Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Cooking with Cider

Delia: Look away now...
Gordon: Don't even f****** go there!

Following our annual pilgrimage to Somerset to visit some of the many pukka cider-makers down there, we always return with a goodly selection of ciders in an assortment of containers. And unfortunately we often end up with a drop or two which are past their best; so these are used in cooking.

My cooking is based on the: if-it's-there-bung-it-in approach and frequent tasting.

This week I have mostly been using the slow-cooker: every lazy cook's dream...

Note that our slow-cooker is a 3-litre job, so provides at least four generous servings.

Cider braised vegetables
Gail came home with some venison sausages, so as these cook quickly, we used the slow-cooker to cook the veg ready for the evening meal. Our slow-cooker has the facility to be used on high or low heat, so I turned it to High, put a pat of garlic and herb butter in the crock and added about 1 pint / 500 ml of dry real cider. I suppose any dry or even medium cider would do at a push... I then added a bay leaf and plenty of black pepper, followed by a crumbled chicken stock cube. While the cider was heating through and the garlic butter melting, I sliced up some leeks, mushrooms, and potatoes (leaving the skins on), and diced some sweet-potato, carrots and swede. Any root veg will do really, though I tend to shy away from parsnips as their flavour can be a bit over-powering at times; for my tastes anyway. After stirring the cider and making sure the stock-cube had dissolved (a chopstick is great for this) the veg were tipped in, the lid added, the heat set to Low and left to it's own devices for around 8 hours - apart from the odd gentle swirl with the chopstick, that is. When the goode wyffe had returned from the office, the sausages were popped under the grill and as they cooked, a little blended cornflour and cider was stirred into the veg and cooking liquid to thicken it a little. The veg were lifted onto the plate with a slotted spoon, followed by the cooked sausages and some of the veg cooking liquor spooned over the top.

Spicy Cidery Beef
I can take or leave meat cooked in red wine. So when we picked up some diced beef during a recent shopping trip, I decided to experiment... In a large freezer bag, I placed four tablespoons of plain flour followed by two tablespoons each of mustard powder and ground dried ginger. This was topped off with a good pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. The bag was closed up and given a good shake to mix up the dry ingredients, then opened and the 450 g of diced beef tipped in. The whole lot was then given a very good shake to ensure the beef was well and truly coated with the spicy flour mix. In a large heavy pan I heated a knob of butter and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, lifted the floured beef out of the bag onto a plate and then tipped the beef into the hot pan, tossing and turning until lightly browned. I added a couple of sliced onions, then tossed and turned the lot frequently until the onions were just starting to caramelise. I sprinkled over a little more of the left-over spicy flour mix from the bag, stirred and cooked this for a minute or so, then turned the lot out into the pre-warmed crock of the slow-cooker, which was set to Low. I put the pan back on the heat and in a little more olive oil, sweated a couple of fat peeled and crushed garlic cloves from the garden. I then added about a pint and half of dry cider and used this to de-glaze the pan, scraping any of the beef and onion cooking residue and flour mixture from the base and sides of the pan. After bringing the cider to the boil, the pan contents were added to the beef and onion in the slow-cooker, and thoroughly stirred in. This was followed by sliced leeks, carrots, parsnips and mushrooms, covered and left for 8 hours or so. After a thorough stir and checking the seasoning, we served the spicy cidery beef with mashed potatoes. It goes equally well with rice, or spooned over a jacket potato - we had this two nights on the trot. Comfort food. Yum.

Creamy Cidery Green Beans with Leeks
I love runner beans. I could eat them three-times-a-day between meals... However, the goode wyffe prefers more variety, so another experiment ensued. After preparing and slicing the runner beans as usual, they were tipped into a hot oily wok and tossed to coat them in oil. After a couple of minutes stir frying, a good splash of dry cider was added to the hot wok followed by some finely sliced leeks and more cider. As the cider evaporates, more is added to prevent any of the veg browning, the veg cooking through the steam of the cider rather than actually frying in oil. After a couple of minutes a few finely sliced mushrooms were added and, after a little more cider and stirring, the heat was reduced. When the veg were cooked through but still had a little bite, a small pot of soured cream was stirred in along with freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste. If required more cider can be added. These piquant creamy cidery green beans with leeks were served up with some oven-roasted belly pork slices which had been sprinkled with 5-Spice powder. Mmmmmm.

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