The Cottage Smallholder

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Passata and rice water can remove the metallic tang of leeks in a dish

Photo: Beef and oxtail soup

Photo: Beef and oxtail soup

I’ve discovered that using non slow cooker recipes in the slow cooker enhances the flavours. This is generally great except in the case of onions and leeks. The quantities of these ingredients need to be halved. I’ve tried reducing them by a third and then had to battle with making the dish palatable.

Earlier this week I tried making our conventionally cooked oxtail recipe in the slow cooker. I halved the oxtail and made up the weight with shin of beef.  I cut down the onion and leeks by a third. I was planning a thick soup rather than a stew.

When I tried the soup in the morning it left a nasty, acrid and intense leek taste in the mouth.

I forced Danny to taste some.
“Why can’t I just accept that you say that it’s vile?” The wimp!
“Because it might not be quite as nasty as I think it is. The Min Pins gobbled it up this morning on their biscuit.”
He tasted the smallest drop that he could and rushed for the bathroom to clean his teeth.

It depressed me. I’d taken ages preparing the ingredients. Even though I’d made a month’s worth of dog food topping, it seemed such a waste of good ingredients.

I mentioned it to Seraphina.
“Why not add a tin of tomatoes?”
Danny gave this the thumbs up. Although he reckoned that passata would be sweeter.

This evening I added passata, anchovy essence, some sloe and apple jelly. The dish improved with faltering, smallish hops. I needed to add something creamy that was not cream. My eye fell on some brown rice that was simmering on the stove. When it was cooked, I drained the rice and added the thick rice water to the stew. It was as effective as an oil change in an old neglected banger.

Suddenly we had a dish that we can now share with the Min Pins.

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  1. Hi, yes a buerre manierre is same amounts of butter and flour mixed together,will thicken sauces, gravies beautifully.
    I usuall make up quite a lot more than may be required (this way you only have to mess about once with butter n flour) then it’s stored in coldest part of fridge to be added if and when required, easiest way is grating into liquid, this avoids any lumps forming, liquid will thicken, be glossy and it does impart a good flavour to the dish.
    Lv Odelle X

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hello Odelle

      I haven’t heard of buerre manierre – mist make some immediately! Great idea to grate it in.

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Pamela

    D’s role as chief taster means that sometimes he has to avoid holding his nose and come up with pertinent suggestions for pulling a dish round.

    All part of life’s rich tapestry.

    Hello Magic Cochin

    We laughed at the first sentence of your comment. When we travel it’s only with cabin baggage (even for a 2 week holiday) as D hates waiting/queuing beside the carousel.

    So bags are never packed – they are stuffed. He is always amazed when we arrive at the other end and I can fill a fair few hangers in the wardrobe!

    Thank you for your tips. Suddenly we’ve found a use for those odious rice cakes. Also intrigued by your butter and flour frozen nuggets.

    Hi Kate (uk)

    Thanks so much for that tip. We’ll try that in future.

    Hi Karen Lizzie

    I totally agree. We try and play by this rule. But in this case the stew didn’t respond.

    So after a day or so, I added 500ml of passata, a chicken stock cube and some white wine. It worked well and we guzzled the dish for the next two evenings.

    Hi Belinda

    Thank you so much for this. We had no idea and as the Min Pins love oxtail they are not going to tell us 🙂

  3. Belinda

    Please be careful of giving the MinPins human food containing garlic, onion, leek or shallot.

    All members of the allium family are liver toxic for dogs. A little is ok, just not too often.

  4. Karen Lizzie

    I am a great believer in allowing time to improve any type of soup or casserole. I always leave at least one day between cooking and eating. The act of cooling and re-heating always improves a caaserole it seems to allow the flavours to mingle and mellow. It seems to have a magical effect on the more disappointing tasting dishes.

  5. kate (uk)

    Leeks cook in an instant, so always add right at the last moment- or cook on their own and add last of all, then they keep their sweetness.

  6. magic cochin

    Your account of the soup made me think of that game “I packed my bag and in it I put …” LOL!

    A tip I learnt from Hugh Fearnley- Whittingstall’s River Cottage Cookbook is to use those dry polystyrene-like rice cakes to thicken soup. Just crumble in 2 or 3 at the end of cooking, then whizz with the stick blender.

    And Pamela – If you add a couple of ladles of the pasta water to a pasta sauce just before you strain the pasta, and stir it in well it adds a bit of the starch from the wheat in the pasta and thickens the sauce a little – like the flour does when you make gravy.

    One other easy way to thicken a sauce (haven’t tried it with soup but no reason why it shouldn’t work) is to knead together a large knob of butter with some flour (technical term = beurre manié), then add this in small bits to the sauce while you stir.

    It’s interesting how cooking in the slow pot, on the hob or in the oven result in a different flavours. There a scientific explanation I’m sure…


  7. Pamela

    We do seem to have a weird compulsion to inflict vile tastes and smells on each other! I know this as I am guilty too. At least when you are cooking and trying to salvage a disaster you can justify it as you are hoping for inspiration from the other person. Of course for children it is an excellent opportunity to make loud and disgusted noises about food. Doesn’t pasta water have some magical properties too? I have read on several occasions about chefs adding a small amount to dishes but I can never seem to retain the essential info about why and when and how much to add.

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