Green peppercorn sauce for cheats

I pulled a packet of frozen peas out of the freezer yesterday and something heavy shot out from underneath them and landed on my foot. I uttered a string of epithets not suitable for a family-friendly food blog and bent down to pick it up. Was it a brick? Was it a small frozen animal? Was it that packet of wonton wrappers that I’ve been planning to use for ages? In fact, it turned out to be three small pieces of fillet steak. Hurrah! I nearly lost a toe, but I gained an excellent dinner. It seemed like a fair trade to me.

Green peppercorn sauce – the cheat’s version
When I told my beloved we were having steak for dinner he looked like I’d dropped the frozen meat on his foot. He perked up a bit when I told him it was fillet, then he perked up even more when I told him I’d make his favourite green peppercorn sauce. But somewhere between making the offer and dinnertime I got sideswiped by such fatigue that I couldn’t face all that faffing about with reductions and whatnot. Instead, I made this in all of five minutes and it was so good I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the other one. If you’re not a carnivore, rest assured this is equally good on baked potatoes or bread.

100g unsalted butter, softened
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
a good pinch of salt
4 tsp green peppercorns in brine

If you have a mortar and pestle, now’s the time to use it. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle (or you do and you just don’t have the energy), this is easy enough to do by hand. Put the garlic and salt in the mortar and pound away until it forms a smooth paste. Add the peppercorns and smash them a bit, then add the butter and mush it around a bit. Scrape it on to a piece of waxed paper and roll into a cylinder. Stick it in the fridge to firm up – for at least 15 minutes. When your steak or potatoes or toast is ready, slice the butter into discs and put on top. Buttery, peppercorny heaven awaits. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle (or you do and you just don’t have the energy), this is easy enough to do by hand.

What’s your favourite sort of butter?

Stir-fried pepper steak

While I’ve been swamped by a tidal wave of work in the past few weeks, two good things have happened. One, my sister-in-law arrived with a suitcase of farm meat (vastly superior to anything in all but the poshest butchers) and two, dearest husband has devised a very tasty thing to do with it. I’m thinking of pretending I have a lot of work on more often.

Stir-Fried Pepper Steak

Stir-fried pepper steak

This is how my lovely husband cooks this dish, which he has devised to fit in with his after work schedule. His other commitments after work three nights a week include being glued to his work phone, playing princesses, cajoling the Small Girl into the bath and generally having the household in order by the time I get home from work. If you don’t eat meat, you could try this treatment with tofu or those Quorn things that I always feel a bit suspicious of.

500g steak – we used porterhouse, but you could use Scotch fillet or even rump – sliced into 1.5cm x 2.5cm strips

3 Tbsp soy sauce

2 Tbsp fish sauce

a 3cm knob of fresh ginger, finely grated

2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced

a bunch of spring onions, finely chopped

3 Tbsp black peppercorns

2 Tbsp oil

enough vegetables of your choice – mushrooms, beans, peppers, broccoli – for four

Put the steak, soy sauce, fish sauce, ginger, garlic and spring onions in a bowl and toss well until the meat is well cover. Cover and set aside to marinate for 45 minutes (if leaving it for longer, put it in the fridge and let the meat return to room temperature before cooking).

Crush the peppercorns with a mortar and pestle (or put them in a heavy plastic bag and pulverise with a hammer). Add them to the steak and stir to coat.

Heat a large, heavy pan until a drop of water sizzles on the surface. Add the oil, then cook the steak for about three minutes. Remove to a clean bowl and set aside to rest. Stir-fry the vegetables (pour any leftover marinade into the frying pan) until just cooked. Remove the pan from the heat, toss in the steak strips and stir to combine. Serve with rice. Serves four.

Who does the weeknight cooking in your house?

Finsbury Park pasta and proscuitto

I invented this quick, delicious spaghetti when we were living in our first London flat. It was a neat place (if you ignored the crack house two doors down, the overland train out the back windows and the bus route out the front) and we had lots of visitors. Now we live in a house in Wellington that’s probably three times as big, with neighbours who play classical guitar and invite us over for dinner, with trees and sky out the windows. We still get lots of visitors, though they don’t look as frightened when they appear at the door.

Spaghetti with roasted vegetables and proscuitto
This is a very vague recipe that can be altered to fit whatever vegetables you have lying around. In Finsbury Park I relied on whatever looked best at the 24-hour ‘Local English Mediterranean Superstore’ on Seven Sisters Rd, though I was careful not to buy any of the vegetables that had been sitting out in the traffic fumes all day.

For four people:
A slosh of olive oil
2 red onions, chopped
3 zucchini, sliced into coins
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 peppers, cut into large dice
2 handfuls of green beans or broccoli, in bite-size pieces
1 cup black olives, stoned
1 punnet cherry tomatoes
1 packet proscuitto
Parmesan and fresh parsley, to serve
500g good quality spaghetti

Heat the oven to 220C. Put the onions, zucchini, garlic, peppers and beans/broccoli in a roasting dish and toss through the oil. Roast for 20 minutes, until they start to turn golden. Stir, then tip in the olives and tomatoes. Lay the proscuitto over the top. Return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes, until the tomatoes are at bursting point and the proscuitto is crisp.
While this is happening, cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, then toss through the roasted vegetables. Divide between four bowls and top each one with the shards of proscuitto, grated Parmesan and finely chopped parsley.

Pork, pineapple, cashews and lime

A few weeks ago I had a ridiculous craving for sweet and sour pork. Ridiculous because I’ve not eaten any for years, let alone made some. So I turned to my collection of 1970s cookbooks (at last, they’ve been useful!) and made an approximation of their various recipes – which was as revolting as you might expect, with this sort of gloopy, cornflour-thickened sauce.

Last week though, I had another attempt. There was sweet (a ripe, juicy Australian pineapple), sour (lime juice and a few shredded kaffir lime leaves) and pork (free range Scotch fillet), plus some salty roasted cashew nuts for crunch. It was delicious, which proves a) you can learn from your mistakes and b) some things are best left to the mists of memory.

Pork, pineapple, cashews and lime
This is a really good mid-week dinner – it’s fast, good for you and feels like a treat. Chop everything up, put some rice on to cook and wash some crunchy lettuce leaves – cos, iceberg or Little Gem. Then quickly stir-fry the pork and other bits before scooping it and the rice with the lettuce. Making lettuce parcels is a good way to encourage recalcitrant lettuce eaters to get their fill of Peter Rabbit’s favourite greens. If you haven’t got access to fresh pineapple, leave it out rather than use the canned sort because that only tastes of tin.

2 Tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 red onion, finely sliced
3 cm piece of fresh ginger, grated
2 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced
600g pork Scotch fillet, cut into 1cm x 2cm pieces, at room temperature
300g fresh pineapple, cut into 1cm  x 2cm dice
100g roasted salted cashew nuts
1 Tbsp brown sugar
zest and juice of two limes

Heat a large heavy pan and add the oil. When it is hot, add the garlic, onion, ginger and lime leaves and stir-fry for a couple of minutes, until golden. Tip in the pork and let it fry for two minutes before stirring around. It should be browned on all sides but don’t overcook it. Add the pineapple, cashews and sugar. Cook, stirring all the time, for another two to three minutes, until the pork is done. Remove from the heat and squeeze over the lime juice, stirring to scrape up the caramelised bits from the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle over the lime zest and serve with rice and lettuce wraps as detailed above. Serves four.

Random recipe #24: Barbecued ribs

For this month’s Random Recipe Dom instructed us to get someone else to choose a recipe from their collections. I called on my sister-in-law Lucy – yes, two Lucys, married to identical twins, no, they didn’t find us at a dating agency – to do the honours and she did me proud.

“I picked the Leon cook book because you gave it to me and it is one of my favourite books. I honestly just let the book drop open and the lucky page was 226… Love me tender ribs.”

I’d forgotten all about giving her the Leon book, even though I remember introducing her to the tiny Leon on Carnaby St years ago. It’s been a long time since I made anything from the book myself, but I couldn’t believe I’d missed these ribs.

Barbecued pork ribs
I took some liberties with the Leon recipe – I couldn’t get baby back ribs but just asked the butcher to saw some up, which he did while telling me a story about playing Father Christmas at a children’s party. “I got out of the car and there was a huge scream, then I realised it was because of me!” But I digress. I simplified the sauce a bit and did the final cooking on the barbecue. If it’s not barbecue weather at your place, finish them off in a hot oven. Either way, these are super simple and delicious. The amount below is enough for four adults with some side dishes, though two Flintstones could probably devour them by themselves.

1kg good quality pork ribs
1 x 200g tin of chipotle sauce (I used the La Morena brand)
4 Tbsp honey
90ml  red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1 tsp Chinese five-spice
1 tsp dried chilli flakes

Put everything except the ribs into a large dish (big enough to hold the ribs in one layer) and mix well, Then add the ribs, turning to coat in the sauce. Cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge to marinate overnight.
The next day, heat the oven to 120C. Line a shallow roasting dish with foil and put the ribs on top, fitting them in like jigsaw pieces so they form one layer. Carefully pour the marinade in (between the ribs, not on top of them) and top it up with water so the liquid comes about halfway up the ribs.
Sprinkle the ribs with salt, then cover the dish with foil or a lid and bake for about five hours, turning occasionally. At this point, you can let the ribs cool until you’re ready to eat – in the fridge for a few days if necessary.
When you’re ready to eat, fire up the barbecue or heat the grill. Grill the ribs, basting with the sauce, for about 15 minutes, until they are piping hot and sizzling. Eat with your fingers, flatbreads, black beans and a cold beer.