Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Daube Provencal, snow food at its best

Check out the fancy pasta!
If there was ever a time to use food as a hot water bottle, it is NOW people! We need to be warmed from the inside out and this recipe for beef daube provencal really hits the spot. There are many different versions of this very classic French dish but this is mine and it works nicely. Perfect for entertaining as the hard work (not even mildly strenuous actually) is done the night before.

Feeds 4. Take a kilo of beef braising steak, and if not done already, cut into smallish chunks. Put in a big bowl. Add to the bowl the following ingredients in no particular order: a bouquet garni of parsley, bay and thyme, two onions, finely chopped,  three cloves chopped garlic, one hot crushed dried chili, two celery stalks finely chopped, a couple pared slices of orange zest, half a bottle of red wine, a decent glug of brandy, salt and pepper, one large finely chopped carrot and mix well. Stick in the fridge overnight. When you are ready to cook pre-heat the oven to 160c. Carefully remove the beef from its marinade and pat dry on kitchen roll. Take a big casserole and brown the meat well in some olive oil. Remove and put to the side. In the same pan fry a decent handful of diced smoked bacon or pancetta and when crispy and coloured, scoop out all the veg from the marinade bowl, add to the pan and cook for 10 minutes until softened. Add the meat back, along with the rest of the marinade and a tin of chopped tomatoes. Mix well, bring to the boil and place covered, in the oven. Cook for at least three hours but keep checking that it hasn't dried out, add more wine or some water if it does. When finished the beef should have really broken up, not in chunks anymore, more an appetising meaty mush, that tastes mush nicer than anything called mush. When you dish up, remove the herbs and orange zest. It's great with mash but I think it works best with some nice fat fettuccine, or even better, exciting fancy multi-coloured pasta I got for Christmas from my Auntie!

The French might be furious that I eat this with pasta but who cares, it tastes divine. The orange is subtle but sets it apart from a normal ragu. You can jazz it up with a gremolata of chopped parsley, raw garlic and a little lemon zest, but you might not notice the lovely soft flavours so much. Either way it will warm your bones.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Chorizo & Chickpea Stew (to put it simply)

Yawn yawn yawn. How many times have you seen a recipe like this? It's in every cookbook entitled something like '100 quick and easy meals'. It's so simple and store-cupboardy and BORING, but I had a load of chorizo and chick peas and decided I'd make something with them. What a revelation, it was so bloody delicious I couldn't believe I hadn't bothered in the past! With chorizo, a little goes a long way and how cheap are chick peas? Um very. It's super quick, easy and simple. AND it's a one pot wonder. So all in all a winner.

Feeds 4. Take the skin off a medium sized ring of chorizo and slice to roughly the thickness of a £1 coin. Get  a casserole dish on the hob and when hot, throw in the chorizo (note that no oil is needed). Keep it moving and cook until it starts getting crispy and releases all it's lovely orangey paprika-ry oil. Add one big finely sliced onion, some chilli flakes, three chopped cloves of garlic and a couple of finely chopped celery sticks. Cook for about 10 minutes, a little more gently until softened. Add two tins of tomatoes, a tsp of sugar and two tins of drained chickpeas (or the equivilent of dried ones that have already been cooked, even cheaper). Season well and let it bubble away for about 10 minutes until thickened. Check for seasoning and serve with a bit of chopped flat leaf parsley artistically scattered over the top.

For some girls (I'm including myself here at the moment as I'm trying to reduce my general intake of er, everything) this is enough on its own (I actually plonked the stew on top of a bowl of wilted baby leaf greens), but to man it up a bit some cous cous adds some bulk. This was so tasty I didn't even add any Tabasco. That's saying something.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Sprouts - Mini cabbage genius

Wooooo it's 2013 and time to be good (better, anyway) and all that jazz. It seems my current favourite cookbook (yes I have jumped on the excellent Ottoloenghi band-wagon and am obsessed with 'Jerusalem') is packed with healthy, interesting, veggie based ideas that make my mouth water. This is a good thing and it's already changing the way I think about meals and putting dishes together. I can't really blog every recipe I cook from the book, that wouldn't be very interesting for anyone, but basically, if you haven't got it, buy it, and be happy forever!

You know when it's all got a bit indulgent when you are lying on the sofa/floor hungover, and all you can think about is green veg and how much you would like some. This was me yesterday, New Year's Day. Happy bloody new year. I grilled a load of asparagus (yeah I know it's not in season and was from Peru or something but we can't all be perfectly seasonal all the time) and devoured it with glee, with a bit of olive oil, salt and lemon juice. Simple. And I felt better. My body hadn't quite forgiven me for drinking the crate of Cava the night before but we were getting there. Veg is good and although I eat a fair bit, I need more. I want to think of it less of something on the side of my meat, boiled quickly and without much thought, and more of part of the main event. Fear not, I am not going to suppress my carniverous side but try to eat more veg and enjoy it in interesting and new ways.

Sad sprouts
Look at these sprouts. They look so sad an un-appetising, and have never been top of my list. I eat them becuase they are good for me and The Boyfriend loves them. I don't like them on their own, but with a nice salty partner, classic sprouts and pancetta at Christmas is great, but why just Christmas? I saw something on telly the other day where they were really finely sliced and used in a sort of fritter and I couldn't believe I had never thought to do something like that. They are really mini-cabbages, and when sliced up take on a whole different persona, and are great in anything from stir-fries to pasta. Even when they are a few weeks old and bit wrinkly, just take off the outer leaves and it's good as new.

This recipe for sprout and broccoli pasta was a ready steady cook moment, really couldn't be arsed to go to the shops but we were both starving hungry and needed a quick lunch. Everything is done in the time it takes for the pasta to boil. Feeds 2. Get enough pasta for 2 boiling away, I used linguine this time, but only because it was all I had. Take a handful of brussels sprouts (yep just found out it's brussels, not brussel!), trim, remove any skanky bits and finely slice. Take a handful of broccoli florets and also slice finely, you want it to cook quickly. If I was making this just for me I would have finely sliced most of the 'trunk' of the broccoli as I love it, but that would have been a step too far for The Boyfriend. Toast a handful of pine nuts in a dry frying pan until golden. Eat a few while still hot. Don't burn your mouth or fingers. In a medium saucepan, heat a splash of olive oil and gently fry the sprouts, broccoli, a chopped chilli/pinch of chilli flakes and a sliced clove of garlic until softened but still with a little bite. Add a splash of white wine and let it bubble away for a minute. Add a tbsp creme fraiche/single cream and a handful of grated parmesan. Season with lots of black pepper. Drain the pasta, but add a splash of the cooking water to the pan with the veg, add the pasta to the veg pan with the pine nuts and mix well. Dig in.

I am aware this is a very simple and basic pasta recipe but this time last year I wouldn't have used sprouts in that way, and I wanted to share it! It's a good 'use up the dregs in the fridge' recipe, just chop up whatever veg you have and go with it. It's so good The Boyfriend didn't even notice there was no meat in it...