Monday, 27 October 2014

Slow Cooked Beef Short Ribs with Chorizo and Borlotti Beans

I came up with this recipe last week, when I was craving something warming, but wanted to avoid the stodginess that winter food can often have. I used some flavourings that I associate more with late summer, such as orange, chilli and fennel, which lifted the dish from potential blandness.

The butcher near me had beef short ribs on offer, but any cut suitable for slow cooking would work. I enjoyed cooking with them though, using a bone-in cut meant the dish had a real body to it.

 For the beans, I had been given some home-grown borlotti beans, so I used them, but they don't have to be borlotti beans, and they certainly don't have to be fresh- dried or tinned would work fine too. If you are using dried, soak and cook them separately first. For tinned beans, I would add them to the dish about 1 hour before it is ready, so they don't disintegrate into the cooking liquid.

We just ate this with lots of bread and butter.

750g-1kg beef short ribs
200g chorizo- I used a pack of Brindisa mini chorizos
200ml red wine
1-2 tbsp plain flour
Beef stock, to cover- approx 500ml
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 stick celery, diced
2 red onions, peeled and sliced
1 bay leaf
approx 6 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
small bunch thyme leaves
sprig rosemary
Juice of 1 small orange, plus a strip of zest (ideally use an unwaxed orange)
1-2 dried chillis
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 handful fresh/ dried, soaked and cooked borlotti beans (or one tin)

Roughly chop the chorizo into chunks, or, if you happen to be using the same type as I did, just cut them into individual sausages. Brown the chorizo in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Remove with a slotted spoon to a casserole dish, leaving behind the paprika-y oil. Put the flour on a plate, and season, then lightly coat the beef ribs with the seasoned flour. Brown in the same pan used to cook the chorizo, over a high heat, so the surface gets nicely caramelized. Whilst this is cooking, add all the other ingredients to the casserole dish except for the beef stock, and stir to combine. Add the beef once full browned, and add enough beef stock to cover. Bring to a simmer on the hob, then turn the heat down, cover, and cook for approximately 3 hours, or until the beef is very tender. I chose to remove the rib bones from the beef, cut it into chunks, and stir it back into the stew before serving.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Curried Smoked Mackeral Pilaf

Almost, but not quite, kedgeree. It is a little easier (no poaching uncooked fish first), and a little less nursery-food-gentle, with mustard seeds and a little more spice. I made this a lot in my first year at university, and have revisited more recently. I am not sure why I stopped making it in the first place, since starting again I have been having it almost once a week because I like it so much.

1 big knob of butter
1-2 white onions
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 bay leaf
Pinch turmeric
1 tbsp (more or less, to taste) curry powder (I used hot, but mild or medium can be used)
300g basmati rice
1 pack smoked mackerel fillets
300ml  water
300ml milk
3 eggs
Small bunch flat leaf parsley
Half a lemon

A little extra butter, if desired. 

Peel and slice the onion(s). Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan that has a well-fitting lid. Add the onions, and cook over a low heat until softened and slightly golden- about 10 minutes. Meanwhile boil your eggs- I tend to give them  8 minutes, which results in a still oily yolk, but boil for up to 10 minutes if you prefer them firmer. However you cook them, make sure you cover them in cold water straight away after they have finished boiling, so they don’t keep on cooking.

While the onion and eggs are cooking, remove the skin from the mackerel, and flake into medium sized pieces.

Add the mustard seeds to the pan, and cook for about 30 seconds, then stir in the curry powder, rice and bay leaf. Stir to coat the rice in the spices, and then add the mackerel, stirring to combine again. Pour in the water and milk, season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat up to bring the liquid to a boil, then turn the heat down to the lowest setting, place the lid on, and leave to cook for 15 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, peel and roughly chop the eggs, and remove the stalks from the parsley and chop the leaves.  When the rice has finished cooking, add a few pieces of butter (if desired), and  squeeze the juice from the lemon into the pan, and use and fork to fluff up the rice and mix in the butter and juice. Taste for seasoning, and adjust if necessary. Fork through the parsley and the eggs, and serve.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Charred Pineapple and Vanilla Rum

I have been making differently flavoured alcohol for a few years now, mostly vodka and occasionally gin. I tend to let the flavourings do their thing for at least a year before tasting. There a few exceptions, I recently made a horseradish vodka that needed a few hours infusion time, max, but generally with fruit I like to leave it for as long as possible. Not too long ago, I wanted to make a flavoured spirit for a gift- not vodka or gin- and with only about a fortnight to make it in. I turned to my fried Toby, who makes incredible cocktails, as well as tinctures, homemade ginger beer, and all sorts of delicious things to drink or make drinks with. He suggested charred pineapple and vanilla rum, which could be done in a week. I was surprised, but not sceptical about the short infusion time- I trust his advice in these matters completely.

This is how I did it:

Peel and cut one ripe pineapple into slices . Char the pineapple slices- I did this by skewering it, and holding if over the flame of my gas hob. You could use a blow torch, or even a lighter. Put the pineapple slices in a 1 litre jar, add a few spoons of demerara sugar, and top with rum- I used golden rum. Put the lid on, and give it a shake to help dissolve the sugar. Leave for 6 days, then add a vanilla pod- I crushed it slightly with the flat side of a knife before adding it, to help release the aromatic oils. Leave for another day, strain and bottle.

I was really pleased with the results- I had to try some before giving it away, of course, for quality control purposes. Now, I like to always have a bottle on hand for myself. It's nice on its own, but I like it even more in a daiquiri. The basic recipe for a daiquiri is here, I substituted the white rum for the pineapple rum, and cut used a touch less sugar syrup, as the flavoured rum is sweetened already.

I've been playing with the recipe too- I don't always include the charring step, depending on what I feel like drinking, and how bothered I can be. The last batch I made, I used spiced rum, and added a bay leaf instead of a vanilla pod for the final flavoring- this has been my favourite version so far.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Roast Pork Belly with Quince

I get a bit overexcited when I see quince in the greengrocer- they are one of the few things that you can't get all year round, so I like to make sure I buy them when I can. Some end up flavouring vodka, and some for pudding- last year I poached quinces in mulled wine and honey, with pleasing results. I've also used grated quince as instead of apple in mincemeat, which was nice but not necessarily better. I'm most interested in using them in savoury dishes, either to add needed sweetness to things like tajines, or as a foil to something fatty, like duck or pork belly. I had seen a recipe a while ago that had stuck in my head for roast pork belly with quince. I couldn't find the original recipe, or remember everything that went in it, so this is my spin on it. I loved the results- fatty, sticky pork belly with sour, fragrant quince.

1 piece pork belly, skin scored
2 quinces
3 onions
2-3 cloves garlic
½- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
About 1 tbsp thyme leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Peel the garlic cloves, and put in a pestle and morter with the thyme leaves, and pound to a paste. Add the fennel seeds, and lightly crush. Add a little olive oil to loosen the consistency, and some salt and pepper. Rub all over the sides and bottom of the pork belly- don’t put any of the garlic paste on the skin, but do give it a good sprinkling of sea salt.  Place the pork in a roasting tray. With a sharp, heavy knife, cut the quince into slim segments, cutting out any core/pips you get on your slices. Peel and slice the onions, and scatter around the pork belly with the quince. Lightly slick the onion and quince slices with some olive oil, and season. Roast for 25 minutes, then turn the heat down to 160 degrees and roast for another 1 and half-2 hours. Turn the heat up towards the end of cooking time if the skin is not completely crispy and blistered.

Leave the meat to rest under some foil for at least 10 minutes before serving.

I deglazed the roasting tin with some dry cider for a quick gravy, and ate with some mashed potato, and just-tender kale with chestnuts and lardons.

Thursday, 16 October 2014


I love reading and learning about Louisianan food, but I haven’t cooked that many dishes from the state. I now make a gumbo without a recipe, feeling comfortable enough to make any changes and tweaks as the mood suits me. I’ll occasionally cook a jambalaya, but will usually refer to a recipe. I have made an attempt at doberge cake, an extravagant layered chocolate confection which I think most people would buy in rather than make at home. It was delicious, but is quite a labour-heavy experience to make.  I have made a pecan pie, using the filling recipe from The Gumbo Pages although that’s not exclusive to Louisiana.

My latest addition to this list are beignets- the state doughnut of Louisiana (as an aside- I love the idea of an official state doughnut, although after reading this article, sadly I don't think there is a doughnut per state). Beignets can be made with a choux pastry or a yeast-leaved dough. I made the latter. I think the place to get beignets in New Orleans sells the yeasted type (I could be wrong about this though). I will have to try the choux pastry version too though, to complete my beignet education. 

The recipe I used was from Taste and Tell Blog (scroll down to the bottom of the page for the recipe). They were definitely a success, except for the first 2 I made which were a little uncooked in the middle- I don't own a thermometer for deep frying.

My favourite thing about this recipe is that once you have made the dough, you can keep it in the fridge for up to a week with no ill effects. So whenever you fancy a treat, you can tear off enough dough for a beignet or two, and cook it to order. Like most deep-fried foods, it’s best to eat them fresh out of the pan rather than letting them sit around.

Being able to keep a ball of the dough in the fridge and cook in batches over the week helped me gain a better feeling for when the oil was hot enough to put the uncooked beignet in the pan, and tell when it was ready to be taken out. It also gave me more opportunities for experimentation, such as making a chocolate and salted caramel dipping sauce. This was my only deviation from the recipe, but there is a lot of scope for new ideas. Having said that, a plain beignet, liberally dusted with icing sugar is a wonderful thing, and doesn’t require anything else- except maybe some coffee alongside.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Roman Holiday: Part IV

We began our last day in Rome with a trip to the ever-wonderful Campo Di Fiori. I limited my spending there to some very ripe, sticky figs, and a punnet of wild strawberries.

 We then went to I Dolci di Nonna Vincenza, a Sicilian bakery for something a little more sustaining. We shared two extremely rich pastries, a ravioli dolci di ricotta and a cannoli stuffed with sweetened ricotta and dipped in pistachios. They were incredibly delicious, and not very expensive- the shop itself looks like it could charge you a lot, but for these two (big) pastries and a coffee we were only charged 5.

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Next we went to the Jewish ghetto of Rome, where we went to Nonna Betta, one of the older kosher restaurants in the area.  The menu is split into a meat section and a dairy section, and given our ricotta-heavy breakfast, we both opted for a meat based meal. I had homemade gnocchi with braised lamb. It’s not the most beautiful looking dish, but it was wonderfully flavoursome and rich.

For dinner, we decided to treat ourselves to something a bit more upmarket, as it was our final evening in Italy. We went to Dal Toscano, a Tuscan restaurant (unsurprisingly) not too far from St Peter’s Square. I wanted to go for their speciality, a thick T-bone steak, but was a bit scared by the price (48 per kilo). So I had a rump steak, which was tasted lovely, but was not as rare as I would have liked. I did regret my more frugal choice when I saw other diners’ incredibly thick and bloody T-bone steaks. I’ll know for next time. Adam had a veal steak, which was delicious- better than my steak, I think.

To follow, I had zabaglione. Again, Adam made a better choice than me, and had a custard and pine nut tart. Luckily he was happy to let me try both of his courses, so I could appreciate everything.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Roman Holiday: Part III

I could have eaten Roman food for the entirety of my holiday and not gotten bored, but I decided to be adventurous and hop on the train to Santa Marinella for a day of eating seafood and lying by the beach. Well, maybe not that adventurous, because I got the idea entirely from this article. Even if I’d ended up in Santa Marinella without guidance, there is no way I would have found the restaurant we visited; it's about a 25 minute walk from the station along a main road.

The restaurant in question, Tavola Azzurra 2, is an unassuming-looking Sardinian restaurant. They don’t do menus; you are offered what’s being cooked that day and you can take it or leave it. They brought us a jug of white wine, water, crispy carta di musica and a salad of assorted sea creatures dressed in olive oil, lemon and parsley (mostly octopus, but there were some prawns mixed in too).

 Sometime later, they brought us a huge plates of spaghetti alle vongole. It was incredibly garlicky and buttery, and had a generous amount (and variety) of clams. Despite feeling very full, we still used the bread to soak up the butter-garlic-seafood juices left on our plates.

We were then brought some pastries which we shared - a fig and almond tart and a berry tart. These were nice, but I didn’t appreciate them as much as the seafood. I couldn’t manage the final offering: a thick, bitter medicinal spirit.

Our bill