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.

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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Kale and Hearty – Seasonal Eating.

I love (nearly) all foods, the more exotic the better.  One of my favourite pastimes when travelling to a new country is to try the local delicacies.  The husband (Brent) and I often shop abroad for local specialities in markets and shops so that we can try to recreate our favourite holiday dishes at home, but somehow they never tastes as good as in situ.  There is something about eating food in a location close to where the produce has been sourced that makes it taste especially good; whether it’s the freshness of the ingredients, or flavours that somehow seem to fit the environment, I’m not really sure.  Whatever the reason, it makes sense to choose local and seasonal as much as possible.  Apart from the fresher and consequently more nutrient-dense ingredients, reducing the distance your food has travelled reduces carbon emissions.    Not only that, but by choosing British, we can all support our native food producers and help boost the economy.  Of course, it is not always possible to just eat British produce – many key ingredients in our multi-cultural British diet are shipped from abroad – however, just being more aware of what is in season, and locally produced, is a step in the right direction.  Basing meals around food that we can only enjoy at certain times of the year when it is in season will make us value this produce more than if we buy its inferior counterpart from the supermarket as and when we feel like it throughout the year.

Kale (or as it is known in the States, collards) is a member of the Brassica family and has been a staple European crop and peasant food for centuries.  It is robust and plentiful, currently in season and more than likely grown in a locality close to you.  Lately, however, kale seems to be having its once humble profile raised to the status of a superfood.   It is nutrient-dense, and high in vitamins A, C and E and K, as well as being rich in iron, calcium and a number of other key minerals.  It is also high in sulforophane and indole-3-carbinol, chemical compounds which can help protect the the body against cancer and help reduce the risk of heart disease.  Kale’s high sulphur content also helps support the detoxification processes of the body, so kale really does make the perfect detox food.

According to recent magazines, kale is the hippest addition to smoothies and juices.  It also features in the latest celebrity diet book, Honestly Healthy as a health food with a high alkaline rating.  Eating foods with high alkaline content has been found to help increase energy and alleviate common aches and pains which can be caused by diets high in acid-forming foods, such as meat, dairy, alcohol and caffeine.  Juicing is an easy and (relatively) quick way to add alkaline foods to the body, can help boost flagging energy levels, and helps to cleanse the body.  If you have a juicer, check which sort you have.  If it is a centrifugal juicer, you may find it struggles to cope with the fibrous stalks of kale, so removing the stalks before juicing will be helpful.  Personally,  I have a macerating juicer (a Matstone I Love My Matstone Juicer!. – more about this and juicing in a post very soon), which can deal with the woody kale stalks very well.

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Kale (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I use curly kale in green juices (purely because I am not so keen on its texture, but love the flavour).  My daily green juice contains all or some of the following, and I will add whatever green vegetables I have knocking around in the fridge that are looking tired.  Today, for example, I used some tenderstem broccoli that was past its prime.  Please also note that the recipe below should be sufficient for two juices.  The addition of the ginger and lemon will help to preserve the vitamins and minerals, so you can neck one glass immediately after juicing, and and save the second glass for the following day without losing too many of its nutrients.

Green Juice (serves 2):

  • 1 bunch curly Kale
  • 1 handful mint, parsley, basil (or all three)
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • handful lettuce leaves
  • 3 celery sticks
  • 1 apple or pear (to sweeten)
  • 1 peeled lemon
  • thumb sized piece of ginger root

2013-01-22 18.41.49Cavol0 Nero, or Black Cabbage, a leafy brassica, is my favourite type of kale. Popular in Italy for many years, it is now grown in England.  Like curly kale,  it is readily available, and to my tastes, more delicious and versatile than its more common cousin.  When selecting your cavolo nero, choose one with  firm leaves and a vibrant green colour.  Personally,  I love its heavily veined, earthy texture, the ridge of which become coated with and retain the oil and flavourings used to season it when it is sautéd.

To prepare cavolo nero, (and indeed any kale), rinse well in cold water, and remove the stalk which is too fibrous too eat (you can retain and use in your green juice, though, if you have a macerating juicer).

The following recipe makes a great, healthy week-night dinner.  It is relatively quick and easy to cook, and full of nutrients.  The halibut is found in UK waters, and is in season at the moment.  It is a lean, firm flaky textured flatfish, often served in steaks, and has few bones.  Grilling it quickly will ensure the delicate flesh does not dry out.  The confit of winter vegetables makes a lovely accompaniment, adding substance to the subtle flavour of the fish.

Grilled Halibut steaks with a confit of winter vegetables and cavolo nero (serves 2):

  • 2 halibut steaks
  • 200g Cavolo Nero, washed and deveined, leaves left whole
  • 1 medium sized leek, trimmed and chopped into rounds of about 1cm
  • 1 bulb of fennel, trimmed and sliced
  • 4 pearl onions, peeled, left whole
  • 50g British chestnut mushrooms, trimmed, left whole
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges, to garnish
  1. 2013-01-25 23.06.22Sweat the leek and fennel in a knob of butter until softened.
  2. In another pan, brown chestnut mushrooms and onions in a knob of butter.
  3. Add mushrooms to leek and fennel confit.
  4. Season halibut steaks on both sides.
  5. Grill halibut steaks under high heat (approx. 3 minutes each side)
  6. Blanche the cavolo nero in boiling salted water for 1 minute and then drain.  Set aside
  7. Heat tsp oil in pan and fry cavolo nero on high heat until glossy.
  8. Season cavolo nero with salt and pepper and juice of half a lemon.
  9. Serve halibut steak on top of the cavolo nero and confited vegetables.
  10. Drizzle with a little extra virgin oil.

Another great use for curly kale, but one that I have not as yet tried making myself, are kale chips.  I am currently researching which Food dehydrator to buy, and one of the first things I am going to try to make are these.  In the meantime, if like me you love salty snacks with your apéritif, try these Raw Kale Chips:Wasabi Wheatgrass by inSpiral.  They are pieces of curly kale slow baked (or dehydrated) with seasoning into a sort of vegetable crisp – absolutely delicious, as well as virtuous; I hope my homemade attempts will be almost as good and will report back shortly.

 

New Year, New You?

Warming Mushroom and Chicken Broth

I don’t know about you, but January for me is a time for new beginnings. After the excesses of Christmas and New Year, I like to take time out to reflect on the previous year and consider my goals for the coming one. After a Christmas in the French Alps consuming vast amounts of French breads and pastries, as well as the cheesy Savoyard specialities, like Tartiflette, washed down with copious amounts of local red wine, I enjoy a more ascetic approach to food in January.

Like many people, my husband and I give up alcohol during January. The first week is always difficult, but after that, we start to enjoy the new sensation of alertness and increased energy. Along with our alcoholic abstinence, we usually to do some sort of detox , or dietary regime, to cleanse our systems and help shed the Christmas pounds we gained over the holidays.   January is a dark and miserable month, so what can you choose to perk up your meals yet still keep them healthy?  Generally I am a great believer in eating seasonal and local, but I feel that the dreariness of January can occasionally be lightened by the addition of exotic ingredients.  The fiery heat of the chilli, for example, can compensate well for a lack of fat in a dish, and in addition triggers the release of endorphins in the body which help boost your mood too.  Fresh ginger root is also perfect for this time of year.  It has been used therapeutically for centuries for nausea, and helps aid digestion, as well as imparting a unique spicy, warming flavour to food.

During the week we often make broths as they make such an easy and quick post-work supper. If you have the time (or inclination), you can make your own chicken or vegetable stock using a carcass left over from Sunday lunch perhaps, but if not, Marigold bouillon or Kallo mushroom stock make a great alternative.  We are currently having two weeks oil-free  (more about this in a later post), so the broth is made without oil, but naturally this dish would taste nicer, and be cooked a little diffently with the addition of some fat.

Mushrooms make a great food choice at this time of year.  Rich in Beta-Glucans (for more information see What Are The Benefits Of Beta Glucans? | LIVESTRONG.COM), a type of carbohydrate that help to enhance the immune system, mushroom have an umami or savoury taste that is very satisfying.  Good fresh choices include Shitake or Chestnut, and to intensify the flavour, we add dried mushrooms to this broth as well.  Supermarket own brands are perfect; we use Waitrose’s Cooks Ingredients Dried Mushrooms.  This broth doesn’t really need the addition of meat – the mushroom flavour itself is intense and satisfying, almost meaty – so feel free to leave out the chicken if you like.

One of my most exciting discoveries of the year (thanks to the lovely Miguel of Naturopatica) is Glucomannan Noodles.  I used Zero Noodles, which I buy from Holland and Barrett, and they taste pretty bland, but the texture is just right, and they pick up the flavour of the ingredients they are cooked with.  They are made from Glucomannan flour, which is produced from the root of the Konjac, a starchy Japanese plant.  These noodles are gluten free, fat free, sugar free and salt free.  They are very low in calories and more importantly, high in fibre, so help the digestive processes of the body.  I tend to use them with Asian flavoured foods as they are so similar in texture to Asian noodles, and they make the perfect final addition to this broth.

Recipe (serves 2):

  • 2 small, skinless chicken breasts, sliced diagonally
  • 150g Chestnut or Shitake mushrooms
  • handful of dried mushrooms
  • Marigold bouillon or Kallo mushrooms stock cubes (to make up 1 litre)
  • thumb-sized piece of ginger root (grated)
  • lemongrass (bruised)
  • 2 cloves of garlic (grated)
  • 1 dried chilli
  • 4 or 5 spears of asparagus (or broccoli)
  • 1 carrot, sliced finely diagonally
  • 2 or 3 spring onions, trimmed
  • glucomannan noodles (Miracle Noodle or Zero Noodles), prepared according to the instructions
  • black sesame seeds, torn coriander and lime wedges to serve
  • Sriracha chilli sauce
  1. Preheat oven to 180C
  2. Soak dried mushrooms in freshly-boiled water for about 20 minutes as per instructions.
  3. Roast mushrooms (Shitake or Chestnut are good)  on baking tray at 180º until shrivelled (approx 15 minutes).
  4. Make around one litre of stock and bring to the boil adding a ginger, garlic, lemongrass and chilli.
  5. Split asparagus (or broccoli) in half and slice carrots into fine shards and reserve.
  6. Slice skinless chicken breasts diagonally.
  7. Add soaked Chinese mushrooms to stock.
  8. Add chicken to stock.
  9. After 2 minutes add carrots, asparagus, spring onions, roasted mushrooms and kelp noodles
  10. Stir and cook for further 3 minutes
  11. Test chicken to see if cooked through.
  12. Ladle into bowls and garnish with black sesame seeds, torn coriander and wedges of lime.
  13. If you like a good chilli kick, add a few shakes of Sriracha .