Sunday, 12 February 2012

Weekend Cooking Review: 'Economy Gastronomy' by Allegra McEvedy and Paul Merrett

Aside from books and reading, my other great love is food and cooking.  I love putting ingredients together and sitting down with my boyfriend, friends or family and eating something lovely.  It stands to reason, therefore, that I also love reading about cooking.  I have a ridiculous amount of cookbooks.  They are the only books that don't drive my boyfriend insane with the amount of space that they take up because my obsession with cooking balances nicely with our mutual appreciation of eating nice food.  

SO I figured that it was about time my cookbooks saw the light of day on my blog.  Fortunately for me, Beth Fish Reads hosts a weekend meme that fits in perfectly: Weekend Cooking.

It obviously took me ages to decide which of my many beloveds to feature first but then I saw this one and knew that it had to be it.  

Economy Gastronomy by Allegra McEvedy and Paul Merrett

I have used this book more than any other not because it has the most glamorous or exotic recipes but because it's one of those cookbooks that highlights the benefits of simple, home-cooked food and features a whole host of ideas that show you that you don't have to spend hours in the kitchen every night to enjoy healthy food without any preservatives or hidden nasties.  There are some pages about how much food the average house wastes and how much money families spend if they consistently use ready-meals.  The subtitle 'Eat Better and Spend Less' is spot on.  

The main reason I love this book so much is because it totally fits into our lifestyle.  The idea is that you cook when you have the time to either do more prep or leave something to simmer while you potter around and enjoy the delicious smells and then you use whatever 'base' meal you've cooked over the course of the next few days in a range of different but equally yummy ways.  I will quite happily hum my way around my kitchen for a large part of Sunday afternoon chopping and sautéing if it means that I get to eat meals during the week that taste as though I've spent hours slaving away despite only taking a few minutes to put together.  

Our hands-down favourite is this dangerously moreish offering.  The smell of the herbs with the bacon and beef slowly cooking is divine and the end result is totally worth the wait.  Perfect for a Sunday evening before heading back out to work:  


Ingredients: 3 tbsp olive oil; 10 shallots (peeled but left whole); 3 bay leaves; 350g dry-cured bacon lardons; a handful of fresh thyme sprigs; 5 garlic cloves; 750ml red wine; 2.5kg chuck steak; 1 litre of beef stock; 2 x 415g cans beef consommé 

Method:  

1.  Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3.

2.  Heat the oil in a large roasting tray over a medium heat. Add the shallots, bay leaves, bacon lardons, thyme and garlic, and fry gently for 10-15 minutes, or until the shallots have softened and are translucent and the bacon lardons are beginning to brown and stick to the bottom of the pan.

3.  Add the wine and scrape the sediment from the bottom of the roasting tray using a wooden spoon. Bring the wine to a simmer and continue to simmer for 8-10 minutes, or until the volume of liquid has reduced.

4.  Season the cubed meat, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

5.  Lay the seasoned meat on top of the shallots, lardons and wine mixture without mixing it. Pour over the stock and consommé so that the meat is all well covered.

6.  Bring the mixture to a simmer, then cover the tray with foil and transfer to the oven. Cook for 2½-3½ hours. Test the meat for tenderness after 1½ hours by squeezing a piece between your thumb and forefinger. If it gives, remove the foil covering and continue to cook the beef daube, uncovered, for the remaining cooking time, until the sauce has thickened and the beef is tender.

7.  When the beef is really tender and the sauce has thickened, remove the beef daube from the oven and set aside to rest for 10 minutes.

I usually serve with a green vegetable (cabbage works nicely) and mashed potatoes.


Then comes the best bit:  after you've eaten this, you save what's left (by freezing it, if you prefer and your meat wasn't frozen before you cooked this) and have Pappardelle with Slow-cooked Beef and Mushrooms (which is amazing with a tomato and basil salsa) and Cornish pasties.  You get the idea, hopefully.  You might spend more on the 'big cook' than you would normally spend but it more than balances out in time and reward.

The only thing I would say is that this probably isn't a great book if you have a house full of vegetarians.  There are a few of the 'base' dishes that are vegetarian (there's a pumpkin one and a tomato one, for example) but most are meat-centric.  Other than that, there's plenty of pictures and the recipes themselves are described in a really straight-forward way.  I whole-heartedly recommend this for a new way of approaching your cooking week, whether you're a beginner or more-advanced.  

Other note-worthy recipes that I've tried and loved:  Norwegian Fish Pie; Colonel Merrett's Bucket of Chicken [a kind of home-made KFC-type thing]; Slow-roasted Shoulder of Lamb