Tray-baked pork chops with rosemary and pears

pork pear rosemary

I’ve been making this dish for years. It’s a perfect meal for Saturday lunch when you want to get on with the weekend and not spend the day in the kitchen.

I regularly make this on Saturdays once the girls’ ballet lessons are out of the way (why, oh why did I go for dance lessons on a Saturday morning?) and it’s simply a case of throwing everything in a roasting tray, tossing in olive oil and bunging in the oven. Easy as. It doesn’t really warrant a recipe, but I thought I’d write it down anyway. It is actually based loosely on an early Jamie Oliver recipe, from his Naked Chef days, but even easier – if that’s possible.

So, simple and tasty and the kind of food I have to stop my children picking up and eating with their fingers, until I give in and join them.

pork pear rosemary

Tray-baked pork chops with rosemary and pears

Serves 2 adults and 2 children

3 or 4 pork chops – I used to share one between my two kids, but now they’re getting bigger they demand one each
several sprigs of fresh rosemary
6 large carrots, scrubbed and chopped into large chunks or quartered lengthways
3 pears, cored and quartered
4 large potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
6 garlic cloves
salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 220°C / gas mark 7.

Arrange the pork chops, rosemary sprigs, carrots, pears, potatoes and garlic in a large roasting tray.

Season well with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to make sure all the ingredients are lightly covered.

Roast in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until everything is nicely browned and turning the chops and vegetables once or twice during the cooking time. The pears will be squishy and the garlic oozy, while the pork chops will be sticky and the carrots will have that lovely caramelised thing going on. The kitchen will smell incredible.

Serve with a big dollop of mayonnaise, homemade preferably, or the best shop-bought you can afford.

Cooking-with-Herbs

 

As rosemary is used in abundance in this dish, I’m entering it into Cooking with Herbs hosted by Karen at Lavender & Lovage where the themed herb this month is rosemary.

Braised pig cheeks with carrot and parsnip mash

braised pig cheeks with carrot and parsnip mash

This was one of the first recipes I featured on the blog many moons ago. It’s a rich, deliciously intense dish, in which pig cheeks are slowly braised in red wine, vegetables and caraway until they are so exquisitely tender they fall apart at the touch of a fork, and, if you weren’t upfront with your dinner guests, they would never dream they were eating offal. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve never actually tried tricking anyone into eating pig cheeks before, but it would be rather interesting to see how it worked out. Anyway, I know my lot love this dish and they are generally pretty squeamish about eating ‘funny bits of animal’.

I thought I should enter these pig cheeks into this month’s Spice Trail challenge, which is calling for people’s favourite caraway recipes, as this is undoubtedly one of mine. The plan had been to simply link up my previous recipe post (badly lit photos and all), but then I spotted some pig cheeks on the butcher’s counter – rather unusual as I normally have to put in a special request for them.  So I took that as a sign I had to make the dish again, especially for The Spice Trail. Such a hardship, I ask you. The things I do for this blog.

braised pig cheeks with carrot and parsnip mash

I always serve these braised pig cheeks with some kind of vegetable mash. It just seems to work so well with the rich sauce, and creates the most blissfully comforting of dishes. When I featured it on the blog previously I went for celeriac mash; this time it is carrot and parsnip. It could simply be mashed potato. Your call.

Braised pig cheeks with carrot and parsnip mash

Serves 4-6

6 pig cheeks, trimmed of fat
salt and pepper
flour for dusting
3 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, peeled and chopped
1 leek, washed and cut into 1cm chunks
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1cm chunks
2 celery sticks, cut into 1cm chunks
2 garlic cloves, sliced
100g tomato puree
½ bottle dry red wine
300ml beef stock, hot
½ tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp caraway seeds
1 bay leaf

For the mash

4 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large parsnip, peeled and chopped
50g butter
splash of milk
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 140°C/gas 1.

Season the pig cheeks and dust with the flour. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large ovenproof pan and fry the cheeks until golden brown. Remove from the pan and keep warm on a plate.

Add a little more oil to the pan and add the onions, leeks, celery, carrots and garlic and fry gently until just beginning to brown. Pour in a little of the red wine and the tomato puree. Cook gently to reduce the wine and caramelise the puree. Gradually add the rest of the wine, reducing down each time until you have a lovely rich dark sauce.

Return the cheeks to the pan and pour over enough stock to cover. Add the peppercorns, caraway seeds and bay leaf and bring to a gentle simmer.

Cover with a lid and cook in the oven for four hours. Stir occasionally and add more stock if it begins to dry out.

Towards the end of the cooking time, boil the carrots and parsnip in a pan of salted water for around 10 minutes. Add the butter, milk and a little seasoning, and mash well or puree with a hand blender.

When cooked, remove the cheeks from the pan and keep warm. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve into a clean pan. Bring the sauce to the boil and reduce until it is good and thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve the cheeks on the mash and generously spoon over the sauce. Enjoy!

braised pig cheeks with carrot and parsnip mash

This is my last entry for February’s Spice Trail challenge, which celebrates cooking with caraway.

spice trail badge square

And I am also entering this dish into Ren Behan’s Simple and in Season event as both carrot and parsnip are certainly in season right now.

SimpleinSeason

How I make bangers and mash

bangers and mash

It’s only taken me a couple of years, but finally bangers and mash makes an appearance on my blog. There’s been a sausage pasta, sausage chilli, sausage bake, sausage and noodle soup,  and even a Star Wars sausage stew, but this is the first time that classic pairing of the humble sausage with mashed spuds has been allowed to take centre stage.

bangers and mash

It’s not really a recipe though, is it? I guess that’s why I’ve never featured it before, despite it being the namesake for my blog and a dish we eat almost every week. (In case you’re interested, here’s a blog post from 2011 on why I chose to call this blog Bangers & Mash.)

This month’s Family Foodies challenge, hosted by Lou over at Eat Your Veg and me, is all about the food you cook to show your family how much you love them, and I simply couldn’t not enter my good old bangers and mash. If my children are feeling low or have had a demanding day, then bangers and mash is one of those tried-and-tested dinners that is sure to put a big, beaming smile back on their faces. It works for my husband too. It’s a hug on a plate, all covered in gorgeous gravy.

Here’s how I make mine…

bangers and mash

The bangers

I tend to buy my sausages (and indeed most of my meat) from the local butcher, and I always go for the best I can possibly afford. I would rather spend more on good, free range, locally reared meat and eat less of it, than buy cheap, lower welfare meat which never tastes as good. While pork sausages must have a minimum meat content of 42 per cent pork, I try to make sure my sausages contain at least 70% meat. Fried sausages are of course quite delicious but I usually grill mine as it’s ever so slightly better for you.

The mash

It’s important to choose a good floury potato for your mash, such as King Edwards or Desirée. Peel and boil them until just tender, drain and then add a generous knob of butter to the hot potatoes and allow to melt before mashing them with a dash of milk, a dollup of wholegrain mustard and some salt and pepper. I rather like my mash to be a little lumpy. It’s not an excuse honest; in fact I have a slight aversion to the super smooth ‘creamed’ potato you get in restaurants – but each to their own!

The gravy

I must hold my hands up here and admit to using gravy granules fairly often. It’s different when you’re cooking a roast; there are lots of lovely meat juices from which to make your gravy. When you’re cooking sausages, it’s not quite the same. But it is still possible to make a delicious gravy from scratch (well, using a stock cube or frozen stock) and if you’ve got the time, it’s well worth that little extra effort. I like to make my gravy with red onions and redcurrant jelly for some sticky sweetness, which goes so well with sausage, although you could swap for white onions and Balsamic vinegar instead. Here’s my recipe…

Red onion gravy with redcurrant jelly

1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 large red onions, peeled, cut in half and sliced
1 tbsp corn flour
500ml hot beef stock
2 tsp redcurrant jelly
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the onions. Turn the heat down low, cover with a lid and leave the onions to cook gently for around half an hour or so, until soft and translucent. Give them a quick stir every now and again.

Stir in the corn flour and cook for a few minutes, before pouring in the hot stock and redcurrant jelly. Cook for another 15 minutes to thicken. Check for seasoning before pouring into your gravy boat and then smothering all over your bangers and mash. Delicious!

bangers and mash

As I mentioned before, I’m entering this dish into February’s Family Foodies challenge (hosted by Eat Your Veg and me) where the theme this month is LOVE.

family-foodies-valentine

Ham hock terrine

This article first appeared in the Wells Journal on Thursday 23 January 2014.

ham hock terrine

One day I would like to own my own pig; one day when I’m all grown up and have a vast enough garden, so I can fence off an entire section for the pig to churn up. Oh, and a house big enough to accommodate a huge chest freezer too.

I like the idea of keeping a pig for home-reared pork and bacon. I’d love to learn about butchery and making my own ham and sausages, as well as having a go at things like chorizo or salami.

It’s a bit of a romantic ‘good life’ idea, I know, but the pig is an incredible beast when it comes to providing meat. I don’t think there’s any part of the animal you can’t eat; nothing gets thrown away. How’s that for good value?

Of course, nose-to-tail eating is rather trendy these days, but it’s a good trend. As Fergus Henderson, author of ‘The Whole Beast’ says,

“If you’re going to kill the animal, it seems only polite to use the whole thing.”

For now I must rely on my local butcher as my source of free range pork, and I enjoy exploring and cooking with different parts of the animal. I have yet to try the trotter but I am extremely partial to pig cheek, which is cheap as chips.

The first time I asked my butcher for cheek, a few years back, I came home with a couple of sections of pig head, complete with parts of an ear and snout. Thank goodness I’m not a particularly sensitive type, as it took quite a lot of hacking to extract the cheek. I’ve now learned to ask the butcher to trim it down for me.

Ham hock or knuckle is another cheap cut. It has a wonderful flavour and a little goes a long way. Plus when the hock is cooked, you’re left with a delicious stock which makes the perfect base for a soup.

Ham hock terrine is one of our favourite dishes. Whenever we have family gatherings where we are asked to contribute one of the courses, this terrine is what we normally turn up with. It’s a lovely starter served with homemade piccalilli (I followed Mark Hix’s simple recipe, which is very good) and a few leaves, or try it with crusty bread for a delicious light lunch.

ham hock terrine

Ham hock terrine

Serves 10

2 ham hocks, about 1kg each
2 carrots, halved
2 celery sticks
1 onion, peeled and halved
handful peppercorns
2 large handfuls fresh parsley, roughly chopped
170g jar cornichons (baby gherkins), roughly chopped
2 gelatine leaves

Place the ham hock into a large pan, with the carrots, celery, onion and peppercorns. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 3 hours until tender. Take the ham out of the pan and set aside. Leave the stock to cool.

Wet the inside of a 900g loaf tin and carefully line with three layers of cling film. Make sure you leave excess cling film overhanging.

When the ham is cold, pull the meat off the bone and tear into strips into a large bowl. Discard the fat. Add the parsley and cornichons to the ham and combine. Spoon the mixture into the lined tin.

Soak the gelatine in a bowl of cold water for 5 minutes. Pour 300ml of the stock into a saucepan, warm through and remove from the heat. Remove the gelatine from the water, squeeze out the water and place in the cooking stock. Gently stir until melted and leave to cool.

Carefully pour the gelatine and stock into the tin. Wrap the overhanging cling film over to seal the terrine.

Cut some card large to just cover the terrine and wrap in foil. Place on top of the sealed terrine, and wrap the whole thing in more cling film. Set overnight in the fridge.

Use a sharp knife to cut the terrine into thick slices and serve with a simple rocket and spinach salad and a generous dollop of piccalilli.

Round Up: April’s Recipes for Life Challenge

It’s been another fantastic month for the Recipes for Life challenge. I must admit, when I was first told the three ingredients the SWALLOW cookery club had decided on for April, I wasn’t sure how many recipes we’d receive. But as ever you lot have excelled yourselves and we’ve ended up with an incredibly varied and mouthwateringly tempting array of dishes all using the three set ingredients of pork, sweetcorn and tomatoes.

recipes for life

So without further ado, let’s take a look at those delicious dishes and, most importantly, announce this month’s winner…

pork chops

I got things started with these Rosemary and Garlic Pork Chops with Roasted Corn on the Cob and Spicy Tomato Relish. Roasting the corn gives it an extra sweet intensity and make sure you serve it with lots of lovely mashed potato to soak up the juices from the pork and the butter from the corn.

sausagesweetnsour

Slow cooker sweet and sour sausages

Don’t these Slow Cooker Sweet & Sour Sausages from The Crazy Kitchen look good? The list of ingredients might look long, but don’t be fooled – this is a quick and easy dish to prepare, just perfect for a midweek supper. And what’s more it’s a very frugal dish, making one pack of sausages go a long way.

sausage-chilli-2

Sausage chilli

We had to bend the rules slightly for this Sausage Chilli from The Garden Deli. Sarah was very keen to take part in the challenge but as Sarah is vegetarian, we really couldn’t make her cook with meat. So Sarah entered her sausage chilli using veggie sausages and then I (or rather my husband) tried out her recipe with pork sausages – see below. And we can confirm it works superbly both ways! Here’s how ours turned out:

sausage chilli

Sausage chilli – mark two

The whole family loved it. Sarah’s chilli is a feast of colours, flavours and textures, and perfect for little ones as it has just the right level of spice without being too hot.

ribs

BBQ pork ribs with sweetcorn salsa

Next up is a dish that’s making me yearn for summer! Doesn’t your mouth just instantly water when you look at Under The Blue Gum Tree’s gorgeous photos of her sumptuous BBQ Pork Ribs with Sweetcorn Salsa? The ribs are smothered in a simple BBQ sauce made from store cupboard ingredients – the trick is not to marinade the ribs but instead to pour the sauce on for the last 10 minutes of cooking time – and served with a zingy salsa made from roasted corn and fresh tomatoes.

porkcreole

Slow cooker pork Creole

JibberJabberUK has come up trumps with this satisfying Slow Cooker Pork Creole – as she says it might not be 100% authentic, but it’s a great way to add a bit of spice to your family’s food. It’s an incredibly versatile dish, so you can throw in whatever vegetables you happen to have in the fridge or freezer.

sausagepasta

Sausage pesto pasta

You may recall that Helen from The Crazy Kitchen entered not one, not two, but three dishes into last month’s Recipes for Life. And she’s worked her magic again! This Sausage Pesto Pasta is her second entry for April’s challenge and I know my own family would absolutely love this. The recipe is simplicity itself but you just know it’s packed with flavour and would satisfy even the grumbliest of tummies.

ovenbakedtortilla

Oven baked tortilla

And for her third offering, Helen from The Crazy Kitchen brings us this ever so easy Oven Baked Tortilla – a great one-pan meal, which Helen says is one of her favourite dishes to prepare when they’re away on holiday as it’s just so simple to do.

Pork, sweetcorn and tomatoes with vermicelli rice noodles

Pork, sweetcorn & tomatoes with vermicelli rice noodles

The brilliantly named Fun as a Gran came up with a wheat, egg, dairy and gluten-free dish of Pork, Sweetcorn & Tomatoes with Vermicelli Rice Noodles. I love the fact there is “no fancy measuring” and the recipe can be adapted up or down at the drop of a hat to cater for any number of people staying for dinner.

pulled pork

Pulled pork wrap with tomato and chorizo salsa and sweet sweet sweetcorn

Here’s a great first-time entry from Spurs Cook: Pulled Pork Wrap with Tomato and Chorizo Salsa and Sweet Sweet Sweetcorn. I’m a big fan of slow-cooked pork, especially when it’s seasoned with a whole host of rich, warming spices like paprika, cumin, cayenne, chilli and fennel, and I’m intrigued by the idea of the sweetness of the sweetcorn intensified even more with the addition of honey. Got to give it a go!

retro pork

Very retro sweet and sour pork

How about this for a taste of summer sunshine? Chez Foti’s Very Retro Sweet and Sour Pork looks just glorious and I bet it tastes every bit as good as it looks. Sweet and sour flavours are always a firm family favourite and this looks so much better for you than the horrible battered version with a gloopy sauce you so often find in takeaways. Like Louisa, I think I might add a touch of chilli too in the adult version…

ciabatta pizza

My Cheat’s Ciabatta Pizza is the next entry and to be honest hardly deserves to be described as a recipe as it’s just so easy to make. It’s simply sliced bread with your favourite pizza-style ingredients chucked on top and either grilled or baked in the oven. A quick and easy dinner to throw together when you don’t have time to make your pizza dough from scratch.

red rice

Red rice accompanied by pork, sweetcorn and tomato

And last but most certainly not least is a second entry from Fun as a Gran - Red Rice Accompanied by Pork, Sweetcorn and Tomato - another dish that’s easily adaptable depending on what you happen to have in. It features lovely nutty red rice served alongside pork steaks in a sauce made from a can of chicken or mushroom soup. It reminds me of some of my favourite student recipes!

Well, who would have thought pork, sweetcorn and tomatoes could lend themselves to such very different dishes? I look forward to working my way through these over the coming weeks.

But of course, what you’re waiting to hear is the name of this month’s winner. And so I’m very pleased to announce that the winner of first prize in April’s Recipes for Life challenge, as chosen by SWALLOW’s cookery club, is…

Helen from The Crazy Kitchen for her Oven Baked Tortilla!

Huge congratulations to Helen for her well-deserved win, particularly as this means she’s now scooped first place two months in a row! The guys at SWALLOW said they liked her tortilla because it features a good selection of veggies and was just a little bit different.

Special mentions also go to Under The Blue Gum Tree’s BBQ Pork Ribs and Chez Foti’s Retro Sweet & Sour Pork, which the group said both looked and sounded gorgeous too.

So well done again to Helen – a little gift will be coming to you in the post in the next few days. Watch this space to find out the three set ingredients for May’s challenge, and let’s see if we can knock Helen off the coveted top spot – surely she can’t make it three in row? Or can she?!

recipes for life

If you’d like to find out more about the work of SWALLOW and perhaps get involved in their Twenty for 20 appeal as part of the charity’s 20th anniversary celebrations, please take a look at their funky new website.

April’s Recipes for Life challenge: get cooking with pork, sweetcorn and tomatoes

Take part in the Recipes for Life food bloggers challenge and you could see your dish featured in a new charity cookbook!

We’re already into month three of the Recipes for Life challenge and I’m rather excited about the three ingredients we’ve been set for April by the SWALLOW cookery club. They are: pork, sweetcorn and tomatoes.

Like last month, they might not at first appear the most obvious of culinary combinations. But give it a few moments’ thought and I’d be surprised if a whole host of tasty meal ideas don’t start whirring around your brain!

The rules of the challenge are the same as before; simply come up with a wholesome, delicious and easy-to-cook recipe featuring this month’s three key ingredients, and which members of the cookery club at SWALLOW can cook themselves.

Through its Fit for Life programme, SWALLOW runs cookery courses for adults with learning disabilities, giving them the skills and confidence to prepare simple, inexpensive and nutritious meals. They are looking for new recipes to cook on the course, and ultimately to include in their new cookbook.

So what meal could you rustle up with pork, sweetcorn and tomatoes? You can use any pork-based product you fancy – a whole joint or chops, bacon or ham, sausages or mince. The sweetcorn can be fresh, on the cob, tinned or frozen. And the tomatoes can again be fresh, tinned or perhaps sun-dried – you might even get away with a puree or passata. So you see, it’s really a rather versatile shopping list this month.

Recipes for Life: how to enter

  1. Display the Recipes for Life badge (shown above and below) on your recipe post, and link back to this challenge post.
  2. You may enter as many recipe links as you like, so long as they are based on the three main ingredients selected for this month and accompanied only by basic store cupboard items.
  3. Send your recipe URL to me at vanesther-at-reescommunications-dot-co-dot-uk, including your own email address and the title of your recipe or post. The closing date this month is Tuesday 23 April 2013.
  4. If you tweet your post, please mention #RecipesforLife, @BangerMashChat and @SWALLOWcharity in your tweet and we will retweet everyone we see.
  5. Feel free to republish old recipe posts, but please add the information about this challenge and the Recipes for Life badge.
  6. As entries come in, links to these will be added to this page and at the end of the month there will be a round-up of all entries received.
  7. SWALLOW staff and members will choose their favourite recipe at the end of each month, and the winner will receive a small prize.
  8. A selection of recipes entered each month will be featured in the SWALLOW cookbook to be published later this year, helping the charity to raise much needed funds for its ongoing work.

Pork chops are a firm favourite in our house – they’re almost as popular as sausages. When I was told the trio of ingredients for April, I knew I’d have to get in there first with some chops. So here’s my entry to get things started…

Buy your pork chops from the butcher and ask for them to be cut nice and thick – they stay much more moist and succulent that way.

I like to roast my corn on the cobs in the oven in a little butter with whatever herbs I have available; the end result is so much sweeter and tastier than if you simply boil them.

corn on the cob

The spicy tomato relish includes some optional extras such as olives and capers but don’t worry if you don’t have these or you don’t like them – the relish tastes just as good without. And some simple mashed potato on the side is perfect for soaking up all those delicious buttery, meaty juices.

Rosemary and garlic pork chops with roasted corn on the cob and spicy tomato relish

Serves 4

4 thick pork chops
3 sprigs rosemary
6 cloves of garlic, crushed
4 tbsp olive oil
1 lemon
salt and pepper

4 corn on the cobs
50g butter
fresh or dried herbs (I used fresh thyme and sage)
salt and pepper

For the tomato relish

1 tbsp olive oil
Half an onion, chopped
1 tsp paprika
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp red wine or cider vinegar
2 tsp sugar
salt and pepper
30g capers (optional)
30g black olives, roughly chopped (optional)
Handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped (optional)

Start by preparing the marinade for the pork.

Place the pork chops in a large dish. Pull the rosemary leaves off the woody stems, roughly chop and give them a good pounding with a pestle and mortar. Put the rosemary in a bowl with the crushed garlic and olive oil. Chop the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the bowl. Chop up the lemon skin, give it a good bash with the pestle and mortar and add to the bowl with a little salt and pepper. Mix it all together before pouring onto the meat.

Get your hands in and rub the marinade all over the chops so they are well smothered. Cover and leave for a couple of hours.

Prepare the corn on the cob by firstly placing them on large sheets of foil. Generously smear each cob with butter, season and sprinkle over your chosen herbs. Wrap the corns in the foil, leaving a little room for the steam.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.

When the pork is marinated, place on a wire rack over a roasting tray and bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, depending on how big your chops are. Turn halfway through the cooking time. The chops are cooked when there is no sign of pink inside and are nicely browned on the outside.

Roast the corn in the oven at the same time, placing them directly on the oven shelf. They should take around 20 minutes. Test the corn with a sharp knife and remove from the oven when they are just tender. Leave wrapped in foil until you’re ready to serve.

While the chops and corn are cooking, make the tomato relish. Heat the oil in a frying pan and gently soften the onion until it is golden. Add the paprika and cook for a minute or two before stirring in the chopped tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. If you are using, also add in the capers and olives. Cook gently for 10 to 15 minutes until the relish has thickened. Mix in the coriander right at the end.

Keep the relish warm until the pork chops and corn are ready and serve on warmed plates, ideally with some mashed potato on the side. That’s what I call proper family grub – it’s definitely finger licking good!

April’s entries

  1. Slow Cooker Sweet & Sour Sausages from The Crazy Kitchen
  2. Sausage Chilli from The Garden Deli
  3. BBQ Pork Ribs with Sweetcorn Salsa from Under the Blue Gum Tree
  4. Slow Cooker Pork Creole from JibberJabberUK
  5. Sausage Pesto Pasta from The Crazy Kitchen
  6. Oven Baked Tortilla from The Crazy Kitchen
  7. Pulled Pork Wrap with  Tomato and Chorizo Salsa and Sweet Sweet Sweetcorn from Spurs Cook
  8. Pork, Sweetcorn & Tomatoes with Vermicelli Rice Noodles from Fun as a Gran

  9. A Very Retro Sweet and Sour Pork from Chez Foti
  10. Cheat’s Ciabatta Pizza from Bangers & Mash
  11. Sausage Chilli (Again) from the Garden Deli and Bangers & Mash
  12. Red Rice Accompanied by Pork, Sweetcorn and Tomato from Fun as a Gran

Slow roasted pork neck in thyme, rosemary & bay with mint flatbreads

Generally in January I yearn for rib-sticking, stodgy, winter warmers; the kind of hearty, satisfying food that provides an extra layer of insulation against the cold and damp outside.

But occasionally I find myself craving sunshine food; dishes that remind me of blue skies, eating al fresco and the scent of honeysuckle. And this slow roasted pork does exactly that. The sweet, fragrant and tender pork neck is shredded and served simply with flatbreads, salad and tzatziki, very reminiscent of incredible gyros we enjoyed on holiday in Kefalonia last summer.

Pork neck is a very cheap cut of meat but you’ll probably need to ask your butcher for it. Ours doesn’t have it out on the counter as it’s not all that popular; he normally uses it in his sausages. But it is perfect for slow cooking – so delicious and full of flavour, especially when you marinade it in plenty of herbs, garlic and lemon juice. Don’t be tempted to rush the roasting. For a wonderfully succulent texture, the pork neck will need around four to five hours in the oven.

Slow roasted pork neck in thyme, rosemary and bay

Serves 4

1kg pork neck
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
large bunch of fresh thyme, leaves stripped
2 large sprigs of rosemary
1 lemon
handful of bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. You begin with a high temperature to get it started and then whack it right down low to slow cook.

Using a pestle and mortar, roughly crush the garlic cloves with the thyme, a handful of rosemary picked from the stalk and the juice of half the lemon. Put the piece of pork into a medium-sized ovenproof dish, pierce all over with a sharp knife and rub all over with the garlic and herb mixture so it penetrates the flesh.

Chop the remaining lemon half into half again and place in the dish alongside the pork with the rest of the rosemary and bay leaves. Cover tightly with foil and place in the oven. (If you’re using an Aga, place in the middle of the top oven.)

After 15 to 20 minutes, just enough time to really get the meat hot, turn the temperature down to 140°C/gas mark 1, or the middle of the simmering Aga oven.

Roast for four to five hours until the meat is tender and beginning to fall apart.

Remove the foil and increase the temperature to 200°C/gas mark 6 (back to the top Aga oven) again for another 10 to 15 minutes to brown the pork a little.

Shred the pork using a couple of forks and pile onto a large serving plate. Bring to the table with a simple salad, tzatziki and a stack of warm mint flatbreads (below).

Mint flatbreads

These flatbreads were inspired by a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe in his wonderful book Plenty. I’ve swapped coriander for mint, which perfectly complements the Greek-style pork and yoghurt.

280g plain flour
3tsp baking powder
1½ tsp salt
280g Greek yoghurt
1 tbsp dried mint
butter
olive oil

Place the flour, baking powder, salt, yoghurt and mint in a large bowl and mix together to form a dry dough. Add a little more flour it it’s a bit sticky. Knead the dough for a couple of minutes until it is smooth and stretchy. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for an hour.

Divide the dough into 10 to 12 pieces, form into balls and then roll with a rolling pin into round discs about 2mm thick.

Heat a knob of butter and a little olive oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat and fry the flatbreads, one at a time, for a couple of minutes on each side until golden brown. Add a little more butter and oil as required. Keep the flatbreads warm until you’ve cooked them all.

Enjoy with your slow roasted pork!

As this dish features lots of lovely herbs, I’m entering it into Lavender & Lovage’s Herbs on Saturday recipe challenge, which I also happen to be hosting this month!

Cheryl’s Hokkien Mee for the Care to Cook Challenge

My mum with her siblings and cousins in Penang in the fifties

I love the way a certain food or meal can instantly transport you back to your childhood. Food is so evocative and nostalgic. When I was growing up, I had such a strong impression of Penang from the tales my mum would tell me about the different foods she ate there as a child, and from the yearning in her voice I almost felt like I missed them as much as she did.

One of the foods that takes her back to being a teenager in Penang is Hokkien Mee. My mum has sent me her recipe for this dish as her entry into the Care to Cook challenge, which is a celebration of good family food. If you’d like to enter a dish, you still have time – the closing date is 12 August. And there’s a copy of the Care to Cook recipe book signed by Lorriane Pascale for the winner.

So, I hand you over to my mum, Cheryl…

This is my recipe for Penang’s Hokkien Mee. It’s different from how they do it in Singapore or anywhere else in Malaysia,  and it’s so delicious!

We used to eat it at our favourite haunt, a coffee shop with a juke box near Cantonment Road where we lived. The Kopi Tiam or coffee shop had lots of different food stalls around it where you could order food. We would eat the noodles with our ice coffee or kopi-o-peng and meet the Thai boys (who came to study in Penang) and listen to music.

Photo: VKEONG.COM

Penang Hokkien Mee

Serves 10

Chilli paste:

10 tbsp chilli boh (about 35 deseeded, soaked dried chilies – blended in 3-4 tbsp water)
15 shallots (minced)
6 cloves garlic (minced)

Stock:

2kg pork bones
2-3kg prawn shells (chopped)
2 pieces rock sugar (golf ball size)

500g pork
1kg prawns
6 eggs (hard boiled)
300g bean sprouts
Fried shallots
5-6 stalks of morning glory (kangkung or green veg from Chinese supermarket)
300g pork ribs
1kg yellow noodles (chow mein)
1 packet rice vermicelli (bee hoon)

water
salt
pepper
rock sugar
soy sauce
vegetable oil

Wash all the bones clean with salt and put them in a big pot of boiling water. Lower the heat, close the pot with a lid and simmer for about two hours. Remove all the bones and you should get about 15 cups of stock.

Heat about 7-8 tablespoons of oil in a wok and fry the garlic and shallots (leave 1 tbsp of shallots for the cooking of stock) for about five minutes on a low heat. Add in the chilli boh and fry until fragrant. Add a pinch of salt. Scoop out and put to one side the chilli paste, leaving about half a tablespoon in the wok.

Heat up the wok again with another tablespoon of oil and throw in all the prawns. Stir fry until all the prawns curl up. Scoop out the prawns and leave to one side.

Add some more oil to the wok. Put in the chopped prawn shells – drain the shells as much as possible and keep the remaining juice for the stock. Fry the shells until you get that thick aromatic prawn smell. By then, the shells will be a bright orange colour. Pour in the remaining juice from earlier plus another 3-4 cups of water. Let it simmer on a low heat for about two hours.

While waiting for the prawn stock to cook, heat up 2 tablespoons of oil in a soup pot and fry the reserved tablespoon of shallots for about a minute. Add half to one tablespoon of the cooked chilli paste. Mix well and add in the bone stock. Bring to a boil and add in the pork pieces and ribs. Lower heat to a simmer further.

When the prawn stock is ready, slowly and carefully sieve (leaving out all the shells) into the pork stock pot. Bring to boil while adding in 2-3 tablespoons of soy sauce, rock sugar, and pepper and salt to taste. Remove the foam on the surface while retaining some of the floating oil.

Lower the heat and check if the pork is tender. Scoop up in separate bowls. Sliced the meat thinly. Leave all aside for garnishing later.

Cut the hard boiled eggs into halves, quarters or rings to your liking.

Heat up a wok of water and blanch the bean sprouts and morning glory. Make sure you drain the excess water well. Set both aside.

Soak the rice vermicelli (bee hoon) for about half an hour (or according to the directions on the pack). Drain well. Do the same for the yellow noodles.

To serve, place some bean sprouts and morning glory at the base of a deep bowl. Add your noodles then top with some prawns, sliced meat, pork ribs and egg. Pour some boiling soup over the noodles and garnish with some fried shallots and chilli paste.

Braised pig cheeks with celeriac mash

If you’ve never eaten pig cheeks, you really should give them a try. They are cheap and tasty and perfect for a family meal.

Please don’t be squeamish about this cut. I’m not asking you to cook tongue after all! When pig cheeks are slow cooked as in this dish, they have the most divinely succulent and unctuous texture and taste like they should cost a fortune. They’re actually cheap as chips. My butcher sold me six cheeks for just £4.

Pigs cheeks might not be that easy to find though. You probably won’t come across them in the supermarket and I don’t know of any butchers around us that would have them on display. I always order them in advance from our local butcher in Frome.

The first time he got them in for me, I was given almost the whole side of the pig’s head complete with ear (times six), and had the rather daunting task of removing the little cheek cushions from within these mounds of skin and sinew. Needless to say I learned from this experience and now always ask the butcher to remove the meaty morsels for me.

The pig cheeks, prepared by my lovely butcher

This dish sees the pig cheeks slowly cooked for four hours in vegetables, stock and wine and is the ideal comfort food for a chilly February evening. The addition of caraway gives the sauce a beautifully rich and intense flavour. The cheeks are served simply with a celeriac and potato mash. I’ve based my recipe on one by Anton Edelmann.

My whole family loves it – yes even my daughters who are six and three. Perhaps they are too young for the thought of eating cheek to be off-putting. Next I have to persuade my mother to try it when she comes to visit at the end of the month.

Braised pig cheeks with celeriac mash

Serves 4

6 pig cheeks, trimmed of fat
Salt and pepper
Flour for dusting
3 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, peeled and chopped
1 leek, washed and cut into 1cm chunks
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1cm chunks
2 celery sticks, cut into 1cm chunks
2 garlic cloves, sliced
100g tomato puree
½ bottle dry red wine
300ml beef stock, hot
½ tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp caraway seeds
1 bay leaf

For the celeriac mash

Half a celeriac, peeled and chopped
4 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
100ml milk
50g butter

Preheat the oven to 140°C/gas 1.

Season the pig cheeks and dust with the flour. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large ovenproof pan and fry the cheeks until golden brown. Remove from the pan and keep warm on a plate.

Add a little more oil to the pan and add the onions, leeks, celery, carrots and garlic and fry gently until just beginning to brown. Pour in a little of the red wine and the tomato puree. Cook gently to reduce the wine and caramelise the puree. Gradually add the rest of the wine, reducing down each time until you have a lovely rich dark sauce.

Return the cheeks to the pan and pour over enough stock to cover. Add the peppercorns, caraway seeds and bay leaf and bring to a gentle simmer.

Cover with a lid and cook in the oven for four hours. Stir occasionally and add more stock if it begins to dry out.

Towards the end of the cooking time, boil the potatoes and celeriac in a pan of salted water for around 10 minutes. Add the butter, milk and a little seasoning, and mash well.

When cooked, take out the cheeks and keep warm. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve into a clean pan. Bring the sauce to the boil and reduce until it is good and thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve the cheeks on the mash and generously spoon over the sauce. Enjoy!

A feast fit for a dragon

Photograph of embroidered Chinese dragon by Erin Calaway

This year I got it into my head that I was going to cook my family a proper feast to celebrate Chinese New Year and welcome in the year of the dragon.

I don’t normally celebrate Chinese New Year, despite being part Chinese. My mother grew up on the Malaysian island of Penang and is half Chinese and half Dutch. So you see I’m only a little bit Chinese. But mum has always talked about Penang as home, so I do feel a strong connection and I adore the food.

There’s been lots of talk about Chinese New Year amongst the foodie Twitter and blogging community, which really spurred me on. Trouble is I don’t have the first clue how to cook Chinese food.

And so I called in help from the Chinese members of my family who happen to be scattered around the world. Facebook is a fantastic tool for this kind of thing. I asked them what should I cook for a Malaysian Chinese feast and, more importantly, how do I do it?

Kian chai – I think!

The menu and recipes below come from my Aunty Lorene in the US, Aunty Kim in Canada, cousin Edhish in Sweden, cousin Jezalina in Australia and mother Cheryl in Spain.

All agreed I had to cook Kian Chai Teng, a soup made from Chinese salted vegetables, pork ribs and sour plums, served with chopped chilli and steamed white rice. I’m not 100% sure I got the right vegetables in the Chinese supermarket, although the lady who worked there insisted they were the thing to use.So I’m not sure if I made an authentic Kian Chai Teng, but it sure tasted good. The children gobbled it down enthusiastically and enjoyed picking the beautifully tender meat from the bones.

Penang Char Kway Teow

Next was Char Kway Teow, a Penang fried noodle dish. You should use shrimps and squid but as my husband can’t eat seafood I swapped these for chicken and Chinese sausage. Again not totally authentic but absolutely gorgeous nonetheless.

My mum suggested Chinese spare ribs and gave me her Aunty Seck’s recipe and I also came up with my own recipe for Chinese roast chicken drumsticks. Plus a big bowl of  pak choi steamed with ginger.

It was a fine, fine feast. As is my tendency, I cooked way too much food, so we ate the leftovers for Sunday lunch. The spare ribs in particular tasted even better second time around.

I have to say a heartfelt thank you to my relatives for their advice and supportive words. One day it would be wonderful if we could all get together to celebrate new year somehow. Oh, and of course, gung hay fat choy everyone!

Kian Chai Teng – soup with pork ribs and salted vegetables

Serves 6-8

Salted plums

1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp vegetable oil
500g pork spare ribs
4 cloves of garlic, crushed 3 slices of ginger, finely chopped
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp Shaoxing (Chinese rice wine)
2 potatoes
1 packet kian chai (Chinese salted vegetables)
3 salted plums

In a large pan, gently fry the onion in the oil until golden.

Place the pork ribs, garlic and ginger into the pan and enough water to cover. Bring to the boil, then add the soy sauce and rice wine. Turn down the heat so that the soup is on a very low simmer and cook for at least an hour, until the meat is starting to fall off the bone.

Taste your salted vegetables. If they are very salty, you may need to give them a thorough rinse so they don’t make your soup too salty.

Add the potatoes and salted vegetables. Put the lid back on and simmer for another 30-40 minutes.

Serve the soup with a saucer of soy sauce and cut chilli and a plate of steamed white rice.

My Char Kway Teow

Serves 6-8

2 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp water
4 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 chicken breasts, chopped into small pieces
1 lap cheong (Chinese pork sausage), cut diagonally into thin slices
500g flat rice noodles
2 eggs (duck eggs if you can get them – I used hen eggs)
4 large handfuls bean sprouts
salt and white pepper

In a small bowl, mix the dark and light soy sauces with the water, and put to one side.

Heat the oil in a wok on a high heat and stir fry the garlic for a few seconds before adding the chicken. Cook until the chicken turns white, then add the sausage and stir fry for another minute.

Add the noodles and sprinkle with the soy sauce mixture, and add salt and pepper to taste. Gently stir fry for three to four minutes.

Make a space in the middle of the work and break the eggs into the hole with a little pinch of salt. Roughly scramble the eggs and then combine with the noodles. Stir fry for another five minutes.

Finally add the bean sprouts, fry for another minute and then serve.

Spare ribs

Chinese spare ribs

Serves 4

550g pork spare ribs
4 cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp light soy sauce
½ tsp dark soy sauce
½ tsp Shaoxing (Chinese rice wine)
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp tomato sauce
1 tbsp Worcester sauce
½ tbsp sesame oil
½ tbsp sugar
3 tbsp tapioca flour
3 tbsp vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

In a small bowl mix together the garlic, soy sauces, rice wine, salt and pepper. Pour over the spare ribs, make sure thorougly coated and leave to marinade for at least an hour.

Prepare the sauce. In another bowl, combine the tomato sauce, Worcester sauce, sesame oil, sugar and 3 tbsp water.

Coat the spare ribs in tapioca flour and fry in hot oil over a medium heat for around five minutes. You may need to do this in batches. Remove, drain on absorbent paper and place on a baking tray. Roast in the oven for 10 minutes.

Heat the sauce until it thickens. Take the ribs out of the oven, place in a serving dish and pour over the sauce.

My Chinese chicken

4 chicken drumsticks
4 chicken thighs

For the marinade:

2 tbsp runny honey
4cm ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp Chinese five spice
2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp red currant jelly
1 tbsp sesame oil

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

Slash the drumsticks with a sharp knife and place in a bowl with the thighs.

Mix together all of the marinade ingredients and pour over the chicken, making sure they are well coated. Leave to marinade for at least two hours or overnight.

Put the chicken pieces on a roasting tray with a few spoonfuls of the marinade and place in the oven for 40-45 minutes, turning occasionally and spooning over more marinade if it looks like it is drying out.

Also great served cold as part of a picnic or in a packed lunch.

Miss Mash tucks into the pork ribs in her soup

Miss Banger’s favourite was rice with soup spooned over