Low Carb Chocolate Tart

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low_carb_cocolate_tartsDisclaimer… this isn’t reeeeeeally low carb, so if you’re trying to lose weight, be careful with this one. Obviously you won’t be eating the whole thing though. Let me rephrase that… you shouldn’t be eating the whole thing. ;-)

I normally make this in a flan dish, but on the day I photographed it I was using the flan dish to make a savoury tart. I used my silicon tart tray to make these mini ones instead. They look rather pretty but it was quite a faff pressing the almond pastry into all the little moulds. I had a fair bit of ganache left over on that occasion whereas it all gets used in the large tart.

The 200g of 85% cocoa chocolate I used contributes 50g of carbohydrate to the whole tart, and the almond base contributes another 13g. So if you cut the tart into eighths and had one piece then that would be around 8g of carbohydrate. Fine for a treat, I think. It’s very rich and dark and tastes fantastic served with cream.

chocolate_tart_chart

almond_pastryIngredients:

  • For the pastry:
  • 200g Ground almonds
  • 50g Salted butter
  • For the ganache:
  • 200g Dark chocolate – I use Green & Blacks 85% which is 22.5g carbohydrate per 100g
  • 250ml Double cream
  • 25g of butter
  • Vanilla essence and whatever other spices you fancy. I used crushed cardamom seeds.
  • A glug of brandy or rum if you like.

Preheat your oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas Mark 4.

almond_pastry_doughBlitz the ground almonds and butter in the food processor until it forms a dough and sticks together. Empty out the dough.

If you’re using a large fluted flan dish, put the dough in the middle and press it firmly into the base and up the sides. Make sure you squidge it into every crevice and get it an even thickness. Prick the base all over with a fork and bake for about 20 mins or until golden brown. Allow to cool.

If you’re using miniature moulds then the same principle applies but make the almond pastry very thin and delicate. Prick with a fork in the base of each and give them about 15 mins – be careful they don’t burn.

Blitz 200g of 70/85% cocoa dark chocolate in the food processor. You could grate the chocolate if you prefer, or whack hell out of it with a rolling pin whilst it’s still in its packaging. It needs to be in tiny pieces though so that it melts easily in the hot cream. Put it into a bowl.

chocolate_ganacheMeasure 250ml double cream into a pan with whatever spices you’re using until just simmering, then add 25g butter and whisk. Heat gently until the cream is barely simmering again and then pour onto the grated chocolate and whisk like buggery until all the chocolate is melted. Add a dash of port/brandy/whatever you fancy, whisk it some more, and pour the mixture into the pastry case. Chill in the fridge until you can’t wait any longer to eat it.

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Steak in sherry mushroom sauce.

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P1070535An easy Saturday night treat, this. I like mushrooms and they’re incredibly low in carbohydrates. But sometimes I find them just a little too… well, mushroomy. It’s the very slightly slimy texture, not the taste. So I found that if I dice them small and cook on a low heat for ages in butter, garlic and herbs, then all the moisture evaporates and concentrates down, leaving a dark, rich, not-at-all-slimy mixture. A good glug of fino sherry/brandy/whatever you fancy at the end to deglaze the pan, an equally good glug of double cream, and there’s a lovely sauce for your steak. If you can get Spanish smoked paprika – pimentón, it gives a beautifully deep and smoky edge to the sauce.

steak_mushroom_sauceIngredients:

  • sherry_mushroom_sauceSteak
  • Chestnut mushrooms
  • Butter and olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Thyme
  • Pimentón or paprika
  • Crushed peppercorns
  • A glass of dry fino sherry, or whatever you’ve got/prefer
  • Double cream

Dice your mushrooms quite small. Chop a large clove of garlic and chop your herbs if using fresh. Crush your peppercorns.

chestnust_mushroomsMelt some butter and a splash of olive oil in a pan. Add the garlic and thyme and sizzle for a moment to flavour the butter, then add the mushrooms and the paprika. Give it a good stir and cook over a lowish heat for 20-30 minutes. You want the moisture to have evaporated off completely and the mushrooms to be rich and dark.

Get your steaks onto the griddle/ under the grill/ into the pan to cook. While they’re cooking, add a glass of sherry to the mushroom pan and turn up the heat. Stir well and let it reduce down a bit, then add the double cream and bring back to a simmer.

I usually serve it with roasted celeriac mash and roasted broccoli. And plenty of red wine. ;-)

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Fish stew with alioli.

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spanish_fish_stewThis recipe is loosely based on a Bourride, a Mediterranean fish stew. I wanted a Spanish feel to it, hence the inclusion of pimentón, that wonderful smoked paprika which gives chorizo its fantastic flavour. You could add a few chunks of chorizo to it if you like, but I prefer just using the spice. Alioli is the Spanish version of aïoli – thick garlicky mayonnaise. I was taught to make alioi by a Spanish friend many years ago, so garlic mayonnaise will always be alioli to me. The addition of it to this stew changes the sauce from a broth to a wonderfully creamy, foamy delight.

ingredients_bourrideIt would be traditionally served with croutons and/or bread on the side, and some recipes include potato. To make it healthier, more substantial and low carb/GI/paleo friendly, I serve it with buttery swede mash and stir fried broccoli. I’ve included the swede in the recipe below but not the broccoli as you can use whatever green veg you fancy.

This is basically a fairly quick dish to make, in that the cooking time for the fish is brief. The prep takes a while though, so if you want some time saving suggestions, scroll down to the bottom.

This is the first time I’ve done this, but I’ve done a chart here to show you the stages and timings in a simple visual format. I’d love some feedback about whether you find this helpful. :-)

Fish Stew
Ingredients:

  • fish_bourrideRoughly 1 kg fish*, the meatier textured ones are better because you want something that’ll hold its shape. I used a mixture of haddock, cod, tuna, salmon and a ray wing, because all of those were on offer.
  • Some of that can be seafood if you like – prawns, mussels, calamari or whatever.
  • Olive oil
  • Butter
  • A leek
  • A bulb of fennel/another leek
  • A couple of large escallion shallots, or equivalent
  • Fish stock or vegetable stock, stock cubes are fine.
  • Thyme
  • Bay leaves
  • Half to one teaspoon of pimentón – Spanish smoked paprika
  • Saffron (optional)
  • A couple of tomatoes/around 5 small ones
  • Lemon
  • Alioli/aïoli; Spanish/French garlic mayonnaise. Either homemade or a decent bought one (no helmans!)
  • Swede

Put a heavy based pan/creuset on a low heat with a knob of butter and a splash of olive oil. While that’s heating up, finely chop your shallots. Add them to the pan and give them a good stir.

Chop your leeks quite finely, adding them to the pan as you go. You want the shallots and leeks to cook for at least 10-15 minutes on low to get soft and sweet.

While they’re cooking, put a kettle/pan of water on to boil. Peel and dice your swede, the smaller the dice the quicker they cook, obviously, so I make them quite small. Add the swede to a pan of boiling water, bring to a high simmer with the lid on and boil for around ten minutes until tender.

Put another kettle of water on to boil if you’re using stock cubes. Slice the fennel if using, and add it to the pan with the tomatoes (whole if small ones, roughly chopped if medium/large). Finely chop the feathery fronds from the fennel bulb, if there are any, and add those in too. Add a generous glass of white wine and the thyme, and turn the heat up to reduce it down a bit.

ray wingray fleshMake up around 600ml of stock and add to the pan. Bring to a simmer. I added the ray wing at this point, let it cook for around five minutes then took it out and removed all the flesh, which comes cleanly away from the skeleton with a knife. I then added the bony fan back into the stock to impart more fishy flavour.

chopped_fishLet the sauce reduce down a bit for ten minutes or so. Meanwhile skin (if you prefer) and chop your fish into generous chunks. Not too small or they’ll lose their shape in the stew.

Drain the swede, reserving a bit of the water and putting it back into the pan on a low heat. Put the swede in a bowl with plenty of butter and black pepper, and a pinch of salt. Mash it by hand or puree it with a stick blender. Put the bowl over the pan with the simmering water in and cover it to keep warm.

fish_paprikaRemove the ray wing from the stock, if you used it. Remove and reserve about three ladles full of stock. Add the fish and pimentón (and the saffron if using) to the stock and bring up to a gentle simmer. Depending on which fish you used, add the ones with the longer cooking times first. I found that the tuna, cod and salmon held their shape very well whereas the haddock flaked more. If the stock doesn’t cover the fish, add a bit more. The fish should only take 5 minutes or so to cook.

bourridePut some alioli in a bowl or pan and gradually whisk in the reserved stock. It’ll become beautifully creamy and foamy. Add this into the stew, give it a stir and let it thicken slightly for a couple of minutes. Don’t let it boil or it’ll split. Add the ray flesh as well if you used it.

Serve with the mashed swede and the veg of your choice.

Time savers.
I know that when you’ve just come home from a day at work, you don’t always want to spend hours preparing a meal. Here are a couple of time saving suggestions for this recipe.

Make your swede mash ahead. I often make a large bowlful of swede mash or bubble and squeak (swede and brussels sprouts) at the weekend/beginning of the week and keep it in the fridge. Then I can use it as and when I need it I – just reheating/gently frying it without having to faff about peeling, dicing, boiling, mashing etc.

Chopping shallots. You could whizz them in a food processor – not too long though or they’ll end up as puree – or chop in bulk (swimming goggles optional) and freeze in batches. Incidentally, my tip for chopping shallots (or onions) is thanks to the gorgeous Richard Bertinet… chop the top end of the shallot off but not the root end (this is where the greatest concentration of eye-watering chemicals are). Peel the shallot down to the base. If you want diced shallots, make a horizontal cut lengthwise through the shallot, almost to the base (root end). Then chop the shallot from the top end as you would normally do, working towards the base.

The fish. Get the fishmonger to skin the fillets for you. If you’re really lazy you could ask them to dice it too. ;-)

If you’re more of a morning person, cook the recipe up until the point you add the fish then cool and leave for later. Bring the stew back to a simmer and all you’ve got to do is add in the fish and whisk up the alioli and stock mixture. You could even do it the night before and stick it in the fridge.

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*A note on sustainability.
It can be hard to keep up with which fish are sustainable, endangered, toxic due to heavy metal accumulation/radiation pollution, overfished etc. I buy my fish from Waitrose supermarket because I have confidence in their ethical and sustainability policy. A good fishmonger or supermarket should be able to tell you about the provenance of the fish that you’re buying.

Berry Crumble

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wheat_sugar_free_puddingThis is my favourite pudding. Actually scrap that; it’s often my favourite breakfast, mid afternoon snack and general pick me up, too. It’s so easy to make, and so easy to eat… the carbs in the berries and in the almond topping can quickly add up if, like me, you keeping going to the fridge and having just one more mouthful. If you’re looking to lose weight, be careful with how moreish this is.

The berry mixture is quite tart, especially if your tastes are used to sweetened fruit puddings, but I find that the richness of the buttery almond crumble balances that and I love the contrast, especially with plenty of cream too. ;-)

frozen_berriesIngredients

200g Ground almonds
45g Butter
750g Mixed berries

Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas Mark 4.

I use the frozen berry mix, containing strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants. You can heat them through in a pan or use them frozen, it really doesn’t matter. Last time I heated them through with a dash of vanilla essence and some ground cardamom seeds. You could use whatever spices you prefer. Put the berries into the bottom of a pie dish.

Whizz the ground almonds and butter together in the food processor until crumbly and breadcrumb-like. Don’t over process or it will bind together into more of a dough. Sprinkle two thirds of the mixture on top of the berries and press down a bit, then sprinkle the rest on so that it’s all crumbly on top.

Cook for about 15-20 mins until the crumble is golden brown. I like it with clotted cream, personally.

Cochin First Class Railway Curry in the Slow Cooker

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first time I've used mace

this is first time I’ve used mace

I wanted to make this recipe as soon as I saw a chef cooking it on Rick Stein’s India series on tv. It looked like a perfect low carb curry and also a perfect dish to make in the slow cooker (crockpot). I googled the recipe and how Rick Stein writes it in his book is a bit different to how the chef made it in the programme. I sort of combined the two, and didn’t add coconut milk at the end because it’s a bit carby and I don’t think it needs it. Traditionally it’s a mutton curry but lamb shanks are often used instead and that’s what I used. Note that the lamb shanks need to be marinaded overnight, although I’m not sure quite how much difference it makes as the lamb is meltingly tender after 7 hours in the slow cooker anyway, and the spices in the sauce are amazing.

The story of the curry and the chef cooking the recipe is at 52 mins 20 secs on BBC iplayer. The recipe in Rick Stein’s India book is on page 254 so if you want to make it his way, have a look there – the way I did it is slightly (not much) different. Also, those versions aren’t done in a slow cooker and have cooking times of 4 and 3 hours respectively. I love being able to do all the work first thing in the morning, though, and have the glorious smell permeating the house all day.

cochin_curry_time_chart

Ingredients

marinaded lamb shanks

marinaded lamb shanks

For the marinade…
3cm piece of root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp greek yoghurt
Half teaspoon turmeric

3 lamb shanks (Rick Stein’s recipe says 6 so you could use more, I just like a lot of sauce versus meat)

4cm stick of cinnamon
2 large pieces of mace
6 berries of allspice (recipe said cloves but I can’t bear them)
2 stars of star anise
2 or 3 bay leaves
7 whole cardamom pods

1 large onion (I used the equivalent in shallots, as they are lower carb)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
3cm piece of root ginger, peeled and chopped

1 tbsp coriander seed powder
1 tbsp chilli powder, preferably Kashmiri chilli powder
I added 1 tsp of smoked paprika, or pimentòn, but this wasn’t in either recipe.
A good grating of nutmeg (not in recipe either)
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garam masala powder

50g cashews
200g tin of plum tomatoes
50g almond butter (100% almonds)

Mix the ingredients for the marinade and slather it all over the lamb. Chill in the fridge overnight. That quantity made loads and would easily have been enough for 6 shanks.

Put the shallots, garlic and ginger in the food processor and whizz to a paste or puree.

frying the whole spices

Melt some butter and oil in a pan and gently fry the whole spices for a minute. Add the shallot puree and fry on a low to medium heat for about ten minutes until the onion has coloured a little. I think probably due to the bay leaves, mine went pale green – not entirely the golden I was inspecting.

blending the toasted cashews and tomatoesMeanwhile, gently toast the cashews in a dry pan until they have taken on some colour, then put them in the blender/food processor with the tin of tomatoes and the almond butter and blitz them together. The chef used cremed cashews and the book recipe uses whole raw cashews. I thought I’d go somewhere in the middle and use toasted nuts and some nut butter. The almond is a lower carb (6.7%), hence I used that instead of cashew. The almond butter is made of just almonds an a bit of sea salt. I could eat a whole jar of it, it’s so delicious.

browning the lamb

browning the lamb

When the shallot mix is ready, add 100ml water and bring to a simmer. Now add the powdered spices and stir gently for a minute or two, before adding the lamb shanks and marinade. Now Rick Stein’s recipe calls for you to cook over a moderate heat to ‘brown’ the lamb, but I was concerned about overcooking the spices so I transferred the shanks to a separate pan (coated with some of the sauce) to cook them on a higher heat to get some colour. I then added them back into the pan.

ready to go in the slow cooker

ready to go in the slow cooker

Pour in the tomato and cashew puree. Bring back to a simmer and transfer to the slow cooker. Cook on low for 7 hours. In the chef’s version, he tied the mutton shanks together. I prefer to remove bones before I eat so I lifted each shank out and took the meat off the bone – well actually the meat falls straight off the bone as soon as you touch it, as all the fat has dissolved off and the lamb is meltingly tender. If a lot of oil collects on the top during cooking, I tend to drain the excess off using a ladle.

I served this with Sage’s spiced cauliflower and spinach dishes. We got 4 very generous portions out of the curry (and there’s still some left for my lunch). ;-) It’s absolutely delicious!

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Wild Alaskan Salmon with Dill and Shallot Butter Sauce

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salmon_in_butter_sauceI was taught how to make this sauce years ago by a chef, but I don’t know whether the quantities are the same now as then. I remember that you’re supposed to strain the shallots out of the butter after cooking so that only the flavour remains, but I like the texture of the shallots so I’ve always left them in. It’s a fantastically rich, velvety sauce and goes beautifully with a robust flavour like salmon. Tarragon or even fennel would probably go very well in this too, instead of dill.

salmon_and_broccoliI served this with wild alaskan salmon fillets and a pile of roasted broccoli: chop the broccoli into smallish florets, toss in olive oil and roast in a medium to hot oven for about 20 minutes. You’ll need to put the broccoli in before you start the sauce. It probably makes sense to cook your salmon in the oven too, in a foil parcel, but I like the crispy skin and pretty lines of griddling them, so that’s what I did here.

Ingredients for Butter Sauce
ingredients_for_butter_sauce

  • 2 large / 3  or 4 small escallion shallots
  • 130g butter
  • 100ml decent white wine
  • 4 tbsp double cream
  • bunch of fresh dill
  • freshly ground peppercorns

Chop your shallots very finely. Melt 30g of the butter in a heavy-based pan and very gently fry the shallots until golden. Stir frequently and don’t let them take on too much colour.

When the shallots are thoroughly soft (5 – 10 mins), add the white wine, finely chopped dill and pepper. If you used salted butter you won’t need to add any salt. If you used unsalted, maybe add a pinch of sea salt now. Bring to a simmer and just let it barely bubble until the wine has reduced by about half its volume. If you are going to griddle or pan fry your salmon, I’d put it on when you add the wine.

Add the remainder of the butter and let it melt very gently, stirring from time to time. When it’s completely melted and incorporated into the sauce, add the double cream and stir in thoroughly. Bring it back to a simmer but don’t let it boil, and serve as soon as possible with the rest of the bottle of white. ;-)

Kashmiri Chicken with Spiced Cauliflower

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kashmiri_chicken_with_spiced_cauliflowerThis is one of my favourite recipes, but normally we get a range of carby delights from our Indian takeaway to accompany it – naan bread, pilau rice, sag aloo etc. None of that for me at the moment, so I rang my oldest friend Sage (who is indeed most sage on matters of Indian food, amongst many other things) and asked her what vegetable dish would work with this wonderfully rich chicken dish. The spiced cauliflower that she told me how to make is a perfect accompaniment; it was bloody delicious.

spices_for_the_chickenThe recipe for the chicken is another one from my trusty 200 Slow Cooker Recipes book. It’s called Kashmiri Butter Chicken, and the original recipe contains butter and cream. It didn’t need any butter today as the chicken gave off lots of delicious golden fat (which I later used to make the cauliflower dish as well), and it was so rich that I didn’t put any cream in either. This way, it’s suitable for paleo/primal diets too. You could, of course, add the dairy if you prefer, and I’ll tell you when. I’ve changed the recipe over the years, so I’ve put the recipe here as I make it, rather than exactly how it is in the book. I’ve increased the amount of spices as I love the flavours so much; it’s a spicy rather than hot dish with a wonderful depth of flavour. I grind my spices in an electric spice/coffee grinder, but you could use a pestle and mortar or buy ready ground. Make sure they’re fresh though, as ground spices quickly lose their flavour.

If you don’t have a slow cooker/crock pot, I don’t see why you couldn’t make this in an oven in a covered dish on a low heat. The point is that it’s cooked so slowly and gently that the fat dissolves from the meat into the sauce, and the tender meat just falls away from the bones. Maybe 150°C, 300°F, Gas Mark 2 – you want it to be just barely simmering, not boiling or the meat will be tough. Keep checking it and adjust your oven temperature accordingly. It won’t take as long in the oven either; probably 2 – 3 hours as opposed to 5 – 7 in the slow cooker. If you haven’t got a slow cooker, why not?? You can get one for about £25 and they are brilliant – you’ll save lots of money by buying cheaper cuts of meat and cooking them until they are melt-in-the-mouth tender. ;-)

browned_chickenThe recipe stipulates skinless, boneless chicken thighs, but I much prefer to use on the bone with skin on, as you get much more flavour. When the dish is cooked I fish out all the thighs, scrape off the sauce and remove the skins, bones and the two bits of cartilage you find in each thigh (I can’t bear fatty/gristly meat, or finding bones in my food, so I’m quite painstaking in this). It’s easy to do as the chicken will have been cooked so long that there’ll be no fat left on the chicken and the meat will just fall off the bones. Yum!

If you follow a low GI/GL way of eating, you might want to limit the fat content in this by going for the boneless skinless option or skimming off more of the fat during cooking.

Kashmiri Chicken

  • 4 large escallion shallots (the equivalent of 2 onions)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 4cm fresh root ginger, peeled
  • 1 large red chilli, or the equivalent in chilli flakes
  • 8 chicken thighs
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds, crushed
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
  • 6 cardamom pods, crushed
  • 1.5 tsp paprika
  • 1.5 tsp ground turmeric
  • quarter tsp ground cinnamon
  • 300ml / half a pint of chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree

shallots_for_blendingTop and tail your shallots/onions and peel off the skins. Cut the bottoms off your garlic cloves, bash them with the back of the knife and slip them out of their skins. Put the shallots, garlic, chilli and ginger into a food processor / blender, and blast it into a puree, scraping the sides down with a spatula to ensure it’s all evenly blended.

browned_chickenHeat some oil until hot in the largest frying pan you have, and add the chicken thighs. Don’t crowd them in; it’s better to do them in batches if your pan isn’t large. Cook on a high heat until they are golden brown, then turn them over and do the other side. They won’t take long if they’re skinless, if you’ve kept the skins on they’ll take a maybe five minutes or so. The idea is to brown them on the outside, not cook them. Add the chicken to your slow cooker/crock pot and pour off and reserve most of the fat (there won’t be much if you used skinless thighs)

shallot_&_spice_pureeIf you want to use butter in this dish, add it to your frying pan now, otherwise leave a couple of tablespoons of chicken fat in the pan and add your onion puree. Cook it over a moderate heat, stirring frequently so it doesn’t catch, until it’s just turning golden brown (about 5 mins). Add the ground spices and cook for a further minute, stirring well, then add the tomato puree and chicken stock.

sauce_for_the_chickenBring to a simmer then pour over the chicken, making sure you push the chicken pieces down under the sauce. Cook on low for 4 – 7 hours. If there’s lots of fat collecting on the surface and you don’t like things too oily, use a ladle to skim off a little of the oil. The recipe recommends stirring 5 tbsp double cream in at the end. If you’ve used skinless, boneless thighs then this would be a nice addition, but if not, the dish is plenty rich enough, I think.

Spiced Cauliflower

  • 1 large head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • 2 tsp black mustard seeds2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • pinch of sea salt
  • couple tbsp oil or chicken fat

I used the reserved fat from browning the chicken wings to do this; I had a taste and it was glorious, really chickeny and golden. Heat in a pan on a moderate heat then add the cumin and mustard seeds. Let them sizzle for a minute or two, then when the mustard seeds start to pop, add the turmeric, cauliflower and salt.

cauli at the beginning of cooking

cauli at the beginning of cooking

Give it a good stir, then cover and cook on a low heat until the cauli is al dente or tender, whichever you prefer. I added a tbsp of water to the mix to help the cauli steam, as I wanted it tender rather than al dente on this occasion. Check it frequently and stir so it doesn’t stick.

This was the perfect accompaniment to the richness of the chicken. I also did some spinach (first time I’ve ever used frozen spinach – blimey it’s convenient, no faffing about with wilting and sqeezing out the liquid, just bung it in and let it thaw on a low heat in the oil) in a little chicken fat with more black mustard and cumin seeds.

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Simple Slow Roasted Pork Belly

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pork_belly_sliceThis is a really economical cut of meat to buy, and when you slow roast it, you get the most meltingly tender, flaky meat. We often have this on a Sunday as the leftovers are great to have during the week that follows.

There are lots of recipes out there for slow roasted pork belly, and I think this was based on a Jamie Oliver one. My partner (who always cooks Sunday lunch/dinner) has been making it for a few years now though so does it slightly differently.

Ingredients

  • 1.3 kg piece of pork belly
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 2 tsp peppercorns
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Preheat your oven to 230°C, 450°F or Gas Mark 8 (10° less for fan ovens)

criss-cross topIf you’re buying your pork belly from a butcher, ask them to score the top for you as shown in the pictures here. Otherwise you’ll need to do it yourself (and I bet your knives aren’t as sharp as the butcher’s…). If so, use the sharpest knife you have to score lines into the skin (but not all the way through to the meat) in a diamond pattern.

fennel_rubCrush your spices and salt in a pestle and mortar, then rub them thoroughly into the skin, making sure you get them in the cracks. Most recipes say to rub olive oil in as well, some say to rub it into the meat too, and marinade it for a while. It will still taste lovely if you do it like this, but I think you get a nicer crackling if you rub a bit of olive oil into it.

Put your pork belly in a roasting tin and whack it in the oven on 230°C for 25 minutes, to crisp the skin. Then turn the oven down to 150°C, 300°F, Gas Mark 2 and cook for a minimum of 4 hours. You could leave it for 7 hours on that low heat and it would just get more and more meltingly tender. It won’t dry out because there’s so much fat to keep the meat moist; the longer you cook it, the more the fat within the meat renders down.

pork_belly_on_fennelWe like to cook it on a bed of florence fennel so that the meat juices saturate the fennel wedges, adding the fennel for the last hour or so. You could put in whatever vegetables you fancy, but do be aware that the belly does give off a lot of fat during cooking, so you’ll probably need to pour some off before you add the vegetables to it, and drain off excess fat at the end. You can always cook your vegetables in a separate roasting tray, adding as much of the pork fat as you want.

Similarly, lots of recipes tell you to make a gravy or jus from the pork juices. Make sure that there isn’t too much fat in there, or you’ll end up with a greasy oil slick.

I had my pork belly with roasted mashed celeriac, roasted broccoli and fennel, pictured just before I drowned it in gravy. :-)

Harlot’s Sauce With Squid

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ingredients_for_puttanescaPuttanesca. An Italian sauce which reputedly originated in Naples, a place dear to my heart. Literally translated, Alla Puttanesca means ‘in the style of a whore’ – there are several suggestions in common circulation for the meaning of this:

1) it’s so easy to cook that the Neopolitan working girls could prep it in between clients, let it cook in the time it took to see to the next customer, and eat it in the next gap between visitors.
2) the glorious scent of cooking was intended to lure in the clients.
3) the ingredients were all the working girls had left in the cupboard by the end of the week, as they weren’t permitted to shop with the Neopolitan housewives.

puttanesca_with_courgette_pappardelleThere’s a great explanation of the sauce’s origins here, along with a recipe that I’m intending to try out. This gives a more prosaic reason for the name – puttana’s alternative use in Italian is to mean ‘crap’, the sauce being made from whatever crap you have in the store cupboard.

Now this dish is slow cooked whereas puttanesca is a quick sauce, so already we’re going off track. But I think that this is a lovely dish and it’s incredibly easy, so bear with me. The recipe comes from a little book called 200 Slow Cooker Recipes, and although I deviate a bit from that recipe, I’ll reproduce it here. The thing to remember about squid is that you’ve either got to cook it very fast, or very slowly. Anything in between and it’s likely to taste like a rubber band. Cooked this way, the squid is meltingly tender.

courgette_pappardelleTraditionally this would be served with spaghetti or linguine, but for this I made courgette /zucchini pappardelle. It was the first time I’ve made it and I was very pleasantly surprised.

Here is the recipe as in the book:

  • 500g prepared squid tubes (I used about 350g You could use squid rings if you’re squeamish)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (I always use way more than that!)
  • 1 onion, chopped (I used two large escallion shallots)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 400g can of canned tomatoes (I used 2x 390g cartons of chopped tomatoes, you could also use fresh tomatoes if you prefer)
  • 150ml fish stock (I don’t bother with this, as I use more tomatoes)
  • 4 tsp capers, drained
  • 50g black olives (I used kalamata as I prefer them)
  • 1 tsp crushed fennel seeds
  • 2-3 sprigs of thyme
  • They aren’t in the recipe, but I also use a couple of anchovy fillets and a pinch of chilli flakes.

This is a slow cooker (crock pot) recipe. If you don’t have one, you can cook it in the oven in a covered dish. In which case, preheat your oven to 150ºC, 300ºF or Gas mark 2.

If you’re using whole squid rather than rings, prepare them like this. Set aside the tentacles – they don’t go in until near the end.

Do your prep:
Finely chop your shallots/onion. Crush and chop your garlic.
Make sure your olives are all pitted if you’re using whole ones.
Roughly crush your fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar, or you could put them in a wrap of paper and bash the hell out of them with a rolling pin. They need to release their flavour but don’t need to be finely ground.

Gently fry your shallots in the oil for a few minutes, then add your garlic. Cook very gently for another five minutes or so, until the shallots are nice and soft. If you’re going to use fish stock, make it while they’re cooking.

puttanesca_ready_to_simmerAdd everything else except the squid, and give it a good stir. Add plenty of crushed black pepper. If you’ve used anchovy fillets, then I doubt you’ll need any additional salt, but it’s up to you.

Bring it to a simmer then add the squid rings. If you’re using a slow cooker (crock pot), pour it in and cook on low for 3 – 4 hours. If you don’t have a slow cooker, pour it into an oven dish with a lid and cook it at around 150ºC – the right temperature will depend on your oven, but you want it to be just barely bubbling, so check it frequently.

Half an hour before the end, add the tentacles and stir in. I also added some little vittoria tomatoes about 20 mins before serving, to add a bit more texture.

Serve with linguine or spaghetti if that’s what you eat, or courgette pappardelle if you’re a low carb or paleo/primal person.

A note about onions and tomatoes:
Shallots are lower in carbohydrate than onions, so at the moment I substitute shallots for onions in all my cooking. The carbohydrate content of tomatoes is highly variable, from 3.1% in little fresh on-the-vine ones (ideal for a low carb diet) to 7.1% (that’s grams per 100g) for Waitrose essential tinned tomatoes. Sainsbury’s cartons of chopped tomatoes are 3% and Napolina’s are 3.5%, both ideal for a low carb way of eating.

Courgette ‘Pappardelle'; an alternative to pasta

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courgette_pappardelleI’m a big fan of Italian food, and that often means pasta. But I can’t eat pasta on my low carb way of eating. Ooh the dilemma! I honestly didn’t think that this would be a decent replacement for pasta, and it was only the fact that I was intending to photograph last night’s Squid Alla Puttanesca that stopped me from jumping off the low carb wagon and having linguine with the squid alla puttanesca. Somewhat reluctantly, I made the courgette (zucchini for any US readers) instead, and I’m very glad that I did; it was really, really good!

I first encountered the idea of using courgette as a pasta substitute on these wonderful low carb support threads. Last night I used this recipe, which is very well explained.

creating the 'pappardelle'It’s also very simple to make. I used one large courgette and a potato peeler, and that would be enough for two, I reckon. If you have a julienne peeler or a spiralizer (I’d never heard of one of those until yesterday), then you could make spaghetti sized strips, but I rather like these wide, pappardelle-like strips.

Wash your courgette, then simply peel off strips with the peeler. If you’re using a potato peeler, make sure you do it firmly so that you get the thickest strips possible.

Mark’s Daily Apple recommends that you let them dry out for at least 3 hours so they don’t go soggy when you cook them. I didn’t have that long, so I blotted mine really thoroughly with kitchen towel, spread them out thinly on some more kitchen towel, and left them to dry out a bit for around 20 minutes.

puttanesca_with_courgette_pappardelleI fried them in butter on a medium/medium-high heat for about two minutes. I didn’t add garlic and I wanted to cook them quickly (to avoid sogginess) and didn’t want to burn the garlic. The texture was just right – al dente and a little contrast to the tender squid alla puttanesca.

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