Wednesday, 16 January 2013

I'm Free - Ham Hock Soup Recipe

Now that we have finally made it to the end of the indulgent, rich Christmas foods, this bloggers thoughts have been turning towards hearty, frugal cooking. The butchers closest to me in Cardiff, Rees Family Butchers, sometimes have ham hocks available for the grand old price of £2.50 (they also do fantastic pies and often have duck eggs).

I regularly take advantage of these budget cuts and have a few recipes in the toolbag that make the most of this tasty meat, normally stretching the cut to 4 portions, but this super simple, hearty soup feeds 6 or so depending how greedy you are feeling.

Ham hock soup
Ham hock pasta soup
To serve, a little grated Parmesan on top is an excellent garnish. In fact if you have a parmesan rind available throw that in at step 3 with the rest of the ingredients. I like to serve with a chunk of crusty bread and a wedge of cheddar cheese.

Hearty ham hock soup (6 greedy portions)
  • Ham hock - 1
  • Carrots - 4 or 5 depending on size
  • Onions - 2 medium
  • Celery - 4 sticks
  • Bay leaves - 2
  • Star anise
  • White wine (optional) - 1 glass
  • Tin of tomatoes
  • Small shape pasta - A couple of handfuls (orzo works best as it stays firm but spaghetti snapped into pieces or macaroni would do)
  • Chicken stock - 500ml
  • Whole peppercorns
  • Butter
  1. Rinse the ham hock thoroughly or stand in water overnight to reduce the saltiness. Place the meat in a large pan, cover with water. Halve one of the onions, cut 2 of the carrots and 2 of the celery sticks into large pieces and add to the pan with the bay leaves, star anise and a few whole peppercorns. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover and leave simmering for a couple of hours. Skim off any scum that rises to the top of the water.
  2. Once cooked drain the meat retaining the cooking water for the soup. Once cool enough, I like to remove the skin and hack into the meat helping it to cool a little quicker so that I can get on with the soup. Once the joint is cool enough to handle, retrieve all the meat, cutting into smallish pieces.
  3. Finely chop the remaining veggies and cook in a little butter until soft, about 10 minutes should do it. Return the meat to the pan, add the wine first, letting it cook off  little, then add the tomatoes, chicken stock and a couple of ladles of the ham stock.
  4. Leave to simmer for about 10 minutes then check your seasoning.
  5. When you are happy add your pasta. Note that Orzo has a longer cooking time so adjust accordingly.
    • If you are eating straightaway, leave to simmer until the pasta is just cooked.
    • If like me, you are cooking up a batch for the week or the freezer, just bring back to the boil then turn off the heat and let the whole batch cool.
  6. You may find that the soup has thickened up a little too much at this point, just add some water or more of the ham stock taking care that you don't end up over-seasoning the food.
  7. Shredded ham hock and the soup base
    Shredded ham hock and the soup base

Sunday, 13 January 2013

I Feel Fine - Terry M restaurant review

What does the term 'fine dining' mean to you? Is it ambience, formal service, table cloths and a dress code?

Terry M at The Celtic Manor wears its fine dining credentials proudly on its sleeve, and this is 'classic' fine dining. Crisp white linens? Yep. Private dining room? Of course. Encyclopaedic wine list? Naturellement.

The restaurant boast 3 AA rosettes (more than any restaurant in Cardiff) and was last year taken back in-house by the hotel following a stint under the management of the Crown group of restaurants (succeeding where other hotels failed).
Terry M at The Celtic Manor
Terry M at The Celtic Manor
The dining room is exactly what you might expect, a subtle swish of cream and dark wood, twinkly crystal chandeliers, polished place settings and sparkling white crockery.

We were booked in for Sunday lunch at £28.50 for 3 courses.

A deliciously sweet and surprisingly light, beer and onion bread was delivered and to start I had the Guinea Fowl Rillettes, Parsley Coulis, Pickled Vegetables. The guinea fowl had a distinctive yet subtle game flavour, was very moist, the pickles efficiently dispersing the coating of fattiness left by the meat.

Guinea Fowl Rillettes
Guinea Fowl Rillettes

For the main we both had the Cefn Mawr Farm Beef from the Carving Trolley with Traditional Accompaniments. The cut was sirloin and was delivered with a marvellous bit of restaurant theatricality  reminiscent of the scene in Hello Dolly when all the characters descend on Harmonia Gardens.

Carving the beef at the table
Carving the beef at the table
 Everything on this plate was spot on. The beef medium rare, vegetables beautifully turned and cooked perfectly, the parsnip so sweet it almost tasted of coconut and some super-charged horseradish which brought a tear to my eye.

Roast sirloin of Cefn Mawr Beef
Roast sirloin of Cefn Mawr Beef
 We decided in the face of such good cooking, that it would be foolish not to press ahead to the dessert and so I tested the kitchen with the bĂȘte noire of Masterchef contestants, Chocolate Fondant with Coconut Ice Cream and I wasn't disappointed. Ultra rich with the thinnest layer of firm pudding holding back a flood of gooey chocolate, this was decadent and satisfying.

Chocolate fondant with coconut ice cream
Chocolate fondant with coconut ice cream
Finishing off with espresso and petits fours, I hit the only duff note of the meal with the honey madeleine which were a touch dry, but a surprisingly intense apricot jelly did manage to convince me that not all jelly should be restricted to children's birthday parties.

Petits fours
Petits fours 
We enjoyed our lunch at Terry M very much. To be sure, the set menu Sunday lunch is unlikely to deliver anything particularly challenging, but if we didn't get to see the best of the kitchen in terms if creativity, we certainly got to experience some very accurate and accomplished cooking. I came away feeling that I had been very well fed indeed.

Disclosure: I was invited by The Celtic Manor to try the new Sunday menu and the meal was complimentary

Terry M at The Celtic Manor
01633 410 262

Terry M, on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Children of the Revolution - 2013

I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas and New Year. Like many of you, after eating and drinking myself close to Type 2 Diabetes, I am taking a fresh look forward to the next 12 months and considering what changes to make for 2013.

Christmas cake
Christmas cake
My own approach to resolutions are less to do with denial and more to do with learning something new. Last year was largely about bread.
Sourdough loaves
Sourdough bread - 2012's technical challenge!
Over the course of the year, I learned to bake my own bread, starting  in January with a baking course at Angela Gray's Cookery School and ending in December with a more advanced sourdough course at The One Mile Bakery. Since June I think I've only bought bread three times and genuinely feel like I've learned a skill for life.

I've been pondering what to do this year and I think it is time to face my own personal food Everest, the food that I have until now largely avoided. In the words of Masterchef, this will be my 'toughest challenge yet'.


I have to confess that I am more than a little daunted by the prospect of handling, preparing and cooking fish. My experience of fish growing up, was limited to battered, breaded or boil in the bag cod. Maybe a prawn cocktail at Christmas but that was about it.

I now eat salmon, tuna, mussels, lobster and crab and recently had my first dover sole at the excellent Fish at 85 and loved it. This would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

So for 2013 my goals are:

  1. To try a new fish every month
  2. To eat fish for my main meal twice a week

The health benefits of eating fish are well covered elsewhere, but I suspect more of a challenge will be finding places to buy fresh and interesting fish in Cardiff. Aside from Fish at 85, there is the long established Ashtons in Cardiff market. There may well be other outlets that I am not aware of (suggestions left in the Comments section gratefully received).

So there it is, my goal for 2013. Eat more fish.

It may sound simple, even ridiculous to some of you, to me this is a big whoop. There will tears, tantrums and disasters along the way but I swear on my Henckels chef knife, that by the end of the 2013 I will be able to fillet a fish!
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