Yummy Chunky Chilli

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A family favourite if ever there was one! And makes great “ready meals” for pulling out of the freezer for when time is precious – and let’s face it, time is something we all need more of! Whether you’re looking for a nourishing mid-week meal for the family or making up batches of meals to freeze, this is a “must” try delicious dish you’ll cook time and time again.

There are variations of chilli amass and this version is my own concocted favourite, an experiment with a little extra here and there. Using succulent cubed beef and a few extra spices, this is a filling, hearty version of a firm favourite and very easy to make.

Andrew: So great for singles, couples and families to freeze for quick, instant and good food, What a great dish! So, how do we start?

Ingredients

Services 4 or 6 dependent upon the individual portions served

1 tsp of cumin seeds

1 clove of garlic, peeled, chopped and crushed

1 tsp of paprika powder

¼ – ½ tsp of chilli flakes (dependent upon individual taste)

600g cubed beef (I tend to use the 500g size frozen cubed beef available in all good supermarkets and bulk the dish out with more vegetables, in this instance, cherry tomatoes would be good or more tinned tomatoes)

2 x 400g tins of tomatoes

1x 400g tin of red kidney beans (drained and washed)

3 red peppers (or mixed will be fine as well as using frozen mixed, chopped peppers)

250ml beef or vegetable stock

Allow 60g per person of brown dried rice or a rice of your preference

Serve with a mixed salad

Method

  • Using a large saucepan or frying pan (with a lid), roast the cumin seeds until the aroma is released. This will take 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Adding the cubed beef, brown the beef, allowing it to release its juices. You may wish to add 1 tsp of oil pre-browning the beef off but I prefer to cook without so offering a low fat option. If the beef starts to stick to the pan, then add 1 tsp or a little more of water to allow the beef to brown freely without sticking.
  • Now add the crushed garlic and paprika coating the beef all over.

Andrew: Do you add the chilli flakes now, too, Dawn?

Dawn: You may, if you wish, Andrew but I prefer to add later to allow the true flavours of the combined ingredients to be released first. Also, I’m not a great fan on food that’s too spicy so I like to add a tiny amount of the chilli flakes and keep tasting until I have a flavour I’m happy with.

Andrew: I love fresh chilli! Can I have use of those?

Dawn: You can use them if you like, but be careful with the SHU of the chilli otherwise you will blow your socks off!

Andrew: That’s the Scoville Heat Scale! Check it out online. A Scotch Bonnet has a powerful punch!

Dawn: Also be very careful. Wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. I have seen a lot of red eyes from people wiping their peepers with ‘chilli hands’!

Andrew: Yes! And our gentleman readers need to be very careful!

Dawn: Too much information, Andrew! Can I get on now?!?

  • With the beef covered in the spices, added the chopped red peppers and stir into the beef and spices mixture.
  • Now add the two tins of tomatoes and the stock, stirring into the beef mixture. I like to rinse out the empty tins with the stock so all the lovely, yummy mushiness of the tomatoes clinging to the insides of the tins is washed away, into the cooking dish.
  • Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to allow the ingredients to simmer. Add the kidney beans. Cover and leave to cook on the hob until the beef is soft and succulent. Do pop back and give the dish a stir and you can towards the end of cooking, sample and add salt and pepper to season.

Andrew: Can I use dried kidney beans?

Dawn: You can, but you must boil them on a fast boil for ten minutes to eliminate any toxins, before cooking thoroughly.

Andrew: I remember that was one of Esther Rantzen’s great campaigns on That’s Life. They are so good for you aren’t they? Now, how long does it take to cook, Dawn?

Dawn: Well, I normally cook mine for about 1 hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours to ensure the meat is really tender like I like it to be.

  • About 10-25 minutes before the chilli is due to be ready, put your brown rice into a saucepan of boiling, salted water and cook as per the instructions. The cooking time may vary so follow the particular instructions you have.
  • At this stage, you can also add the chilli flakes to the chilli to allow the flavour to be soaked up into the mixture. Try adding a tiny amount and tasting until you’re happy with the strength and depth of flavours.
  • You’re now ready to serve the dish and I like to add a mixed a salad for a cool and refreshing contrast to the chilli.

Andrew: That’s delicious, and a really great ‘ready meal’ for the freezer and a quick, filling week night dinner.

Dawn: Yes, Andrew, it’s a an excellent meal to portion up and freeze for eating when you haven’t much time to cook.

Dawn and Andrew: Bon appetit! Or buon provecho as they say in Mexico!!!

Tomato and Aubergine Gratin

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Andrew: I first cooked this dish at University for a group of 12 people for a birthday celebration for a vegetarian friend, one of the first vegetarian dishes I ever made. There is quite a lot of preparation, but it is worth it in the end for the taste. This dish is also delicious cold the next day, as the aubergines absorb the flavour and have a wonderful texture.

Ingredients

For 6 healthy appetites

3 large aubergines

1 large white onion

1 or 2 cloves of garlic

1 red chilli (optional)

1 tsp dried basil, or a bunch of fresh basil

1 jar passata (sieved tomatoes)

1 tsp white sugar

450g pot of natural yoghurt

2 good handfuls of grated cheese of your choice

1 good handful of breadcrumbs

Method

  • Cut the aubergines into centimetre thick slices and in a heavy bottomed pan heat some olive oil and melt a little butter. Fry the aubergine slices on both sides until golden.  You will need to do this in batches unless you use a second pan.
  • The aubergines do absorb a lot of oil, so place them on kitchen towel when cooked to absorb any excess. Your pan will be very hot from the first batch, so allow your next batch of oil to heat up before adding the butter. Don’t heat them together or the butter will burn.
  • Put the aubergines on one side to cool. They should be golden, and flexible. Don’t worry if they are a little ‘over brown’ it adds to the flavour. If some of your slices are a little thin or have torn, that isn’t a problem either. When you layer-up they will be hidden.
  • Cut the onion in half, and slice into thin half rings. Fry these gently in more oil in the aubergine pan, with the crushed or sliced garlic and the chilli if using that. Fry until the onion is slightly transparent and the garlic begins to turn golden, but not burnt.
  • Add the dried basil and fry for thirty seconds or so allowing the flavour to be released. If using fresh basil, add later as in the Bolognese recipe.
  • Add the passata to the onions in the pan, with a teaspoon of white sugar and add black pepper to season. When I first cooked this passata wasn’t available in the UK and I had to skin the tomatoes and force them through a sieve with the back of a spoon. Simmer for five minutes, allowing the sauce to thicken.
  • At this point you can allow the sauce to cool. The aubergines and sauce can be prepared earlier in the day or even the night before, but keep the aubergines covered and contained in the fridge because they absorb other flavours.
  • Now you are ready to layer up in an oven proof dish.
  • Start with a layer of aubergines, covering the bottom of the dish. Add half the tomato sauce, spreading out evenly over the aubergines. Then add half the yoghurt, with a dessert spoon so it sits on top of the tomato sauce. Add a second layer of aubergines, which can be your thin and torn ones, then the rest of the tomato sauce and yoghurt before ending with the rest of the aubergines.
  • In a bowl, mix your breadcrumbs with the grated cheese.

Dawn: Fresh breadcrumbs, Sir?

Andrew: I got these from the freezer earlier. I keep the stale ends of loaves and blitz them through the food processor. I always keep a couple of bags in the freezer.

Dawn: A good bit of economy. And the cheese?

Andrew: Any will work if it melts well. I use a good strong Lancashire with a little parmesan.

Dawn: Or a extra mature cheddar will do the trick, too. 

  • Spread the cheese and breadcrumb mix evenly over the top layer of aubergines.
  • Bake in the middle of your oven at 200°C for 30 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the breadcrumbs golden.
  • Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes and serve with a nice crisp green salad.

Dawn: I’m famished! Really looking forward to tucking into this tasty treat, Mr C!

Brilliant Bolognese

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Andrew: Spaghetti Bolognese is a good old student staple, and I have developed this recipe over the years through experimentation and now have something far tastier than the basic mince, onion and tomato concoction that my 18 year old self served up!

It is now my youngest daughter’s favourite! It is requested for every birthday and when friends come round to stay. Leftovers can be frozen when cooled. There aren’t leftovers very often.

Dawn: That sounds like a great flavoursome meal! Just what this blog is all about!

Ingredients

For 4 hearty portions

1 medium carrot

1 medium sized courgette

3 rashers streaky bacon

Herbs: dried or fresh thyme, oregano, marjoram, basil

600g minced beef

1 onion red or white

1 red pepper

Handful of mushrooms (optional)

1 or 2 tins of tomatoes: whole or chopped

Tomato purée or tomato ketchup

Green pesto (optional)

1 glass of red wine (optional)

Pasta of your choice

Parmesan to serve

Method

  • In a wide and deep pan, warm 15ml of olive oil on a low heat. Add grated carrot and courgette and sweat them on the low heat until they start to darken and break down a little. This takes about five minutes.

Dawn: Why use these vegetables – don’t you start with onions?

Andrew: It gives the sauce its base, bulks it out with vegetables and also adds texture while absorbing the flavours later on.

  • Add the finely chopped bacon to the pan and raise the heat a little to colour the bacon, but don’t crisp it! Flavour and texture again!
  • Add the dried herbs. You don’t need to use all four: I used thyme and basil the last time I did this. About two teaspoons would be sufficient. Allow them to get in contact with the pan, and the flavours will flood your kitchen. Cook for about a minute. Keep them moving so they don’t burn.

Dawn: What about those fresh herbs Andrew? If you used them, they would burn?

Andrew: That’s right Dawn! Use them later on when you are adding the other vegetables. I prefer some torn basil leaves. If using thyme, pull the leaves from the stalks.

  • Turn up the heat a little more. Add the minced beef to the pan, making sure it is well separated. Keep turning until it browns.
  • Chop the onion; fine if you want a smoother end product, roughly if you prefer a more ‘rustic’ touch. Recently I have been using red onion in preference for the colour and also because of the milder and sweeter flavour.
  • Chop the peppers and mushrooms to your preference too.
  • Add the onion, mixing in well, before adding the peppers and mushrooms.
  • Add the tinned tomatoes and mix in well. If using whole tomatoes chop them in the pan with a spatula or wooden spoon. Use a second tin if you prefer, or wish to add more bulk to the dish.

Dawn: Fresh tomatoes would be good too, wouldn’t they?

Andrew: They would, but would have to be really ripe. I have done that in Italy where they were really cheap and plentiful. Beautiful, deep red, rich and juicy plum tomatoes. Some people remove the skin by leaving them in freshly boiled water but I don’t always bother with that. Do remove the pips though!

Dawn: Sounds lovely! Especially cooking this in the sunshine!

  • Add in a table spoon tomato purée, or if you prefer my guilty pleasure a good dollop of tomato ketchup.

Dawn: That doesn’t sound very Italian!

Andrew: It isn’t, but ketchup adds a little sweetness to the sauce. If you use purée and take the sauce from the heat too early it can be a little bitter.

  • Add the wine if using it, and a desert spoon of green pesto. Another guilty pleasure, but if you like a strong basil ‘kick’ this will give it. Some people add a stock cube or a dash of Worcestershire sauce here, but I think it would overcomplicate the flavour.
  • Add black pepper to taste, and a little salt.
  • Turn the heat down low; put the lid on the pan and leave to simmer for thirty minutes to an hour. This is the really crucial part of the dish. This will allow the flavours to permeate, for the colours to develop and for the meat to become really tender.
  • When ready to your taste, remove from the heat, and leave to one side to cool while you cook the pasta.

Dawn: Can any pasta be used, Andrew?

Andrew: Yes, and traditionally a long pasta is used; usually spaghetti, but I prefer linguine, which is flatter and takes a little less time to cook. Tagliatelle is just as good too.

Dawn: Dried or fresh?

Andrew: Either, it is up to you, but I have never found fresh pasta in any Italian supermarket.

Dawn: I suppose if you had the time and inclination, you could make your own pasta and it’s worth remembering that there are some really great ones to buy with herbs and add-ins that are simply amazing to eat.

  • Serve with parmesan and plenty of black pepper. Enjoy with a fresh green salad and a nice Chianti!

Dawn: Sounds delicious! Room for one more?

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