Thursday, 16 February 2017

Weekday Dinners - Chilli Pork Ragu

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)
Chilli Flakes

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!

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

New Post, New Restaurant. Palatino, Old Street

In the immortal words of Adele. Hello.

I know it's been a while since my last post and I apologise for my absence, life has just annoyingly got in the way. I say life, we all know that means work, and for the past 2 years I certainly have been consumed with that. You have to work in order to live yet some times it is the work that stops just that. 

Anyway that chapter of my life is just about to draw to a close so Ill be able to spend a lot more time with you but more on that later... 

So to kick off things in this new year I have just the thing, a brand spanking new restaurant and a very good one at that. 

May I introduce Palatino, the latest (food) baby from Stevie Parle who already has a long line a successful restaurants under his belt including Dock Kitchen, Craft, Rotorino and Sardine, which pretty much assured me that it was going to be awesome. 

We were invited along to the preview by Adam so Dan and I gathered our stomachs and headed off to see what all the fuss was about. 

Tucked away in the back streets off Old Street, Palatino is an unassuming space with an industrial 'cafe' feel to it. This is possibly because it is attached to Fora, a hot-desking office space so although it is operating as a restaurant in its own right it will also serve this. The yellow and grey themed space is light, airy and functional which lends itself to the cafe feel, however there was a fantastic buzz to the place when we arrive. 

There is a large communal table running down the middle of the dining area with banquettes that can hold big groups as well as couples seating. Dan and I were seated on the communal table and it still managed to feel intimate with the low hanging lights. It's a very clever design which felt welcoming to all types, those for a working lunch, a quick solo lunch or groups wanting a longer, lazier meal; I'm guessing exactly what it needs to be! 

Now on to the important stuff. 


First things first, it is important know that you can buy every single wine on the menu by the glass. This is thanks to the guys using the Coravin technique, (essentially driving a needle through the cork to siphon off the wine and then stuffing the bottle with argon gas to keep the wine from oxidising), which means you can drink from the bottle without actually opening it. For any wine lovers this now means that you can treat yo self to that glass (£25-£40) of Borolo without having to splash out on the whole bottle (£150-£220). 

Before you gasp out loud, (because you are borderline alcoholics like Dan and myself and one glass is simple not going to happen) there are plenty of other very reasonable Italian wines you can chose from and, if like me you are not so well versed in Italian wine, the waiting staff are very knowledgeable on the list and our lovely waitress helped us pick out two delightfully crisp glasses of white wine 
Le Pianure Bianco, Veneto, 2015 £5 / £18 /£26
 to start and a delightfully medium body little number with a peppery finish.  
Barbera D’Asti, Tenuta Olim Bauda, Piedmont, 2014 
£6 / £21.5 / £34

Now down to the real business of food. The Roma inspired menu is split into antipasti, primi (pasta), secondi (mains) and contorni (sides). Adams advice was to chose 4 antipasti, 2 pasta and 1-2 mains. We got stuck right in and went with 3 antipasti, 2 pastas and 3 mains (naturally). 

First up was the Speck, finocchiona & coppa (£7). A really wonderful plate of charcuterie and it turns out that all the meat is smoked and cured at their very own Craft, based in Greenwich annnnnnnd you can buy it! Hurray! It really is very very good stuff and Dan knows his sausage!  

Next to arrive were the Supli, wild mushroom & mozzarella (£3). Now arancini are good at the best of times, but when they contain a molten centre of cheese? OOOMMMMMMnomnomnom. 

Creamy, crispy and with a real earthiness of mushroom the were just divine. I fought Dan for the last bit, and won. 

Last on our list of antipasti was the Salt cod crudo, blood orange, 2016 cappezana olive (£8). This was my least favourite but then I am not a huge fan of salt cod. However the little cubes of blood orange really added such a freshness to the dish and I left Dan to hoover the lot. 

By this time we had seen a number of dishes coming out of the kitchen and I was more than excited for the arrival of the Ravioli, spinach & squash (£8/£14). Swimming in glossy butter I dived right in to smoosh open the little green parcels to expose the brilliant orange interior. 

The squash puree was as thick, rich and sweet as it should be and the pasta light as anything. A must order I would say. 

Next to land on our table was the Bombolotti ragu 'Marcella' (£8.5/£14). Next to the ostentatious colours of the ravioli, Dan and I just looked at it and then at each other. "It looks like a bowl of sick" whispered Dan. I can't say I disagreed. 

However, the proof is in the pudding right? Although the ragu was certainly not the prettiest guy at the party, it was a dish that really got better and better the more you ate of it. The flavours just built in your mouth until it became so moorish, a really deep earthy flavour that can only come of slow cooking and maturing, I apologised to the bowl and polished off the lot. 

I will admit, I was starting to feel a touch full at this point so I took a little stroll to the loo to try and aid digestion. It also allowed for a little sneaky peak round the corner. When you walk into Palatino it is a L shape, to your left is the open kitchen and dining area and the bar then runs down the right length. In the corner is what looks like lecture theatre steps and by the entrance to the loos is the opening to the office spaces. The bar is going to be a great space for after work drinks. 

I got back just in time to be able to order another bottle of wine just before our not one, not two but three mains arrived.

I apologise to my gall bladder, you've been a real trooper all these years, don't think its gone unnoticed.

The star of the show was the first to show up. Chicken, pancetta & pistachio meatballs, polenta (£12.5). Yes I know, it sounds odd, Dan gave me a look when I said we had to order it as I'd heard too much about it to let it go. I said star of the show and I really mean it, this is a stand out dish. The meatballs are salty, sweet and moist, sitting on a nest of the cheesiest creamiest potenta. A mouthful if this with a a fried sage leaf was just heaven but what really pulled it all together? The jus, just a tiny drizzle of the stuff but really it made it all sing. 

If, when, you go, and you don't order these, we are no longer friends (unless you're Maddie Ill let you pass as the amount of cheese would probably kill you).   

Dipping in and out of mouthfuls of meat balls was the Pork chop, olives, anchovy & cream (£17). I am a huuuuuuuuge pork chop fan and this certainly lived up to all I want in a chop. I thick line of sweet fat running down one side, pink in the middle and smothered in anchovy seasoning. Ill admit even the fat was probably a bit much even for me, but the flavour was divine and the meat excellent. I'm gonna try this one at home me thinks. Might even throw in a vegetable for good measure.

Dans choice was the Saltimbocca; veal, prosciutto, spinach, sage & Marsala (£14). I almost don't know what to say here without sounding repetitive really. Guess what, it is also really good. The prosciutto beautifully crispy lending a crunch to the dish, hiding succulent veal underneath flavoured with sage. The iron rich spinach a perfect accompaniment all brought together with a deep rich marsala sauce. 

Dan offered me tasters but that was all I was getting out of him really. This was his stand out dish especially with the side of Fried potato gnocchi (£4) 

These lighter than air little crispy puffs were perfect for wiping up the juice on our plates and cutting through the fat. Deep fried and tossed in a little rosemary salt, these would make even just the perfect bar snack. Really different and a pleasant surprise as one ofter expects gnocchi to bog you down.

In case all this food we consumed hasn't make you feel a bit sick yet, here are a few more shots of the simple yet divine dishes.

 Dish 6,7,8,9 of our small, light, calorie free lunch.
I mean, thank god I found a boy who likes to eat!

I would like it to be known that by now I was totally stuffed. I've never been a huge dessert fan, Dan however is, so you can be rest assured there will be plenty more sweet things appearing on this blog now. 

He couldn't turn down a tiramisu so we were kindly brought a delicate slab. Through his mumbles I gather it lived up to everything a tiramisu should be.

Job done. Menu pretty well tested and I would say it's bombproof. Honestly the things I put myself through for you guys. There is something for everyone here so whether or not you are going to be a large group here for lunch or having dinner with just two. I would be really interested to go back and see how the space fairs in the evening. 

Further down the line they are going to start breakfast and then made to order pizzas for lunch. I personally can't wait to find an excuse to go back. 

Thanks so much for having us! 

Square Meal