Two friends came for supper. We sat at the kitchen table with the garden doors wide open. This is ‘allowed’, indeed we could have had the doors closed but it’s still warm enough not to. Apart from that short discussion around virus etiquette (vetiquette?) it all felt reassuringly normal. I cooked a piece of topside beef bought earlier in the week. I didn’t want to make a roast dinner on this end-of-summer evening but felt the need for some comforting food with a hint of the evenings closing in so I slow-cooked it with pearl barley. We ate it with tiny roast potatoes (cut into small cubes and blasted in in a hot oven for an hour with plenty of olive oil) and cabbage, finely shredded, fried briefly and sprinkled with soya sauce.
Pudding was blackberries picked a couple of weeks ago and cooked up with apples and a little sugar, and crunchy butterscotch ice-cream.
Topside beef slow-cooked with barley (serves 4)
approx 1 kilo piece of topside beef
2 large carrots
2 cloves garlic
a handful of fresh sage and thyme
about 600ml beef stock (I used half a packet of Heston from Waitrose beef stock, with some water added, and froze the rest, but you could use a stock cube)
1 heaped tsp ground cumin
1 heaped tsp ground coriander
3 fresh tomatoes or 1/2 tin tomatoes
100g pearl barley
At least half an hour beforehand, take the meat out of the fridge to bring it up to room temperature.
Preheat the overn to 180 C.
Peel or wash the carrots and cut into 2-3cm chunks.
Peel the carrots and cut into eighths.
Peel and roughly chop the garlic cloves.
Roughly chop the herbs.
Roughly chop the fresh tomatoes, if using.
You’ll need a heavy based saucepan with lid, large enough for the meat with a little space all round (Le Creuset or simlar). Heat up a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.
Liberally season the meat with salt and pepper, put it into the saucepan, add the herbs, fry it for a couple of minutes over a high heat, then turn over and do the other side.
Take off the heat and add the chopped veg around the edge of the meat. Pour in stock, adding a little water if necessary – it should come to about half way up the meat. Add the cumin and coriander, and fresh or tinned tomatoes.
Sprinkle the barley directly into the stock and make sure it’s all submerged in the liquid.
Put on a lid (or cover with tin foil) and put into a low oven (180 C or the Aga slow oven) for 90 minutes then turn up the heat to 220 C or move it to the bottom of the top Aga oven and cook for another 30 minutes.
Take the meat out and put on a warm plate to rest. Put the saucepan over a medium heat and simmer the stock for about 5 minutes, adding seasoning to taste.
Slice the beef and spoon over generous spoonfuls of the barley gravy.