Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Steak and Ale Pies (includes Instant Pot / Pressure Cooker method)

In this house, steak and ale pie is the King of all pies...

I've been making steak and ale pie for years - I often start off by braising beef this way, and sometimes it even gets the traditional pastry lids when it actually ends up as a pie (I usually like to do them individually in pots with just a puff pastry or rough puff pastry top), sometimes it ends up not as a pie, but with fluffy dumplings on top, soaking up the juices, or occasionally it's served with baguette slices laid on it near the end, smothered in a mix of butter and mustard and topped with cheese... and sometimes, it's 'just' served as a beef casserole with potatoes and vegetables.

This is my pie - it's a small one - everyone elses' is about double the size!

It's just the kind of braised beef dish that's soooo good, and so versatile that I go back to the core ingredients time and time again but end up using them in different ways. Usually, I make this quantity the day before, and put half in pots for making pies the next day so it's nice and chilled before putting the pastry lids on, and the other half is frozen for another time. You can get away with putting it into the fridge to chill for just an hour or two before putting pastry lids on and baking if you're using individual dishes for the pies, as it will cool down quicker (and if you want to top it with dumplings, you can just pop them on top as soon as it's cooked, and cook for another 20 minutes or so until they're fluffy and cooked - adding mustard, parmesan and some thyme if you have it is lovely!).

This quantity serves eight people (or if they have Desperate Dan appetites, maybe six?) and is easily doubled if you want to cook in bulk.

If you're counting calories, it is 2,965 calories for the whole quantity of filling, not including pastry, and therefore 371 calories for an eighth (of filling only - so for a low calorie meal you could always have the filling as a braise with steamed green veg and some new potatoes, and try to ignore those eating it pie style with chips!!).

Monday, 22 June 2015

Vegetable Spiralizers and other gadgets to make vegetable spaghetti or noodles

If you haven't heard of a vegetable spiralizer, then you've almost certainly probably seen food prepared with one somewhere...

...whether in a salad, or in cooked form: Courgettes (aka zucchini) are a common one - so common in spiralized cooked form they even have their own name now, known as 'courgetti' or 'zoodles', as a grain free, low carb, low calorie alternative to traditional spaghetti or noodles. And if you've ever been for sushi, you've quite possibly noticed the pretty spirals of Japanese white radish served alongside slices of sashimi.

Many vegetables (and also some fruits) are excellent candidates for being spiralized to add to salads, stir fries, fritattas, soups etc., or to eat in place of pasta and noodles. With thicker cut strands or plain spiral cut, they can also be tossed in a little oil and roasted, to add to or make delicious warm salads, or as side dishes, snacks or garnishes. Spiralizing vegetables can also make them more appealing to those who aren't keen on conventionally served vegetables or salads - including children!

This blog is primarily about horizontal vegetable spiralizers, as I have almost lost count of the amount of people I've seen wondering which type of spiralizer they should buy, in the current climate of their popularity!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Sweet and Sour Spare Ribs (includes Instant Pot Pressure Cooker method)

Who doesn't love a sticky spare rib from the BBQ, with tender, slightly charred meat that falls off the bone?

Well, there's definitely a knack to it! I've not always been a fan of spare ribs, having been given my fair share of over-cooked ribs with dried out, 'cottony' textured meat clinging stubbornly to the bones, and therefore it wasn't something I chose to cook very often. However, there came a point where I learnt that the secret to cooking *really* good spare ribs on the BBQ (or indeed under the grill) was all in the pre-cooking - low and slow (or the equivalent in the pressure cooker, as I have now discovered!) to ensure tender and succulent meat, which just needed a quick spell to give that characteristic, caramelized deliciousness on the outside.

Not only will this recipe give you delicious ribs, you also get an incredibly tasty Thai-influenced sweet and sour sauce to serve alongside - and unlike many sweet and sour sauces, there are no refined sugars, ketchups or artificial ingredients in it, it's all natural! If you're having a BBQ, it's easy to prepare these ahead, and then just warm the sauce through when you're ready to go.

1kg spare ribs will serve four to six people as a starter, or as a main with another dish of similar proportions (e.g. with one quantity of my Sticky Sichuan Chilli Chicken Wings - recipe here).

Calories: For those counting, a quarter of the ribs (served with sauce) is approximately 593 calories, and a sixth is 395 calories. [Calories shown in square brackets]

Monday, 8 June 2015

Sticky Sichuan Chilli Chicken Wings (including Instant Pot Pressure Cooker method)

Whether on the BBQ, or under the grill, you can't beat spicy, sticky chicken wings!

With only four ingredients, and no chopping, these wings couldn't be simpler, and they have a unique umami kick from the Sichuan chilli bean paste.


There's no need to marinate (although you're welcome to if you'd like to!), and you can pop them in the pressure cooker for 10 minutes before barbecuing or grilling to ensure your wings are perfectly moist and tender inside with crispy sticky skin on the outside.

Serves: 1kg chicken wings will serve four to six people as a starter, or as a main with another dish of similar proportions (e.g. with one quantity of my Sweet and Sour spare ribs).

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Chicken, Bacon and Avocado Salad with Griddled Courgettes

Quick and delicious - classic flavour combinations in a tasty salad that is ready in minutes.

Pop the griddle or grill on to heat up while you chop up your salad and shake up your dressing, and you can have this ready to eat in ten minutes or less.

Great for a light packed lunch too - just take your dressing in a separate little pot.

Serves one as a main, or two as a starter.

475 calories
for a main portion, 238 calories for a starter.

Want to cut the calories? Leave out the avocado and take it down to 317 calories for a main portion.

Normandy Pork Cheeks In Cider (includes Instant Pot Pressure Cooker method)

Meltingly tender, succulent braised pork cheeks in a cider and brandy sauce with carrots, mushrooms and caramelised apples.

This is a delicious dish, which you can choose to pop into a low oven, and allow to languish over a period of a few hours - or if you want to complete the whole process in a much shorter amount of time with the same tender and flavoursome results you can utilise the magic of pressure cooking and shave hours off. Once everything is in the pot, it takes 25 minutes at high pressure, to be precise (plus time to reduce the sauce). Excuse the rustic photo - I cut the vegetables large both to ensure that they stayed intact, and also with the idea of a nice, clean, minimalistic plate but hunger took over, we all ate together and I haven't had time to set up another photo yet! The best part about this dish, was how much everyone enjoyed it - my son loved the tender texture of the pork, and said "Mummy, I don't know how you got the pork that texture - is the cheek quite expensive?"

I have fond memories of what I knew as 'Normandy Pork' from my first forays into braising meat (nigh on a couple of decades ago!) alongside Boeuf Bourguignon and Coq au Vin, and it seemed like the perfect way to cook pork cheeks. Pork cheeks are an amazing cut of meat - as a hardworking muscle they are full of flavour, and banded with connective tissue which renders down through cooking to give you the most meltingly tender and unctuous nuggets of meat. As a bonus, they're also an incredibly economical cut (well, until they get too trendy, that is - right now, if you don't have access to a good butcher, at a supermarket they're around £5 a kilo). If you can't get hold of pork cheeks (you only want the meaty parts, see below for a photo), you can use any other cut suitable for braising, trimmed of excess fat and cut into large dice, e.g shoulder, or even use thick pork chops on the bone.

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