Monday, 29 August 2011

Braised beef brisket, barbecue bacon jam style!

Digging through the depths of the freezer to find the meat that time forgot, we discovered a 5lb brisket that we had at one time planned to turn into corned beef.  Generally the rule of thumb with brisket is to smother it in barbecue sauce and cook it low for hours and hours on the grill and serve it as pulled beef on soft buns. As the majority of barbecue sauces are loaded with sugar and High fructose corn syrup this method of cooking is now off the menu. Turning to the trusty Tastespotting site for some inspiration, I entered the word beef brisket and an array of different recipes appeared. This one is an adaptation of a Marcella Hazan recipe from her wonderful book, Essentials of Classic Italian cooking. I admit,  I tweaked it and added my own twist, but the end result is a meltingly tender piece of beef studded with tender bacon pieces, with the added bonus of the sticky bacon and onion jam in the bottom of the pot. As the beef rested under a tent of foil, I took that bacon and onion mixture, added a couple more ingredients and the end result gave a sauce that rivals the sugar laden barbecue sauce any day

4-5lbs Beef brisket
1 pound thick bacon ( I sliced it from a single piece but you can use thick sliced bacon)
4 large onions thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic cut in half lengthways
5 cloves
1/2 cup strong black coffee
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons honey
1teaspoon harissa powder  OR 1/2 teaspoon ground habanero chili powder (if you can't get these use hot chili powder and of course you can add more or less to suit your tastes)
salt and freshly ground pepper

For the bacon jam barbecue sauce
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
A little more Harissa or ground Habanero chili if required (if you can't get these use hot chili powder)

Preheat the oven to 165C / 325F
To begin with you need to chop half of the bacon into pieces about 1/4"wide, then with a paring knife make slits uniformly over the beef, about 1/2" wide and into each slit insert a piece of chopped bacon using a chopstick or your finger to push it into the hole. Add the 5 whole cloves at random into the bacon holes.

This is how it looks when it is done
Place the chopped onions and garlic into a heavy bottomed Dutch oven that has a well fitting lid, add the rest of the chopped bacon, then pour over the black coffee, maple syrup and honey.

Top with the Beef brisket (bacon studded side down) and season well with salt and pepper.

Put the lid on the Dutch oven (Important note, If the lid is not tight fitting cover the pot with aluminum foil and then put on the lid)

Bake for 3 1/2 hours or until fork tender, turning the meat every 30-40 mins or so. At first you may think the meat looks an unappetizing gray color but as the onions caramelize, the meat will brown.
The meat juices after the brisket is removed
Bacon Barbecue Sauce
To make the bacon barbecue sauce, remove the brisket from the Dutch oven, cover with foil and leave to rest. Put the Dutch oven on top of the stove and add half of the balsamic vinegar to the pan juices, along with 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar. Turn up the heat to high and reduce the sauce by half (about 10-15 mins)
Reducing nicely, halfway there
Keep an eye on the pan so that it doesn't reduce all the liquid and burn. When the sauce has reduced and become a lot thicker, taste again and add more Harissa or chili if you desire. Now add the last of the balsamic vinegar and boil for a further 5 minutes or so until the mixture is dark and thick.
The finished result, dark thick and delicious
Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 20 minutes. Depending on the amount of fat on the outside of your brisket, there may be an oily layer on top of the sauce. To remedy this, take two sheets of paper towels and lay them gently on the top of the sauce for 10 seconds and then remove and discard.
Removing the oil
 Repeat until the paper towels are no longer oil soaked and instead take up  a little of the sauce when you blot it.
When it looks like this, you've removed most of  the oil.
Put the barbecue sauce into a food processor or blender and pulse 3-4 times, you don't want it to be smooth, it needs some texture but without big chunks of bacon or onion.


Slice the Beef and spoon over the sauce. See how the bacon has melted into the beef

I have to say these photos really don't do this dish justice, it tastes amazing. This would be great on a cold day with a cauliflower/sweet potato mash combo, but is equally as good on a summer day served with paleo coleslaw or as we ate it this morning, a hearty breakfast served with scrambled eggs. That'll set you up for the day!

*Note* Any remaining bacon jam can be kept in a jar in the fridge and is the perfect accompaniment to Grilled burgers or meatloaf.

Yum, man sized breakfast!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Stuffed Courgettes or Zucchini or summer squash

This is a nice dish for the upcoming colder evenings but they also taste good cold the next day with a nice salad. I also unashamedly use the English word describing the vegetable of the day for this recipe. According to the Oracle that is Wiki, Courgette is the word we Brits use and is derived from the French spelling. Americans call them zucchini, derived from the Italian spelling and in some places they are also known as summer squash. You can also adapt this recipe and use those huge overgrown courgettes which are also known as marrows. So now you have been subjected to a little cultural vegetable lesson, let's start with the recipe!

1 pound / 500g ground good quality ground beef (you can use ground pork or turkey too)
1 leek, washed to remove any grit and finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 small, fresh, red chili, finely chopped
1 clove fresh garlic minced
4 large courgettes (1 per person)
3/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 cup ground almonds
salt and pepper to taste
a little shredded cheddar or Parmesan cheese as a topping (optional)

Preheat the oven to 190C / 375F
Cut each courgette in half lengthwise and remove the top stem and about 1/8" off the bottom end.With a teaspoon carefully scoop out the seeds and pulp in the middle part of the courgette, don't throw this away. Keep it to one side, chop it and add it to the other vegetables when you fry them.

Place the courgette halves cut side down in a lightly oiled baking dish and cook for 10 minutes, remove from the oven a let cool slightly.
In the meantime in a non stick frying pan over medium high heat, brown the ground beef and drain any fat.

 Add the chopped leeks, red and green bell peppers, garlic, chili and leftover chopped courgette flesh. Cook for 5 or 10 minutes until the vegetables have softened. Add the ground almonds, salt and pepper and oregano, adjust the seasoning to suit your tastes.

Flip over the courgette shells and spoon in the meat mixture, pack it in, but take care not to split the courgettes. Top with a little shredded cheddar, Parmesan or even Feta cheese.

Return to the oven for another 20-25 mins until the topping is browned and the courgettes feel tender when poked with a knife. Serve hot or cold with a nice salad.

Curried Pumpkin soup

Last week we had a mini heatwave here in Europe. However, all good things must come to an end and we are now back to the gray and wet of a late German summer. The kids go back to school on Monday and Autumn is now announcing its arrival, as evidenced by the wind, rain, falling leaves and pumpkins that are currently appearing in the shops. This is a simple but great tasting, hearty, soup, easy to do in a slow cooker as well. It has just a hint of curry flavor that gives a gentle warmth and isn't overwhelming, but feel free to add more curry powder if you think your taste buds can handle it. I used some chicken stock in the freezer that was left over from a chicken casserole but you can use organic stock cubes or canned stock if you want to. 


1 Hokaido / Japanese Pumpkin, peeled and chopped into 1"- 2" cubes. You can also use a small regular pumpkin if you can't find the Hokaido Pumpkin.
coconut oil, olive oil or bacon fat (you choose!)
2 onions roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with the back of a knife
3 large carrots or 5 or 6 small ones, washed and roughly chopped
3 or 4 leaves fresh sage and  a sprig of fresh thyme
1 teaspoon curry powder (you can always add more or less according to your own preference)
salt and pepper to taste
2 quarts / 2 liters chicken or vegetable stock

In a stock pot melt the oil over medium heat add the onions and garlic, cook until translucent. Add the chopped pumpkin and carrots, the sage and thyme and cook for a further 5 minutes or so.
Can you see the chunk of frozen stock in the middle??
 Add the chicken or vegetable stock and the curry powder, and cook gently for about 45 mins to an hour until the vegetables are soft.

Puree with a blender, stick blender or food processor. If it is a bit too thick you can add a little water or coconut milk to thin it out. Ladle into bowl and serve immediately. (This soup freezes well)

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Carrot cake

Not been around much, doesn't mean we've been starving or eating lots of pizzas, just that school holidays have meant time is limited. Hoping to be back a little more often once school goes back on Monday. In the meantime today, I made this delicious carrot cake that was featured on the Food lovers primal palate blog. I was dubious, I admit, 10 eggs to a mere 3/4 cup coconut flour, would it taste eggy??  I followed the recipe more or less, but cut down on the maple syrup used to 'marinate' the carrots' to 1/2 cup and it was still plenty sweet. I also added three tablespoons of finely ground almond meal and it didn't seem to alter the super moist consistency. Definitely a winning recipe for special occasions and not a trace of egginess.

The folks at Primal Palate are also bringing out a recipe book in October, it looks like a good buy for those who need some fresh ideas for paleo meals. Available from Amazon

Friday, 5 August 2011

Shepherds Pie

This is a great tasting, filling meal and a good way to get veggies into kids who don't particularly like to eat them. If you prefer, you can use straight sweet potato mash or just cauliflower mash. I used a combination of the two and find the cauliflower nicely balances the sweetness of the sweet potato. This is one of those dishes that tastes even better the next day, if you are so inclined, you could cook it in advance, put it in the fridge and enjoy it the next day. Leftovers freeze well too.

2 pounds, good quality ground beef
2 grated carrots
2 finely chopped onions
2, 14oz cans, organic tomato sauce or whole tomatoes in sauce (if you use these, chop them lightly)
2 tablespoons organic tomato puree
1 cup beef stock
2 cauliflowers
2 large sweet potatoes
salt and pepper
A little finely grated cheddar for the topping (optional)

On the top of the stove, brown the ground beef in a large pan over medium to high heat. Add the chopped onion and the grated carrot and cook for a further 4 or 5 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes, the beef stock, the tomato puree, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Turn down the heat, pop on a lid and cook over a low heat for around 60 minutes.

In the meantime, chop the cauliflower florets into small pieces and add to a large pan of boiling salted water and cook until tender. Drain well and set aside. Peel and chop the sweet potato, cut into 2 inch chunks and steam them until tender. (you can also boil them but I've found they absorb quite a bit of the cooking liquid and the finished product becomes a bit soggy) Alternatively you can pierce the sweet potatoes and cook them in their skins in the microwave until tender, let cool a little and then cut them and scoop out the flesh. Put the sweet potato and cauliflower into a big bowl and mash. I used a handheld stick blender which saves a whole lot of time, season to taste with salt and pepper.

When the meat sauce is ready, drain it into a colander over another saucepan so you save the sauce. You don't have to drain it all off, but too much sauce at the bottom of the Shepherds pie will cause it to bubble up and spill onto the bottom of the oven, causing a smoky mess and a stinky kitchen. (Here speaks the voice of experience, been there done that!!) Put the drained meat sauce into the bottom of a deep casserole dish and level off. Top with the cauliflower & sweet potato mash and level off with a fork. At this point you can add a little grated cheese if you wish. Bake in a preheated oven 180C/360F for about 30-40 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling at the edges and the cheese (if used) is golden brown. Let it sit for 10 minutes before spooning onto a plate and serving with veggies of your choice and the leftover reheated sauce .