Monday, 27 April 2015

Herby pork meatballs in ale gravy

Herby pork meatballs in ale gravy

Is it possible for a food blogger to get into a food rut? It seems highly unlikely, what with all the recipe experimentation going on due to the blog, but on a day-to-day basis we tend to eat the same few recipes over and over. This is partly due to convenience and party due to the fussiness of the children – my son still looks at anything new and unfamiliar with intense suspicion. Well I have vowed to try new recipes, to invigorate our midweek meals and simultaneously convince Sam that herbs are not, in fact, the stuff of evil.

Now that my hundreds of cookbooks have found their proper home near the kitchen, I have been busy making notes and sticking post its on about a billion recipes I would like to try. I have been doing really well in terms of making new meals and middling to poor when it comes to getting the kids to try them. Actually that's not quite true – Anya came downstairs after going to bed recently just to tell me that whatever I was making (honey ginger chicken stir fry) smelled amazing and would I save her a portion. Sam remains very reluctant to try anything new although I am convinced some of it just a show for my benefit and he does just fine eating whatever is put in front of him at nursery.

Herby pork meatballs in ale gravy

One thing that most kids are (almost) guaranteed to like is meatballs. Not sure whether their huge appeal is due to the fact that meatballs are by their nature bite-sized, or just that they are simply delicious – whether served with tomato sauce, Swedish-style or as a meze. This recipe, adapted from Tom Kerridge's Best Ever Dishes, pairs pork meatballs with a rich brown ale gravy that is completely addictive. I can honestly say this is the perfect comfort meal and a massive hit with both children (herbs and all!) and grown ups. Use a brown ale for the gravy (worry not, the alcohol cooks off) but make sure you have enough Oxford Gold to serve alongside the meal for those old enough to imbibe.

Herby pork meatballs in ale gravy

Herby pork meatballs in ale gravy
Serves 4
500g | 17.6oz minced pork
100g | 3.4oz breadcrumbs (1 thick slice of toast)
4 slices pancetta
2 banana shallots, peeled
6 fresh sage leaves
2 small sprigs fresh rosemary
1 tbsp English mustard
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 egg
vegetable oil to fry
1 tbsp rosemary & 1 tbsp fresh sage, very finely chopped, to serve

For the gravy
1 bottle brown ale (500ml | 17fl oz)
500ml | 17fl oz chicken stock
2 garlic cloves, skin on
2 shallots, halved, skin on
2 rosemary sprigs
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp cornflour (cornstarch) diluted in a little cold water

  1. Put the bread, pancetta, shallots and herbs in a food processor or mini chopper and blitz until finely ground.
  2. Place in a bowl with the mince, egg, mustard and salt and mix together thoroughly with your hands. Cover and put in the fridge for an hour or overnight.
  3. With wet hands, roll about a tablespoon of mince for each meatball until you have used up all the mix.
  4. Heat a little vegetable oil in a large frying pan and fry the meatballs, in batches, until nicely browned all over. Place in an ovenproof dish and set aside.
  5. Put the ale, shallots, garlic and rosemary in a medium pot and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the liquid is reduced by about half. 
  6. Add the chicken stock, cornflour and sugar and bring to the boil again. Reduce the heat once more and simmer for 20 minutes.
  7. Preheat the oven to 190C (380F). Strain the gravy over the meatballs and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the gravy is bubbling and thickened. 
  8. Sprinkle with the chopped herbs and serve with potato or celeriac mash and wilted spinach.
Notes: the meatballs taste even better as leftovers... and they also freeze really well.

Herby pork meatballs in ale gravy
Herby pork meatballs in ale gravy
Herby pork meatballs in ale gravy

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Thai lamb salad with miracle noodles

You never know how far 500 calories will stretch until you try to restrict your entire daily intake to that meagre amount... Which is what I did, voluntarily I might add, when I tried the fasting (5:2) diet which was all the rage a couple of years ago. I know people who absolutely swear by it and who successfully manage to follow it long-term. I am not one of those people although I did stick to it for a couple of months. 500 calories does not translate to very much food and you must make very wise choices so as not to waste your allowance on a couple of biscuits. Needless to say you do get very hungry indeed, although friends keep telling me that the dizziness and irritability dissipate the longer you stick the the diet.

I came across so-called 'miracle noodles' while on the 5:2 but never actually tried them as they were so expensive. For those not it the know, miracle noodles are made from the root of the konjac plant and they are almost calorie-free which is indeed pretty miraculous (they are also vegan and gluten-free). I finally found some affordable packs at Ocado so felt I had to try them.

So. About these noodles. There is good news and bad news. Let's start with the bad. The smell when you open the package is distinctly fishy (though these are vegan) and rather off-putting. On the plus side, the odour goes away when you rinse the noodles and has no effect on their taste. Speaking of taste, these are pretty tasteless. Actually, entirely tasteless.

And now for the good news. Although taste-free, the noodles work well in stir-fries and Asian dishes as they have a texture similar to that of glass noodles and absorb the taste of the dishe's sauce or marinade. They are also quite filling so if you are looking to bulk up a low-carb meal without adding any calories these are just the ticket.

I used the shirataki version of miracle noodles in my Thai salad and was pleasantly surprised. I have been making versions of this recipe for over 10 years and it remains a firm favourite no matter how ofter we eat it (which is a lot). I usually make this with rump steak although it is also amazing with turkey and lamb as in this post. You can make this with leftovers from a roast dinner in which case it is ready in record time...

Thai lamb salad with miracle noodles
Serves 1
3 tbsp Kikkoman Soy sauce
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp dark brown sugar (or palm sugar)
1cm/1/2 inch fresh ginger, grated
1 garlic clove, crushed in a garlic press 
1 shallot, chopped very finely
1 red chili, deseeded and chopped finely
1/2 tsp HP brown sauce or tamarind paste
Handful fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
Handful fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
Juice of 1 small lime
one 200g | 7oz packet of shirataki miracle noodles 
200g | 7oz roast lamb (see method)
handful cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 smal avocado, sliced
handful crushed cashew nuts to serve
Garnish with a few mint and coriander leaves

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C (400F.  Season 900g (2lbs) butterflied leg of lamb with salt and pepper and drizzle with a little olive oil.  Roast in the oven for 40 minutes. Rest for 10 minutes, loosely covered in foil. Slice the lamb into thin strips and set aside. 
  2. Mix all the ingredients for the marinade together in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Rinse the miracle noodles with plenty of cold water, drain and then pat dry with kitchen towel.
  4. Mix the noodles with the chopped tomatoes, avocado and lamb and then toss together with the marinade. 
Notes: You can serve this with salad leaves instead of the noodles or with rice.