A Summer lunch of Ribs, Beans and Corn

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I was so inspired by Donna Hay’s beautiful article on Aussie slow winter cooking the other day. For those of you who don’t know her, Donna Hay is an Australian food stylist extraordinaire, and always has a great and unusual take on recipes.   I loved the look of all the rib recipes, but was particularly taken by the herb and lemon ribs served with a fresh-tasting Salsa Verde. It works very well this time of year (as well as during Aussie Autumn/Winter), served with seasonal British lettuce, asparagus, peas and broad beans. With a little preparation the day before, we are ready to grill the ribs and sweetcorn on the barbecue and assemble the salad with little hassle on the day.  The ribs have already been simmered in a herby, lemony brine the previous day and left to marinade in the remaining liquor overnight.

Herb and Lemon Ribs with Salsa Verde Serves four

For the pork (brine):

  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • 6 stalks of parsley
  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • 2 tbsp green peppercorns
  • 1 small bunch of (lemon) thyme
  • 500ml dry white wine
  • 2 tbsp table salt
  • drizzle or two of balsamic vinegar
  • 2 kilos baby back pork ribs
  1. Combine the onion, garlic, parsley, lemon, thyme, peppercorns, wine, salt and 2 litres of water.  Bring to the boil, add the ribs, reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 mins until tender.
  2. Remove ribs from liquid, place in tray, add half of the liquid, cover and refrigerate (overnight if possible) .

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To make the Salsa Verde (Nb do not process as this will emulsify the salsa (the key to a good salsa verde is to chop it finely by hand with a mezzaluna or sharp knife):

  • large handful each of flat leaf parsley, basil and chives, chopped finely
  • 3 anchovies
  • 2 tbsp capers, rinsed
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp green peppercorns (optional – this is a Donna Hay addition and makes the salsa much more peppery)
  • grated rind of one lemon
  • sufficient extra virgin olive oil to cover the ingredients
  1. Finely chop the herbs and set aside
  2. Add finely chopped anchovies, capers, mustard, vinegar and peppercorns, along with the lemon rind, to a large mason or jam jar.
  3. Add herb mixture.
  4. Add extra virgin olive oil to cover ingredients, and stir.
  5. Refrigerate.  This will keep for several weeks refrigerated, and works well with most cold cuts, as well as lentils and pulses.

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The ribs were finished off on the barbecue, then dressed with the salsa verde and some balsamic vinegar.  They were served with a salad of lettuce, “double podded” broad beans, fresh raw peas, onion and the same herbs used in the salsa verde, dressed with an oil and vinegar dressing.  Grilled fresh corn on the cob served with lime and chilli butter made a fantastic accompaniment too, along with some gherkins.

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Grilled corn with lime and chilli butter

  • 150g unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tsp thyme leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp finely grated lime rind
  • 2 tsp sea salt (Maldon is good)
  • 1 chilli, seeds removed and chopped finely
  • 4 corn cobs
  1. Process butter, thyme, lemon rind, salt, and chilli in food processor until combined.
  2. roll in foil or baking parchment into shape of log, and refrigerate until needed.
  3. Grill corn on very hot barbecue, turning several times, for about 10 minutes or until tender and a little charred.
  4. Serve with lime and chilli butter on top.

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This was really delicious and an interesting take on an American staple.  The addition of herbs instead of a barbecue sauce was initially sniffed at by the children, but the left-overs were wolfed up, and everyone particularly enjoyed the lime and chilli sweet corn.

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Rock the Kasbah

Our half term break spent in Marrakech seems a lifetime away on this cold, wet November morning.  The husband and I have been before, but it was the childrens’ first visit and we wondered how they would take to the madness of Marrakech.  Thankfully the moment they arrived they loved it, but this was in no small part thanks to El Fenn, the beautiful riad we stayed in right in the centre of the Medina, overlooking the Koutoubia Mosque.

Last time we were in Morocco, we stayed in the Palmeraie, just outside the city, which was peaceful and beautiful.  Staying in the medina is a much more hectic and lively experience, but staying at the beautiful El Fenn was the perfect haven from the hustle and bustle of the city.  Outside the riad doors you are dodging mules, carts, motorcycles and bicycles, amidst all the sounds of a busy city.  Once inside the riad, it is absolute tranquility.  Built around a series of courtyards filled with palm trees, flowers, birds and, bizarrely, tortoises, there were a myriad of places to sit and relax with a Moroccan mint tea.  Our favourite place was the rooftop garden, with its restaurant, bar and swimming pool.  

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You could overlook the city streets, hear the calls to prayer, smell the smoke from the food stalls of the main square, the Jemaa el-Fnaa, but relax above it all with a glass of fantastic Moroccan rosé.  We loved the rosé and gris Domaine de Sahari and are desperate to find a case or two here in the UK.

We found the Moroccan food a bit mixed in quality but we ate well at the riad.  Breakfast was delicious; freshly baked baguettes studded with sesame seeds, served with salty butter and home-made jam, fresh goat yogurts, eggs, coffee and hot chocolate.

The children went mad for the speciality Berber pancake, or Baghrir, which was a sort of Moroccan pikelet served with honey.

On our final morning in Marrakech, while the boys played golf, the girls and I did a cookery course with the riad’s chef, Hassim.  First we went to the Mellah, the Jewish district, to source our ingredients.  The girls were a little shocked at the sight of the bloody Moroccan butcher counters in the souk, and even more upset when they saw the adorable caged livestock for sale not as pets, but as dinner.   They soon got over their distaste at the Berber pharmacy counter, however, enjoying the sweet Moroccan tea we were offered, and badgering me for Berber lipsticks, rose petals and orange flower water.   We picked up the ingredients we needed to make a chicken tagine, and I picked up some amazing Harissa, some Preserved lemons and some Moroccan mint and Berber tea herbs to take home with us.

The chicken tagine is a lovely dish for this time of year.  The spices used are warming and anti-inflammatory.  The addition of heart-healthy green olives and vitamin-rich preserved lemons add a deliciously savoury tang that contrasts delightfully with the heat of the spices.

Chicken Tagine with Green Olives and Preserved Lemons (serves 2)

  • 4 chicken thighs, bone in
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 large red onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground tumeric
  • 200ml water (or so)
  • 1 preserved lemon, deseeded, flesh removed, and shredded
  • handful stoned green olives, chopped
  • handful or two of coriander, torn

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  1. Heat the coconut oil in a heavy lidded saucepan (or Tajine if you have one)
  2. Brown the chicken and reserve
  3. Add chopped red onion and garlic to the pan and soften
  4. Add seasoning and herbs, and cook until fragrant
  5. Return chicken to the pan
  6. Add shredded preserved lemon and olives
  7. Add water, replace lid and cook for 30 minutes or so, until tender, stirring occasionally
  8. When cooked through, stir through a handful or two of torn coriander and serve immediately.

Couscous would be the traditional accompaniment for this tagine, but Brent threw together a quick Moroccan flatbread that worked brilliantly with it.

Moroccan Flatbread with Cumin

  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 125g goats yogurt (St Helen’s Farm)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp roasted cumin seeds
  • pinch onion salt
  1. Combine dry ingredients and add yogurt to the mixture
  2. Knead on floured surface until no longer sticky.  Add more flour if necessary
  3. Roll out to size of your palm, or thereabouts
  4. Toast on griddle pan over high heat until crisp and charred

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Sautéed Chard with Garlic and Chilli

  • packet (2-3 heads) of chard, or dark green leafy vegetable
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 chilli, finely chopped
  1. Wash, trim and roughly chop chard
  2. Blanche in salted boiling water for one minute
  3. Rinse under cold water and squeeze out excess water
  4. Heat 1tbsp coconut oil
  5. Fry garlic cloves and chilli with a pinch of salt
  6. Add chard to pan, sauté for 2 minutes and serve

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From Marrakech we headed to Essaouira, a 2 1/2 hour drive across the dusty Moroccan plains to the atlantic coastline of Morocco.  A fortified city, it has a working port, a mini medina and a long, windswept beach that is popular for kitesurfing.

Essaouira is famed for its Argan oil production.  This comes from the fruit of the argan tree (Argan Spinosa) which grow in southwestern Morocco.  It is rich in vitamin E and polyunsaturated fatty acids, and has a savoury taste reminiscent of sesame oil.  Breakfasts Essaouira-style were all about Moroccan pancakes (Msemen), made from semolina, which we drizzled with argan oil and topped with Amlou, a Berber speciality made from argan oil, crushed almonds and honey.

We bought both the oil and the amlou to bring home, and imagine ourselves back in Essaouira with delicious and nutritious breakfasts of goats yogurt (St Helen’s Farm) topped with my Swiss Paleo Granola, and drizzled with amlou and argan oil.

Better than a takeaway

My husband has berated me for my blogging content this week, as my recipes are neither seasonal nor local.  However, in my defence, it is Friday night, and as a nation we Brits all love a takeaway on a Friday night.  The food and drink I am writing about are perfect Friday night fodder, and far, far better than a bought-in take-away.

Despite loving cooking and eating home-cooked food, we usually have a takeaway on a Friday or Saturday night if we are in.  It will usually be either Indian (mild for the children’s sake), or Chinese in front of Britain’s Got Talent.  For Brent and my palate, take-aways need to be fragrant, spicy and savoury, and this Friday the children are visiting their grandparents, so we can go as spicy as we like.  We used to make this dish a lot when the children were very little, and not sharing our meals.  It is probably too spicy for them (however you can amend the amount of chillies you add), and it is certainly fragrant and savoury.  And best of all, because it is home-made, there are no nasty hidden ingredients.

Nasi Goreng (literally meaning fried rice) is sort of like an Indonesian paella.  Made with long-grain rice (medium glycaemic load or GL) its ingredients have many health benefits.  It is served with a garnish of raw salad high in enzymes to help aid digestion (cucumber, tomatoes, peppers), and we like to add lots of fresh coriander to it too, so that the raw ingredients almost overwhelm the cooked ones, adding to its health benefits.

IMG_0222One key ingredient is turmeric, a fantastic anti-inflammatory spice that adds the distinctive yellow colour to the dish.  Turmeric is a wonder spice, and as well as being anti-inflammatory is cardioprotective, beneficial for skin conditions such as psoriasis, a potent antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic.

The chilli content (both fresh and dried) is rich in vitamins and minerals and has similar properties to the turmeric, helps to reduce cholesterol and increases endorphin production for the feel-good factor.  The other ingredients, lean protein, are key building blocks for the body.

Nasi Goreng can be prepared in many different ways.  We base ours on a recipe in one of my favourite cookery books, given to me by my brother, Culinaria: South-East Asian Specialties, which I highly recommend if you like cooking Asian food.

Before you get started with preparing the nasi goreng, though, you will need a cocktail.  Brent and I spent an evening sampling these, and they are delicious, although more than 1 saketini is brave, and more than 2 foolhardy.  Asian-themed, they go well with the nasi goreng despite being from a different parts of Asia.

Cucumber and Basil Saketinis

  • 1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
  • 12 basil leaves
  • 2 parts Sake (we used Sawanotsuru)
  • 1 part Vodka (we used Grey Goose)
  • Splash of Sugar Cane Syrup (we used Saint-James)
  1. Juice the cucumber (I used my Matstone Juicer) with a handful of basil leaves to infuse the cucumber juice
  2. Chill the martini glasses
  3. Combine the sake, vodka and sugar cane in cocktail shaker
  4. Add cucumber and basil juice
  5. Shake over ice
  6. Strain and serve, with a squeeze of lime, and garnish with a basil leaf

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Nasi Goreng (serves 2 greedy adults with leftovers)
  • 200g/7oz long grain rice (we used Basmati)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1-3 fresh red chillies, deseeded
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste
  • 4 tbsp coconut oil
  • 4 chicken thighs, boned and skinned and cut into pieces
  • 250g peeled, cooked prawns
  • 1/2 tsp chilli pepper
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp tomato puree
  • seasoning to taste

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To garnish:

  • a handful of cherry tomatoes
  • sliced red or yellow peppers
  • sliced cucumber
  • 1 bunch of spring onions, finely sliced
  • 3-4 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

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  1. Precook the rice and leave to cool.
  2. Lightly beat the seasoned eggs and make omelette.  Leave to cool, roll up and slice into narrow strips.
  3. Heat the oil in a large pan or wok, and add onions, garlic, chillies and shrimp paste until fragrant.
  4. Add chicken and prawns and cook gently for 2 mins or so
  5. Stir in chilli powder and turmeric
  6. Add soya sauce, tomato puree and seasoning
  7. Add cooked rice and stir-fry till hot
  8. Serve immediately, with omelette strips on top and garnish on the side.
  9. If you like it as hot as we do, add some Sriracha, Lotus Chilli Oil or Chilli Garlic Sauce

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There were no leftovers this evening, and it was absolutely delicious.  I think the children would love it too if I reduced the chilli content and went easy on the coriander.

To market to market to buy a fat pig! (A Sunday lunch of aromatic roast pork)

There’s nothing like a Sunday roast to bring the family together.   And we all love roast pork.   Brenty’s special roast pork is fantastic, and fills the house with mouth-watering cooking smells all night long, as it slow roasts its way to perfection.

I try to buy my meat from my local butcher, J Seal Butchers. I have used this friendly, Barnes-based family butcher for about 15 years now.  They know their meat and its provenance, and it is prepared beautifully just as you like it.  They now deliver; if you are local try them out!  Or you can try your local Farmers’ Market where you are likely to find pork products from traditional British breeds.

Belly pork is a fantastic choice.  It is a succulent yet fatty cut, full of flavour, and an economical choice for feeding the family.  Saturated fat has been demonised recently, however, fat is a vital addition to the diet, and despite media scare-mongering, there is little evidence that saturated fat contributes to heart disease.  More importantly, a diet without fat means we cannot access fat-soluble vitamins such vitamins A, D, E and K.  It is also important to speak to your butcher about the provenance of your meat and check if  it is grass-fed.  We in the West tend to have an imbalance of Omega 6:3 fats.  By choosing grass-fed rather than grain-fed meats, we can increase our intake of Omeg- 3 fats, improving the fatty acid balance in our bodies, and reducing painful pro-inflammatory prostaglandins.  Increasing Omega-3 intake has been found to reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and obesity.

Pork is also a fantastic source of high-quality protein and is highly satiating.  It contains monounsaturated fat (which protective against heart disease) as well as saturated fat.  It is also a good source of B-vitamins, iron, selenium, iron, magnesium, zinc and potassium.

Don’t be put off by the preparation of the pork.  Once you have pulverised the herbs and spices, and massaged them into the pork, you will have little to do (other than lowering the temperature in 20 mins time) until lunchtime on the Sunday.  Once prepared, relax, pour yourself a drink, and enjoy your Saturday evening in the knowledge that your Sunday lunch is on its way and will be amazing!

Aromatic Roast Pork

To serve 4 or 5.  Preheat the oven to 240 ºC.

  • 4-5 rib piece of pork belly
  • 8 bay leaves, picked fresh and washed
  • heaped tbsp  fennel seeds
  • ten cloves of garlic
  • zest and juice of a lemon
  • tbsp olive oil
  • tbsp rock salt
  • 10 black peppercorns

Preparation:

  1. Ensure your belly pork is scored along the bone line in one direction only, either by your butcher, or yourself.  Use a blowtorch to dry out the crackling.  It will  start to shrivel as the moisture evaporates.  Set aside.
  2. In a mortar, crush a tablespoon of rock salt with ten de-ribbed bayleaves from the garden with your pestle.  Pound until the leaves have disintegrated and the salt is green.  Set aside.
  3. In a frying pan, dry-fry a tablespoon of fennel seeds until they just start to become fragrant.
  4. Bruise the fennel seeds in your mortar, and add ten garlic cloves, the zest of one lemon, a teaspoon of salt and ten black peppercorns.  Smash until the garlic cloves are crushed into pulp.
  5. Add half tbsp olive oil and massage 3-quarters into the non-skin side of the belly pork.
  6. Set aside and chill for 3 hours.
  7. If serving the following day, preheat the oven to 240º C, rub half a lemon over the crackling and squeeze the remainder over the belly pork.
  8. Take the bay salt and work into the crackling, and over the rest of the pork.  Do the same with the remaining marinade (in the cracks of the skin).  Avoid garlic and oil on the crackling as this will burn and not achieve the desired superior crackling.

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Cooking the beast:

  1. Cook in oven skin side up on rack at 240ºC  for 20 minutes.
  2. Turn heat down to 90ºC (leave door open to drop temperature as quickly as possible).
  3.  Turn pork over (skin side down) and leave for as long as you like.  We will generally put in at dinner time on Saturday for Sunday lunch.

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Serve with some seasonal greens (we had our favourite again, Cavolo Nero).  You can put some carrots into the pan under the pork, and roast along with it.  When the skin is crackling to your liking, remove the pork and the rack and let your potatoes continue to cook until as crisp as desired.

Cavolo Nero

  1. Rinse and de-rib, leaving the leaves whole.
  2. Blanch in salted water for a minute.
  3. Allow to drain in colander.
  4. Put back into hot pan with a teaspoon of olive oil, salt and pepper and serve instantly.

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