Tag Archives: comfort food

Venison Stew with Red Wine and Juniper

This recipe isn’t particularly pretty or elegant… But it is so tasty! If you’re unsure on what to cook this weekend this is the perfect recipe to pop on in the morning, pretty much ignore, and be rewarded with a rich, comforting stew for dinner. Venison is right in season at the moment and it has a gorgeous flavour – gamy but not too strong – and is beautiful paired with rich red wine and the sharpness of juniper to cut through. We cooked ours in a slow cooker but this would work well either on the hob on a very low heat, or in the oven on about 150°C for a couple of hours.

Because of the red wine and the venison this feels a bit fancy – it could be a great and very easy dish to serve to guests, they’ll think you’re all posh but really you’ve ignored it all day! We served ours with mashed potato and some wilted, buttered kale. The kale works particularly well because like the juniper, it cuts through the richness. Stew is so versatile though, so it would be lovely with dumplings, or with a puff pastry top – whatever you feel like!

Ingredients (this made about 3 generous portions):

  • About 250g diced venison
  • 2 tbsp seasoned flour
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 carrots, roughly diced
  • 4-5 shallots, peeled and halved
  • 2 sticks of celery, roughly diced
  • 1 leek, sliced into large rings
  • 1 large glass of red wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 6 juniper berries
  • 6-8 peppercorns
  • 1 carton of chopped tomatoes

First coat the venison well in the seasoned flour, then brown in batches in a large frying pan/skillet using 1 tbsp of the oil. When browned pop straight in the slow cooker. Now tip all of the vegetables into the frying pan along with any leftover flour and cook for about 5 minutes until lightly golden and softened. Tip all of this into the slow cooker too. Then put the pan back on the heat and tip in about half of the wine to deglaze the pan making sure to scrape all the stuck bits, there’s lots of flavour in them! Tip this into the slow cooker along with the rest of the wine, the herbs and spices (if you wanted to put the juniper berries and peppercorns into a muslin bag to remove the possibility of crunching down on one then feel free… we’re just lazy), the chopped tomatoes and then half fill the carton/tin with water and tip that in too.

Good red wine is an essential accompaniment to this stew!
Good red wine is an essential accompaniment to this stew!

And that is it! We cooked ours on high for an hour and then on low for about 6-7 hours and served it with mash and wilted, buttered kale seasoned with pepper and a little nutmeg.

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Spontaneous Pear Crumble 2 Ways

We recently came into possession of a couple of pears (by way of a charity walk-to-work day organised by Bird!) and we thought that rather than just eat them we’d make them into crumbles – much more interesting to blog! We’ve done these mini crumbles before, with apple, but we thought we would give you a couple of more interesting flavour ideas. We’ve gone with a couple of contrasting flavours – a sweet, spicy sugar syrup with cardamom, cinnamon and star anise and a tart, fruity alternative made with raspberries.

Ingredients – for the topping, you’ll need (makes 2 mini crumbles):

  • 1 tsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1/2 tbsp brown sugar

To make the topping, simply rub together the butter and flour in your fingertips until you get breadcrumbs, then add the sugar and mix together. Easy or what?!

To make the sweet and spicy crumbles, you’ll need (makes 2 mini crumbles):

  • 1 cardamom pod
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 pear

To make the sugar syrup, add all of the ingredients to a pan and bring to a boil over a medium heat. Leave it bubbling away to let the flavours infuse for about 5 minutes. If you see the sugar syrup start to darken, stop – it’s done! Chop your pear up into small (~1 cm) cubes and put it into 2 ramekins (or other small dishes), pour over the sugar syrup (taking out the whole spices) and cover with a couple of centimetres (just over half an inch) of topping.

Is it too early to start talking about Christmas...?
Is it too early to start talking about Christmas…?

For the fruity berry crumbles, you’ll need (again, makes 2 mini crumbles):

  • 2 tbsp raspberries
  • 1 pear

Almost no preparation required here, just chop up your pear up into small cubes and put it into 2 small ramekins, and cover with topping. We keep some frozen raspberries in the freezer, which are useful for all sorts of things in the winter.

Raspberry and Pear

Once the crumbles are assembled, place in an oven at 180 C for 20-25 minutes – you should see the top go a lovely golden colour. Sit back and enjoy your tasty, warming winter treat!

Crumble and Coffee
Spicy Pear Crumble and Coffee
Pear and Raspberry Crumble
Pear and Raspberry Crumble

Comforting Italian Meatballs

This meal is like a hug on a plate. That sounds pretty weird but you know those meals that you just know you love, you think about making them a few days in advance, you plan them for a day when you have plenty of time to eat slowly, chat over wine and then go and collapse in an undignified heap on the sofa afterwards? This is one of those meals. Originally a Nigella Lawson recipe we think, but possibly adapted over time (sorry Nigella!) the meatballs are soft, fragrant with oregano and with a delicious salty tang from parmesan or pecorino cheese. They’re served with a rich tomato sauce which is so simple to make and mountains of pasta.

Ingredients (serves 4, generously – we actually made half of this mixture as our freezer is fit to bursting so we didn’t want leftovers but this freezes beautifully if you have the space!)

Meatballs:

  • 250g pork, minced
  • 250g beef, minced
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tsp fresh oregano
  • 3 tbsp breadcrumbs or semolina
  • 1 pinch pepper
  • 1 tsp salt

Tomato sauce:

  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (preferably not extra-virgin)
  • 700g tomato passata
  • 1 pinch sugar
  • 1 pinch salt and pepper
  • 100ml full fat milk

So it looks like a lot of ingredients but plenty of them are storecupboard favourites, it’s really not intimidating at all! To make the meatballs you basically chuck everything in a bowl and then get your hands messy but there are some cheats you can do to make it even easier! This is a no chopping recipe, a knife free zone (almost).

Grab yourself a mini chopper or food processor and blitz up a hunk of parmesan, once it’s finely chopped whack it in a bowl. Pop the clove of garlic (peeled) and about 10-20 oregano leaves (depending on size) into the blender, whizz until chopped and chuck them straight into a big bowl which you will make your meatballs in. Now you will have some bits of garlic and oregano stuck to the side of your blender… do you want to waste them? Do you want to spend forever scraping them all out? No. So grab a small piece of bread, whizz that up to breadcrumbs and then chuck all of that in the large bowl too. Whizz up a bit more bread so you’ve got enough breadcrumbs to perfect the texture of your meatballs and you’re ready to go! Add all of the other meatball ingredients to the bowl, the measurements above usually work fine but if you have a particularly small or large egg then you will need to adjust the breadcrumbs accordingly. Get your hands in there and squish it all together, but try not to squash all of the texture out of this, you want the meatballs to be light and still retain a bit of texture. Once it’s mixed fairly well shape into meatballs, this should make around 16-20. Pop these on a plate or a tray in the fridge, they need at least half an hour to chill but can be left for hours.

Meatballs

To make the tomato sauce you’ll need your food processor/chopper again. It would be a total lie if we said we washed ours between using it for the breadcrumbs etc, a quick wipe and it’s good to go. Peel the onion, chop into large chunks and put it in the blender along with the peeled garlic cloves and dried oregano. Whizz this up really well, you want a grainy paste rather than finely chopped. Place a large saucepan over a low heat and add the olive oil and butter, once bubbling scrape in the onion/garlic/oregano paste and cook for about 10 minutes stirring almost constantly. This mixture shouldn’t colour, it should just soften and become really aromatic. After this time tip in the passata, and then half fill the jar/carton with cold water, give it a shake to get all of the bits off the side and add this to the pan too. Season it with the sugar, salt and pepper at this stage. It will seem really thin but it’s got a fair bit of cooking to do. Simmer this for about 15 minutes. Pour in the milk and mix well, then take the meatballs out of the fridge and gently drop them into the tomato sauce, you want them to be completely submerged and not on top of each other which is why you need a big pan! Resist the urge to stir at all or prod them around as they will just break apart. Put a lid on half covering the pan and leave them to gently simmer away.

Now is the time to get some water on for your pasta, the meatballs will take about 20-25 minutes to cook, we served ours with tagliatelle which takes about 8 minutes to cook. Once the meatballs have had around 15 minutes cooking time they will be less fragile so feel free to have a gentle stir of the pan to make sure nothing is catching on the bottom. Once the pasta is cooked we like to drain it, then put in a couple of spoonfuls of the sauce to coat the pasta and then serve the meatballs on top with more sauce, but you could just whack a big bowl of pasta and a big dish of meatballs on the table for everyone to help themselves! Serve with the leftover grated cheese (and if you’re anything like us, the block of cheese and a grater), a glass of red wine, a few twists of black pepper and prepare to feel like you’re getting the best hug in the world from an old friend.

Meatballs and pasta

 

Mustard Pork with Roasted Parsnip, Celeriac and Potatoes

We had our first frosty morning of the winter here in Bristol, so we thought we just had to blog about parsnips! (That makes sense, honest…) Not only are parsnips arguably the best part of a roast dinner, they make a great companion to pork chops, chicken, lamb… if you’re roasting some potatoes at this time of year, you might as well chuck in a parsnip! We’re also roasting some celeriac, which has the most incredible flavour – describing it as “a bit like celery” is insulting really – it’s much more than that! This dish has some bold flavours going on – mustard, parsnip, celeriac and nutmeg –  but they’re a perfect hearty and comforting combination with the cold nights upon us.

Ingredients for 2 people:

  • 150 g new potatoes
  • 2 medium/1 large parsnip
  • 1/2 celeriac
  • Couple of sprigs of thyme (or about a tsp dried)
  • 3-4 sage leaves
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 pork chops
  • 2 tbsp mustard (we used 1 tbsp Dijon and 1 tbsp wholegrain)
  • Small cabbage
  • 200 ml chicken stock
  • 1/4 whole nutmeg
  • Black pepper

Preheat your oven to 180 °C. Chop up your potato, parsnip and celeriac into ~3cm chunks (smaller if you want them to cook quicker). Put the potatoes in a pan of water, bring them to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes. Put 1 tbsp of the olive oil into a roasting dish and place in the oven to heat up for about 5 minutes. While the potatoes are parboiling and the dish is heating up, take the leaves off your sprigs of thyme. After the potatoes have been boiling for around 5 minutes throw in the parsnip and celeriac and let it boil for another minute or so. When everything is ready, add the potato, parsnip, celeriac, sage leaves and thyme to the roasting dish and admire the sizzle! Whack it in the oven for about 45 minutes.

To make the mustard topping for your pork, simply mix together your mustard and the remaining olive oil. Smear a thick layer of this onto each pork chop – if you’re not a fan of mustard you can skip this step or choose not to eat the mustard, but we wolfed it down! When the vegetables have about 15 minutes left, take the roasting dish out and place the pork on top of the veg, with the mustard facing upwards. Place back in the oven for the remaining cooking time.

Parsnip and Potatoes

Slice the cabbage thinly, and add it to a wok or large saucepan with some melted butter in it. Add the chicken stock and grate in the nutmeg and a few cracks of black pepper. Keep it moving until it’s cooked – it should be finished along with everything else.

Now plate yourself up a tasty, hearty, full-flavoured meal! We enjoyed ours with a glass of red wine, perfect after a hard day’s work or as a lovely weekend treat.

Mustard Pork with Parsnip and Potatoes

Smoky Sweet Potato Soup

It’s rare these days for us to have a soup without some delectable little morsel sitting on top of it jazzing it up – this time it’s crispy chorizo which adds a different texture as well as a big hit of smoky flavour. Taking a few minutes to create a topping for your soup makes all the difference, whether that’s simply some cheese crumbled or grated over, some crisped up meat or vegetables, croutons, pesto… the options are endless! It adds another dimension to soup which to some is a boring dish, we however are a little obsessed!

This is a favourite for autumn/winter; it is comforting, warming, sweet, spicy and smoky and just begs to be mopped up with a big hunk of bread. You can make this soup even sweeter, the flavours even more intense, by roasting the onion and potato first but honestly, the flavours are so great that if you are short of time (as we were) it really won’t suffer from just chucking it all in a pan.

Sweet potato soup ingredients

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2-3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into roughly 1 inch cubes
  • crushed chillies (as much as you like! We used around 1 heaped tsp)
  • 1 heaped tsp smoked paprika
  • Chicken or vegetable stock, enough to cover the vegetables
  • A chunk of chorizo, diced into 1 cm cubes

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat, when hot add the onion and sweet potato. Stir to coat in the oil and cook for around 5 minutes until the onion is translucent and the sweet potato is starting to sear. Add the paprika and the crushed chillies. Cook this for a further couple of minutes and then cover with stock. Let this bubble away for around 15 minutes or until the potato is soft. Blitz the soup until smooth, we have a stick blender and think we’ve wanged on about it before but BUY ONE. They are cheap and make life so much easier if you’re anywhere near as much of a soup fiend as we both are. Your soup is ready to serve as it is, or perhaps with a drizzle of cream or sour cream. We chose to fry some cubes of chorizo in a non-stick frying pan until really crisp and top the soup with them and their oil. Enjoy! This would be lovely with our basic bread recipe or how about an adapted Paul Hollywood roll recipe, maybe with some manchego? What are your favourite autumn/winter warmers?

Sweet potato soup

 

Quick Chicken and Chorizo Jambalaya

Believe it or not the origins for this recipe lie in an Asda magazine from about 1998. We mean really it’s origins lie in a Caribbean interpretation of some French and Spanish food but this one right here is a vintage Asda classic. Updated by the Bird clan with some chorizo and chilli (and what a bland dish it would be without them!), it’s now a firm favourite for when you want a comforting, warming, one pan dinner in around 30 minutes. Oh one tip though? Leave time for the pan to soak before you wash it up – that delicious crusty rice at the bottom makes it a hell of a job to clean!

Ingredients (serves two hungry people or three less greedy people)

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 skinless chicken breast fillets, cut into strips
  • Chunk of chorizo, chopped
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 small red pepper, de-seeded and chopped
  • 1 small green pepper, de-seeded and chopped
  • 1 green chilli, de-seeded and chopped (optional)
  • 340g can chopped tomatoes
  • 330ml chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 135g long grain rice

Heat the oil in a large frying pan/skillet and then add the onion and chorizo. Allow the oil to come out of the chorizo and the onion to soften for a minute or two. Add the chicken and cook for 4-5 minutes or until there are no visible pink bits left. Add the garlic and cook briefly – you don’t want it to burn! Add the peppers, chilli and chopped tomatoes and cook for a further 2 minutes.

Onion and Chorizo

Dissolve the tomato purée into the hot chicken stock – we might have mentioned this tip before but it makes it so much easier to distribute it evenly throughout the dish! Stir in the chicken stock/tomato purée mixture, the dried thyme and the rice. Cover and cook for 20 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender. This last step is a bit open for interpretation, we tend to stir ours every five minutes or so to prevent it from becoming a total nightmare, and we have a well fitting lid so the stock to rice ratio usually works for us but if you need to add more stock then go ahead! Also it might be worth adding a layer of aluminium foil if your pan lid doesn’t fit too tightly.

And that’s it! Serve with salad if you want to be good but if you’re anything like us then serve yourself a mountain of the stuff and eat your way into a spicy, paprika-y, chicken-y carb coma.

Jambalaya

Mini Squash stuffed with Sausage and Fennel

Sticking firmly to our autumnal theme here, we picked up 4 mini squash at the absolutely brilliant farmers market held at St Nick’s on a Wednesday. We’re not 100% that we have the varieties right but we think we have an onion squash (the orange/red one), a harlequin (the green and yellow patterned one), a mini tiger striped pumpkin (the striped pale yellow one) and a gem (the very dark green smooth one). We bought them not having a plan for what to do, we knew we wanted to keep it fairly simple so that the lovely qualities of each squash came through, and we veered away from soup because they’re so small it would have been very fiddly! The stuffing for this is inspired by a Jamie Oliver pasta recipe called “Pregnant Jools’ Pasta” which uses sausages to create a fast ragu to go with spaghetti. We love this dish, especially the combination of sausagemeat with aromatic fennel. This makes far too much stuffing mixture (about double) but it will freeze brilliantly and you can use it to whip up some quick stuffed vegetables another time.

Clockwise from bottom: Mini Tiger Striped Pumpkin, Harlequin, Onion (Red Kuri) and Gem squash (we think!)
Clockwise from bottom: Mini Tiger Striped Pumpkin, Harlequin, Onion (Red Kuri) and Gem squash (we think…)

We stuffed the two flat squash and cut the rounder ones into wedges, roasted them and had them along with nutmeg-spiced cabbage as a side. This is an extremely comforting, autumnal dish and because of the size of the squash it could easily be made after work too.

Ingredients

  • 4 mini squash of any variety
  • Butter
  • 50ml chicken stock
  • Cabbage, sliced
  • Nutmeg
  • A small handful of sultanas

For the stuffing

  • 2 pork sausages (we used Cumberland to remind Fats of home)
  • About 100g rice, cooked and cooled (we didn’t measure so this might be a bit out!)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1 shallot/small onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • Pepper to season

Carefully take the lids off the two flatter squash and scoop out the seeds. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Put a knob of butter inside each of the flat squash, put the lids back on and place in a roasting dish in the oven for 20 minutes to soften. Meanwhile slice the other squash into wedges and drizzle with olive oil and a little salt and pepper.

After the flat squash have had about 15 minutes add the wedges to the roasting dish. Roughly chop the carrot, celery and onion, peel the garlic and

We had to decapitate the Harlequin from the bottom... Just have to remove the seeds now!
We had to decapitate the Harlequin from the bottom… Just have to remove the seeds now

add all of these to a food processor/mini blender and pulse to finely chop. Add the fennel seeds and pulse a couple of times more to combine. Heat the oil in a frying pan over a low heat and add the chopped vegetables. Fry these for about 5 minutes until softened. Squeeze two sausages out of their skins straight into the pan, then use tongs/a wooden spatula to break them up – this will become easier as they cook, you want them to break up so they resemble minced meat. Once all of the meat is browned and mixed with the vegetables add the balsamic vinegar, the tomato puree and a splash of water to create a rough sauce. Mix in the rice and turn off the heat.

By this time the squash should have had 20-30 minutes and be starting to soften. Carefully stuff them with the stuffing (they’re hot!) and turn the wedges of squash so they colour evenly. Return to the oven for another 20-30 minutes. When they’ve got about 5 minutes to go heat 1 tsp of butter in a large pan/wok and grate in about a quarter of a nutmeg with a fine grater. Add 50 ml of chicken stock and allow them to bubble together for a few seconds and then throw in the sliced cabbage. Toss to coat in the butter/stock mixture, add the sultanas and then cook for 5 minutes over a medium heat stirring occasionally.

Don't worry about the burn (in fact it's delicious!)
Don’t worry about the burn (in fact it’s delicious!)
The cabbage makes a perfect, spicy accompaniment!
The cabbage makes a perfect, spicy accompaniment

Dish everything up and tuck in, snuggled up in a cosy jumper!

On a completely unrelated note, as we’re writing this we heard about the sad passing away of Lou Reed. He was one of our absolute favourite musicians, singing and dancing along to Transformer is one of Bird’s earliest memories. He had a pretty good innings and produced some incredible music both with The Velvet Underground and solo for decades and BBC 6 Music’s thoughtful honouring of him could not be more inspiring to write to.

Rabbit Stew with Sage Dumplings

Rabbit is a really underused meat in the UK – it’s not widely available in supermarkets, even though it’s one of the most sustainable meats you can buy. We bought some from our local butchers (one of them – there are about 5 independent butchers within walking distance from us!) and the meat is really delicious. It’s a very rich, gamy meat – perfect for a comforting autumn stew! This recipe includes some amazing suet dumplings with copious amounts of sage, another autumn treat.

For about 4 portions, you’ll need:

  • Knob of butter
  • Olive oil
  • 80g smoked bacon lardons
  • 6 small shallots
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 150-200g new potatoes
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 rabbit, jointed (ask your butcher to do this for you – you’ll end up with 6 pieces)
  • 250 ml red wine
  • Enough chicken stock to cover (about 1 litre)

For the dumplings:

  • 50g suet
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 5 finely chopped sage leaves
  • Cold water

Start by peeling the shallots and chopping up your carrots, celery and new potatoes. We like our veg nice and chunky, they’ll soften and soak up loads of flavour as they cook. Heat up a knob of butter and some olive oil over a fairly high heat and throw in your bacon lardons and shallots. After about 5 minutes (the shallots should have started to go a little brown), add the rest of the veg along with the fresh herbs. Cook for another 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Add the flour and stir through the veg – this will ensure you get a thick stew. Now add the whole rabbit pieces, along with the wine and the stock.

Make sure you brown the shallots well - the caremelisation is really tasty!
Make sure you brown the shallots well – the caremelisation is really tasty!

Once your pot has come to the boil, put a lid on it and place it in the oven on a low temperature – 150°C to 170°C, depending on how long you want it to cook for. The lower the heat and slower the cooking time, the more tender the rabbit meat will be. We cooked ours at 150°C for about 4 hours, but the rabbit will probably be cooked after about 2 hours. Take it out and stir it every half hour or so.

When the stew is about half an hour from being done, it’s time to make the dumplings. Mix together the suet, the flour, and the sage leaves, and start adding the water, about a tablespoon at a time. This should be done fairly quickly, otherwise they won’t rise properly. When it has all come together, roll it into small balls (about the size of golf balls – or ping pong, if that’s your game!). Put them straight onto the top of the stew – they’ll swell up loads, so be sure to leave some space between them.

Those dumplings are monsters!
Those dumplings are monsters!

Put the stew back in the oven and leave to cook for about 20 minutes. When the dumplings have roughly tripled in size, your stew is ready to eat! Watch out for rabbit bones, as they can be quite small and fiddly. If you’ve never tried rabbit before, please give it a go! It’s super sustainable, lean & healthy, and totally delicious.

Coming Soon! Autumn and More…

It’s been a while! A week by my reckoning. Sorry we haven’t been posting, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been cooking – we’ve got some real treats lined up for our next few posts. Autumn is well and truly here in Bristol, so that means comfort food – stews, soups and squash are most definitely on the menu! Here’s a sneak peek…

Autumn Preview

Ultimate Comfort Chilli

We made this dish at the weekend, it was the perfect cheer-up food after a rain soaked Saturday. The smell of it cooking away slowly in the oven was incredible, you have to be very patient!

There are so many recipes for chilli con carne around, this one wasn’t particularly planned, we tend to throw in what we have lying around for a lot of our cooking so feel free to replace things if you don’t like that particular vegetable/spice or if you don’t have it in.

Ingredients (makes enough for 4-6 people):

  • 1 large white onion, diced
  • 2-3 sticks of celery, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped/minced
  • smoked pancetta (you don’t have to add this but it creates a gorgeous base of smokeyness)
  • 500g good quality lean beef mince
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • 1tsp cumin powder
  • ½tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1-2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1-2 tsp hot chilli powder
  • 1-2 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tins/cartons of chopped tomatoes or passata
  • 1 tin of kidney beans in water
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • around 30g of really good quality dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
  • rice and sour cream to serve

If you wanted to make a vegetarian version of this dish one obvious substitution would be the meat for Quorn (other brands are available!), but we think it would be more interesting not to take the easy route and to bulk it out with lovely, meaty mushrooms and extra beans instead – some black eyed beans and/or pinto beans would make a lovely addition. To get more of the rich flavour without using beef stock cubes you could add a teaspoon of Marmite – it may sound odd but it gives that deep, savoury kick which you might miss otherwise.

Perfect for practising those knife skills.
Perfect for practising those knife skills.

To start with soften the onion, garlic and celery in a large casserole dish over a low heat, cook for at least 10 minutes but try not to get much colour at all on them, you want them to soften and sweeten. Add the diced smoked pancetta, we used barely any in this so you could leave it out if you wanted to but it definitely adds a little something! Fry this for a few minutes until it has lightly cooked and become fragrant and then add the beef mince, breaking it up with your fingers as you put it in. Immediately add 200ml of beef stock (use a whole stock cube to make it) – by not browning the beef off you’re making sure it cooks really slowly and melts in your mouth. Now it’s time to add your herbs and spices! The amounts listed above are a guide, obviously adjust to your own chilli preference and remember you can always add but you can’t take away. We were a little cautious at first and then added more about halfway through the cooking time.

Kidney beans

Once you have stirred the herbs and spices in add the chopped tomatoes followed by the pepper and kidney beans, give it a good stir, bring to a very gentle simmer and then pop in a really low oven (around 130°C) and leave alone for at least an hour. Cook for 3 hours minimum stirring every hour until you can’t take it any longer and have to eat some!

Right before serving place a couple of squares of dark chocolate on top and drool as they melt into the chilli. Don’t worry, this won’t add any sweetness, just the most fantastic, rich flavour.

Resist the urge to put your face in it...
Resist the urge to put your face in it…

Serve with rice and sour cream and if you’re feeling fancy (we were) some homemade guacamole.

We made a really simple guacamole by mixing 1 ripe avocado with a good pinch of sea salt, 1 diced tomato and a big squeeze of lime or lemon juice. Give it all a mix up and you’re ready for your Mexican feast!

... Now you can put your face in it!
… Now you can put your face in it!

This was the perfect meal to sit down to and ignore the rain lashing at the windows – warming, comforting and pretty healthy too.