The slow change from vivid green to red, yellow, orange. And then how quickly the trees become bare and the glorious colours give way to brown and grey sludgy streets.In the seemingly few hours of daylight we have over the winter months we celebrate the warmth of the fireside. Scarves, gloves, hats and thick woolen jumpers wrapped around us keep us cosy when we venture outside, often leaving and returning home in the dark.I welcome the smells from the slow cooker more than any dog's wagging tail as a greeting. And here we are, only at the gentle tip of the cold months, yet it feels like it's the time for stews. Meat falling from bones into rich and thick broths, individual flavours combining like the instruments in an orchestra to create one symphony.A cast-iron pan with a lid in a very low oven does just as well as a slow cooker, and if you're happy leaving the oven on all day it's the perfect way to cook. However, you may not fancy chopping and browning chunks of meat while drinking your morning coffee and wondering why you have to ask the children twenty times to put a sock on. I have neither the time nor inclination, getting out of a warm bed is tragedy enough. In which case these are best done the night before, or on a weekend when you have a more leisurely start to the day.Of course white potatoes work just as well as the purple ones, which may be a little tricky to find; crushed Anyas would be a real treat. Whatever you use, nothing quite beats the deliciousness of all those juices soaked up by the buttery potatoes. This really is one of those meals that feels like you're back home in the warmth of the family.Tarragon adds a little last of the summer sparkle to the flavours, hinting with its warm aniseed at the comfort to come. If you don't have any, a good handful of chopped parsley running through would be just as nice.Ingredients500g ox cheek, cut into chunks1 onion, roughly choppedA thumb of ginger, chopped1tbsp oregano1tbsp flour1/2 a bulb of garlic1 red pepper, chopped2tbsp tomato purée500ml beef stockLarge pinch of dried mushroomsSalt and pepperPotatoes to serve, cooked and crushed with butter, spring onion and some shredded tarragon.MethodHeat a heavy sauté pan with some oil and sear the beef well until browned. Try not to smoke out the kitchen and set of the smoke alarms in a panicked succession as I did. And sear the meat in batches to avoid boiling rather than caramelising it.Add the flour and stir well, coating all the meat. This will help thicken the sauce. Add to the slow cooker or casserole. Deglaze the sauté pan with a little water or wine and add the juices along with the remaining ingredients.Cook on high for four hours or low for eight hours in the slow cooker, or eight hours in a very low oven. (140c. Gas mark 1) Serve with the potatoes and perhaps some broccoli or garlic green beans.
When I worked in the restaurant, every afternoon we made big simmering vats of stock which we would then reduce overnight. Each time, we would peel and halve kilos of onions, throw in countless chicken carcasses and pigs feet, top and tail sacks of carrots before peeling them then leave the lot to gently poach for hours. This was not a one person job. Nor was it a particularly fragrant one, either. I'm grateful I didn't have to sit next to myself on the train home.Bee complains about the smell whenever I make stock at home. Generally, it's only chicken based, but occasionally I get a few bags of bones from the butcher and return to the restaurant method to make a deep, rich broth, meaty and gelatinous and full of flavour. For me, the smell of stock cooking is comforting, homely and cosy. It speaks of the nourishing meals to come, from ragùs to Thai broths, fancy sauces to simple soups.All you need to do is get the largest and deepest pan you have, get a load of bones from your butcher as well as plenty of carrots and onions (peeled) and throw them all in. Cover with water, bring to the boil and let simmer for at least six hours. Add some herbs such as thyme, rosemary and bay for the last hour or so then leave to cool. You can use it now if you like, (strained) but I prefer to add another stage just to really concentrate the flavours:The next day (unless you fancy doing it right away, up to you), remove all the bones and vegetables, throw them out and strain the stock back into the pan.Bring to the boil for ten minutes then simmer until reduced by about half. Let it cool then cover and put in the fridge. It freezes well, so if you have plenty you may want to do this. If not, it should keep for about five days. It may seem like a long process, but I promise your gravy will be amazing.
Another carb-free week goes by and I'm fine. I don't miss bread as much as I thought. Basmati rice though, is a little harder to give up, we had lunch at Lahore Karai in Tooting the other day and the children tucked into a big plate of it without loosening their belts.This week I've made a few dishes that are more springlike. A confit tuna Niçoise, a spring minestrone, smoked salmon with avocado and eggs, and a light spinach and apple soup among other things.Last night though, with a breaking boiler and the cold weather still biting, we fancied something cosy and comforting: risotto. Rice is out of the question, but I've been using buckwheat a lot recently. I used buckwheat flour to make the children galettes the other day for lunch and I also used it to make soba noodles to go in a prawn and tofu miso soup. In the past I've toasted it in a frying pan before cooking it, making kasha to serve with salmon steaks. So I used it in place of my favourite Vialone Nano rice to make this simple mushroom 'risotto'.IngredientsFor two150g buckwheat1 small onion, chopped1 clove of garlic, crushed1tbsp powdered, dried porcini mushrooms (you can make your own in a grinder)150g chestnut mushrooms, sliced400ml chicken or vegetable stock. I used homemade chicken stock.Olive oilSalt and pepper2tbsp butterGrated parmesanChopped parsley to serveMethodSauté the mushrooms in a little oil and set aside.Heat some oil in a saucepan and add the onion and buckwheat. Cook for a few minutes until the onion is translucent and the grains are beginning to toast a little.Add the garlic, mushroom powder, season a little and stir well.Add a ladleful of the stock to the pan and stir well. Turn the heat down to a simmer and let the buckwheat absorb the liquid before adding the next. Keep on doing this until the stock is finished or the buckwheat is soft, but with a little bite.Add the cooked mushrooms and stir.Now for the 'mantecatura'. Add the butter and Parmesan and vigorously shake the pan while stirring with a wooden spoon. Put a lid on and leave to rest for a few minutes. Stir through some chopped parsley and serve with more Parmesan.
I'll explain the ginger later, but this week, we have decided to stop eating refined carbs and sugar for the foreseeable future. So I did what any sane person would and have stuffed my face full of cake, crumpets, pancakes, sandwiches, potatoes in their various, seductive guises, ice cream and chocolate. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although my stomach may have had a few complaints.In my daily life working with food, I often munch and graze my way through the day like a goat eating a coat sleeve just because it's there. And while a lot of the recipes are not too unhealthy, when you combine that with three meals a day it's easy to see why my clothes from ten years ago have inexplicably shrunk.When I'm out, I find it very difficult to buy food on the go that isn't stodgy and carb heavy. Now, I think hard about snacks and what I'm eating. It's shocking how much rubbish food we buy. I'm not going to turn into a health nut, but I feel excited by the thought of returning to eating how we were designed to. I will, on occasion, allow myself to revel in a burger, or have a great pile of steamed basmati rice with a curry, or some silken home-made pasta with ragu in a seaside Italian restaurant, or hot, salty chips with vinegar on the beach. I'm not a freak.So, I've stunk the house out with chicken stocks and chinese spices bubbling away in mysterious pots. I've worried about where I can store all the veg in addition to the fruit and veg I was already buying for my morning Nutribullet. These days, a liquid breakfast or lunch means a very different thing... Breakfast this morning, as an aside, was some sliced roast pork from the weekend, two fried eggs and a pile of steamed spinach with herb salt and chilli flakes. It took a little while longer than toast, but not much.This week, apart from the soups and stocks, and leftover meat, I am making a batch of ginger beer. My usual brand, 'Granny Steads' has sugar in it. And while I love its warming ginger heat, it's time to say goodbye. I'll use date syrup in this one. Adjust the quantities as you see fit. Bottoms up! (and with hope, smaller too...)Ingredients:2 large ginger roots, scrubbed and grated2tbsp date syrup250ml water1tsp yeast1 small red chilli1tsp turmericJuice of up to one lemon2l waterMethod:Heat the ginger, syrup, chilli, turmeric and water in a pan until just below the boil, simmer for a few minutes then turn off and leave to cool completely.Strain the syrup and add the yeast. Divide between two litre bottles and fill up with water (I'd use plastic ones at this point, just until you're ready to decant into glass and store in the fridge. You don't want to risk having to redecorate the kitchen. Add the lemon juice and shake well.Leave these for a week at room temperature, checking occasionally for excess gas buildup then transfer to glass bottles in the fridge. This will stop any further fermentation.
I think it far better to buy a whole good chicken and roast it all than buy expensive packaged bits. At the very least you can make a really good chicken stock, let alone all the other dishes you can get from one bird. Try making three meals from two chicken breasts. Good luck.Chicken soup is one of my top five dishes and if I don’t have the time one week to make stock, I just freeze the roasted bones for later. We used this as the base for Ramen last week.This dish is so tasty and its simplicity is really rewarding. Slowly coking the leeks in butter makes them melting and rich, really comforting with the mash.Ingredients2kg whole chicken stuffed with onion, lemon and rosemary or tarragon. Season well1 large leek, slicedA handful of petits pois1tbsp fennel seeds2tbsp butter and a dash of olive oil2 large baking potatoesMethodRoast the chicken until the juices run clear and leave to rest, covered, for about 20 minutes.While roasting, chop and boil the potatoes until soft, drain and leave to steam dry.Slowly cook the leeks in a large sauté pan with the butter, oil and fennel seeds, Season well with salt. Cover with a circle of parchment and leave on a low heat for about half an hour, stirring occasionally. Add the peas and cook for a few minutes. Add a couple of tablespoons of cream and check the seasoning.To make the perfect mashed potato, heat some cream, butter and milk in the pan the potatoes were cooked in. About 350ml in this case. Season well and add the potatoes. I leave the skins on for cooking and mashing for a better flavour, but feel free to peel them if you prefer. Mash them well and keep warm. If you want a really smooth mash, put them through a ricer before adding to the liquid.Carve the chicken, I always go for the leg and thigh, and serve on top of the mash and leeks. Pour over some of the roasting juices, add a sprinkle of parsley and serve with wholegrain mustard.