Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Beef and onion pie to soak up the alcohol, of course & New Year's resolutions

This weekend I shall be imbibing rather a lot of booze as most other Brits will as we welcome in the New Year. At my age and with my life experience here's my advice for the New Year:
1. Follow your own drummer: yourself. People will let you down, use you as  convenience and everything, including their interaction with you is relative and based on their own needs. Learn to be wholly self-sufficient.
2. Remove all toxic people from your life- don't murder them but walk away from them. Repeat after me: if someone doesn't make you happy, it's time to say goodbye.
3. Expect the worst- that way you'll be pleasantly surprised because if you have high expectations of others, you'll fall hard on your face.
4. Shrug your shoulders a lot: It is what it is. Que sera, sera. Whatever. Don't pretend to be detached but remain unmoved by the mass hysteria that is every day living. If you can control your emotions you'll survive 2017 intact and not in a straight jacket.
5. People are nuts, deranged, unreliable and full of it. Knowing this will save you a lot of grief. Start telling men who ask for your 'phone number that they can have it if they're prepared to marry you.
6. Don't be afraid to do a Shirley Valentine- if you really want to join a convent or become a pole dancer, just do it! Time waits for no one.
7. Don't make the first move on some guy you really like. If he doesn't have the balls to know how he feels about you, he will be a needy, demanding, wet partner, lover etc. Think Linton in Wuthering Heights. Yuck! Many, many more fish in the ocean.
8. Think- introspection and finding silence, peace in one's soul is worth more than all the diamonds and pearls in this world. That is unless you want to bag a premier league footballer by having his child and never having to work again in which case peace is overrated.
9. Laugh a lot and preferably at yourself. I find my stupidity hilarious rather than unforgivable or dramatic- remember, life goes on regardless of how inadequate we are.
10. Walk the goddam dog. I cannot stress enough how walking has saved my life. Breathe in fresh air, watch the dog run around with a smile on his face chasing a stupid ball, understand how much he utterly adores you because you're kind to him. And in the process you'll stay slim and healthy.


And now for that recipe:

Samantha's Beef and Onion Pie with Lard and Butter Pastry

This is a dish to eat when it's really cold outside. Today it was -2degrees C and sufficiently perishing to bring out the sloe gin, stodge, cream and boiled cabbage- in that order.

You'll need:
For the filling:
600 g topside or braising beef
5 medium onions, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Splash olive oil
50 g unsalted butter
Handful cubed Pancetta
Splash balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and ground black pepper
Two bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
One or two large potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
Flour for dusting
Tablespoon finely chopped parsley

For the pastry:
1 1/4 cups plain white flour
50 g lard
50 g unsalted butter
Pinch sea salt
3/4- 1 cup ice cold water

To make the filling:

Cut the meat into cubes. Toss in flour. Shake off excess flour.  Heat the olive oil in a large casserole pan over medium heat. Add the butter, when it begins to foam add the meat in a single layer. Don't touch the meat for around two minutes then turn once. The meat should be nicely browned. Repeat until all the meat has been browned. Remember not to overcrowd the pan and brown the meat in a single layer. You may need to do two or three batches depending on the size of your pan.

Remove the meat from the pan and keep warm. Add the Pancetta cubes and render the fat over a low heat. Don't crisp the cubes over high heat- take your time. Add the onions. Lower the heat and caramelise the onions. Stir occasionally. This process cannot be rushed so if you're in a hurry order a takeaway. Once the onions have taken on a light brown colour and smell sweet,  add the garlic. Toss for a few seconds then deglaze the pan with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Vinegar is acidic and cuts through the richness of the dish. You can of course use red wine instead. Add the potatoes, cover with water, season with salt, pepper, thyme and the bay leaves. Bring to the boil then simmer for 1 1/2 hours covered. After one hour add a tablespoon of flour mixed with a little water to the pan and stir in. This will create a thick sauce. Once the sauce has thickened and the meat is soft, remove from the heat and cool completely. I like to keep the mixture in the fridge overnight so the flavours can develop and make the pie the next day but you don't have to.

To make the pastry. Remove diamond rings. In a bowl add the flour, salt, lard and butter- cube these and make sure they are very cold. Add a pinch of salt. Rub the flour and fats between your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the water little by little. Use a knife to mix the dough together and finish by bringing everything together with your hands. The mixture should be sticky but not so wet it sticks all over your hands. Bring it together in a ball but do not knead. Cover the dough with clingfilm and place it in the fridge to rest for at least thirty minutes.

Pour the meat mixture into a deep pie dish and sprinkle chopped parsley on top. Roll out the pastry and place on top. Brush with beaten egg. Make leaves with pastry trimmings. Brush these too with beaten egg. Be sure to cut a vent in the center of the pie to let the steam escape. Return the pie to the fridge while you pre-heat the oven to 230 degrees C. Once the oven is piping hot, bake the pie for 20 minutes then reduce the heat to 200 degrees C for a further 40 minutes.

Serve the pie at once with boiled cabbage or other vegetable. Enjoy!
"Throw the bloody ball!!!"
Photos copyright SvD.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

A Story of Mushrooms

Found on my walks and photographed as they lay.

Photos copyright SvD.


Photos copyright SvD.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The true meaning of Christmas

At this time of year there is a sense of frenetic urgency to overspend and overindulge almost as if without excess Christmas would be neither festive nor joyful. I would like to remind everyone that Christmas is about the Christ. Whether you are atheist or agnostic, Christian or Muslim or Jewish or whatever, the derivative of the word 'Christmas' is 'Christ'.

The 25th day of December is associated with the birth of Christ, the son of God who was born of a virgin mother. The resonance of the idea of a Christ being is both powerful and moving. This was a man made of flesh and bones like you and I, and who was chosen by God to suffer and die. In the story of Christ we are essentially reminded that we cannot escape suffering in this life and eventually we too will die. Most importantly of all is how we emulate Jesus Christ during our lives and for all our time here on earth.

When I am faced with a challenging set of circumstances or when bad things happen to me, I recall how Jesus reacted when he was vilified, beaten, humiliated and finally, crucified. Jesus did not argue with his tormentors, nor did he instruct his followers to seek vengeance by an eye for an eye. Christ understood the futility of all earthly experience borne of hatred and anger.

The question of whether God exists will never be fully answered just as it is impossible to count the many stars in the sky. Perspective, perception, a need to believe in something, lead us to find solace in faith. But I would argue that Jesus Christ essentially wanted us to a become a better version of ourselves; more loving, more kind, more concerned for our fellow human beings, more gentle with each other. None of these attributes will help destroy the world rather it is the antonym of 'goodness' that creates war, ruins families, decimates the silver thread which connects all human beings. The greatest disservice we can do ourselves is to refuse to be what God and Jesus Christ intended.

This festive season when tempers will flare, old arguments will resurface, and evil men will continue their ascent throughout the world, please, please, please remember the real meaning of Christmas.

Peace be with you this Christmas.

A church in Buckingham, England, guarded by an ancient yew tree, symbol of transformation and which has overseen generations of lives (some English yews are thought to be 4,000 years old).
Photo copyright SvD.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Portobello mushroom and meatball broth

I get home from work at around 6.30pm which doesn't leave a lot of time to make a wholesome meal. I have recently begun making broths- a cross between a hearty full throttle meat-and-two-vegs and a light soup- using meat from my organic boxes delivered once per week. I love these boxes where you never know what you're going to get and you have to be as creative and in tune as possible in order to make nourishing sustenance out of them. Last week I created a lamb and spinach broth and this week: pork meatballs and portobello mushrooms.

The pork mince was so light that it moulded effortlessly into balls (never press or squeeze too hard or you'll end up with dead weights). A pinch of thyme, salt and pepper and the key ingredient, HOT paprika and a gentle rounding between my hands. I browned these meatballs in butter and olive oil over a high heat then set them aside. Next I added finely chopped onions to the pan which I caramelised over a medium heat. A chopped clove of garlic, chopped carrots and then the finely sliced mushrooms. I deglazed with white wine - dry not sweet- and returned the browned meatballs to the pan, adding enough water to barely cover them. Check for seasoning and then simmer uncovered for thirty minutes. The mushrooms make the densest, most robust of stocks pairing perfectly with the sweet pork. Dress this dish up with herb dumplings or simply sprinkle some greenery over the top. Hearty winter food in preparation of a good night's sleep before I start all over again.

Photo copyright SvD.

On a clear day you can see forever...

...both metaphorically and if you open your eyes wide enough. This morning on my walk:

Glorious Northamptonshire. Photo copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

A Christmas Story- if ever you're down, read this

This story was sent to me by my friend, Hardip Barot (in his own words):

'I remember 3 years back bought one homeless guy free beers(!) and a bottle of wine with some dessert to go with it. To my surprise he gave me a gift of an expensive tie with tears in his eyes and said if I don't accept it, it will break his heart. Man, it touched me. He was all alone and thanked me for expressing kindness. I truly cherish that Christmas. I still have that tie. I dont wear it because it seems he must have stolen it from somewhere but looking at it, it reminds me of a cold Christmas night in Shoreditch..with only him on the tears and for me, Christmas was truly celebrated that night!!!'

'Smoking Santa'. Photo copyright S. van Dalen. Absolutely no reproduction whatsoever without permission.