Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Give it some Beef Welly on Christmas Eve

We are a big family and have a 6' x 4' dry wipe board up in the study area (next to the exercise machine / coat stand) where important things get written and stuck up.  It's a great way of communicating with the (seven) kids and when, in the middle of December I posted the question: "What do you want to eat on Christmas Eve" the answer was writ large by our 12 year old Carnivore son: BEEF.

Now we have beef as a treat in our house (In fact the same 12 year old ate so much rib of beef once he had the "meat sweats" all night and had to miss a day off school!) .  I like to buy properly cared for meat and I wanted to do something "special".

A quick tweet and I had an answer - a very good one too - Beef Wellington and @hollowlegs had the perfect recipe.

I had missed the boat as far as my usual butcher was concerned (Peter Russell in Southdown, Harpenden)  - he'd already closed his books for Christmas orders so I resorted to Donald Russell (no relation I'm sure) who I had used before and although expensive were well worth the money.  I ordered the 1.6kg fillet of beef on line for delivery on the 22nd - plenty of time to thaw it out and get to work.

I started the day before by finely chopping a whole kilo of button mushrooms in a little butter until nearly all the moisture was driven oand then adding fresh thyme, salt and pepper.  The enormous fillet was seared in olive oil then seasoned and a thin layer of hot English mustard applied. These were then both set asside in the fridge to cool.

The day of the feast I prepared herb crepes with tarragon and chive and then laid them out overlapping on several sheets of overlapping clingwrap.  On top of the  crepes went a layer of Parma Ham followed by the mushroom paste and finally the beef.

The difficult bit was getting this layer cake wrapped round the beef but with much jiggling and assistance from the resident carnivore (who was desperate to sit and eat the fillet as it was) we made it and left the clingwrap round it and returned it to the back of the Prius (over flow Christmas fridge)

It took two packs of puff pastry to cover this monster - I know I should have made my own but just did not have the time - maybe next year?  Anyway I did manage to cover the whole thing and gave it three layers of egg wash before scoring the top and applying an extra wash of egg for a really deep colour.

With such a big piece of beef I knew it was going to take longer than the 20mins in the recipe I was using.  In fact it took nearly an hour at 180 degrees and then I rested it for 30mins while I finished off the saute potatoes and griddled baby gem letuce.

I served iot with a redwine and balsamic reduction that had a handfull of chopped shallot thrown in at the begining  and I have to say it was the best Wellington I have ever had!

A big thank you to @hollowlegs - her recipie blog can be found here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sweet Potato, Rosemary & Garlic Risotto

What better way to warm the kids and ourselves after walking back from school than with a big shiny steaming bowlful of Sweet Potato, Rosemary and Garlic Risotto.

Tuesday night is Risotto night in our house and today I happened to have a few sweet potatoes and sprigs of Rosemary left over from the weekend and as I hate throwing ANYTHING away I thought I'd use them up tonight!

Needless to say 20 mins after serving it up - it had all gone (apart from the bowlful I set aside for lunch tomorrow - shush don't tell the kids!) and I am now blogging when I should be loading the dishwasher!

Sweet Potato, Rosemary & Garlic Risotto - Serves 9 (2 adults, 2 teens & 5 smaller kids)


  • 4 Medium Sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (5mm cube)
  • 3 Sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • 750g Risotto Rice
  • 2 Sweet white Onions, finely chopped.
  • 1/2 Bottle of white wine (I used a very nice 2009 Cape Weaver Chenin Blanc)
  • 1 1/2 litre hot vegetable stock (Marigold Organic Reduced Salt Swiss Bullion) 
  • 250 g Mascapone Cheese
  • Salt, Pepper, Fresh Grated Parmesan & Chopped Rocket to taste.

  1. Roast the Sweet potato cubes, garlic and rosemary in a splash of olive oil - medium hot oven for 20 mins or so until they are just beginning to char at the corners.

  2. In a large pan gently fry the chopped onion in a splash of olive oil and add the rice - keeping it turning until the rice just begins to stick to the bottom of the pan.

  3. Splash in the wine - if you're lucky you can get it to flame up as the alcohol ignites - the kids LOVE this bit!

  4. Add half the roasted sweet potato (and as much or as little of the garlic and rosemary as you like) and slowly add the hot stock  stiring while simmering until the rice is just about cooked.

  5. Stir in the Mascapone cheese and the rest of the sweet potato.

  6. Check seasoning and add parmesan, salt and pepper to your taste.

  7. Serve with a sprinkling of roughly chopped rocket leaf and dots or swirls of olive oil.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I Lurrve My Kitchen

I love cooking and eating and my kitchen don't often look as good as this!  With 9 of us in the house - 2 adults and a septet of kids from 5 to 13 not forgetting the dog and a rabbit (who has decided to move inside for the winter) - our kitchen it certainly at the heart of the home.

I'll admit that I am very lucky to have been able to build it to my desires - and I mean BUILD IT - myself.  Every brick, block, pipe, wire, cable, rubber floor and drop of paint is where it is due to sweat, blood (but not too much) and quite a few tears along the way.  Okay I didn't weld the steels into place (my welds look like cottage cheese and are probably just as strong, I did not finish the plastering either - okay I can ice a cake but not one upside down and 8m x 12m as the ceiling is!

From my "control centre" I can see most of the ground floor and those I can see can be MSN'd in the office or their bedrooms - although I do have a trumpet ( I can't play but it seemed like a good "car boot" idea at the time) in my larder to rally the troops!

I love my sink - it's big enough for the biggest pots and pans or the dog (although I did install the old sink OUTSIDE with hot and cold running water for veg cleaning etc) and fitted with a mixer, spray head and Quooker instant boiling water tap which is great and has saved us loads on pointless boiling of the kettle which always got forgotten at least 10 times a day.

The units are from ikea and I can't fault them and I love the interiors - I have great clean lines and my every day stuff to hand.  With a bit of "cheating"  I have all those extra bits and bobs - to hand but hidden away with an extra "inside" drawer.

I mentioned the larder - not quite finished but well on the way and at the moment full of all sorts of Christmas treats including my Stir Up Sunday Christmas Puds, mincemeat and home made Lemoncello, Rumtopfs and Christmas Cakes that are maturing nicely in the cool air.

Finishing touches are the Duck Egg Rubber floor that I have taken up the plinths and round the back of the cooker and dishwasher and lovely granite tops.  And I love the clock - an ebay find that just sets it all off.

I hope you have enjoyed this tour of my kitchen - I wanted to set the picture and hope to be blogging on a regular basis over Xmas - any feedback would be very welcome.



Friday, December 4, 2009

Simply the Cress

I'd heard a rumour in the village that there was, not too far away, a gold mine of fresh local produce and on a day like today you hardly need an excuse to get out, into the country side, and get some fresh air!  
What I found was Nine Wells Watercress Farm - one of the few working watercress farms left in the area.  As I arrived at the farm which is  situated on the River Mimram in Whitwell, North Herts, I could see the cress pickers bent over and hard at work in the gorgeous deep green cress beds.

When I arrived there was a rather distinguished looking gentleman, who I assumed was the proprietor,  in the brick barn that serves as the shop.  We chatted, about the weather, the produce, the weather again - and then, to my surprise hi picked up a bag of veg and said goodbye!?

The shop uses an Honesty Box, well honesty Letterbox - you select you goods, work out how much you owe and post it through the letter box of the farm house. I was there for about 20 minutes and about 10 people came and went with bunches of fresh water cress, eggs, sprouting brocolli, bunched carrots etc.

There are a plentiful supply of recycled carrier bags and even a pad of paper and pencils so you can jot down your total as you fill your bag.

I came away with a very big bag of cauliflower, shallots, bunched carrots, red and yellow onions, baking potatoes, new potatoes, purple sprouting brocoli and garlic and of course lovely spicy water cress - all produced locally.

I'm now off to cook up a vegetable storm - I think cauliflower cheese tonight, some watercress soup followed by new poatoes, baby carrots and brocolli tomorrow (I have some venison valentine steaks in the freezer from Harpers that will go fine with those) and baked poatoes on Sunday.

Nine Wells Watercress Farm
Lilley Bottom Rd
t: 01462 433 873
Opening: drop in and buy from the stable