Merry Christmas

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No recipe tonight. I’m now sat with some stollen and a glass of ale after a long and busy day preparing for tomorrow’s dinner and assembling toys.

As has become traditional in our house it’s roast pork for Christmas Eve with mildly pickled red cabbage and mash made with 60/40% potato and butter. Yes, I know….

So, I’m looking forward to a couple of weeks rest after an extraordinary year. Plenty of time to cook too I hope.

Merry Christmas everybody.

Three Day Game Pie

Game Pie

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

Very recently humans managed to land a satellite on a comet. An utterly incredible achievement. Yes, I know I’m a little out of date, like reading a dentists’ waiting room magazine, but it’s pertinent so bear with me.

It launched in 2004 and was sent around the sun to gather speed. It headed back to the Earth then was slung, using nothing but gravity, all the way to Mars, at which point it was flung back to the Earth again before heading off into outer space to meet with a city-sized ball of ice and rock. Both parties were, and still are, moving at tens of thousands of miles an hour. It really is truly remarkable. A tribute to the ingenuity and perseverance of humankind.

Much like my three-day game pie really. An epic voyage of culinary fortitude and grit, albeit moving a lot more slowly. Three long and tiring days passed before we could sample this gem.

I take no credit for this recipe, it’s (fairly) regularly on the menu at a favourite restaurant of mine, the Broad Chare near the river in Newcastle. Well worth a visit if you’re passing, but you probably need to book. We managed a night out a little while back and ordered it from the specials. “For 2/3” it said. Presumably a week as it turned out,  but man it was good. Incredibly rich with superb crispy pastry.

Of course I had to try it and whilst, predictably not quite as good at the ‘original’, was pretty darn good all the same.

Game Pie (Courtesy of the Broad Chare)

Day one: marinade in an obscenely good bottle of red wine. I used Malbec. I didn’t marinade the vegetables though, maybe that was my downfall.

Game meat marinade

Day two: Fry the game meat, add the wine, vegtables and simmer for a few hours in the wine, cool and leave in the fridge overnight. Taste and season accordingly at this point.

Fried game meat

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Day three: Spoon into a generous pie dish, cover with puff pastry (I bought it, I’m not a masochist), brush with egg wash and bake until golden. Serve with some mashed carrot and swede.

Game Pie with Carrot and Swede Mash

Pork Chop, Lentils and Pancetta

Pork chops, lentils and pancetta

Funny isn’t it, how things can change in an instant (or so it seems). My recent absence of updates/comments has been for good reason – we’re now the proud parent of two adopted girls.
I guess we’ve had long enough to get used to the idea but the first weeks were bizarre, fantastic and exhausting all in one go. They really are the most amazing little girls and have great appetites so whilst making them my chargrilled sardines with orange and fennel salad may be a little way off (say 30 years), I hold out hope that they won’t be quite as difficult with food as I was…

Still, bed comes early to them so I’ve been trying to rummage behind the whole milk, yogurt pots and “here’s some I made earlier” pasta sauces to find something for the adults.
The nights are drawing in fast, but I managed to get a last use of the gas grill recently to cook some great locally raised pork chops. They have some bone and a lovely thick layer of fat to keep the meat tender and create some good smoke, but care is still needed to stop it drying out. To accompany some lentils, cooked in good chicken stock with vegetables and smoked pancetta. Simple.

I got a big block the pancetta, inexplicably, just before we embarked on our new adventure and I’ve been trying to use it up ever since.

So in-between hiding vegetables by blitzing them and selling them to the girls as pasta sauce, and supplying an endless procession of Dora the Explorer and Peppa Pig, episodes, I’ll try and make the odd dish aimed more at us adults…

• Two good quality pork chops, with a layer of fat.
• 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
• 100g pancetta, chopped into lardons
• 2 sticks of celery, chopped thinly
• 1 medium red onion
• 1 large carrot, diced
• 100-150g green lentils
• 750ml good quality chicken stock – homemade if possible.
• A little oil
• Salt and pepper.

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In a large pan with a lid, fry the garlic and pancetta gently in a little oil to release the fat. You could do the pancetta alone first to crisp it up, but you might burn the garlic and I want the garlic to make a nice flavoured ‘oil’.

Add the onion to soften, then the rest of the vegetables and finally the lentils.

lentils and vegetables

Pour in the stock, bring to a boil and simmer for 30-40 minutes until tender.

Meanwhile, get the grill on. I used some lava block on the gas Weber these days to get a better smoke flavour without having like the charcoal. Brush the pork oil and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place on the grill use a thermometer after 15 minutes or so to ensure that the chops are just cooked – 65ºC/150ºF should do it if its good quality. A bit of charring from the grill adds a lot.

bbq pork chops

Simply serve it up, pull the toys and mobile phones from behind the cushions and relax for another evening…..

Pork chops and lentils

Chargrilled Sardines with Orange and Fennel Salad

Chargrilled sardines orange and fennel salad

I know many of you have been just dying to know what my favourite fish is. Well, thanks for asking and the answer is sardines.

And by sardines I mean the proper ones, caught fresh from the sea, filleted and cooked on a chargrill or over hot coals with nothing more than a sprinkle of salt. There is nothing better in my view, but then I do have a habit of changing my mind depending on how much I enjoyed the LAST fish dish I ate.

But no, I stand firm. It’s sardines and by extension (literally) pilchards*.

Sardine fillets

*Oh, and maybe mackerel.

I managed to get hold of some the other week and being such a lovely evening, we got the charcoal going and put this together. I’m determined to get my wife to enjoy fennel (I’ve given up with lamb and I’m onto the next project) so keep buying it and introducing it bit by bit to dinners.

I think I really did push the boat out here though by serving the sardines with and orange and fennel salad but thankfully it went down a storm.

Orange, fennel and oily fish is such a good combination and perfect for a summers evening with a chilled white wine, or even an ice cold beer straight from the fridge.  It’s what summer is all about for me. This, and despairing at sporting events of course.

Serves 2:

  • 4-6 Fresh-as-you-can-get sardines. Filleted or un-filleted, its up to you
  • Salt
  • Oil to brush

For the salad:

  • 1 Large orange
  • 1  fennel bulb
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 sweet pointed red pepper, roasted or not.
  • 1/2 a large red onion
  • Handful of chopped parsley
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Good balsamic vinegar
  • Salt

Start by lighting your barbecue and getting the coals nice and ashy. I use one of those chimney starters – a Godsend.

Meanwhile, get the salad ready:

You can roast the red peppers, to make them even sweeter, but I left them as they were for a bit of extra crunch.

Slice all the ingredients horizontally so that they separate into rings.

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Slice the orange peel away, removing the white pith as you do so.

Arrange it neatly on a plate and do the fish…..

Brush the fish skin with oil but make sure the griddle of the barbecue is very hot – the sardines will be far less likely to stick. Grill skin side down directly over the coals. Sprinkle the top with sea salt.

Put the lid on the barbecue if you have one, to cook the fish through, it will take just a couple of minutes. Oily fish is a a bit more forgiving to being left on the heat a little too long but don’t push it. I don’t bother to flip them as it often ends in tears.

Grilled sardines

Gently lift them off the grill with a large spatula and keep warm; either on the cooler side of the barbecue or in a warm oven.

Dress the salad with the olive oil and balsamic and season with a little salt. Lay the fillets on top and sprinkle with parsley.

Now where’s that beer…..

Chargrilled sardines orange and fennel salad

Salmon, Roast Peppers, Spiced Chickpeas and Basil Oil

 Salmon, chickpeas, basil oil, roast peppers

We recently went over to Barcelona for a long weekend with friends and loved it, as does everyone that visits it seems. It’s really is a great city. I’ll be writing a little more about it later, but like most of you, I do tend to get that temporary post-holiday pining and food seems to most immediate and accessible ‘fix’.

So, dinner in the Food Frankly household started to develop a distinct Catalan accent last week. This dish started out as a typical fridge raiding midweek dinner but I actually realised that, once I’d finished, this one might be worth sharing. My camera was  sat in the office throughout so I only got a couple of ‘after’ shots, but still…

The salmon and prawns were fresh but the chickpeas were canned. I prefer cooking dried ones, but by roasting them in spices and seasoning for a few minutes, as I did here, they lose some of the water than makes them a little too soft. Anyway, normally I’m not nearly organised enough to have them soaking the day before so this is a good alternative. I baked them gently in some salt, pepper, smoked paprika (only a little) and ground chilli.

Roasting the peppers (another Spanish influence) apart from being delicious, is a great way to use up old produce that’s started to wrinkle a bit. I do however, apologise for the Chorizo, I know it’s an obvious one, but it’s always in the fridge. Anyway, the garlic/paprika oil it releases is a great way to flavour fish and seafood. So there… 😉

The basil oil finish was influenced by a dish we had in a great little tapas bar in the city. It worked really well with this.

Serves 2

  • 2 Salmon fillets
  • 8 prawns
  • 400g/14oz Chickpeas (canned), or half the amount if dried.
  • A red, yellow and green pepper.
  • Chorizo, about the length of your thumb, sliced into 6
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of chilli power (I ground dried chili)
  • Pinch of smoked paprika
  • Salt – make sure it’s very fine
  • Black pepper
  • A handful of basil leaves

If you’re cooking dried chickpeas, soak them overnight beforehand and boil for around 40 minutes in slightly salted water until just done. If canned, just crack on below…

Set the oven to 200°C/390°F.

Brush the peppers with oil and roast on a baking tray until burn marks appear and they start to wilt. The should be very soft when done. Dunk them straight into cold water to loosen the skins and peel them off. Bloody fiddly, but occasionally you get lucky and it comes off in one piece. Cut  them into finger-width slices and cover. You can warm them up later in the oven.

Drain the chickpeas and rinse well. Mix them with the paprika, chilli powder, salt and pepper in a bowl, then spread in a single layer on a baking tray. Turn the oven off (if the peppers are done) and bake them gently in the residual  heat. 10 minutes or so, but check often to make sure they don’t dry out. This won’t take long if they were cooked from dry. Add the finished peppers toward the end to heat through.

If using coarse sea salt, you might want to grind it to a fine powder.

In a pan, fry the chorizo until cooked through to release that lovely oil. Remove it and keep warm but leave the oil in the pan. Add a little more oil and fry the salmon (seasoned with salt & pepper) on a high heat skin side down (if it has skin) for most of the cooking time. Add the prawns for the last couple of minutes. The salmon is done when at 60-62°C/145°F, so use a thermometer to make sure you don’t over cook it. The prawns only take a minute or two,

Meanwhile quickly blitz the about 10 tbsp of good extra virgin oil with the basil leaves and season to taste with coarse salt.

Serve the dish on warmed plates and spoon over the basil oil.Salmon, chickpeas, basil oil roast peppers

Beef Thick Rib, Oxtail, Crispy Kale and Asparagus

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Well chaps, we’ve hit ‘peak beard’ apparently. I am one of the apparent bandwagon jumpers clinging to the coat-tails of the rich and famous by aping their facial fungus fad. Except, I didn’t as far as I was aware – maybe it was a subconscious thing having noticed all the hipsters knocking around the various new undecorated bars eating pigs ears and cauliflower fritters with their American hop ales. Or, I took the opportunity to pack in the daily ritual of shaving for the last 20-odd years and make it look intentional. Yeah, it must be that.

[Dubious link alert] It got me thinking though: have we hit the slow cook peak? The current trend for cheap and unusual cuts of meat and offal. I don’t think so yet, and I certainly hope we haven’t. Use more of the animals we choose to kill for our meat I say. 1 – because it seems the right thing to do and 2 – because it’s bloody delicious.

This recipe actually took a couple of days to prepare, but in the tradition of slow cooked foods, actually takes up very little of your time. Pot. Meat. Veg. Lid on. That’s it. There is a little bit to do at the end of course, but that’s the fun part.

Beef thick rib

Here I used a thick rib of beef on the bone and some oxtail. Both are slow cooked kings and cheap as chips. If you cook them in a casserole pot/dutch oven with some liquid you can leave it and forget about it. Again, as I always do nowadays, I switched off the oven and left the pot to rest. The best thing about these cuts is that they make their own stock as you go.

Made a nice combination, but you need a weekend to make this. The asparagus is the first of the new season for me and will be featuring heavily whilst it can. The kale is pretty much as you’d make kale chips – with the brine water evaporating to leave the leaves nicely seasoned. Onion puree adds a sweet element to compliment the otherwise very savoury ingredients.

Making the  oxtail and barley croquette is a bit of a job to do but was very good so I urge you to try it.

Serves 2:

For the beef/oxtail braising

  • 1x600g thick beef rib, on the bone.
  • About 300g oxtails
  • 1 carrot, halved
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 celery stick, halved
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 star anise
  • Water to cover
  • Salt and black pepper.

For the crispy kale:

  • 4 handfuls of kale
  • 2 good pinches of salt and a little water

For the onion puree:

  • 1 large onion
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • A little light cream (enough to loosen)
  • Salt

For the asparagus:

  • 6 pieces of asparagus
  • A little oil
  • Pinch of salt.

For the oxtail and barley croquettes:

  • Breadcrumbs
  • Flour
  • Egg
  • Barley (about 3 handfuls)
  • Salt and black pepper.

Fry the meat in batches until well browned in a hob proof casserole pot. Add all the other ingredients and bring to a simmer. Place in a low oven (130 degrees C) for 3 hours – then turn the oven off and leave overnight – it will be fine if you leave the oven shut and the lid on.

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The next morning, chill the pot in the fridge. This hardens any fat on the surface so you can scrape it off.

About 2 hours before, pick the meat from the oxtail. Cook the barley in a pan for about 20-30 minutes until soft but with bite. Drain, cool, mix with the oxtail, season and chill until cold and ‘mouldable’. Meanwhile, trim the beef rib of remaining fat, removing the bone, into neat oblongs.

Set aside. Heat the pan back up and pour the cooking liquor, which will have ‘jellified’ into a small pan for later (cover with film for now).

Chop and fry the onions and garlic in a pan with a little oil or butter until browned and caramelised. Blend well with enough cream to make a loose puree. Pour back into the pan and season to taste. Put the lit on and keep until needed.

Put the oven on for the kale and beef rib (moderate heat will do).

Heat a griddle pan and char the asparagus with a little oil and salt until nicely marked and softened. Delicious.

Flash fry the beef rib in a pan and transfer to the oven to heat through. Leave to rest somewhere wam. Heat the saved cooking liquor, reducing a little if necessary to make an intense sauce

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Roll the oxtail/barley mix with wet hands into golf ball sized rounds (one each) and dip first in the seasoned flour, then egg and finally the bread crumbs. Deep fry them gently until nicely golden.

Meanwhile, and lastly, mix the kale with the salt/water to produce a mild brine and bake in the oven until crisp. It takes only minutes.

Serve it up and enjoy with a nice big Shiraz as you’ll deserve it after doing all this.

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BBQ Leftovers Salad

Pulled pork salad

Well summer is here, Murray just won his first Wimbledon, the Lions won down-under and ‘al fresco’ food is irresistible during these long days.

I often think this would be a different nation with decent weather as at the first glimpse of sun and everyone is out and about. In town, any available outside seating, and there isn’t much, is taken and plumes of BBQ smoke are rising from the gardens. Great times…..except for the bad tan-lines but otherwise, yes, great times.

I ‘did’ a BBQ on Sunday and, as ever, prepared far too much. I got the Webber kettle grill out and slow roasted a piece of pork until falling apart, soaked wood-chips and all. It made the most amazing crackling too. Suffice to say it was such a shame to waste it and so in a vain attempt to do something healthier, I combined some of the leftovers into a salad.

BBQ Pork

(a stylised Twitter pic!)

No recipe as such here, but this was super-quick and hugely customisable. I used an asian style dressing but a simple cider-vinegar version would have worked nicely too. I also had some of Helen’s homemade coleslaw left which finished the dinner off nicely.

BBQ pork salad