Oxtail is one of my absolute favourite cuts of meat; it’s rich, gelatinous, almost unctuous texture is coupled with an intensely meaty flavour. Add to that the fact that it’s intensely easy to cook in advance and it was always going to be a winner for our Halloween Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett pies that we cooked for our recent party (I’ll post everything we cooked soon!). The pies went down so well that every last one was scoffed down despite us implying that the contents were erstwhile barbershop customers. But the beauty of this oxtail recipe was once we made it, we used it for so many other purposes as well. We made ravioli, a ragu sauce for pasta, we had it with mashed potatoes and I even made an oxtail croquette (In the past I’ve made an oxtail and beef mince burger)– plus it freezes brilliantly. If you can’t find oxtail then shin of beef, beef cheek or any other slow braising cut of beef will work well (though the cooking time will be a little reduced as oxtail requires particularly long cooking). What I want to share with you though, is the secret ingredient I picked up from a few restaurant kitchens.
Crab is one of my all time favourite seafoods. I love crispy soft shell crab, I love crab claws dipped in garlic butter, I love shredded crab meat in a spicy Thai salad. However, I will forever vividly remember the first time G ever came to Australia. As a 19 year old feeling very grown up and taking his girlfriend to a really fancy Thai restaurant in Sydney we had a great meal – including crab – and took a taxi home. In the cab G suddenly fainted and was non-responsive for about ten terrifying seconds (felt like an hour) – turns out G’s allergic to crab. So we don’t eat it much.
After G and I started our honeymoon in Zambia (read about it here) we moved on to South Africa and Mozambique. South Africa was a dizzying display of safari animals and raw, beautiful landscape. We started in the Sabie Valley in a small lodge called Tanamera, passing an evening drinking South African wine and Gin and Tonics before delving into our plunge pool overlooking the valley below. We passed the night talking about all the animals we hoped we would see in the Kruger over the next few days – we were soon to see them all.
Recently, G and I went on honeymoon and started in Zambia (read all about it here), where I had a dish that was truly enchanting and it turns out, when I made it at home, really quite simple and easy to make. It lends itself to being made ahead with only minimal amount of effort to finish it off. Crispy filo pastry wraps around a filling of spinach, garlic and onions with crunchy cashew nuts, flecks of goats cheese and soft sweet raisins.
As some of you may know, G and I recently got married – it was the single greatest day of my life and I was so honoured to share it with all the people I got to share it with. I’m not normally one for gushing online but all the lovely people know who they are and we’re very grateful. Never wanting to make things easy for myself, I also decided to make one of the canapés – which I was rather pleased with in the end. It was a tomato consommé (you can find a link to the recipe here), and the biggest challenge was working out how to hang 10 kilos of tomatoes suspended in muslin cloth for a day. It’s a challenge I wasn’t expecting for my wedding day if I’m honest but a little rope and my in-laws’ garage later and there we were. If I were making it again in such ridiculous quantities (which I’m unlikely to do) I’d use another couple of layers of muslin as the weight of the tomatoes squeezed the juice out faster than usual meaning it stayed a little red rather than going clear and golden – though the taste was unaffected. After the wedding G and I went on honeymoon to Southern Africa, we saw and did the most amazing things and importantly had the most amazing food.
Recently I wrote about Barrafina, in my opinion the best tapas restaurant in London. One of the dishes I didn’t write about is their tortilla. It’s a melting in the middle Spanish omelette that’s perfectly judged and makes an amazing quick dinner. However, I’d never managed to get mine to be good enough to warrant sharing with you – until now. Barrafina’s tortillas are remarkable in that they are thick and flavoursome throughout the whole of the tortilla, not just around the filling and they are never dry. The secret, a little patience – you leave the onions and potatoes in the egg mixture for 10 minutes (or up to a day) before cooking.
This recipe is one for my fictional restaurant (one day). As with any recipe there are a few things I would tweak, but that’s just because I love to fiddle with things. I’ve cooked this dish, or a version of it many times when people come round because it’s so easy to get all the work done in advance and you know how I like that. In fact, I’ve even posted a dinner party plan before with this as one of the dishes, I just hadn’t posted the recipe – until now. Pork belly was the first meat that I learnt to cook in a way which I thought was as good as I would get in a restaurant and I’ve now got so many ways of cooking it that I love – but this method was the first and for that will always one I love.
We’re moving into prime wild mushroom season, something England does fantastically well. Buying wild mushrooms at the farmers’ market is a veritable exercise in the wonders of nature. Cloud ear mushrooms, King oysters, Girolles, Trompettes, Shitake, Hen of the Woods, Ceps and Chanterelles piled high and ready to be taken home and devoured. If I’m honest, they rarely get any other treatment than being quickly cooked with olive oil, butter and salt, and heaped on top of grilled sourdough bread – sometimes I’ll even throw a poached egg on top for my all time favourite brunch. However, I’ve been doing a lot of picnicking recently and I think these wild mushrooms deserve a place on the picnic rug. These quick pickled mushroom recipes are not only perfect for a picnic, quick to do and easily done a week in advance, but they go amazingly well with rich meats like pâtés, pork belly and game (which is coming into season now – pickled girolles with grouse is amazing).
Barrafina is my favourite Tapas restaurant in London. It has steep competition as Tapas has become so “hip” it’s in danger of people rejecting it for being too mainstream – there’s no crowd more fickle than foodies. Salt Yard and its sister restaurant Ember Yard are both fantastic; Jose (and Pizarro) is delicious, Moro has really interesting North African influences; Fino is like Barrafina but you can book (and the identical menu is slightly less well cooked). However, for me, Barrafina has the best food and the best atmosphere. I don’t mind waiting (and you will wait) because I can have some beautiful oloroso or palo cortado sherry and eat salty, delicious iberico ham croquettas in the queue. Barrafina has a wonderful vibe, it feels like everyone there loves food, they love talking about food, they love eating it and they love cooking it. You feel special just for sitting down. And, like all tapas restauarants, they have to turn out a huge number of dishes in a very short time and that takes preparation, the kind of preparation you can use in your own kitchens.
In the Summer, our beautiful new flat, which we just bought, gets hot and, on the rare days when London decides it’s going to have a heat wave, it can get _really_ hot. Combine that with grilling steak, a small whisky induced hangover and beautiful people coming to visit and it was pretty clear we wanted to sit outside. Thus began the most calamity strewn and yet ultimately brilliant picnic I think I’ve ever had. It started so well, we realised that the five minute walk to the park was the perfect amount of time to rest the grilled skirt steak, the salad was made (more on that later), the wine was chilled (more on that later) and the dessert was ready (more on that later). It took approximately ten paces out the door for the first disaster to strike. Continue reading