Thursday, December 30, 2010

Doughy, Naughty, Cheesy Pigs in Blankets - Happy New Year Loves!

I am writing this as my last post for the year. Dear God - where did it all go? As I write I'm having a little bout of overwhelm-ment (that's a word, right?) and gratitude with all kinds of sappy, retrospective goo filling my brain. But this year was truly special to me for reasons I haven't been able to share on the blog. Maybe one day soon (and no my dears, it's not a baby.) Anyway, I feel beyond, beyond blessed with everything that's happened to me in the past 365 days.

I hope I can share this and much, much more with you in the new year. It's about dang time. I feel like all of you - my darling readers and anyone who happens to stop by this often silent and neglected blog - deserve it. But in the meantime, I want to say that I treasure each and everyone of you - particularly the peeps I have a semi regular dialogue with but also even the most random stranger who leaves a comment and never appears again. Because as is now a cliche thanks to the movie Julie and Julia, blogging can be a very lonely business (if only we all had as many readers as Julia! We'd be sittin' pretty, wouldn't we?)

Alright. Cue the violin music... I am so happy you read me. Be it once or once in a while or regularly. Thank you, thank you, thank you. The funny thing is, as a quasi professional writer by trade, I am blown away by how many amazing writers there are out there. You guys are funny. And witty. And original. So keep it up y'all. Okay, I'm done with my rant. And now - onto the star of the M&PF New Year's Show...

Pigs in Blankets! With cheese! Because clearly I'm on a mission to constipate everyone for the first week of the New Year! ;)

Unlike yeast doughs, you can whip this up and have it the oven in half an hour. The only hitch is you need self rising flour on hand and you have to be willing to play with the dough a little. For example, I can't tell you why but sometimes I need exactly the amount of flour called for and other times a WHOLE lot more... The good news is it is very resilient. Just keep adding spoonful by spoonful until it gets to a constisency you can roll and work with. If it sticks to your hands when you try to pick it up, keep adding...

Doughy, Naughty, Cheesy Pigs in Blankets
* If you're really naughty you can sprinkle some additional cheese over the pastry strips before you add the sausage and roll them up. As they say - you can never be too rich, too thin, or too cheesy.

2 1/2 cups self-rising flour, sifted or spooned into the measuring cups with a light hand, plus extra just in case and for flouring board an rolling pin
1 heaping teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried mustard
1/3 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup whole milk, lightly warmed for 20 seconds in the microwave, JUST until not cold
1 egg
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
55-60 cocktail sausages

Preheat the oven to 425.

Add the flour, salt, sugar, mustard and cheese to a large bowl. Stir with a whisk or fork to make friends. In a separate bowl (or even a measuring glass the milk was poured into) take the 1 cup of milk and add in the egg and oil whisking briefly to combine. Set the milk/egg/oil mixture aside while you make a 'hole' in the center of the dry ingredients, then add the milk combination gradually to the dry mixture, stirring or forking as you do just until it's combined.

Do a finger check for the consistency of the dough after mixing. If it sticks to your fingers and therefore won't roll out, add a bit more flour and mix again. Keep doing so until it cooperates with you but be patient because if you dump a boatload of flour in we've just wasted a good chunk of time on a cheese brick.

Once happy with the dough, flour your rolling surface and rolling pin , LIGHTLY, and roll the dough out until it's slightly thicker than 1/4 inch thickness, or just roll until the dough stops stretching/giving outwards, being careful not to go too thin.

From there, use a sharp knife dipped into flour to cut it into 3" long by 1" thick strips. To each strip, lay a mini sausage on one end, then roll up pinching the seemed bottom and placing onto an aluminum or parchment-lined, oil sprayed baking sheet, seam-side down.

Once all assembled (you can put them on 2-3 large disposable pie tins or on 2-3 baking sheets) bake for 12-15 minutes until the tops are JUST light golden brown. Remove and let cool slightly before serving.

I like them with mustard but have ketchup or whatever you fancy on hand to dip.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Savory Double Cheese Crackers a.k.a. What to drink with your Champagne on NYE

Actually these crackers are good with just about anything to drink from Coca Cola to milk, though my sister would like to cast her vote for red wine. We like our ripple, what can I say?

But the real beauty to these is that you can make them ahead, keep a log in your fridge for up to three weeks and slice and bake when needed. Because there's no egg in the dough, you're good to go. You can also bake them off and freeze them and then just reheat in a low oven. But I can't imagine there being any left to freeze once you've baked them. As soon as that savory cheddary goodness hits the air waves in my house, it's game over.

Although Rebecca suggests using your mixer to put these together, you can also use a good old wooden spoon and large bowl. Just be sure your butter is at room temp and to cream it thoroughly with the cheese before adding the rest of the ingredients. My little Kitchen Aid struggled a bit (the dough gets very stiff) so I ended up dumping everything into a large bowl and finishing mixing them by hand. You'll appreciate having done the arm exercise afterwards, trust me.

So what apps are you making for NYE and what are your plans?

Savory Double Cheese Crackers
* Adapted from Rebecca Rather
* Don't slice these too thin or they won't come out 'crackery'. Remember they won't rise much so what you cut is what you'll end up with when they come out.
* If I were you, I'd double the recipe since it keeps so well:)

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temp
2 cups freshly grated extra sharp Cheddar cheese (about 8 oz)
1 cup grated Parmesan or Manchego (about 4 oz)
1 cup all purpose flour (use a light hand when measuring or sift the flour first)
1/4 teaspoon table salt plus a healthy pinch
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon mustard powder (I prefer Coleman's brand)
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts

Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and cheeses on medium speed until combined, about 1 minute. Add the flour, salt and cayenne pepper, dried mustard and paprika and beat on low speed until combined. Stir in the pecans or walnuts. Divide the dough in half; shape each half into a roll about 2 inches in diameter and 8 to 10 inches long. Wrap in wax paper and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease baking sheets with butter or cooking spray or line with silicone liners. Unwrap the dough and slice into scant 1/4-inch rounds. Place the rounds on the prepared baking sheets about ½ inch apart. Bake until the cookies are lightly browned around the edges and crisp, about 10 minutes.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Meaty yet Meatless Pasta with Parmesan and Pine Nuts

Well it's almost that time of year again. The time of year that makes me want to hide in the closet with a pack of Oreos (I keep some there for emergencies next to a box of unfortunate looking boots I bought one night while sipping and clicking online...)

Anyway, you know the time of year I'm talking about - the dreaded penance time for all the celebrating we've been doing. That said, I rarely manage to do any serious boot camping or calorie counting after the holidays. Instead I like to tell myself that eating more veg and less sweets makes for a saner, more realistic approach. So I dig through my archives and pull out recipes like this one - an oldie but a goodie from Giada.

I have to admit on the surface it's a pasta only a mother could love. The color is a bit like wet clay and there's not much you can do to dress it up. But it's (reasonably) healthy, fairly quick, and so easy a caveman could do it. Plus it's got a feisty little kick to it which I love. The last thing I'll say about it is even though it has eggplant in the sauce, non eggplant lovers would never know it's there. The overall taste is undefinable yet delicious. Rich and hearty like a meat sauce yet much, much lighter.

Me likey.

PS - the beautiful bowl above was a Christmas gift from my mom and stepdad. It's so beautiful I want to curl up and sleep in it!

Meaty yet Meatless Pasta with Parmesan and Pine Nuts
*Use more eggplant than you think is necessary. For instance I used 3 large (long, rather) Japanese eggplant thinking it would be WAY too much and it wasn't. A good rule of thumb is to take out your largest roasting pan and load it up.
* Don't forget to reserve as much pasta water as the recipe says - you'd be surprised by how thick the veggie mixture can get.

1 large regular eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes (or 3-4 long thin, Japanese style eggplant)
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 clove of garlic, whole but peeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus extra for sprinkling over
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 pound rigatoni pasta or spiral or penne pasta
small handful of fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons lemon flavored olive oil (if you don't have any use regular extra virgin olive oil and add in the zest of a whole lemon)
3/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling over each portion

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (you don't have to do this - just helps with cleanup.)

In a large bowl combine the eggplant, cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Spread the vegetables out in an even layer on the baking sheet. Roast in the oven until the vegetables are tender and the eggplant is golden but not charred, about 35 minutes.

While the vegetables are roasting, place the pine nuts in a small baking dish. Place in the oven on the rack below the vegetables. Roast until golden, about 4 minutes. Remove from the oven and reserve.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta into a large bowl and reserve 1 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid.

Transfer the roasted vegetables to a food processor. Add the basil and lemon extra-virgin olive oil (or plain EV olive oil and lemon zest if substituting.) Puree the vegetables.

Transfer the pureed vegetables to the bowl with the pasta and add the Parmesan. Stir to combine, adding the pasta cooking liquid 1/2 cup at a time until the pasta is saucy. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the top and serve along with any additional parm you like and/or freshly torn basil

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Y'all!!

I'll be in touch after the big day with more sweets and appetizer ideas for New Year's. Until then I hope you all have the merriest and tastiest of Christmases!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Gingerbread Men (and Women) Cookies

Is Martha Stewart God? This recipe makes me wonder. It is the best, most forgiving dough on earth. You can re-roll it over and over (just try not to over do it on the flour) and the flavor is nothing short of celestial. Plus any dough that lets you make any body part you want is golden in my book.

Just be glad I only shared the PG 13 versions...

Gingerbread Men (and Women) Cookies
* From Martha Stewart Living
* The icing pictured is good old, store bought decorating icing (I'm lazy!)
* Do NOT over bake these - they are finished when they puff slightly and evenly across and are LIGHT golden - not dark.
* Use a light hand when measuring the flour - be sure not to 'pack' it in.

6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
4 teaspoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon finely ground pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt plus 1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 large eggs
1 cup unsulfured molasses

Royal Icing, for decorating
Fine sanding sugar, for sprinkling

Sift together flour, baking soda, and baking powder into a large bowl. Set aside.

Put butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until fluffy. Mix in spices and salt, then eggs and molasses. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Divide dough into thirds; wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out dough on a lightly floured work surface to a 1/4-inch thick. Cut into shapes with people cookie cutters or whatever shapes you like. Make 'hair' for them if desired by placing a small bit of dough through a garlic press, then scraping it off the press with the back of a knife. Once crafted, space the cookies 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper or sprayed lightly with nonstick spray. If the dough has become too warm and your people are getting falling apart while assembling/baking, refrigerate it until firm again, about 15 minutes.

Bake cookies until crisp but not dark, 8-10 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

Decorate away!

The Best Make Ahead Gravy

Gravy traumatizes me. I can handle the bird, the sides, and the desserts just fine. But gravy? I break down. The thought of having to whip something up after cooking all day (and when it's finally time to celebrate the cooked bird with a glass of champagne) literally gives me nightmares. So rather than go to therapy, I make my gravy ahead of time and keep it in the fridge. On the big day (even at the last minute) you just heat it up over a low/medium flame, adding a little more stock to loosen it.

Easy peasy, even while holding a glass of champagne:)

The Best Make Ahead Gravy
* Adapted from Southern Living
* Yields 2 cups; can be easily doubled

2 turkey necks (you can buy them during the holidays in the meat section)
salt and pepper, for seasoning turkey necks
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
5 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 fresh thyme sprig
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 teaspoon dried (rubbed) sage
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Add the oil to a medium dutch oven with a lid and put on medium/high heat to let heat through.

Season the necks lightly with salt and pepper. Once hot, add to the pan and brown on all sides. Don't rush this step - that caramelization makes the gravy. Add the onion, celery and bay leaf and saute for five minutes until softened (resist the urge to season with salt - you don't want too much salt early on or you'll have a salt block later.) Stir in the broth, parsley and thyme.

Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes (I like to leave the lid 3/4 on during this time.)

Remove from the heat and let cool down a couple minutes, then put the mixture through a wire mesh strainer, using the back of a wooden spoon to press as much through as possible. Discard leftover solids and set stock to the side.

Now melt the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium/low heat. Slowly whisk in the flour (and please use a whisk - it helps to incorporate it and reduce lumps.) Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is golden. Gradually whisk in the stock you made before, which is ideally still a little warm. Add in wine and sage and bring to a boil over medium heat.

Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally 5-10 minutes or until thickened (it will continue to thicken when chilled.)

Stir in salt and pepper to taste.

Cinnamon Sugar Banana Bread

Nothing makes me happier than stumbling onto a recipe for something so good, I know I'll never need to try any other version. There may be 101 ways to make banana bread for the holidays, but in my humble opinion, this is THE recipe. The smell as it bakes is every fond memory you had of the holidays growing up wrapped into one wafting cloud of cinnamon and sugar.

Cinnamon Sugar Banana Bread
* Makes 7-8 mini loaves that freeze well.
* Adapted from All Recipes - thank you Esther Nelson!

1/4 cup white sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, for dusting pans
Butter or nonstick spray, for pans

3/4 cup butter at room temp
2 1/4 cups white sugar
3 eggs
4 very ripe smallish bananas, mashed well with a fork
1 cup apple butter
1 (16 oz) container sour cream (you can use light if desired)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Good grating fresh nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 teaspoons baking soda
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (please 'lighten' the flour by fluffing it gently with a spoon and then use a spoon to gently fill your measuring cups - this is easier than sifting and will ensure you don't use too much flour and end up with cement)
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts or pecans, optional

Preheat oven to 300 (yes this is correct! 300!)

Grease or butter your loaf pans then dust lightly and all around with the cinnamon sugar mixture. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter and 2 1/4 cups sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in eggs, mashed bananas, apple butter, sour cream, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg until just incorporated. Mix in salt, baking soda, and flour until just mixed. Fold in nuts then divide the batter evenly between the pans.

Bake for one hour, rotating pans halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then carefully invert onto a cooling rack to finish cooling (you may need to run a bread knife around the edges to help them let go.)

Nigella's Chicken with Tarragon Cream Sauce

Again Nigella saves the day during this busy time of year with this jack-rabbit-fast chicken dinner. If you don't like the licorice scent of tarragon, feel free to substitute basil.

Chicken with Tarragon Cream Sauce
* from Nigella Kitchen
* Serves 2

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 fat scallions (green onions) or 4 skinny ones, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon or chives or basil
2 chicken breast fillets, skinless and boneless
couple dashes garlic powder
1/3 vermouth or dry white wine
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/8 tspn table salt, plus extra for seasoning chicken
1/2 cup heavy cream
white pepper for seasoning
2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon, plus more for garnish

Heat the oil in a pan or dutch oven that has a lid. You want the pan to hold the chicken and sauce comfortably, but not one the chicken will get lost in. Add the green onions, stir, then sprinkle in the dried herbs and stir again. Cook for a couple of minutes, being careful to not let them burn.

Season the chicken on both sides with kosher or sea salt and white pepper and garlic powder then add to the pan. Cook for 5 minutes or until the first side is light golden brown (if the scallions begin to burn at any point, put them on top of the chicken.)

Turn the chicken over and add the vermouth or wine. Let it bubble away for a couple minutes then lower the heat and put the lid on so that it simmers gently underneath, for ten minutes. When you peak you should see little bubbles in the center, not a static or a violent one either. Remove the chicken to a holding plate, the bring the remaining liquid to a boil and gently stir in the final bit of salt and fresh tarragon and cream.

Let bubble, stirring often, until it thickens slightly - just a couple or three minutes. Check for salt pepper then return the chicken to the sauce to warm through. Check the chicken just before serving to see that it's cooked through - slicing into the thickest part of the breast.

Serve with some sauce ladled over and additional fresh herbs.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Jalapeno Cheese Bread Stuffing with Apples and Shallots

I made this on Thanksgiving confident it would trump my sister's famous sausage cornbread stuffing. It didn't. It's not that it wasn't good - it was just invited to the wrong party. My sis-in-law hit it on the head when she said it would go great with beef tenderloin or prime rib. No truer words have ever been spoken. If you had seen her ensemble that night you would know she knows what she's talking about!

**Make ahead tip: You can make the apple/bacon/shallot mixture the night before and keep in the fridge in a ziploc or tupperware container. The day of, just toast the bread cubes and toss with the already prepared mixture then add in the chicken stock, white wine, Parmesan, cheddar, and beaten eggs (and salt/pepper if needed.) Then just bake off as directed below.

Jalapeno Cheese Bread Stuffing with Apples and Shallots

Dash of olive oil
8 oz Sunday cut bacon (or whatever type you prefer), snipped with kitchen shears into little strips
1 large shallot (about 1/3 cup) finely chopped
2 medium pink lady (or any other sweet/tart apple), cut into smallish cubes
1 medium jalapeno (seeds and ribs removed unless you like it HOT), minced (or 2 jalapenos if you are so inclined)
Sea salt or kosher salt for seasoning
Good pinch fresh ground black pepper
Good pinch fresh ground nutmeg
1/4 cup apple brandy (Calvados or regular apple jack)
1/2 teaspoon dried English mustard (such as Coleman's)
1/2 lb (half of a 1 lb loaf) of Jalapeno cheese bread, cut into 1 inch cubes and toasted in the oven at 350 for 8-10 minutes just until dried out and 'toasty'
1/2 cup low sodium chicken stock, plus extra
2 tablespoons dry white wine
3 tablespoons (freshly) grated Parmesan
1 cup grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
pinch salt, optional

Add the olive oil to a medium/large rimmed nonstick pan and bring over medium/high heat. Add in the bacon and cook (reduce heat if it begins to brown/pop and spit too quickly) until crisp - about 8 minutes. Use a slotted spoon or spider to transfer the bacon to a holding plate. If you need extra fat for the bottom of the pan to cook the shallots, add another dash or two of olive oil then add the chopped shallots, season with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat until softened - about 5 minutes. Add in the apple and jalapeno and cook another 3-4 minutes, just until the apple begins to lose its rigid shape. Add over a dash of fresh grated nutmeg then raise the heat to high and add the apple brandy. Let come to a boil and reduce by about half - should only take a couple minutes. Kill the heat and stir in the dry mustard (you can sub a 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard if you don't have Coleman's. No biggie.) Add the reserved bacon back in and mix again.

At this point you can either let the mixture cool down and chill it in the refrigerator (if making the night before) or go on with the rest of the steps.

Spray a 9x9 Pyrex or baking dish with nonstick spray, or butter it if you're a purist in such areas. Set aside and preheat the oven to 375.

To the cooled apple/shallot mixture, gently add and toss in the toasted bread cubes. Stir in the chicken stock, white wine, Parmesan, cheddar, eggs until just combined. Here is where you need to use your gut. The mixture should appear slightly more wet than dry. I don't know how else to say it. If you think it's a little dry, add in more chicken stock. This is also a matter of personal preference - some people like their stuffing on the dry side; others vice versa. Follow your instincts. The only hard fast rule is that stuffing shouldn't go into the oven looking DRY. It will only get drier and before you know it you'll be cutting into a stuffing brownie. But maybe that's not a bad thing I don't know. Anyway, once it's to your liking, decide if you need another dash or pepper or salt (if you've added in quite a bit more stock this is doubtful) and pour the stuffing into the prepared baking dish.

Bake for 40-45 minutes until the edges are just a bit golden and the whole thing looks 'set.' You'll know it when you see it, trust me.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Giada's Christmas Pot Roast (Stracotto) with Porcini Mushrooms

When I saw Giada's hour long Christmas special recently, a pang of disappointment hit me. Every recipe was one she'd made before on Everyday Italian! I got over it though and before I knew it I was in my kitchen making her Straccato - a boneless chuck roast with Porcini Mushrooms and Onions.

I thought I hated pot roast until I made this - I can't even tell you how good it is. In fact I'll now try and refer to it by its Italian name as 'pot roast' is just too drab for something this exciting and delicious. I will admit that after straining the fat from the gravy and blending it, it initially tasted like a salt block. But don't worry your pretty little heads. A splash or two of water, a good glug of brandy, and a handful of fresh herbs turn into Jesus juice. Amen.

I also made the classic parmesan polenta to go with it. If there are any two things on this earth more meant to be together I'd like to know what they are. I for one, vote pot roast and polenta as couple of the year.

In hindsight I'm so glad Giada pulled out this oldie but goodie. Otherwise I might have never made it!

* Meat and Potatoes Foodie Tip - resist the urge to season the onions and sauce throughout the cooking process. If you add too much salt in a sauce before you boil it down or before it cooks for a long time, it will become overly salty and you won't be able to eat it. Just season the beef before searing and hold off adding any more salt until you've tasted it at the end (I didn't need any - in fact I had to desalt it a little!)

Pot Roast (Stracotto) with Porcini Mushrooms
* Lightly adapted from Giada deLaurentiis
* recipe halved to serve 6 or so people

1 (2.5-3 pound) Boneless Beef Chuck Roast
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper, for seasoning
1 Onion, chopped
3 Garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3/4 cup dry red wine
1 (14 oz) can of low sodium beef broth, divided
1/2 oz (I use a little more) Dried Porcini mushrooms
2 nice sized sprigs of fresh thyme
a nice handful of fresh chopped herbs, I prefer basil and flat leaf parsley
Glug of brandy
Water, for thinning the gravy (about half a can if re-using the beef broth can)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Pat the beef dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. In a heavy 6-quart pot or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add the beef and cook until browned on all sides, about 12 minutes. Really let it brown though - you want a nice crust here! Remove the beef and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onions. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute until aromatic. Add the wine and raise the heat so that it begins to boil, craping up the brown bits that cling to the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Let bubble away for a minute, then stir in the broth, one of the thyme sprigs and mushrooms. Return the beef to the pot and bring the liquid to a boil if not already doing so. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook for one hour, then using tongs, carefully flip the meat to the other side. Add the rest of the can of broth, cover and cook for another hour. At this point, turn the oven to 300 and cook for another hour (or longer if you aren't ready to it), checking on it once or twice to be sure the bottom isn't drying out (add a little water if so.)

Remove from the oven. Carefully remove the meat from the pot (I used two giant spatulas) - the meat should be tender and falling apart at this point which makes it difficult to transport. Put it on a holding plate or tray, lightly covered with foil as you make the gravy.

Meanwhile, spoon any excess fat off the top of the pan juices (it's the glossy, clear stuff sitting on top, not the darker, flavorful juice underneath.) Carefully transfer the defatted gravy to the blender. Add about half a can's worth of water (recycling the beef broth can), a glug or two of brandy, and a fistful of fresh herbs (basil and flat leaf parsley plus the last sprig of thyme.)

Blend until smooth and taste for seasoning. If it's a little blah, add some salt. If it's too salty, add a little more water and/or brandy, blend, and try again. The beauty about gravy is it's almost always fixable (as long as you haven't been salting all the way through!)

Once satisfied, add the gravy to a small/medium saucepan and reheat (do not boil!) on low JUST until warm.

Cut the beef into 1-inch slices against the grain and place on a platter (I like to remove any 'weird' fatty bits from the meat before serving but you don't have to.) Spoon some of the sauce over the meat and serve the remaining sauce on the side. Sprinkle leftover herbs on top and serve.