Recipe: Red Wine Braised Ox Cheeks

There’s few things I dislike about Autumn. Spiders are one of them (I HATE the things, some of the monsters in the Lake District were certainly scream-inducing!), and my craving for comfort food is another. It’s not that I don’t love Autumnal food. I do. It’s just that so often it takes a good few hours to cook, and that’s just not possible after work. So I stick to quicker things, dinners far less comforting, and get grumpy as a result.

 photo Ox Cheeks_zpsxujzazec.pngAll that’s changed.

Thanks to Debenhams, I’m now the proud owner of a pressure cooker*. And it makes stews in around half an hour. Add in the chopping, a bit of frying, thickening the sauce and making the mash/dumplings and you’ve got a heart bowl of comforting food in well under an hour. Boom.

 photo Ox Cheeks in Red Wine 9_zpsndjrtnxv.jpg photo Ox Cheeks in Red Wine 1_zpsywqzxyuj.jpg photo Ox Cheeks in Red Wine 3_zps0plqwrqr.jpgI have to admit, the pressure cooker scared me at first. This is by far and away the most technical bit of cooking equipment I have ever used. The strict safety warnings made me worry I was going to create something explosive. It just looks intimidating. It makes horrendous noises when letting the pressure out at the end of cooking. It took us no less than four attempts to do the ‘initial steam’ before first use. But it was worth it.

Boy, was it worth it. By cooking Ox Cheek in a pressure cooker we were able to break down the tough meat quickly, with the result so meltingly tender we divided it up with a spoon.Cheeks are a budget cut of meat (ours worked out at around £1.50 for a massive portion) that are made for slow cooking, and using a pressure cooker cuts this time down massively – I reckon this would take at least five hours normally. We cooked a whole cheek weighing half a kilo and that needed just over an hour to break down, cut into pieces you could do it in 30. Then there’s the sauce. So, so good. The braising gravy is infused with so much tasty flavour and then pureed (my new favourite trick!) to transform into a thick, glossy sauce that coats the meat, soaks into mash and begs to be mopped up with bread or just slurped with a spoon. I have no shame when it comes to gravy like this.

 photo Ox Cheeks in Red Wine 2_zps7u5mttki.jpgIngredients (Served two greedy people with leftovers)

  • 3 tbsp oil, separated
  • 1 large ox cheek (around 500g)
  • 1 onion
  • 3 celery sticks
  • 3 carrot
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1½ tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1½ tsp mustard
  • 400ml beef stock
  • 125ml red wine (we went for the cheapest Sainsbury’s had)
  • plenty of black pepper and salt, to season

Prepare the beef cheek: cut off any large, fatty membrane. Pat dry then cover with plain flour (seasoned with salt and pepper). Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Sear the beef cheek on each side until nicely browned.

 photo Ox Cheeks in Red Wine 4_zpszvubq49w.jpgTurn down the heat to medium and heat the remaining  oil. Add the onion and carrots. Sauté for 3 minutes until the onion isstarting to soften, then add the celery and garlic and continue to sauté for another 3 minutes. Pop the veg mixture into the cooker and place the beef cheek on top. Pour the wine into the frying pan and return to heat. Turn the heat up to high, bring to boil and let bubble for 1 minute whilst scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour the wine into the cooker, then all the remaining ingredients and season well.

Close up the pressure cooker, following all instructions, then cook on ‘high’ for around 1 hour – we used the ‘Stew’ setting on our cooker. When done, release the pressure and leave until ready to open before testing the meat. If the meat doesn’t fall apart when pressed with a spoon, give it a little longer.

Open the cooker and ladle out around half the veg. Discard any thyme stems and bay leaves. Use a blender to puree the veg, then add back to the cooker and stir well – it should thicken the sauce well. If it’s still a little thin, puree a bit more veg, if it’s too thin add a little stock or some water. Taste taste and season if necessary, then serve with mash and plenty of green vegetables.

 photo Ox Cheeks in Red Wine 6_zpsfdkqtp3e.jpgIn just over an hour we had a gorgeous comforting meal on the table, and having played around with the pressure cooker a little more we figured out cutting the meat up would give us the chance of cooking a stew in under 30 minutes. Can’t get better than that!

What’s your favourite comfort food? Have you tried using a pressure cooker?

Recipe: Vegetarian Stew & Dumplings for Really Hungry Students

One of my favourite meals is a stew, casserole or hearty chunky soup. They are easy to cook, freeze really well, and are comforting and relatively healthy. They don’t have to take forever to cook up to – yes, a good beef stew takes a day in a slow cooker, but I can generally whip up a sausage casserole, chorizo soup or vegetarian stew in under an hour after work. A chop of veg, a shake of various seasonings, a splash of whatever I can find, quick stir and then it’s ready to simmer whilst I get on with whatever else I have to do. It sits virtually unattended, filling the kitchen with delicious smells, and is ready to go with just a bit of veg, some bread, or perhaps some mash if I’m feeling up to a little more prep.

 photo 8eb920f9-190a-4501-bd12-c499cd158fae_zps0da92cb2.jpgWhen I was offered a copy of The Really Hungry Vegetarian Student Cookbook to review, I was initially a little dubious. I’m far from a vegetarian. I don’t actually eat a lot of meat, but I do tend to throw a little bit in most meals to add flavour. A bit of chorizo in a stew makes it (to me) seem far more special. Some bacon sprinkled in a Mac’n’Cheese just finishes it off. I also like to use meaty stock in any ‘veggie’ dishes I do make as I think it just works a little better. But anyway, I challenged myself to cook a recipe strictly from this book. Or as much as I could, as vegetarians do like their tomatoes! I went for this veggie stew, as I had everything in my kitchen already. Bar veggies sausages, which I just omitted.

 photo baa46a0e-84ce-44de-bfbe-8221bf830138_zps71e5ed45.jpgThis stew is actually pretty amazing. Filling, super hearty, super healthy, and the gravy is pretty damn good considering there’s no meat involved. But it wouldn’t be cheap to make. As a student I wouldn’t tend to cook with wine, and I also only have balsamic vinegar in because I’m on placement year and thus earning a good wage. I found this a regular problem with this book, recipes seemed to require a few expensive additions, or some complicated cooking (too much deep frying, the idea terrifies me!). Having said that, it has some lovely breakfast ideas, some great sandwich combinations, and I’m working towards adapting their baked beans recipe to be tomato-free.

 photo db90df76-cb13-491f-9b3d-e188189e3c92_zps9a4b77d6.jpgI’m not going to repeat the recipe on here (for fear of copyright legalities!) but I will hint towards it. It’s super easy, frying off onions, adding seasoning and wine, boiling off the alcohol, adding other veg, stock and simmering away in the oven. Dumplings are made from butter (not suet, as is my usual) and flour, with plenty of herbs. Add salt and pepper too, which the book omitted. Then plop into the stew and bake until golden. The dumplings needed longer cooking in my opinion, but the ratio of double the flour to butter was spot on. It made a heart meal, that needed nothing else apart from some green veg. I felt super virtuous eating it, and knowing I had five portions of the stew ready for quick dinners and microwaved lunches in the coming weeks.

 photo 255218db-f225-47a7-8b8a-16b8a33170aa_zps7b5db913.jpgIf you’re a vegetarian bored of your meals, or simply want to get more veg into your diet, then I highly recommend this cookbook. If you’re looking for a budget option, it’s probably not for you. But its a cookbook I will continue to refer to you for a good few years. Despite having far too many of the things…

Do you eat vegetarian food? What’s your favourite veggie recipe?

Weekend Antics #1

 photo 2014-03-16150744_zpsd3115368.jpgI feel so bad about posting this weekend – it became clear on Friday that I wouldn’t have time to blog (I like to keep weekend’s schedule-post free – I like a bit of spontaneity in my life!) and I don’t really like to send out a quick post just for the sake of it. Instead today I will make my excuses, and show you why I didn’t get chance to post.

Luckily my busy-ness wasn’t just down to the mountain of work I have at the moment (currently have three assignments on the go, and a three-hour ‘class test’ to revise for, and I’m expecting more coursework to be added on any day now), but because I decided to treat myself to a relatively relaxing weekend.

It was a ‘boyfriend’ weekend – as one half of a long-distance couples I see my boyfriend once a fortnight – and instead of trying to do work and getting annoyed/snappy when I couldn’t concentrate, I instead gave myself pretty much the whole weekend off. It was lovely to relax and not think about my ever growing to-do list!

 photo 2014-03-15103235_zpsad5d5805.jpgI took advantage of our lovely local butchers and bought some black pudding, which we used to make a lovely try up. I have a little leftover which I’m trying to decide what to do with – I’m torn between fritters, or adding to a carbonara!

 photo 2014-03-15105150_zps900146c8.jpgWe also took advantage of the lovely weather – I cooked some part-baked rolls and grabbed a pack of salami, and we headed out for a picnic.

 photo 2014-03-16140951_zps49db8c34.jpg

 photo 2014-03-16140944_zps3656ae74.jpgDespite being at my house, my boyfriend treated me to a lovely home-cooked meal (he did most of it whilst I was showering – I was impressed!). He made Swedish meatballs, and they were amazing. I’m going to adapt the recipe for my usual lower budget and post up soon!

 photo 2014-03-15183941_zpsfdce6b56.jpgI made the mistake of planning to cook stew (yep, on the hottest weekend of the year…), but despite it being far too warm for it, it was a damn good stew!

 photo 2014-03-13194754_zps7cca1226.jpgI also made one of my favourite cakes – caramel, chocolate and peanut butter sponge. I’ll definitely post about this soon!

 photo 2014-03-16162552_zps90534215.jpgI even got ‘proposed to’ with a hula hoop…who said students aren’t romantic?!

Sorry again for the lack of posts! What did you get up to this weekend?

What’s Cooking Wednesday (#9)

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I’m heading home this weekend (well to my hometown, but admittedly most of the weekend will be spend at my boyfriend’s and not my home!) so I don’t have many meals to plan, and I also haven’t been shopping this week. This meal plan is full of meals made up from store cupboard bits and pieces, and whatever I have left! Its also likely to change, as I’m sure some ingredients will start to get past their best so I’ll move things around to avoid waste. Anyway…

Wednesday – Steak Pie, Mash & Veg

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Bit of a comfort meal this one! I really love a good shop-bought steak pie, but I’m quite limited to the ones I can eat as a lot include tomato paste, so I’m looking forward to trying this.

Thursday – Thai Green Vegetable Curry

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This is just an excuse to play with a new toy – a much awaited Julienne peeler!

Friday – Leftover Curry/Soup

I’m not getting the train til relatively late, but I’ll still only have about 30 minutes to change and eat, so I watered down the leftovers from Thursday with stock, and ate with a Naan bread.

Saturday – Mum’s Meatballs, Spaghetti & Garlic Bread

Sunday – Beef Stew

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I put in a request for this at home, and am really looking forward to it. Yes I can make my own, but its nowhere near as good as mums!

Monday – Lentil Curry

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I experimented with a load of vegetables and curry – recipe to come soon. It  did NOT look good though!

Tuesday – Tomato-Free Beany Chilli

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A quick dinner from the freezer – a made-from-scratch tomato-free slow-cooker chilli, which I’ll serve with tortilla chips!

Do you make adjustable meal plans to avoid waste?