Pork Chops with Black Pudding, Cavolo Nero, Grilled Peaches and Port

 

Pork chops, peaches, black pudding, port, cavolo nero

It’s fair to say ‘planning and meticulous detail’ aren’t really words I’d apply to some of the things I come up with. When I get the chance to find somewhere decent to food shop, I tend to try and pick something interesting and then build an idea around it.

Cavolo nero, I admit is something I’d never tried and threw in the basket to kick this one off, but heading up to the meat counter, I saw some decent local pork chops, made a connection and it started from there….

I think the grilled peaches idea came from a salad recipe. That black pudding accompaniment; well, pretty much most gastro-pub menus and a little personal preference. The sauce was originally pencilled in using Marsala wine, which the store was out of, but later a quick rifle through the drinks cupboard indicated that we had a stockpile of Port and it seemed silly not to use it.

The pork was good and inexpensive. I liked that the bone was still attached, but you need to cook it carefully to make sure you cook the meat in contact with it, without cremating the rest. Thermometers – the most important tool in the kitchen!

This would have been great, nicely done on the BBQ/grill. But, well, this was the scene in the back garden, so kitchen it was….

IMG_7056-impI must admit, we liked this. The peaches were a little under-ripe and therefore a bit sharper than I’d like but it’s easily resolved next time. The sweet port sauce helped though and added a bit of richness.

peaches, cavolo nero

Ingredients for 2

For the pork:

  • 2 good pork chops
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Oil for frying

2 peaches, halved and stoned. You know what I mean.

6 small slices of black pudding (or fewer, larger ones).

4 handfuls of sliced cavolo nero

Sauce:

  • About 100ml port
  • A little oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed, but in its skin
  • 200ml good pork or chicken stock
  • A handful of thyme, on the stalks
  • Salt
  • Butter to finish (about 30g)

A handful of peashoots to finish

Let the pork come to room temperature. Preheat an oven to 160°C/320°F.

In a heavy pan/skillet, heat some oil until smoking and brown the meat well. Flip it over. Add the black pudding to the pan and place in the oven for ten minutes.

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Meanwhile, in a small pan, fry the garlic and thyme very gently to infuse the oil. Pour in the port and stock and gently simmer to reduce it until thickened.

Boil and kettle and steam/gently boil the cavolo nero in shallow water for about 5 or 6 minutes – making sure the tough stalks are tender. Drain, season and put back in the pan with a lid to keep warm.

Check the pork with a thermometer, especially near the bone. I take 62°C/144°F as cooked without being overdone – good pork is pretty safe these day and some cuts can be served rare – but I’ll leave this for you to decide yourselves!

Remove the pan from the oven and cover with foil to rest for 10 minutes.

Heat a griddle pan until smoking. Take the peach halves and place them cut side down to heat through and take on some bar marks. Gently prise them free with a spatula or preferably a thin palette knife. They might be stuck so be careful not to take away the nicely charred bits.

Stir the butter into the sauce, which should have reduced nicely. Taste and season.

Heated plates are important here. Place the pork on the cavolo nero and arrange the rest around it.  Pour over the sauce to make a nice cheffy ‘moat’ and tuck in.

This cries out for a nice citrusy white wine and who was I to argue.

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Chicken and Brown Rice Warm Salad with Mint, Yoghurt and Honey

Chicken Brown Rice Yoghurt Mint Honey

A couple of things people often say to me when they find out about my alter-ego as a dinner snapping food enthusiast is that they would love to cook but ‘don’t have time’ or that it’s too expensive to buy all the ingredients these days.

I try and smile in agreement, but inside I’m wrestling with the urge to reply “bullshit”. I don’t of course, it would be rude, but the point stands that preparing decent food doesn’t have to be expensive, nor time consuming.

I swear other than a little bit of marinading, this took no more than 25 minutes (with a little attention) and cost no more than a fiver. We got two dinners and lunch out of it so that’s £1.66 per head. Now if people say they can’t be bothered, then fine, I respect that it isn’t for everyone, but this is very doable.

This warm salad, much like the Monarchy has a distinct Greek accent with yoghurt, lemon, oregano, tomato and olive oil but I’m not sure it features in any Taverna. I worry about these issues too much though as I was actually quite pleased with the outcome and think the balance of flavours was just about right. Healthy too if you go steady with the salt.

The superb honey I used was a gift to Helen by her colleague James, whose folks keep bees, so a gratuitous plug is due:

Yorkshire Honey

The rice, with a bit of kettle boiling, takes the longest to prepare. I will stick my neck out though and recommend that if time is tight, you could always use one of those pre-cooked packets. Before you start pelting me with cries of “hypocrite!”, the plain varieties are mercifully just rice, oil and salt….

A little yoghurt and mint dressing and some of the warmed honey drizzled over the top finished it off nicely.

Serve 2-3

  • 2 chicken breasts, sliced thinly
  • 100g brown rice
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 medium green pepper, diced
  • 1 medium red pepper, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • A couple of handfuls of broccoli
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • Dried oregano
  • Thyme (dried or fresh)
  • 3 or 4 tomatoes, diced
  • About 100g feta cheese, finely diced
  • 1 lemon
  • 3-4 heaped tbsp yoghurt
  • 1-2 tsp mint sauce
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • Oil for frying
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt

Marinade the chicken in the juice of half of the lemon, a little olive oil, the garlic (sliced thinly), salt, and about 1 tsp each of oregano and thyme. 20 minutes should do as a minimum.

Chicken marinading

Meanwhile cook the rice in salted water.

Prepare the vegetables, and the mint dressing (just mix the yoghurt and mint sauce with a little salt). Set aside.

Diced vegetables

Precook the broccoli a little by steaming a pool of shallow water until softened (but still firm). Leave to cool. Drain the rice and rinse under the cold tap

In a large pan or wok, fry the chicken/marinade ingredients in hot oil until coloured. Add the vegetables and season. Cook until the chicken is just done. Add the broccoli and rice to heat through. Taste and season some more if needed.

When just done, add the tomato, and other half of the lemon juice.

Mix well and plate up. Sprinkle over the feta and drizzle with the yoghurt. Heat the honey in a small milk pan and spoon a little over too (not too much or it will be too sweet). A final dusting of oregano and a little decent olive oil finishes it off.

See, not too bad?

Chicken Brown Rice Yoghurt Mint Honey

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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Bratwurst, Green Slaw and Mushroom Hash

Bratwurst, green slaw and mushroom hash

Driving home in the sun this evening, I started to feel that spring has really sprung. Once I got in I opened the back doors and the birds were singing. The frog spawn in the pond was incubating its inky black spots and the tree blossom was being carried in the breeze. I just knew it was time to uncover the BBQ for the first time in 4 months.

Right.

…So anyway, whilst that’s being steeped in bleach, I thought I’d use the griddle pan in the kitchen for this dish.

This is pretty simple but something I’ve been meaning to do for a while now. The Bratwurst sausages are great with the green slaw, which is inspired by a version found in the Pitt Cue Co’s book. A good book by the way. The sweet and sour dressing was all mine though and I added some tahini for a little bitter richness.

The mushroom hash was actually more a kind of warm potato salad, but worked well.

Serves 2:

4 Bratwurst sausages if you’re hungry. Two if not.

For the green slaw:

  • 3 savoy cabbage leaves
  • About a quarter to a third of a white cabbage
  • 1/2 a white onion
  • Half a green pepper
  • Half a celery stick
  • Handful of hazelnuts

Green slaw ingredients

For the dressing:

  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp raspberry and chilli vinegar (very much optional)
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/s tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp chilli oil
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 good pinches of sea salt
  • 1 tsp tahini

IMG_6208-imp

For the mushroom hash:

  • 2 large flat mushrooms sliced.
  • About 12 baby potatoes, halved
  • Dried thyme
  • Rapeseed oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, left in their skins
  • 1/2 a white onion, sliced thinly
  • Salt

Preheat the oven to moderate-high.

Start with the potatoes. Par boil them for about 10 minutes. Drain and lay on a deep baking tray with the mushrooms, onions and garlic. Season with salt and sprinkle over thyme and olive oil.

Roast until the potatoes are browned.

Mushroom Hash

Meanwhile, make the slaw by very finely shredding the two types of cabbage, onion, celery and green pepper. Mix well in  bowl. Roughly crush the hazelnuts in a pestle and mortar (or with a rolling pin) and add them in.

Hazelnuts

Make the slaw dressing by mixing the ingredients in a bottle (I used a squeezy serving bottle) and shake well to mix. Taste and adjust it as you see fit.

Griddle the sausages until marked well then transfer to the oven to heat through.

Bratwurst

Serve the sausages on the hash with the dressed slaw on top and your choice of sauce – I had some good Dijon mustard, and a nice cold continental beer.

Bratwurst, green slaw and mushroom hash

Mango with Yoghurt and Cinnamon Crumble.

Mango yoghurt Crumble

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and you can probably tell that by the dearth of dessert recipes on here. I do appreciate a good pud though and when I have them, it tends to be something like this.

To be fair, I guess you could eat this for breakfast too, but as I mentioned previously, mornings are not my natural environment and the likelihood of knocking this out on a weekday morning is about the same as Miley Cyrus turning out to be a Mormon.

I liked this though – it’s a nice balance of smooth tangy yoghurt and mango, super-sweet maple syrup, and crunchy oat crumble.

It was only after putting it all together, in a nice pot, that I realised what I’d done. It’s a bloody Muller® Crumble Corner.

So, 0/10 for originality, but this is hand-made and uses fresh fruit so take that Muller.

Mango yoghurt crumble ingredients

Makes 2

  • 1 Mango, peeled, stoned  and cubed.
  • About 6 heaped tbsp of plain yoghurt (3 in each)
  • Maple syrup

For the crumble:

  • 20g Rolled oats
  • 50g Plain flour
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 20g Sugar (or to taste)
  • 40g Butter

Mix all the dry crumble ingredients into a bowl and then rub in the butter to make a crumble.

mixing crumble

Lay it out on a baking tray. Bake on a high heat in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, but being careful not to burn it.

Crumble on baking tray

Set aside to cool

Add the mango pieces and yoghurt to a pot, and swirl in some maple syrup.

Sprinkle over the crumble topping and tuck in.

 

Teriyaki Chicken and Vegetables.

chicken teriyaki

Japanese food remains a bit of an enigma to me. I love it, don’t get me wrong but having had limited exposure to Japanese restaurants, other than the few westernised versions scatted here and there around the North East, I don’t understand it.

I Google/Binged it of course and there are a number of helpful websites out there demonstrating how Japanese ordinarily eat meals, nicely preceded by a simple and typically efficient “itadakimasu”. The trouble is I have to try and translate this to the local restaurants. There’s a good one I like in Newcastle called Osaka: friendly service, informal atmosphere, plenty of Japanese diners (my favourite yardstick for ethnic restaurants). The menu however, is a bit of a dichotomy; on the one hand I love the variety, but on another, it confuses the life out of me.

Now I must point out at this stage, that this is far from the biggest problem life can throw at a person, but then this is a food blog. ‘Order-panic’, when the waitress comes over for the second time, is up there with wanting to use the salt and noticing someone seated  after  you had their order taken first. Major dining issues.

I’m going to try and learn more about Japanese food though. Fortunately these days Japanese ingredients are getting easier and easier to find – another benefit of international  students coming to study in my local cities

This is something I made a little while back with moderately tangible Japanese origins. It’s healthy though (or so I believe this week – see my last piece) and tasty. Chicken thigh would have been better as I find no matter how long I marinate chicken breast, it struggles to take on flavour, but the glaze is intensely flavoured.

I use a plastic food bag as you can push most the air out and well cover the chicken, rather than have the marinade pooling in the bottom of a container. You can get away with making much less marinade too that way.

I cooked the vegetables on a stupidly high heat for only a minute with a small amount of soy and  sesame oil and were nicely smoked as a result.

And, yes I’m aware the chicken is not getting eaten with those chopsticks.

Serves 2:

  • 2 Chicken supremes, skin on or off, I removed it later anyway.
  • Teriyaki marinade:
    • 3 tbsp soy sauce
    • 3 tbsp honey
    • 2 tbsp mirin
    • 2 tbsp sake or Chinese rice wine
  • Sesame seeds to finish.
  • 100g rice.
  •  1 tbsp ground nut oil
  • Mixed vegetables, I used: thinly sliced spring onion, sugar snap/snow peas, baby corn, red chilli, garlic and small broccoli heads.

A little soy and  a few drops of sesame oil to flavour.

Marinate the chicken in the teriyaki marinade for a day, or two (preferably two as I did here).

chicken in a teriyaki marinade

Heat then oven to a high setting – 200 to 220°C or 390-430°F

Boil the pain rice for about 15 minutes, using the absorption method.

Remove any skin, as it will just shrivel up, and roast in the oven on a wire rack/tray. Brush with the marinade frequently to get a nice glaze. The chicken will be done once at 60-65°C/140-150°F in the centre. Check using a thermometer probe, but it will be about 15-20 minutes depending on the size of the chicken.

Sprinkle the seeds over the chicken and leave to rest.

Make the vegetables: stir fry them in smoking hot oil for just a minute or two, flavouring with the soy and sesame oil at the end.

Serve it all up. Itadakimasu.

chicken teriyaki

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lamb Kleftiko Flatbread Wraps.

Lamb kleftiko wrap

In my recent absence, I’ve seen a lot of articles on food and now I’m really confused.

I thought I had the food and nutrition thing sorted. Alcohol is bad. Or not, if you don’t drink too much. A little is good for you though, but don’t drink it everyday. But they say a little red wine each day is good for you – ask the French or the Italians. It continues…

But come on now, everyone knows that saturated fats are bad and to be eliminated from your diet it you want to dodge coronary heart disease. Right? A report in the Telegraph says otherwise……

Carbohydrates are good for performance if you’re an athlete but unhelpful in maintaining the waistline if not. In sugar form? Don’t even think about it, that’s now the devil incarnate according to the media and is the current bad boy of processed food, being used to replace the flavour lost in our quest for ever ‘lower fat’.

The upshot is – I’ve stopped worrying about it all honesty.  Proper butter is high in calories and cholesterol, I know that, so we use less of it. Mayo? I normally make my own and bear witness to the amount of oil going into it so the same goes. Fresh bread is delicious, just don’t go mad.

It’s all about balance isn’t it? So, if you make from scratch wherever you can (or buy non processed ingredients at least) I don’t think you can go far wrong.

So that said, here’s a dish which includes salt, sugar, saturated fats, carbs and dairy. All in moderation, of course, and a glass of decent wine to wash it down.

I make lamb kleftiko a lot as it’s one of those dead-easy one pot Sunday specials you can leave in the oven whilst you get on with the rest of the day. I was actually going to post it before, but never got round to it.

Here's one I made earlier...

Here’s one I made earlier…

This is a slightly different take on it – a sort of Gyro with tzatziki, fresh tomato sauce and grilled aubergine. It may invoke distant memories of dodgy kebabs eaten in post-pub youth, but this is a world away from those spinning mystery meats. Considerably better for you too.

Lamb

Lamb kleftiko wraps for 4 (or fewer hungrier people 🙂

Lamb:

  • 1.5kg leg or shoulder
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • About 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 sprig each of thyme & rosemary.
  • Salt and pepper

Tzatziki:

  • 1 small tub greek yoghurt.
  • 1/3 cucumber, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced chopped
  • Lemon juice and salt, to taste.

Tomato sauce:

  • About 300g good tomatoes
  • 3 garlic cloves and the onions from the lamb pot
  • A good pinch of sugar (not essential of course but balances it up)
  • Salt to taste

Aubergine:

  • 1 Aubergine
  • Oil to drizzle
  • Pinch of salt

Flatbread (makes plenty):

  • 500g strong four
  • 300g water
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 sachet (or 5g) yeast
  • 10g salt.

Olive oil and oregano to serve.

In a lidded pot, heat the oil and brown the lamb. Add the rest of the ingredients, cover tightly with baking parchment and the lid. Place in a low oven at 130°C/260°F for 4 hours. Longer the better.

Lamb kleftiko cooking

For the last hour, start the bread by combining the ingredients and knead. I use the dough hook on a mixer, but knead until smooth and the dough can stretch thinly without tearing – 5 minutes with a mixer or 10 minutes by hand. Cover the dough and leave to prove.

Once done the lamb should be almost falling apart. Pull it apart and place in a tray. Pour over the cooking liquor, but keep the onions and garlic for later. Cover the  tray with foil and keep warm, or just reheat it later.

For the tzatziki, just combine the ingredients and set aside. I prefer to do this a while before to let the garlic ‘mellow’ a bit.

Diced cucumber

For the tomato sauce, blitz the tomatoes, 3 garlic cloves and the onions from the lamb. Heat though in a pot and stir in the sugar and salt to taste, if needed at all.

Slice the aubergine fairly thinly, drizzle with oil and season. Griddle them on a hot pan until charred and tender.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to maximum – use a pizza stone if you have one. Roll out the dough in a circle to the size of oranges for big wraps or the size of golf balls for small ones. Cook on the oven stone, but be careful not to crisp it up too much or it won’t wrap. Which is kind of the point of flatbread wraps….

Flatbread wraps

If you prefer, you can cook the wraps on a hot iron skillet, like tortillas.

Once ready, serve it all up on the flatbread with a little extra virgin olive oil and some more oregano.

Lamb kleftiko tzatziki

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

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