Just deciding what to have for dinner each night, personally I think, is the hardest part of the job. In case you hadn't already guessed I spend a lot of my day thinking about food, Im surrounded by it at work either where to go and eat or what I'll be making at home for dinner. Now I have someone to cook for at home (ladies, I know I always had you before but we seemed to eat out, like a lot) it's become the best part of my day.
My favourite part of my job/hobby/life, is that I feed people and that food can fix a bad day, the miserable weather, a problem and pretty much everything else in between. There is nothing greater than having people, whoever they might be, sat round a table in the evening to talk about your days and catch up.
Cooking can be a daunting task to a lot of people but really, it just comes down to organisation and just spending a small amount of time concentrating on what you're doing. People often say, oh I just don't have time to cook, but really you do, what you probably haven't been is organised, therefore you don't have anything in the cupboards or anything fresh. Just having a loose plan for the week ahead can help hugely and then it's easy to throw things together in as little time as 15 mins really, and I'm not talking about the complicated way of Jamie Oliver's recipes. Steak and salad for example, 10 mins in the making, max and thats if you like a medium steak.
Having said that the recipe I'm going to share with you now is not really the quickest but by god it is easy! Certainly perfect for lazy Sundays and beyond ideal for lots of leftovers! It's also a perfect make a head casual dinner party idea. May I introduced
Chilli Pork Ragu with Fennel Pork Scratchings
I found it on the amazing website Delicious and made it first for work but I've come to adapt it a bit, if anything to make it easier!
Now, like I said, we really like leftovers in this house so this was enough for dinner for 4 with seconds and then 2 left over Dan sized portions, so I made a LOT. (using 2.5kg of meat)
For 6 hungry people you will need:
1.5kg Pork Shoulder
2 Carrots - Diced
2 Onions - Sliced
2 Celery Sticks - Diced
4 Cloves Garlic
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
1 later of chicken stock
50ml of white wine (plus one glass for the chef)
I brought a whole pork shoulder joint as I wanted the skin for naughty treats but you can just buy the already diced stuff, it depends how much time you have or how adept you feel with a knife.
So start by taking the skin and fat off your joint and breaking it down into chunks.
One safety tip I have for those wielding knives, anchor your board! Get something damp, I've used kitchen roll, and pop it under your board. It stops it slipping all over the place when your grappling with your pig. We want to keep those fingers! Also make sure you have sharp knives, most accidents happen with blunt knives because you have to hack and be so much more aggressive with whatever you're chopping. Remember your knife is your tool, it needs to be able to do the work for you, not the other way around!
So back to the meat, here - chunked. Pop in a bowl and leave to one side to concentrate in your veg.
I don't bother to peel my carrots, just give them a wash and dice them up. Try and keep them all roughly the same size so they cook evenly. Same with the celery. The onions are easy here, just thinly sliced. Thats it. Prep done.
All good dishes start with butter, so get a good big knob and a chuck it in your casserole pan. Mmmmm butter. If you're not this way inclined use some sunflower oil instead.
Once thats nice and melty, chuck in your onions and sweat down. I add a little pinch of salt here as it helps to draw the water out of the onions. I also grate my garlic. If you don't have a microplane (pictured below) go get one, I use it ALL THE TIME. It's 100% less hassle to wash up than those irritating garlic crushers, just as quick and you can use it for loads of things. Cheese, ginger, garlic, nutmeg. Also, always sweat down your onions a little bit first before adding the garlic as garlic cooks a lot faster than the onions and you don't want it to burn as it goes bitter and nasty.
Once those are looking lovely and soft throw in your veg and cook down for a couple of mins.
Now the spices go in, you want to do this before any liquid so you can toast the spices a bit and release their full potential. This I haven't really measured, it is meant to be a chilli dish, so be heavy handed, I actually didn't add enough here and ended up putting more in and even then it wasn't as spicy as I would have liked. So, go nuts! You can always cool it down with some sour cream if you really have over done it.
Now dump in the wine and let this bubble away and reduce. You want to get rid of the harsh alcohol taste, as you only really want that when you drink, not in your food.
Now time for the tomatoes, pop them in and then, so nothing is wasted, pour your stock into the tins and give them a swirl to get allllll the tomato goodness out. Then pop the rest of the stock in and give it a good stir.
Now as you can see here I've been really stupid and not at all judged the size of my pot. Yeah I know, good one Katie, that made for a right mess to clean up. So DONT just go all out and pour it all in if you don't have a big enough one. I ended up separating out all of this into another pot, it will cook down enough to fit into one by the end so don't worry, you can put it all back together again at the end.
Right, thats it! All done. Bring it up to the boil and then turn down to a simmer. Now all you have to do is sit back and wait for about 3 hours. It doesn't even need a lid.
Now you can turn your attention to the naughty treats. Score your skin all over and sprinkle table salt all over it. Salt, as I said above, draws the water out of things and the key to good crackling is to start with super dry skin. So be liberal, spread the salt over the skin and the underside.
See how much water came out in just 10 mins? Leave this for an hour, in the fridge, as this also helps to dry out things.
When you go back to it, DONT rinse off the salt, you will undo everything, so just dry it and brush it off with kitchen roll. Then grab your fennel seeds, really these should be crushed but I don't have a pestle and mortar, so i just pressed them into the gaps and the same with the sea salt. (Malden, naturally)
Now pop it into a blisteringly hot oven 200-220 degrees depending on how hot yours runs. My new/inherited one is a real hottie and it crisps things beautifully (It's a SMEG for those that are interested.) Never have I made such good roast potatoes!
You'll just need to keep looking at it but mine took about 40 mins.
Break up into bitesize pieces and try not to munch them all before supper!
Now its time to go back to our pork. Leaving the lid off means that whilst its been bubbling away it has also been reducing to a lovely thick, rich sauce. Mine was able to back into one pot by now. Most of the meat will have started to break down and the more you stir it the more it will shred. You'll know if it is ready if you get hold of a big bit and are able to squish it
With the back of a fork like so... Keep stirring and squishing.
You'll have something looking like this. A big, thick, unctuous, meaty pot of deliciousness.
I served it with brown rice and kale seasoned with a bit of olive oil and salt.
The pork scratchings didn't last long and added a nice bit of texture. You could even blitz them quickly in a food processor to sprinkle on top for a bit of crunch.
A no hassle, yummy supper. You could also make this in a slow cooker. The only difference is that you might need to take the pork out when it was cooked and then just pop the sauce on its own in a pot to reduce to get that same thickness. Equally, if you wanted to put the whole thing in the oven, I would cook it on a low 160 degrees, you may have to repeat the process of reducing the sauce separately but if you wanted to go out, cooking in the oven is safer.
Ill try to post a lot more recipe ideas here. If you're organised with your shopping there is no reason you can't come home and whip up your own meals each night.
I mentioned knives above and the importance of sharp ones. If you want your knives sharpened, I used these guys London Sharpening Service and they are excellent. They just rock up to your house and do 8 knives for £28. All they need is a small work surface and plug socket and they leave no mess at all. Even if you don't have 8 knives, share with a friend! So worth it and cooking will become a dream, you'll wonder how you were ever doing anything with that spoon!