November 5th, 2013

Oxtail and Sweet Potato Pie

On a Saturday my husband will kindly offer to go to the butcher to get our meat for the week, usually so he doesn’t have to watch another Vampire Diaries episode. On his return I am treated to the grand presentation whereupon 85% of the items he brings back actually featured on the list he was given. Invariably there is a surprise or two to thoughtfully throw me off course. A more resigned edition of Ready Steady Cook which then usually involves a separate trip to the shops to buy whatever is needed to help prepare it. There are certain things which have been banned from this game, one of which is wild rabbit, which was greeted with stony silence after the third time it was produced out of the butchers hat in a matter of weeks.

The chefs special this week though was oxtail which was an excellent addition to our menu. Oxtail is definitely a weekend cut of meat as it takes a while to get really soft and juicy so benefits from a really slow braise. The results are always worth the wait and a little of it can go a long way due to the richness of the meat. I needed then an accompaniment to cut through the dark intensity and decided to make cottage pie but using sweet potato to make the end result a bit lighter. This was a new recipe which worked better than I had hoped. The melting meat bubbled up underneath, caramelising with the fluffy topping and making the edges all chewy. Adding a lot of dijon mustard at the beginning of the oxtail braise also helps to thicken the gravy without the addition of flour and imparts a creamy depth rather than a strong mustard flavour.

Just as the pie came out of the oven the sky suddenly opened up outside. Now I’m not saying that the rain is an essential element to this supper but it really was rather wonderful forking the piping hot pie into my mouth whilst looking out of a drowning window, the water thundering down onto the pane.

Oxtail and sweet potato pie

1 kilo oxtail
2 tbsp olive oil
2 sticks celery, diced
1 large onion, sliced thinly
2 large carrots, diced
1 litre stock
100ml dijon mustard
2 x bay leaves
2 x sprigs thyme
2 x cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp white pepper
½ tsp salt
1 kilo sweet potatoes
30g unsalted butter
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper

  1. Rub salt and pepper over the oxtail then in a large casserole pot heat up the olive oil on the hob and add the oxtail.
  2. Braise the oxtail for about 10 mins until browned then remove.
  3. Add the celery, onion and carrots to the casserole pot and heat on a low heat for about 10 mins until softened. Remove from the casserole and set aside.
  4. Add the oxtail back into the pot, then pour in the stock, the Dijon mustard, bay leaves, thyme, garlic and salt and pepper. Bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer. Cook for 2 hours then add back in the carrots, celery and onion and cook for a further 1½ hours until the oxtail is falling off the bone and the gravy has thickened.
  5. Remove the bay and thyme leaves and the oxtail bones. Make sure you remove the hard caps which may have fallen off the oxtail bones as they can be a surprise when you bite down on them.
  6. Pierce the whole sweet potatoes several times with a sharp knife.
  7. Wrap each one individually in foil then bake at 200°C for about 1¼ hours until the potatoes are softened.
  8. Scrape the each potato from its skin and then mash the bright orange flesh with the butter, nutmeg and salt and pepper.
  9. In an ovenproof dish, layer all the oxtail the add the sweet potato mash on top, dragging a fork over to allow the mash to crisp up in the oven.
  10. Bake in the oven for 30-40 mins at 180°C. Serve piping hot.
October 25th, 2013

Maple Pecan Chicken with Baked Sweet Potato

There is something about the time around Halloween which brings out the American flavours in me. When ginormous pumpkins are beaming at you from their orange mountains within Tesco’s doorway and witches and goblins leer out of every shop window there is something in the air that makes me want to reach across the pond. I imagine myself in a dinky New England town with kids cycling in circles around the pumpkin patch, fathers raking up leaves as moms bake cookies in between sewing incredibly ornate trick or treat outfits for their five year olds. Multiple viewings of The Woman in White when I was a pre-teen might have had something to do with that vision. Now that’s a scary film.

So when I’m itching to incorporate a little bit of Halloween in my meals in the run up to the big day I can’t help but crave toasty pecans paired with maple syrup, the real amber nectar. Apparently I shouldn’t eat sweet things all day long, even though that would be the dream, so I pile them atop tender chicken and serve with a pipingly hot baked sweet potato. Although I completely draw the line at the American tradition of putting any kind of sugary nonsense with my sweet potato. It’s sweet already, it says it in the name.

This recipe has been heavily adapted from one of my favourite and most used cookbooks, the first Ottolenghi book where the chicken was originally paired with saffron, hazelnuts and honey, just in case you were wondering.

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Maple Pecan Chicken with Baked Sweet Potato

2 x sweet potatoes
2 x chicken supremes
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tbsp olive oil
50g pecan nuts
1 tbsp maple syrup

  1. Wrap each sweet potato tightly in foil and place in the centre of an oven pre-heated to 180°C. The potatoes should take between 75-90 mins to bake depending on the size of your potato
  2. Mix together the cinnamon, ginger and olive oil then rub it all over each piece of chicken. Marinate for at least half an hour before adding to the oven to bake alongside the potatoes. The chicken should take between 30-40 mins to cook thoroughly depending on the size of your chicken supremes.
  3. Meanwhile spread the pecan nuts in a shallow baking tray and add to oven to bake for 10 mins. Remove, chop roughly then mix in with the maple syrup.
  4. 10 mins before the chicken is ready, remove from the oven the spoon oven the pecan nuts, pressing tightly against the top of the chicken. Put back in the oven for the remaining 10 mins.
  5. Serve the chicken with the sweet potato, peeled out of it’s foil and a knob of butter.