Sunday, 5 July 2015

Leg of Lamb Garden Rotisserie

WILL THESE BATTERIES EVER DIE?



Now this isn't the first time I've used my rotisserie since I reported over 3 years ago that the original batteries had delivered 13 meals with 45 hours of motor use. The damn things are STILL going. I've lost count, all I know is that yesterday I was convinced that it was the end. Four hours of rotation with a 3 kilo pay load wasn't enough to take them out. They've been in there since May 2009 (see original post here).

The occasion was a dinner party for ten. The date was set months ago, a sign of how difficult it was to get us all together at the same time. After much deliberation over the main food event, I decided on lamb leg, lean and tender and pretty hard to get wrong. The night before I prepared a marinade of olive oil, garlic, salt and herbs and dropped it off to my local butcher together with the steel spit on Saturday morning. I collected it later in the day, the butterflied legs all nicely rubbed with the marinade and neatly rolled and tied around the spit.


The lamb was kicked off with a hot start, and then cooked away gently for about four hours with occasional sprinklings of charcoal to keep the embers going.

I served it with a warm tomato and mint salsa, roasted sweet potatoes and butternut squash, char-grilled vegetables and grilled asparagus wrapped in prosciutto.

The gas barbie all prepped up for the side dishes
A classic prawn cocktail was served with grilled ciabatta as a starter, and a home made pavlova for dessert. It was a great night with good friends and finished off around the fire pit in the garden.

Friday, 2 January 2015

2015 New Year Chilli

2014 was a poor year for this little blog.. not a single post. Shame on you firefoodie. Bizarrely however, the sites visitor numbers remain on the up and up thanks to lots of interest from readers Oz and the US. Strange really, as this content is all coming from a market town in Oxfordshire, UK. So, I have resolved that 2015 is the year to return. There, I've said it, so no going back now. I have some ideas about rearranging the 100 or so posts into a more accessible resource.

Yesterday (New Years Day) was spent preserving some 3,000 or so green chillies, so plenty of time to reflect, contemplate and formulate plans. So on reflection, 2014 was not a year without fire and food, quite the opposite. I got a new Weber (finally!) from my lovely wife as an anniversary present last Christmas and a fabulous gas barbeque for my last birthday. Our brazier got plenty of attention also.

The last two Christmases have featured turkey roasted in the outdoor Weber, and plenty of summer meals were cooked over the brazier. The photo below was snapped with my Blackberry this Christmas, a lovely 7kg bird, and we are still getting through the leftovers.


So back to the chilli, the labels above are on there way to me from my reprographics supplier as I write, so a lovely stash of little gifts will be created. The only problem is that there are only 30 jars, so back to the market for more chillies it seems.

If any comes your way, just scroll down to the post below for plenty of information and ideas about its use. The only thing to add, is that I had hidden a jar from my family and we opened it last week after two years and it was if it had been prepared yesterday.

Happy New Year!

Monday, 16 December 2013

Little Jars of Chilli



It's that time of the year again. Batches 8 and 9 emerged from the kitchen in October and a few lucky people will find some in their post before Christmas. If you are one of them, this is for you. So, how to get the most out of your chilli:

1. Storage

Unopened (yeah right) they will last forever. But what's the point of that. Once opened, add a bit of good quality olive oil to keep them moist and keep them in the fridge. As you use it up, keep adding a bit more olive oil. It seems to drink it up somehow and it makes it last much longer.

2. Strength

To test your tolerance, put a quarter of a teaspoon of chilli on a small slice of cheese. Chew slowly and for as long as possible before swallowing it. This is where you get the full sense of the aroma, I call it 'green-ness', because they smell and taste green. Generally I would add a decent teaspoon to a plate of food.

3. Use

Your chilli is cooked, so to get the best out of it, add it to food after it's cooked as a condiment.

4. My favourite foods to enjoy it with

- Cheddar cheese and crackers
- Cheese toasties
- Bacon and Eggs
- Scrambled eggs
- Pizza
- Pasta dishes
- Bangers and mash
- Added to tomato ketchup
- Soups
- Tacos
- In sandwiches
__________________________________________________________

If you want to know exactly what's in it and how I made it, the whole story can be found from an earlier batch right here.

Enjoy!

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Wood Fired Pizza in the Snow

Imagine my delight. Not only was it one of those evenings when preparing a family meal would be a time pressured challenge, it was also the evening that the wood fired pizza van was stationed outside our local shop. We'd had several days of snow and ice so just getting around was becoming a bit of a struggle. I was actually going to the shop to buy some ingredients for a simple and quick pasta dish, but the lure of the woodsmoke and glimpse of the flames was just a bit much to resist. And, I knew the kids would be delighted.



Unlike pizza chain food (the one named after the game with pieces with dots on them springs to mind, and there was one barely a hundred yards away), these pizzas are thin crust and cooked carefully and quickly in the mobile woodfired oven.

I ordered a chicken pesto, pepperoni with jalepeno and a ham and cheese calzone then hung around to chat with the friendly guys in the van about pizza and fire. You know me.... where does the dough come from?... what wood do you burn in the fire?... how much do you go through?...when do you light the fire?... at what temperature?... how many pizzas will you do tonight? etc. They burn ash. the king of all fire wood. I was impressed.

We chatted while I hung around outside the van in subzero temperatures, thoroughly enjoying myself. If you look at the photo of the oven, the three bottles of olive oil have solidified on the side facing the outside. I snapped a few ropey pics with my Blackberry, mentioned my blog to the guys and said I hoped to write something.

Rico's have about half a dozen vans covering the Oxfordshire area. Ours comes every Thursday. And what day is today? Thursday! Search them out and try one. You won't look back.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

2012 Christmas Chilli



There is nothing so satisfying as spending ages contemplating, growing, procuring and preserving chillies. It kind of perpetuates their freshness and individual flavours, far beyond the usual shelf life of freshly picked produce.

I'm going to keep this article short and sweet. I've just made four batches of chilli, red, green, homegrown and imported and it took ages. People often say I should sell them, but I say it takes all the fun out of it. I only do it a few times a year and purely so I can enjoy the pleasure of giving it away to friends, family and clients.

Each 4 oz jar is individually lableled and if you want one, all you have to do is this:

- Post a comment on this blog
- Send me your postal address by email to firefoodie@gmail.com

Naturally, my regular readers from the UK, Ireland, US, Europe, Australia, South Africa and the Philippines (and you know who you are) are first in line. So get your addresses to me and I promise you a little treat in the post. I also promise to keep your personal details supremely confidential. It doesn't matter where you live, it's Christmas after all.

Enjoy the photos and I look forward to hearing from you!

The home grown stash from the freezer

One of my two trays on the window cill, early in the season

Extra ingredients for the first home grown batches

The home grown batches in jars

My special order, 2000 Indian green chillies

A daunting task

So fresh!

and the big ones were much quicker



Saturday, 17 November 2012

Beef & Venison Bourgignon in the Potjie

A twist on the French classic dish, and cooked over an open fire. Perfect.


We had planned a Friday evening dinner party, so we needed something that could be prepared and cooked the night before. Our brazier had been extremely neglected for far too long so I was champing at the bit to fire it up and enjoy the still, dark autumn evening.

Originally, the bourgignon was going to be just venison, but my Thursday visit to the local butcher across the road from our office forced me to do a swift re-think. They had only half the amount of venison I needed to feed eight, so I decided to top it up with beef chuck steak and hope for the best.

There is a fair amount of preparation involved, mainly the painstaking task of peeling what seems to be a never-ending pile of tiny shallots. Don't shortcut however, as the effort is totally worth it.

The potjie is just ideal for this type of dish. Hot at first to sear the bacon, meat and mushrooms, then a long gentle cook using just about anything that burns as fuel. Unlike the fire needed for an open grill, a potjie fire is very forgiving. I used offcuts from a bookcase I made for our Luca over a few 'spare' weekends, plus bits of a broken oak toilet seat I had secretly stashed in the garage. My wife insisted that it be thrown away and NEVER be burnt to cook with. So I smiled sweetly and hid it, knowing exactly what I was going to do with it.

This recipe can be cooked on the hob or in the oven, so if you don't have your own potjie (a traditional African three legged pot) don't let yourself miss out. This recipe is to die for. But on the other hand, you could go and get one and enjoy an outdoor fire on a beautiful, still, cold evening.

For the quantities for my shopping list, I started with a Gordon Ramsay recipe I found at bbcgoodfood.com. However, having made plenty of bourgignon's in the past, I was thinking of ways to make it outstanding. So here are a few tips. Firstly, the sauce needs thickening, so I added a heaped desert spoon of plain flour early on. Secondly, to add some real punch,  immediatley before serving I stirred in a mixture of finely chopped garlic, thyme and mushrooms, leaving some aside for a fresh, pungent, and colourful garnish. I seasoned the dish heavily, with lots of black pepper and sea salt, ground in a pestle and mortar.

All those aromas combined with the rich, glossy sauce and tender slow cooked meat packs some serious punch, and leaves a lingering peppery aftertaste. It went down a treat, our guests loved it.

INGREDIENTS (Serves 8)

- 1.2 kg of beef/venison shoulder, 3-4cm dice
- 1.5 bottles of red wine
- 200g cubed pancetta or finely chopped streaky smoked bacon
- 400g chestnut mushrooms, halved
- 50g chestnut mushrooms finely chopped for garnish
- A few sprigs of fresh thyme or marjoram (keep some for the garnish)
- 500g shallots, peeled, whole
- 1 tomato, chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, whole
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped for garnish
- 1 tbsp tomato puree
- 1 heaped desert spoon plain flour

Frying the bacon first to release the fat


METHOD

Start by preparing all of the ingredients. I wish I had noticed Gordon Ramsay's tip about pouring boiling water of the shallots... it makes the skins slip off, rather than the painstaking way I peeled each one individually... next time!

Heat up the potjie over a small fire, then add the bacon/pancetta. No oil needed as the bacon fat does the job. Once the bacon is cooked, remove it, leaving the fat in the pot. Then brown the beef/venison with the thyme and remove it from the pot. Brown the shallots and remove them also. The pot needs to remain really hot during this stage. Finally, fry the mushrooms and tomato for a few minutes before returning the previous items plus the tomato puree to the pot. Add the flour and stir it through, then add the wine and bring it to a gentle simmer.

Browning the meat

I hate using a flash at night, so I tried using a torch instead


Check that the fire remains low and stir from time to time. After about one hour, taste and check for seasoning. Add lots of pepper and a bit of salt. Cook for a further hour and remove from the fire.

I left mine in the pot in the kitchen overnight before re-heating on the hob the following evening. When hot and ready to serve, check for seasoning again (go on, add more pepper and a bit more salt), add the finely chopped garlic and stir through. Serve onto hot plates and sprinkle over more finely chopped mushrooms and the remaining fresh herbs.

We served the dish with crispy roast potatoes, roast chanterey carrots and steamed green beans. Hearty, wholesome, aromatic and peppery. What more could you want at this time of year.

For a starter, I made a light and refreshing salmon mouse and my wife made a delightful pecan pie for desert.

Our lovely Lolly sniffing around for tidbits


Luca's book case, the offcuts provided fuel for our meal


Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The 99p Cooked Chickens from Waitrose



This was a Sunday afternoon experience I did not expect. Our weekend was thrown into turmoil as a result of taking on a new town centre office and having to do out of hours work getting it fitted out.

My lovely wife was running around after kids and their Sunday activities, and I was on the tools installing bespoke magnetic display panels. Normally I'd be at home preparing our traditional Sunday roast, but that afternoon it was not possible. As a consolation I offered to go to Waitrose for a pre-cooked chicken before 4pm closing so all I'd need to do was roast some small chipped potatoes, steam some greens and make a sauce. Sounds simple and quick, I'm sure you'll agree.

It was simple I'll admit. But getting there involved an experience I had not predicted. I rushed to the nearby Waitrose at about 3:50 and headed straight for the cooked chicken counter panicking that there may be none left. I was in luck.

I spent a few minutes pondering over whether one large or two small chickens would meet our needs whilst I felt mildly ignored by the three assistants behind the counter as they seemed to be just chatting to the only other customer beside me. I'd just made my decision (2 small ones) when an announcement came over the PA. I was so fixated with my need for chickens I didn't hear a word of it. The next thing I was aware of was the giggling behind the counter as the assistants announced 'all chickens 99p' as the shop was about to close. The eyes in the back of my head sensed a swarm of customers approaching, and to my front the staff were saying 'quick! buy the lot before the usual mob grab them all!' Jesting I said 'I'll take them all for a tenner' still not aware of the 'usual' crowd building up behind me. All of a sudden I became acutely aware of the tension around me, I slowly turned around to see about 20 anxious people, hovering around nervously with empty shopping baskets, each one jostling for position hoping not to miss out on one of the dozen or so 99p bargains. Not a queue, just a sort of wriggling gathering.

I feel a bit mean writing this, as I truly understand how that for some the need for value for money food is so real, but my mind couldn't stop speculating... 'the usuals'? I thought. I imagined the same bunch of people visting the supermarket at a specific time, anxiously wandering around with empty shopping baskets, hoping to score the cooked chicken for a quid. They all know each other I'm sure, but are afraid to acknowledge that in case it jeopardises their chances at the counter. And they just might miss out on that 99p Sunday treat bargain.

One chicken did the job for our Sunday dinner, and the second one became a Thai green chicken curry the next day. And a bargain at that.


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