Monday, 30 November 2015

Ox Cheek Stew

I've wanted to cook ox cheek for some time, mainly to wind up the kids about not being entirely sure which end of the ox the cheeks come from. Much nervous laughter later and truth be told I'm genuinely not 100% sure. Surely if it was the arse end these would be huge, right? Right?

Anyway, whatever end they come from they need a lot of cooking to break down that firm buttocky sinew. This recipe calls for five hours in a low oven. Oh, and a whole bottle of red wine. This is a seriously rich stew that is perfect for a busy winter Sunday. Absolutely delicious. The cheeks were ridiculously tender (not a sentence I thought I'd ever write) with a sauce crying out for a hunk of crusty bread.

Serves 6

50g butter
3 large ox cheeks, trimmed and quartered
2 tbsp plain flour, seasoned with 1 tsp sea salt
150g smoked bacon lardons
2 onions, finely chopped
3 bay leaves
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
5 tbsp tomato puree
1 bottle red wine
salt to taste

1. Preheat oven to 150C/gas 2. Melt the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat.
2. Roll the ox cheeks in seasoned flour, then pat off any excess. When the butter sizzles, add the meat and fry until well browned. Do in batched if necessary. Remove the meat to a casserole dish.
3. Add the bacon to the pan and fry until lightly coloured. Add the onions and bay leaves and cook for 6-8 minutes until softened. Stir in the garlic and tomato puree and cook for 5 minutes, stirring well to prevent the puree from catching.
4. Add the red win and bring to a boil. Carefully add all the casserole dish. Cover with a lid and cook in the oven for 5 hours until tender. Turn the meat occasionally.
5. When ready add salt if necessary and serve with mash and veg.

American Pancakes

A couple of weeks ago on the recommendation of my Norwegian potwasher I made some fishcakes from her homeland, which, I'm going to be honest, were tasty, but had a most unusual texture. I think I wrote at the time that they reminded me of rather fishy American pancakes: light and fluffy, but with the unmistakable taste of blended cod and haddock. The potwasher has since left in disgrace, last seen heading back to a Norwegian coastal town with a lot of weird "Os" in its name. I think she might even have nicked some Brillo pads and rubber gloves, but can't be sure.

Anyway, since this odd seafood/US pancake hybrid I've had a hankering for the real thing. Light, fluffy with lashings of crispy bacon and maple syrup. And no fish.

Makes 12

135g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
 2 tbsp caster sugar
130ml milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp melted butter, cooled slightly, plus extra for cooking

1. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and caster sugar into large bowl. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk the egg and milk, and then whisk in the butter.
2. Combine the two mixtures and whisk until you have a smooth batter. Allow to strand for a few minutes.
3. Heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and add a knob of butter. When melted add heaped tbsp of the thick batter mix. You can normally do three to four at a time.
4. Once the tops start to bubble, carefully turn over and cook the other side for another minute.
5. Repeat until all done. You can keep the other pancakes warm in a low oven.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Sage and Mustard Pork Steak with Apple, Black Pudding and Champ

Sometimes on a Sunday I just can't be bothered. It'll get to 5pm and the usual mouthwatering aromas of roast dinner wafting from the kitchen are conspicuous by their absence. I just don't know where the day has gone and now the kids are getting hungry. It's time to raid the fridge and see what (not literally) leaps out at me... or completely write off the day and order a takeaway. (By the way, is it just me that thinks ordering a takeaway on a Sunday to be slightly sleazy? And I don't mean a hangover-busting breakfast pizza, we've all been there. It's kind of like having a beer while showering. It's a brilliant idea (no, really), but you just know your mum won't approve). Anyway, back to raiding the fridge. Hmm, pork steaks. A bit of leftover black pudding. Some potatoes and watercress. A fuckload of apples from our neighbour Colin (not to be confused with the fuckload of quince from our neighbour Jack). The mind races, the Indian menu is thrown back in that drawer with the matches, loose toothpicks, used batteries and tatty tea-towels. No more than 30 minutes later and dinner is served, and my goodness it's the right decision (mum would approve). Meaty, hearty and ridiculously comforting (the dinner, not my mum). Maybe I'll not be bothered next Sunday as well.

Serves 4

Four pork steaks
1tbsp oil
100g black pudding, cubed
2 apples, cored and cut into eight
1 onion, halved and sliced
small handful sage leaves, torn (or 2tsp dried)
100ml chicken stock
2tsp wholegrain mustard

For the champ:
1kg potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 large bunch watercress
300ml milk
2 bay leaves
1 sprig parsley, chopped
4 spring onions, thinly sliced
50g butter, softened

1. Rub the pork steaks with a little oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat a large frying pan and fry the steaks for 2-3 minutes on each side until golden. Transfer to a plate. Add a little more oil to the pan and fry the onions, apple, black pudding and sage for 5 minutes.
2. Add the stock and mustard, then return the steaks and simmer for 10 minutes until the sauce has reduced by about a third.
3. To make the champ, heat the milk and bay leaves in a pan until boiling then take off the heat and leave to infuse for 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and add the chopped watercress and parsely.
4. Boil the pototoes in salted water until soft, then drain and mash. Add the milk, softened butter and spring onions, and mix.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Pulled Pork

If there are ever two words to send shivers down the spine of anti-hipsters everywhere, then surely "pulled pork" are they. Open a pop-up stall selling pulled pork anywhere in London and within minutes you'll be surrounded like moths to a smoked piggy flame by an ironically uncool army of ridiculous beards, sleeve tattoos and single-speed bikes. That's why when we decided to have a pulled pork night we imposed a strict maximum beard limit on anyone under 35. More than 2mm and you're not coming in. Of course, any hipster trying to circumnavigate our house rule with some elaborate facial latex make-up would instantly be given away by the fact that their trousers are too short and they're not wearing any socks. Divs.

Anyway, back to the pulled pork. If you're considering a party then you really cannot go wrong with this. A decent bit of pork (this recipe calls for 3kg) will go a ridiculous long way and is simplicity in itself to make. Rub your meat (leave it), leave for a couple of hours, then slow cook for about five. Serve with buns, coleslaw, potato salad and corn on the cob. To be honest, pulled pork is probably a bit passé for today's hipsters – I believe they have moved on to £5 bowls of cereals and £8 toasted cheese sandwiches. Divs.

For the pork:
50g soft dark brown sugar
5tbsp smoked paprika
3tbsp sea salt
2tbsp cayenne pepper
2tbsp ground cumin
2tbsp ground black pepper
2tbsp ground fennel seeds
2tbsp ground coriander
2tbsp mustard powder
3kg boneless pork shoulder

For the BBQ sauce:
2tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 gloves garlic
200ml tomato ketchup
100g brown sugar
2tbsp water
1tbsp white wine vinegar
1tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1tsp mustard powder
1/2tsp smoked paprika
black pepper to taste

1. Mix all the dry spiced ingredients in a bowl. Put the pork in a shallow dish and rub all over with half the mix. Cover loosely with clingfilm and chill for 1-2 hours.
2. Heat the oven to 150C/Gas 2. Remove pork from fridge and rub over remaining spice mix. Transfer to a large roasting tin. Add 100ml water and cover with foil. Cook for 5 hours until tender.
3. Meanwhile, make the BBQ sauce. Heat the oil in a saucepan over a low heat. Add the onion and cook for 10 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and fry for 2-3 more minutes. Add the remaining sauce ingredients and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sauce is thickened and the onions soft. Cool slightly then blitz until smooth.
4. When the pork is ready remove the layer of fat. This is unlikely to have become crackling. You can try putting it under the grill to get it to crisp up, but I feel it's never like proper pork belly crackling. Chuck it and weep silently. Remover the pork to a board. Cover with foil and rest for 20 minutes.
5. Shred using two forks. Add half the BBQ and mix. Serve with buns, coleslaw and add more BBQ if required.

Spicy Aubergine, Tomato and Apricot Soup (v)

Very quick and easy autumnal soup here, with more than a hint of warm Middle Eastern sun. Smoky aubergine, sweet tomato and apricot, and a truly lovely smack of background chilli. This makes a big batch and it's even better the next day.

Serves 6-8

675g aubergines (approx 3)
6tbsp olive oil
1tsp cumin seeds
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
110g dried apricots, finely chopped
2.5cm piece ginger, grated (don't bother peeling. Seriously)
450ml tomato passata
juice 1/2 lemon
1.5 litres vegetable stock
salt and black pepper to taste
1tbsp fresh coriander, chopped

1. Heat oven to 200C/gas 6. Cut the aubergines in half, brush with 3tbsp of olive oil and bake for approx 30 minutes until soft.
2. Remove from oven and roughly chop.
3. Heat remaining oil in a saucepan and sauté the cumin, onion, garlic and chilli for 2-3 minutes, without colouring. Add the apricots, ginger, passata, lemon juice, aubergines and half of the stock.
4. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly then blitz with a blender until smooth.
5. Add the remaining stock, check seasoning and return to heat for 5 minutes. Stir in the coriander and serve.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Spiced Quince Jam

Our lovely next-door neighbours, Jack and Peggy (Jack, in his 80s, is a toy boy, the saucy old seadog), have got this quince tree in their front garden and every autumn I've been amazed at the sheer abundance of fruit it produces. Then, after a couple of weeks of watching said fruit drop to the ground and slowly rot to a pulpy mess, it is quickly forgotten as thoughts turn to Halloween and beyond that to Christmas. But not this year. Oh no, this year I snaffled the lot. Yes, every single fruit (with J&P's permission, of course, and in exchange for a jar of raspberry jam and promise or further preserves to come).

I'm gonna be honest, I might have bitten off more of the bitter fruit than I can chew. I have a lot of quinces. My first foray into quince jam (below) used 3lbs of them, yielding four jars and enough left-over juice for three more. The dent into my bag was tiny. I fear that friends and colleagues are going to be politely thanking me for yet another jar of quince jam for weeks to come – and then heading to the nearest Google to find out just what the hell it is they are holding in their hand like a live grenade.

Well let me save them the bother. Put simply, a quince is a member of the apple and pear family and indeed looks like the bastard child of the two. However, if you're unfortunate enough to bite into a raw one (and still have your teeth intact beyond its rather firm flesh) you'll soon realise that this is a bastard child with ginger hair and a stutter. Its intense bitterness is enough to make your mouth shrivel up faster than a wicked witch in a rainstorm. It's no surprise that they're about as rare in your local Sainsbury's as a northerner happily paying 5p for a plastic bag.

What is immediately pleasing about the quince, though, is the fragrance: honeyed, perfumed and, well, surprisingly pleasant. Despite the sharpness, you just know that if you introduce these bitter buggers to a little sugar, ok, a lot of sugar, then you're going to be onto a winner. The recipe I have used adds some great Christmasy spices to complement the fruit, with the result being a delicious, rich-coloured jam that would be equally good as an ingredient for sweet or savoury. My god, it's good with cheese and crackers, and I think would be great to use instead of marmelade when smothering a ham before baking.

If you can source some quince, I urge you to give this go. If not, drop me a line and I'll send you a jar or six...

3lbs quince, washed, stalks removed, cut into eight
4 cups granulated sugar
zest and juice of 1 small orange
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp cardamon

1. Add the quince pieces, skins, cores and pips and all, to a large pan. Cover with water so the quince floats. Bring to a boil, cover then gently simmer for three hours until the fruit is soft.
2. Strain the juice in fine sieve, squashing the soft fruit to extract as much as possible.
3. Return 6 cups of the juice to a clean pan, add the sugar, orange, lemon and spices, and bring to a boil. Any remaining juice can be frozen and used for another batch.
4. Place a small plate in the freezer.
5. After boiling for 20 minutes the liquid will start to look dark and syrupy. To check it is the right consistency, remove the cold plate from the freezer. Add a tsp of the liquid and freeze for 1 minute.
6. To check if the jam is ready, remove the plate and push the jam with your finger. If it wrinkles then the jam is ready. If not, return plate to freezer and continuing boiling the quince for another 5 minutes before checking again. This can take 40 minutes or more for the jam to be ready.
7. Cool slightly, add a small knob of butter to remove any "scum" that might have formed on the surface and remove any peel, cardamon and cloves. Fill sterilised jars and allow to cool before sealing.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Steak and Kidney Pie with Iron Maiden Ale


I might have mentioned once or twice before that I bloody love pies. I also love real ale, but have yet to enter that smelly jumper and socks and sandals stage (although it's there thumbing its CAMRA good pub guide just over my shoulder). I'm also a big fan of Iron Maiden – the seminal British heavy metalists, not the medieval torture device. So what better way to celebrate the release of their latest album, Book of Souls – the 15th in their long and brilliant history – than with a meaty steak and kidney pie with Iron Maiden ale. Oh, didn't I mention that Iron Maiden also have their own beer, The Trooper, named after their Piece of Mind classic, brewed by the excellent Robinson's brewery in Stockport?
This will make one big pie to serve six, or, as pictured, three "sharing" pies. And when I say "sharing", I actually mean "touch my pie and I'll rip your bloody arms off"... Prepare the filling the day before for a richer flavour.

1kg beef skirt or stewing steak, cut into 4-5cm chunks
30g plain flour, well seasoned
300g lamb kidneys, cored and cut into chunks
1 bottle Iron Maiden's The Trooper (or similar ale)
1 onion, peeled and sliced
350g button mushrooms, quartered
1tbsp tomato purée
1tsp English mustard
1 bay leaf
400ml beef stock
salt and pepper

For the rough puff pastry
400g plain flour
pinch salt
200g butter, chilled and cubed
200g water, chilled

1. Heat a little oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Toss the beef in the flour and fry in batches. When brown all over, transfer to a large pan. Repeat with all beef and kidney, adding more oil if necessary.
2. Deglaze the pan with a third of the ale, scrapping off all the crusty bits of meat. Add to the pan.
3. Add more oil and soften the onion for a few minutes. Add to the pan.
4. Repeat with the mushrooms. Add to the pan with the purée, mustard and bay leaf. Add the stock and the remaining ale.
5. Bring to a boil, the gently simmer for two hours, stirring occasionally and until the beef is tender.
6. Check the seasoning then leave to cool, preferably overnight.
7. To make the pastry, mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the cubed butter and bring together with up to 200ml of the chilled water.
8. Form into a rectangle and roll on a floured worktop to a long rectangle about 1cm thick. Fold toward you the top third, then fold up the bottom third to form book.
9. Rotate 90-degrees and repeat five times to build up the layers. Chill for at least one hour.
10. When readyto cook the pie, heat the oven to 190C/gas 5.
11. Remove pastry from the fridge and cut off one-third for the lid. Set aside. Lightly grease a 1.2lt pie dish. Roll out the bigger bit of pastry so it fits the dish with an overhang. Brush the rim with beaten egg.
11. Roll out the lid to fit. Crimp the edges and make a hole in the top.
12. Brush with beaten egg and bake for 50-60 minutes. Leave to stand for 15 minutes before serving with mash, veg and more Iron Maiden ale.

Top three tenuous Iron Maiden/cooking songs:
1. Aces Pie
2. Bun to the Hills
3. Thyme of the Ancient Marriner

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Jerk Chicken with Rice and Peas and Jalapeno Flatbread

Why isn't Caribbean food more of "a thing" in this country? Among the diverse cultural cuisines that have enriched this country over the past 50 to 60 years, Caribbean cooking seems to be disproportionately under-represented. Visit any town in the UK and you won't have any trouble encountering the ubiquitous Indian, Chinese and kebab takeaways. Delve a little deeper and you will likely find an Italian or pizzeria, possibly a Mexican, a tapas bar, piri-piri chicken or even a rib-shack with its Deep South smoky flavours. But where is the goat curry and jerk chicken? Unless you visit an area with a strong Caribbean community – Brixton immediately comes to mind in my recent experience – the tastes of Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad et al are largely absent on British streets.
Things may be changing at the numerous and excellent food markets that are appearing, where pop-up stalls selling Caribbean cuisine mix aromas with those of Vietnam and North Africa and Middle East. And, of course, the success of Levi Roots and his reggae, reggae sauces are a common sight on the shelves of every supermarket. But a successful chain of Caribbean restaurants that'll tap into the success of Nando's? Maybe it'll be the next trend.
Jerk chicken is best cooked over hot coals, but is equally as good in the oven and then browned off at the end for that crispy skin. If barbecuing, cook for 40 to 50 minutes over a medium heat, turning frequently. The method below is for an oven.

Ingredients (serves 4)
1tbsp allspice berries
1tbsp black peppercorns
1tbsp dried chilli flakes
1/2tbsp muscovado sugar
2tbsp runny honey
a few sprigs flat-leaf parsley
a few sprigs fresh coriander
2 scotch bonnet chillies
1 glove garlic
3cm piece fresh ginger, peeled
2 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
olive oil
4 chicken thighs, skin on
4 drumsticks, skin on

For the flatbreads:
250g self-raising flour
250g yoghurt
1/2tsp baking powder
1 jalapeno chilli, finely sliced

For the rice and peas:
50ml vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
300g long-grain rice
400ml water
400ml coconut milk
400g tin kidney beans, rinsed and drained
3tbsp fresh thyme
salt and pepper
fresh coriander to garnish

1. Pound the allspice berries, peppercorns and chilli flakes in a pestle and mortar, then add the sugar and honey.
2. Finely chop the herbs, chillies, garlic and ginger and add to the mix.
3. Add the green parts of the spring onion and a good drizzle of olive oil. Mix well.
4. Pour marinade over the chicken and thoroughly coat. Marinate in fridge for a couple of hours, preferably overnight.
5. Heat an oven to 200C/gas 6 and cook the chicken for 25 to 30 minutes, finishing off in a grill pan for that charred, smoky effect.
6. For the flatbreads, mix the flour, yoghurt, baking powder and pinch of salt in a bowl. Knead on a lightly floured surface.
7. Divide into four pieces and roll each one into a circle about 2mm thick. Scatter over the jalapeño and push in.
8. Rub a grill pan with olive oil and cook the flatbreads for two to three minutes per side.
9. For the rice and peas heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onions until translucent.
10. Add the rice, stir well and add the water and coconut milk.
11. Bring to the boil and add the kidney beans and thyme. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes until the rice is cooked.
12. Season and garnish with coriander.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Raspberry Jam

We've been growing raspberries in The Albion Tavern's beer garden for a couple of years now, and this year has seen a flourishing crop of fruit. We grow a late-season variety, which is perfect for harvesting after the summer fruits have long-since been enjoyed. Here is a very easy jam recipe. 1kg of raspberries will be enough to fill four jars.

1kg raspberries
1kg jam sugar
1 lemon

1. Place half of the raspberries in a large pan with the juice of one lemon.
2. Gently heat for five minutes while mashing the fruit.
3. Strain the fruit into a bowl and then push the pulp through a sieve. Discard the leftover seeds.
4. Return the strained fruit to the pan and add the sugar. Stir over a gentle heat until all the sugar is incorporated.
5. Add the remaining fruit, then bring to a fierce boil (or 106C) for five minutes.
6. You can test the jam by placing a dollop onto a very cold plate, but I think with raspberry jam you can tell when it is starting to look glossy and sticky.
7. Allow to cool slightly then spoon into sterilised jam jars.
8. Once completely cool, jam should be set.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Norwegian Fiskekaker

In what is likely to be the most anti-climactic comeback since The Second Coming by The Stone Roses, I’m re-opening The Albion Tavern after an almost three-year rat infestation with a bit of a surprise dish ­– Norwegian fishcakes, aka fiskekaker. That’s right, kaker. Now the Norwegians must have an inferiority complex when it comes to their neighbours and culinary delights. Where Denmark has bacon and beer (not to mention pastries), Sweden has meatballs and Absolut vodka. Norway, meanwhile, has a salt cod dish so famous in Portugal, it even has a Portuguese name, bacalhau, and a piss-coloured liqueur tasting of dill and caraway called akvavit, which literally (and laughingly) translates as “water of life”.
And it doesn’t stop at food and drink ­– or even at Norway’s Scandinavian cousins. Take Norway’s most famous explorer, Roald Amundsen, for example. Even the first man to reach the South Pole is somewhat overshadowed by the blokes who finished second, Captain Scott, Oates et al, and their tale of bravery, sacrifice, camaraderie and, well, painful and lonely death. Makes you proud to be British.
By Odin, even the vikings aren’t as good.

Swedish vikings, yesterday
Danish vikings, yesterday
A Norwegian viking, yesterday
So why fiskekaker, then? Well apart from the rather amusing name, I’ve just hired a Norwegian pot-washer whose grandma (or mormor – literally, mothermother) sent me this recipe to try. Apparently mormor likes to make these while morfar (motherfather) is trawling the North Sea (probably in British waters) for our cod and haddock like a morfacker.
I’m not gonna lie here, the results were not what I was expecting, and certainly don't expect a traditional "western" fishcake. In fact, what you get is a kind of fishy American pancake batter. Doesn't sound very appealing, I know, but once cooked you get a very light and fluffy delight. Very tasty and very moreish. I did jazz up the accompaniments and presentation a little from the traditional Norwegian (boiled potatoes and carrots), and did play with the ingredients a little. If you aren't lucky enough to have a Norwegian pot-washer with a suspiciously large supply of potato flour, then substitute corn flour instead. Also, the original instructions called for cakes slightly larger than a nugget, but smaller than a morfar. I obviously ignored this and made fishcake-sized, er, fiskekaker.

Ingredients (serves four, making 8 large fiskekaker easily)
For the fiskekaker:
600g white fish fillets, such as cod or haddock, skinned
2 tsp potato flour
2 tsp salt
2 eggs
200ml milk
200ml double cream
1/2 tsp pepper
3 tbsp chives
1 large shallot, sliced
1 garlic glove, sliced
2 tbsp pepper

Serve with:
Boiled egg
Creamy mash

1. Pre-heat over to 140C/gas 1.
2. Cut fish into chunks and pulse in a blender with salt.
3. Add potato flour and stir.
4. Add eggs, cream, milk, pepper and chives and mix well to a smooth consistency.
5. Gently fry the shallot and garlic until soft. Add to mix and combine.
6. Heat butter over a medium heat in a large pan.
7. Add large spoonfuls of the fish mix. You will probably have room for 4 generous cakes at a time.
8. Fry for 5 minutes per side.
9. Place in oven on a low heat for 10-15 minutes.
10. Serve with fried bacon strips, shallots, sautéed carrots, capers, a boiled egg and creamy mash, while listening to a-ha's Take On Me, which, let's be honest, is better than anything by Abba.