STEAK NIGHT ~ Thyme and Garlic Steak and Balsamic Cherry Tomatoes

Friday nights are made for steak and wine.

Ingredients:
For the steak
2 cloves of garlic per steak
2 sprigs of thyme per steak
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp. good quality extra virgin olive oil

For the tomatoes
10-15 ripe cherry tomatoes per person
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
1/2 tsp. sugar
Freshly milled black pepper

This fantastic thyme and garlic seasoning is certainly different from your average salt and pepper seasoning. Finely mince some garlic cloves onto a chopping board and onto the same surface drop the thyme leaves, salt and pepper with drizzle a pool of olive oil (I used extra virgin olive oil for added sweetness). Rub the ingredients together, using your fingers to make a sort of marinade that you can paste over the steaks. Slap the meat onto the board, coating both sides really well with the infused oil.

Tip: Coat the meat with oil rather than oil the skillet or griddle. The pan needs to be really hot and you don’t want the oil to start smoking before the meat is cooking – it can give food an unpleasant taste. This is especially the case with extra virgin olive oil. It also means less oil is wasted.

Fry off the cherry tomatoes in a pan, adding a splash of balsamic vinegar and olive oil and half a teaspoon of sugar to taste. Finish with a grind or two of black pepper. The idea is to warm the tomatoes through until they are soft and just about splitting through their skins – don’t cook them to a pulp. They should be ready in couple of minutes.

When everything else is ready, the last job is to fry the steaks to your own liking in a hot skillet.

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Stuffed Aubergine

Leafing through my grandmother’s recipes again, I’ve been seeing a lot of anchovies, which, after deciding to cook every dish she has penned out, I didn’t really want to attempt. Anchovies: I wasn’t a fan. I’m always avoiding them on pizzas or in anything really. But I do love aubergine – and for the sake of this dish, I decided to give anchovies another try.

I nibbled timidly at an oily fillet from one of those flat supermarket tins and I came to the conclusion that they were not that bad after all. Anchovies had made it my ‘Yes’ list. It must have been that clichéd general opinion of the offending fish that meant I never gave them any consideration.

Don’t let this happen to you. It is hardly as if most recipes ask you to eat them straight out of the tin. When you cook with them, they actually melt away into a nothingness and contribute an extra fullness in the overall flavour of a dish. Be it some sort of deep ragù or stuffed veg or mince meat dish, just a couple of small fillets can make a brilliant difference.

But back to the dish at hand: my grandmother’s stuffed aubergine. I have replaced her use of four tablespoons of breadcrumbs with a cup cous-cous, for more texture. Cous-cous was not a very popular ingredient in the post-war 1940’s. Instant cous-cous was probably hard to come by, if in existence at all and she would have had to steam her cous-cous pearls instead of just adding hot water. But feel free to use either.

Ingredients:
2 aubergine
2 finely chopped anchovy fillets
Chopped fresh parsley
2 ripe tomatos
6 chopped green olives
1 cup cous-cous
Olive oil
Parmesan

Method:
Preheat the oven to 200°. Cut and hollow out 2 inch sections of  aubergines and sit in a small roasting pan. For the filling, pour 1 cup of boiling water onto 1 cup of cous-cous and stir. Leave covered for a few minutes to allow the water to be absorbed – it doesn’t have to be completely cooked it will continue cooking in the oven. Dice up the ripe tomatoes and mix with the chopped olives, anchovy filets parsley and plenty of freshly milled black pepper. Add the cous-cous and mix really well. Then stuff the hollowed aubergines.

Drizzle with a little olive oil and top with grated parmesan for a cheesy crust. Bake in the oven for half an hour.

Serve as a side to a meaty dish, or as a meal with a little salad. ~

On the topic of Oxtail

After an early outing this morning running errands I found myself in a supermarket across town. Because it was so ridiculously early (and the weekend no less), there were very few customers about. An enjoyable change to the way a gazillion shoppers normally clog up the aisles like saturated fats in narrowing arteries. I think it was the emptiness and better replenished shelves of the orange liveried grocery shop that led me to finding more interesting cuts of meat.

And so on to today’s topic: What can one do with a pound and a half of oxtail.

Larousse has two paragraphs on Oxtail. We’re talking slow cooking, probably some braising and either a soup or stew-style finish. What else? After further cross referencing with my favourite old recipe book French Cooking for the Home and some other tomes, we learn that this culinary experiment is probable going to take two days –  with around four hours of cooking to begin with and a cooling period in order to skim off excess fat as Louis Diat explains that, ‘An oxtail ragout that has not been thoroughly skimmed is apt to be over rich in fat and too heavy for some digestions’. Old school for ‘a bit greasy’ – and judging by the fat on the oxtail I’ve just purchased, he’s probably right. So much for my earlier saturated fat comment.

The French and Flemish seem to have the upper hand on oxtail recipes. Even the apparently English oxtail soup was reported to have been introduced to this soil by refugees fleeing the French revolution. The Flemish have hochepot which, among other things, includes boiling down pigs trotters, ears and cabbage.

However I think, for my first foray I think I will go with Oxtail Parisienne.

700g of oxtail, chopped in pieces at the joints
salt
pepper
oil to braise in
3 carrots
6 small onions (or shallots)
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1 clove garlic
fresh parsley,
celery,
a bay leaf,
thyme (dried or fresh),
sherry (or white wine)
a tin of tomatoes
a handful mushrooms
three medium potatoes

(will serve 2-3)

Season the oxtail with salt and pepper, and brown in a large pan with some oil. Then brown off the onions and carrots in the same pan also. Drain out the excess fat, add the garlic and flour and turn everything gently to allow good coverage.

Tie the celery, bay leaf, sprigs of thyme and parsley stalks together with string (leave some parsley spare for garnish later) and drop into the pan with the wine and tomatoes. Add enough water to cover the meat, bring to the boil and then reduce heat, cover and cook slowly for 4 hours. You could transfer it to a slow cooker crock pot at this point if you wanted.

After 4 hours cooking, allow to cool until the fat that has collected on the surface is easy to skim off the top. Take care not to bully the mix around, the meat will be on the tender side. This is the point at which it can become a two day process; if you decide to leave the stew to cool over night and reheat it the next day. Allowing the stew to rest for a day also lets the flavours settle and come together for a fuller flavour.

While the stew is warming through again, sauté the mushrooms and add to the ragout. Cook for another half an hour.

Add diced boiled potatoes to the stew at the last minute, season with chopped parsley and serve. ~

If you’re one of those people that thinks stew ‘makes everything on the plate taste the same because it’s all cooked together’. This is for you. Omit the potatoes and cook them separately. Roast them, perhaps with some courgettes, or perhaps even make rostis:

Credit for this part of the article must got to @olliehunter.

Use a ratio 1 large potato to 1 small onion
Egg to bind.

Grate 2 large potatoes and 2 onions into a bowl lined with a clean teacloth. Gather the teacloth edges and draw tightly together,  squeezing excess juice out of the grated bulk. Empty into the bowl and mix in an egg. Season with salt and pepper (side note: chilli flakes, garlic, parmesan or cheddar are great additions at this point – but it depends what you are serving the rosti with). Spoon the mixture into a small hot oiled frying pan and press down to fill to the edges. Don’t make it too thick because the potato has to cook through. Allow to brown and go crisp on one side for 7 minutes on a medium to low heat (depending on thickness), before turning out onto a plate (a palette knife can be helpful) and sliding back into the pan on the opposite side. Repeat the cooking process for this side.  Make sure that the potato is soft before before serving.