beef and red wine stew

Winter warmers
Winter warmers

When the air is crisp and the days are short and cool, there’s nothing quite like a beef and red wine stew.

You’d be forgiven for having a sneaking suspicion that it’s a great excuse to snaffle myself a nice glass of red with dinner, but really, it’s so much more than that. I don’t eat a lot of beef, but when I do there’s a certain weightiness to it that’s perfect for a cold winter’s night.

There’s something very comforting about the tried-and-tested combination of beef, carrots and herbs, muddled together in synergistic harmony. Then there’s also the ritual of mushing an already-soft stew with a fork so that it falls into a tender heap atop a bed of mashed potatoes, staining their creamy perfection with little rivulets of rich gravy.

The first taste is like a big, warm hug. If you’re under the weather, out of sorts or nursing a broken heart, this is the stew you want to cook.

Beef and red wine stew
750g chuck steak, cubed
4 tbsp plain flour
2 onions
5 carrots
2 sticks of celery
2 tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
1 sprig of rosemary
1 small handful of parsley
500ml beef stock
250ml red wine
Salt and pepper

They're different colours, but only because that's what was in the cupboard.
They’re different colours, but only because that’s what was in the cupboard.

Start by quartering the onions and placing them, with a little oil, in a large pot over a low heat.

While it’s warming up, chop the celery and 1 carrot into very small pieces. Add these to the pot and cook over a low heat.

Season the flour with salt and pepper and toss the cubes of steak in the flour, coating them with a fine dusting. Add the steak to the pot and fry until browned.

Add the other carrots, stock, red wine, rosemary and tomatoes. Cover and simmer for 2 hours or until the beef falls apart. Remove the tomato skins and rosemary before adding the parsley at the very last minute.

Garnish with a little extra chopped parsley and serve with greens and potatoes.

Let’s talk about wine: the general consensus amongst the cooking community is that it’s not a huge issue what kind of wine you use, but it must be good enough to drink on its own. If you go buying crappy wine that you wouldn’t serve, the flavours are intensified when you cook it, giving you a horribly bitter stew with a cheap aftertaste that’ll remind you of every Friday night of your 20s. Just say no.


big kitchen roast chicken

tiny kitchen gone wild.
tiny kitchen gone wild. in poultry heaven.

Greetings from Australia!

Australia has many great things, including my parents, my sister, my friends and a full-size kitchen. Before I left London, I dreamed of the big oven in my parents’ kitchen and had plotted and schemed many dishes that I wanted to cook – one for each day of the week – a captive set free at last, if you will.

garlic roast potatoes
garlic roast potatoes

Of course, I underestimated the strength of pent-up parental affection, which is taking form in a tidal wave of soups, stir-fries and special cakes that I ‘just don’t get in London’. (It’s true. There’s nothing quite like braised pork made with mushrooms and love.)

My presence has kept both my parents in the kitchen for weeks, toiling away, and I’ve been begging to have a turn at the stove if only to give them a break. Tonight, I got my chance… so I went all-out with the ultimate winter meal: a roast with all the trimmings.

winner winner chicken dinner.
winner winner chicken dinner!

If you’re not fortunate enough to have an oven in your tiny kitchen, just commandeer a friend’s. Who doesn’t love a roast bird?

Roast chicken
1 large chicken (or 2 small chooks)
1 onion
3 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of mixed herbs
2 tablespoons of butter (or Proactiv)
1 lemon
Olive oil

Take the chicken out of the fridge and let it rest for an hour before preparing it. This helps it to stay moist.

Preheat a fan-forced oven to 180°C.

Wash the chicken and pat dry with kitchen paper. Make sure the skin is really dry because it will help it to crisp up.

Finely chop the onion and garlic, then mix with the herbs and butter. I used Proactiv Light, and it worked just fine.

Place the lemon into the cavity of the bird (or chop in half and place into the two smaller birds). Take the Proactiv mix and place a small amount into the cavity, then slide the rest under the skin of the bird.

Place the chicken breast-side-up onto a roasting tray and bake for 90 minutes. Turn it over at 60 minutes, and then again at 80 minutes. Test that the bird is done by poking a skewer or fork into the thickest part of the breast and checking that the juices run clear.

honeyed roast carrots
honeyed roast carrots

If you want to serve with the holy trinity of the roast vegetables – roast potatoes, honeyed roast carrots and peas – then the best time to add the potatoes and carrots to the oven is at the 30-minute mark. When you take the chicken out of the oven to rest (15 minutes), flick the grill on high to crisp the potatoes up.

nothing in the world like roasties.
nothing beats roasties.

haloumi omelette

haloumi omelette
The highly photogenic use-everything-up fridge omelette.

Let’s face it: everything in my fridge has seen better days.

How could I have let it come to this? Well, there’s a good reason for the very-unlike-me paucity of food in the tiny kitchen; I’m moving next week and I’m struggling to clear my cupboards to make things as simple as possible. That means the half-bags of pasta, cup of lentils, highly ambitious biryani mix, on-special kilo of chickpeas – it all has to go. I’ve been doing all sorts of odd culinary contortions (chicken bourgignon, anyone?) in an effort to use everything up.

So at the end of a determined month-long embargo on buying goods, my fridge is in a pretty sad state. What a creative and nutritional challenge!

Haloumi omelette
100g haloumi
Half a pointed pepper
3 eggs (2 yolks, 3 egg whites), lightly beaten

Chop the haloumi into small chunks (rather than the slices used in a haloumi salad). Place in a non-stick frypan over medium-high heat. If your pan is properly non-stick, you won’t need oil.

Fry the haloumi until it begins to brown. This should take around 5 minutes. Make sure you flip the pieces so both sides get browned.

Meanwhile, slice the pointed pepper into slivers. Add them to the pan once the cheese is browned, then cover with the eggs.

I am not a great omelette-maker. That perfect omelette shape eludes me, especially since I don’t have a grill to finish the top. But I make up for this by not caring in the slightest what shape my omelette turns out to be. I wait until the edges of the omelette turn pale, meaning it’s safe to flip, then I flip it with two spatulas onto its other side and give it thirty seconds. Then I slide it onto the plate, attempting to fold it in half as I go.

The haloumi is really salty, so no seasoning is required. Serve with a drizzle of balsamic if you like, and a pile of pickled baby beetroot if it’s there just waiting to be used.

waiting for avogodot

Avocados: not exactly the world's most photogenic fruit, but oh how we love the taste.

I came back from a week in Dublin and opened my fridge to find my formerly hard-enough-to-be-used-as-a-weapon avocados only marginally less lethal. A whole week had passed, and still they persisted in retaining their rock-like status.

I was not about to become Beckett’s Vladimir or Estragon. I don’t have the patience. So I looked up ways in which to ripen an avocado tout de suite and roadtested them to be sure.

Avocados are climacteric fruits, which means they mature on the tree but ripen off the tree (that’s bananas! – sorry, I couldn’t resist). They give off ethylene gas, which helps them to ripen – so basically every method of artificially ripening them consists of trapping the gas and feeding it back to the avocado to speed the process up. Here are the most popular:

The wine method.
‘Men are like grapes,’ I read once. ‘They need to be stomped on and kept in the dark until they mature into something you’d like to have dinner with.’ Stomping aside, avo-experts recommend storing an avocado at room temperature in the dark.
1.    Place the avocados into a paper bag. If you don’t have a paper bag, wrap them in newspaper. You’re basically encouraging ethylene gas to be produced and then trapping it in the bag.
2.    Add an apple, banana or tomato to the bag as these all give off ethylene.
3.    Check on your avocado every day to see if it’s ripened enough for you to eat it. The skin should give slightly when pressed.

The dinner party method.
You wanted to impress people with your homemade guacamole – Mexican is so in, darling – only to discover, to your absolute horror, that your avocados have stubbornly refused to ripen. The bag method is out because you didn’t think that far ahead. Never fear! As a very last resort, you can microwave your avocados to help them soften.
1.    Prick the skin of the avocado.
2.    Place onto a paper towel on a plate.
3.    Microwave it in 30-second bursts until it becomes soft enough to eat.

The avocado gets surprisingly hot in 30 seconds so be careful when you pull it out of the microwave!

Allegedly you can also wrap the avocados in foil and place into a low-heat oven for 10-15 minutes to achieve the same result, but being ovenless it’s not something I could check out.

They say this is the very last resort because it will alter the avocado’s flavour. It also becomes a bit strange on the textural front, but it’s not bad and if you’re going to make guac I doubt anyone will notice anything apart from how fabulous Mexican food really is.

the tiny kitchen

My name is Kahmen, and I’m a Londoner by choice.

I moved to this country almost a year ago, and whilst my ever-present mad love affair with food and food enthusiasts continued uninterrupted, I also discovered just how flexible the term ‘generous’ can be when it comes to kitchen space. Let’s be honest, I’ve had cupboards bigger than my tiny attic studio. This is fine. My affection just gets concentrated because it’s over a smaller area.

But working with a very small space presents unique problems in the kitchen. What seemed so easy is now next to impossible; translating recipes using eleven vegetables and five pots and pans is frustrating and often messy (putting plates of meat on the floor so you can chop the herbs is at best strange, and at worst unhygienic). I spent many months juggling breakfast bench space with sink space and two-hob stove space and at the end, when I perched on my couch with the hokkien noodle stir-fry and surveyed the pile of washing up to be done, it hardly seemed worth the hassle. No wonder the 2 for £3 soup offer at M&S gets a workout.

I know I’m not alone when I say that I search for healthy, delicious food that is easy to prepare. Isn’t everyone? I don’t necessarily subscribe to the one-pot cooking technique, which can be limiting, but I promise that all these recipes can be reasonably accommodated in a small space without too much drama.

Because cooking should be fun and above all, it should be worth it!