A Simple Breakfast and Helen’s Bright Idea

Smoked salmon and egg with tartarte sauce

I must admit, I’m not a morning person and definitely not a ‘breakfast person’. The last thing I need as I drag myself around the house in the morning is a plate, or bowl, of food. Coffee, however, is another matter entirely.

The problem is by mid morning at work I’m famished and with a deficit of cafes around selling anything other than heart-attack-inducing hot sandwiches, I tend to take those God-awful microwave porridges into the office. People of Scotland: please don’t judge me.

So come the weekend, with a little more time and a kitchen at hand, I try and make something properly. Ironically, Saturday tends to comprise the aforementioned heart-attack-inducing sandwich, or even the delicious but deadly “full English”. I see it as a reward for navigating yet another working week without killing anyone (I’m of the opinion that deceased clients are bad for cashflow and expired staff rather less productive).

This breakfast dish is typically something we have on a lazy Sunday. It’s quick, filling and actually inexpensive – a little smoked salmon goes a long way. I actually prefer it with some nice freshly hot-smoked salmon, but this is nearly as good. I made a ‘kind-of’ tartare sauce with home-made mayo, gherkins and finely minced picked onion. It was nice and sharp against the egg and salmon.

It’s not normally something  I’d post about, especially as I wrote about something similar a while back, but there were a number of reasons for doing so today:

  1. We have a new dining table
  2. It’s the first time I tried making Mayo in the mixer therefore NOT getting it everywhere.
  3. This morning, for the first time in living memory, it wasn’t CHUCKING IT DOWN WITH RAIN and therefore had some decent light. Oh, now wait, it’s started chucking it down…..

Lastly, Helen’s bright idea was a simple and foolproof way of getting leftover mayo into the squeezy bottle – a greaseproof paper cone. Just top it up every now and again and let it drip through. She was very pleased with herself:

May in a bottle

The mixer-mayo was actually brilliant: just beat one egg yolk, one tbsp white wine vinegar, one tsp of dijon mustard on the highest setting with the beater attachment.

making mayonnaise

Gently pour in the oil

Mayo - pour in the oil

A few minutes later, season with a little salt, et voila:

homemade mayo

For the breakfast, I simply added some chopped pickled onion and gherkin (about a tablespoon of each) to a ramekin of the mayo to make the ‘tartare’ sauce.

Scramble some egg with a little butter and season to taste. Keep it soft if you can. Stir in the smoked salmon and allow to warm a little. Serve it on toast or potato cakes if you have them.

Scrambled egg and smoked salmon on toast

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Braised Ox Cheek with Celeriac Puree, Oyster Mushrooms and Charred Baby Leek

Braised ox cheek, oyster mushrooms and charred baby leek

It seems every other week in Newcastle, my nearest City, there’s a new restaurant/eatery/bar opening up. “Excellent” I hear you cry and I agree.

One thing most have in common is the stripped back austere look, reinforced by enamelled pie dishes, menus on a clipboard and exposed brickwork. Just a few ‘dig for Britain’ posters and some bunting and it’s the 40’s all over again. I actually like this trend. Whilst I’ve no doubt it is styled to within an inch of its life, it feels unfussy and casual especially when pouring milk into my coffee from something that looks suspiciously like a specimen bottle.

Another curiosity is the proliferation of ‘little plates’ and ‘large plates’, which is a new one for me. I think it generally means ‘starter’ and ‘main’ but it does tend to suggest that you can order what you like. Small plates, if you’re peckish, large plates if your famished. It would have been weird to sit in a bar and order a just a ‘starter’ I guess.

A further common thread though and it’s where I’m going with all this, is the trend back toward the good honest food, starting with slow cooked meats (such as the ubiquitous pulled pork sandwich and oxtails) and robust traditional vegetables and pulses (beetroot salads, barley risottos, that sort of thing).

My cooking is no exception, as you can probably see if you browse my site, but one cut that has been eluding me though is the humble ox-cheek. No doubt it was a hard sale for butchers at one time but with the current clamour for ‘low and slow’ I’m surprised it’s still so tricky to find.

I’ve written about it before but I first tried it in a 3 Michelin star restaurant in Vegas and was hooked. It was cooked in a thai broth, but the flavour was amazing, but then I guess it should be at $250 a head.

I got just over a kilo from a a certain higher end supermarket butchers the other week. It was actually all they had on display and at £7.50/kilo, a bargain. It’s a very hard working muscle so needs plenty of gentle slow cooking, but it is worth the wait. Better still, just half of it made two dinners for Helen and I and 4 lunches. Superb value.

Ox cheek

One was a typical slow cooked dish, braising the ox cheek in red wine with some creamed celeriac, meaty oyster mushrooms and charred baby leek. The other, a very similarly cooked ragu with fresh pasta. The pasta itself was actually better a day or two later as the flavour really developed. I’ll post the ragu dish soon.

 For the Braised Ox cheek with celeriac and charred leek:

 For the ox cheek:

  • 300g ox cheek, cut into two portions
  • 100g bacon lardons
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 large carrot, finely diced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 large glasses of fruity red wine – I used Malbec
  • 500ml beef stock
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 baby leeks
  • Tender stem brocoli

Mushrooms:

  • A couple of handfuls of oyster mushrooms (about 100g)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tsp butter

 Creamed celeriac:

  •  Half a celeriac
  • 100ml light/single cream
  • 1 knob of butter
  • Salt to taste

Cut the ox cheek into two portions and brown well in a iron casserole pot with a pinch of salt.

Remove and add the onion, lardons, sliced garlic, carrot. Stir until the onion softens – ad a little water if it begins to burn. Deglaze with the wine and return the ox cheeks along with the stock, the star anise and bay leaves. Put the lid on and bring to a simmer.

Either continue then to cook on the hob at the lowest possible heat setting, or a I did, place it in an oven at 120°C/250°F for 5 hours.

When done, remove the ox cheeks carefully, so as not to break them up. Keep warm in an oven at 60°C/140°F

Strain the cooking liquor into a saucepan and gently reduce until thick and viscous (coating the back of a spoon). Taste and season if necessary, but it probably won’t be.

reduced cooking liquor

Meanwhile, chop the celeriac into chunks and boil for about 15 minutes until soft – add the broccoli for the final few minutes to save on pans. Remove the broccoli and keep warm. Blend with the cream and butter until very smooth – season to taste. Keep warm in a lidded pan or covered bowl.

Coat the leeks in oil and a good pinch of salt. Char on a griddle pan until nicely marked and tender throughout (about 10 minutes).

At the same time, fry the mushroom in a little oil and the butter until softened and season slightly.

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Bit of a juggling act at the end but very much worth it when you plate it all up. May as well finish off the Malbec you just opened too 😉

 braised ox cheek

Cod, Cockles, Samphire and Split Peas

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We’re lucky enough to live very near the coast and although we take it for granted nothing beats a walk down the beach on a cold day. OK, maybe a warm day, but relatively speaking, it’s quiet this time of the year, bar the occaisional couple and dog walker.

Sand Haven Beach in December last year. Another storm coming at us in the distance.

Sand Haven Beach in December last year. Another storm coming at us in the distance.

Being on the North East England coast we’ve missed the intensity of most of the storms battering the South at the moment. There was an incident of flooding on the river Tyne in Newcastle last year caused by a combination of storm surge and exceptional high tides but we’ve had it nothing like as bad.

Still, Helen popped into our local fishmongers, Latimers today to get some fish for tonight’s dinner and crab for a colleauge but is seems one of the boats had an accident in the rough weather last week and its in shorter supply than usual. There was no hake either and so we ended up with cod. I must admit, I’m generally not to enamoured by the fish in the cod family, (including hake, haddock, coley etc),  I’d much rather have mackerel, sardines or, when we can afford it (or indeed get it), turbot. But nonetheless I think a thick piece of chunky white fish was needed in this dish. She also picked up some samphire, my favourite fish accompaniment and some huge cockles. ‘Oo-er missus’ indeed.

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This seemed fairly simple but ended up with the inevitable dash to finish it. The split peas were boiled until tender, but not mushy, like you might have them in a dhal. The samphire, nice and salty as it is, was simply steamed above the peas for a few minutes to leave them with some nice ‘bite’. The cockles, cooked in wine, garlic and thyme, gave up a beautiful cooking liquor to blend with some butter for a rich sauce. It was finished with some crisp parma ham and, of course,  some cod crisped in a searing hot pan and finished under the grill.

Ingredients, serves 2:

  • 2 x hake cod fillets
  • Oil for frying
  • Butter to finish
  • 10 large cockles
  • 1 garlic clove, finely diced.
  • A handful of fresh thyme, leaves only.
  • Salt to tasteC1 glass white wine
  • A knob of butter to finish a sauce.
  • 100g split peas
  • Vegetable stock (optional)
  • Samphire
  • 2 parma ham slices

Boil the split peas in vegetable stock or slightly salted water until done, about 40 minutes.

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When nearly done, start the cockles/sauce: fry the garlic in some oil in a pan gently for a couple of minutes. Add the wine, bring to a simmer,  and then add the cockles.

Place a lid on and steam for 3 or 4 minutes until the well opened.

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Chuck away any that don’t open – I didn’t get any this time.

If necessary, pick out the cockles and rinse well under the tap to remove any sand. Place in a bowl, cover and heat up/keep warm in an oven (60º/140ºF). Strain the cooking liquor with a very fine sieve and pour the liquid only back into the pan. Whisk in the butter, season and bring to a simmer. Put a lit on and keep warm.

Whilst cooking the cockles, steam the samphire with a steamer insert over the split peas. If not, steam, or blanch separately for a few minutes and keep warm.

Under a hot grill, crisp the pieces of parma ham. Keep warm.

Lastly, heat a pan with a good lug of oil until smoking. Pat dry the fish with kitchen and, being brave, move it around the pan to stop it sticking, pushing the skin down to stop it curling. Use a spatula if it spits too much – please don’t make me do a warning message when cooking with hot oil ;).

This me, being brave.

This me, being brave.

Either flip the fish over to finish or finish under a very hot grill – a temperature probe is useful so as not to over cook it (60-65º/140ºF-150ºF).

Plate it all up, whisking the sauce again if it’s seperated.

Cod Samphire Cockles and Split Peas