Good evening, everyone.
My name is Stephen and I am a long term fan of, and collaborator with the wonderful and talented Lauren.
This January I have embarked upon a ‘dry’ month. This means that I am forsaking alcoholic beverages for 31 whole days, during the most depressing month of the year.
SO. In lieu of my usual evening activity, I have turned to the kitchen.
Now, a few years ago I could not cook a thing. Seriously. Turning the oven on was a bit ‘out there’ for me. A toastie, even, was a complex culinary creation.
However, since living away from home I have developed a love for food and for cooking which I have rediscovered in my sobriety. Lauren and I have often bonded over food (feeder solidarity), and so I was thrilled when she asked me to share a recent recipe on her blog.
The meal I settled on is PERFECT for this time of year; a really simple and slow cook that warms the whole house and leaves you with an amazing alternative to the traditional Sunday roast… Braised ox cheeks with a potato and parsnip gratin.
So first up, ingredients! This meal served 4 comfortably, so just adjust as necessary.
For the braised cheek
· 1kg ox cheeks (any cheap cut of beef would be a good substitute if cheek is unavailable, but it does have a lovely flavour!)
· Plain flour
· Olive oil
· Two red onions
· 2 smoked bacon rashers
· 200ml beef stock
· Red wine (it cooks off, so my dry month isn’t compromised)
· 300g carrots
· 1 bay leaf, 2 thyme sprigs (I used dried because I ain’t no fancypants with a herb garden)
For the gratin
· 600g parsnips and potatoes (600g in total)
· 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
· 300ml crème fraîche
Onwards with the cooking!
Step one is to preheat your oven to 150° (I am reliably informed that this is gas mark 2, if you are so inclined), and coat the ox cheeks in flour and a little salt and pepper. After this, put some oil into a frying pan and sear the ox cheeks for about 5 minutes to seal them. I should probably point out now that I’m not big on exact timings and measures – I’m a big believer in a casual approach to cooking! Just throw stuff together and see how it goes. It’s fun!
Once the coated cheeks are more of a golden brown colour, they can be removed to plate and you can move onto step two…
Fry the onions and the bacon for about 5 minutes also, and then transfer all the ingredients for the cheeks – except carrots and a little bit of stock – into a casserole dish or similar (I used a tagine), put the lid on, and pop in the oven.
It is around this time that I remembered that when cooking it is IMPERATIVE to Instagram the hell out of the food, so I did just that.
Step three is where we turn our attention to the gratin. The longer the ox cheeks stay in the oven the better really, which is why I’ve not paid much attention to timings for how long stage three can take before we enter stage four. But if you MUST know, it took me about half an hour.
So, for stage three, we want to use a big (BIG) spoonful of butter to cover the gratin dish (any generic ovenproof dish will do) and spread a layer of parsnips over the base. On top of this pour a mixture of the crème fraîche, garlic, nutmeg, and leftover stock, and continue to layer up potatoes and parsnips, pouring more of the mixture as you go.
In stage four it is time to cover the gratin in foil and reunite it with the ox cheeks in the oven – and then forget about the whole lot for a glorious 2¼ hours! During this time my advice is typically to pour a glass of wine, drink said wine, and then pour another, repeating as necessary. UNLESS, like me, you aren’t drinking. In which case, just potter about for a bit, talk to whoever you’re cooking for. Have a tonic and elderflower cordial (almost tastes like gin!).
After 2 ¼ hours have passed, take the foil off the gratin, and cook for another half an hour (stage 4.5?)
Stage five – tip the carrots into the casserole/tagine/cheek receptacle and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how crunchy you like your carrots.
Stage six – the big reveal – after roughly 4 hours in the oven it is FINALLY time to eat, so serve up the cheeks and gratin, serve, and enjoy!
(Stage seven… get someone else to do the washing up.)
Hopefully you enjoy this feast as much as my flatmates and I did!
The nice thing about ox cheek (besides the amazing flavour) is that they are so cheap, and if you have the time make an amazing meal for an easily affordable price! I think all in all, I paid about £20 for the ingredients that I had to buy (I already had the herbs, stock cubes, flour etc) which ain’t too shabby for a Sunday roast for four!
Hopefully Lauren will invite me back to waffle on again about food, but in the meantime please take a look at my Just Giving page, raising money for Alzheimer’s Research UK – a really deserving but underfunded cause.