Spicy Oxtail and the bump on the head

Yesterday was a work day and I was up before 6 as usual. I got up, showered, dried my hair and got ready for work and was out of the door by 7.25. I didn’t go to work though.

Instead, I spent the day here

stretched out on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket, with an ice pack on my head.

Why? Well, I got out of the main doors of our apartments and slid along the black ice to my car. The pavements were like a skating rink and I thought things were bad, but at least it wasn’t snowing heavily.

I scraped the ice from the windows and waited till the car  was warmed up before setting off. The car (a huge and heavy old diesel, but excellent in bad weather) was slipping a bit… but at least I was moving. I got to the corner where we turn to go down the hill and saw cars sliding down sideways in the ice. Our grit ran out days ago and despite the best efforts of us all to keep the hill clear, there’s only so much we can do.

This was getting ridiculous and I thought that the best thing to do would be to put the car back and get the bus into work.

Turned out that the buses were cancelled. Our neighbours were all standing around and we watched the more foolish young ones try to drive up the hill to get out … the snow was whirling round and their cars were sliding backwards. One of the neighbours said the road had been closed to stop accidents and that the cars were being turned round.

So, being a good neighbour I went to see if they needed help pushing – the Bear and I had been out over the weekend to help and with just a couple of people helping, the cars can get moving again. Once it was clear maybe the roads would be better and we could all get out. Great idea, eh?

Except I stepped on black ice.  My feet soared upwards and I fell backwards cracking down on my head on the pavement. I lay there completely stunned until a really lovely neighbour picked his way across the ice to haul me up. That was it for me. I made it back home to show the Bear what a stupid thing I’d done.

I have a huge egg sized bump on the back of my head and all I wanted to do was to sit still with a bag of ice on the back of my head. I just lay there feeling very sorry for myself while the weather got worse outside. The snow had been thawing and the grass clearing  but now it was back with a vengeance.

Just as well, then, that I had started making the oxtail I had planned for tonight and the last thing I did before setting off was to turn on the slow cooker.

I’d been thinking about cooking the oxtail I had in the freezer and I wanted to do something different with it. I was thinking of a sharper taste to it than the normal beefy gravy and vegetables …… so at 11pm the night before,I started getting things ready.

That beautiful oxtail was only £1.98.

As with any slow cooked meat, you need to sear it, browning the outsides before you put it in the  pot. This is not just for cosmetic reasons, because the brown outside is so much more appealing, but because the slightly caramelised burt brown bits add to the flavour of the gravy.

While that was searing, I chopped an onion and put half of that in the base of the slow cooker pot.

A few cloves of garlic would be great with the flavours I was planning…….

The oxtail pieces went in on top of the onion, then the rest of the onion went on top

Then three dessertspoonfuls of hoisin sauce, with some ginger .. I was using a tube because, with all the bad weather, I hadn’t gone shopping much and I was running low on fresh ingredients.

I put in some Lea and Perrins to sharpen it slightly – a good shake of it, all over the top

and one of those lovely chillies from the chilli oil jar.

Some water and some stock granules to make sure there was enough liquid in there and that, as they say, was that.

OK so it was a bit late to be searing meat but I knew that all I had to do in the morning was turn it on.  I would get the Bear (who was to be working at home) to put in some cubed sweet potato at some point in the afternoon.

Still, it had only taken me ten minutes to get that ready so I couldn’t complain.

And how glad I was that I did it. I really couldn’t have managed to sort anything out after that bang on the head. I just lay there, listening to the occasional gloop and bubble sound from the slow cooker and breathin in  the spicy, meaty smell as it cooked.

I did manage to peel a sweet potato

and cube it, before putting it in on top of the half cooked oxtails, before going back to lie on the sofa.

And that was delicious. A jacket potato on the side was perfect to soak up the gravy.

We ate it at about 7 pm and it was a lovely mix of sweetness, sharpness and meatiness. You wouldn’t have particularly known that it was a mixture of hoisin and Worcestershire sauce but it did make a really lovely gravy.

All that from one oxtail, one sweet potato and one onion. Bargain!

Plate of beef

One of the best things in the world is to be able to spend time with your friends.

And when one of those friends is someone you have known since you were eleven years old, well, it is even better. Let’s just say that more than one decade has passed since we met. We could, in fact, be talking about decades in the plural. Several decades.

Be that as it may, it is J’s birthday on Christmas Eve. This always gives me great joy because for a few short weeks she is, technically, a year older than me. The Bear and I always try to be back for J’s birthday and it is something of a tradition of ours that she and K, her husband, come to stay on Boxing Day.

We cook for them and make it a special night.

I decided to do beef and chose one of the cheapest cuts – plate of beef.  I didn’t choose cheap because I wanted to cut corners and costs, I chose it because it has the most incredible flavour.

Plate of beef is the cut from the cow’s diaphragm muscles, the underneath of the cow, with the rib bones attached. A related cut is beef skirt that I use when I want to make  steak and chips. Plate of beef is fattier and tougher than skirt and the best way to cook it is to let is cook slowly for a long time and make sure you have some liquid to keep it moist.

See the layers, interspersed with fat? They need to be cosseted in a low oven so the fat renders down and turns everything into a soft, juicy and unbelievably flavoursome piece of meat. A braise is a good way of doing it but I wanted it as a slow roasted piece of meat….

That’s a big piece of meat for under £5. The butcher scores the outside so you just need to season it and choose something for the liquid not-quite-braise.

I stand the meat on a rack at first and pour over my favourite marinade – a mixture made with

Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce which gives it a sharper savoury flavour

Some Indonesian Sweet Soy Sauce which adds a rounded sweet flavour

Half a glass of red wine… because, well, why wouldn’t you? 

(The Bear saw me walking across the kitchen with the glass and was horrified at the thought I had turned to drink – it was, after all, quite a bit before midday and I was going to be driving)

A grinding of white pepper finishes it off.

Pour a glass of water into the tin (not over the meat) to keep the moisture levels up and that’s it.

This truly is a delicious marinade for meat – it seems to deepen the meaty flavour and none of the ingredients overpowers the others. It all seems to work really well together. Try it.

I put it in the oven at 1 pm, at 120 degrees C, covered with foil to keep the steam and the delicious juices in and then set off to do other stuff.

When we came back at about 5 pm it all smelled deep and meaty and hinted at juicy, glistening pieces of meat to eat later. The best thing about this cut is that is very forgiving in terms of time.

I took it off the rack and let it lie in the meat juices and marinade, then I just left it as it was until it was ready to finish off.

About an hour before we were ready to eat, I turned the heat up to 175 and took the foil off for the final 30 – 40 minutes.

I set the table and got ready

I was going to make the meal a simple one… just meat and some veg… but it was going to be marvellously tasty meat and veg.

Potatoes were parboiled and drained. If you do this in a colander, give them a good shaking so they roughen a bit and and then throw them into sizzling goose fat . I use a baking tray with an shallow edge on it and put a good two tablespoons of goose fat on it and let it heat up for ten minutes or so before I throw on the potatoes.

If they have had a bit of roughening round the edges, it lets the goose fat get in and make a lovely crispy and crunchy crust. The insides stay beautifully fluffy.  They just need to be turned so they brown all over.

I steamed some carrots and parsnips ( I had prepared too many batons the day before for Christmas lunch, but, kept in the fridge, they were still perfectly fresh and just needed a light cooking) and then tossed them in with the potatoes.

Time to start getting things ready.. so the candles were lit

The meat taken out to rest. The pan was deglazed with another half glass of red wine – it sizzled  and spluttered and the meat juices and marinade turned in a gravy that was so delicious you might be happy drinking it.

The meat looked fantastic.

The champagne was poured and the birthday girl was toasted (while I laughed quietly to myself because I am not as old as she is…… yet!)

And the meat carved into great, luxurious slices of rich and juicy beef…

All I needed to do now is call the birthday girl to the table, and get everyone to join her for her birthday meal

The plate of beef was considered a resounding success – it’s an underused cut and perhaps people think it is tricky to deal with or maybe ordinary and boring. It was easy – a marinade, a slow cooking throughout the afternoon with a final burst of heat to finish it off. The flavour is incredible – rich, deep and complex. The essence of meaty beefiness.

Just because it is inexpensive doesn’t mean it can’t be part of a special dinner.

Find a decent butcher who will sell you this cut and try it yourself. You will be very glad you did.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

As it is getting towards Halloween you see pumpkins everywhere, in every farm shop and greengrocer.

I thought that I would make pumpkin soup this week and then the Bear had the brilliant idea of also making our own roasted pumpkin seeds to have as a snack. They are full of fibre, high in protein and anti oxidants so they are, actually, a health food… despite tasting absolutely delicious.

First of all, get your pumpkin!                               Beans and belly pork 036

Cut it open ……

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 and start scooping out those seeds! They are your bonus – you’re making soup with the flesh and what you would have discarded you are now going to make into tasty little bites. Put the oven on to preheat at about 150 degrees

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 You need to scrape the fibres off

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And then give them a good rinse under the tap because they are very slippery and the gloopy bits rinse away easily enough

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Put them on a clean tea towel and rub them dry… well, you won’t be able to do that but you can get a lot of moisture off them

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You need to think about how you want to flavour the seeds – I fancied spicy ones and looked to see what was in the cupboards that I could use. I regularly make chilli oil by popping chillies into a bottle and topping it up with grapeseed or sunflower oil. It’s not particularly hot but it just adds a hint of heat. Worcestershire sauce would be nice too and I also found some Jerk Seasoning which I thought would just fit the bill as a flavouring dust to help crisp things up

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The oven should now be hot, so get a baking tray and put one of those silicon sheets on…. or cover it with tin foil, sprinkle that with the oil, pour on the pumpkin seeds, add a teaspoon or so of Worcestshire Sauce,  salt and then shake that Jerk Seasoning over the whole lot.

Roasted pumpkin seeds 020 Into the oven with it and that’s where it will stay for the next 15 – 30 minutes.

You need to keep checking though and stirring them round because they can burn easily but you’ll see them turn a lovely toasty colour. Put them onto some kitchen towel to absorb any extra oil

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Let them cool  and then serve those crunchy morsels up. If you served them with a glass of wine, I reckon you’d be hitting every health button there was!

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There you have it – tasty snacks from the stuff you would otherwise throw away. I think we deserve medals for being so creative and cost concious. Cheers!

Steak and chips…..

When I was back in the North, visiting the family, I went to the local butcher’s and bought, amongst other things, a big piece of beef skirt – a long flat piece of beef from the underbelly of the cow. The French call it ‘bavette’ and seem to value it more than we do. It is really tasty ( and by that I mean REALLY tasty) and you can either cook it slowly to tenderise it or give it a marinade and cook it quickly, keeping it relatively rare and serving it as as a steak.

Well, it is the weekend…. steak and chips and a glass of red seemed an excellent choice.

I don’t have a deep fat fryer because I really don’t like the smell of frying circulating everywhere through the apartment and also because, coward that I am, I’m always scared it will catch fire. So the chips would have to be made in the oven. That’s OK though, they still taste good. I suppose you could also say they were good for you because they aren’t deep fried.. they’re baked!

First, get your things togetherSteak, bread and Cookery Lotto 001 for the marinade – you need


Lea and Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce

Soy sauce ( I used some Sweet Soy Sauce, because that was at the front of the cupboard. Otherwise use ordinary soy)


and salt.

Chop, or crush, your garlic. Mix it with 4 tablespoons of oil,  2 tablespoons of Lea and Perrins and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce. Add some salt. Give it a whisk together with a fork….


See this piece of wonderful beef skirt?  Maybe we should call it bavette, like the French. It sounds so much better, don’t you think? And not expensive… this cost me £4.56. Look at the size of it!

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Then, with your fork, give your wonderfully inexpensive piece of beef skirt a good jabbing. This will help the marinade sink in…

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The marinade is essential to prepare it for a quick grilling – that keeps it tender.




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Leave it for a couple of hours (though if you were incredibly organised you could even leave it to marinade overnight. I’m not, so I can’t really tell you if it makes it dramatically better. Two hours works fine for me) Keep turning it so it gets an even marinade.



Steak and chips 002     Peel and cut your spuds into chips.

Then boil them for 3 or 4 minutes in salted water, drain them and shake them dry.

Steak and chips 003Sprinkle them with oil and a shaking of salt ( I always use Maldon because I love the large crystals and I think it tastes ‘cleaner’ than ordinary table salt. I’m sure there’s a bit of a chemical tang to pouring salt but maybe that is just me being pretentious.)

Make sure the chips have a light coating of oil by rolling them about a bit on a greased sheet and then put them in a hot oven – 170 degrees or so. Because you have partly cooked the potato it will only take about 15 to 20 minutes to cook properly and brown to a delicious chip crispiness.


Now…. heat your grill till it is as hot as it can go. The aim is to get that steak cooked as quickly as possible, leaving the inside pinkish. That will keep it tender. Whack it on the grill and cook it for 8 to 10 minutes, turning it once. It will be gorgeously, glisteningly brown and still pink in the middle.

While that’s cooking, you have enough time to make a delicious garlic sauce by chopping some garlic finely, heating it in 4 tablespoons of butter and adding a teaspoon of Worcestershire Sauce. Simmer it gently and get ready to put everything together…..

Take the steak out and slice it across the grain – that’s the short side… so it looks like this….

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Pile your chips up.


Put the sliced steak on the plate and pour some delicious garlic sauce over the meat.


Pour a glass of red wine.


Remember to wipe your mouth afterwards – that will remove the garlic sauce that may have dribbled and the self satisfied smirk that will be all over your face after making such a delicious meal for two for just over £5.