Braised short ribs

Christmas is the one time that I willingly eat roast turkey. I, like most people I’m sure, find it bland and dry and about as far from celebration food as it gets. But tradition being what it is, there’s usually no evading at least some turkey along the way. In an effort to avoid roast dinner every night for a week I’ve made it my mission to introduce a hearty casserole on Christmas Eve to warm us up after a bracing walk over the cliffs and along the beach. I like to think of it as a little stroke of genius since I can make the casserole in advance and keep it chilled on the backdoor step ready to be quickly reheated while you (delete as applicable) do last-minute wrapping/bake more mince pies/prep that darn turkey/snuggle up on the sofa and watch Elf for the hundredth time. These braised ribs are downright comforting, they will make you feel snuggly and warm, particularly if you serve them spooned over a bowl of hot, creamy polenta or mash. As part of a larger meal I served the stew with slices of crust baguette which we used to greedily mop up the meaty, wine sauce liberally dotted with smokey bacon, chunky carrots and buttery chestnuts.

Browned ribs

Part of what makes this dish so good is that the meat is cooked on the bone which my prefered method for casseroles and stews; the bones add so much extra flavour and richness to the overall dish. Short ribs or Jacobs ladder are becoming easier to get hold of round these here parts, there are all of two place I can get them in the vicinity of Exeter! But worry not, shin would make an excellent substitute here. If you succeed in getting short ribs they often come in one large piece, ask your butcher to cut them across the rib into smaller sections. They take a long slow cook to become extremely tender, you’ll know they’re done when the meat slides cleanly off the bone leaving you with hunks of beautifully tender beef. In the last hour or so of cooking (their not terribly fussy) the chestnuts go in to warm through and soak up all the flavour of the beef, wine, garlic and herbs. Retaining their gentle sweetness, chestnuts are a great addition to a winter stew and, for me, particularly Christmassy.


Braised short ribs with chestnuts and red wine

Serves 4–6

  • olive oil
  • 1.2kg beef short ribs
  • 150g smoked streaky bacon, diced
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 carrots, sliced into thick wedges
  • 2 sticks celery, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 500ml red wine, I used Merlot
  • 500ml beef stock
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 200g cooked chestnuts
  • 15g butter
  • 200g mushrooms, quartered

Heat a little oil in a large, heavy pan over a low-medium heat. Fry the bacon until golden then add the onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Cover and cook gently for 15 minutes until soft and translucent. Stir in the flour and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Turn the heat up and add more oil to the pan. Pat the short ribs dry and brown them in batches. Take your time to make sure they get really dark brown. Remove to a plate.

Pour off the fat in the pan and add the wine. Bring to a boil and scrape up all the crusty bits on the bottom of the pan. Stir in the beef stock, vegetables, bacon and tomato paste stirring well to combine.

Put the ribs back in the pan tucking them in amongst the vegetables. Tuck in the rosemary, cover loosely and simmer on the lowest heat for 4 hours adding the chestnuts in the last hour.

The ribs are ready when they are tender and fall off the bone. Remove from the heat and skim off any excess fat. (At this point the stew can also be left to cool then chilled overnight which makes the fat easier to remove and allows the flavours to meld.)

Fry the mushrooms in butter and stir into the stew just before serving. Taste and season with salt and black pepper.

Apple and mincemeat galette

Apple and mincemeat galette

Mince pies have been filling up the supermarket shelves for the last few months and jars of ready-made mincemeat have sneakily taken their place amongst the baking ingredients ready to jump out and berate you for being completely unprepared for Christmas months in advance. If you’re one of those wonderfully organised souls you’ll have made your own batch of mincemeat several weeks ago. I, on the other hand, found myself baking with the tail-end of last year’s jars until my lovely mum kindly handed me a jar she’d made the other weekend. Continue Reading »

Sriracha devilled eggs

Devilled eggs

Is it too early to start with the Christmas recipes? I know plenty of other places have got a head start on me but it didn’t seem right to even contemplate these sorts of thing until December. But then realising that Christmas eve is just three little weeks away made me think it was time to post this retro recipe, perfect for any parties you might be planning. Now a lot of folks will say that devilled eggs belong firmly in the 1970s; I remember the cover photo on one of the ancient Fanny Craddock cookbooks that I think my Mum inherited that showed a plate of washed-out eggs presented on a bed of lettuce that looked far from appetizing.  For a long time I felt ever so slightly ashamed for liking devilled eggs as much as I do. If and when they ever grace a buffet table I swoop in and grab a couple before finding a quiet corner to guiltily devour them. Continue Reading »

More cake today. This time with fruit which totally makes it healthy. And with big gooey pockets of custard which makes it more healthy. Custard’s good for you right? Lots of calcium, good for strong bones. Ahem. The idea for this cake has been kicking around for a while now going through various transformations in my head before it ever even hit the mixing bowl. The first seed of inspiration came from Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet, an encyclopaedia of all things good, which has a recipe for apple and walnut cake dotted with custard. I pinched the custard element and reduced the sugar since his recipes always turn out too sweet for my tastes. The cake is a basic sponge made with both caster and soft brown sugar for a caramel depth and spiced with nutmeg, the traditional and perfect flavour pairing for creamy custard and a good match with plums. Continue Reading »

Duck ragu

Today I’m dedicating this post to a very special sauce, something I think pasta must be proud to wear and something I think all cooking fans should be able to make well. Traditionally reserved for special occasions or Sunday best, a good ragù requires love and attention but won’t mind if you enjoy a glass of wine and a good book while you tend to its needs. During my time in Italy I ate some spectacular ragùs and it seems that every cook has their own special twist. One particularly fond memory I have is of sitting in a cozy restaurant in the hilltop town of Urbino on a bitterly cold January day. We sat huddled around a table trying to warm up our frozen hands and tucked into large plates of paparadelle with deeply flavoured wild boar ragù. After that meal I felt revived and full, ready to venture back out into the icy wind. Duck ragù feels doubly special for me since, in my kitchen, duck is reserved for special occasions and is a rare treat. It’s also something I feel a bit afraid of cooking in case a make a mess of things and spoil such lovely meat. My mum objects to eating duck on ‘moral grounds’ ever since she adopted a Mallard as a child; growing up I shared her view until I discovered how tasty they are so now I’m making up for lost time!

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Hip hip hooray! Today is T and Cake’s 2nd birthday! Wow, where have the last two years gone? So much has happened over that time and hopefully there are many more adventures to come. My new kitchen units have arrived (all 120 boxes) and hopefully I’ll soon be busy experimenting with new toys and fancy settings on the oven. I’ve also had the good fortune to get an allotment which will require rather a lot of heavy duty digging over winter but should provide some beautiful fresh ingredients come next summer. But what is a blog without people to read it? Here’s to you, kind readers. Thank you for stopping by, leaving comments and making this blog what it is. I’m sorry not to be able to share this birthday cake with you in person but we can celebrate in spirit. Cheers!

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Tartiflette quiche

My love for tartiflette knows no bounds: tender slices of potato, smoky bacon and browned onions melded together by hot melted cheese sets my heart a-flutter (and, if I consumed it as frequently as I wished, would probably also stop my heart). Designed to revive hard-working mountain dwellers in the Haute Savoie, nowadays it’s also the perfect calorie-fest after a hard day’s skiing. It’s hearty, rich, warming and utterly, utterly delicious. The cheese of choice is Reblochon a mildly pungent, nutty cheese from the French Alps which has a melty, soft texture and turns bubbly, golden and crisp around the edges when baked. During three lovely months spent in the Haute Savoie, living in the lake-side town of Annecy, I worked my way through a good number of tartiflettes made with all sorts of cheeses. Whilst they were all great (especially the goat’s cheese ones) the classic recipe is definitely the best. If you should find yourself in the area you can’t go far wrong at Le Freti, cheese shop by day and restaurant by night. Just be sure to book a table in advance. Continue Reading »

It’s been a busy old few weeks round here, especially the weekends which have been full of sanding and varnishing floorboards and a day-long haul to Ikea where we finally ordered a shiny new kitchen! We’ve been working like the clappers to get everything ready before the cabinets arrive on Friday (Ikea’s lead time is ridiculously quick). Doors have been hung, skirting board painted and worktop samples ordered; my kitchen is finally starting to come together but rather than feeling excited I’ve been immersed in a sense of blind panic. Foreboding questions are doing laps round my mind. What if it turns out I’ve chosen the wrong combination of cabinets? Is the worktop really going to be too low? Where is all the food going to live? How will I ever find a sink I actually like and can afford? Or a tap? When I find it’s all getting a bit too much I head into my temporary kitchen 1) to remind myself that even if the final product’s not perfect, it’s better than what I’ve got at the moment and 2) to get stuck into some baking which, in the most part, is my favourite way to relax.

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Somerset hotpot

Somerset, the county next door (or up North as we say down here in South Devon) is well known for producing excellent cider which is so good it has spawned its own genre of music, Scrumpy and Western, wherein bands sing odes to their favourite drink. Although there are not as many as there once were, apple orchards are a common sight and in a fair few of those you’ll spot pigs merrily roaming under the trees munching up the long grass. Those happy orchard pigs make for super-tasty pork as they fatten up on sweet apples. So it’s no wonder that Somerset is home to many a good recipe combining pork and apples. Continue Reading »

Malty-seed bread

When you have good butter you really need some good bread to enjoy it with. In such cases bread and butter becomes a real treat. When I was little Mum would feed my brother and I bread and butter as a snack if we said we were hungry – it’s good wholesome food for growing kids but not exciting enough that we’d ask for it when we weren’t really hungry. I used to love having a piece of hot buttered toast with a glass of milk before bed and, although I’ve long since given up bedtime snacks, I still enjoy my bread and butter. I spoiled myself to some wonderful raw butter from Isigny-sur-mer, it’s so creamy, almost a little farmy in flavour, and is flecked with big, crunchy grains of sea salt from Guérande. I’ve been happily spreading it on the lowliest of bread including the scraps of crust leftover from my blackberry and sloe gin puddings but I can’t help but feel it deserves something more. Something with a little more sophisticated than a slice of Hovis. Continue Reading »