A cheeky little number….. Beef Cheeks.

Whenever I go home to the North I always call in at my favourite butcher’s, George Bolam at Sedgefield. It’s from here that I have got the more unusual cuts, like plate of beef or lamb henry, where I get the best belly pork, either in strips or rolled, to make the perfect joint with crackling. I get my favourite beef skirt from there, too – the tastiest and tenderest (if cooked quickly) steak imaginable. He makes his own haggis and black pudding and has the widest variety of sausages imaginable.  He has a bakery there too, a deli, a fish counter and an amazing selection of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Everything I get from George’s is absolutely fresh, generally local and incredibly good value and that is, I suppose, why all of us should support our local butchers rather than just buy meat from supermarkets.

On my last trip home, I called in to stock up on meat to bring back to the city and saw, for the first time on his shelves, cheeks of beef.

These are, as you would imagine, the cheeks of the cows. The price was incredible – 717g of meat for £3.14? I had to buy it and try it.

So, that was frozen and put into the freezer until I had time to think of what to do with it and the time to cook it.

And then I got ill. I could barely move and any cooking that needed me to be alert and available to do things was out of the question. To be fair, I didn’t want to eat either so for days I lived on hot drinks and an occasional slice of toast.

Then one day I realised I had to have more than that – the Bear needed feeding, for one thing. And then I remembered the beef cheeks in the freezer.

Now, a cheek of a cow would get a lot of exercise, I would have thought. All that chewing of the cud must give those cheek muscles a good work out. Cows seem to chew none stop. So a well muscled piece of meat would need long and slow cooking. And the best thing about long and slow cooking is that it requires minimal preparation, even less attention and the opportunity for a nap while it cooks.

The end result is always something succulent and tasty, perfect for anybody…. even an invalid.

That settled it. I summoned up the strength to go to the kitchen and took out the cheeks to defrost. I would cook them the next day.

The next morning, I unwrapped them and looked at them properly. They were much larger than I thought they were going to be.

What a size they were….I have normal human sized hands, you know, it’s not as if I am a miniature person. Each cheek was bigger than my outstretched hand.

That was going to feed four, at least.

As with so many delicious things, the simplest way is often the best way and with slow cooked food that seems to be particularly true.

I dusted them with flour…..

… and then browned them quickly in a splash of oil, in the bottom of a hot casserole.

I poured in some stock, made from granules and hot water and then thought I could perhaps boost the flavour even more……As we seemed to be stockpiling port, I decided to add a good amount of it to make the gravy even more delicious. I don’t know when we were going to get around to drink it all, so it seems a good choice to use it in cooking now and again.

Don’t worry if you haven’t got port, or don’t want to use it. Use all stock instead, or maybe add in some wine, or sherry… it’s your choice. You do need to add something to make the gravy with, so add enough liquid of whatever you fancy to just cover the meat.

I chopped in some carrots and parsnips and put the covered casserole into the oven at 160° C/320 °F for three hours.

The smell was amazing.

As the oven was on anyway, I scrubbed some potatoes, jabbed them with a knife so they wouldn’t burst, rubbed them with oil to make the skin crispy and put them in the oven to bake alongside the cheeks, then I went back to bed.

When I next roused myself, I went upstairs to a beautifully warm kitchen, filled with wonderfully rich and aromatic smells and opened the oven.

The potatoes were perfect and the beef cheeks looked good. More than good, actually.

I got a spoon to stir the vegetables and gravy round and moved a cheek… the spoon went through it.

Remember how big those cheeks were? Well they were still in one piece, it’s not as if it was all in bits and easy to scoop up. People say, when they are talking about tender meat, that you can cut it with a spoon but this was the first time ever that I really could do that.

The spoon sank through the silky soft meat and there, on the bowl of the spoon, was the most delicious looking piece of meat.

And the taste? It was beyond delicious. It was rich and soft, succulent and tasty.

Probably the best beef stew I had ever eaten. In fact, calling it a beef stew seems to be a bit of an insult.

The vegetables had kept their shape in the long, low and slow cooking and were perfectly tender. The funny thing is, I’m not that fond of cooked carrots, especially cooked carrots in what is, to all intents and purposes, a simple stew but these were gorgeous. They still tasted carroty but they also had a deep rich layer of taste from the gravy.  I loved them.

But it was the meat that was the star of the show and now, thinking back as I write this, I long for beef cheeks again. So much so that I’ve just ‘phoned my mother and asked her to go and get me some more and freeze them ready for me to collect on my next trip.

Those two cheeks made enough to feed four or five healthy appetites….and for those weakened by the dreadful colds and flu, well that boosted my appetite and for the first time in days I enjoyed my food.

Simple, so very simple and it cost so little.

If you see beef cheeks, buy them immediately. If you don’t see them, start picketing the butcher to get some for you. You won’t regret it… although you may regret the fact you spend days yearning for beef cheeks when there are none available.

Superfood salad

Right then. Celebrations  are over and spring is on the way. 

I have a new job and a new bounce to my step. Everything is looking bright and cheerful and I am filled with optimism. Not only about having a real job but I am optimistic about starting a diet. Well, when I say starting… I seem to remember saying I was starting one some months ago but the horribly cold weather and gloom got in the way.

The brighter days and increasing warmth make me feel lively and less in need of solid, warming foods. Lovely though that Toffee Apple Crumble was, it seems my tastebuds are shouting out for brighter, fresher things too.

One of the things the Bear and I like to eat when we start to feel like this is Superfood Salad.  Lovely chopped salad with fresh, raw vegetables and quinoa with a lovely savoury, light dressing.

It makes a delicious meal by itself, or perhaps served  as a side salad alongside salmon or chicken. 

The basis for the salad is quinoa (and if the spelling confuses you, it is pronounced “keenwa” ) It was important to the Incans of South America (who called it the Mother of all Grains”) but nowadays, according to Wikipedia,

” In contemporary times, this crop has become highly appreciated for its nutritional value, as its protein content is very high (12%–18%), making it a healthy choice for vegetarians and vegans. Unlike wheat or rice (which are low in lysine), quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it an unusually complete protein source.[4] It is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. Quinoa is gluten-free and considered easy to digest. Because of all these characteristics, quinoa is being considered a possible crop in NASA’s Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration manned spaceflights.[4]

I don’t suppose you can say fairer than that, can you? And if you add a good selection of fresh, crisp and crunchy vegetables, well, you have Superfood salad.

So, first of all, get your quinoa.  About a half a cup full would make enough, when cooked, to make a decent sized salad for maybe four people. Or, if you are us, it makes enough for supper with two portions left to take to work for lunch the next day.

Give it a rinse and then put it in a pan to boil. It will take maybe ten minutes.

You will know when it is ready, because it goes from looking like little grains into grains with little sprouts appearing

See what I mean?

I often put a sprinkle of stock powder into the water to give the quinoa a bit of a hint of taste… you could try that.

Next, start on the vegetables.

The Bear won’t eat anything “stringy” (he thinks celery will strangle him) so I peel the outside with the potato peeler to get the worst of the strings off.

Once the celery has been transformed from a Bear-strangling-vegetable into a crisp and juicy stick of fresh greenness, I chop it into cubes.

And do the same with baby courgettes

And after scooping out the wet, seedy middle of a cucumber, I chop that into bits, too.

Get carrots, baby corn, spring onions, red pepper and baby plum tomatoes and do exactly the same to them.

A ripe avocado makes a good addition as well.

Now it really is a case of just putting it together – I put a handful or so of sunflower and pumpkin seeds in a bowl, then having rinsed in cold water and drained the cooked quinoa

I add that to the bowl and stir it round

Then add the chopped vegetables, stirring them into the quinoa and seeds

A good handful of chopped nuts  gives the salad an extra crunchy dimension

I make a light dressing with some walnut oil, some balsamic vinegar and some lemon juice and pour that over the salad.

And that’s it!

Look at it, isn’t it pretty? Fresh and crispy and delicious?

By itself it is gorgeous but I want to add a little extra to make it the perfect spring meal….

I have a lovely crisp pear and some organic feta cheese that, if I cut up, will go perfectly.

All that needs is the juice of half a lemon pouring over it to stop the pear turning brown and you have a sharp, sweet and salty extra to add to the salad.

So…. all you have to do is get some quinoa, a selection of vegetables that you like and with the aid of a sharp knife you can make yourself a really tasty salad that will not only brighten up your day by the sheer colourful crunchiness of it but it will also do you the world of good.

Spring is here – let’s eat something light and bright and good for us!

Ham Hock Terrine

Well then. What’s a girl to do when she claps eyes on one of these?

A little porky trotter.

Well, if she is a cunning and cost concious cook and she also claps eyes on walloping great ham shanks

costing a mere £1.49, well then, the odds are that she starts to think of a delicious ham hock terrine, flecked with parsley and glistening with a soft and tasty jelly, just waiting to be eaten on some lovely No-Knead Bread…. perfect for a lovely light lunch or supper.

All you need are some ham shanks, a trotter (though if you can’t get one, you can use leaf gelatine – easy as anything – and I’ll tell you about that later)

A lovely big bunch of parsley and maybe some gherkins to chop through it later

 and a couple of carrots and an onion for the stock and a scattering of peppercorns

How simple a list of ingredients is that?

So first of all, rinse off your assorted bits of meat and pop them into the biggest pot you have (and really, don’t let that pig’s trotter worry you or put you off. It’s the traditional way to get a lovely jelly but if you can’t find one, or if you can’t face it, just relax. You can add leaf gelatine later)

You need to bring the pot up to a boil for a few minutes – this loosens all the impurities and brings them to the surface as a dirty foam.

See? Get that scooped off and then empty the water out.

Refill the pan with fresh water and start it boiling again, but now add the halved onion (no need to peel it) and a couple of carrots and a handful of peppercorns

Bring everything to the boil and then turn  the heat right down and let everything simmer away for couple of hours.

Check, occasionally, how soft and tender the meat is.

You are going to tear the meat into shreds for the terrine so you need it all to be cooked to sheer perfect tenderness.

See how soft and tender the meat looks? Just hook the shanks out and put them on a plate to cool.

Take out the trotter too – look at how that is all falling apart… it has almost dissolved, giving up all of the lovely gelatine you will need to set the terrine later. There’s not much meat to pick through there, so don’t worry if you haven’t added a trotter. It really has done its job so you can throw that away now.

Sieve the pan of stock of its vegetables and you are left with a pan of rich and flavoursome stock. This is going to form the jelly that enrobes the ham so you want it to be as tasty as possible.

The next thing to do is to boil it down, removing more of the water and concentrating the stock.

Because the jelly is also going to have parsley running through it, I thought I might as well add the parsley stalks to the final boil down, just giving it an extra depth of flavour.  Let the stock reduce some more then turn off the heat, sieve the parsley stalks out and let the stock cool.

If you haven’t used a pig’s trotter, after you have sieved the stock, get a sheet of leaf gelatine and soften it, first of all, in some cold water. When it is all soft and slippery, add it to the stock and stir it round. It will dissolve almost instantly. Now leave the stock to cool down.

While that is going on and the meat is also cooling down (well, you don’t want to burn your fingers when you are stripping the hocks, do you?) you need to prepare the terrine.

I bought that lovely Le Creuset terrine at Christmas and used it, first of all,  to bake a baguette  in and I swore then that I would get cracking on a terrine. It’s taken me all this time to get around to it.

Anyway, the thing to do is to make a liner and the easiest way to do it, is with good old cling film. Lay out sheets of cling film on the bench so you have three layers and then, after rinsing out the terrine dish with water (so everything  comes out easily later and it is easy to adjust the cling film), lay the film inside the pot

Right then… back to the meat.

By now it will be cool enough to handle and you can start to shred the meat into pieces.

Because it has cooled, the fat will have set  so you can make sure that you can leave that behind as well as the skin and the tendony-gristley bits. (Don’t squirm!)

Two ham shanks will give you a really big plateful of tender, delicious, juicy meat

Now, meat alone is very good but you really need something to sharpen it all up and this is where some lovely little gherkins transform this into the perfect dish

Chop them into little cubes so that when they mix with the meat and the parsley and the jelly they give you little bites of sharpness.

And the parsley? You used the stalks to add to the stock, now chop the leaves (and just the leaves, so strip them carefully)

Put the meat, the gherkins and the parsley into a big bowl and mix everything so you have an even distribution of all the ingredients

Now, it’s just a matter of putting everything together.

Pack in the meat and parsley/gherkin mix and then slowly pour in the cooled stock.

I say do it slowly because you need it to seep in and around the meat so everything holds together when it is set. Just pour it in till the stock just covers the meat.

Then fold over the edges of the cling film

See? A lovely neat parcel. And that’s it. It just needs to set now.

Now, you can make a lid to fit, by cutting cardboard and covering it with clingfilm and lying it on top of the meat. This makes it easy to press down on the terrine and helps it set tight… thing is, this was so packed with meat that once I covered the top with cling film  and pressed down lightly, I realised that it was already packed tight.

So all I did was put it in the fridge to set over night…

The next day, planning a lovely light lunch for The Bear and myself, I took out the chilled and now solid terrine.

The cling film made it easy to lift out the terrine

You just get hold of the extra film and lift….. and then pop it onto a plate

How beautiful is that?

The gorgeous pink, juicy meat with leaves of lovely parsley and little nuggets of gherkin all in a lovely, savoury, light jelly….

Just the thing with some lightly toasted bread, some salad leaves and a dab of  parsley mayonnaise.

So, the next time you spot some ham shanks and maybe a pig’s trotter and only about £3.20 in your purse, do you think you might just think of making a delicious terrine? 

Beef and Ale Casserole with dumplings

I’ve been craving big meaty dishes  recently. It’s the bad weather of course. That and still feeling sorry for myself after I fell on the ice and banged my head so hard. I still have a bump you know and  I just hope I don’t go bald because I have a very odd shaped head now.

When you think about it, that could have been a really nasty accident, so the best thing to do is to celebrate…. not with champagne… but with dumplings!  There’s something rather lovely about a dumpling, don’t you think?

I used to hate them – as I did anything that reminded me of a school dinner.

How on earth could a mixture of suet and flour possibly taste half way decent? My friends talked of the joys of a decent dumpling, all crisp on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside, bobbing merrily about on a luscious stew or casserole but I still refused to have anything to do with them.

I have no idea what changed my mind but one day I thought it couldn’t possibly be as bad as I thought. I think I’d been to my favourite butcher and seen fresh suet for sale at a ridiculously low price and thought I had to give it a go. I knew that I had managed to conquer other fixed dislikes…. it really does come down to how things are made.

So if I was to experiment, then buying some suet for 33p wouldn’t break the bank, would it?

33p? For 282g? That had to be a bargain and I had to be able to make something decent with it. So I did. I looked up recipes and thought about what I wanted to achieve and then I made my first dumplings.

I’ve never looked back. I’ve made apple and chive dumplings to go with a chicken and cider casserole.

I made minty dumplings to go with lamb. I’ve made all sorts of dumplings and, do you know, I have enjoyed every one.

Now I fancied a beef and ale stew…and what would I do with the dumplings? I thought I would mix beer in them…

I had some lovely beef, just crying out to be made into a stew, and some incredibly beautiful looking carrots from the farm shop….

And I had some ale – Theakston’s XB. It would be the work of moments to get everything ready the night before and then just set it off in the slow cooker when I went to work. I’d be able to sit at my desk all day, knowing that while I was working, the supper would be cooking, and, best of all, when I opened the door of the apartment, I would be greeted by the smell of a rich and delicious stew. I love coming home to the smell of supper waiting for you. But until I become independently wealthy and can afford household staff, it is only going to happen when I sort things out by putting something in the slow cooker the night before…….

I really do think the slow cooker has been worth every penny I paid for it. I was always too cautious to go out leaving the oven on all day but I feel quite safe with the slow cooker. Maybe it is because I grew up with a gas oven and there was always the potential for explosion… I don’t know.

Anyway, fast as you can, peel and chop carrots and put half of them in the slow cooker

Sear the chopped stewing steak in a hot pan with some oil.

Put that in on top of the vegetables

Cover the meat with the rest of the carrot and onion, give everything a quick but generous shake of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce and then pour in a bottle of ale.

That pan that you seared the meat in? Look at the lovely meat juices in there…

Add a spoonful of flour and stir it round to mix with the meaty juices

That will thicken the gravy beautifully while it chugs away when I am at work, so there’s no need to worry about cooking it out. Just get a smooth mixture

And pour it over the meat and vegetables in the slow cooker.

And that’s it till the next morning. Maybe ten minutes work, including wiping up.

One word of advice though… if you do this, as I did at 11.00pm, you will go to bed with everywhere smelling of fried meat. Maybe it would be better to do it earlier in the evening.

I wished I’d done it earlier as I lay there, trying to get to sleep, smelling meat that overpowered everything else, including the  lavender that I normally sprinkle on my pillow. Serves me right, eh? I should have got everything done sooner instead of leaving it till the last minute.

See that? Pitch black at 7.15 am and I am on my way out of the door – but not before I have turned on the slow-cooker. I use the Auto setting, which means it starts it off high and then turns down to low for the rest of the day.

And off I go to earn my pennies….

On my return, there’s a glorious smell of meaty loveliness… and all I have to do is mix up some dumplings.

Now, I would have fancied putting some horseradish in the dumplings to give them a bit of a zing, but the Bear hates horseradish (I really will have to do something about that…. ) so I think tonight I will mix the dumplings with beer, instead of water. That should give them a lovely beery, malty kick. Perfect for beef in ale….

120g of self raising flour and 60g of that lovely suet … mix it together with

a teaspoon of stock granules… I need to put some seasoning in – salt and pepper is good,  but I thought this might round the flavour out ….

 And instead of mixing it with cold water, a couple of tablespoons of beer will do just fine.

That does, of course, leave you with the rest of the bottle to deal with…..which might not be considered a hardship.

Anyway, roll that slightly sticky dough into dumplings (remember they will expand in the stew)  and pop them in, but because I am using a small two-person slow cooker, I can only get four in… so the rest go into the oven alongside some little potatoes which are baking….

they will  crisp up beautifully… while the others baste  in that gorgeous meat and gravy

They swell plumply as they bob about…..

And the baked ones have a gorgeous crispy crust…

Look at that – steaming, savoury beef in ale with dumplings that make you laugh with pleasure.

Can’t ask for anything more, can you?

Beans…. for beans on toast

When I want to cheer the Bear up, or give him a special treat,  I tend to make him beans. It’s probably his favourite meal.

When he’s been travelling, he will phone from some far-flung corner of the world and ask me if I will make him beans on toast when he gets in.

This isn’t the ordinary, open a can, heat through and serve on white sliced sort of beans on toast… this is something that has developed in the time we have been together.

It all started when he asked me to marry him and I accepted (but you guessed that bit, right?) and then I went to Florence with my best friend for a little holiday. I have to point out, though, that this had been arranged for ages.. it wasn’t a reaction to being engaged. Anyway, D and I had a marvellous time, visiting her son and while we were there, often had cannellini beans with tomato and sage and pancetta, served with good Italian bread…. a traditional Tuscan dish. It is truly delicious – very simple but beautifully tasty.

I asked the chef at one restaurant, La Giostra how it was done. Now, I said these weren’t just any beans, nor was this just any chef…he is Prince Dimitri Kunz d’Asburgo Lorena.

It’s just beans he said…… cannellini beans in stock from vegetables, with some sage, olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and pancetta. But it’s slow…. you take your time. The flavours reflect the care you put into it.

When I came back I was telling the Bear about this wonderful restaurant, in a 16th Century building in the heart of Florence and how one of my favourite things had probably been this incredibly simple dish. He asked me to try and make it for him. And I did. I remembered what Prince Dimitri had said and I produced beans Tuscan style and it became a favourite of ours …. but as with all cooking, things change over time. I replaced, at one point, the pancetta with streaky bacon and chorizo, giving it a deeper, richer flavour and, after going out one day and leaving the beans bubbling down in the tomatoes until it became a thicker, more concentrated tomatoey bean dish, realised I liked it more with a thicker sauce. Maybe that’s because I’m not eating it in Florence….

I serve it with toasted No Knead Bread and we call it beans on toast.

First, get a bag of cannellini beans  – you will need about 250g for maybe 4 or so healthy sized portions. Dried beans need to be soaked overnight to get them ready for their proper cooking.

I once had dried beans that no matter what I did with them, they just refused to soften. Maybe they were a rogue batch, so after that I always made sure I had some cans of cannellini beans in as well. They are just as good and means that you can make beans that day, if you want them rather than waiting for the following day after they have soaked overnight.

So… either soak your beans and start the recipe the next day.. or open 3 cans of beans….

Give the beans a good rinse and then put them in a pot with some fresh water, some sprigs of sage and a carrot to add flavour to the stock.

Peel and chop 3 or 4 cloves of garlic (I cut it to roughly the size of the beans) and put them in the pot with a good slug of olive oil.

And then set the beans away – bring the pan to the boil, gently and then let them bubble softly away at a simmer until they soften. When I had that batch of beans that refused to soften I started adding a sheet of kombu to the pan (remembering to fish it out later) This is Japanese seaweed and it is supposed to help beans soften… it also adds a savour to the stock – more of the umami hit that makes everything taste so rich and full. Not seaweedy at all, so don’t worry.  It’s not hard to get hold of if you want to give it a go – it will be in the health food/world food sections in supermarkets.

Let everything bubble away until you know the beans are softening. Or, if you are using cans of beans, just get them heated through for a few minutes in water, with the garlic and sage.

Now add two tins of chopped plum tomatoes

Stir it round – see how the beans are still distinctly white against the tomato? You want to get them to the stage where they are infused with tomatoey colour and flavour.

If you have some spare red wine, add a sloosh of that – maybe half a glass or so.

Turn the heat down so that you get the pan to bubble softly – the effect you are aiming for is for the occasional lazy bubble to pop to the surface. You can leave it doing that for an hour or so. You might need to add some more water – just keep half an eye on it and watch how it goes.

Now, get your chorizo and slice it

Don’t forget to pull off the covering around it… you don’t want to eat that.

Then dry fry it gently – see how the oil comes out?

You need to colour both sides and then take it out of the pan to cool before cubing it. Don’t throw that oil out… you pour that into the beans.

If you have streaky bacon, slowly fry that too and then cut that into pieces, before adding that and the chorizo to the beans.

Stir it all round and add another glug or two of olive oil.

Give it time to relax together – taste the sauce.. is it to your liking? Does it need some salt? It’s really only at this stage you add salt – if you do it as the beans are boiling you will toughen the skins.

Chop some sage leaves finely to scatter into the pot

It should be a rich tomato sauce with hints of the paprika from the chorizo, a slight muskiness from the sage, aromatic from the garlic and olive oil….

Slice and toast some good bread – and by that I mean sourdough or the lovely No Knead Bread, or maybe good Italian bread… just as long as it isn’t white sliced, which would just dissolve into nothingness.

And serve proudly, knowing you have made a meal from simple ingredients, that cost pennies and makes people smile.

Boxing Day Breakfast Bonanza

Boxing  Day is so much more relaxed than Christmas Day, because there’s time for idling about. I can’t be bothered, nor can I afford, to go shopping in the sales, so Boxing Day to us means a slow start.

And with a slow start comes a desire for a proper breakfast. None of this leaping up before 6 am and having a fruit smoothie in a rush to get ready for work. Today involves a gentle amble round the kitchen, looking out of the windows at the snow piled up outside, while drinking a coffee.

A slow start means you are more than ready for a more substantial breakfast… smoothies are fine, delicious even, but somehow on days like this your mind wanders towards some sort of fry up.

As it is Boxing Day there are leftovers from Christmas Day… sprouts, carrots, roast potatoes… and a couple of pigs in blankets.

There are even some carrot and parsnip parcels wrapped in Parma Ham

All of  that would fry up nicely. Not exactly bubble and squeak but as near as possible….

So start chopping those vegetables

You want lots of edges so they can brown and crisp in a big frying pan with a spoonful of oil

Give it all a good stir round

Now those browned bits are slightly carmelised… there’s a sweetness and a hint of charring.  And who on earth would not like fried potatoes?

What other day of the year would you look at a cold Brussels sprout and say to yourself that it would be all the better for frying up for breakfast?  All you need for breakfast perfection is a fried egg

Broccoli slaw

Those of you who know me, know I adore broccoli.

 Those of you who don’t know me yet will soon learn…

I REALLY love broccoli……. once when  I left a temping assignment, they bought me presents… chocolate and wine, a lovely card…. and a  head of broccoli! OK, so that was a joke but it reflected the fact that there were so many packed lunches of mine that involved broccoli.

I thought I had broccoli cracked… I’d make soup, or steamed with chilli, or Thai green curry, or eat it raw, broccoli puree, broccoli with lemon, broccoli hot.. broccoli cold…. anything really. I love broccoli. I thought I had worked my way through the entire broccoli cookbook.

And then I read The Weekend Carnivore and Sarah Jayne wrote about Broccoli Slaw…. she added apricots, which I would never do,  but even so.. broccoli? Something new to do with broccoli? Oh I was happy!

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I often make coleslaw and we love it but this was different… using the broccoli stem instead of cabbage.

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Simple enough… just slice the broccoli stem into slices across and then across again and again until you have pieces the size of matchsticks.

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… and grate the carrot

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When you make cole slaw, you really have to add onion but I really don’t like lots of it. If I eat big bits of raw onion I get a headache… weird, eh? So what I have done to get round that is to use a microplane grater and grate some raw onion so it comes out rather like a puree….

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and what I do then is add it to some mayonnaise to give the taste of onion without too much harshness.

I love making my own mayonnaise because I can tweak it according to what I intend to eat it with… lemon, perhaps, or chilli. This time I just wanted plain mayonnaise so the clean crisp flavours of the carrots and broccoli could shine through.

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Stir in all that lovely, sweet, grated carrot

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Then add the broccoli and a sprinkling of lovely Maldon Salt and stir it round…..


This is gorgeous. Really gorgeous.

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And when fed to Bears? Bears who swear they won’t eat broccoli? Well………. it was eaten. And enjoyed!

To think that some people  throw the stem out….

Pauper’s Pea and Ham Soup

I bought a bacon shank while I was out because I had a fancy for pea and ham soup…. and because I haven’t been paid since September, I am being very cautious with what is left of my cash.

What could be better, then, than a thick and savoury soup, where the ingredients come to less than £2?

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99p for a big and hefty bacon shank….

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49p for 500g of split peas

A couple of carrots, some onion and a few bay leaves from the tree on the balcony and you have all you need to make a delicious supper.

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The thing is, it does take time to do this but the way round it is to start the day before. This amounted to a few minutes work and then leaving it to simmer for a couple of hours. That was OK by me because I knew that the following night I would come in to a perfectly cooked soup that would just need a few minutes work.

I’m a great fan of food that you can spend just a short time on and then leave it to cook quietly….. I work full time and I don’t always want to spend hours cooking when I get in at night.

So…. carrots cut roughly, as was the onion, and then they were put into a pan with the bacon shank

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I poured in the full bag of split peas

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And then brought everything up to the boil.

See? That isn’t much work, is it?

You do have to hover about every now for the first ten minutes or so  because you need to scoop off the froth that come up…. but it’s no real hardship

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Doesn’t take long though and once it’s done, put the lid on and leave everything to simmer for a couple of hours.

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That’s it, for one night… just turn the heat off and leave it, you will finish it off the following night.

So, when you come in the next night, you will find a big pan of cold and solid soup. That’s good – it shows that the bacon shank has done its job.

Heave the shank out of the pan… and I do mean heave….I had to lever it out

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Look at how it has set!


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 I like a smooth texture with a few split peas, so what I do is take out a couple of ladlefuls of the peas, remembering to remove the bay leaves and blitz the rest to a glorious silky smooth base

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Now all you have to do is shred that shank….

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There’s a lot of meat on there…

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Remember I said I took out a couple of ladles of the peas before I blitzed the rest? I put them back in now to give just a bit of texture to the smooth base

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… and then add that lovely, shredded bacon

And just to show how easy it is, I made foccacia bread.. this time chopping  sage leaves and garlic into the mix

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It really is the easiest bread in the world to make and takes maybe 15 minutes in the oven

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Another 30p maybe for the flour? Pennies for the yeast and salt and oil? The sage leaves I got from the pot on the balcony….

Still under £2, then.

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And truly, the work involved for soup and bread was minimal… a bit of chopping the night before, scooping off the froth from the boiling peas and then leaving it to do its thing…and tonight? Shredding the bacon and blitzing half the soup… mixing some dough….

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That made 4 huge and sustaining bowls of soup…..

……the bacon shreds were delicious bites in the silky soup…. ohhh it was delicious.

I loved it and my purse loved it. I’d make this even if I wasn’t almost penniless.

Noodles and Prawns

As part of the Bear’s training process ( in order to be truly omnivorous, he must learn to eat everything… and that includes shellfish) I am trying out various prawn recipes on him. He used to  get a very stubborn look on his face when I suggested shellfish and shake his head fiercely but he is getting used to me insisting he tries a mouthful, at least. These tactics are beginning to pay off. 

He not only ate his salt and pepper prawns but actively enjoyed them and would have eaten more but for the fact I insisted I had my fair share. I moved onto the next step in my plan….

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I knew he had liked the savouriness of the salt and pepper prawns and I wanted to give a hint of that when cooking this next lot. I decided that a marinade would boost things up, so I mixed a bowl, using Chinese cooking wine, some sweet soy sauce, some sweet chilli sauce and some sunflower oil. A squeeze of lemon would sharpen up what would be a sweetly savoury spicy marinade.

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 In went the prawns and I got on with other stuff. I thought noodles and vegetables would be good to go with it

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I had an orange pepper, some spring onions, a carrot, some garlic and ginger and some Chinese leaves. They would give a lovely crunch to the dish and be a good contrast to the softness of the noodles. I got some ready (because this is so quick to do, you need to have everything ready before you start cooking)

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With some hot oil in my largest frying pan (I really should get a wok, you know, but our kitchen is tiny and there isn’t another square inch of space to put anything and the benches are full already)

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I started by frying some garlic and ginger with a splash of sweet soy

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and then started frying the pepper, carrot and spring onion

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then the shredded bits of chinese leaves

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Put the noodles in and stir fry quickly.

Next step….prawns. By now they will have been doused in the marinade

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Squeeze a lime – roll it first to get the juice going .. you will need that to squeeze over the cooking prawns

 and then take out the noodles and vegetables – you are going to need that pan for the prawns

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Pour in the marinade as well – there is oil in there… just look how quickly they go from grey to pink….

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And serve. Some finely chopped spring onions scattered over the top just sets things off.

And was it eaten? Yes it was, by a person who says he hates shellfish. Well that’s two lots he has eaten now…. and it’s not as if he left any. Was it enjoyed? Draw your own conclusions.

Chicken soup with rose harissa buns

… nothing better when you are feeling low and ill. And there’s nothing better for your bank balance that making a meal from scraps and leftovers.

It’s flu season and people are dropping like flies. What we need is soup.. chicken soup. Apparently it really does work!

First thing, get your chicken. Now you can do this with a whole, raw chicken, of course, but I use up the carcass of a roasted chicken.

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See, there’s still some chicken on there… there’s the bones and the skin. They are just waiting to be turned into delicious soup to soothe you and make you better.

You’ll need some vegetables for the stock… a leek, say and a carrot or two

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Put them in a large pot and strip your chicken from the bones…. tear off the spare chicken and leave the carcass

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See? There’s a good bowl full of chicken shreds there

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Put the chicken carcass and whatever bits of skin and so on that are left in the pot with the vegetables. add some peppercorns and a some salt and set it away to simmer. After an hour and a half or so, the stock is more or less ready….

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You need to drain it… get a colander or sieve and putting it over another pan (this is SO important…. don’t laugh because in a rush I once forgot and managed to lose a quarter of my stock… goodness knows what i was thinking of! I had a colander with the boiled vegetables and skin and bones and my stock, my delicous stock, was disappearing down the sink!) anyway… make sure you drain it into another pan… If you were doing this for guests and wanted the clearestr stock imaginable them drain it through muslin. I was just doing this for us so I reckoned the colander was fine.

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See those vegetables? Well they have more or less donated their all to the soup.. the leek definitely has, though the carrots may still have a bit of life in them… anyway, with the rest of your leek, slice it very finely and get some pretty baby carrots.. or chop your cooked carots a bit smaller

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And add them to the pot of stock.

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Taste it. Does it need a pinch more salt? Some pepper?

Then add your chicken that you had pulled off the bones earlier

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Let it cook for a while.. not long… those baby carrots, if you added them will need a few minutes.. and then…..

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Chicken soup to soothe your cold… can you see how that could cure you?

Far better than cough and cold medicine. And you were using scraps and leftovers!

Add a couple of little breadbuns and you have a brilliant meal. I used the same recipe for the little loaves but left out the usndried tomatoes and chillies  and added rose harissa to the dough… a chilli, spice and rose scented paste. Not as odd as it sounds and oh, how it livens up the dough!

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You can do it… just give it a go!