N’duja pasta bake


This meal was a result of my abject failure at organisation and forgetting to take anything out of the freezer to defrost for dinner.  I rummaged through the fridge and my cupboards and found a few odds and ends that, cobbled together, made something pretty special.  The spicy pork, sweet tomatoes and rich mozzarella were so good together.


Around 100g of pasta if you’re dieting, vastly more if you’re not

30g n’duja

Half a mozzarella ball, sliced – I used buffalo because that’s what I had, but regular would be fine for this

A handful of cherry tomatoes, quartered (I used 8)

Fresh basil, torn up

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Cook the pasta per the packet instructions.  Drain and return to the pan with a small dash of olive oil and the n’duja.  Over a low heat, stir until the n’duja has melted then turn off the heat, add the cherry tomatoes, a couple of pieces of the mozzarella, a little of the basil and some salt and pepper.  Mix together and place it in an ovenproof dish.  Put the rest of the mozzarella and a little more basil on top and put in the oven at around 180c (fan) for 15 minutes, until the mozzarella has browned a little.

Serve with the rest of the basil scattered over.

close up

Eat happily with a glass of something crisp and cold.

Piggy heaven

I’ve kind of lost my blog mojo, both in terms of writing blog posts (I’ve been meaning to blog this recipe for a couple of weeks and have failed miserably) and doing the actual dieting itself.  For reasons that I’m not going to go into here, I’m not in the greatest of places right now – every area of my life is complicated, stressful and making me sad and I have no motivation or enthusiasm to do anything but try to survive each day as best I can.  Some days it’s easier which is largely down to the fact that I have some truly incredible friends who have gone above and beyond the call of duty by putting up with me.  Other days, it’s not so easy.
Consequently, I am now at my absolute heaviest and the scary bit is I don’t think I even care that much.  I DO, as I know I look horrible and I feel uncomfortable and the numbers on the scales are frightening (not that I’ve looked at those for a few weeks) but I actually can’t be bothered to do anything about it.  I need comfort, which usually presents itself in the form of poached/scrambled/fried eggs on toast or a big pile of rice or pasta, and that’s all that I’m about right now.
This recipe is the ultimate in comforting…the most comforty comfort food I think I’ve ever had.  I grew up in a household with an AGA so casseroles, fish pies, shepherd pies and so on were what we lived on.  That, and the fact that my mum is a brilliant cook, meant that we ate fantastically well and healthily (evidenced by the fact that I only put on weight once I left home, went to university and discovered takeaway for the first time!) but, I have to say, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten anything quite as delicious as these pig cheeks.  Sorry mummy (but thank you @misswhiplash who sent me the original recipe which was in Delicious Magazine – link here!  I am forever in your debt.)
Pig cheeks with leeks and onions (makes 8 portions)
2kg pig cheeks (in my bag from @markymarket, 2 kg = 24 cheeks – perfect)
Seasoned flour
2-4 tbsp olive oil
5 onions, finely sliced
3 leeks, split lengthways down the middle and sliced finely
10 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed
3 bay leaves
2 tbsp honey (runny, not set)
400ml white wine
400ml chicken stock
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
100ml half fat crème fraiche (mixed with a little cornflour)
Or in pictorial form, here they are!
Pig cheeks are amazing.  Little nuggets of loveliness, unlike the HELL ON EARTH that is an ox cheek – they’re big beasts that are nigh on impossible to get a knife through and make you sweat.  Never, ever try to prepare ox cheeks when you have a tiny baby kitten in the house as it will drive them wild and they will discover that by digging their claws into your clothes/flesh/whatever (OUCH), they can climb all the way up to your shoulder and sit there like a parrot, mewing away longingly.
But that’s by the by.  Now, I don’t know if it’s technically necessary to remove the silvery layer on the top of them (I have no idea what that is even called) but I decided to because it looks suspiciously like it may involve a bit of fat and I wanted to lose all unnecessary fat that I could.  So, trim off your pig cheeks until you have a stack of them that look beautiful, like this:
Heat up a non-stick frying pan and start rolling the cheeks in some seasoned flour.  Add as little oil to the frying pan as you can get away with and then start browning off the cheeks in batches, they’ll probably need a couple of minutes on each side.  They smell awesome.
Once they’re all browned off, leave them on a plate on the side while you get on with the vegetables.
At this point, I switched to my enormous casserole.  I debated doing this bit in fry light, that evil spray stuff, but given that the leeks and onions are supposed to caramelise, I thought that would be a bit disastrous, so I probably used around 1-2 tbsp of oil, added the leeks and onion and fried incredibly gently (lid off) for about 25 minutes, at which point they should be soft and silky and look like this:
Sprinkle in the thyme leaves, pour in the honey and increase the heat under the pan.  Cook this for a few minutes until it’s a bit sticky.  Apparently it’s meant to go a bit brown, mine didn’t and I’m fine with that.
Pop the pig cheeks into the pot, add the wine and the chicken stock, some seasoning and the bay leaves and give it a big old stir.  You need to bring this to the boil and then transfer it to the oven (around 140c – even lower if you want to cook it for longer) for a good 3-4 hours:
After several hours, check that the pig cheeks are perfect (eat a bit!  You totally deserve it) and then do a bit of fishing around for all the cheeks as they need to be taken out so you can make the sauce delicious.  Look how awesome the cheeks are!!
To make the sauce, add the mustard and the crème fraiche to the cooking liquid (don’t forget to stir cornflour into the crème fraiche before adding – @rankamateur’s top tip to stop it from splitting or forming lumps in the sauce, and it works!), bring it to the boil and reduce it so that it’s nice and thick and saucy.  Check the seasoning and then put the cheeks back in and serve, 3 cheeks per person, like this (although a carb with it would be an idea):
My ex has recently moved into a flat on his own and when I visited him about 10 days ago, I took him a few of my freezer goodies to start him off.  On Tuesday night, he had the pig cheeks.  I came into work yesterday to the following one line email:  “OMNOMNOM.”  He’s absolutely bloody right.

Mincey mincey!


Recently, the thoroughly wonderful @MissWhiplash (follow her on twitter now, she’s aces) made me dinner.  It was a fabulous affair – lots of booze, more bloody onglet than you can shake your hat at and the most incredible tarte tatin – she only made her own puff pastry!!  Anyway, while I was there, Whippy and I got talking about her Kitchen Aid.  She was telling me all about it and all the wonderful things that you can do with it, including making your own mince.

This excited me.  I’d been thinking for a while that I wanted to make my own mince, largely because I’ve realised that extra lean beef mince is a bit pants and I could probably make tastier mince from lean cuts of pork or chicken or whatever.  I mentioned this to Whippy who jumped out of her chair, rooted around in a cupboard for a bit and produced a vintage Spong mincer (photo to follow of the glorious item) for me to take home (darling Whippy, you’re never getting it back.)

So yesterday, I made mince.  While I was extremely drunk on Saturday evening, I took a pork fillet out of the freezer to mince the following day.  Lookie look!!

How freaking cool is that?  And so quick and easy.  Seriously kidz, BUY ONE NOW.

I then retired to my bed for a nap (so hungover) and when I woke up, groaned at the mince and the effort involved in making anything at all for dinner, but decided to go simple with a version of the also-freaking-awesome @ShedLikesFood’s vietnamese pork patties.

These should be made with minced pork, a little bit of sugar, minced up spring onions and a load of fish sauce.  I didn’t have any spring onions so I just grated in a regular onion and they were still good.  Last night I had them with a squeeze of lemon juice over the top, some egg noodles and some broccoli.  Clean food after my unclean living over the rest of the weekend.  I made them for another friend recently and we wrapped them in lettuce leaves and had them with a dipping sauce (recipe for the dipping sauce in the comments below) – they were AWESOME.

Today I had the leftovers for lunch.  This is what they look like cold:

Not wildly appealing, so I decided to stuff them in a wrap with some salad, a little bit of low fat mayonnaise and a squeeze of lemon.  And it was yummy.  And I still have the two above left for tomorrow.  WIN.

I think it is safe to say, FatFran loves mincing.

Bleurgh. Sunday lunch bleurgh.

Last night (Saturday) I had the best night EVER.  I trekked from South East London to blinking Hackney to visit the extremely wonderful @MissWhiplash with @shedlikesfood and @miss_jordi.  We had a fabulous night of champagne, onglet, actual deep fried naughty chips, wine, pudding wine, tarte tatin (Miss W made her own puff pastry, the nutjob.)

The night was fun.  MORE than fun – it was brilliant.  While I was there, I discussed methods of cooking pork belly with Miss W.  The consensus was Long And Slow.  When I got home, I decided to score my beasty belly up, which was all well and good until I encountered this:

AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!  THERE ARE NIPPLES!  NIFFLES!  SNIFFLES! Nipples.  Actually, they didn’t freak me out.  They made me laugh my ass off (I was drunk).  However, I was aware that my guest would not appreciate a crunchy mammory gland, so I removed the offending section.  I slightly regret losing the extra crunch.

Feeling smug about my midnight preparation, I rolled into bed (which was filled with glass due to a broken lightbulb) where I barely slept at all due to the gits that live a few doors down from me who decided to party until 5am (DISAPPROVING, OLD FACE) and the skin tag on my back which, unbeknownst to me, had turned entirely black overnight – possessed by Satan.  One way or another, I had naff all sleep.

So getting up at 8am to cook a pork belly p***ed me off an inordinate amount.  I wanted to KILL.  But I am, if nothing else, a hostess with the mostest, so I cracked on and threw the non-nippley belly in the oven and trotted back to bed… where I was abused by this little lady jumping all over me:

HOW PRETTY??  Much as I love her, I desperately wanted her to be removed from my body buffer zone so I could do masses of snoozing.  It wasn’t to be.  SO.  On with the naughty pork.  Tom from The English Pig had told me that I should do it for 1 hour at 200c, 1 hour at 150c, 4 hours at 100c.  This is what happened:

This is the beauty after 1 hour!  BEAUTIFUL.  Massive concern that it was cooking too fast.

4 hours.  Looking a bit scary and burnt and soggy in the middle.  However, it all worked out a treat.  I chucked the oven up to 220c for a little while (15 mins) and the crackling became a thing of great beauty.

 FOOD PORN!  Actual food porn.  CRUNCHY.  Do you want to see The Plate?  OK…

Yeah, I know.   Ming.  MING-A-LING.  Why?  My friend and I ate lunch at around 2pm.  I made this plate up out of cold skanky food at around 8pm.  BLEURGH. (I did eat it yes.  The crackling was still aces 6 hours later!  I ROCK.)

SO.  I think we can safely say that pork belly, yorkshire puddings, buttery mash and about 4 gallons of wine is not Diet Food.  Yes, I suck.

The diet starts tomorrow, 22 August 2011.  I have fruit, vegetables….and no guests.  It starts here kidz.  Roll on next Friday.


The Last Supper…

…well, not quite.

The idea was that I would go for a final, blow-out meal and then the diet would start the following day with bells on.   This was the idea.

The blow-out meal bit worked a treat!  My friends Uncle Ji (@vhatyoutalking), Angharad (@anglikebang) and I strolled around the corner from my office to have dinner at The English Pig where @JohnnieWannabe and @chef_tom_kneale treated us like princesses (sorry Uncle Ji – you are, of course, a PRINCE).  We were expecting a couple of piggy courses and a bottle of decent, but nothing out of the ordinary, wine to be honest.  What we got was this:

No, we were none-the-wiser either.  I, for one, was VERY excited as I love a tasting menu.  Johnnie brought us a bottle of Laurent Perrier to start us off and then this was delivered.

This is the Columbian Marching Powder.  I still have no idea what it actually was, but they tasted of thyme and rosemary and sesame and…something else.  Jesus wept.  It’s a good job I’m not a food blogger, I’m crap at this.

Bread and butter, except that weird whipped stuff at the back that came out of a canister?  That’d be the bread.  Those balls?  Butter.  This was insanely rich and we could barely manage one each.

Proper food now (sorry gents).  Pigs head terrine aka Cheeky Monkey.  It was really good.  I love pig fat and this pig fat was all lovely and buttery.  Mmmmmmmmmm.

This was probably my favourite thing that we had.  It certainly isn’t a tuna and sweetcorn butty.  It is, however, bass with a sweetcorn puree and a crab thing.  The crab thing was good.  The bass was delicious.  Also, why the hell haven’t I ever thought to put sweetcorn with fish before?  It totally works.

PIG!  Oink oink oink!  Johnnie presented this to us as being “a bit like KFC”.  WIN.  I freaking love KFC.  Actually maybe this was my favourite dish.  It was pork belly in a lovely crispy coating, fondant potato, there’s a little lardon thing going on at the bottom there that was also delicious.  I’m very happy that this was on my Last Supper menu.

Chocolate soil with chocolate mousse and some red stuff.  Nice enough, but I was waiting for…

Rice f***ing pudding! (I promised myself I wouldn’t swear on this blog, I’m such a potty-mouth in real life…this is potentially my Everest.)  This pudding was also a bit like Everest.  Stodgy, rich…total school dinners, but in a good way.  Uncle Ji didn’t get near to finishing “his”.  I polished off the lot.

There was cheese too but we forgot to take a picture of that – too busy scoffing.

After sitting and chatting to the extremely generous Johnnie and Tom for a while, Uncle Ji and I legged it over to Galvin at Windows (check out the view!) for margaritas and martinis.

And then I rolled home, placated a very p***ed off kitten (she hadn’t really seen me for 3 days and this displeases her greatly) and fell asleep with good intentions of the diet starting the next day…

…which is where it went wrong…I have no food in the house.  I am totally disorganised, I am out most of this week and the weekend…ARGH.  This is not conducive to breakfasts of fruit and home-made lunches.  Total disaster.

So the plan is this: the diet starts again on Friday.  This was always going to be my weigh in day, so it actually works a treat.  On Thursday evening I’m going to get out my granny wheelie-trolley and head to the shops.  Any food ideas for the upcoming week will be gratefully received!

P.S. Tom and Johnnie – thanks again for an amazing evening.  We loved it.

P.P.S. Photos were all taken by @anglikebang except the chocolate soil and the Galvin at Windows view, which were taken by @vhatyoutalking.  They have better phones than I have.  If anyone would like to give me an iPhone 4, I wouldn’t chuck it in their face.  I NEED FLASH.