pig cheek ragu

Slow Cooker Pig Cheek Ragu

pig cheek raguThere is always room in my life for pig on a plate. From bacon, just crisping round the edges to slabs of Christmas ham in Coke or a grilled glistening chop or chorizo jam, I love pork in all its forms. It was of course, the one thing that tempted me from vegetarianism in all those five years and I still feel no qualms about the bacon sandwich eaten late at night up one of the Mourne Mountains after a long day’s walking on my Duke of Edinburgh Silver expedition. I went back to instant couscous the next day and avoided porcine temptations for years more.

But when a rare steak lured me back to omnivorousness once again, it was pig that kept me there. Just around the time Babe hit cinema screens, I was incapable of cooking anything with pork in it without gleefully exclaiming that ‘pork is a nice sweet meat‘ like a demented CGI mouse. More than anything else I eat, I am most able to separate the cuteness of piglets from their taste and texture and the only thing I feel guilty about is my inability to feel guilt about it all.

At first the attraction was that pork is pretty easy to cook. Compare grilling a pork chop to getting a steak just right and you’ll see what I mean. I wasn’t a confident cook at all (if you’d told the 19 year old me that I end up writing two cookbooks, I’d have laughed myself inside out) and meals that were easy to make really appealed. Pork is also often lower in fat which as someone who had just had their gallbladder removed was crucial and combining all these factors with the fact pork is the most affordable meat for free range or higher welfare standards, I’ve cooked it a lot over the years.

We all know that you can eat everything on a pig except the oink and I find it a good way to keep expanding my horizons. Black pudding is a borderline North/South Food obsession and I’ve certainly been won over to the taste if not the texture of trotters, so it was inevitable that pig’s cheeks would call to me. Technically classed as offal as they come from the head, they are in fact pure muscle and perfect for low slow cooking to help the meat fall apart in a tender tangle. Very inexpensive at around £2 for 4, they’ll easily feed 4 people cooked well.

I get mine in Morrisons or Waitrose (and yes, that £2 price is correct for Waitrose as part of their Forgotten Cuts range) and tend to make a massive batch of this ragu in the slow cooker before portioning it up and freezing it until needed. It makes a lasagne of such beauty it’s hard not lick your lips as you describe it. It also goes well with either baked potatoes or as a porky version of cottage pie with cauliflower and potato mash on top. I served it simply here on top of some rigatoni with a hearty sprinkle of parmesan for the first properly autumnal day here in London.

It’s a slow cooker dream and makes a nice change from the ubiquitous pulled pork. I’ve made it without onions as I don’t eat them and I suggest you leave them out too. They bully the soft sweetness of the meat into something less soothing. Read more

boxty 2

Brixton Boxty

boxty 2I have to admit that boxty wasn’t something I ate as a child. Popular in Monaghan and Leitrim, it’s a type of potato pancake made from grated potato, but it was so alien to me as kid, I basically thought it was made up until I was older. I first saw it as a real thing in my beloved potato bible The Humble Spud and I’ve been meaning to make it for years, but I disappeared down the tangent of rosti instead and forgot to back up until recently.

Half of you are probably lost by now. Isn’t a potato pancake just a potato pancake I hear you cry? Well, no, rosti are made with semi cooked grated potato with a high starch content, mixed with onion and fried on each side in butter and is eaten as a savoury side dish. Boxty uses raw grated potato before being fried and can be sweet or savoury. Potato farls are made with mashed potato before being cooked on a griddle and then often fried until golden. And I’ve never yet made a latke, but I’ll bring you breaking news about them when I do…

Some recipes for boxty use mashed potato in with the grated spuds but I thought I’d some pureed fresh corn instead since I have tonnes left over from a recent Brixton Bugle recipe. Combining corn and potato gives a autumnal feel and a taste of Brixton which I thought I’d enhance by adding some chopped Scotch Bonnets, fresh coriander and lime. I then served it with some grilled tomatoes for a really good brunch. Read more

fig salad

Crispy Caper and Polenta Salad

fig saladOk, let’s get the humour about Northern Irish and Scottish people not quite understanding salad out of the way. This one does contain fried things, but what do you think those lovely croutons in your Caesar salad are, huh? So let’s carry on with what is really a perfect early autumn lunch instead and celebrate crispy crunchy fried things in style.

This salad is built round polenta which is the other Italian staple carbohydrate in town.  Made from cornmeal cooked into a thick porridge, British people have never quite taken it to their hearts like they have with pasta. This is partly because we have little connection with eating corn in this country beyond the odd tin of Green Giant and partly because polenta can be quite bland.

In fact, the first time I had polenta as a child, I was actually quite repelled by its blandness. Almost offensive in its nothingness, it kept me away from eating it for years. Then I realised you should never ever buy precooked polenta and that like all the best foods on earth, it needs a liberal hand with the butter. Now I’m a regular polenta eater.

However, I’m not an authentic polenta maker. Firstly I usually make it in the slow cooker rather than stand around stirring slowly to make it smooth and creamy the old fashioned and energetic way and secondly, I add stock to mine. This is near sacrilege to a friend whose family are Northern Italian, but it’s the only way I can add enough flavour without bunging an entire block of Kerrygold in there and missing the point of peasant food.

polenta cubesI tend to make a big batch of polenta and eat half like a thick porridge to soak up ragus or stews (also usually done in the slow cooker) and then allow the other half to cool into blocks and eat it almost like a springier version of cornbread. This cooled polenta is especially good cubed and fried until crispy round the edges. Here I’ve scattered it over a salad but it works well as a breakfast dish with scrambled eggs and tomatoes too for a filling and gluten free start to the day. Read more

cherry float

Chocolate Cherry Ice Cream Float

cherry floatI haven’t been cooking very much this summer. Partly because I’m on a go slow in the kitchen after testing over 350 recipes for both Recipes from Brixton Village and Slow Cooked and partly because all I’ve wanted to eat for weeks are cherries.

Particularly abundant and well priced this season, I’ve been buying pounds and pounds of them from Brixton Market for £1.50 a lb and just gorging on them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They are one of my favourite fruit and it’s been utter luxury to indulge like I have been. In fact, I’ve even managed to have too many of them and needed to find ways to use them up.

Some of my lack of appetite has come from how warm it’s been and I’ve been alternating my cherry fest with ice lollies and sorbets, but hadn’t felt the urge for actual ice cream until I saw some leftover chocolate in the cupboard to go with those cherries and inspiration hit.

I have been a lip balm queen since Mister North bought me a pot of Morello Cherry lip balm from The Body Shop for my twelfth birthday. I cycled through their whole range, not dallying near the Kiwi Fruit one for long, and fell particularly in love with a limited edition version that was Chocolate Cherry. I rationed that little pot out for ages and each swipe of it reminded me how much I loved the combination. I moved on from it to a prized Dr Pepper Lip Smacker and from there to my current die hard obsession with Carmex.

I hadn’t really thought about my lip moisturising choices as a teen since those heady days, but standing there with a bag of cherries in one hand and a bar of chocolate in the other and I just knew what I had to do. I had to combine all the best things of my early years and make a chocolate cherry Dr Pepper ice cream float immediately.

Chocolate Cherry Ice Cream (makes one litre)

  • 450g fresh cherries, pitted
  • 25g sugar
  • 200g milk chocolate
  • 600ml double cream
  • 397g tin condensed milk

This is the simplest ice cream possible made to a non churn recipe I love so much I even used it for my Observer Food Monthly piece last year. It freezes quickly and scoops straight from the freezer and can be adapted to any flavour you fancy.

Begin by pitting your cherries. I find this oddly relaxing and not particularly faffy to do. I end up with lots of halved cherries. Lay them out as flat as possible and sprinkle the sugar over them to macerate them. This makes them lovely and juicy. Leave for up to an hour.

Break the chocolate into a large bowl and set it over a pan of boiling water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the base. Stir it well as it melts to keep it nice and glossy. Once melted, set it aside to cool down for about 10 minutes.

Take the macerated cherries along with any juices they have created and roughly puree them with a hand blender. A bit of texture is fine, but try not to have any bits of skin if you can help it. Set them aside.

Pour the double cream into a large bowl and beat until it starts to thicken. You don’t want it to be whipped cream, but to get to the point where it flops over lazily and thickly. At this point, beat in the condensed milk until combined and airy. An electric whisk is nice here but some old fashioned elbow grease does the trick too.

Stir in the melted chocolate and the cherry puree. Fold until completely combined. It will be a pale pinky brown in colour. Pour it all into a plastic container and put the lid on it. Freeze for at least 4 hours. It will be a lovely creamy soft serve style.

Chocolate Cherry Dr Pepper Ice Float (makes one)

  • 330ml can full fat Dr Pepper
  • 1 large scoop chocolate cherry ice cream
  • kitsch item to accessorise, either an umbrella or gaudy cocktail stirrer

To make your ice cream float, get a good sturdy glass and pour an ice cold can of Dr Pepper into it. I am that person who genuinely likes the taste of diet fizzy drinks usually, but it’s got to be the real deal here.

Then gently drop your scoop of ice cream into the glass. The soda will fizz and froth and create the finest carbonated beverage on earth. Stick a straw in the glass, swizzle with a stirrer (I favour a flamingo myself here) and set a long spoon on the side before getting stuck in.

You cannot eat or drink an ice cream float neatly so don’t try to. Simply savour the flavours and revel in it. When I say this float is the taste and excitement of my whole childhood served up in one glass, I don’t think I’m quite doing it justice. It’s my favourite thing of the whole summer, maybe even the year…

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_4012

Coffee Crème Caramel

IMG_4012I’m loving the bit in the Saturday Guardian Cook section where well known food people choose their last meal. The fact that they are allowed to set the scene as to where they’d eat it and with whom reminds us that a good meal is about more than just the food. But the food is pretty important too and each time I read one of these I start debating what my final meal would involve.

There would definitely be squid, but would it be a tender slow cooked squid stew with ripe tomatoes or would it be chargrilled for moments til the edges blacken and the tentacles have the right amount of chew? Maybe some deep fried crispy salt and pepper squid? Or would I regret not having the salt and chilli version?

Would I have a perfectly pink middled duck breast or a steak so blue it’s still mooing for the main course? Indecision is my greatest forte so I just get myself tied up in hungry knots each Saturday morning, except for one thing. I know exactly what I’m having for dessert. Crème Caramel.

I love crème caramel so much there is no such thing as a crème caramel I don’t like. I even love the hell out of those 69p for four supermarket ones that are like a milk jelly in an oddly shaped tub. My love is unconditional for this classic dessert. Yet for years I never made it, reaching for the Bonne Maman ones in the posh glass ramekins instead and believing it would be fiendishly tricky to make.

I’m not sure what convinced me to try making it when I had such a mental block about it, but I had the idea of doing slow cooker crème caramel for the book and discovered that making it is even easier than eating a whole family pack of them in one sitting. You’ll have to wait til Slow Cooked comes out on November 6th for the slow cooker version, but here’s a stovetop one that combines the flavours of coffee and vanilla to tide you over.

Coffee Crème Caramel (makes 4)

  • 120g sugar
  • 60ml water
  • generous pinch salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee
  • 400ml whole milk

Do not think about making this with skimmed or semi-skimmed milk or it won’t set properly and will collapse on itself if you try to turn them out of the ramekins. I actually tend to use milk powder for as I live in a very Portuguese area where everyone keeps a tin of Nido in the house.

Start by making the caramel. Put the sugar and the water in a stainless steel pan on the cooker. Non stick pans can make the caramel crystallize and become granulated. Melt the sugar over a medium heat, stirring constantly.

When the sugar is completely melted, stop stirring and allow the caramel to boil to a dark rich colour. Keep a close eye to make sure it doesn’t burn. It should take about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat immediately. Add the salt and stir in.

Pour an equal amount of caramel into each of the ramekins and set aside to cool and harden. Don’t put them in the fridge or the caramel becomes soft and tacky. It will take about an hour for the caramel to set. Leave aside until needed.

To make the custard, warm the milk in a pan. While it is coming to a simmer, beat the eggs in a bowl with the caster sugar until they are thickened. When the milk is warm, pour a little bit of it into the eggs and whisk. This tempers the eggs to stop the custard splitting.

Pour the tempered eggs into the remaining milk and whisk together. Heat gently until the custard coats the back of a spoon. Add the vanilla extract and the instant coffee and stir in well. Remove from the heat immediately and pour the cooked custard into the ramekins, leaving a few centimetres of room for expansion.

Set the the filled ramekins into a deep baking tray and pour enough boiling water into the crock to come about two thirds of the way up them. Carefully set this bain marie into the oven and and cook the crème caramel on 150℃ for 25 minutes.

Lift the crème caramels out of the oven. There should be no bubbles round the edges. Allow the crème caramels to cool for an hour or so and then put them into the fridge overnight. This means the caramel will absorb into the crème properly

When you are ready to serve, simply turn the crème caramels out onto small plates and eat. The caramel will cascade down the side of the custards as well as flavouring the base of them, mixing beautifully with the soft rich coffee flavour to make the most delicious version you’ve ever eaten. I’d keep telling you how good they are, but I’ve got my mouth full…