As we start the new year and H. and I once again are back to being separated throughout the week, I decided I wanted to try to institute a ritual of cooking together one evening on the weekends. Depending on schedules, this isn’t always possible of course, but it’s something we love to do and winter is the perfect time for it. There are additional challenges, however, when we don’t live together. The only way to do this is to plan ahead, and plan carefully. No problem — I am a born planner! I started by compiling a list of a few dishes I wanted to make and then assigned them different dates. First up was this pork shoulder ragu.
This is a great dish for chilly, rainy days, which we have had every weekend of 2018 so far. There is something so comforting about putting something in the oven for several hours and letting science take over. It takes time to cook this, but not a lot of effort. The smell was amazing throughout the late afternoon, and the results were good. The meat was extremely tender — melt-in-your-mouth — and very flavourful.
However, while I enjoyed it, unfortunately this was too rich a dish for me overall. I actually felt slightly nauseous afterwards….It was a lot with the pasta and cheese, and I couldn’t finish mine. It needed something to cut the fat, and even though we had it with a peppery salad, it was still a bit too much for me (H. loved it though!), and I am not rushing to make this again.
As I have mentioned several times before, I don’t do nearly as much cooking as I once did, now that I am living in two places. An exception to this came recently when I decided to make this “baklava,” from a recent edition of delicious magazine (it is a Sabrina Ghayour recipe, previously featured on the BBC’s Saturday Kitchen which is where I have linked the recipe from). This is definitely a weekend project — preferably a cozy Saturday with a glass of wine, the paper, and some nice background music.
Although this dish takes a lot of time, it is not at all difficult and there is very little “fuss” involved. The most difficult part is assembling it, but even that is very easy. So, don’t be put off — what this requires most of all is time, not effort.
I bought a lovely pork shoulder at our local butcher — I have to admit that it was a bit unfortunate to cook it and then not just eat it right away and bury it in the baklava. Next time I buy it I’m not doing anything to it!
The recipe called for fennel, which I left out because I don’t like the taste if it. I think it’s complex enough without it though. The end result looks impressive and was really tasty — the honey means it has a tiny taste of sweetness. My only bugbear was that the sauce ended up a touch dry for me.
(NB for any veggies/vegans: there is a pic of raw meat below)
Taking a cue from delicious magazine (to which I am a devoted subscriber), which features a “roast of the month” in every issue, I’ve decided to create a new feature whereby am going to challenge myself to cook and share a roast per month between now and March or April (my intention was to start this project in October, but the month got away from me).
Why? Roasts are one of my culinary weak points — I just don’t have much confidence with them. I can roast a chicken and a lovely pink pork tenderloin, we do a very nice brisket, but I am not intuitively experienced with a wide range of cuts (nor, at 27 and still a student, do I expect to be!). But, I thought it might be fun to challenge myself and share the results (and maybe finally learn to crackcrackling?). Roasts are also comforting and the perfect food to make together with H. on a windy and rainy afternoon like this past Sunday — roast #1 — was.
I had three recipes in mind (all pork), and chose to go with whatever I found at the market. When I came across pork shoulder, it was Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s chestnut and apple stuffed roast shoulder of pork. This recipe was chosen strategically because a colleague of H.’s had given us some chestnuts. Neither of us are particular fans of chestnuts, but we did not want to see them go to waste. I therefore though that this would be a good way to use them up. That is, until we opened them, and they turned out to have already gone off! We improvised quickly and ended up preparing a stuffing that was a riff on one of our favourite dishes that H.’s mum makes, rouladen. Our stuffing was composed of:
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 shallot (these first 2 ingredients lightly sauteed)
2 slices of torn white sandwich bread
1 small apple, diced into small pieces
1 tsp fresh thyme
Salt & pepper to taste
We had a roughly 1.5kg piece of shoulder. I thought it would prove a little small and thus difficult to stuff, but it was perfectly fine. As per Hugh’s recipe, we “zapped” it in the oven at 220°C for thirty minutes, and then turned the heat down to 140° and left it in for about 4.5 hours. When you turn the heat down, you add in a glass of apple cider and a glass of water. Hugh recommends zapping it again at the end, to crisp up the crackling, but I didn’t do this and it turned out fine. In fact….. (drum roll)……this first roast was a MASSIVE success. It was by far the best roast pork I’ve done, and the crackling was perfect.
We served it with creamy mashed potatoes and braised leeks (similar to the recipe here except I braised them in cider instead of white wine). Thee drippings from the meat mixed with the apple cider made a nice gravy after only about 10 minutes simmering on the stove.
What did I do this time that I haven’t before? I think the meat may have been slightly better quality, but I think the main thing was cooking time: long and low. I think the added moisture from the cider and water really helped as well. This is definitely a recipe I will be making again. 🙂
Also, for those following my social media “detox”/break: I had 3 days (Saturday-Monday) off social media completely, and it was excellent. I didn’t miss it and it was easier than I thought it would be. Monday was incredibly productive as I fully concentrated on my work. As of yesterday I have introduced Twitter and Facebook back but in much shorter, more controlled bursts and I intend to keep going on this track. I haven’t yet looked at Instagram or any blogs and I am really surprised to say that I don’t miss it.