Dan’s Chili Con Carne

Here is the recipe that I wrote for a lovely reader, who wanted to cook chili con carne for his nearest and dearest, and searched in vain to find one in my Ultimate Slow Cooker Book. We decided not to  include it there, in favour of newer and more exciting things. However, a good chili con carne recipe is a real crowd pleaser, the chili recipe didn’t make it into my second Slow Cooker recipe book, either, obviously a glaring omission. If you desire a really good ‘n’ tasty chili for your Friday night gathering, also suitable for Wednesday, Sunday or Tuesday, here it is here, and I hope you find it as delicious as I did!

DAN’S CHILI CON CARNE

Serves:            6 – 8

Prep time:            20 minutes

Suitable for:            All models

Cooking time:            4 hours on a high setting, or 8 hours on a low setting

1kg minced beef – I use the 10% fat kind. If you use higher fat content, be sure to spoon out some of the fat at the browning stage.

3 rashers streaky bacon or pancetta, diced (optional)

2 tbspn olive oil

2 celery stalks, chopped

2 red onions, chopped

2 red peppers, chopped

4 garlic cloves, chopped

400g pack creamed tomatoes, or passatta

1 bay leaf

4 tbsp tomato puree

1 tbspn dried oregano

2 tspns ground cinnamon

3 tbsp mild chilli powder

1 tbsp,(or add enough to taste, as the chilli powder is really not spicy at all), ground paprika

2 tbsp black treacle

2 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 x 400g can drained red kidney beans, rinsed

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Easy cook long grain rice, cooked to serve ( I always use Tilda, it is the best)

Garlic bread, to serve

Grated cheddar, to serve

  1. Brown the mince and the bacon in half the oil and season well, transfer to slow cooker. Soften the celery, onion, and red pepper in the remaining oil, stir in the garlic and spoon into the slow cooker.
  2. Pour the creamed tomatoes into the pan over heat to deglaze it, add the bay leaf, puree, oregano, cinnamon, chilli powder and paprika. When all is simmering, transfer to the slow cooker and stir well.  Stir in the black treacle, Dijon mustard and beans. Check the seasoning.
  3. Cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 8 hours.
  4. Serve over the rice, with garlic bread, and grated cheddar.

 

 

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Couture Chili

The best thing about writing recipes is when you hear from the readers, and they tell you how they got on with your recipes. That is one of the many fabulous advantages of the internet. Many cooks have contacted me about my “Ultimate Slow Cooker’ books, and regaled me with stories of how they got on. I am always thrilled to hear that they thought my recipe worthwhile enough to go out and buy the ingredients and actually cook it! Recently, Dan Jones contacted me to say that he was very happy with the cookbooks ( he bought both of them!). He was disappointed to find that there was no recipe for chili con carne though. Thanks to the real time nature of the internet, I promised to cook up a chili for him that very week, and he would have his own bespoke Brucie bonus recipe. He was very excited, at the prospect of a couture recipe. I know I am inflating my production now, likening it to the House of YvesSaintLaurent, and my kitchen to an atelier of seamstresses.
This was all embarked upon, and the recipe duly produced. However, poor Dan, I hope being a Slow Cooker fan, he is a patient man. It has taken me three weeks now, to actually sit down and write the recipe and send it over to him.
I am now going to share it with you, and if you would like to have more of the same, there are lots in my Slow Cooker Books!
The Ultimate Slow Cooker Cookbook

Lunch with My Dad

Lunch with my Dad…

Used to be a very nice way to finish off the week on a Friday. The White Bear with it’s central location, was a favourite for a beer and a sandwich with whoever was around. The Six Bells was favoured for the landlord,Iain, who looked over his beers like children, this became a favourite spot to catch up w

 

We would often see someone he knew, and if we didn’t there was the warm atmosphere of the pub, and the welcome of the landlord to keep us company. It is one of my favourite memories of my father.

Lunch with my Dad today was quite different. I am the first to acknowledge, that you cannot stand in the way of progress, and pubs have changed now. But has the last 20 years seen us change fundamentally into people who no longer value a warm welcome and a (jolly/clubbable) atmosphere? 

The breweries tell us that we no longer want merely a drink and a chat, but that we now need a continuous news feed from the outside world, and that we need a seasonally changing roster of drinks, and the only beer to be served should be chilled, from a bottle. Apparently, the food that we want to eat in a café/ bar/ pub has changed too. We no longer want cheese and pickles unless it is in a baguette, and no snacks unless they are centrally produced crisps. 

 

 

 

Beautiful pigs

…Don’t get me wrong, I love my job and always have. I love working with food, I really enjoy working with my hands, and coming up with creative solutions. I love working with creative people, and passionate people, people with ideas, and people who love to contribute and challenge themselves, and most of the people who work in food are like that. They have a passion and a real commitment to producing a good product.

So today, we went to see my sister, she keeps pigs. Or rather her husband now keeps pigs. He left the army last year, after a very commendable career, he wanted to leave while he still had the passion to do other things. He now does several other things, and one of them is farm pigs. He has leased a field in the beautiful Northampton coutryside, the kind of place where it is a pleasure to spend a blowy morning, or even a fairly warm afternoon, and has purposefully and determinedly erected some very nice and comfortable pig pens, with wooden arks for shelter, in a place where it is not too hot, and not too cold. He tends them morning and evening, and feeds them a wide and varied diet. They are very beautiful and colourful, and extrmely well looked after. He even considered marketing them as “wagyu’ pigs after so much loving care. He will feed them a balanced diet, and keep them healthy, and they will spend 95% of their lives outdoors, on lush pasture. When they eventually go to the slaughterhouse, they will be carefully butchered according to the needs of whoever has bought them – either roasting loin, braising shoulder, sausages or bacon. Or in the case of his main clients, the very culinary particular Ghurka regiment of the Army, into several large pieces so that they can butcher the pigs themselves, to their own, very  specific requirements. They will never reach the shelf or fridge of any supermarket, needless to say, but nor will they reach the window display of any high street butcher. It is not that they are too expensive, it is just that he is outside of the loop of any supply chain, and therefore free to care as much as he wants. And as he says, “I just want to be able to look myself in the eye when I am shaving in the morning and know that I have done the right thing”.

This is how we would like to think that tmost food producers operate in this country, but of course we know that they don’t. Or more importantly, they find themselves in a position where they can’t. The price of feed, and land, and fuel has spiralled, and the price that consumers are willing to pay has come down so much, that it is unrealistic to expect outdoor reared pork to have spent any more than 20% of it’s life outdoors! And this where my job is hard –  I know that there are people out there producing good food, with a passion and a care, but it never gets to the mainstream market, and what does get to the mainstream market does not live up to it’s promise, and often is commanding a higher price.

There must be a middle way – sustainable farming, decently produced food, that still has flavour and provenance. If  all food was reared with care and passion, would we waste so much of it? If food was a little bit more expensive would we put more value on it? Would we treasure it just a little more? Enough to appreciate our luck and abundance? Enough to use every part of the animal? Enough to really keep tabs of what is in our fridge, rather than let produce fade away in the salad drawer? Maybe we would. It’s worth a try.

Fried fish by the water

I love deep fried fish – thin batter coating fresh fish, crispy and hot, and fresh from the deep fat fryer. I don’t know about you, but I never deep fry at home, especially since we decided life would be quieter and the head bumping statistics less remarkable by getting rid of the extractor fan. Now, I don’t think an open window and a Price’s Cooks Candle could cope with the resulting stench.

The local chippie must have been pleased for our loss though, and we are often nipping for a fish supper.  Looking forward to crispy light batter, around succulent pieces of fresh haddock. Most times it nears  the expectation. And if the night is especially dark and cold, the expectations are lowered.

Expectations are also lowered when it is way past lunchtime, with two hungry girls, and you don’t know on which Amsterdam canal you have pulled up. A cold drink would do….maybe a leftover morning pastry from the bakers….an apple or two. We had hired a little motorboat, and had a really great morning on the canals in Amsterdam, glorious sunshine, beautiful canals, and had even managed to avoid the great bullying tourist boats (“they stop for no-one, you will have to get out of the way” the guy at the boat hire place told us) as they roared up the canals.Feeling generally pleased with ourselves, we pulled up in search of something, anything, while the girls manned the boat. After a few steps we were inside a wet fish shop – maybe there’s smoked salmon, or some prawns,there’s a bit of bread…when we realised that theyactually fry the fresh fish to order. We ordered. It proved to be one of the most memorable meals of the week in Amsterdam – nuggets of fresh cod, the lightest, crispiest batter, seasoned perfectly, drained well and piled high. We sat on our little boat refuge, eating fresh buttered bread and hot,fresh fried fish in the glorious sunshine, feeling all’s well with the world. Perfect day.

Lent us your ears…

My children gave up cabbage for Lent.

My symbolic sacrifice has been chocolate in other years, and I can recommend that.It feels slightly smug and totally masochistic to deny oneself such a sensory pleasure for six weeks,

The only downside is, that you hope that your Easter egg will be the one that you have hinted at and longed after, for the last six weeks and if it isn’t there is a long way down, or a long way to find any shop that still has a decent Easter Egg on Bank Holiday Monday.

And that’s where you find the Lenten glow – the appreciation and value invested into that first mouthful of chocolate, the time taken to savour the first silky mouthful after weeks of denial, and the lingering aftertaste, that nothing can beat, until the next mouthful. But for the rest of the year nothing can beat that first taste, after the long denial.

We have plenty of cheap food and a huge variety, year round strawberries,and Big Eat crisps and I do question the relevance of denying oneself. Surely this is a redundant ritual, a sacrifice no longer needed with failsafe fertilisers and 24 hour food.  But isn’t that the point? It means we can appreciate again our good fortune and how far we have come. The fact that Lent does end, and we are ‘allowed’ to savour our pleasures again is the point, when for so many in the world the fast doesn’t end, and pleasures of the table are few and far between.

And on that note – shouldn’t chocolate, coming as it does from some of the poorest regions in the world, be the last thing that we give up for Lent?? Next year it will be Starbucks Hazelnut Soy Lattes that I deny myself. Or cabbage.

Lunchboxes in my life

Work and life often have a curious symbiosis. Maybe it happens more in my life, as I work with food, we all have to eat, and friends often ask me what to eat. One  of my real life roles is guardian of the lunchbox, maybe you have the impression that I might be quite militarian in this role, as I have written a (very good)book entitled “Kids’ Healthy Lunchboxes”. This is not the case. I, take the stand of, like most modern mothers, while being well informed about current healthy eating issues, also desire to give favourites, but I also want to give a good food experience> The difference is that I work with a huge amount of products, and I know which ones taste nice, are healthy, and may find a good reception in a hungry, indifferent teenager.

Muesli is the answer – no not the oats and brown (non leather) sandals kind, but the indulgent kind, muesli for beginners, ‘entry level’ muesli. Try Jordans Nut and Seed Muesli as a substitute for a bag of crisps, I promise you, you will be amazed at the response.

I was working with various muesli samples, and had to put them under lock and key so that my girls wouldn’t finish them, leaving a recipe hang unfinished in the air, with a reader wanting vengeance for a recipe that does not work. Anyway, it was the Nut and Seed Muesli that was making them act like mice in the night, and it is now a firm fixture in the lunchbox.

Another meal that causes angst in our house is breakfast, mainly because I am the meanest Mum in the world and do not buy any chocolate  or cocoa dusted breakfast cereal. This has two interesting consequences, A) Breakfast Club at school is very attractive to the 8 year old, Coco Pops is on the menu there, and b) Chocolate Muesli (Jordans’ Country Crisp, namely) becomes very attractive. Of course, I sometimes have to mix in the end of a pack of normal muesli when tidying up, but no-one seems to notice…..

Fishcakes and football

Nana was cooking the girls some beefburgers, their favourite kind, Marks and Spencer Aberdeen Angus, wedges and garlicky beans (with garlic and butter, the two surefire ways to make vegetables appealing), before they headed out to Brownies. The rain was lashing down and my husband, her son, was about to head off in his thermals and watch his team strive for the cup quarter finals. For him, tuna fishcakes and baked beans seemed to tick all the boxes – quick, easy, no pressure and padding against the cold.

My mother-in-law and I have cooked many roast Sunday lunches, extravagant parties and fancy dinners together, but there is something deeply satisfying, grounding and homely about cooking simple food together on a Wednesday evening, for your children/grandchildren and husband/ son.

Fat Duck, Bray

After the whirlwind of Harry Potter we all learned that to suspend one’s disbelief in reality and step into a world touched by wizardry and magic can be truly inspiring. Last Wednesday lunchtime I crossed over into Heston Blumenthal’s world and found a whole new normality.

We arrived in Bray 20 minutes early, and so after having read Heston’s advice on the importance of a cleansed palate we popped into the charming and friendly Hinds Head Hotel for a palate cleansing vodka and tonic. It was then a few light steps to the door of The Fat Duck where we were warmly welcomed. We found ourselves in the middle of the charming low ceilinged room, punctuated with beautiful artistic fixtures, so that you know you are in a place where every detail is carefully considered.

There are menus to suit every taste and budget, we chose from the exceptionally good valued lunch menu, and the regular a la carte. I asked the friendly french wine waiter for recommendations and he made some friendly choices, of which we chose a full bodied and buttery provencal white – unusual for the area, Chateau Simon, Pellet, 1996, which went on to live up to the complex flavours well.

To ensure our palates were thoroughly scrubbed we were served a procession of amuse geules, of varied textures and flavours, after which your tongue is tingling in long forgotten places.

Marion stepped bravely into the unknown with her choice of snail porridge for the first course – although after tasting this we were all spellbound!

I often find that after the taste sensations of the appetisers, the main course is prolonged too far – this was no exception, but it was the enjoyment that was prolonged. Lorna’s pigeon breast was exquisitely cooked, moist and succulent and rich. My saddle of lamb lived up to the rave reviews, and the green beans with it were split lengthways, to get the most flavour out. The green coffee bean’s sauce served with the blonde’s duck breast had the satisfying taste of something unusually savoury.

Before we were allowed into the parallel universe of desserts at The Fat Duck, we cleansed our palates with an intense shot of red pepper, held in a japanese handmade paper thin lollipop, accompanied with a beetroot (much underused flavour) jelly. Then we were ready.

The salted butter caramel was declared by the whole table as the only way to eat caramel, but the unsatisfying intense chocolate of the sorbet fell on deaf palates. The much lauded bacon and egg ice cream is interesting, but does outstay it’s welcome in the far reaches of one’s gullet. By now our palates were tingling and the fromage blanc ice cream didn’t appeal to enough of my taste buds to declare it great, but the nougat glace was a different thing altogether – textured, rich flavourful and served at the perfect temperature. A fitting end to our meal – unfortunately the real world was knocking at our window and we had to step over before coffee. We promised ourselves coffee at Starbucks, but as soon as we stepped out into the spring sunshine, we knew that no eating experience would ever be the same again, and Starbucks coffee is one bit of reality that we didn’t want to experience quite so soon!

The lamb bone

It is quite primitive, a lamb bone, the look of it, especially when sticking out of a pot of beans  and vegetables and simmering on the stove top. Some people think all their Christmases have come at once when presented with a plate of bones, but I am not one of those people. My business with the lamb bone this evening was to negotiate as much flavour as I could from it, and into the butter bean stew. I also chopped up the meat from the weekend’s roast into the pot, with tomatoes, garlic and a bit of rosemary, and left it to simmer in the oven while I took 9 year old, and her friend, to their trampolining class. Later, as the freezing rain, but not quite sleet, was a few feet away and we were tucking into a warming stewpot of good stuff, I couldn’t help but think that Mondays aren’t so bad after all.