’t particularly impressed with first two dishes given their simplicity, tuna really has taken his mind away! So, for that, it was a definite success πŸ™‚ I am not afraid of tuna steaks anymore and guess what, I may even brave myself for scallops next time…

Once again, having three dishes and taking our time to enjoy had made such a difference! I first prepared mussels and while we eat those, my pasta was cooking for a second dish. When pasta was finished, I then prepared tuna steaks. Just a note, that the tuna steak sauce was prepared first and then crab before I started on mussels. Even though you do have to leave the table to prepare dishes it doesn’t feel that rushed and you can take a little break to enjoy a glass of wine in between and look after each dish properly. By the way, we have been again reminiscing of Sicily and wine was a proof to that πŸ™‚

Italian dinner for a weekend and our Sicilian nostalgia…

This weekend is our first since we came back from our holiday in Sicily. Quite privileged to be able to runaway for a week, we enjoyed it fully with walks, swims and eating (as well as cooking!). For me, one of the best way to go back to a place is to eat the food I once eat there…

On our second visit to Sicily, we treat ourselves to a cooking class with Maria and learnt how to cook few very traditional dishes like panelle, homemade pasta alla Norma, Sicilian meatballs and Genovese.. We spent quite a few hours in the kitchen before we can eat these delicious bits and I could not wait to be back and recreate some of it in our home in Lancaster.

What’s more, I came across a mouth watering recipe from Parmigiana Whisperer and was convinced that the Italian dinner it is that I am cooking this Saturday!

Trattoria Buttitta - Picture of Trattoria Buttitta, Bagheria - Tripadvisor
Hidden gem of Bagheria (Sicily) beautiful food and peo

For the start, I made simple bruschetta, because why not πŸ™‚ And for primo, I tried to recreate a very simple dish that we had in one of Bagheria’s trattorias which was light and delicious, namely Aglio e Olio.. Simply slice some garlic, and cook gently until soft with some olive oil. Add finely chopped parsley, a bit of chilli flakes to taste and mix with al dente spaghetti and add a little bit more of olive oil if you want… I made a little pan to leave some space for our secondo πŸ™‚

One of the best if not the best pre-made tomato sauce…

And for secondo, we recreated the meatballs (polpette) with a little bit of a twist from Maria’s recipe, adding some pine-nut and raisins to the mix…

I then proceeded with beautiful recipe from Parmigiana Whisperer, using a tomato sauce that we brought from Italy…

And here there are, beautiful meatballs… Thank you so much Parmigiana Whisperer!

We thought we’d have some leftovers for Sunday but nope, we finished it all and accompanied it with red wine that we also brought from Sicily.

Highly recommended πŸ™‚

We certainly felt like back to our travels. Important as well for me was to slow down after I finished cooking. I often rush to prepare table, eat so fast that I barely enjoy my own creation… Taking some time to finish off in the kitchen, lay out the table, sit down and talk makes such a difference…

In this colder days, creating a meal of few dishes felt like one of the best thing to do to warm up. I also really love the idea of primo and secondo and can say that meatballs taste so much better when presented as a separate dish.

Cup of espresso

Keep up with your cup that keeps you up all morning. Cup of freshly made espresso is a little more than just a treat. It is memories. Memories of first Italian home I stayed in, seeing a family that shares that cup in the morning to start a day. Remembering Saturday where husband woken up earlier to make a fresh cup of espresso to then take to his wife and laugh a little in their bedroom. Me, in my pyjamas, sneaking into the kitchen to get a glass of water and see them. First cup in the morning in Venice during a conference trip. Early walk, before tourist crowds arrive, coffee at 8am together with those who are off to work. Fresh cup of espresso in the airport before taking a plane back, in the station between our journey’s legs in Sicily. One cup in a holiday home on a first morning of our stay. Or, after dinner, whilst getting gelato after burning our faces in the sun, a little cup to wake up.
Cup of espresso back home in the UK, never tasted the same as in Italy. So, we opt for cappuccino or latte because that is what works here. When I was making coffees in coffee shop, no one could drink espresso hence we did not know that our coffee was tasting not right. Milk can hide imperfection I then thought. This year, we have a cup of espresso at home. It is bitter but fresh. It is a ritual to start a day, to meet in the kitchen and make a coffee, to talk how sleep has been, what we are up to today. It is as special as the one in those endless memories, taking one back to Italian coffee bar, a moment to pause, never to take away, stand there and be with others while drinking your cup…