A Controversial Kleftico (and it’s illegitimate offspring)

Controversial Kleftico, cooked with Oxtail...

It was a cold and stormy Winter’s night..… OK, it wasn’t. It was actually  an annoyingly rainy and depressingly premature Autumn morning. I was going out to a gig for pretty much the whole day. Luckily though, I’d cunningly foreseen the situation of getting home hungry, wet and weary that evening, so I’d taken the Oxtail that I had in the freezer out to thaw, the night before. My initial intent was to make a curry in the slow cooker, leaving it to cook all day while I was out. However, while flicking through some food photos from my Facebook food group “Foodbook Photos” I came across the Kleftico I made a while ago from a very simple authentic family recipe given to me by a Greek friend. Since it involved rather less preparation than the curry, I settled on the idea of trying to make the Kleftico with the oxtail.

Now I’m aware that proper Kleftico is a lamb dish, and also that there are many variation’s on the recipe, so maybe what I was about to make couldn’t really be called Kleftico (indeed, I had a couple of people on Twitter saying as much), and also that it is made in a conventional oven rather than a slow cooker.
So what I should really call my dish maybe is Greek style oxtail casserole…..? Whatever…!! But it was very nice.

Here’s what I did:

Firstly I set out my oxtail in preparation. It was already chopped into handy chunks:

 

The Oxtail

 

I then sliced up a couple of large onions:

 

Slice the onions

 

And halved some sweet vine ripened tomatoes:

 

Tomatoes

 

I then browned the oxtail off in a frying pan, since it would be going into the slow cooker instead of an oven:

 

Brown the oxtail

 

Next I selected a handful of choice bay leaves:

 

Bay leaves

 

I then layered the onions and the oxtail in the slowcooker:

 

Layer the onions in the pot, and put the oxtail on top

 

To make the cooking liquid I dissolved a tablespoon of tomato puree and some salt in some hot water:

 

Cooking liquid

 

Then arranged the bayleaves and tomatoes in with the oxtail, and poured the liquid into the pot:

 

Arrange everything in the pot

 

Lid went on and I went out for the day:

 

Lid on, me out

 

When I came back, approximately 8 hours later everything seemed to have cooked down nicely:

 

After 8 hours

 

I then gently stirred it, being careful not to break up the oxtail, but making sure to mix the onions up from the bottom:

 

Stirring gently

 

Lid then went back on for another hour or so, then it would be ready for serving.
Before serving it however, I carefully spooned some of the loose fat away that had settled on the top, so it wouldn’t be so rich:

 

Skim off some fat

 

I then squeezed in plenty of lemon juice:

 

Squeeze in plenty of lemon

 

..and served out simply with some mash potato:

 

Serve with mash

 

The flavour was rich, beefy and warming, with that very particular piquancy that you get when mixing tomatoes with lemon (which I also think you get in Madras curries).

Now for the offspring: I had a lot of the stocky cooking liquid left and also quite a lot of meat. So the next day I separated the meat from the bones, and made an oxtail and beetroot curry, simmered in a little of the stock, and served it with with a dhal and vegetable sambar curry and a peas and mushroom saffron pullao.
The leftover meat was rich and gelatinous and was fairly fantastic with the beetroot:

 

Beef and beetroot curry, with a dhal and vegetable sambar curry and a peas and mushroom saffron pullao.

 

…and finally, the next day, I still had quite a lot of stock leftover, so I used it to make a Chilli Con Carne made with smoked chipotle paste, dried homegrown red chillies and Tabasco and served it with corn tortillas. It was quite spectacular, and was easily the best Chilli I’ve ever made…. all down to the rich stock I’m convinced.

 

Chilli made with the last of the oxtail stock, smoked chipotle paste, dried homegrown red chillies and tobasco. Served with corn tortillas.

 

…and the moral of this story is, always buy oxtail, and never listen to pedants 🙂

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And The Real Winner Is: Sesame and chilli beef stir fry with broccoli and green pepper

Apologies for the self congratulatory title of this post, but it’s concerning the meal I made to accompany watching the England v Algeria game on the World Cup (soccer for you Americans).

The game itself was a terrible washout of a goalless draw… pretty much guaranteed to make a part time, fair weather football fan like me even more part time, and downright tropical climate requiring.

Anyhow, more importantly here’s what I did:

First I acquired a really nice bit of sirloin, weighing just over 1lb

Nice sirloin steak

I then trimmed off some of the fat and sliced the meat thinly against the grain:

Trimmed and sliced

I assembled my marinade ingredients:

Marinade: Soy sauce, blackbean sauce, chinese cooking wine, sesame oil, garlic

I then marinaded the beef for 1 hour in 2 tblsp’s soy sauce, 1 tblsp blackbean sauce, 2 tblsp’s chinese cooking wine, 1 tblsp sesame oil, 2 crushed and chopped cloves of garlic.

Beef in marinade

While the beef was marinading I assembled the rest of the ingredients for the stirfry: 1 tsp sesame seeds, a small head of brocolli, 3 spring onions, 1 green pepper, 2 large red chillies, 4 green birdseye chillies, 3 more cloves of garlic.

Ingredients for the stirfry

Chopped everything up suitably:

Chopped

Then heat some groundnut oil in a wok, and throw in the sesame seeds. Fry for about 10-20 secs until they start to colour…

Fry the sesame seeds

Add the spring onions and green chillies and fry for about 1 min

Add the spring onions and green chillies

Add the beef. Fry for a few mins until nicely coloured.

Add the beef

When the beef has coloured nicely, add a good teaspoon of brown sugar.

Add a teaspoon of brown sugar

After stirring the sugar in, add the broccoli, green pepper and red chilli…

Add broccoli, green pepper and red chilli

Stir fry for 5-8 mins until broccoli is nicely al dente, or cooked to taste..

Stir fry until broccoli is nicely al dente

While I was doing this, I also made some fried rice according to a method given to me by friend and colleague Kevan Frost.
To make the rice, first boil your rice till done and drain. Set aside.
Then, when ready, heat some groundnut oil in another wok. When hot put one egg into the pan and scramble round with a wooden spoon. Then add the rice, fry for a few mins, add chopped spring onion, sweetcorn, and peas (which I had steamed previously). I also gave it a splash of soy sauce as well.
Finally, stir in a good tblsp of sesame oil.

Fried rice and stirfry

Serve out immediately with a glass of cold beer. Then watch a rubbish football match……

Serve out and watch bad football

Soups, Stews and Rock’n’Roll

Adventures with a slow cooker on the Boy George tourbus

I'm the one not wearing eyeliner....

Eating well on tour can be a bit of a random affair.

Mealtime arrangements can run the gastronomic gamut from elaborate catering through to a plate of curly sandwiches left too long in the dressing room.
On this particular tour, we were by and large left to fend for ourselves foodwise. While there are sometimes a variety of interesting and quality eating establishments around venues, more often than not one is left to choose between a Wetherspoons pub meal, or some fish and chips. (There’s also pretty much always the “elephants leg”  kebab option, but I personally never go down that route).

Happily though, this particular band includes a number of people who are keen, skilled cooks and interested in the value of a quality meal.. (there’s nothing more depressing than being on the road with a bunch of definite non-foodies who are only too willing to settle for the kebab option).

The kitchen on a tourbus consists of a microwave, a kettle and a toaster, as well as a variety of basic cooking implements like a chopping board, knife etc etc. As you can imagine, it’s very much a “galley kitchen” affair, space obviously being at a premium.

Our guitarist/MD John Themis already has a history of preparing delicious miso soups on buses. He does this by using miso paste and a sachet of Japanese fish stock to make the soup with boiling water. He then makes some noodles in the microwave, and poaches some salmon gently in freshly boiled water in a seperate bowl. These are then added to the soup, together with tofu, chopped spring onions, chillis or chilli oil, sesame oil and some sesame seeds.
I sampled a bowl of this soup one afternoon, and it was outstanding, and considerably more nourishing than a service station sandwich.

About half way through the tour, we decided to buy a slow cooker in order to open up our options for cooking on the road. John managed to pick one up on offer at £30, so it wasn’t exactly a major investment.
The cooker’s maiden voyage was a wholesome Irish stew made by John.
Stopping at a limited Spar supermarket, John nevertheless managed to pick up all the ingredients necessary for this dish. I got back on the bus after a morning stroll around Eastbourne, to find Kevan the bassist and Bob the merchandise chap excitedly clamouring around the kitchen where John was a whirlwind of activity stacking the cooker with carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, chopped beef and some skillfully rolled meatballs, together with some mixed herbs and freshly ground black pepper.

Irish stew being assembled

He then made up some makeshift dumplings. Unfortunately we didn’t have any plain flour, so pure suet and water was used, and the dumplings were rolled small and compact, in anticipation of their richness.

A cooking liquor was then assembled with a beef stock cube and some HP sauce dissolved into some boiling water and added to the dish, which was then covered, and left to cook on the medium setting.

John rolling his dumplings for the Irish Stew..

After about 3 hours (after soundcheck in fact) John did a check for seasoning, added some salt, and replaced the lid. Since a slow cooker can lose a considerable amount of valuable heat, when the lid is removed, we had to place a “DO NOT OPEN” sign on the lid, to stop hungry musicians and crew lifting the lid and having a sniff.
After the gig, we exited the venue and got on the bus, where a delicious aroma was now pervading the air. (In fact, 2 of George’s die hard fans Kerstin and Sibylle who were standing outside the bus, commented that they could smell the food from there!)
The Irish stew had now been on for more than 7 hours, and it was looking and smelling amazing. A true one-pot dinner, John was able to serve it in bowls, with nothing more than a bit of French bread on the side. After a week or so of eating out, the experience of some home cooking was incredibly comforting.

John and Kevan ready to dish out the Irish stew..

The next day (Sunday) we arrived in Lincoln early in the morning following an overnight drive.

After the success of the Irish stew, I was thoroughly inspired to try and cook a chicken curry for after the show that night.
The first step was to purchase the necessary ingredients. As it was a Sunday, my only hope was to find a large supermarket (there was another small Spar shop near the theatre, but they didn’t have half the stuff I required). I managed to locate a Tesco which was a good 15-20 walk away, so I set off on my quest, and eventually arrived back at the bus with some chicken, onions, chillis, spices, microwavable steamed rice, chappatis and ready cooked poppadums.
The first problem to solve was how to fry the spices with the onions. To achieve this I chopped the onions in batches and “fried” them in a bowl with some sunflower oil in the microwave on the high setting for about 3 minutes to soften them up. Then, for each batch I added roughly 2 tsps ground coriander, 1 tsp cumin and 1/2 tsp tumeric, and “fried” them again in the microwave for 2-3 mins, again on high.
All the onions (1 bag) yielded 4 batches. With the last batch I added 2 good tsps each of ginger and garlic paste, as well as the spices (fresh ginger and garlic would have been an option, but would have required more chopping and made me late for soundcheck).
I then layered the ingredients in the slow cooker: 1 batch of onions, some chicken, some chopped red chillis and some diced potatoes. I continued layering up in this order until the cooker was full (luckily it was just about large enough to hold all the ingredients.)
I made the sauce by dissolving some creamed coconut and tomato puree into some chicken stock made from a stock cube, and poured this into the slow cooker until the meat was pretty much covered. I then put the lid on, propped up the “DO NOT OPEN” sign, and went to soundcheck.
Again, after souncheck, I tested and adjusted for seasoning, adding just a little salt.

After the gig, the smell on the bus was most inviting, and anticipation was high. 5-10 mins before serving up I added a whole packet of chopped green coriander, replaced the lid and let it cook in a bit. Unfortunately I forgot to photograph the curry in the cooker before we started serving, but remembered to do so when we were halfway down:

The curry, halfway through serving

I was a initially little nervous the curry wouldn’t live up to expectations, but luckily those fears seem to have proved unfounded. With John’s help I dished up several servings in a production line fashion. We had the sachets of rice in the microwave (which only took 2 mins), and a toaster warming up the chappatis. Each serving was then garnished with fresh green coriander, chopped fresh red chillis and a poppadum.

A serving of tourbus chicken curry

There was enough for 12 servings all together, and more than enough chappatis and poppadums. So Bob the merchandise chap was suitably relieved when he arrived on the bus, as he’s always last back because of the nature of his job.
Although most of us ate on the night, George and Jon the backing vocalist requested that we save their shares for the next day, due to not wanting to eat too late at night. So in fact, they would have sampled the best of it because it would have been marinating for a good 16 hours before they had their share. Curries are always better the next day…

Below is a photo of Bob’s share with extra chillies:

Bob's share served up with red chillies in background

….and this was Bob’s reaction:

The next day we were travelling all day from Lincoln down to Swansea, so it was an ideal opportunity for John to once again knock up one of his delicious miso soups, but this time he made a large portion, big enough to feed the whole band, and just left it in the slow cooker on the low setting, so it would be warm all day for people to help themselves as and when they wished.

He assembled it using the ingredients and method previously mentioned, but with the addition of poached eggs, which made it an even more inviting and balanced meal. After some discussion of how to best poach eggs on a tourbus, Kevan’s method of breaking the egg into a cup, with one teaspoon of water, and microwaving for 1 min was decided upon, and it proved to work a treat, as you can see in the photo below.

Johns miso soup made and kept warm in the slow cooker

The final day of the tour was a drive from Swansea to Cheltenham, and was the day when Kevan had promised us his signature dish of slow cooked beef in guinness casserole. Since we were setting off in the morning, and there was predictably a paucity of food outlets near the hotel, Kev took the precaution of purchasing all his ingredients the evening before from a large supermarket located conveniently next to the theatre.

Kev’s plan for the next day was to rise early and do his preparation on the bus before we departed, rather than trying to cook on a moving vehicle. He was prevented from doing this however, by the minor setback of a bottle of sunflower oil that had fallen over and voided most of it’s contents onto the imitation wood floor of the bus kitchen, rendering the area a veritable oily ice rink. By the time we had placated the obviously not to pleased bus driver and persuaded the nice houseekeeping staff at the hotel to come out and aid in cleaning the area for us (most of which was done by John), it was time to leave.
Not to be deterred, Kevan soldiered on bravely with chopping onions and carrots, while being periodically tossed back and forth by the moving bus. He even managed to trim the beef of most of it’s fat, not the easiest job while the bus was negotiating the roundabouts and corners of downtown Swansea…
Eventually, he got the dish in the slow cooker. It consisted of beef, onions, carrots, peas, some good quality beef stock liquid, lots of black pepper, and of course guiness (2 cans sufficed I think). He thickened the sauce with plain flour mixed with a little water, which he added after a couple of hours. John also rolled some dumplings later on (this time with the correct 2:1 flour:suet correlation) and threw them in.
After the gig, the stew smelled delicious as we boarded the bus. Predictably, is tasted every bit as good as it smelled as Kevan served it out – tender beef in a rich peppery guinness sauce with sweet carrots and peas, accompanied by creamy microwaveable mashed potatoes, and provided a fitting finale to a triumphant few days of experimenting with the possibilities of real home cooking for musicians on the road….
Below is a photo of casserole in the slow cooker:

The casserole ready to be served

..and one of the dish served out:

The beef in guinness casserole served up with creamy mash

…and Bob’s enthusiastic reaction upon tasting his share…..