Monday, 29 September 2014

Ox cheek casserole

Winter is setting in – slowly – which is just about the same way this delicious casserole cooks. Talk to your local, friendly butcher and s/he will get a couple of ox cheeks for you. I pay just under €18 per kilo (this year; last year they were cheap as chips). You’ll need about half a cheek per person, so about 300g each. This recipe feeds about 6 people.

A good knob of butter
3 ox cheeks, trimmed of gristle and chopped into chunks
2 tablespoons of plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
one packet of lardons
a stock cube or two
1 net of small onions, whole but skinned
3 carrots, chopped into chunky chunks
3 bay leaves
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
one small tin of tomato puree
1 bottle of good red wine

mashed potatoes

Yummy, melty ox cheek casserole
Preheat your oven to 150°C. In a heavy casserole dish (one that has a lid that fits), melt the butter. Dip the meat in the seasoned flour, knock off the excess and then brown it in the melted butter. Depending on the size of your pot, you may need to do this in batches. If you do need to do it in batches, keep the browned meat in a bowl next to you.

A whole, raw ox cheek. This one was particularly large.
Once you have all the meat browned, cook the lardons, onions and carrots for a few minutes. Stir in the puree. Return the meat to the casserole and give it a good stir to get it all well combined. Once it’s all happily mixed, pour in the red wine and sprinkle over the stock cube(s) and put the bay leaves on top. Bring all of this to a murmur of a simmer, cover with the lid and pop it in the oven and cook this for about five (5!) hours. You should take it out a couple of times and stir it during this time. The casserole is cooked when the meat falls apart when gently prodded with a table knife.
I serve this with plain potato mash – no celeriac or parsnips – just pure and I make the mash with masses of (Irish) butter. I bought myself a potato ricer a few months ago, and I love the mash it makes. I still love my traditional ‘lumpy’ mash, this just isn’t the time nor place for it.

And of course I serve this with a glass of tannin-rich red wine.

This casserole is very good the next day, and it freezes well too.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Cheese n wine sauvages

On Thursday night, 365things and Lovely Friend rolled up to the second edition of @Axellemnn‘s Cheese n wine sauvages. Due to the frankly monsoon-like weather we gathered at Tarasloft in Ixelles (which, incidentally, is a very nice, bright, light, spacious venue for anything you happen to be hosting). 

The venue was lovely, and about a two minute walk from Pl Flagey. We actually went past the door as it is so inconspicuous. But we found the buzzer and the doors swung open, and we tottered up the path to the invitingly-lit entrance. Walking into the loft is like walking into someone’s (gorgeous) apartment. It is bright and very tastefully decorated.

The gorgeous Axelle greeted us and we were immediately handed a glass of Luxembourgish cremant. The atmosphere in the room was relaxed, and there was a distinct buzz. The people were all beautiful!

The welcome speech and the table heaving under the weight of cheese!

Axelle said that she had the idea over the summer to host these kind of impromptu picnics. The first one was held outdoors in the Bois de la Cambre. Seeing how popular the first one was, she upped the capacity to 60 people and the second session sold out almost immediately.

After a very short welcome speech, Axelle invited us to tuck into the vast array of Swiss cheese and sample the wines. It’s been a while since I’ve seen such hunks and wheels of cheese. People mingled, elbows bumped and the hum of conversation and happiness was the only background noise to be heard. There was also a very large selection of bread to accompany the cheeses, and we ate our fill. Lovely Friend even cried a little at tasting the emmental (it’s a big favourite of hers, and this specimen was rather excellent in her opinion!).

The crowd began drifting out around 8.30, and we followed suit, with happy tummies and happier sprits.

Some of the crusty bread available

The third session of the cheese n wine sauvages will take place on 25 September. Keep an eye on Axelle's Twitter account for more details. I highly recommend it!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Moules frites

I’ve never cooked mussels before, so here we go. Everyday's a school day. A Belgian classic! I bought two kilos in Carrefour on Monday, today is Wednesday.
I watched a video from the BBC on what to do in order to prepare the mussels for the pot. I also phoned my lovely MiL. She suggested soaking the mussels in salted water for an hour – an hour and a half after cleaning them and before cooking them.
I tipped the packets of mussels into a sink of cold water. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next: they gurgled and fizzed. Kinda freaky. And the smell! They smell of the sea! Lovely!
Mussels from Zeeland, via Carrefour

By the time I scrubbed and debearded them, and then discarded any that didn’t shut, I had about one kilo left. I didn’t want to take any chances on getting sick, so any that were even a millimetre open also went into the bin.
I then put them into a large bowl of salted water and put this into the fridge until I was ready to cook them. My MiL said that this would help them disgorge the last of the sand they’d retained.
I used a lot of salt to make the little blighters feel at home

So, for mussels:
  •          a good knob of butter
  •          1 leek, finely chopped into rings
  •          lots of parsley
  •          a couple of cloves of garlic, crushed
  •          a glass of white wine
  •          a dribble of cream.

I have to be honest. I had a glass of wine before starting to steady the nerves. I never drink and cook. I was very nervous about cooking these and about potentially giving Hubs (and I) food poisoning. And cooking something that is alive. eeeeek!
I sweated the leek and garlic in the butter to start off, added the glass of wine and let those get acquainted for about five minutes, before adding the mussels and the chopped parsley. These were cooked for about 3 minutes. I could have cooked them for a minute longer though. At the very end, I added the cream.
The mussels were then plated in a large soup bowl and I reduced the sauce a bit. I served the lot with some oven-cooked homemade chips (chop a couple of peeled spuds into chips, pop them into a sealable bag with a teaspoon of oil, and coat them all. These will cook in about 20 minutes in a very hot oven – like around 210°.

These are all the ones that made it to the table

Only around half of the cooked mussels opened, so of the two kilos I bought, I guess we ended up with around one quarter of them. Hubs and I then had a bit of a confession session: neither of us are big fans of mussels. I can’t stomach the idea of eating the whole lot of anything, like everything. I don’t like offal at all. Regardless of how small it is. And I’m not a fan of all the stringy, rubbery bits that go around the mussel, and the bits that pop out and everything. I think I like the idea of eating mussels and the sense of occasion around them, but I think I’m just not going to cook them again.
But the best news? Neither of us were ill. Result!

Friday, 15 August 2014

Chicken gyros

I got this recipe from Cooking Classy. It was really, really good, and very garlicky. Extra yum!
You can of course use bought flat bread, but I decided to try making my own. I also decided to try using cup measurements instead of converting the ingredients to grams. I used an IKEA coffee cup to measure out.
Chicken gyros

Flat bread
A cube of fresh yeast
2/3 cup of warm water
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons of milk
1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon of salt
3 cups bread flour

Put everything into a bowl and mix them together with the hook attachment, if you have one. If you don’t, use your hands and knead the whole lot. You should keep going for about 5 minutes until the dough is elastic. If the dough is sticky and not forming a ball, add a little more flour.
Cover the dough with a damp towel and allow it to rest in a warm place until double in size, which should take about an hour and a half.
When the dough has proved, knock it back and divide it into 6-8 portions. Work the balls into circles on a floured surface and cook in a hot dry frying pan (so, no oil). I found that the bread shrank a lot on the pan, so I kept an eye on them, and kept them pressed down with a fish slice. When the underside is cooked – this should take about 3 minutes – flip them over and cook the other side for another 2-3 minutes.
Flat bread cooking
These are best served immediately, with the chicken, a salad and some tzatziki.

Garlicky chicken
For 2-3 people:
2 chicken breasts, sliced finely
a few crushed cloves of garlic
the juice of a lemon
a dribble of olive oil
3 tablespoons of Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)

Mix all of these together and leave them to marinade in the fridge for as long as you can. I used a large grill-proof dish, so that the chicken could lie in a single layer. When you’re ready to cook, take them out of the fridge and bring them to room temperature for a bit before grilling the whole lot for a few minutes. Stir the whole lot and grill them again until they are fully cooked.
Grilled chicken pieces to go into the gyros

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and grated
1 cup of plain Greek yogurt
1 crushed clove garlic, or more if you like it garlicky
salt and pepper to taste

Tzatziki traditionally contains dill, but I’ve so far never managed to grow this, and I don’t ever use a whole packet or plant before it dies, so I only buy these when I know I’m going to use it all, so I don’t always use dill.

Put the grated cucumber in a sieve over a sink and let it drain – give it a squash with the back of a large spoon to encourage the water to drain out. If I’m rushed, I’ve been known to pat at it with paper towels. When you’re ready to make it, combine all the ingredients and enjoy!