Saturday, 18 October 2014

One–pot Vietnamese Beef Stew

One–pot Vietnamese Beef and Squash Stew

Is there anything better or more comforting than a slow-cooked one-pot meal when the temperature drops and days grow shorter? Casseroles, stews, curries and pot roasts – they are good for the soul. The fact that they require little effort and minimal washing up doesn't hurt either. I am currently pretty obsessed with one-pot wonders given that I am cooking in a temporary kitchen set up in our living room while our kitchen is being renovated (newsflash: we now have a floor and skylights in place – so exciting).

Another reason behind my obsession is that Le Creuset send me their Cast Iron Shallow Casserole (I know, I can hardly believe it myself) and it is a thing of real beauty. I did consider putting on display and simply admiring it from afar but that would have been a real waste. Because, apart from its understated good looks, this casserole is an absolute joy to cook in. I am going to be putting that lifetime warranty through its paces let me tell you.

I road-tested my new casserole with a recipe I have been making for years - Vietnamese beef stew. It is such an amazingly fragrant and comforting dish that, like most stews, tastes even better the day after its made. You can use inexpensive cuts of meat (braising steak, or shin) as the long and slow cooking guarantees they will be melt-in-the-mouth tender by time you tuck in. I like to add butternut squash to make this stew stretch further and occasionally throw in sweet potatoes as well. Just add these vegetables towards the end as they will disintegrate too much if added early on. Serve in the casserole (it will keep the food warm plus it looks so good on the table) with plenty of crusty bread - a French baguette preferably - and some red wine.

One–pot Vietnamese Beef and Squash Stew

One–pot Vietnamese Beef and Squash Stew
One–pot Vietnamese Beef and Squash Stew

One–pot Vietnamese Beef Stew
Serves 4
900g (2lb) beef shin, cut into cubes
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
1 tsp ground pepper
2 lemongrass stalks, finely chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp palm sugar (or dark brown sugar)
4 banana shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 green chillies, finely chopped
4 large tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
2 kafir lime leaves
625ml | 2 1/2 cups hot beef stock
450g | 1lb butternut squash, peeled and cubed
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
Basil leaves, chopped to garnish

  1. Combine the beef, flour, spice, pepper, lemongrass, garlic, soy sauce and sugar in a bowl and mix well. Leave to marinate for an hour.
  2. Preheat the oven to 160C (325F) and have all your vegetables prepared.
  3. Put the oil in the casserole and heat over medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, lower the temperature to medium-low and brown the beef cubes.
  4. Add the shallots and chillies and fry for a couple of minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, carrots, cinnamon stick, star anise, kafir lime leaves and stock and bring slowly to a rolling simmer.
  6. Cover the casserole and transfer to the oven. Cook for an hour then add the butternut squash (be careful the pot will be very hot) and give the stew a stir.
  7. Return to the oven and cook for a further 45 minutes to 1 hour until meat is very tender.
  8. Add some chopped basil leaves, check the seasoning and serve with crusty bread.
Notes: You can make this in any lidded casserole (Dutch oven) and it can be left to slowly simmer on the stove for 2 hours.

One–pot Vietnamese Beef Stew

One–pot Vietnamese Beef Stew

Le Creuset have been making their iconic cast iron pots since 1925, and much of the finishing on each pot is done by hand making each one unique. They come with a lifetime warranty and can take the heat of the oven but also used on pretty much any kind of stovetop. Such quality (sadly) doesn't come cheap but bear in mind that with a little care you could be passing your pots down the generations. 

Friday, 17 October 2014

Ultimate gluten-free chocolate cake with fudge sauce

Supergolden Bakes: Ultimate gluten-free chocolate cake

When Waitrose challenged me to recreate one of their chocolate cake recipes from their newly-launched Ultimate chocolate recipes collection it was pretty much a no-brainer. I don't really need many excuses to bake but I realised that it has been a while since I made chocolate cake. Chocolate is quite expensive these days and if you are going to use 3 or 4 bars in a recipe you want to be pretty sure it will be worth the expense and effort.

The recipe that caught my eye on the Waitrose site was the Flourless chocolate praline cake. I must admit the name is quite misleading as the cake doesn't contain praline but roasted ground hazelnuts. Do they count as praline? In any case, I was roasting the hazelnuts in the oven while making the Peruvian soup and the whole time I was thinking something smelled funny in the house... as it turns out that was the smell of the hazelnuts being burned to a crisp. Yes, I completely forgot about them. A quick search revealed I had no more hazelnuts so I substituted with pecans. Well, Waitrose wanted a twist and here's one that was forced on me.

The cake was very easy to make and turned out rather spectacular - not in looks maybe, but certainly in texture and taste: rich yet light with a fudgy, almost brownie, texture. I decorated with Waitrose's Dreamy Clouds of Meringue Melting Moments and served it with homemade chocolate fudge sauce. The cake was rapturously received by the local builders as well as my children who declared it 'the best you have ever made'.

Supergolden Bakes: Ultimate gluten-free chocolate cake
Supergolden Bakes: Ultimate gluten-free chocolate cake

Ultimate gluten-free chocolate cake
175g | 6.2oz unsalted butter, softened
100g | 3.5oz whole blanched hazelnuts (I used pecans)
175g | 6.2oz caster sugar
200g | 7oz dark chocolate (70% cocoa), chopped*
5 eggs, separated
1/2  tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C (350F) and roast the hazelnuts for about 10 minutes keeping a close eye on them so they don't burn. Cool slightly then blitz in a food processor together with 1 tbsp of the sugar until finely ground.
  2. Lower the oven to 160C (325F) and line the bottom of a 23cm (9in) springform cake tin with baking paper, then spray the tin with cake release.
  3. Chop the chocolate really small and put in a bowl suspected over a saucepan of barely simmering water (make sure the bowl does not touch the water). Let the chocolate melt slowly, giving it an occasional stir. Once melted set aside to cool slightly.
  4. Whisk 100g (3.5oz) of the sugar with the butter until light and fluffy. 
  5. Add the eggs yolks, one at a time, and beat them in until they are incorporated.
  6. Gradually add the melted chocolate then fold in the nuts and vanilla extract.
  7. Whisk the eggs whites with the remaining sugar and salt until you have stiff peaks.
  8. Add 1/3 of the meringue into the chocolate mixture to loosen then fold in the rest gently trying not to knock the air out.
  9. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Bake for 50-55 minutes. The cake will rise in the tin but and a skewer inserted in the centre will come out with a few crumbs attached.
  10. Cool in the tin then remove and transfer to a cake stand (or plate). The cake will settle slightly as it cools.
  11. Decorate with the meringue melting moments and drizzle with chocolate fudge sauce.
Notes: Serve warm topped with ice cream and chocolate fudge sauce if you really want to impress. 

Disclaimer: Waitrose supplied me with the ingredients to make this recipe. Check out their Ultimate Cake Recipes on their website. 

Supergolden Bakes: Ultimate gluten-free chocolate cake
Supergolden Bakes: Ultimate gluten-free chocolate cake
Supergolden Bakes: Ultimate gluten-free chocolate cake