Wednesday, March 26

Bacon Chops, Chestnut Mushrooms, Spinach & Cream

I stopped off in Salisbury the other day. Not out of cultural interest, more that my son was screaming in the back of the car and I could take no more. What a great little city this is, so much history and a cracking little farmers market. I brought all the main ingredients for this dish from local growers. The pigs are reared in the New Forest, the mushrooms cultivated nearby and the vegetables came from a farmer who lived just down the road. It is great to see a practical farmers market being well used by the locals. So often you find that farmers markets do not have the breadth of stalls to do the weekly shop. You can't create a meal from a couple of cup cake stands and a chutney stall…..take note market organisers!

Bacon chops are not that common but your butcher should be able to source them for you. They can be a bit salty, so if you are not partial to heavily salted foods then try soaking them overnight before cooking. For two:

Bacon chops - 4, each weighing approx 100g or a bit more if bone in.
Spinach - 2 large handfuls, large stems removed, washed & shredded
Garlic - 1 small clove, peeled and finely grated
Banana shallot - 1 large one, peeled and finely chopped
Chestnut mushrooms - 100g, sliced
Butter - a good knob
Chicken stock - 250ml (shop bought is fine, a cube is not)
Cream - 100ml
Mushroom Ketchup - 1 tbsp

Heat a roomy frying pan over a medium heat and add a tiny splash of oil. Pan fry the fat on the bacon chops first to give colour to render some of the fat. I lined all four chops up and held them together with tongs to fry the fat. Turn flesh side down and pan fry on one side until golden, flip over and repeat on the other side. Remove from the pan and transfer to a warm oven (140c) to cook through whist you cook the sauce.

Pan fry the mushrooms in the butter until starting to colour. Add the onion and continue to fry until softened. Add the garlic and cook out. Deglaze the pan with the stock and reduce by half. Add the ketchup and season with pepper only (the chops are salty so you need to under-season the sauce). Add the cream and reduce until the sauce looks a little too thick. Add the spinach and allow to wilt, the liquid from the spinach should return the sauce to the correct consistency, e.g. coat the back of a spoon thick. Serve the pork on some rough mash with the sauce and vegetables spooned over. 

Sunday, March 9

Gnocchi with Red Kale, Taleggio, Chilli, Pine Nuts & Basil

Another idea for a midweek supper. It looks great on the plate and makes for really interesting eating as there are so many harmonious things going on. It is quite quick to pull together as you can cheat a bit and use ready made items. Is my home made gnocchi and tomato sauce better than that bought from the supermarket……well, yes. But this is a mid week supper and who wants to be making gnocchi after a hard day in the office when you are 'Hank Marvin' (rhyming slang for starving for the hard of Cockney). 

The Pizza Express tomato sauce is pretty good and (unsurprisingly) makes for a good and speedy pizza sauce. It only costs a quid so in reality it would be hard to make your own for less. Supermarket gnocchi is 'passable' but once jazzed up with all the other ingredients it all turns out fine. For four:

1x 400g tin of Pizza Express Tomato Sauce
1 packet of ready made fresh gnocchi
100g pinenuts
250g talleggio cheese, cut into small chunks
2 large head of purple kale, leaves separated from stems
1 bunch of basil
2 mild red chillies, deseeded and shredded
Extra virgin olive oil
50g butter
2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped

Get a large pan of salted boiling water on the stove and bring back to a rolling boil. Warm up the tomato sauce in a small pan. And in a large frying or sauté pan, melt the butter and olive oil together over a medium heat.

Blanch the kale in the boiling water for a few minutes until soft - you don't want the kale undercooked as it makes for tough eating in the finished dish. While the kale is blanching, fry the garlic and chilli in the oil and butter until it starts to go golden. Using a slotted spoon remove the kale from the water and toss into the butter and garlic mix - you want to keep the boiling water as the gnocchi goes in next.

While the gnocchi is cooking, stir the butter, garlic and chilli through the kale and season well. Toss in the talleggio, half the basil and half the pine nuts - stir through. When the gnocchi rises to the top of the water, it is cooked. Drain and toss into the kale mixture.

Smear a ladle full of the tomato sauce onto the bottom of four warmed pasta bowls or plates and top with the kale and gnocchi. Sprinkle over the remainder of the pine nuts and torn basil, drizzle with olive oil and serve.  A few shavings of parmesan would be great, but I forgot to buy any!!

Friday, March 7

Elizabeth David's Sussex Braised Shin of Beef

Continuing the theme of cheap, tasty and quick midweek suppers, here is a really old English dish from the book 'At Elizabeth David's Table'. I have tinkered with the recipe a little and whilst not quick to cook (it is a braise after all), the prep effort is minimal. Get the dish together on the weekend and then bung the lot in a slow cooker before you go to work, you will come home to a very welcoming smell in your kitchen. The flavour of this stew is very deep and without the need for meat stock. If you don't have any port, use red wine and a tsp of sugar. For four:

1.2kg shin of beef - boned and trimmed weight
1x 440ml can of guinness or dark beer
100ml cheap port
2 tbsp mushroom ketchup
1 medium onion, peeled and finely sliced
1 tbsp plain flour
A little veg oil
2 sprigs of thyme
1 sprig of rosemary
2 bay leaves
Lots of black pepper and salt to taste

Heat a large frying pan on the stove until smoking. Heavily season and oil the beef and fry until really crusty and brown on one side. Flip the beef and toss in the onions. Colour the beef to the same degree on the other side and fry the onions at the same time stiring occasionally so they don't burn. Remove the beef and add the flour stirring well into the onions. Remove the onions and put into the bottom of a slow cooker with the herbs, beef on top along with any juices. Deglaze the pan with the guinness, mushroom ketchup and port. Allow to bubble a little then add to the slow cooker. Season the stew with more black pepper and salt. 

You can stop here if you like and the beef will keep in the fridge for a few days until you want to cook it. In the morning before you go to work, set the slow cooker to low and set to braise for 5 hours. The stew gets better after a couple of days so you can leave in the fridge when cool and reheat later in the week.  Any leftovers make a great pie filling or can be shredded back into the gravy and run though some pasta with parmesan for more Italian twist.

I served mine with colcannon mash and roasted field mushrooms. Tear chunks off the beef (it will fall apart) and knapp over the gravy. 

Thursday, March 6

My Dad's Sausage Meat Plait

I have a bit of free time on my hands at the moment and decided to do a bit of cooking for the know...proper mid-week supper type stuff. This got me thinking that it might be interesting to do a mini series of dishes that fit the mantra "tasty, cheap and quick". So here we go…

My Dad used to make this for us all the time when I was a kid. In fact the only other dish he cooked was a weird rice salad of green peppers, onions and frankfurter sausages. This sausage plait is great, basically just a giant sausage roll and none the worse for it. The rice salad, not so great. Sorry Dad!

Ready rolled puff pastry from the supermarket
1 pack of really good quality sausages
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley
1 medium red onion, peeled and very finely chopped
2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 egg, beaten

Set the oven to 190c. Take the skins off the sausages and mix the meat with the onion, parsley and chilli sauce. Season the mix with lots of black pepper and a reasonable amount of salt. Unroll the pastry and shape the meat in the middle - you want a long sausage of even thickness running end to end along the centre of the pastry as if you were making a sausage roll. Using a sharp knife, make cuts along both free edges of the pastry, 2cm apart from the meat to the edge of the pastry. 

Egg wash and start to plait from one end, folding one pastry strip at a time over the meat at 45 degrees. Follow this with one strip from the other side and……urggh. This is really difficult to verbalise. If you struggle (and you really shouldn't as it is so easy) go and ask a six year old girl with long hair to show you how to plait hair. Hmmm….if you are a middle aged man perhaps don't ask a random six year old girl…..maybe look up 'how to plait' on Google. Moving on.

Egg wash the whole thing and place on baking parchment and then on a sturdy baking sheet. Bake for 35 to 45 mins until golden and piping hot in the middle. I served mine with mash and purple sprouting. Ketchup is the sauce of choice.