Monday, 30 September 2013

An Impromptu Gathering and a Whole Lotta Pig

This weekend has been really rather a great one. Mainly because for once, every single one of us was free but secondly because there was lots a food involved, which I'm going to tell you all about. At the beginning of last week there was a suggestion that 4 of the group were planning on heading down South for a relaxing weekend. Dorset is where I originally hail from before I moved to London so I was keen to return home to see my dog, I mean, parents. Soon it became apparent that all 9 of us would be free and so plans began to formulate for a weekend away in Dorset. I began to formulate my own plans for a Saturday night feast. No one had any objections to this.

When you have loads of people round it's important you don't do something that requires a huge amount of attention. Otherwise you miss out on all the chat which is the reason you all get together anyway!
You need to cook something that can feeds lots of people and isn't that expensive. I went with belly pork. 2.5 kgs of belly pork, leeks and spring greens, a wholegrain mustard mash with a cider reduction sauce to go with it. All for £12 each. Including wine. Total bargain. Belly pork is coming back into fashion in a big way but to get the best out of it, it does need to be slow cooked so you need to have the time to be able to do it. Luckily I had time.

The girls and I headed to the supermarket to pick up the essentials. Ingredients, wine, gin and lots of olives. At one point our trolley just looked like this...

I mean what else do 4 girls need for a great night in? 

Heading home it was time to stick on some tunes, pour ourselves a gin and elderflower and get down to some catching up. Luckily my kitchen at home has a massive table in it and it tends to be where everyone congregates, which meant I could join in the chat whilst I prepared dinner. 

Pre-heat your oven to 220 C or GM7 then start scoring the skin on the pork, you need a really sharp knife for this, some people even use a scaple and salting it. Salting the skin draws out excess moisture which gives you a better crackling, ideally you would salt the skin and leave it for at least an hour but as I was feeling pushed for time I only left it for about 25 mins. I still managed to get some of that moisture out though! 

Scoring the fat. Make sure you don't go down too far and cut the flesh. 

Make sure you really rub the salt into all the gaps. 

While the skin is salting, prepare the trays. I had 5 pieces of pork so I used 3 trays. I didn't want to risk over crowding them. I made each piece of pork its own tasty bed of slabs of red onions, thyme and rosemary, this keeps the pork lifted off the bottom of the tray as well as adding extra favour. 
When you have left the skins for as long as you can, blot all the moisture that will have come to the surface with some kitchen towel, and lay each of the piece on their beds of goodness. 

Thats all you have to do! Making sure your oven is really nice and hot (if you turned it on at the beginning it should be) throw in the trays and shut the door. After 20 mins turn the ovens right down to 160 C/GM3 and cook for another 2.5 hrs.
Everyone had arrived by this point and I wanted to give them all my full attention so I quickly prepped the leeks, sliced the spring greens, peeled the potatoes and put everything in their designated pots to be switched on when the time came.

Coming down to the final crunch time it was all hands on deck. Clearing and laying the table, opening the wine, plates in to warm and making sure there was enough serving platters.

The pork came out and was transferred to one of the trays making sure all of the juices had been emptied first into a jug. Then the oven was turned up full and the pork thrown back in again. I reason I did this was because the skin just wasn't quite crispy enough. While that was back in the oven, I sweated the leeks in lots of butter, salt and pepper. Steamed the spring greens in a big wok with a bit of water in the bottom and then finished them off with some more butter, salt and pepper. When in doubt, use butter.

The potatoes had been sat in the colander for a while so they were nice and dry. This is really important, its the same as when roasting potatoes, you really need to make sure they are really dry. Tipping them back in the pan I added lots of butter (yes, more butter), lots of salt and pepper and at least 2 big heaped teaspoons of wholegrain mustard. Proceed to mash (for extra creamy mash I use a ricer, however my ricer was in London, so I had to make do with a but of elbow grease). If it looks a little crumbly, add more butter or dash or milk or cream or creme fraiche.

Whilst I was doing this, Harri was on gravy duty. After combining all the roast trays juices and onions into one tray I put this on the hob and added a bottle of Henny's dry cider. Keep stirring and reduced down, taste it to make sure you have burnt off all the alcohol, otherwise it's too harsh.

Now its time for the pork to come out, and by now the skin should be really nice and crispy. So crispy you could crack a tooth on it, which incidentally I did, joy.

Carve up into pieces, put on a warmed serving plate and your good to go.

You can feel hungry grins as you place it down in the middle of the table. Now, make sure everyone has a decent slug of wine and get stuck in!

Cheers to that. 

After dinner it was all hands on deck to do a big clean up and then it was off to the bottom of the garden to light the fire in the hut and let Harri entertain us with a guitar. Perfect.

Even the cat got involved. 

It was the perfect evening and Ben has decided to bugger off to Peru for a while, so it was a great way to say goodbye to him.

The next morning my favourite labrador in the whole world returned so we decided to take her for a long walk on the beach (which would also clear our slightly fuggy heads). Of course this was after a delightful fry up of sausages, bacon, mushrooms and scrambled eggs.

Lucy, Ben and Mikey decided to go to that extra level of freshness and go for a swim. Madness.

Tilly thought it was a great idea. 

All too quickly it was time for everyone to depart and go our separate way. Weekends are just too short, aren't they? Until next time my lovely lot!! 

Friday, 27 September 2013

Do Ahead, Fuss Free Beef Tagine

I have a friend who appears to be THE social butterfly of London. If you want to see her you need to book at least a month in advance. Ive been trying to pin her down for months now, no exaggeration. Her thing? Dinner parties.  I often receive emails from her in the week discussing menus and my thoughts on adapting recipes in order for them to be cooking 90% in advance with only the finishing touches to do. As far as I'm concerned everyone god host should take a leaf out of her book. She manages to work a busy 9-6.30 job in the city and throw a 3 course dinner party most weeks.

I dedicate this blog post to her. This is a dish that has to be done in advance in order to fulfil it maximum flavour potential which means that all one has to do is throw on the rice when you get in from work and put it on to reheat. It has enough in it that people not eating carbs would be satisfied without the rice and also macho enough to stand up to a room full of hungry boys without doing extra dishes. Perfect in my book.

As I have mentioned previously am I currently staying with friends and I was asked to make this dish so it could be frozen and taken to someone next week. I have stolen many a recipe off F and I had a hankering this would be equally as delish so I documented as I went along just incase I wanted to share it. I do. It's aces.

So here we have it: Do ahead, fuss free beef tagine. This recipe is also fairly cheap, provided you have a well stocked spice cupboard. I suggest stocking up, spices last for a long time and you can get many a great dish out of them. This recipes uses fresh herbs. Don't be tempted to skip on them and use dried, its jut not the same.

600g stewing beef
1 onion
1 small bunch fresh coriander
400g tinned chickpeas, drained
400 g tinned tomatoes
800ml chicken or veg stock
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into 5cm chunks (fork sized)
100g prunes, stoned
2 tablespoons flaked toasted almonds

salt, pepper
1 tbsp ras el hanout (you can find this in Sainsbury's, promise)
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp ginger
1 tbsp sweet paprika

As this is done in stages, I've done some pictures to go with them. First up, spicy meat massage. Now for this bit you could actually rub the beef a day before and leave it overnight, if not, you do have to leave it at least 2 hours. At the very bare minimum.

Chuck all the spices in with the beef and give it a good rub. Really get your hands dirty and show that beef some love.

Now cover it up and leave it in the fridge to get all tasty. 

Once the time is up you can move on to the next stage. Grab your meat out the fridge, dice your onions and take all the leaves off your coriander. The best way to chop and onion is to keep the end on the onion, slice lengthways and then sideways. That way you keep an even dice without the onion falling apart. 

Heat the olive oil in a big Le Creuset and start to fry the meat in batches. Frying in batches means that the meat browns all over and gets the great caramelised outside which is what makes the flavour.

Once all the meat is browed chuck in the onions and coriander stalks and combine thoroughly. Give it 5 mins and throw in the tinned tomatoes and drained chickpeas. Putting liquid into a pan 'deglazes' it which means all the spices that stuck to the bottom of the pan come off. Make sure you stir deep down to the bottom of the pan to get all those bits up and make sure they get into the sauce. Yeah buddy.

Again, mix well and add half the chicken stock. Use some of the stock to wash out the tomato tins so you don't waste a drop. Bring this up to the boil, turn down to a simmer, cover and cook for an hour and a half.

Whilst this is cooking, peel and chop the butternut squash. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds. Then de-stone the prunes (if they need it) and roughly chop them. Set these aside until the hour and a half is up. Grab a glass of wine while you wait. 

Once the hour an a half is up throw in the squash and prunes. Its at this point that you are meant to add the rest of the stock but as you can see from the photos, mine didn't need it. Don't worry if you need to add it to yours. Everything cooks differently, just use your judgment call. Give a gentle stir, enough to mix it all but not so much it breaks up the beef. 

Give it a little taste and whack in some more seasoning if need be. Remember salt awakens all favours so don't shy away from it. I once knew a guy who didn't believe in salt and thought all added salt was bad for you, he didn't even own any in his house. I tried buying him salt and explaining to him what it actually did but he still didn't get it. Needless to say we aren't friends anymore. I could have had more enlightening conversations with a fence though so it wasn't a devastating loss. 

Clamp the lid back on this little well seasoned beauty and leave for another hour and a half. When that time is up your ready to roll. At this point you can either leave it in the fridge or eat it. All you need to do is sprinkle with the coriander leaves and toasted almond flakes and serve with cooked rice. 

I was making this for someone else so I don't have any final pictures of it but it proves how its a perfect example of something that can be made and left. Frozen even. So say you had a dinner party on the thursday, but the ingredients and rub the meat on Tuesday night. Then do the cooking on the Wednesday, ready to serve up on Thursday. It's stewing beef which is a cheap cut of meat but when slow cooked, such as this, it becomes melty and divine in a rich thick sauce. 

So my little dinner party queen, use this one and you'll be able to spend time with your guests and wow them. Take your bow. 

Perkins Reveller, The Wharf, Tower of London

The other night I had an exciting trip over to St Katherine's Dock to look at our potential new flat. Very exciting indeed. Ill keep you posted on the success of that.

Hi there nieghbour! 

I've never been there before and I was totally surprised by it. What a lovely part of London, the dock is quiet and has loads of fantastic restaurants round it (ideal/not ideal depending on the state of my bank account. I'll always choose food over impending poverty). I've fallen for the area hook, line and sinker. Fingers crossed!

Isn't it pretty? 

I had arranged to meet a friend after work but unfortunately she wasn't going to be able to get away until late, so asked to take a rain check. As I wandered back towards The Tower of London there were so many different food smells tantalising my nostrils and as a I'd spent all day inside I weighed up the options of taking myself to dinner. I'm a strong, independent woman, I could handle dinner on my own and so I did.

As I settled down to my candle lit table for two now one, I whipped out my kindle. A handy weapon of choice that now lives in my handbag and is available at a boring moments notice, or for times such as these as you decided to go for dinner alone. Im reading a really awful book at the moment. I chose it because the story line is thus: Single woman (who inherits a child after her sister dies, but I'm ignoring that part) decides to branch out and become private chef, first client is a super hot, rich, single racing car driver. They hate each other, he woos her, they fall in love. The end, well I'm assuming thats the end, I haven't actually got that far but I see it as a no brainer. See where I went with that? Jenson Button, Ill be sending you a business card.

I digress, back to my meal. Before I went in I did do a sneaky google to a) check the price and b) check I wanted to eat things; belly pork? I was sold. When the menu was put in front of me I was horrified to see the belly pork wasn't there, and for all the tempting things on the menu and the child in my head having a tantrum, I couldn't get the belly out of my head until I spotted it with salmon. God knows why they had paired salmon and belly pork but there we have it, at least it was on the menu, therefore I could have it in one way or another.

The extremely friendly waitress came on over to deliver my glass of red and take my order. I questioned her on the pork and told her of my hatred for salmon and she told me to wait a second she had to double check something. She came back bearing the best news ever. I could have the original belly pork dish that I'd seen on google, they'd just moved it to the lunch time menu but chef was willing to whip it up for me. Excellent. 
The dish was: slow cooked belly pork with black pudding mash, a pork croquette and crackling topped off with a red wine reduction. GET IN MY BELLY. I ordered some spring greens to go with it and settled down to Jamie and Chase and my wine (Im such a cliche but I'm embracing it.)

Then it arrived and it was so pretty...

 The pork was so juicy and the sauce was divine, though I could have done with more of it. The mash was a bit of a let down if I'm honest but the real star of the show was the croquette. They had filled it with pulled pork, capers, tiny cornichons and mustard seeds.

  Check out that bad boy. It was just the right amount of sour to go with the sweet belly pork. Moments later I had devoured it and a pudding menu had been placed in front of me. As always I glanced at it not expecting to find anything that I would bother with, until I saw that magic word. Cake.
Apple and pecan cake with caramel sauce, a vanilla ice cream, apple mousse and an apple crisp. Served warm. Now that my friends, is a pudding I can deal with.

It didn't disappoint. I wandered off to the tube very happy and content.
Perkins is a place I would return to, with friends, I'm not sure you could go to the same place twice alone. If I was an old hand at this blogging thing I would have thought to take pictures of the restaurant and the great view but alas, I didn't. It's on the river right next to Tower Bridge, the back wall of the restaurant is actually part of the bridge and you exit out in the middle of it through a pretty fantastic wooden door, I do love wooden doors. It has a great outside area thats heated and covered and the inside is great too, large and spacious so you don't feel like your sitting on top of people. Its not the cheapest place, my meal for 2 courses and 2 125ml glasses of wine was £35. Mains are pretty much from £12 to £19, but perhaps if it were date night... 

Here's the website if you're feeling so inclined to check them out... 

Square Meal

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

A Tried and Tested Miracle Cure

For anyone that knows me well, they will be able to confirm that I have an awful weakness for 'Super Noodles'. Chicken ones to be exact. Yes I know, they are horrific, luminous yellow, stinky and taste like soap. However, I love them, and especially on a hangover there is nothing that I want more but, one cannot go through life eating super noodles (sadly).

So when one such craving for noodles came about one lunch time I decided that it was time to make an appropriate substitute. I am also very lazy when it comes to making food for myself. I like to be able to make something from whatever I have in the kitchen. Even if the shop is across the road it usually involves putting on shoes or coats or clothes and quite frankly I just cant be bothered at (most) times.

Thats why this dish is perfect, I normally have everything for it in my cupboards and as long as you have the basic 'soup' bit then you can chuck anything it in. Ideal.

Here we have it. My chicken noodle soup. Its been fed to many and I can confirm it gets the solid seal of approval. It takes about 10 minutes to make and you don't have to feel guilty about it, (not like the super noodle guilt where you know people will judge you).

Basic Soup:
1 chicken stock cube
Soy sauce
Fish sauce
Noodles (egg noodles preferable but also works with rice etc)
Spring onions
Chicken or Prawns

Yeah thats it. The rest you can leave or take. Obviously it might be a little boring without all the other fun stuff in it so try and make sure you have the rest of the stuff.  (Oh and before you ask, yes I really do always have those things in the kitchen, proven by the fact I only did this post today due to the fact that I was hungry for lunch and low and behold...)

Added delicious extras include:
Dried chilli flakes
Green vegetables such as mange tout, green beans, bak choi, cabbage, peas.
Bean sprouts
Anything else you fancy eating or is in the fridge...

So the reason there aren't any quantities on here is because I just throw it all in and taste it. If it doesn't taste right add more soy, or fish sauce or if you've been a bit heavy handed, top it up with more water. To start with I always add as much water as I would like to eat soup. If you catch my drift.

Add the boiling water to the stock cube and then throw in some soy and fish sauce. Taste. Yummy? Good. Moving on.

Peel the ginger (the best way to do this is with a teaspoon) and slice it into match sticks. Again use as much ginger as you want. (I usually go with 3 cm.) Even if you don't like it. You can eat around it but you really do need it in there for it to be tasty. Plus its good for you, but more on that later. Chuck it in the pan.
Next is the meaty part. I had left over roast chicken for this blog which I shredded but I usually just have raw chicken. Chop it up into little strips and throw it in the soup base. Chicken cooks really fast, especially when poached, despite what some people think, so don't fret about this being a killer salmonella breeding ground. Its not.
Add the noodles at the same time as the chicken/raw prawns. Both take about the same time to cook.

By now you should have a little pan of goodness bubbling away. Now time to throw in the extras.
Go nuts. Chilli, greens, those little spring onions... mmmmmmmm Oh, if your using cooked chicken or prawns, whack them in now. They just have to warm through.

The greens don't take long to cook and try to make sure they don't over cook. You want the crunch. And make sure you have a good old deep bowl, like so...

Like I say this comes in many different forms. Here are some I made earlier...

 Ooooo look that one had dumplings in. Extra Yummy.

The reason I called it a miracle cure is because this is full of things that are natural anti-oxidants. Ginger is amazing, really good for you. Chilli is also the essential ingredient if you want to knock a cold on it's head. Veg, well veg are just good for you aren't they.  If you are not eating carbs then leave out the noodles and just add more extras! I've made this for a lot of sicky feeling people and after speaking to an incredibly bunged up brother on the phone this morning (freshers flu), he reminded me that it's that time of year again.

So stock up your store cupboards and if you're feeling a little throaty make a bowl of this. I guarantee it will make you feel a little more clear headed.

Now I'm going to get back to website designing. How posh. I'll let y'all know when it's ready!

Until next time!! 

(This beautiful kitchen and its finely stocked cupboards are curtesy of my lovely hosts helping out a homeless me. Im only going to be half homeless as of next wednesday and hopefully settled in my very own flat and therefore no longer homeless as of the middle of November!)