Sunday, 29 January 2012

Ox Cheek Ragu

Firstly, don't tell Mum that I just gave her ox cheek. Despite, Dad's queries as to what meat it was, as far as she knows, it's just "beef".

Even when I posted a picture of the ox cheeks on Instagram, a few of you were "unsure" about it. But trust me, if you try it you'll love it. Just like the boyfriend did.

Secondly, if you're going to want to make this, give yourself plenty of time. About 8 hours should do it.

As cows tend to spend their time eating, sleeping, eating, chasing people, and eating, the cheek meat is really tough. Not good for fast cooking, but excellent for slow cooking.

I wasn't planning on posting this recipe, it's by special request. So, quantities and times are a bit approximate.

Also, the star anise is optional... I suppose. I understand not everyone likes it. But, it gives quite a bit of flavour to the dish and enhances the beefiness.

Ox Cheek Ragu

Serves 4-6

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1 carrot, finely sliced
3 ox cheeks, cut into thick chunks
1 tbsp plain flour
2 tsp dried rosemary
2 tsp dried thyme
1 star anise
2 400ml tins of chopped tomatoes, plus about 1/2 a tin of water
1 tsp umami paste, optional
Spaghetti, cooked

Preheat the oven Gas 3 (170°C/325°F)

In an oven proof pan, gently fry the onion, garlic, and carrot in the oil for 5 minutes then add the ox cheek, herbs, and star anise. Throw in the flour and give it all a good stir and cook out the flour for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes then, using one of the tins, add some water to just cover it all. Bring to a simmer and place in the oven. Cook for around 8 hours.

Remove the pan from the even and, using the back of a wooden spoon (or similar), gently break up the meat. The meat should break up really easily. If it doesn't it goes back into the oven. If it is done, stir in the umami paste and add the cooked spaghetti. Again, give it all a good mix, so that every string of spaghetti is coated in the sauce. Serve.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Are There Too Many Food Shows On TV?

Wednesday night's TV listings read like this:

5.30pm-6.00pm Channel 4 - Come Dine With Me

7.00pm-8.00pm BBC 2 - Hairy Bikers' Best of British

8.00pm-8.30pm Channel 4 - How To Cook Like Heston

8.30pm-9.00pm Channel 4 - The Fabulous Baker Brothers

9.00pm-10.00pm BBC 1 - Masterchef

That's 3 1/2 hours of food programmes in one evening alone. And let's not forget about the re-runs of Come Dine With Me on More4.

Now, I'm not saying I don't like any of them (there are some I don't like), but what's that old food adage again? Oh, yes...

Everything in moderation.

Some programs just aren't good enough. They're lacking in quality. Whilst the sheer volume of food shows takes that special feeling. Like when you listen to that song you love so much, and you end up hating it.

Let's have fewer of them, make them better, and make them special.

I do have to say that I think there are some programmes/chefs that I just cannot get enough of: Gordon Ramsey; Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall; Nigel Slater; and (most of) Heston Blumenthal.

What do you think? Is there too many or not enough? Are they good enough?

And, what are your favourites? Past and present.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

What's Up With Weight Watcher's Bread?

The last week or so, I've been having problems with my laptop. And, it's been in and out of the computer shop.

Currently, it's in.

Sometimes you just don't realise how attached to things you are, until you lose them.

So, this post is just a quick catch up. To let you know I'm still here.

I've been on bit of a health drive for a couple of weeks. And, I have to say, I'm very pleased with my progress. (Ignore the jam roly poly and cheeses).

Though what is up with Weight Watcher's bread? Horrible stuff.

I managed to fill the kitchen with smoke when I toasted some this morning.

I've been having a lot of home-made soup, it seems:

Spicy parsnip (above), curry lentil, chicken, beef broth.

I also need to eat more fish.

I bought some frozen coley from Tesco and cooked it last night. 

I wasn't expecting it to be square, and neither was Mum.

She was convinced that coley was not a real fish.

This book was in the library at uni. 

I've got a few ideas for upcoming posts:

Lancashire Hotpot, Jam Roly Poly, maybe a curry.

If you've got any suggestions of things you'd like to see, let me know.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Candlelight Dinners: Pearl Barley and Kale Risotto

This weekend, me and electricity haven't really seen eye to eye. 

Firstly, on Friday, my laptop charger broke and the computer shop couldn't fix it. So, I'm waiting for a replacement that I've had to buy.

Then, in the evening, the house's electricity tripped out. 

We don't know why, but after spending a couple of hours with Dad trying to figure it out, I rang a neighbour (who's a plasterer) to see if he had any mates that could help. He directed us to another neighbour, who happened to be an electrician.

The poor fella came around and spent about 4 hours trying to help us. Long story short: we couldn't find the problem. 

That night we ate by candlelight.

The following evening, the electrician came around to help, again.

After another 4 hours, we think we've narrowed down where the problem is, but not what it is.

Still, at least we had most of the house's power back. 

Even if I did had to cook in the dark at one point.

Oh, we also lost all our recordings on the Sky box. 

And, the wifi didn't work for ages. So frustrating. 

So, on to the food.

In truth, this was a bit of an experiment. 

That sort of worked.

I love a good risotto, but our family (well, me and Mum) are trying to be healthy. 

Hence, substituting risotto rice with pearl barley.

Half the calories and half the price.

The flavour is great. Very wholesome, especially with the umami paste. 

The texture gets a bit of getting use to, though. 

 Pearl Barley and Kale Risotto

1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tbsp olive oil
500g pearl barley
1 tsp umami paste
About 2 1/2 litres chicken stock, kept heated in a pan
100g kale, sliced
50g pecorino, grated plus extra to serve
Basil oil, optional

Gently fry the onion, garlic and herbs in the oil for 2 minutes in a deep pan, then add the pearly barley and stir for 5 minutes. Add the umami paste.

Next, stir in a ladle of the chicken stock and allow to simmer. Gradually add the rest of the stock, a bit at a time - when the pearl barley has absorbed most of it. 

This will take 45-60 minutes. Make sure you stir it regularly and often.

10 minutes from the end, throw in the kale and the pecorino. 

Season to taste and serve with more grated cheese and a drizzle of basil oil.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Sunny Afternoon... and windy... and muddy

As I write this, I can hear the wind gusting outside.

At least this time I'm inside and my legs don't hurt and my face isn't frozen.

I had one full day left with Billy before he had to go home. 

And, having been to all the Christmas sales and money spent up, we had two choices: uni work or go on another walk with my parents.

Obviously, we chose the later - with mixed results. 

The walk started easy enough. Just a stroll down a country lane...

This was to be the closet we were able to stay to my parents, before they speeded ahead.

Once into the open countryside, me and Billy found ourselves struggling to navigate through the mud with the wind trying its best to batter us.

It's definitely January.

How this is a public footpath, I don't know...

I did manage to snap a few photos of the farmers' fields. There was kale, cavolo nero, other cabbages, and sprouts.

By this time my parents looked to be at least 1/2 mile in front of us. And waving, helpfully. 

Two hours later, we spotted the top of Christ Church peeking over a hill - a sign that we hadn't got left to walk.

The Royal Oak was a (very) welcomed sight. Finally, a haven from the wind and cold.

We eagerly dragged our weary legs into the warmth.

I'd only been into The Royal Oak a handful of times, but that was about 10 years ago.

We were seated by a friendly bar lady and, despite the afternoon food service finishing at 2.30pm (it was now 2.35pm), we're told that food was still being served. 

With the only other people being a couple sat at a window table and a gentleman sat the bar, it was very quiet.

We ordered our food. 

Mum and Dad had a steak and mushroom baguette. We were all slightly dismayed at the little amount of chips they were served with - 6 each. So it was fortunate that they had accidentally ordered another side portion each.

Billy opted for The Royal Oak Tower Burger. Not quite the calorific beast of The Bay Horse's, nor as mind-blowing as The West Coast Rock Cafe's. But it has to said that it was very tasty.

I decided to have the BBQ ribs and southern fried chicken. I don't know if it was because I was looking forward to something akin to KFC, but I was slightly disappointed. Though, once again, it was tasty too. 

The food cost £29.70 and the drinks were £15.25 (4 1/2 beers, 1 diet coke, and 1 tea).

So, I think things are pretty much going to go back to normal now. 

Back to uni soon and getting on with work. 

Hopefully with the inclusion of more time in the gym, coupled with some weight lose.

Monday, 2 January 2012

New Years Day 2012: Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

In our family, on New Year's Day, we've got a little tradition where we go on a little walk.

Some years it can be as nearby as the local woods.

Other times it can involve a last minute booking of an Oxford hotel.

This year, we opted for the middle ground, and headed to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in Wales.

It's quite an odd aqueduct.

Firstly, for us to get to Wales, we have to cross the Runcorn Bridge. 

Then, half way there I was asked to check the route. Which I did, and announced it was simply down this road and turn off towards Wrexham. 

Unfortunately, no one was concentrating and we missed it.

What was meant to be an hour drive turned into a two hour long (but scenic) drive through the Welsh hills. 

I said earlier that the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct was odd... Well, it has a canal, too.

I don't know how rare or un-rare that is. But I find it strange. In a nice, surprising way.

The aqueduct, and part of the area, is a World Heritage Site.

All day there was a constant drizzle. Seeing The Telford Arms was a pleasant sight. 

We took shelter from the weather, and grabbed a sandwich and a plate of chips. If we'd had more time (and money) the sandwich would've turned into a hot, comforting pub meal.

This was a little garden that belonged to a canal boat owner.

Finally, of course, we have to consider New Year resolutions. 

I don't really make them, to any serious degree. 

But this year is different.

My New Year resolution: To lose weight.

I'm aware that it's a very common resolution, but needs must.

I'm determined to shift some of this excess. Not being able to buy a lot of clothes in the Sales because of size has only contributed to this.

What are your New Year resolutions? 

Sunday, 1 January 2012

New Years Eve at Martin Mere

Happy New Year everyone!

Hope you're not all too hungover this morning.

Yesterday, me and Billy went to Martin Mere, a Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust

We got there early and spent all day walking around, talking photos, drawing sketches, and being entertained by (surprisingly) geese, cute otters, and overactive cranes.

I've tried to work out when the last time I came here was. I figured I must have been around 12, so about 16 years ago.

There was one thing I definitely remembered from when I was 12, and that was a little waterfall feature that I'd taken a photo of.

But, as I went around, a few more things jogged my memory. Including the pink flamingoes. 

This is the waterfall feature I remembered.

This is the overactive Grey Crowned Crane. He just wouldn't stay still for a photo.

Most the birds didn't actually seem that interested in being feed.

This goose was particularly friendly and was very interested in watching Billy draw him.