Initial bout of food cred-damaging honesty: this didn’t really work out as excitingly as I’d hoped, and the flavours and colours were unappealingly samey. The fact that I took these photos with my phone in G man’s yellow-lit kitchen hasn’t helped with the appearance in the slightest. I also did some cheating – mainly by using packet gravy, which I regretted even as I bought it. Never mind the taste and texture, I cut my finger on the packet. How clear a sign do you need? All that said, it was a reasonable plate of food and it’s good to try things, even if they don’t work out exactly right. Isn’t it? Well? ISN’T IT?? Ahem…
I had found a new recipe for cornbread that I wanted to try, and that’s where it all began; from this one recipe, I dreamed up a menu of ‘American’ classics. I don’t know why I’m putting those air-quotes round American, I suppose because I don’t feel totally comfortable in my assessment of this as an American plate of food. Probably my excessively racially sensitive midconscious thinks that I’m being somehow offensive. My properconscious knows I’m not, and yet… Soooooooo to go with the cornbread I decided on chicken with a crispy coating, pork ribs, coleslaw, home-baked beans, gravy and corn on the cob. Sounds pretty good, eh? I was probably most excited about cooking my own beans, and they did turn out pretty well, if a little sweeter than I had originally intended. I understand that baked beans is one of those recipes that varies by state as well as by chef, so I’m not saying mine were *wrong*, just that I’d try something a bit different next time. The recipe for the beans that I made is as follows:
- 1/2 cup pinto beans
- smoked sea salt
- 1/2 small onion
- large clove garlic
- 4 slices smoked bacon
- 300g passata
- 4 tbsp brown sugar
- chipotle tabasco
- salt and pepper to taste
The first thing I did was soak the beans overnight, though I did see this ingenious recipe that missed this step (and that I’ll be trying another time when I can be bothered stripping all the meat off a ham hough). I went with the traditional soak ‘n’ bake though, so it required some forethought. When I was ready to start, I put the beans in a large pot, added a good pinch of smoked sea salt, covered with boiling water and simmered for 30 – 40 minutes. The beans were soft and the skins split after this time, though they weren’t mushy. Not yet. I drained the beans and sat the drainer to one side while I prepared the base for the sauce. This was the onion, finely chopped, and the garlic, crushed, sauteed together with the bacon, which I cut into small pieces. When they were all cooked, I put the beans back in the pot, mixed through and added the passata, brown sugar and tabasco sauce. I let them simmer on a low heat for another 30 – 40 minutes, a duration that now seems to be taking on similar tones to ’40 days and 40 nights’ – ie ‘I don’t know but it was a while, OK?’. I seasoned to taste, with plenty of black pepper in particular, and that was that. They were very thick, and not very much like beans from a tin – the simmering could be reduced to give a thinner sauce, and of course the flavours could be played with for different results. I’ll have to experiment
I marinated the ribs for several hours in Jack Daniel’s Hot Chili Barbeque Sauce – cheat alert! That was all the prep they needed, and I baked them alongside the chicken – they could have got away with 10 minutes less in the oven right enough, I just wasn’t sure how long the chicken was going to take. Pesky chicken.
I attempted to make the pesky chicken the same way as I make my chicken wings, but I had less time to prepare them. I mixed half a cup of flour with a teaspoon of smoked sea salt and a teaspoon each of black and white pepper, then dropped in skinless chicken thighs and shook to coat. I left them in the fridge all afternoon until I was ready to bake them; unfortunately the lack of skin meant that there wasn’t much moisture to form a ‘batter’ round the chicken, or maybe they just weren’t left long enough for it to form properly. There was also the problem of not having a rack to bake them on, which left them a lot less crisp than I would have liked. All in all, not a great experiment in making a low fat version of fried chicken. We were covering them in (cheat’s) gravy anyway, right enough, but a bit of crunch on them would have been nice. I baked the thighs for about 40 minutes at gas 6, turning half way, to make sure they were cooked right through and not poisonous.
Finally, and the highlight of the meal in that I have no negative comments to make about it, the ‘slaw. This is an LC recipe that is unusual in its choice of ingredients, but absolutely bang on the money in terms of flavour and texture – courgette and squash coleslaw. I made a small batch, switching butternut squash in for summer squash; actually, I think summer squash covers a lot of ground, but I’m not totally sure. I also left out the parsley but I know from experience that it’s even lovelier with it in, and I went with the creamy, mayonnaise-based dressing. It’s so delicious, even for people like me who balk at too much mayo in their food. Besides, it’s mixed with lovely fresh vegetables, so it’s practically a health food. Sort of.
To this motley crew I added a couple of squares of cornbread (no recipe, it didn’t go well), some shameful packet gravy, a spoonful of mashed sweet potato and a lovely, if vacuum packed, corn on the cob, and off we went into the realms of that careful eating you do when your plate is so full that you know you might lose some food off the edges if you’re not cautious with your elbow movements…