Sunday 11 March 2012

How to cook shortribs - with brilliant leftovers

Just before winter finally disappears (although looks like I may already have missed the boat) here's a wonderfully warming dish of braised beef shortribs I made last weekend when I was having a bit of freezer clearout. To be honest I'd forgotten about them - as you do. They were a bargain I'd picked up in one of our local Bristol butchers Ruby & White for under £10, I seem to remember. Impressive as there was enough for two generous meals.

First I followed the recipe below from The Frugal Cook which gave us two socking great ribs to feast on on Sunday night. I left them in the AGA overnight, cooled and skimmed them the following morning then reheated them for dinner along with some roast carrots.

You don't have to use a whole bottle of wine for the dish (I'm lucky enough to have a ridiculous number of open bottles due to the day job) - if you replace half with stock it will still be delicious - but more gravy-like.

Braised beef short-ribs
Short-rib is a classic American and French cut which used to be quite hard to find but which is increasingly widely available. They’re thick chunky wedges of beef on the bone and need long slow cooking.

Serves 4-6
2 tbsp oil
1.2kg beef short ribs
2 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 level tbsp tomato purée
1 rounded tbsp plain flour
600-700ml full-bodied red wine or wine and stock combined + an extra half glassful
2 sprigs of thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large ovenproof pan or casserole and brown the ribs on all sides. Set aside. Turn the heat down and fry the chopped onions and carrots in the oil until beginning to soften (about 7-8 minutes). Stir in the garlic and tomato puree and cook for a minute over a low heat then stir in the flour. Gradually add 500ml red wine then heat, stirring, until the sauce has thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Return the ribs to the pan, adding enough extra wine, stock or water to ensure they’re covered with sauce and bring to the boil. Turn the heat right down and simmer on the lowest possible heat or transfer the casserole to a low oven (140°C/275°F/Gas 1) for 3 1/2 to 4 hours until the meat is falling off the bone. Check the casserole every hour or so to make sure it isn’t cooking too fast. The surface should barely tremble. Remove from the heat and cool then refrigerate overnight. Skim the fat off the surface of the casserole then return the ribs to the liquid in the casserole. Add another half glassful of red wine and reheat slowly.

The following night I made the dish I'd actually been gagging to make - a simplified version of the beef shin macaroni (aka macaronnade) in the Hawksmoor at Home cookbook in which I had a hand. You simply shred the remaining meat and fold it and the sauce - of which you need a fair bit - into some freshly cooked short or 'elbow' macaroni. The kind you use for macaroni cheese. I bought mine loose in a shop called Scoopaway in Gloucester Road.

Then you layer it up in an ovenproof dish with a good sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan between each layer and bake it at about 190°C for half an hour or so. About 60-75g of parmesan in total - you need to be quite generous with it. I won't say it's the world's most beautiful dish (not helped by this murky low-lit photo) but it is insanely good. Like the best spag bol you've ever tasted. Feeds 4.

Thursday 8 March 2012

Why you should try Fairtrade wine

I meant to post this before but there's still a chance to try some Fairtrade wines at a discount before Fairtrade Fortnight ends this Sunday. The best place to go is the Co-op which not only has the widest range but has knocked 20% off across the board on all Fairtrade goods including bananas, chocolate, tea and coffee*.

I've been critical of Fairtrade wines in the past (see my Guardian column last year) but they do seem to have improved, especially the reds. This year I recommended the exuberant, fruity Co-operative Fairtrade 2011 Bonarda Shiraz (down to £4.99) from the La Riojana co-operative in Argentina, a great wine to serve with a robust pasta sauce or a Friday night pizza, the smooth, lush Fairtrade Carmenère (also £4.99) from Chile which, odd though it might sound, is a good wine to serve with a meaty curry like a rogan josh and the rich, full-bodied Fairtrade Gran Reserva Malbec 2011 (down to £6.39 from £7.99), again from Argentina, which would be ideal for a Sunday roast or a steak. In fact it would actually benefit from laying down for a year or so if you've room to stash a few away.

I'm slightly less grabbed by the whites but if you're in search of a light inexpensive chardonnay the Fairtrade Chardonnay from South Africa (£5.99) is perfectly decent and the Torrontes/Chardonnay from Argentina which blends Chardonnay with the indigenous Torrontes grape (£4.99) has an appealing floral twist that would make it a good match for light Asian dishes like stir-fries and salads.

If you've not tried Fairtrade wines before give them a try.

* Actually I've discovered that some of the Co-op offers carry on till March 20th so you've got another week to take advantage of the discounted prices.

Friday 2 March 2012

How 'product shrinkage' increases prices by stealth

Take a look at these two bottles. The one on the right - bought a few months ago - contained 500ml of red wine vinegar. The significantly smaller one on the left, which my husband just picked up from Tesco for £1.23, has only 350ml.

I'm pretty sure I paid around £1.19 for that larger bottle which worked out at 24p per 100ml. The new size works out at 35p per 100ml - a whopping increase in a short period.

I can't for the life of me see why we should pay so much for vinegar. French supermarkets have it at a fraction of the price. In many branches you can't even buy an own brand vinegar now though I notice from that Asda has a 350ml bottle for 67p - that's 56p a bottle cheaper than the Aspall branded one.

Product shrinkage has of course been going on for a while but it seems to me it's got way more prevalent recently as this report from Which? last year suggests. I've noticed fewer teabags in some of the packets I buy, for example. Have you spotted any incredible shrinking products lately?