Pork Belly with Fennel Seeds and Cider Gravy

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A few weeks ago I went to Exeter Food Festival. I skipped lunch in order to fit in about 5 meals’ worth of free samples from all the food stands – even visiting some stalls twice and getting an irritable ‘Hello AGAIN’.  After I’d had my fill of chutney on tiny bits of bread, I tried to find the beer tent and ended up inadvertently wandering into a cookery demonstration.

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The demonstration was by Tom Cull of Tom’s Pies (www.toms-pies.co.uk). One of the main motivations for me visiting the festival was to have one of these pies – I had a lamb, chickpea and chorizo one last year that’s been on my mind ever since.

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But instead of giving away the recipe for this pie (understandable, but disappointing), Tom was cooking pork belly. As chefs love to tell you, pork belly is apparently a very underrated cut of meat. But it seems to be popping up everywhere these days- and every time I’ve had it it’s been delicious. There was a ‘here’s one I made earlier’ moment at the end of the demonstration, and Tom cut up the pork belly for the people in the audience who could fight their way to the front of the mob first.

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In this recipe, the pork is rubbed with a mixture of fennel seeds, mustard and about a gazillion other things, then perched on top of some vegetables and slow cooked. This gives a lovely crackly skin and very tender meat- and you’re left with dark sticky goo underneath that forms the base of the intense cider gravy.

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Lemon Possets with Blackcurrant Compote

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Since I have been living at home after finishing my degree, the state of our overstuffed freezer has become a source of great irritation. My mum insists on keeping enough food to last us for about 3 months, incase of being snowed in/car breaking down/zombie apocalypse. It’s got to the point where I can’t even use the freezer for its only useful purpose (storing ice cream) because it won’t fit.

lemon posset ingredients

I go on periodic freezer clearing missions, which involve getting angry and defrosting random things that I somehow think I’m going to use (cranberry sauce, filo pastry, a piece of cake from the nineties).

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During one such mission, I came across some blackcurrants, probably dating from somewhere around my 10th birthday. So I decided to use them to make blackcurrant compote (jam, basically) to go on top of lemon possets.

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Despite its intimidating medieval English name, a lemon posset is a laughably easy pudding to make. Containing only three ingredients – lemon juice, cream and sugar- it can be whipped up in a matter of minutes and left in the fridge to set.

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Pasta with Peas, Goats’ Cheese and Rocket

Pasta

Going completely vegetarian has always been a non-starter for me, as the second I contemplate cutting out meat I immediately begin fantasizing about chargrilled steak.  However, at university I went through a semi-vegetarian phase. I started buying better quality meat, and consequently, as I was an impoverished student, eating much less of it.

Montage

I think vegetarian meals force you to be a bit more inventive and imaginative. It forces you to think outside the meat-and-two-veg box. Instead of relying on meat as the star of the meal, and everything else as secondary, meals become a collection of equally important elements.

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This is one of the things I cooked a lot during my effort to eat less meat. I’ve always been a devoted fan of pasta, and peas for that matter, so I liked this dish before I’d even tried it.

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Blending the peas with goats’ cheese and a hit of garlic into a creamy sauce works along the pesto lines of yumminess, whilst the rocket adds a peppery freshness. If you’re one of those individuals who absolutely can’t resist adding meat to everything, top with some pieces of streaky bacon, fried to a crisp.

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White Chocolate and Raspberry Blondies

Blondies

I have a mild obsession with cookbooks. I have a stack on my bedside table to read before I go to sleep, which is teetering to the point of being ridiculous. I have a (large) bookshelf in my room specifically to house my collection. Even though I rarely follow recipes, but use them as a jumping off point – to give me inspiration and ideas.

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This recipe (slightly adapted) is from a recent acquisition called Tea with Bea. It’s a beautiful book, full of gorgeous photographs of every recipe -I usually don’t make a recipe unless provided with an accompanying picture.

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Being a massive fan of brownies, but having never made their white chocolate cousin before, I thought I’d give it a shot. Bea says that it will convert people who don’t like white chocolate (I’m dubious as to whether such a person exists), and affirm the beliefs of those that do. My small contribution to the recipe was to add raspberries, whose sharp tang complements the intensely sweet gooey centre.

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This recipe involves quite a lot of waiting around – cooling and refridgerating the blondies so they will set enough to be cut into squares. But the result is well worth it, as they are incredible.

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Pork and Sweet Potato Bake

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Even though it’s May now, on some days it still doesn’t feel like Spring will ever arrive. On occasional days the temperature rises above freezing, and everyone suddenly gets very excited (with whisperings of “10 degrees!”) only for it to plummet back down to -1 the next day.

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Snuggling up in front of a wood-burning stove is much more appealing than going outside and making the most of that extra hour of daylight.  And eating comforting, rich things like this feels appropriate.

Bake

This dish is somewhere between a sweet potato gratin and a lasagne- layers of rich pork mixture and sweet potato, topped off with fluffy béchamel sauce.

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