Simple pleasures

Ooh, The Cheek Of It.

The slow change from vivid green to red, yellow, orange. And then how quickly the trees become bare and the glorious colours give way to brown and grey sludgy streets.

In the seemingly few hours of daylight we have over the winter months we celebrate the warmth of the fireside. Scarves, gloves, hats and thick woolen jumpers wrapped around us keep us cosy when we venture outside, often leaving and returning home in the dark.

I welcome the smells from the slow cooker more than any dog’s wagging tail as a greeting. And here we are, only at the gentle tip of the cold months, yet it feels like it’s the time for stews. Meat falling from bones into rich and thick broths, individual flavours combining like the instruments in an orchestra to create one symphony.

A cast-iron pan with a lid in a very low oven does just as well as a slow cooker, and if you’re happy leaving the oven on all day it’s the perfect way to cook. However, you may not fancy chopping and browning chunks of meat while drinking your morning coffee and wondering why you have to ask the children twenty times to put a sock on. I have neither the time nor inclination, getting out of a warm bed is tragedy enough. In which case these are best done the night before, or on a weekend when you have a more leisurely start to the day.

Of course white potatoes work just as well as the purple ones, which may be a little tricky to find; crushed Anyas would be a real treat. Whatever you use, nothing quite beats the deliciousness of all those juices soaked up by the buttery potatoes. This really is one of those meals that feels like you’re back home in the warmth of the family.

Tarragon adds a little last of the summer sparkle to the flavours, hinting with its warm aniseed at the comfort to come. If you don’t have any, a good handful of chopped parsley running through would be just as nice.

500g ox cheek, cut into chunks
1 onion, roughly chopped
A thumb of ginger, chopped
1tbsp oregano
1tbsp flour
1/2 a bulb of garlic
1 red pepper, chopped
2tbsp tomato purée
500ml beef stock
Large pinch of dried mushrooms
Salt and pepper
Potatoes to serve, cooked and crushed with butter, spring onion and some shredded tarragon.

Heat a heavy sauté pan with some oil and sear the beef well until browned. Try not to smoke out the kitchen and set of the smoke alarms in a panicked succession as I did. And sear the meat in batches to avoid boiling rather than caramelising it.
Add the flour and stir well, coating all the meat. This will help thicken the sauce. Add to the slow cooker or casserole. Deglaze the sauté pan with a little water or wine and add the juices along with the remaining ingredients.
Cook on high for four hours or low for eight hours in the slow cooker, or eight hours in a very low oven. (140c. Gas mark 1) Serve with the potatoes and perhaps some broccoli or garlic green beans.

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