Beefing it up: Roast beef dinner and Earl Grey tea cake

Apologies in advance: this is really long (this won’t be the case every week so please don’t be turned off by this!)…

Having taken our taste buds to Wales last weekend, today was England’s turn. We’ve actually had quite a British week this week, thanks to Shrove Tuesday (also known as Pancake Day) and our annual tradition of chicken and leek pancakes with parmesan breadcrumb topping. We did consider ticking England off our list following Tuesday’s pancake spectacular, but this notion was only fleeting: it was just a little too British when we wanted something English. Considering we live in England, our options for which iconic dish to choose were numerous, but in the end, it came down to the fact that there’s a reason the French refer to the English as ‘les rosbifs’, and this had to be acknowledged with an appropriate Sunday lunch feast, to be shared with Ashley’s mum and sister.

Beef of any variety is at the top of Ashley’s favourite foods list, so a week’s worth of eager anticipation turned into an excited jaunt to see his good friend, the local butcher, on Saturday morning, to pick up a great big rolled rib of beef and some bones to use as a trivet. It had to be a ‘great big’ piece because for a little bit of extra money and zero extra effort we would have enough to feed us on Monday night as well. Meanwhile, Miranda went to the fruit and veg market, to pick up what we had determined to be the necessary accompaniments: potatoes, carrots, spring greens, cauliflower, parsnips and onions… Did we mention it was a feast?

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All of that excitement, however, had to lie dormant throughout the rest of Saturday, until finally, at about 11:30am on Sunday, Ashley could finally start browning off the beef. This was done in a hot roasting tin, with a little oil and beef dripping saved from a previous joint, and involved an apron, a couple of large pairs of tongs and the necessary precaution of opening all the windows and closing doors to rooms with smoke detectors.

And then it was time to actually start the cooking. Some people panic at the thought of cooking a WHOLE ROAST DINNER but experience has taught us that it really isn’t that difficult, as long as you’re organised. We knew how long everything had to be in the oven for and what time we wanted to eat, and worked backwards from there to work out what time things needed to go in the oven/on the stove. As Aleksandr the meerkat would say: Simples. Though admittedly, it does help to have two pairs of hands.

So, here goes. We don’t really have a recipe for our roast beef dinner as we’ve done it a number of times before and have learnt that it’s mostly done by trial and error and using our judgement as to whether things are cooked or not. However, our approximate method is as follows…

Roast beef
Some people like their beef well done. We aren’t those people. Rare is best, medium-rare is acceptable, anything more has overcooked the joint and you end up with a chewy, leathery dinner. To achieve beef perfection, it needs to be cooked for 20 minutes per pound plus 20 minutes in a 180 degree oven. Once browned all over (as mentioned earlier), it should be removed from its roasting tin momentarily whilst you add the rib bone trivet, then put the meat back in on top of the bones. When there is an hour remaining on the cooking time, turn the beef and add quartered onions to your trivet.

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Once cooked, it should be tested with a meat thermometer: 60 degrees in the thickest part is rare. It then needs to rest for at least 20-30 minutes before carving.

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Roast potatoes
Ashley is of the opinion that there is no such thing as too many roasties. He claims that even if you don’t eat them all on Sunday, they’re fine eaten as leftovers on Monday. Miranda knows that this is true but that leftovers rarely occur.

To make: peel and cut your desired amount of potatoes in approximately one-inch chunks and boil for 6 minutes. Drain in a colander then give them a good shake to rough up the edges, which will lead to crispier roasties later. Roast for at least an hour in plenty of oil at about 200 degrees, regularly checking and turning/basting. We like to add some cloves of garlic and/or rosemary if we have some around.

Honey roasted parsnips and carrots
Ah, parsnips. That most English of vegetable and one of Miranda’s favourites. Ashley thinks they are just for Christmas. We will have to agree to disagree.

Blanch the parsnips then put them in a roasting dish with the carrots. Drizzle with honey, add oil, season and roast for about 40 minutes at 180 degrees, turning/basting as per the potatoes.

Spring greens and cauliflower
Or whatever vegetables you want, really. Beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, peas… Just boil them or steam them. Our preferred method is steaming but lack of steamer space meant that today we steamed the greens and boiled the cauliflower.

Yorkshire puddings
Again, a very English accompaniment and one that a roast dinner is incomplete without. Our failsafe method involves shaking all the ingredients up in a shaker such as you would mix a protein drink in, but a bowl and a whisk would work just as well.

To make six Yorkshire puddings: Add two eggs to the shaker, followed by equal weights of milk and plain flour, plus a pinch of salt. Get your daily arm workout by shaking it as fiercely as possible. Allow to rest for at least half an hour. Then, add a tablespoon of water and shake again. Put about a teaspoon of beef dripping in each section of a muffin tin and put in a 230 degree oven until smoking, fill about two-thirds with batter, then bake for 20 minutes. Fill with plenty of gravy when on your plate: this is very important.

And speaking of gravy…

Gravy
Bisto is all very well and good but I’m afraid it doesn’t come close to this tried and tested recipe. Well, ‘recipe’ is used quite loosely here. ‘Tried and tested combination of ingredients’ is probably more accurate.

Once you have taken the beef (and the dripping for the Yorkshire puddings) out of the roasting dish to rest, put the dish on the stove on a low heat with the onions and bones in it and add a generous quantity of red wine to deglaze the dish. Add 750ml of beef stock, a good splosh of balsamic vinegar, about a teaspoon of Bovril (in case it wasn’t already beefy enough) and about a teaspoon of mustard. We have a blue cheese mustard from Paris which is awesome for this, but regular mustard (English, of course) is fine.

Simmer for a few minutes, getting as many little bits of beef as you can off the bones and the bottom of the tin. Remove bones and set aside to nibble on later (optional, if you fancy feeling like a caveman). Simmer for 20 minutes or so until it is reduced by approximately a third, stirring constantly, then remove the onions with a slotted spoon and add about a tablespoon of cornflour that has been mixed with some of the gravy juices to make a runny paste. Simmer for a bit longer to cook out the cornflour but then you’re pretty much ready to go!

And then it’s time to sit down and relax with a mountain of food and a glass of red wine. Enjoy the beef with horseradish sauce, if desired. Even better if shared with loved ones.

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Despite all that, there’s always room for pudding. The original plan had been to make a Spotted Dick, but circumstances conspired against us. Firstly, Ash’s mum arrived with a very generous and tasty offering of two big cakes. Secondly, the weather was unseasonably warm which didn’t really suit the wintry nature of this stodgy pudding. And thirdly, Ashley couldn’t hear the name of the pudding without sniggering like a schoolboy. So when we realised that the aforementioned cakes were pretty English themselves (marmalade cake and lemon drizzle), and Miranda had made an equally English cake in the form of an Earl Grey Tea Loaf, a ‘trio of English cakes’ dessert seemed the obvious move.

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We don’t have the marmalade and lemon drizzle cake recipes, but the Earl Grey Tea Cake one (from the Clandestine Cake Club cookbook) is as follows:

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Grease and line a 900g loaf tin.
2. Grind 1 1/2 tbsp Earl Grey tea leaves to a fine powder and mix in a bowl with 200g plain flour and 1/2 tsp bicarb soda.
3. Cream 120g butter and 330g caster sugar. Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, and adding a tablespoon of the flour mixture with the final egg to help prevent curdling.
4. Fold in 1/3 of the flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Add 60ml buttermilk and mix well. Repeat with half the remaining flour, then another 60ml of buttermilk and 1/4 tsp vanilla extract. Mix well before combining thoroughly with the rest of the flour.
5. Pour into the tin and bake for 50 minutes, until golden brown and springy to the touch. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then cool completely on a wire rack.
6. Once the cake is cool, mix 100g of icing sugar with the grated zest of half a lemon. Add strong, cold Earl Grey tea a little at a time (you will need just over a tablespoon) until it reaches a drizzle-able consistency. Drizzle liberally and evenly over the cake, letting it drip down the sides, and leave to set.

It’s now about six hours since we finished eating and, unsurprisingly, we’re still not all that hungry. In some ways, a full roast dinner can be a bit of a faff, but there’s usually enough of it to take the place of two meals (if you do it right!), and if you’re organised, it’s fairly straightforward. Having said that, writing about all this food does work up a bit of an appetite… so we might have room for one last little celebration of England in the form of sloe gin and Stilton. And next, we’ll be crossing the Irish Sea and cooking something that is likely to involve potatoes and Baileys (not together). Stay tuned…

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