Wednesday, 28 January 2009

in your dreams, sister...


End of Jan, rain tips down, trees drip and icy blasts fret at the gap between fashionable low cut jeans and skimpy vest... sometimes, all you want in the world is a real fire (made by man of house... 'stand aside woman, this man's work'. In your dreams, sister...) and a bowl of chilli. That's what I thought, anyway, as I staggered off the bus unladen by bags (can no longer afford shopping contained inside bags) but clutching a sad use-me-again hessian sack of mince beef and a tin of tomatoes. Man of house absent, doubtless in the Groucho club creating sparks of another kind, so use-me-again woman (just one more old bag in the recycle of life) made the fire herself, opened up a bottle of red wine and set to with the beef and tomatoes.
Now, Nigel Slater has a really good tip about mince... leave it to cook for ages in the pan until bits of it are going brown and crispy. He's right it's delicious and it also means that you can get on with other things while it's cooking - like stoking up fire, retrieving sitting room from grasp of messy teenage daughter and speaking on telephone to recently divorced friend ('No kidding.. what a bastard he turned out to be...'). Soon the mince is spitting away and the smell is divine. All that's left to do is find an onion, search around for the chilli (M&S do a really good very hot chilli), open up a tin of tomatoes and put on the rice.

feeds 6

500g mince beef
1 large onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled, crushed and chopped
1 red chilli pepper, deseeded and chopped (opt)
hot chilli powder
dash of red wine (opt)
1 tin tomatoes
tomato paste
about 500ml water or stock
handful chopped parsley

Heat some oil in a large deep pan and fry the mince til beginning to crisp and brown. Add the onions, stir round a bit and cook for five minutes or so. Add the garlic and chopped chilli, cook a bit longer (about 2 mins) until the onion is beginning to soften and turn golden. Add the chilli powder, as much or as little as you like, stir in the wine if using and let the meat mix hiss and bubble. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and as much stock or water as you think necessary. You want a thick bubbling sauce to emerge, glowing red in colour and emanating that exciting hot and musty chilli smell. Cover and leave to cook for half an hour or so (adding stock if necessary) and then put on the rice. Stir in a handful of parsley into the chilli just before end of cooking and season with salt and plenty of pepper. To serve: heap rice into bowls and spoon over the chilli, garnish with the rest of the parsley and add a dollop of sour cream on the side, if you like. Sit by fire and eat.

Solitary lunch

It's 2.30pm and in the white hot fire of creation, you've forgotten to have lunch. But now that you've thought about it, stabbing pangs of hunger start to attack. Lunch... it's got to be quick, it's got to make a nod to the five-a-day and it's got to be something you can eat while marvelling at Angela Lansbury's popping eyes on Murder She Wrote. Here's what I had.

fennel and mushrooms on toast
feeds one

half a bulb of fennel, finely chopped
7 or 8 mushrooms, chopped
olive oil
parsley or tarragon, finely chopped
parmesan cheese (opt)
tblsp cream
1 piece of bread

Heat the butter and oil in a small pan and fry the fennel til it begins to soften . Add the mushrooms and continue to cook. Put the toast in the toaster. Add the parsley or tarragon to the mushrooms, grate in some parmesan if using and stir in the cream. Season with salt and plenty of pepper and cook for a couple of minutes til bubbling. Slice the toast in half, put on a plate and spoon over the mushroom mix.

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