Monday, 29 August 2011

A Bit Gross, but Worth It: Pork Scratchings

I like to take the meaty theme of a barbie seriously. You cannot overdo it on the meat front as far as I am concerned, and when pondering what kind of nibbly pre-main-event morsels I could provide for our BBQ yesterday, the slabs of pork fat in my freezer were calling me. Oink. But let me explain, I didn't go out shopping for pig skin especially (although I might now), but the nice people at Farmer's Choice, where I get most of my meat from, had popped four packs of the stuff in my last order, a little porcine present for me. As soon as I saw them I knew they'd be turned into pork scratchings, but I needed an excuse and reason, and they didn't come out to play until yesterday.

Making them was a little guess work and common sense. I'm not ashamed to admit I was properly grossed out by the mass of (hairy in patches) pale, leathery skin, but the possibility of crunchy, salty, porky treats was enough to get me through it. I say possibility, because I wasn't 100% sure they were going to turn out right. But they did, they were a triumph and this is how I made them:

Dry off the pork skin with kitchen roll and lay flesh side down and sprinkle with salt. Leave for half an our, meanwhile pre-heating the oven to max temperature. Brush off the salt and dry again. Cut into pork scratching sized strips (not the highlight of my day, I used scissors, hard work). The boyfriend suggested cutting into strips, I was going to cook whole, hate to admit it, think he was right. Arrange all the little strips, skin side up, on a baking tray and put on top shelf in the oven. Put on the extractor fan and open the kitchen door as your house will smell distinctly porky otherwise. They're done when they look like, erm, pork scratchings, all blistered and brown, and some go pleasingly curly. I found some bits were ready before others so just took out the done ones and gave the others a further blast. Drain them on kitchen roll and save the curliest ones for yourself.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Slow Cooked Pork, Stavros Style

Not sure how chorizo is in a
'Greek' dish but there you go.
Pork, lemon, chorizo, sherry vinegar and fennel, what's not to like here? This is one of those get home from work, throw it together, and leave it to simmer away dishes, leaving you free to not do all those chores you simply don't have time for, rather watch Come Dine With Me or a re-run of the Inbetweeners. It's cheap and store cupboardy so a big thumbs up from me, which was upgraded to a very enthusiastic thumbs up from the Boyfriend when he was finally fed.

Feeds 6. Pre-heat the oven to 150C. Brown a kilo of cubed pork shoulder in a big casserole in some olive oil and set aside. Then fry a sliced onion and a few chopped garlic cloves until softened. Add 3tbsp sherry vinegar, bubble for two minutes and throw in a handful of chopped chorizo, cook until it oozes with its lovely paprika spiked oil. Bash up a tsp fennel seeds and throw them in, and return the pork and any juices to the casserole. Finally stir in a tin of tomatoes and a squirt of tomato puree and about a litre of water so it all looks a bit splashy and wet. The sauce will reduce right down in the oven, so give it a good stir and season, bring to a simmer, then pop the lid on and cook in the oven for a couple of hours, take the lid off for another 15/30 mins depending how thick its all got. Serve with a zingy gremolata made by combing chopped lemon zest, garlic and parsley. Ooh next time I might use half onion, half chopped fennel for extra crunch.

This is lovely in the summer with some green beans and rice, and comforting mashed potatoes in the winter. Hmmm looking outside right now its more like December than August, so mash it is.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Best Lamb Tagine. In the world. Ever. Amen.

What a fate this lamb neck had in store...
It's very easy to get carried away whilst cooking, to swerve from the recipe, add your own touches, either because you know better or you think you know better. Nearly all recipes 'need' more garlic, more chilli, more this, more that, but I've recently learned that sometimes the softly softly approach to flavour can also be fantastic.  Having recently purchased the new Moro cookbook (called Casa Moro), I am obsessively making and munching my way through the simple but beautiful recipes from Spain, very much including the Moorish influences there, and many dishes from Morrocco. It ain't all about Chorizo you know. I made this lamb tagine with peas and tomatoes and was blown away by it's simplicity and incredible flavour. I stuck to the recipe, not straying once in terms of quantities. It's always better to use lamb on the bone, but I had some lamb neck fillets which were fine.

Feeds four. In a big pan glugged with warming olive oil, combine 2 tsp freshly ground cumin seeds (don't be lazy and use ground cumin), 1 cinnamon stick, 1 tsp sweet paprika, 1/4 teaspoon hot paprika, 2 chopped red onions, 2 peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped, and season. cook for about 10 minutes and throw in the lamb. 3 shanks would be great, or chunks of neck on the bone, approx 750g (if you have a nice butcher nearby, which sadly I don't). Stir well and add 1 litre cold water and a pinch of saffron threads infused in 2 tbsp boiling water. Cover and simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours, add 600g fresh peas (enlist the use of a slave to help pod the buggers) and simmer uncovered, for a further 20-30 mins until the lamb is super soft and melty.

This tagine tastes so fresh and surprisingly delicate, the perfume of the cinnamon combines so perfectly with the sweet lamb and peas, my normal bucket of garlic would have completely drowned out these well balanced flavours. Just delicious. Am supposed to be avoiding carbs at the moment due to an ever expanding waistline, but to have abstained from a big spoonful of cous-cous would surely have been a massive insult to the food Gods, and I just couldn't risk that...

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Cardoman Caramel Oranges

Like a giant sweetie
Although I'm no pudding fiend, a little taste of something sweet at the end of a meal always goes down well. When there may not be room for a big old bowl of desert, there is always room for this dish which is less like a pudding and more like a jewelled twinkly offering pulled out from the fridge just before serving. It can be made in advance making it great for when you are entertaining, and just looks so damn pretty! It's based on Nigella's recipe, which I came across by accident, when dreaming of the orange cardoman pud the Boyfriend's mum makes. It turns out orange and cardoman are a very happy marriage.

Suitably bashed pods
Serves four. Remove the skin and pith from four sweet oranges, and slice into rounds approx half a cm thick. Arrange in a shallow bowl/dish so they all lie flat and in a single layer. Bash 6 cardoman pods and add to a saucepan with 400g caster sugar and 200ml water, bring to the boil, swirling (don't stir) to dissolve and let it simmer until the mixture turns a lovely amber colour. Cue a bit of impatience and 'is it amber yet??' and my friend Hannah asking 'Do you ever just want to stick your finger in the pan to see how much it will hurt?'. No Hannah. No. Once it has changed colour, quickly (but carefully) pour over the oranges and stick in the fridge until needed. The oranges become encased in the cardoman scented, now hard barley sugar-like caramel. Nigella serves it with Greek yoghurt but I like it on it's own.

Probably a good idea to keep people like Hannah out of the kitchen when you make this.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Never Too Much Meat - Steak Tartare

So much more than an un-cooked burger, I promise.
A thousand years ago, on holiday with friends in France, the four of us sat down in a little restaurant and had a look at the menu. When the garcon came to take our orders, my friend Jess confidently announced that she would like to order steak tartare, s'il vous plait. Risking patronising her, I asked her if she knew what it was, she nodded away, and we sat back to sip on our wine and nibble bread until the dishes were served. When a plate of what is essentially raw beef mince was presented to her, her face first paled, then her jaw dropped. She hadn't in fact known what it was, and it turned out she liked her meat cooked.

I however adore steak tartare, and so does my Dad so we made it on Saturday, as a starter for a BBQ. Just in case we didn't have a high enough meat content in the meal. This feeds four as a starter, do taste as you go because it's one of those dishes that doesn't require exact measurements. In a bowl, put 400g finely chopped fillet beef, a couple of finely chopped shallots, a tbsp each of chopped capers, cornichons, a tsp Dijon mustard, parsley and salt and pepper, and combine well. Make sure you taste for seasoning. Now assemble a little patty on each plate, using a mug as a cutter works quite well, and nestle in a raw quail's egg, who's shell you have delicately halved, not throwing any ruined ones in the bin.

Some people love it, some people can't get their heads round a plate of raw meat. I think its the business. However, on that day so many years ago in France, with Jess's poor little face in despair, the joke was on me, because I had ordered andouillette, without really knowing what it was either, and I nearly threw up all over the table. Bon appetite.