Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Cheddar and Chive Cornbread

This easy, tasty cornbread makes the perfect accompiantment to my previous post for Ox cheek chilli, but it also goes very well with a chunky winter soup, barbecued ribs and chicken or even on its own, spread with indecent amounts of butter. It's a great storecupboard standby recipe that looks very impressive, but yet takes mere minutes to mix together and throw into the oven.

I've based it on a Lesley Waters recipe, found on the Good Food website, but have added some strong cheddar and chives for an extra punch as I find cornbread can often be a little bland. Add a small tin of sweetcorn kernals, along with the wet ingrediants, if you want some extra texture and sweetness. Although this is certainly best served warm it will keep for a couple of days, and I have also frozen leftovers pretty successfully.

Cheddar and Chive Cornbread

280 g cornmeal or polenta (coarse or fine)
85 g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Salt and black pepper
1 large egg
150 ml milk
425 ml buttermilk or natural yogurt
100g jarred jalepenos, drained and chopped (I used red for colour)
100g strong cheddar, grated
Small bunch of chives, chopped

Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas 6.  butter a small square cake tin or roasting tin.
In a large bowl combine the cornmeal, flour and bicarbonate of soda and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. In a jug combine the egg, milk and buttermilk and mix well.
Pour the contents of the jug into dry ingredients. Add cheese, chives and chillies.
Stir lightly, taking care not to over-mix as this will make the corn bread tough.
Pour the mixture into the buttered tin and bake for 25-30 minutes until firm and golden.
Cut into squares and serve warm.      

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Ox Cheek Chipotle Chilli

I was bought up on my mum's chilli con carne; a beef mince and tinned tomato based stew that substituted the mixed dried herbs and bay leaves of her bolognese sauce with a sachet of Colman's chilli spice and a tin of kidney beans. I'm probably making it sound terrible, which it wasn't really, but neither would my heart jump for joy when I saw what was for dinner.

One of my biggest problems was the water-logged tasteless long grain rice that was usually served with the chilli. I was never a fan at the best of times, but when served with the spiced mince mixture the gloopy rice became even less appealing. Luckily I was allowed to eat mine unadorned, or with crusty bread or a baked potato (which, along with pasta, are still my favourite accompaniments). One thing I did really enjoy was the great dollops of tangy sour cream and chives on the side, the best way to cool your tongue from the dry heat of the chilli powder.

After jettisoning all mince based recipes from my repertoire after my student days, it was while living with a vegetarian ex boyfriend that (vegetable) chilli became a staple dinner again; I soon realised that it was as easy, and far, far nicer, to add you own herbs and spices, instead of tearing open a sachet of dusty, acrid chilli flavouring. Further more you don't need any special, fancy ingredients, just the basic cumin, coriander, oregano, cinnamon and chilli powder make a great foundation. Add in some bay leaves, star anise and chipotle and you're really talking.

With a new, omnivorous, partner and following further experimentation, the mince was abandoned altogether for larger chunks of meat. Although good mince can still make good chilli I prefer the bigger pieces that softly shred apart as the stew cooks. Chuck is my standard for chili, although shin is very good too, but after ordering a box of slow cooking cuts from the East London Steak Company I decided to use the magnificent Highland ox cheeks they had supplied. Tough cuts like this demand long and slow cooking, but in return you will be rewarded with a rich and gelatinous glossy sauce, and soft strands of meat that melt in the mouth.

Although the recipe may look a little long and daunting essentially it's a soffrito of vegetables, to which herbs and spices and browned meat are added, add liquid to cover and simmer until tender. Beans are a somewhat controversial addition; while anathema in any Texas-style chilli and banned from the Chili Appreciation Society, I like the sweet, nuttiness they add to a dish and find they can help cut through the rich, fattiness of the meat. I often use black-eyed or black beans instead of the more common kidney, but most beans seem to work well.

One further adaptation is an easy idea from Heston's new book, Heston at Home. The long cooking time, strong flavours and fattiness of the meat can produce a muted and over-rich sauce. Roasting peppers under the grill and adding them towards the end of cooking adds a smoky note, but also a freshness to the chilli. The further addition of beans, fresh chillis, chives and lime really wakes the dish up and makes the flavours 'pop'.

Along with a good spoonful of soured cream and chives a dish this rich needs only plain additions such as crusty bread, corn bread, tortillas or even the dreaded rice. A fresh tomato salsa or some slices of avocado and red onion are also good, and a cold Mexican lager almost esssential. Like most stews of this ilk it will only improve on keeping, and, cold, it also makes a surprisingly fine late night sandwich filling if you've overdone it on the tequila shots.

Ox Cheek Chipotle Chili

1.5 kg ox cheek or beef shin,
Sunflower or rapeseed oil
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 medium onions, peeled and diced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 dried chipotle chili, soaked in hot water for 30 mins, and finely chopped (or 1 tbsp smoked paprika).
2 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1 tin chopped tomatoes
300ml red wine
300ml beef stock
salt and pepper

2 red peppers, halved and deseeded (use a jar of roasted peppers, cut into strips, if you prefer)
2 tins black beans or kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 fresh red chili, finely chopped

To finish
Chives or coriander, finely chopped
Sour cream or creme fraiche
Freshly squeezed lime juice

Preheat the oven to 150c.
Heat a little oil in a large casserole, season the the ox cheeks and brown on all sides. Remove to a dish.
Add onions and carrots to the pan and gently soften for 5-10 minutes.  Add garlic, chipotle chili, herbs and spices and cook for a further 5 minutes, being careful not to burn.
Turn the heat up to high, add the red wine and reduce down by half.
Add tomatoes and stock to the pan and return the ox cheeks, along with any juices.
Bring the chili up to a simmer, place a lid on the casserole and place into the oven for 3 hours, stirring occasionally and topping up with a little water if required.

Meanwhile prepare the peppers. Pre heat grill to high and grill pepper halves, skin side up, until skins are blackened and blistered.
Place pepper halves in a bowl and cover with cling film.  Leave for 10 minutes.
Remove cling film and carefully peel as much of the pepper's skin off as possible. Cut peppers into strips.

After about 3 hours remove casserole from oven and check the meat.  If it is tender then remove from the casserole and roughly shred with two forks, removing any fat or gristle (if it needs a little longer then return to oven for half an hour or so, or until meat is beginning to fall apart).
Once meat has been shredded, return to the casserole and add the beans, roasted pepper strips and fresh chili. Stir and return to the oven for another hour.

Serve the chili garnished with chopped chives or coriander, a good squeeze of lime and a dollop of sour cream.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Vinoteca, Marylebone

So, after a monster weekend spent with 20 friends in a Dorset farmhouse, followed a by a treacherous slide home up the M40 in a snow storm, meeting the wedding photographer was really the last thing I felt like doing on Monday morning. As it turns out it really wasn't too bad. We drank copious amounts of strong coffee, walked the lovely back streets of Marylebone, and nearly crashed someone else's marriage ceremony. Pretty good for a morning's work.

In need of some sustenance, we decided to combine a visit to view the reception venue, the Marylebone branch of Vinoteca, with a spot of lunch. After kindly being shown down stairs for a quick recce of the private dining/cellar area, we made our way back up to the light, yet cosy, dining and bar room for some food.

Vinoteca's concept is all very simple; an all day wine bar/restaurant serving a great range of wines, available by the glass or bottle (or to take away), and a short, daily-changing menu of bar snacks and meals. Quick glass of prosecco (on tap) and a plate of British cheeses at the bar; three course meal with coffee and chocolates; mid afternoon meat plate, washed down with a cheeky red? No problem. The bread's baked fresh in house, meat is from Smithfield, fish and seafood sustainable and the fruit and veg is all seasonal. What's not to like?

Well, not much actually, in fact the only downside of our visit was my delicate condition. I wish I could say I felt full of the joy's of spring, but in reality I felt full of a nasty cold and desperately sorry for myself. Despite this, dear reader, I felt it was my duty to you to sample at least one of their carefully selected 300 bin list. Wine matches are given for each dish, but I decide to go off piste and enjoyed a nice, chunky Spanish tempranillo, that tasted a bit like chewing a pencil (in a good way). The Ewing needed a little less persuading and chose the recommended match for her fish dish, a zippy Malvasia Bianca from Monterey.

The basket of good bread and olive oil made a dent in our hunger while choosing our mains, but I couldn't see Middlewhite pork cracklings on the menu and not order them too. Pure joy; crispy, crunchy chewy and bristly strips of pig skin, perfectly paired with a chunky, sharp apple puree. Yours for only two quid.

The Ewing went with a rather refined dish of halibut served with new potatoes, oyster cream sauce and purple sprouting broccoli. The fish had a very good, crispy crust, but was cooked just a minute over for my taste. The sauce, despite being sans pieces of oyster, had a nice, briny depth to cut through the cream and it was good to get some cruciferous veg on board after the excesses of the weekend.

My bavette with triple cooked chips and watercress is the stalwart of their changing menu, and it seems that practise make perfect. Despite being a big fan of steak I rarely order it when out, finding it can often be cooked badly and served in meagre potions. No such problems here; the huge pile of protein had been cooked perfectly rare and tasted wonderfully of blood, salt and smoke. The perfect panacea for my wan state.

The chips were more like the bastard hybrid of a wedge and a roastie, but were none the worse for that. The bitter edge of the watercress and bite of the fresh horseradish provided the perfect foil.

We both far too full to contemplate puddings or cheeses. A real shame, as I was desperate to try a spoon or two of the buttermilk panna cotta with poached rhubarb. We did, however, manage to squeeze in an espresso each and share a plate of  delicious coffee and chocolate truffles.

Vinoteca is not trying to do anything revelatory, but it is doing the simple things very well. The flexibility of being able to both stop in for a quick drink, or enjoy a full meal, is very appealing and the menu is carefully considered, managing to be both comforting and exciting; recent gems have included mutton chops with anchovy, chorizo croquettas with coriander salsa, roast rabbit with cabbage, bacon and dill and fried sprats with aioli. The space is nicely judged, and has the warm and welcoming feeling of a familiar corner bistro, being both casual and refined.

The service we received on our (quiet) afternoon visit was helpful and friendly and we even managed to stock up on a few takeaway bottles of wine and port to sample before the big day. I was looking forward to it before, but now am even more excited about our celebratory wedding feast to be held here. Bring on the suckling pig and chocolate cake!

Vinoteca on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Steak Tartare

For me there an be few better seduction meals than steak tartare. Although the idea of raw beef and egg yolk might not seem like the classical choice for a romantic evening à deux, I find it rather can be rather alluring. Maybe it harks back to our hunter gatherer days, red in tooth and claw, or maybe it's just because it tastes bloody good. Whatever the reason a mound of hand-chopped steak with the appropriate accompaniments (and perhaps a little glass of vino tinto) is a simple and satisfying supper to make for a loved one. And if it's just you, or your date's not into uncooked cow/a vegetarian, then all the better - plenty of second helpings!

Beef fillet is the classic cut for a tartare. Sometimes shunned for lack of flavour, a good piece of fillet has a melt in the mouth texture which makes it ideal for this dish. Tail is cheaper than centre cut fillet, but if you want something even cheaper, and more 'beefy', then a well trimmed piece of eye of rump, sirloin or even bavette can be used. What ever you chose, make sure the meat is of the best quality possible and free of any fat and gristle.

There are many different accoutrements that can be served with your beef. Typically strong, punchy flavours are used to amplify the sweet, herbal and metallic qualities of the meat. I've specified my favourite combination below, but feel free to adjust to suit your tastes (chopped parsley is also good, providing a clean, grassy freshness). If you feel like showing off you can assemble tableside, or, if your serving it to several guests, provide little dishes of 'mix ins' so people can create their own. The egg yolk, stirred through on serving, provides a silky, buttery richness, but can be omitted if you prefer.

Steak Tartare
Serves 2

250g tail fillet (see above)
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 tbsp capers, rinsed and finely chopped
1 tbsp gherkins, finely chopped
A few dashes Tabasco sauce
1/2 tsp Worsestershire sauce
1 tsp tomato ketchup
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 egg yolks (optional)

Salad leaves and chips, or toasted sourdough to serve

With a very sharp knife finely chop the steak as small as possible.
Mix the first eight ingredients together and season to taste.
Shape the beef into two equal patties and serve, with an egg yolk on top if using.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Proper Job Pasties

Cornish pasties, or 'parsties' to the passionate, pastry loving locals, are serious business. Not only are the ingredients and shape of a 'proper' pasty hotly disputed, recent legislation has awarded the humble Cornish pasty a PDO, meaning only pasties prepared within the counties borders (although they can be baked outside, and the ingredients can come from elsewhere too) can bear the Cornish name.

With their mixture of flaky pastry, sweet veg and peppery beef a Cornish Pasty is truly a glorious thing; this stellar example is from the Chough Bakery down by Padstow Harbour. Tender skirt steak, turnip and potato, wrapped in a hot, crisp pastry carapace. The perfect lunch to munch while looking out to the Doombar and fending off the seagulls.

These moreish little morsels were knocked up in my kitchen, making them more of a Chiltern pasty, but I did stick to the traditional filling of raw steak, potato, swede (or, as the Cornish call it, turnip) and onion. Carrots, as in a 'real' Irish stew, are anathema. The crimp is also important, with a Cornish pasty being 'D' shaped, and with a side crimp, in contrast to the top crimp favoured over the border.

While skirt steak is the standard cut for a pasty, I used up some fine chunks of chuck from the East London Steak Co. Which ever cut you use make sure the meat is well trimmed and cut thinly, as it needs to cook inside the pastry crust. To give it a further twist I marinaded the meat overnight in a bottle of the St Austell Brewery's Proper Job ale, giving it a lovely, beefy bitterness to contrast with the sweet veg.

I made these pasties a lot smaller than the norm, which makes them ideal for a little snack or perfect picnic fodder in the Summer, (if not a little tricky to assemble without the filling poking out) but feel free to make them which ever size suits you. One further word of warning, be careful of overfilling,  less is definately more, and be sure the edges are thoroughly crimped before baking. I had to rush to rescue a tray of exploding pasties whose edges had burst open as soon as the pastry had begun to rise. Any leftover filling can be bake in an ovenproof dish along side the pasties; cover with a circle of pastry for an easy 'pasty pie', or cook uncovered for a tasty beef, ale and potato stew.

Proper Job Pasties

Makes about 16 small pasties or 4 large ones

500g shortcrust pastry (yes, I cheated and used ready-made)
300g chuck or skirt steak, cubed
1 bottle Cornish ale or bitter
1 small onion
1 medium potato
150g swede
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg, beaten, to glaze

The night before you want to bake the pasties place the steak in a non-metallic bowl and pour over the beer to cover. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge to marinade.
The next day pre-heat the oven to 180c.
Pour off the beer marinade from the steak and cut into small pieces for the pasty filling.
Peel and chop the onion into small chunks.
Peel the potato and swede and cut into thin, postage stamp-sized, pieces.
Roll the pastry out to about 1/2cm thickness, and cut discs from the sheet (I used a ramekin, for larger pasties use a dinner plate).
Place a small amount of steak, onion, swede and potato onto one half of each pastry disc, leaving room around the edge, and season with salt and pepper.
Fold over the unfilled edge of each pastry disc and carefully crimp the edges firmly together.
Brush thoroughly with the beaten egg mixture and place into the oven. Bake the pasties for 30-45 minutes (depending on size) or until the pastry is crisp and golden brown.
Leave for 5-10 minutes to cool, then pasties eat while still warm, preferably with a nice pint of Cornish ale to help them down.