Friday, 26 September 2014

Bucatini with Beef Meatballs

My middle child doesn't have friends over to play often, due to crazy logistics this year for the children, and us parents. Sometimes it feels as if we are ruled by the schedule of (particularly my eldest's) various extra-curricular activities, but a few friends have assured me that this happens in their households too. This year, we are starting him on some of the same classes as his sister, and next year I hope that everything will become easier when they are (hopefully) all at the same school.

This is the last week that I will be home relatively early (early enough to do school pick-up), so we have taken a few days to have his friends around to play. On Tuesday I did egg-fried rice, which didn't go down too well (and I hate sending a child home without being sure that they are full), so I found out in advance what today's guest likes eating. It turns out he loves meatballs, so I procrastinated until 10pm last night, then got on with it.

Whilst the sauce was cooking, I found out that our guest wasn't a fan of vegetables ("I don't eat them"). But he did say he ate pasta sauce, so once the sauce was cooked, I took a stick blender to it and pureed it all. The smooth texture of the sauce worked well with the meatballs, so I'll probably continue to puree in the future.

I normally prefer to use a combination of pork and beef for meatballs, but didn't remember to defrost any pork. These meatballs are easy to make and cook, and freeze well for a standby dinner.

Middle child, despite cleaning his plate (save one meatball, which was snaffled by his sister), protested that the meatballs were not as nice as the ones served in the school canteen!



  • 400g beef mince (I used 10% fat Aberdeen Angus mince)
  • 4 tbsp. stale breadcrumbs (I used wholemeal bread, which I had previously whizzed in a processer and put in the freezer)
  • 2 tsp chopped mixed herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram) or 1 tsp dried mixed herbs
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 5-6 twists of freshly ground black pepper
Makes approx. 35 meatballs

  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 large carrot, finely diced
  • 1 stick of celery, finely diced
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 x 400g tins of peeled plum tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tsp dried mixed herbs
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 50g cubed pancetta (or use sliced streaky bacon)
  • 1 red chilli
  • Ground black pepper to season
  • Olive oil and/or sunflower oil for frying
  • (Optional) Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • (Optional) Grated cheese


  • Place the mince, breadcrumbs, chopped herbs, garlic, egg, parmesan cheese and pepper into a large bowl. Using your hands, squidge everything together until the mixture is thoroughly combined
  • Line a plate or tupperware box with greaseproof paper. Take a small amount of the mince mixture in your hands and roll it to make a meatball, around 2.5 - 3cm diameter. Make sure that the mixture holds firm and place on the plate/box. Repeat, placing the meatballs a small distance apart from each other. I use a box, and interleave the meatballs with greaseproof paper
  • Cover the plate/box with clingfilm or a lid, and place in the fridge overnight

Beef meatballs, ready for the Fridge

  • Heat a heavy-based pan and add 2 tbsp. olive oil. Heat until the oil is moderately hot and add the pancetta. Brown the pancetta, then add the onions and garlic and stir for 3-4 minutes until the onions are glossy and softened (don't let the garlic catch and burn)
  • Add the diced carrot to the pan and stir for a further 4-5 minutes
  • Add the plum tomatoes, rinsing out each tin with approx. 1/4 tin of water and adding to the pan
  • Add the tomato puree, celery, dried mixed herbs and balsamic vinegar and stir well to combine
  • Using a knife, pierce the chilli a couple of times, then add to the sauce
  • Bring the sauce to the boil, then cover and lower the heat to a simmer
  • Simmer the sauce for45 minutes, until the vegetables are soft
  • Remove the chilli, then puree the sauce until smooth with a stick blender, and add some more water if it seems too thick. Continue to simmer on a low heat, covered, whilst you cook the meatballs and pasta
  • Heat 2 tbsp. olive or sunflower oil in a frying pan and add the meatballs (approx. 6 per child or 8 per adult). Brown the meatballs until they have a lovely rich colour

Brown the meatballs until they have a lovely rich colour

  • Add the meatballs to the sauce, replace the lid and simmer for 15-20 minutes
  • In the meantime, boil a large pan of salted water. Add a splash of oil, and add 100g per adult of pasta to the pan (I used bucatini, but any long pasta would be fine)
  • Boil the pasta according to the instructions on the pack. When the pasta is ready, drain and place into warmed plates
  • Add the meatballs to the pasta using a slotted spoon, then add generous amounts of the sauce to the dish
  • (Optional) Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and add grated cheese (I used cheddar) and more ground black pepper if required
  • Serve with a big glass of red wine

Bucatini with beef meatballs

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Cod Wrapped in Bacon, with Samphire, Potatoes and Tomatoes

Most children who are brought up in a household with Chinese cooking will be acquainted with seaweed in some form or other, and I don't mean the crispy green stuff that you get in the chippy (which isn't seaweed). One of my favourites is 紫菜湯, a yummy soup with ginger, pork, dried shrimps and fronds of greenish-brownish seaweed, which are sold in dried pancakes, and soaked and rinsed of sand several times before being dropped into the soup at the last minute to create that wonderful salty, iodine-y taste of the sea.

I really like samphire, and wish that it was available more readily. I was excited to see it at the Hawarden Estate Farm Shop, and picked up a box without a clue how to cook it. It has that lovely seaweedy taste, and a freshness and bite that goes well with a crispy slab of white (I suspect pink also) fish. Stir-frying seemed to work well, the fishmonger also told me that it's normally just boiled for a few minutes.

Be gentle with the salt in this dish, as the bacon and the samphire will both add to the flavour of the finished plate.



  • 2 cod loins
  • 6 slices streaky bacon
  • Large handful of samphire
  • 8-10 baby new potatoes, washed (I used British Gems from Sainsbury's)
  • 6-8 cherry tomatoes
  • Lots of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh herbs, rosemary, parsley, thyme, oregano, marjoram
  • Salt and pepper to season
Serves 2



  • Preheat the oven to 190 degrees fan
  • Prepare the potatoes by cutting in half and placing in a single layer in a roasting dish. Add the chopped herbs, 6-8 twists of the salt mill and 10-12 twists of ground black pepper (adjust seasoning according to taste). Pour over 3-4 generous lugs of olive oil, and stir to mix the seasoning and oil with the potatoes
  • Place the potatoes in the oven for 35 minutes
  • Pre-heat the roasting tin for the cod in the same oven
  • Wash the cod loin and dry on kitchen towels
  • Sprinkle the cod with a few twists of black pepper, the wrap the streaky bacon around each loin, folding the ends underneath snugly

Wrap the streaky bacon around the cod loins

  • Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil to a large, heavy-based pan and heat until very hot (oil is moving around the pan). Place the cod loins, "tidy" side down, to the pan. Brown for 3-4 minutes, taking care not to move the cod around the pan too much
  • Using a spatula, turn the loins over and brown the bacon for a further 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat, but reserve the frying oil
  • Place the loins on the pre-heated roasting tray and add the halved cherry tomatoes, cut side facing upwards. Sprinkle the tomatoes with a little salt, pepper and mixed herbs, and drizzle olive oil over
  • Place the roasting tray in the same oven as the potatoes, for 15 minutes

  • Place the browned cod loins in a dish with the tomatoes
    • Wash the samphire and drain. Cut off any woody stems
    • Reheat the pan containing the oil that was used to brown the cod. When the oil is hot, add the samphire and stir-fry for 5 minutes
    • Add a few twists of black pepper to the samphire and stir well before removing from the heat. Place on a warmed plate, then add the cod, tomatoes and potatoes. Serve immediately
    Cod Wrapped in Bacon, with Samphire, Potatoes and Tomatoes

    Wednesday, 10 September 2014

    Carrot and Coriander Soup

    My youngest has been pestering me for "carrot soup" for a couple of weeks now. Where he got the idea from, I haven't a clue. Anyway, I finally got around to making this, prepped last night and made in the slow-cooker today. It tastes fresh, sweet and a little tangy. It is also unbelievably easy - moreso if you buy ground coriander and don't bother dry-roasting and crushing the seeds yourself.

    Needless to say, when presented with the desired carrot soup, the youngest had a strop and insisted that he had really meant "bomato soup".

    The children took exception to the coriander leaves (placed purely for aesthetic purposes), but cleaned their plates. They loved the soup accompanied by cheesy garlic bread, although the youngest was very suspicious about "why mummy made a flower with the bread?"



    • 50g butter
    • 1 onion, finely sliced
    • 6-8 carrots, peeled and chopped into large pieces
    • 1 smallish floury potato, peeled and chopped into large pieces
    • A piece of peeled raw ginger, approx. 2cm cube
    • 1 tsp coriander seeds (or use ground coriander)
    • 500ml chicken stock (I used a cube of Kallo organic chicken stock)
    • 1 dessertspoon  crème fraiche
    • A pinch of salt
    • About 10 twists of ground black pepper
    • Coriander leaves to garnish
    Serves 4



    • Heat a frying pan to a moderate heat, and add the coriander seeds. Stir the seeds in the pan until they begin to colour, and release aroma. Remove the pan from the heat, allow to cool, then crush the seeds with a pestle and mortar
    • Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan. When it is melted, add the sliced onion and fry gently for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened and glossy
    • Place the carrots and potatoes in a slow-cooker. Grate the ginger into the pot, then add the ground coriander.
    • Pour over the hot chicken stock, add a pinch of salt and 10 twists of ground black pepper
    (at this stage I let the whole lot cool overnight and put the slow-cooker on in the morning for yummy tea at 5pm)
    • Place the slow-cooker on low, and cook for 8 hours. If you don't want to use a slow cooker, place all of the ingredients in a large saucepan, cover and boil gently for 30 minutes
    • When the vegetables have cooked until soft, remove from the heat. Add a dessert spoonful of crème fraiche, then blend the soup to a smooth puree
    • Check and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve immediately with something toasty and oily

    Carrot and Coriander Soup

    Monday, 8 September 2014

    Salt and Pepper Ribs (椒鹽排骨)

    I could do with perfecting this recipe, as it's the first time I tried it. I would like to try the "double-frying" method mentioned in many recipes, but I tried slow-cooking to see if the tenderness could be retained, and to get some juices for a sauce.

    Last weekend, we went to meet up with some rather wonderful friends, Simon and Kate, whom I can always rely on for belly laughs. The children were so unwilling to leave that we ended up going for dinner at the New Orchid Garden.

    I was pleasantly surprised! I don't often go to Chinese restaurants that predominantly cater for western people, because the menus are very different, and the staff tend to look at you suspiciously, making you feel like a fraud. Then there's the usual "should I speak English or Chinese? Should I speak Cantonese or Mandarin? What on earth should I order from this menu? Should we put all of the dishes in the middle of the table, or does everyone stick to their own chosen dish? Aaarrrggghhhh!" internal conversation.

    Nevertheless, we had a lovely meal, the service was very good and we all left feeling stuffed. The children behaved until we left, two hours after their bedtime! And they loved the prawn crackers. I felt a bit traitorous ordering foo yung and chips for them though.

    The eldest loved the salt and pepper ribs, and salt and pepper anything tends to be a favourite of mine (although I prefer squid or chicken wings). I've tried to recreate the recipe, but it will need a little work, and an update next time I make it.



    • 12-15 meaty pork ribs
    • 1 tsp coarse salt
    • 1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
    • 1 tsp black peppercorns
    • 2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
    • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
    • 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
    • 2 tbsp water
    • 1 tsp corn starch
    • 1/2 onion, finely sliced
    • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely sliced
    • 1 red chilli, thinly sliced
    • Coriander for garnish (optional)
    • Sunflower oil for deep frying
    Serves 4



    • Heat a wok or a heavy-based pan and add the salt, black peppercorns and Szechuan peppercorns. Stir them around for a couple of minutes, until they begin to release their aromas. Be careful not to let them burn
    • Remove from the wok and allow to cool. Crush in a pestle and mortar, then stir in the five-spice powder
    • Add the corn starch to the soy sauce and Shaoxing rice wine, and mix the marinade well
    • Add half of the salt and pepper mixture to the marinade and mix well
    • Pour the marinade over the ribs, and stir well. Cover and leave overnight in the refrigerator
    • Put the ribs into a slow cooker, add the water  and cook on low for 4-5 hours. After this, remove the ribs, drain off any excess liquid (retain if you want to make a sauce) and sprinkle the remaining salt and pepper mixture over the ribs
    • Heat approx. 3-4 cm depth of sunflower oil in a wok until the oil is moving around. You will know when it is ready if you put the end of a wooden chopstick in the wok, and bubbles start to appear
    • Add the ribs, 5-6 at a time, and deep-fry for 3 minutes until golden and crispy. Drain on kitchen paper between batches
    • When the ribs are all cooked, transfer to a warmed plate. Remove all but 1 tbsp oil from the wok
    • Heat the oil to a medium-high heat and add the sliced onions. Stir-fry quickly for 1 minute until the onions turn glossy. Add the garlic and chilli and stir-fry for a further minute.
    • If you wish to make a sauce for your ribs, add the retained juices from the slow-cooking process to the wok, and boil hard until the volume is reduced by 1/3, and the sauce is thickened and glossy
    • Pour the onion mixture over the ribs and serve immediately
    Salt and Pepper Ribs (椒鹽排骨)