Pinteresting Easter Monday!

This was the first holiday John and I have spent alone and although that makes it sound like a sad occasion, it was actually by choice. The most exciting part of this decision was the chance to cook an entire special meal from start to finish. Usually, because we are with family, we just contribute a side dish or dessert so, despite all my cooking and baking experience, I have never been the person solely responsible for an all out holiday meal until yesterday. We talked through some options, looked over Pinterest, recalled some of the best dishes from our favourite restaurants, and came up with a menu: Whiskey Beef Stew with Yorkshire Puddings, Roasted Parsnips and Crunchy Lemon Basil Brussels Sprouts. 

Easter Dinner

The first part of our meal was a recipe I came across on Pinterest so I have decided to share it with you all for Pinteresting Easter Monday. I am not usually a fan of stews and pot roasts so for me to actually find one I love is a big deal!. What really struck me about this recipe was the whisky (need I say more?) and Yorkshire puddings (which to me are synonymous with holiday meals). Once we had settled on this recipe, it seemed only natural to go in the way of a British theme so Parsnips and Brussels Sprouts were quickly added to the menu. For the parsnips, I just roasted them with some olive oil, salt and pepper for 45 minutes in a 375 F oven. As amazing as the stew was, and as much as we love parsnips, the real star of the show ended up being the Brussels Sprouts which I will share with you more thoroughly later this week as they deserve a post entirely their own. In the meantime, here is the original recipe for the stew with my notes in bold.

Whiskey, Beef and Mushroom Stew in a Yorkshire Pudding Bowl  (from Elizabeth’s Kitchen)

Whiskey Beef Stew with Mushrooms and Potatoes

Serves 2 (I actually found that this will serve more like 4 people)

400g (1 lb) stewing beef or casserole steak, cubed
flour
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
oil for frying 
2 onions, thickly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 heaped tsp paprika
1 tsp dried herbs de provence (this is typically a mixture of Rosemary, Thyme, Fennel Seed and sometimes Lavendar. I just used Rosemary and Thyme)
1 bay leaf
1 large potato, peeled and cubed
13 button mushrooms, cleaned
70ml (about a quarter cup) whisky 
1 pint beef stock (2 cups)

Mix flour with salt & pepper. Dredge meat cubes, shake off excess and set aside. Heat oil in a frying pan and fry beef in batches until each side is seared. Remove with a slotted spoon and place into a large pot. Fry onions and garlic in the oil until the onions soften.  Stir in paprika and fry a further minute. Transfer to the pot. Add potato, mushrooms and remaining herbs. Pour whiskey and stock into the frying pan and bring to the boil, scraping up all the little bits on the bottom. Transfer to the pot. Cook on a medium heat for at least an hour. Alternatively, cook in a slow cooker for 8 hours on low. When the meat is tender thicken with some cornflour if desired, although I feel it’s perfect just as is. I decided I didn’t want to dirty two pans so after dredging the meat, I seared it in my deep non-stick pan with 1 tbsp olive oil. I removed the meat and softened the onions in the same oil. I put the meat back in with the onions, added the mushrooms, potatoes and remaining spices, deglazed with the whiskey and then added the stock. It simmered in this same pan for 1 hour.  

Serve with Yorkshire puddings.

300ml full fat milk (1 1/4 cups)
4 eggs
pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
250g plain flour, sifted (1 cup)
dripping

Whisk together milk, eggs, salt and pepper and leave to stand for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat your dishes with dripping in the oven until very, very hot. I used an 18cm Le Cruset pan to make the Yorkshire ‘bowl’. Stir flour into the egg/milk mixture and pour into the very hot pan.  (I don’t have this size pan so I just made smaller puddings in a muffin pan with a tbsp of drippings/oil and -once hot- 3/4 full of batter ) Bake for 20 minutes. 

Whiskey Beef Stew with Mushrooms and Potatoes There are several reasons why you should try this stew:

1) it’s easy and delicious

2) whiskey…but seriously though!

3) it can be adapted for the crock pot making it even easier

4) it will make your house smell amazing while it’s bubbling away

5) except for the whiskey (depending on your pantry), it is really quite inexpensive, hearty and all the ingredients are probably sitting in your fridge and cupboard at this very moment!

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Hotel Chocolat- trying to do the right thing

Chocolate

Chocolate…could we imagine life without it? We’ve all wanted to drink from the Wonka River at some point. But this dark delight also has a darker side hidden at the cocoa farms in places like Cote d’Ivore (The Ivory Coast). One of the things that impressed me most about England during my return over Christmas was the amount of ethically sourced chocolate easily available. Here in the States, most people I meet have never heard of the human right’s issues surrounding the cocoa industry. To be honest I am not surprised when you consider that the major chocolate companies in this country are the ones continuing to fuel the problem. It’s hard for us to accept in our modern society that chocolate is a luxury item when we consume such massive amounts. Even more so, in this difficult economy, we aren’t interested in paying more money for something that you can find everywhere for much cheaper prices. But the truth is, that chocolate is a luxury item and the only reason it has become such a predominant part of our lives is because cocoa is being harvested in harsh conditions and mostly on the backs of child workers, a lot of whom are slaves, so it can be a cheaper commodity.

chocolate

Just for a moment think about all the ease with which we find chocolate and use it in daily life…..desserts at restaurants, in healthy snacks as well as indulgent ones, baked goods, in coffee drinks, chocolate milk, and breakfast cereals not to mention all the holidays that focus on candy and chocolate….Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Christmas and Easter. You then start to realize why this issue is not being brought to the forefront as much as other human rights issues. Can you imagine the impact on the cocoa industry?….No but seriously, can you imagine the impact on the cocoa industry? Our choices make all the difference for other people around the world. I think as consumers we feel so powerless against these corporate giants. It almost reminds me of the Disney-Pixar movie A Bug’s Life where all the ants think that the grasshoppers have this terrifying  control over them. But, there’s the great moment when the ants suddenly get it…..there are more of them, they are the ones who provide food and they have the real power after all. We are the ants….there are more of us than there are greedy corporations and our money and purchase power are what they depend on. If a company starts losing profits, and their shareholders are not happy, you can guarantee that they will change tactics to get their ‘piece of the pie’. Just look at the ‘organic’ industry and all that has changed in the last 10 years. Once sales for non-organic items began to drop, smart companies realized they needed to start producing more organic items to recoup their profits. Already, we are beginning to see the pressure in some parts of the country and in the UK and it’s forcing companies not to turn a blind eye anymore but to take responsibility for their cocoa farmers/suppliers practices. And, although not enough change has happened yet, there are several cocoa companies, such as Divine (on-line and specialty stored) and Green & Blacks (only one available at major grocery chains), specializing in producing chocolate in ethical ways.

Slave Free Chocolate

While in England my brother introduced us to the masterful world of Hotel Chocolat and you can imagine my delight when I discovered that they are making it part of their mission to treat and pay their farmers as valued employees and investing in their well being and success.  I then felt totally free to wander round their little Cambridge boutique and admire the ingenious chocolate creations. Here are the ones my generous brother purchased for us to sample. Needless to say they were amazing!

Hotel Chocolat

Some of you may not have heard about the issue of child labour and slavery in the cocoa industry, and probably have lots of questions There are obviously many factors contributing to these problems and I have only touched the surface so here are some helpful links to aid you in your own research. 

Hotel Chocolat

Crossing Borders Fair Trade

CNN Freedom Project

Food is Power

Finally, I understand that it can be quite overwhelming when you begin to learn about this issue and might be uncertain about what to do next. Even if it is informing others, trading out just one of your usual candy bar choices for a slave-free one, or going all out and only purchasing/consuming slave-free options, everything is beneficial in sending the message that these kinds of practices are not acceptable. It is a long road ahead to make the world slave-free but the worst thing we can do is remain ignorant and not do anything.

Not Your Grandma’s Pancake Day!

Yesterday was one of my favourite English ‘holidays’. Pancake Day is not a hyped up, marketing holiday designed for companies to make millions, but an inexpensive celebration that draws the family together for a meal of pancakes (crepes). Those simple and humble ingredients of milk, flour and eggs can be combined to make an irresistible treat. Of course, getting the basic recipe is vital but let’s face it, the reason crepes have become a huge hit across the globe is really more to do with the fillings and toppings. Sweet and Savoury alike, the possibilities are endless and even though Nutella is probably the most popular of indulgences, there is something to be said about the sour crunch of the English classic with  sprinkled sugar and lemon juice.

However, in true Grumbling Belly fashion, where darkness and moments of brilliance collide, I decided to explore some new flavour options last night. One was inspired by my love affair with lemon curd, and the other was born from my need to use up some leftover pumpkin and sage. This certainly wasn’t the usual holiday fare but it was fun and delicious.

What are some of your favourite crepe fillings and toppings?

Basic Crepe Recipe

(makes about 8-10 crepes)

1 cup of plain (AP) flour

1 egg

1/2 tbsp melted butter

pinch of salt

1 cup of milk

1/2 tbsp butter

(Mix all ingredients until smooth and place in the fridge for a couple of hours before cooking. For more tips on crepes see Peppermint Chocolate Crepe Cake)

Drunken Pumpkin Crepe Filling (savoury)

Drunken Pumpkin Crepes

(makes about 4 servings)

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large shallot chopped

1 large garlic clove chopped

1 tbsp of finely chopped fresh sage

1 tsp grated orange zest

2 tbsp whiskey

1 tbsp brown sugar

1/2 can of pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

2 tbsp of grated Parmesan cheese

(toasted pine nuts- optional)

salt and pepper to taste

4 slices of prosciutto

Heat butter and oil on medium heat. Add shallots, and brown for about a minute, then add garlic and sage. Stir for another minute. Mix in orange zest and remove from heat to incorporate alcohol (make sure you always remove your pan from heat when adding alcohol). Immediately add whisky. It will bubble up quite furiously but will start to settle. Put back on heat and sprinkle in sugar. Stir occasionally as it simmers and begins to reduce. After about 5 minutes add the pumpkin and simmer for another couple of minutes. The colour should get darker as the pumpkin absorbs the sauce. Then stir in the Parmesan, and add salt and pepper to taste. (If you want to use pine nuts, go ahead and add them into the pumpkin mixture at the end)

Lay crepe out flat and place a slice of prosciutto down the middle. Spread 1/4 of the pumpkin mixture on top of the prosciutto and then fold each side of the crepe over the middle (almost like a burrito).

Drunken Pumpkin Crepes

 White Chocolate Raspberry Lemon Crepe Filling

White Chocolate Raspberry Lemon Crepes

(makes about 6 servings)

1 cup of fresh (or defrosted unsweetened) raspberries

1/2 jar of lemon curd (available in the jam section of the grocery store)

1 cup of white chocolate chips

2 tbsp of ricotta cheese

Mix the raspberries with the ricotta. (If using frozen, defrost them in a sieve so the excess water can drain away.) Spread the chocolate chips over the fresh hot crepe and allow them to begin to melt for a minute. Add a few healthy dollops of lemon curd, and the ricotta raspberry mix. Fold over and indulge!

White Chocolate Raspberry Lemon Crepes