Saturday 6 October 2007

Mince for supper again? Try this quick easy no-fry method

What a great stand-by beef mince is when you're feeding a family. I'm not wild about mince ( isn't it an annoying and gristly word, 'mince'?) and I loathe the way it goes all lumpy and grey and sticks to the pan when you fry it. However - provided that it's lean mince you're using - it's a good healthy high-protein staple, loved by most kids and teens and also by men hankering after mom's spag. bol or meat loaf.

Here's a quick way to cook beef mince that involves no tedious frying. Using this method, you can get dinner on the table within 30 minutes. Purists will be shocked at the idea of not browning mince first but, if you're cooking for kids, what's the point? You might miss out on that extra layer of flavour that the caramelising of a meat's surface produces, but no child (or husband, for that matter) is likely to notice the difference. It might look grey to begin with, but once you've added all the bits and pieces you'll end up with a mince of a nice reddish-brown and a good flavour.

Another plus about mince: the way I got my kids to appreciate fresh salady ingredients was to present them with mince (or stir-fried chicken) with a whole selection of healthy crunchy toppings. This mix-and-match approach has really worked: I've noticed that, as they get older, they take bigger helpings of lettuce and tomato and cucumber and avocado, and smaller helpings of meat and cheese.

You can serve this within half an hour, but the longer and slower you cook it, the better it is.  If you have a slow cooker, make this in the morning and leave it to bubble all day. Alternatively, mix all the ingredients together in the morning, and place in the fridge to marinate until you get home. The mixture will taste the better for it.

This is a versatile recipe, because you can add any of your favourite seasonings and spices to it: anchovies, sweet chilli sauce, soy sauce, tomato paste,  shavings of black truffle, clippings of dragons' toenails; whatever. This recipe contains the flavourings I use.

Quick, Easy No-Fry Mince
1 kg lean minced beef [ground beef]
2 tins of All Gold tomato-and-onion mix** (or two tins of good canned tomatoes, finely chopped, and with their juice)
1 cup (250 ml) white wine (or red wine, or stock, or water)
salt and freshly milled black pepper
2-3 cloves garlic, finely crushed
a handful of fresh herbs, finely chopped (thyme, oreganum, rosemary, sage)
OR 2 T (30 ml) good dried herbs
4 T (60 ml) tomato sauce [ketchup]
3 T (45 ml) Worcestershire sauce
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1 tsp (5 ml) powdered cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) powdered coriander
1 tsp (5ml) paprika
salt and milled pepper, to taste

Put all the ingredients into a big saucepan. Using a fork, stir and stab briskly to break the mince up into granules. Set the pan over a medium heat, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and allow to bubble gently for 25-30 minutes, until cooked through. If the mixture seems too dry, add a little water.

Serve with boiled or mashed potatoes, or rice, or spooned over fresh buttered rolls.


For Beef 'Chilli': Add 1 tsp (5ml) of dried red chilli flakes or cayenne pepper (or more if you aren't feeding kids), another teaspoon each of ground cumin and coriander, and a can or two of red kidney beans or white butter beans, drained of their liquid. Cook over a high heat until the liquid in the pan reduces. Serve in hot bowls with the following toppings: grated cheddar, sour cream (or Greek yoghurt whisked with a clove of crushed fresh garlic and a few tablespoons of mayonnaise), shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped fresh green chilli and a handful of chopped fresh coriander. A few slices of freshly baked mielie bread make this meal a real winner.

For beef wraps:
Cook the mince well until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Warm a packet of rotis or naan bread, or even pita bread. Serve the mince with the wrapping breads and any or all of following toppings: avocado mashed with a bit of lemon juice, Greek yoghurt, grated cheddar, chopped tomato, chopped cucumber, chopped fresh parsley or coriander or mint, hummous, and so on.

** Tomato-and-onion mix: a useful South African staple consisting of chopped tomatoes and pre-cooked onions in a can. I will not hear a word against this product, which is so useful when you're making a stew or a potjiekos and don't feel like chopping onions.

Serves 4
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Friday 5 October 2007

Quick family dinner: pork fillet with mustard, tarragon and cream

I'm not a huge fan of pork. I do, admittedly, have a severe bacon deficiency - I cannot do without a few rashers of streaky bacon cooked to a crispy brown crumble every now and then. I also appreciate a nice slice of good pink ham with a lick of sharp gritty mustard - but I can live without hunks of pork covered in crackling. Having said that, pork fillet is very tasty and lean, and it's inexpensive when compared to beef fillet.

My kids don't much like pork either, but I partially won them over by concocting this quick and simple - and not particularly healthy - dish. It's creamy, tangy, tender and tasty, and cooked in a jiffy. It went down so well that I think I might make it once a week.

The tarragon is essential to this dish. It's bloody difficult to grow in your garden, and is only occasionally available in supermarkets, so I suggest you use the excellent dried French Tarragon leaves from the Cape Herb and Spice Company. I found these in my local Spar, and at Pick 'n Pay. If you can't find any sort of tarragon, use a handful of fresh parsley.

Pork Fillet in a Creamy Mustard Tarragon Cream Sauce

1 -2 pork fillets (about 1 kg for four people)
30 ml (2 tablespoons) flour
salt and freshly millled black pepper
15 ml (1 tablespoon) olive oil
5 ml (1 tsp) butter
25o ml (1 cup) white wine
125 ml (1/2 cup) water
(1 T) dried tarragon leaves
30 ml (2 T) wholegrain mustard (or a teaspoon each of wholegrain mustard and Dijon mustard)
125 ml cream
juice of half a lemon

Pat the pork fillet quite dry with a paper towel and cut into 1-cm-thick slices. Put the flour onto a dinner plate and season well with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil and butter in a frying pan. While the fat is heating, dip each slice of pork in the seasoned flour, and then shake off any excess flour. Put the pork slices into the hot fat and fry, for about four to five minutes on each side, until golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pork slices from the pan and put them on a plate. Cover the plate with a piece of tin foil, or an upturned plate.

Pour the white wine and the water into the frying pan and stir briskly, loosening any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Allow to bubble for 3-5 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Now turn down the heat and stir in the tarragon leaves, the mustard and the cream, and give the sauce a thorough whisk. When the sauce is slightly thickened and smooth, tip the pork pieces and their juices back into the pan. Squeeze over the lemon juice and season well with salt and pepper. Turn the heat down to virtually nothing and let the pan bubble for another 5 minutes, or until the pork fillet is cooked through and well coated with its mustardy sauce.

Serve hot with - hmm, let me think - boiled new potatoes, some tender-crisp microwaved broccoli, and a dab of sauce.

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