Thursday, 4 July 2013

The Most Amazing Pork Cheek Ragu

The Most Amazing Pork Cheek Ragu

It was not my intention to be absent for so long, but as always, one thing led to another, and its been  several months A YEAR (!) before I found enough time to post again.  That's not to say I've been neglecting the culinary arts.  Oh no! I've been beavering away in my new kitchen (we moved home) and trying out some new (and pretty damn good) recipes.

I had a little think about what recipe I'd like to share with you first, and it has to be the Pork Cheek Ragu.  It is, quite possibly the most delicious thing I've ever tasted.  As I've said before, pork is, sadly, a bit of an underrated meat, especially when it comes to the wobbly, hard-to-cook-well bits.
Pork Cheek is one of the most ignored cuts from Mr Piggy.   Technically the cheek is offal as it (obviously) comes from the head of the pig, but before you run screaming for the hills, I am a total offal-phobe, and yet this is one of my favourite dishes.
Please don't be put off by the idea of pork cheeks -  they're quite harmless, and, perhaps most importantly, they don't look too weird and offal-ly

When cooked well, pork cheeks are something truly special.

The recipe below feeds two to three people.  However, because it does take a fair while to prepare (two days) and cook, it it well worth making double or triple quantities and then freezing what you don't need for later.

P.S Sorry there's no photos, the camera lead that connects to the computer has gone AWOL. Just use your imagination...

Serves 2-3

For the Pork Cheek Marinade:
Small glass of Chianti (About 125 ml)
5 Pork Cheeks - Trimmed.  The cheeks are mottled with wonderful, flavourful fat, so don't try to remove that - just tidy them up.
Couple Sprigs of Fresh Thyme
10 Whole Black Peppercorns
One or Two good pinches of Fennel Seeds

For the Ragu:
Tablespoon or two of Olive Oil
1 Medium Red onion finely diced
1 Large (or two medium) stick(s) of Celery, finely diced
1 Large (or two medium) carrot(s), finely diced
3 Garlic cloves finely diced.
Small sprig of Rosemary
5 Large/Medium Ripe Vine Tomatoes (or any nice variety)
1 Bay Leaf
Sprigs of Thyme
Salt and Pepper

  1. In a suitable container or zip-loc bag, combine the ingredients for the marinade and add in the trimmed pork cheeks.  Coat the cheeks, and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight.  
  2. The next day when you're ready to cook the Ragu, take the cheeks out of the fridge, and drain and reserve the wine marinade.  Pick off any black peppercorns that have stuck to the pork, but leave on any fennel seeds or thyme sprigs.  Discard the peppercorns and excess thyme.
  3. Over a medium high heat, fry the pork cheeks in a little Olive Oil, until brown.  This should take a few minutes on each side.  
  4. Remove the cheeks from the pan.  If necessary add a bit more Olive Oil, and gently fry the celery, onion, carrot and garlic.  Don't let the vegetables colour too much.  
  5. Return the pork cheeks and add the sprig of Rosemary.  Cook on a medium heat for a further few minutes.
  6. Add in the reserved wine marinade and let it bubble for a few minutes.  
  7. Add in the chopped vine tomatoes, the thyme sprigs, bay leaf and pinch of freshly ground pepper (leave the salt until nearer the end of cooking). 
  8. Give it all a good stir, and turn down the heat to its lowest, and let the cheeks gently cook for about   2-3 hours until the cheeks break apart with a spoon. Every so often give the cheeks a stir and if necessary add a bit of water, it it looks like the sauce may be drying. 
  9. One the pork is totally, meltingly tender, use forks to shred the cheeks.  Taste and season the Ragu.  You can serve it now - or leave it to cool, and place in the fridge overnight, and then re-heat it the following day. The time it spends in the fridge develops the flavours and makes it so much better.  
  10. Serve with pasta and parmesan. 

Wednesday, 4 July 2012



I think its the weather.  All this recent heat has left me wanting food from warmer climes; Indian, Thai, North African... 
There seems to be some kind of foodie correlation between the rise in temperature and the frequency with which I cook these kinds of dishes.  Maybe its because, if I sit in the sun, eat exotic food, and close my eyes, I might fool myself long enough to think that I'm sitting on a Keralan river boat or in a Bedouin tent.  If I close my eyes tightly enough.  And ignore the traffic.  

I need a holiday. 

Anyway, Hummus.  I love the stuff and could quite happily munch my way through a whole pot. Some shop brought hummus is very good, but its much cheaper and easier make your own.  I guess, strictly speaking this isn't traditional hummus, as it doesn't contain any Tahini paste, but I'm not always one for tradition.  

Serves 4 or so
1 Tin of Chickpeas
1-2 Cloves of Garlic sliced
Good Pinch of Black Pepper
Scant Tablespoon of Sherry Vinegar
1/4 Teaspoon of Smoked Paprika (Pimenton de la Vera), plus extra for sprinkling over
Juice from a Lemon, to taste
Salt to taste
1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil, plus extra for drizzling 
Fresh Coriander

  1. Empty the entire tin of chickpeas (and it's juice) into a pan over a medium heat.  
  2. Add in the sliced garlic and Sherry Vinegar, and bring to the boil.  
  3. Turn down the heat and let it bubble gently for a few minutes (don't let the pan dry though).  Add in the Smoked Paprika.  
  4. Using a stick blender, whizz the chickpeas until they become a consistency that you like.  Add in the lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and stir in the olive oil.  If the hummus is looking too watery, let it gently bubble in the pan and it will thicken.  
  5. Take it off the heat and let it cool before serving.  
  6. Drizzle over some more olive oil and lemon juice, and scatter over the Smoked Paprika and Coriander.  
  7. Serve with Pitta Bread, Vegetables or whatever takes your fancy.  

Friday, 1 June 2012

Cardamom and Chili Chicken and Dal

Cardamom and Chili Chicken with Dal

Dal never looks good in photos (or in real life). No amount of vibrant coriander will make it pretty.  It is the ugly duckling of Indian food. But look past its unfortunate appearance (I think its problem lies in its texture... and maybe colour), and you will find a delicately spiced rough diamond.  This unsung hero of Indian cuisine is surprisingly easy to make - no fancy ingredients and no labourious cooking methods (hurrah!).

If fact, the Cardamon and Chili Chicken skewers are also super easy to make too.  You can leave the chicken marinading for up to a day and then just thread it on to skewers when you're ready to cook.   Superb grilled or cooked on a BBQ they can be eaten hot or cold.  Spicy and fragrant, the bashed Cardamom pods release a wonderful scent that perfumes the chicken.

Whoever said Indian cooking was hard, time consuming and labourious was fibbing.

On a side note, Cardamom also goes amazingly well with chocolate.

Cardamom and Chili Chicken
Makes enough for two

4 Chicken Breasts diced

For the Marinade
2 Garlic Cloves crushed
1 Tablespoon finely chopped Ginger
Large pinch of Black Pepper
5 Cardamom Pods, bashed
2 Green Chilies, finely chopped
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon  Ground Turmeric
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
4 Heaped Tablespoons of Plain Natural Yoghurt
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil or Olive Oil
Juice of 1/2 a Lemon

Wooden Skewers
Lemon, for squeezing over the cooked chicken

  1. In a bowl (not a metal one), combine all the ingredients for the marinade , then add the diced chicken.
  2. Cover with cling film and leave to marinade in the fridge for a least two hours (but up to 24 hours).  
  3. Using the wooden skewers, thread on the chicken.
  4. Set your grill onto its highest setting, and grill the chicken skewers until cooked and nicely charred on the edges.  Alternatively, BBQ these bad boys.  Squeeze over a generous amount of lemon juice and serve with rice, dal, naan bread, dips, poppadoms and any other Indian accompaniments that take your fancy.

Dal - Makes enough for two.
3 Cloves of Garlic
1 Teaspoon finely chopped Ginger
1 Teaspoon of Ground Coriander
1 Teaspoon of Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon of Cayenne
1/4 Teaspoon of Ground Turmeric
1/2 Onion finely chopped
2 Medium Tomatoes chopped
100g Red Lentils
500ml Chicken or Vegetable Stock
Handful of Fresh Coriander, chopped

  1. In a pan over a medium heat, fry the Onions for two minutes, then add the ginger and garlic and cook for a further two minutes
  2. Add the spices and stir well, cook for a further one minute
  3. Add the tomatoes, stir and cook for another four minutes
  4. Next, add in the lentils and the Stock.  Stir and bring to the boil.  Then turn down the heat to low,  and cover with a lid, for 15 minutes.
  5. After 15 minutes, take off the lid and stir.  The lentils probably won't be done, so leave them uncovered for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add more stock or water if the lentils seem to be drying up. Test the lentils, they will be cooked when they are completely soft.  If not done, leave cooking for another 10 minutes and test again.
  6. Once cooked, stir in a handful of fresh coriander and serve. 

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Roast Belly of Pork with Fennel Seeds

Roast Belly of Pork with Fennel Seeds

Pork belly is criminally underrated. One of the few cuts of meat that can stand being roasted without risk of it drying out, it's tender, moist, and you get crackin' crackling with it.  Despite all this, it's also one of the cheapest cuts that you can buy.  Why? Because, it has a decent amount of fat on it, and, as we've all become fat-phobic, terrified of even a smidge of the glorious white stuff, pork belly all dressed up in its bountiful layers has been condemned to the food sin bin.  But the fat in the belly keeps the meat moist while cooking, which means that you can leave it in the oven for a while before it needs any real intervention.  Once it does come round to serving you will find that most of the fat will have melted away during cooking, leaving wonderfully tender and flavourful meat.     

If you want crackling (who doesn't?!), score the pork skin with a very sharp knife (but not into the actual meat) and rub with a good pinch or two of salt.  I've used Fennel seeds along with salt and pepper to season the pork, as the aniseed flavour works superbly well. 

I have deliberatly not specifed precise quantities of ingredients, for example, how many potatoes you'll need is dependant on how many people your serving (and what else you're serving it with i.e veg). 

Pork Belly (Approx 300-400g person)
Salt & Pepper - Good few pinches
Fennel Seeds - 1-2 Tablespoons
Onions, sliced, enough to create a 'bed' for the pork (roughly 2 or 3)
Potatoes, Peeled and cut into chunks, enough for everybody

  1. Preheat the oven to 220C / 200 C Fan / Gas Mark 7
  2. Slice the onions and put them in a roasting tin so that they make a bed for the pork to sit on.  This will stop the underside of the pork from burning. 
  3. Score the skin of the pork belly with a very sharp knife and rub in the salt and pepper. 
  4. Scatter the fennel seeds over the pork.
  5. Peel and chop the potatoes into rough chunks and place around the pork.
  6. Place the belly into the oven and cook at 220C / 200 C Fan / Gas Mark 7 for 30 minutes.
  7. Turn down the oven to 170C / 150 C Fan / Gas Mark 3 and cook for about two or three hours.  Check the pork every so often just to make sure that its ticking way nicely. You don't need to be too precise with cooking times as it is unlikely that the belly will dry out.  
  8. The potatoes will probably be done half way through cooking, so take them out and keep warm for serving later.  
  9. It is unlikely that the cracking will be done by the time it comes round to serving, so heat the grill and place the pork ( still in the roasting tin) under the grill.  Keep a watchful eye so that it doesn't burn.  Grill until the crackling has crackled.  
  10. Serve with the potatoes, veg and gravy.  

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Spicy Moroccan Lamb Stew

Spicy Moroccan Lamb Stew

This stew is essentially a Tagine, albeit without the fancy cooking pot. It takes very little fuss to prepare, a bit of chopping, the opening of some tins and a gentle bubbling in a pan for a few hours.  It all results in a meltingly tender lamb, fragrant, spicy and wonderful. 

The cut of lamb used is fairly important; it needs to have a bit of fat on it, so I use Lamb neck fillet.  The fat eventually melts after a long cooking, but too much fat is not good, so any large bits of fat need to be trimmed off. 
I use typical Moroccan spices to flavour the tagine, such as cumin, coriander, ginger and cinnamon, along with three spices - cayenne, chili flakes and the brilliant Pimenton de la Vera (Smoked Paprika) to give a hot smokey kick to the stew.  Leave out the chili flakes if you prefer a milder flavour.  

INGREDIENTS (Serves 2 plus leftovers):
2 Tablespoons oil
350g Lamb Neck Fillet, trimmed of unnecessary fat and diced into inch cubes

1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne
1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika (Pimenton de la Vera)
1/2 Teaspoon Chili Flakes

1 large Red Onion, thickly sliced
1 large Carrot, peeled and cut into inch cubes
2 Fat Garlic Cloves squished
500ml Chicken Stock
1 Tin Chopped Tomatoes
1 Tablespoon Tomato Puree
1 Tin of cooked Chickpeas, washed and drained
Lemon Juice
Couscous to serve with the stew
Fresh Coriander chopped

  1. In a large pan, heat the oil until hot.  Add the trimmed and cubed lamb, and fry until browned all over.  
  2. Add in the spices (Cumin, Coriander, Ginger, Cinnamon, Cayenne, Smoked Paprika and Chili Flakes) and stir the lamb so that the pieces are fully coated.  Continue to fry for 2 minutes.  
  3. Add in the squished garlic cloves, onions and carrots, turn the heat down and cook for 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.  
  4. Add in the chicken stock, tomato puree and the tin of chopped tomatoes, stir and turn the heat down low.
  5. Cook for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding more stock or water if the stew becomes too dry.
  6. About 20 minutes before you want to serve, add in a can of drained chickpeas. 
  7. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.  
  8. Scatter with chopped fresh coriander and serve with a mound of fluffy couscous

Friday, 11 May 2012

Thai Pork Burgers and Lettuce and Lime Salad

Thai Pork Burgers and Lettuce and Lime Salad

These Thai inspired beauties are the new favourite in the house, lighter than a classic beef burger, they are beautifully fragrant and spicy.  They are also a doddle to make, and most of the ingredients for the spice paste were already lying around in my kitchen, so no long searches for obscure ingredients.

These little burgers go superbly well with chunks of roasted sweet potato and/or fragrant Jasmine rice,  and the lettuce and lime salad.  This salad is crisp, bitter, refreshing, salty and zesty, a cleansing balance to the meaty spiciness of the burgers and is pretty delicious.  Close your eyes and you could be in Bangkok.... 

Thai Pork Burgers (makes enough for 2 greedy people):

500g Minced Pork
Thumb sized piece of Ginger, peeled
4 Garlic Cloves, peeled
2 Chillies
1 Fresh Lemongrass Stalk, outer skin peeled off
1 Small Red Onion
Zest and Juice of one Lime
1 Tablespoon Light Soy Sauce
1 Small bunch fresh Coriander, stalks and leaves roughly chopped

  1. In a food processor, blend the ginger, garlic, chillies, lemongrass, red onion, soy sauce and lime zest and lime juice until it becomes a paste.
  2. Add this to the pork mince with the chopped Coriander and mix with your hands until thoroughly mixed.  
  3. Form into small burgers and fry in a little oil until brown and cooked.  Serve with Jasmine Rice and/or roasted Sweet Potato chunks, and the Lettuce and Lime salad.  

Lettuce and Lime Salad

Crisp white lettuce, washed and roughly chopped
Small handful of Coriander, leaves and stalks
10 (or so) Mint leaves
Juice of half a lime (or to taste)
1-2 Spring Onions finely sliced
1 Green Chili, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)
Good pinch of Salt

  1. Roughly chop the lettuce and place in a large bowl
  2. Finely chop the Coriander, Mint, Spring Onions and Chili and toss with the lettuce leaves.  
  3. Squeeze a generous about of lime juice over the salad and a good pinch of salt.  Taste and add more lime juice or salt as necessary.  Serve with the Thai Pork Burgers

Monday, 7 May 2012

Fresh Pasta and Basil Pesto

Fresh Pasta and Basil Pesto

It was my Domestic Goddess blip (see Coffee and Walnut Cake post) that had me making my first ever batch of fresh egg pasta.  Previous to this, I had never attempted to make my own pasta, probably because I was under the impression that I needed a whole host of equipment and ingredients that I didn't have, didn't want to buy and didn't have the space for.  Oh how wrong I was.  No need for a pasta machine here - as long as you've got a solid rolling pin, your laughing.   

You will need special "00" pasta flour though, but you can find this in most decent supermarkets.  It is even super easy to work out quantities - for every 100g of flour you will need to use one medium egg.  The 100g flour and one egg mix will make roughly enough pasta for one person, although I did 300g flour and 3 eggs to serve two very hungry people.  Just work out how many people you need to feed and adjust accordingly. 

When you come to roll out the pasta you will need to get it as thin as you can - no thicker than a penny, and then using a sharp knife or pizza wheel like I did, cut it into strips.  How wide you want the strips to be is up to you, mine were about 1cm, but you don't need to be too precise.    

Now, there's no point taking time to make your own pasta if your going to ruin it with some crappy shop brought pasta sauce.  Try to see the fresh pasta as a delicious element in its own right, rather than just something that the sauce clings to. When you've made your own pasta you need a really special sauce.  
I had a bunch of beautiful emerald green basil at home that was just calling out to be turned into a pesto. Vibrant grass green, this pesto is a world away from any overly salty shop brought pond sludge.  

Fresh Pasta (per person):
100g "00" Pasta Flour
1 Medium egg (Free-range)

  1. In a bowl put the flour and make a well with your fingers
  2. In the well put the egg(s) and using your fingers mix together.  It may seem a bit dry at first, but persevere and all the flour will be incorporated, so don't add any extra liquid.  
  3. Once it has come together in a rough ball, you will now need to knead it on a lightly floured surface.  
  4. Knead the pasta until it is no longer rough and floury, but smooth.  It took me at least 10 minutes to get to this stage.  
  5. Wrap the pasta tightly in cling film and place in the fridge for at least an hour to rest.
  6. Once rested, take it out of the fridge and on a lightly floured work-surface roll it out using a rolling pin (or if your super fancy, a pasta machine).  It may be easier to do this in batches.  Keep any pasta that your not working with wrapped in the cling film to stop it from drying out.  
  7. Roll the pasta so that it is no thicker than a penny.  Using a sharp knife or pizza wheel, cut out long strips of the pasta.  
  8. To cook the pasta, put a large pan of salted water on the boil.  When it starts boiling, put in your fresh pasta.  As it is fresh it has a much shorter cooking time than dried pasta, but how long you cook it for depends on how thick the pasta is and how much there is in the pan.  Test it regularly. You want it al dente, with bite.  

Basil Pesto (makes enough for four servings):
Large bunch of Basil
50g Grated Parmesan
50g Pine nuts
1 Fat garlic clove (or two small ones)
Juice of half a Lemon (to taste)
100ml Good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil 

  1. In a dry frying pan, lightly toast the pine nuts until just golden.  Take them off the heat and leave to cool.
  2. In a food processor, blend the basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic and half of the olive oil together until finely processed. The pesto should have a similar consistency to double cream. You may find that you don't need to use all of the oil - or you may need more.  
  3. Add in the juice of half the lemon and taste, adding more if necessary.  You probably don't want it too lemony just enough to brighten it.  I found that half was just enough.
  4. Stir it through fresh pasta, or use it as a delicious herby salad dressing.