Boasting honey, figs, grapes, nuts and sweet wine, this Italian feast would surely have won the approval of Bacchus himself. When I think about good food, when I dream about delicious dishes bringing together the simplest ingredients to create something truly magical, when I picture myself being served an incredible meal in an idyllic setting, I tend to find myself transported to Italy.
It’s been a few years since I’ve travelled in Italy and I long to return. My parents are in Tuscany right now and as you can imagine I am extremely jealous. My step-mum Sue has been sending me droolsome updates on Whatsapp, replete with photos, documenting their food adventures. There have been accounts of wonderful salads with chicken, ravioli in a walnut cream sauce, the thinnest pizzas with just one or two toppings, grilled sea bass with roast courgettes, fritto misto in the lightest of batters, fagiolini with fine green beans and bacon in tomatoes and garlic. Oh and lots of gelati with figs and cherries… The list goes on. It’s been pure torture.
I was given this delicious gratin recipe by Italian chef and cookery writer, Valentina Harris, who I met through my involvement in the wonderful Wells Food Festival, which has now become an annual event in England’s smallest city.
Other than tinned oxtail soup as a child (which I don’t think really counts), I hadn’t eaten oxtail until just the other week when I got hold of some at my local butcher and decided it was time to try it out on my family.
I’ve been meaning to cooking with it for quite some time but for one reason and another hadn’t got round to it. It’s a wonderfully cheap cut and I’d heard how full flavour and “unctuous” it can be when cooked long and slow – perfect for us as we cook in an Aga.
And I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I turned to that classic Italian cookbook, The Silver Spoon, which I always tend to consult when faced with a new cut of meat, and found a recipe for a slow-cooked oxtail, cooked very simply with soffritto (onion, carrot, celery and garlic), white wine and pancetta, or in my case beef stock and smoked bacon.
The result was truly unctuous. So it might not be the prettiest of plates but it tastes divine. A properly rustic kind of dish which demands eating with fingers to make the most of all that gorgeously sweet meat clinging to the bones, with plenty of cartilage to be gnawed and marrow to be sucked. The vegetables seem to soak up the gooey, marrow-rich sauce making them beautifully soft, and a large helping of creamy mashed potato is just wonderful served on the side.
What did disappoint was how squeamish the children were about getting stuck in. This isn’t normally a problem in our house, where we’re used to sticky fingers and dribbly chins. Perhaps I left a little too much fat on the oxtail or maybe it was simply the idea of eating a beast’s rear appendage, but I was surprised at how much encouragement my kids needed to finish their plates.
Don’t worry, I never give up on the first attempt. This is definitely a dish I’ll be trying on the clan again soon. I loved it so much, it’s now my mission to make my family love it too.
Braised oxtail with smoked bacon
850g oxtail, cut into pieces
2 tbsp olive oil
3 rashers smoked bacon, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
3 carrots, finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
500ml hot beef stock
salt and pepper
Remove any excess fat from the oxtail and then soak in cold water for three hours, changing the water a couple of times. Drain and pat dry with kitchen towel.
Preheat the oven to 140°C/gas 1.
Heat the butter and oil in a large ovenproof dish, add the bacon and fry for 5 minutes until coloured.
Add the oxtail pieces and brown all over.
Stir in the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and fry together for a few minutes before pouring in the hot beef stock. Add enough hot water to just cover the ingredients and season to taste.
Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover with a lid and transfer to the oven to cook for three to four hours, until the meat comes easily away from the bone and the juices have thickened.
Serve with plenty of creamy mashed potato to soak up all that delicious sauce. And make sure you have napkins to hand.
Oxtail is a very inexpensive cut of beef and so I am entering this dish into May’s Family Foodies challenge (hosted by myself and Eat Your Veg), where the theme is ‘Cheap and Cheerful’.
This was a truly random recipe choice. I counted along my cook books, from left to right, until I reached the magic number 30. The title I landed upon was a tiny little book crammed in between a couple of heavy weights, The Silver Spoon and How to be a Domestic Goddess. My random book was GoodFood: 101 Cheap Eats; not the most exciting or inspiring perhaps of all the books on my shelf, but there you go. That’s the point I guess when it comes to picking a random recipe.
The next direction was to turn to page 30, which I dutifully did. And the recipe in question was for Bacon Kebabs on Mushroom Rice. Not bad, I thought, although my daughter Jessie won’t be thrilled. The face she pulls if you suggest she eats a mushroom couldn’t be worse if you’d suggested she eat something you’d discovered on the bottom of your shoe.
So why the random recipe choice? Many of you will no doubt already be familiar with Dom at Belleau Kitchen’s Random Recipe challenge, which this month celebrates the big three-oh.
I thought it was about time I entered a dish. I’ve meaning to so for about the last year. All too often I’ve got as far as selecting my random recipe and then completely forgetting to make it before I realise the deadline has already been and gone. The story of my life really! But this month I’ve done it. Only just mind – July’s challenge closes in just over an hour. If I type quickly, I think I’ll just make it!
While the Bacon Kebabs might not have been the classiest or most challenging of dishes, they did give us a good plate of decent grub which went down very well with all the family – with certain members avoiding coming into close proximity with anything remotely resembling a fungus, obviously. It’s not a recipe I’d necessarily have picked out myself to make, but it’s a simple one I can see myself doing time and time again, and one I might possibly prepare the night before for a lazy Sunday brunch when we’ve got people staying the weekend.
2 medium leeks, washed, trimmed and each cut into 4 4 flat mushrooms (I used 3 flat mushrooms and half an aubergine) 14 rashers rindless streaky bacon, halved (I used 8 rashers smoked back bacon, cut into strips) 4 herby sausages, halved vertically and then again horizontally 300g long grain rice 50g melted butter 1 tsp dried thyme squeeze of lemon juice 200ml creme fraiche
Blanch the leeks in boiling water for 4 minutes.
Finely chop one of the mushrooms and the stems of the others and keep to one side to add to the rice later. (As my oldest despises mushrooms, I chopped up half an aubergine instead.)
Cut the remaining mushrooms into quarters.
Stretch out the bacon with the back of a knife and wrap around each piece of leek, mushroom and sausage. Carefully thread onto skewers. I made sure, of course, that a few of the skewers were free of the “evil” mushroom.
Cook the rice according to the packet instructions.
Melt half the butter with half the dried thyme and lemon juice, and then brush over the kebabs. Grill under a high heat for around 15 to 20 minutes, turning regularly until cooked.
Melt the rest of the butter in a pan and cooked the chopped mushroom (or in my case, chopped aubergine) with the remaining thyme until softened. Add the creme fraiche, season and stir well.
Drain the rice and stir into the sauce.
Stir the kebab pan juices into the rice and serve immediately.
Breakfast Club: because breakfast should be more interesting than tea & toast or coffee & cereal.
During December, I am delighted to be hosting Breakfast Club, a bloggers challenge created by the very talented Helen at Fuss Free Flavours to encourage more creativity in the kitchen for that all important first meal of the day. I really hope you’ll join in the fun by entering a dish or two.
Let’s do brunch!
The theme for Breakfast Club this month is Brunch. According to Marge Simpson’s charming Casanova of a bowling instructor, the über smooth Jacques, brunch is…
…not quite breakfast, it’s not quite lunch, but it comes with a slice of cantaloupe at the end. You don’t get completely what you would at breakfast, but you get a good meal!
Brunch is my idea of a perfect breakfast. The kind of lazy breakfast you cook and eat at leisure on a relaxed Sunday, when you’re not in a rush to get to work or school. The kind of laid back breakfast you take your time over with a large pot of coffee and a selection of papers.
So no, not the kind of breakfast I get to eat all that often, but I always make sure I indulge when the opportunity presents itself. And a very good idea to have a stock of good brunch recipes up your sleeve for when it does.
It’s very easy to enter a brunch dish into this month’s Breakfast Club:
Email me with the URL for your brunch recipe blog post
Mention in your post you are entering your dish into Breakfast Club, include the logo above, and add links back to both this post and the Breakfast Club page at Fuss Free Flavours
Entries can be submitted to other events
You are welcome to enter old posts/recipes but they must be republished with the logo and links above
If you use Twitter please use #blogbreakfastclub and tweet your entry, and I’ll retweet everyone I see
The closing date is Friday 28 December 2012.
Hopefully, that all makes sense but if you do have any questions, please comment below. I can’t wait to see your entries!
Oh and before I forget, Helen at Fuss Free Flavours is always on the look out for new guest hosts for the Breakfast Club, and last month’s round up is here.
To get things started, I thought I’d give you my brunch recipe. I found it hard to choose which one as I have so many brunch favourites. I love pancakes and did think about entering these indulgent lemon and ricotta pancakes.
But then I do also find it hard to resist a good fry up, but really – who needs a recipe for that? And so I’ve decided on…
The full English pizza
I know it sounds a little crazy. Or maybe a lot crazy. But this is a perfect and fun weekend brunch, particularly when you’ve had a few drinks the night before and need some stodge to sort you out. It’s essentially all the usual suspects you’d find in a cooked English breakfast but on top of a pizza. Gorgeous. And you probably won’t need to eat for the rest of the day.
I get up early to make the pizza dough. Then go back to bed for a bit with a cup of tea while the dough rises. But if that sounds to you like too much of a palaver, then ready-made pizza bases would make life a little easier.
Makes 4 pizzas
For the dough:
400g strong white bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 x 7g sachet fast action dried yeast
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
250ml luke warm water
1 tbsp olive oil
For the topping:
knob of butter
passata, about half a jar
4 pork sausages, grilled and sliced
4 rashers bacon, grilled and chopped
mozzarella, 2 x 250g balls
4 free range eggs
To make the pizza dough, put the flour, salt, dried yeast and oregano into a large mixing bowl and mix well.
Make a well in the middle and pour in the lukewarm water and oil. Gradually work the flour into the liquid, making a soft dough. If it’s too dry, add a drop more water. If it’s too sticky, add a little more flour.
Flour your surface before tipping the dough onto it. Knead the dough by stretching it away from you, then pulling back into a ball. Do this for five minutes or so, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Return the dough to the mixing bowl, cover loosely with cling film and put in a warm place for about an hour, until the dough has doubled in size. This is when I retire back to bed for a while.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6 or use the middle of the top oven of an Aga.
Uncover the risen dough and punch it back down. Flour the surface again and divide the dough into four balls. Stretch or roll out each ball until you have a thin circle about 22cm across. Place the pizzas onto slightly oiled baking sheets.
Melt the butter in a frying pan. Add the spinach and cook gently until wilted.
Pour a couple of tablespoons of passata onto each pizza, smoothing out with the back of the spoon. Spread some spinach over each base (squeeze out any excess butter), followed by the pieces of sausage and bacon, and finish with torn pieces of mozzarella. Be careful not to overload the centre of the pizza, where you’ll be cooking your egg later.
Bake the pizzas in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully break an egg into the middle of each pizza. Return to the oven for 3 to 4 minutes until the white is just cooked but the yolk is still soft. Enjoy at your leisure!
When I put out a call a month or so ago for people to send in their favourite family recipes for the Care to Cook recipe challenge I had absolutely no idea what kind of response to expect. Care to Cook is a challenge I set up with a fostering and adoption charity I work with called TACT in order to promote their cookbook, which they’re selling to support adopted children and their families.
But I had nothing to worry about. You lot rose to the challenge splendidly, supplying a fantastic assortment of family favourites, both savoury and sweet. The task set was to suggest a dish you would cook to welcome someone into your family home. For many children in care, family meals are simply something they are not used to. Each and every dish submitted into the challenge is one I know would make a vulnerable child or young person feel special, valued and welcomed.
Before I announce the winner, here are each of those delicious entries in turn. Warning – this list is guaranteed to make you hungry!
First in was this tasty little number from Under The Blue Gum Tree, which looks far superior to its McDonald’s namesake: Homemade Fillet O’ Fish and “Chips”. The fillet is served in lovingly prepared carrot and cumin bread rolls, with potato skins covered in paprika and cayenne pepper, and some salsa and soured cream on the side. Now, who could resist that?
Next we have French Madeleinesfrom Crêpes Suzettes. These pretty little cakes look so tempting and perfect for goûter, the snack French kids have at around 4pm. I think my children must be a bit French as they are always starving when they come home from school too!
For Reluctant Housedad, what to cook for this challenge was a bit of a no-brainer. It had to be his Peanut Butter and Salted Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake. Doesn’t it look incredible? I love puddings that combine sweet and salty and absolutely anything that contains peanut butter, so this is going straight to the top of my must-bake list.
My fabulous mother Cheryl suggested this next dish Hokkien Mee, which she remembers eating as a girl growing up on the Malaysian island of Penang. It’s a hot and spicy noodle dish, featuring both meat and seafood, common in many South East Asian dishes. It’s a little different to the Singapore version but, as my Mum would tell you, much more delicious!
Karen from Lavender & Lovage offers up these ‘frugal but comforting’ Stuffed Tomatoes with Herbs and Oats, which I think look incredibly tasty and very satisfying. It’s a real family-favourite in Karen’s house; her daughter loved eating this when she was little, and still does now she is all grown up!
My little sister Elly surprised me with her cooking skills with this next entry, her Nonya Chicken Curry from Malaysia. I just assumed she would submit a recipe for something sweet and sticky – she’s a great baker you see. But no, this is her curry dish that got a big thumbs up from her boyfriend’s dad. He’s from Malaysia himself and apparently not an easy man to impress!
Pasta and Pesto Sauce is our next entry which comes from A Trifle Rushed. Pesto is always a favourite in our house but I must admit it’s normally a meal-in-a-hurry using dried pasta and jarred sauce. Here Jude and her daughter lovingly make fresh pasta by hand and blend their own pesto in a pestle and mortar. I bet it tastes incredible; it certainly looks wonderful.
Louisa at Chez Foti now lives in the French Pyrenees and likes to cook classic French dishes whenever friends and family come to visit. This Boeuf en Daube is a particular favourite and I can see why; it looks so sumptuously satisfying! It’s one of those meals you can prepare in advance and leave to slow cook in the oven, so that your visitors arrive to the most glorious aromas emanating from the kitchen. Yum!
When I received this next entry from Lavender & Lovage for Yorkshire Season Pudding with Herbs I had to try it straight away. We had it for brunch one Sunday morning, and it was perfect with our bacon, eggs and beans. I like the fact this is a traditional family recipe, and one that Karen’s grandmother used to make. I think it might just become a tradition for our family too.
Spinach and Bacon Macaroni Cheesefrom Sian at Fishfingers for Tea is next up. Macaroni cheese is the ultimate in satisfying comfort food and I do love this version, beefed up with tasty bacon and spinach and finished with slices of tomato and crunchy cheesy breadcrumbs on top. Another great dish for preparing in advance and popping in the oven just before your visitors arrive.
My Nana Barbara sent in two dishes for her entry: Courgette Bake followed by Vanilla Cream Terrine. She says the courgette bake works well both as a starter and as main course served with large hunks of crusty bread. My Nana is fantastic in the kitchen and as a kid I would love staying with her and Grandad as it always meant getting to eat lots of lovely cakes and pies.
Chicken Basquaise is the delicious entry from Helene at French Foodie Baby. She warns that it might differ from traditional recipes but that’s what she likes so much about her mother’s cooking; she cooks from the gut. I love the way Helene relives her food memories through her blog and brings them into the present day as she cooks for her little boy Pablo.
ThisStrawberries and Cream Birthday Cakecomesfrom my step-mum Sue and is the cake she bakes every June to celebrate my twin sisters’ birthday. I’ve always been very jealous of them having a summer birthday when strawberries are in season! Now wouldn’t you like this for your birthday cake each year?
The final entry is one of mine: Hainanese Chicken Rice. It’s a dish I loved to eat when I was a little girl on trips to Penang with my mum and little sister. I had no idea how to make it so I turned to members of my Chinese-Malaysian family for a helping hand, and my Aunty Lorene and Cousin Sisi did the honours by providing this recipe. How would I ever survive without Facebook?!
There you have it – a fine collection of family recipes if ever I saw one! But there can only be one winner in the Care to Cook challenge, and the unenviable task of selecting a winner was given to 15-year-old Josh, who lives with one of TACT’s foster carers in the South West of England.
So a huge congratulations to Keith at the Reluctant Housedad for your fabulous entry, which Josh found he simply couldn’t resist! As winner of the Care to Cook family recipe challenge he will receive a copy of TACT’s Care to Cook recipe book, signed by the charity’s celebrity patron Lorraine Pascale.
And thank you to everyone who has taken the time to share their favourite family recipes, helping to raise awareness of this very worthwhile charity, which is working so hard to improve the lives of children and young people across the UK who haven’t had the best starts in life. More information of the work of TACT is available on their website.
My parents split up when I was very little. I can barely remember them being together. So much so, I’m not totally sure how old I was when they went their separate ways. Two perhaps, or three?
But despite that, my dad’s parents, my Nana Barbara and Grandad Peter, ensured they remained constant factors in my life – through my childhood and teens, my university days and when I started my own family and they became great-grandparents. My mum moved around the UK quite a bit as I was growing up, but no matter where we went, Nana Barbara and Grandad Peter would trek across the country to come and visit me. Because family is important. I grew up knowing that and knowing how much I was loved. And that is so important.
I am so pleased my Nana Barbara has entered these recipes into the Care to Cook recipe challenge to raise awareness of the fostering and adoption charity TACT. I always associated visits from my grandparents and then later, when I was old enough to go and stay with them in Lancashire and then the Lake District, with food. Homebaked cakes, pies, tarts, casseroles and puddings. Dinner round the table. Proper family food.
The two dishes Nana has entered are actually new ones on me, and I can’t wait to try them out…
In one bowl mix:
2 grated courgettes
1 grated carrot
1 chopped onion
5 rashers of chopped up crispy bacon
1 cup grated tasty cheese
1 cup self-raising flour
In a second bowl mix:
5 eggs, beaten
½ cup olive oil
salt and pepper
crushed clove of garlic
You’ll also need:
Parmesan or cheddar for sprinkling on top
Chopped fresh parsley to finish
Stir bowls one and two together, then spread into a lasagne dish. Sprinkle with Parmesan or Cheddar cheese.
Cook at 200°c for 30 to 40 minutes. Serve hot or cold, garnished with fresh parsley. Will serve six people.
Vanilla Cream Terrine
2 tsp vanilla extract
425ml whipping cream
11g sachet powder gelatine
85g caster sugar
425g Greek yoghurt
Mint leaves and raspberries to garnish
Begin by placing the gelatine in a cup together with three tablespoons of the cream and leave to soak for 10mins.
Meanwhile place the rest of the cream in a saucepan with the sugar and heat gently until sugar has dissolved. It is important not to overheat the cream. Next, add the soaked gelatine to the warmed cream and whisk everything over the heat for a few seconds. Now remove the cream mixture from the heat.
In a mixing bowl, stir the yoghurt & vanilla together, then pour the gelatine cream mixture through a sieve. Mix very thoroughly and pour the whole lot into a plastic box (I use an old ice cream container). Allow to cool, cover and chill in the fridge for at least 4-6 hours or overnight.
Serve sliced, with fresh raspberries and mint springs, with a pouring of raspberry coulis.