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Cabbage and Brown

Whilst in the position of working from home, and with it being the freezing & wet part of the year (i.e. between August and May) I thought I’d investigate the world of Slow Cooking.  The idea being that you cook something for HOURS over a low heat in a special cooker thingo then it takes cheaper cuts of meat and renders them into soft, flavoursome delightful things.  It’s something you can pop on in the morning while you’re watching telly on a weekend and at dinnertime – TA DA! Instantly ready awesome meal.  And it’s nigh on impossible to burn things.  I’m sure there are drawbacks and pitfalls, but armed with this new idea I went out in search of a recipe to get started with.

I decided that first shot out of the gate I’d get hold of some beef cheeks – I’d had pig cheek and ox cheek in poncey restaurants, and reasoned that part of a cow’s face wouldn’t be the most expensive bit of meat to get hold of, but probably did well in a slow cooker.  Go science.  A bit of googling and a recipe turned up, as follows:

Beef Cheeks in a slow cooker (6-7ish hours)

4 x beef cheeks
1 x “medium” onion* (diced)
1 x clove of garlic (chopped)
1 x “medium” carrot** (diced)
1 x  celery stalk (chopped)
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup vegetable stock
400g tin of crushed tomatoes
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp cocoa (unsweetened)
1 Tbsp PX sherry
1 bay leaf
salt
pepper

  1. Flour & season pieces of beef cheeks, while heating up frying pan with olive oil.
  2. Seal the pieces of meat and transfer to slow cooker pot.
  3. Add a little more oil to frying pan & sautee vegetables & garlic until heated through.
  4. Add wine & stock to pan, stir about to mix then empty into slow cooker & set to ‘Low’.***
  5. Add crushed tomato, tomato paste, cocoa, sherry and the bay leaf. Season as desired with salt and pepper.****
  6. Allow to slow cook for at 6-7 hours.  Maybe taste it at 6 hours then decide if it needs more salt and/or pepper, then give it another hour.

Now, that’s all well and good – however it turns out that beef cheeks are frigging hard to track down.  I thought there’d be a knowing nod from the butcher as he went out the back to retrieve the stuff that they don’t put on display but we in the know ask for by name.  Turns out that of the 6 butchers within walking distance from my flat, 1 was purely a pork butcher, 4 had no idea what beef cheeks were and the last did know but didn’t have any.  Turns out nobody ever asks for them and they’ve got to order them in specially in a box of 12 – so I clearly have no idea at all what goes on in butcher shops

Instead of beef cheeks I went with 800g of stewing steak, and it worked an absolute treat!  Being my first slow-cooker attempt I was quite the nervous parent, and checked on it every 20 minutes or so to see if the magic had started happening.  Even stirring periodically in case of stick-to-the-bottom-ness.

The result – I’m happy but slightly crestfallen to announce – was a rich, luxuriant & silky-textured stew.  Crestfallen, because I realised that dress it up as you may, about 40% of the world’s cuisine can be basically labelled “stew”****.  There are various regional subtleties but basically what you end up with is a bowl of brown lumps.  Tasty, tasty brown lumps.

Mind you I’m sure it’d be far more impressive with the beef cheeks.

This would probably serve 4 people a reasonably filling helping.

* It’s tricky to know what counts as “medium” without having a selection of onions to hand to compare & form some sort of statistical survey.  However I went for a purely qualitative approach where I picked up an onion and thought, “Am I thinking ‘Crikey, what a big onion!’?  No?  Must be medium then”.

** Ditto.

*** Another lovely thing about a slow cooker is it’s got 4 settings – Off, Low, High, and Warm.  No nuance or subtlety here.

**** Case in point is the time when my brother and I were about 8 & 10 respectively and in an attempt to inject some variety in the menu Mum decided to make goulash.  Upon being served this and being told that it was goulash, we both burst into tears and wailed “We don’t want to eat goulaaaaaaash!” (presumably because to the ignorant ear it sounds like the sort of thing that’s made from rendered snot, or something).  About 4-6 weeks later Mum thought she’d give it another go and when dished up we eyed it suspiciously, saying “What’s this?” – to which she said “STEW!”.  And we lapped it up.  We love stew.

BUT that wasn’t all…!

Because you can’t just serve stew for dinner (even one as amazingly flavoursome as this!).  So I thought “a spot of braised red cabbage would go alongside this and absolute TREAT!”.  And set about finding a braised cabbage recipe – declaring the winner to be this from Felicity Cloake’s efforts in The Guardian.

Perfect Braised Red Cabbage

50g butter, plus extra to serve
1 x red onion (finely chopped)
1 x cinnamon stick
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 x whole red cabbage, cored and cut into irregular chunks
1 x sharp eating apple, finely chopped
3 Tbsp muscovado sugar (I used demerera)
150mL balsamic vinegar*
2 Tbsp cranberry sauce (I couldn’t find this so used 1 Tbsp raspberry jam.  Deal with it.)

  1. Melt the butter in a large pan** over a medium heat and add the onion. Soften onion for a few minutes, then stir in the spices and cook for one minute.
  2. Tip in the cabbage chunks and saute until shiny and well coated.
  3. Add apple, sugar & balsamic, reduce the heat to low.  Stir well, cover and cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure it doesn’t stick.
  4. Stir in the cranberry sauce and cook for another 25 minutes.
  5. Season well and stir through a knob of butter before serving. You can also store it somewhere cool for a couple of days, then reheat to serve, if you prefer, adding the butter during the reheating.

The main thing here that got me was the quantity of the stuff.  A whole cabbage is quite a well-packed thing, but once you sort of take it apart a bit the wrinkly lines don’t match up as well as before and it occupies substantially more space than it did.  Were I to do this again for 2 people I’d only use half a cabbage, max.

* Strictly speaking, I didn’t have any balsamic vinegar – all balsamic that comes into the house gets made into balsamic reduction, which is a far superior thing to drizzle over salads.  However without time to go get some I reasoned I could “de-reduce” it by adding some water, wine, and red wine vinegar, stirring it, and hoping that nobody noticed.

** When we say “large pan”, we mean “thumping great cauldron of a thing which can hold an entire chopped cabbage.  As luck would have it I’d brought just such a pan back from Australia days previously.

No photos, I’m afraid – this was tasty cuisine, not designed for its visual appeal.

To follow up, the ever amazing Liz found me a compendium of 52 Slow Cooker recipes collated over at HuffPo.  So that ought to keep us in soft, meaty meals for a while.

Aromatic noodly tuna awesomeness!

Not that I’m easily influenced by external stimuli or anything, but I spied this dish being cooked on the telly on the weekend in Saturday Kitchen re-runs, and next thing you know I’m dishing it up on Tuesday night!  Was quite pleased with the results, just between you and me…

It’s a Rick Stein recipe, who I had the pleasure of (briefly) meeting when we went down to Padstow one year for May Day – no idea who he was at the time, so that’s fairly irrelevant.

Anyway, here goes:

tuna_and_saladTuna & aromatic rice noodle salad

2 tuna steaks (150g each did for us)

Glaze:
2 T balsamic vinegar
3 T dark soy sauce

Salad:
1 t sesame seeds
75g vermicelli noodles
1 decent sized bunch of coriander
6 spring onions
1 small bunch garlic chives
1 packet of watercress
lime zest of 1 lime (also keep juice for dressing)
3 green chillies
2 T pickled sushi ginger

Salad dressing:
2 T fish sauce
75mL water
2 t sesame oil
2 T sunflower oil

Preparation:

  1. Take the tuna out of the fridge to give it a chance to get away from being chilled.
  2. Toast the sesame seeds – I just put them in a saucepan on a low heat & kept them moving every minute or so.
  3. Cook vermicelli & drain – usually this involves putting it in a bowl and covering it with boiled water then waiting & tasting periodically til it tastes right.
  4. Pick the leaves off the coriander.  And keep them.
  5. Thinly slice spring onions and green chilli (remove seeds).
  6. Finely slice pickled ginger.
  7. Chop (or cut up with scissors) garlic chives.
  8. Mix together lime juice, fish sauce, sesame oil, sunflower oil & water.
  9. Oil tuna steak surfaces with sunflower oil.
  10. Mix balsamic and soy in a cup.

Instructions once that’s done:

  1. Put frying pan on hot burner & have it heat up while you mix the salad.
  2. In a reasonably big bowl mix up the coriander leaves, spring onions, green chilli, watercress and garlic chives.
  3. Sprinkle in & mix lime zest, pickled ginger, & sesame seeds.
  4. Dump vermicelli in and toss about til mixed.
  5. Pour dressing over the whole lot & stir to distribute.
  6. Put tuna in hot frying pan and sear for 30(ish) seconds per side. Give the ends about 15 seconds too.
  7. Pour the balsamic/soy glaze over the tuna into the pan, turning the steaks a couple of times to ensure liberal coating.
  8. Diagonally slice the tuna in thick-ish bits.  About 3 or 4 slices per steak should do.
  9. Artistically serve bed of salad with slices of tuna on top.

Lessons learned:

  • The original recipe suggested reducing the soy/balsamic glaze and pouring it over the top of the tuna once served.  We found this to work out way too salty, although it was possibly down to the soy sauce brand we used?
  • Tuna is frigging expensive.
  • It’s difficult to get tuna as fine as what Rick was cooking, but then he runs a multi-million pound chain of fish restaurants, so Tesco on the day after a bank holiday is unlikely to have their A-list fish on.  Still, bloody tasty and did the trick!
  • The difference between T (tablespoons) and t (teaspoons) is, as ever, critical.  The recipe I was following used tbsp and tsp as notation, and in the heat of battle I failed to notice a missing ‘b’.  As it happens, I love the flavour of sesame oil (Liz is less of a fan), but I’m sure more balance could be achieved if those ratios were better.
  • When toasting seeds, keep an eye on them.  They burn easily.  It turns out.

Bloody good stuff – stick it next to a nice bottle of Fiano, and you’re done!

Recipe Corner: Mmmm…. Chicken….

At the risk of encouraging people to read serial content-reappropriators Buzzfeed, when I was ennobled with the solemn responsibility of roasting a chicken on the weekend, my google search for “Awesome Roast Chicken Recipes” led me to Buzzfeed’s Roast Chicken Tournament (don’t bother clicking the link – I’ll tell you what you need to know), and to the eventual victor among recipes – Thomas Keller’s Roast Chicken.

Thomas Keller is, evidently, a Michelin Star-decorated chef – I don’t know how therefore to prove the authenticity of his name on this recipe, as a quick Google search suggests he’s got a few recipes up his sleeve in this regard.

The thing that got me about this was how straightforward it was.  Definitely not ornate, but marvellous.  And I post it here partially for sharing, but mainly so I know where to find it next time.

3743643054_e6702eddae_b1Ingredients:

  • 1 chicken (eviscerated)
  • 1 Tbsp sea salt flakes (or any other posh salt you care to use I suppose), smashed up with a pestle
  • Some ground black pepper
  • Some butcher’s string.  I didn’t have any butcher’s string so I used normal white parcel string which I wet before tying up.  About 60cm should do, depending on the size of the bird.

Instructions:

  1. Heat the oven up to 450 degrees F / 230 degrees C.  Ish.
  2. While that’s happening (and our oven takes a while to get there), ensure the chicken is COMPLETELY dry by patting it down with paper towels: inside and out.  That includes scooping out any gross bits that are still stuck inside.
  3. Rub some of the salt & pepper around the inside of the chicken.  Maybe about 1/4 of what you’ve got?
  4. Truss the legs with the string to pinch shut the gaping hole, and also tie the wings back into the body to make the whole arrangement as sensibly compact as plausible.  Tie with a non-slippy knot and cut off excess string ends.
  5. Sprinkle the rest of the salt & pepper over the body of the bird, trying to cover as much of it as possible.  I don’t think you need to massage it in, but I rubbed it about a bit to make sure I got complete coverage.
  6. Put the chicken breast-side up on a roasting rack in a roasting tin.
  7. Shut the oven, and leave the whole arrangement there for about an hour.
  8. Try to relax and not repeatedly check on the thing, then when the timer goes off take it out and rest it for about 15 minutes before carving.

The internal temp for safe cooking I’m lead to believe should be about 165-170F.

There’s no basting, drizzling, turning, or anything.  The idea is that the roasting rack keeps the thing above the tray so the heat should hit it evenly from all angles.  The high temperature crisps up the skin more quickly and seals the moisture in.  And ensuring the thing’s dry (and not adding any sauces, etc.) reduces the creation of steam in the oven.  Apparently.

Alls I can tells ya is that this chicken nearly drove me paranoid insane – admittedly most of it was to do with never having roasted a chicken before and knowing that if you screw it up you can poison people.  I kept checking to make sure it wasn’t burning (because I hate the fire alarm in our flat).  I was wigging out because the oven temp never quite reached 450 (sort of moved between 400 and 430), which was partially to do with the fact I was doing roasties in there simultaneously but also because our oven’s shit.  When the roasting was complete I checked the temp and it was definitely in the Safe Zone (then started thinking “Oh God, I’ve Overcooked It!”).  Then when I carved it the meat was SOOOOOO tender and moist, I thought “Oh God, I Must Have Undercooked It?!”.

But, other than perhaps my seasoning being a tad overzealous (I *may* have used more than 1 Tbsp), It Was Amazing.

And nobody got poisoned.

The recipe suggested 50-60 minutes of cooking for a 2lb bird.  I didn’t weigh it, but the packaging said “Small”.  And then I reasoned out that with a lower oven temp it made sense to go for the upper time limit.

Flavoursome, moist, lovely, not-bland roast chicken.

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