Sunday, 15 June 2014

Ham Hock and Barbecue Beans

This is a recipe that works well with a little time spent on it  - I did it in a slow cooker but you could do it in the oven or speed things up a bit with a pressure cooker.

I used Black Eyed Peas (or beans) although Will-i-am was not harmed in the making of this dish.


Beans Soaking
1 Ham Hock (may need soaking to remove salt - check with your butcher)

1 Bag of Dried Black-Eyed Beans (or 2/3 cans) - if using dried soak overnight in plenty of cold water

2 Carrots
1 Onion
4 Cloves of Garlic
1 Carton/Jar of Tomato Passata
2 Tblsp Molasses or Black Treacle
1 Tblsp Chipotle Paste
2 Red Chillies
1 Pack of Diced Smoked Pancetta
1 Bunch of Thyme

Chopping the veg
Ready for the sauce base

Firstly finely chop the chillies, onion, garlic and carrot and place in pan with thyme.

Add the pancetta, molasses (or Treacle) and the chipotle paste and nix in the tomato passata.

To all of this mix in the pre-soaked beans.
Then place the ham hock onto the veg and beans. 

Meat Resting
If using a pressure cooker you will need to cook under pressure for about 45 minutes.
As I said I did mine the opposite way in a slow cooker - I did it on high for about seven hours.
After cooking lift out the ham and place onto a plate to rest for about 10 minutes

Check sauce and seasoning

At this point have a look at the beans and sauce and transfer to a hob if you feel it needs reducing and thickening a little.

Check seasoning - you may need to add salt - or not depending on your Ham Hock.

To serve remove the skin and fat from the hock and shred with two forks and either put back in to the beans or serve along side them with a little green salad or coleslaw.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Building my own Hot Smoker

(or at least about to...)

I've always enjoyed the taste of smoked food. The salty sometimes acrid flavours permitting through a side of fish or a piece of cheese, and always given the choice go for smoked bacon, I hardly ever eat the non-Smoked variety unless I am eating it out where I'm not given the choice.

Homebase Galvanised Bin
So for some time now I've wanted to make my own smoker. I've been looking for sometime on the internet for different ideas, and then also this year Jamie Oliver and Jimmy Doherty on Friday Night Feast (Ch4)  made one in their home build section although this one was fairly large made out of two full sized oak whiskey barrels, so I needed something more in keeping with my requirements and that fits within out home environment.

The type I decided to go with was using a full sized galvanised dust bin (the old school type of thing Top Cat used to live in!)
I chose to create one over a bank holiday weekend, so was able to take advantage of a 15% reduction in prices at Homebase. This is really the biggest outlay you need to make - somewhere between £20 & £30.

I'm a Firestarter, twisted Firestarter...

I brought it home and then set about making a fire inside of it, on the internet there is a bit of speculation as to whether the zinc used in the galvanising process is harmful or not so as not to take the risk, we had the fire. I literally put in some paper and dry wood and within minutes it was blazing away happily.
After the flames had died down a little and the inside of the bin had started to blacken the outside too started to change it's appearance going from a shiny silver to a dull white ashen look.
I chose a nice shiny bin to start with, it didn't last half an hour so done worry about what it looks like!
The Barbecue I used
Chips in the barbecue base
over the fire, with the grill pan

I let the fire subside a little and then took the base of a small barbecue and placed this on to the embers.
I bought wood chips from the barbecue section (again in Homebase - I'm not on commission though?!) they are quite widely available these days, alongside barbecuing paraphernalia.

Wood chips for smoking in a pan of
water (soaking)  pre-smoking
One thing you may not realise is that chips should be soaked in water a little before smoking. After half an hour in water I drained and then put the chips into the barbecue base over the burning embers.
The ones I chose were Hickory wood but any good hardwood will work - I've since bought oak and cherry and am looking out for mesquite - some people use whiskey barrel oak and you can soak the plain chips in an alcohol/wine etc. to impart extra flavours (I haven't tried this yet - when I do I'll let you Lon how it goes!)

The actual smoker I was making is an electric one based on a heating element in the bottom to smoke the chips and not have the need for a big fire every time. I have now purchased the element to facilitate this but that will be the basis of my next 'Smoking' blog - the next step...

But as the fire was there I thought I'd use it. The next thing I needed was the grill plate from the barbecue this I suspended with wire 'meat hooks over the top end of the bin.
For my finished version I intend to drill and secure a few bolts around the bins circumference to allow the grill to be suspended, again to be discussed next time.

Loin of Pork
Trout, sausage and Swordfish
As for this time - I now had to decide what I was to Smoke.
I got two fresh rainbow trout, a piece of swordfish, some pork chipolata sausages and a joint of pork loin.
I started with the sausage and fish as I knew it would not need as long in the smoker as the pork loin.

After putting the chips in the smoker you need to allow time for the smoke and heat to build up inside your bin. I tested this by looking for smoke and not steam and also by testing the temperature of the bin lid.
when I felt it was about right I placed all of the above on the suspended grill pan and left them to smoke for between 30-50 minutes. there are no hard laws on this if is a bit hit and miss. For the trout I waited until I could remove the top fins by hand showing that it was thoroughly cooked through, the swordfish had juices running clear and the sausage just looked plain cooked.

The Smoked Trout
(just being checked by
my little one!)
After removing this I placed in the loin of pork and obviously this took longer than the other pieces because of size and density of meat. The smoker relying on the fire was where this did not work as well as I expect it to in the future as eventually the fire died down resulting in a good smoked flavoured piece of pork but a not entirely cooked through piece, so it was into the oven to finish it off this time.
The Finished Pork Loin
The slight pink line around the
 outside shows a real smoking has
taken place.
Smoked Trout with Horseradish
Cream and a Radish Salad

The Bluebell Inn, Farnah Green,

The Bluebell Inn
Farnah Green,
DE56 2UP

On a rare weekday off from work a few friends decided to go out and explore the countryside around Derbyshire and of course this included a lunch out at one of our fine hostelries.

We made our way through Belper and ended up at The Bluebell at Farnah Green.
It is one of those places that I've known of for ever and yet never actually made it up there.
Set back on the through road in the village it seemed from the outside to be a fairly normal country pub.

The Restaurant side

On entering there were tables set in the 'pub side' and an airy purple restaurant side, eating with a baby/toddler we were guided to the quieter (empty) restaurant side.

The menu was a more basic pub grub affair not as 'frilly' as in days gone by, it has recently undergone a change in management.
There was a good choice with some very reasonable prices too!

Venison Sausage and Mash
Myself and a friend chose venison sausages on a bed of onions and mash served with a black peppercorn cream sauce. The sausage was a local one, firm and meaty with a hint of nutmeg and black pepper in the background. The mash was fluffy and fresh complemented by the onions (red). The sauce was the only 'let-down really, if it were not for the pepper in the sausage I would have thought I was eating Ikea's meatball cream sauce!

A very good looking Fish & Chips!

Others ordered fish and chips which was a large portion of freshly (according to the menu?!) battered fish served with chips and either mushy or fresh peas.
Tartare sauce and freshly cut chips complemented a large fresh piece of haddock.

Chicken Curry and Rice (Chips in another bowl!)

Another meal ordered was a chicken curry (no specific style named) which again was big, plenty of meat in a thick curry sauce served with rice. My friend asked for chips instead and they were served in an extra bowl along with the rice - carb overload!

All in all the meals were all of a good size and freshly prepared and served, we did feel a little on our own in the restaurant but we did make the most of that as we were not exactly quiet, and that wasn't down to the baby!
After clearing we had a look at the dessert menu and again there was a good selection of British pudding standards.
Banoffee Cheesecake
(sorry no photos of the other sweets)
Two of us chose the above Banoffee cheesecake which was thick and tasty with a a good layer of 'Dulce de Leche' in the bottom. There was a flavour of banana but I would have preferred a little more 'real' fresh banana in mine 

ice cream was also ordered as was coffee finishing off a good and fairly reasonable lunch out.
Somewhere nice to pop out to, not too far and yet you get a real feeling of being in the countryside, looking back over the townscape of Belper.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Malaysian Beef Rendang

Apparently  CNN poll said that it thought that Malaysian Beef Rendang was the most delicious food in the world.
I'd eaten it in a Malay restaurant in China Town in London and enjoyed it there but had never tried to make it.
I spent some time browsing the internet for recipes, tending to focus on Indonesian and Malay sites to keep things as authentic as possible.
What I did then was to amalgamate a couple and here is the recipe:-

1.25 kg Stewing beef or a roasting joint cut into 3-4 cm pieces ( I used a topside joint)
Rempah or Curry paste
2 medium brown onions, peeled, roughly chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly sliced
2 1/2 Tbs ground coriander
1 1/2 Tbs ground fennel
1 1/2 Tbs ground cumin
1 tsp ground black pepper
3-5 red chillies - depending on how hot you like it
4 stalks lemongrass, white part only, dry outer layers removed, finely sliced
3 cm galangal (fattest part), peeled and finely sliced (if you can get it)
3 cm fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
1 Tbs tamarind paste – easily found in a jar at supermarkets or Asian grocers
2 Tbs brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
4 cloves
6 cardamom pods
800 ml coconut milk
150g kerisik (150g desiccated coconut required - see method)
Extra brown sugar and salt to balance at the end


Combine all rempah ingredients in a blender and blitz into a smooth paste. Pour into a large mixing bowl together with beef and mix thoroughly. Cover, refrigerate and leave to marinate overnight or for 2 hours at minimum. I poured it all into a zip-lock bag with the beef - sealed it and left it over night in the fridge.

To cook, transfer meat into a large non-stick saucepan. Add remaining ingredients except kerisik and cook uncovered on a low to medium heat until half the liquid has evaporated. Stir occasionally to check the mixture is not catching on the bottom. Again it depends how you feel about it but I did this all in a slow cooker on low for about 6-7 hours, then emptied it out in to a hot wok to reduce the sauce. I also added a sliced red pepper at this stage to add a bit of colour.

To make kerisik, simply dry toast 150g desiccated coconut in a medium frypan, tossing regularly until it develops a deep golden brown. Transfer to a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder to grind into a grainy paste.

Add kerisik and cook until the rendang develops into a dark brown with most of the liquid evaporated and beef tender. This should take 1 - 1 1/2 hours (when not in a slow cooker).
Check seasoning, add salt/sugar if necessary 

Serve immediately with steamed jasmine rice and fresh cucumberand another drizzle of coconut milk.


Indian Dinner Party

A couple of weekends ago we had friends over and I did my take on an Indian banquet.
I tried to make it an interesting experience in my own words the look I went for was 'oriental opulence'.

I chose a selection of coordinating crockery and cutlery. The plates were a selection of white porcelain mixed with some Imari China (Royal Crown Derby of course!) and a few serving dishes from Grotaglie the local pottery town near our house in Puglia, Italy.
These were inter dispersed with a few vases of spring flowers to add height as well as some plates on stands again offering a little height.

We had three families (including ours) for lunch so were short of some places, so we pushed two tables together, one for the adults, one for the children, but kept the theme flowing with matching table clothes and crockery.

To make things a little easier we had drinks and a little appetiser in the lounge and then went through to the dining room to sit down and eat the starter, main course and sweets.
Again I didn't want to be up and down all the time so to stick with the 'opulent banquet' theme I presented all of the starters and main courses in one go and allowed people to pick 'n' mix as they chose.

To start we had Prosecco with wild hibiscus flowers in syrup. The flowers were placed in the sparkling wine for a visual treat and it also gave somewhere for the bubbles to begin their journey up into the open from.

With this I served 'pani puri' (Gol Gappa in Punjabi) which are an Indian street food snack. The pani means water which is a flavoured liquor poured into the pani - small puffed up balls of fried semolina paste. With these was a sambal of fresh herbs and vegetables, a simple chick pea curry and a tangy mint and tamarind chutney.
A small drizzle or spoon of each of the above are dropped into the open and waiting pani, then the whole thing can go into your mouth in one go creating a taste explosion.


Pan Fried pork chops with apple and cider sauce

This is a classic recipe that most people should enjoy, it gets the most out of good pork pairing it with its best friend the apple, whilst not being that sticky sweet apple sauce out of a jar,
For this recipe I went to our local butcher (still a five minute car journey away) and chose two good sized outdoor reared chops from a rare breed pig with a good dry skin on the edge.
The sauce was a 'reduction'  (a 'cheffy' term meaning to boil the sauce away to improve flavour and intensity, as well as its consistency.) of cream and cider (as you can see I used a Swedish one - it was non-alcoholic - left over from when my brother and his family had been around).
To make the dish I first prepped the veg in this case I trimmed and par-boiled some asparagus spears and three large white baking style potatoes to make mash. The asparagus I dropped in boiling water for about five minutes and then fished it out and refreshed it (another cheffy term simply meaning I put it into iced water to stop the cooking and keep the colour.
The potatoes I peeled and diced and boiled in plenty of salted water. After about fifteen minutes the potatoes were tender and cooked through, I drained them and put the pan back on the stove with the drained potatoes for about a minute to dry them out a bit (there are few things worse than wet mash!).
After this I added double cream, milk and butter and mashed them down with a hand potato masher (unless your making it for hundreds it's still the best way!) After creating a well seasoned and creamy mash I added two teaspoons of whole grain mustard and mixed that through.

During this time I'd put on a frying pan to warm through to cook the pork chops, I also got four apples and just cut them through the centre.
Pan hot I added a little oil and then the seasoned chops after about four minutes I turned them and added the apples cut side down. The whole pan I then put into a pre-heated oven (around 200*C) - don't do this if you have pans with plastic handles!! Also remember when you take it out the metal handle will be 'Very Hot!' I did forget this with a chatty nine year old and ended up with a good burn on my palm! :-(

If you don't put your pan in the oven it may be a better idea to cut the apple up a bit smaller and then give the chops another five or so minutes on the top of the stove.
After about ten to fifteen minutes of cooking - depending in how well done you like your meat - also allow a bit of extra time if you have a very thick chop!
Take the meat out of the pan with the apple and place it on a plate to rest. Meanwhile add half a finely chopped onion to the (hot!) pan (add a little butter too if you feel it's needed) allow this to sweat out a little without too much colour. After a few minutes when the onion is softened add about a third of a bottle of cider - allow this to reduce with the onion,butter and meat and apple juices. When it looks as though the liquid is just covering the onions add a good splash of double cream and allow to reduce again by around one half, check the seasoning and flavour - turn off the heat.

Now you can start to 'plate-up' - a portion of vegetables leaning against the mustard mash, two apple halves the pork and then a covering of the sauce - you may if you wish strain the sauce before this point to remove the onions (or leave them in?!) 
Now all you have to do is sit down and enjoy it!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Black Cow

The Black Cow
The Green
Dalbury Lees
Derbyshire DE6 5BE

On Friday a group of us set out to Dalbury Lees to the Black Cow to celebrate a Birthday.
We had booked and reserved a table in advance as on a previous attempt to visit we'd had to go somewhere else as it does get busy, and right enough it was again on Friday night.

We were asked if we'd like to take a drink in the bar first but thought it would be easier to choose from the table, so we were shown to it promptly and were then given ample time to take in both the menu and the wine list.
The pub boasts an AA Rosette 'for culinary excellence' and a 4* AA rating for it's rooms which are also available.
The menu itself was large and easy to get on with offering a selection of European food and
'gastro-pub' classics.
Table setting

As a group we decided to order starters to share, so we all plumped for whole baked Camembert with garlic and honey, served with sour-dough bread. After seeing one arrive at another table we decided two would suffice.
They arrived on rustic wooden boards served in the cheese's own box, with possibly a garlic oil and some honey on the top. our waiter had informed us that unfortunately there was no longer any sour-dough left so they would substitute this for a similar bread - it was an olive one which was fresh and crusty and dotted with bits of black olive - fine for all of us except for one member of the party who didn't eat olives and therefore had plain white sliced.

Baked (or microwaved?) Camembert
It all looked good garnished with a dressed salad of mixed leaves, but on attacking it, we found it to be cold and solid, not oozing and baked as stated. As soon as we mentioned this the boards were removed and sent back to the kitchen, to be placed (we thought) in a large old black range with a fire licking the edges of our garlic laden cheese. In reality it was returned to us within the minute so we had to assume it had been given a few circuits of the microwave. Still at least then it was oozing and tasted fine with the bread. Almost a French fondue. I didn't get much from the honey, until I started mopping up what was left of the second one which really benefited form the flavour of the honey, so perhaps the first one had missed out a bit?

For main course, there was a bit of a split, two supreme of chicken marinated with lemon and thyme, two lamb shanks with a rosemary and garlic jus, and for myself half a crispy duckling with an orange and ginger sauce.
A good lamb shank
The presentation across the board was good and a lot of reviews I'd looked at on Trip Advisor had said the portions could be quite small, this however was not really the case, I think they were fair.
The main problem we had as a group was the saucing, in some was or another.
The chicken was quite a solid piece of breast and as such was quite dry (sorry, I didn't get a picture of it) the sauce was either not there or had soaked into the 'root vegetable and potato rosti'. The lamb was 'sauced-up' but had little or no taste of garlic and rosemary (it was also pretty short on the red onion marmalade).

Duck a l'orange (no ginger!)
As for mine it was a pretty good 1970's 'Duck a l'Orange', a nice crispy duck served with fresh veg and (a lot!) of new potatoes in a reduced orange juice sauce, it's just that there was no hint of ginger either fresh or ground and dried which was a shame as that would have just made the difference and moved it on form the 70's version. Still it was a good retro dish.

Not all of us took dessert, I did though!
I went for a vanilla Crème Brulee (sorry I'm not sure where all my accents are yet?!) served with shortbread biscuits. This was thick and creamy and flecked with vanilla beans. the biscuits however were not actually shortbread but looked like some Bronte oat biscuit they'd taken from one of the tea/coffee trays in the bedrooms.
The other sweets chosen included a banoffee crumble tart and a sticky toffee pudding with a butterscotch sauce.
The tart was crisp and filled with a toffee base and some banana but was slightly overpowered by a thick dusty layer of 'crumble crumbs'.
The pudding though was a good size swimming in a pool of sauce, not for the 'faint-hearted', sticky and sweet.
All in all it was a good night out, whether I would put it in the AA culinary excellence bracket is another matter but it was a good well cooked meal if a bit lacking in the sauce dept.
My finished (sorry) Crème Brulee