Adventures in Slow Cooking- Brisket with Onion Gravy

I’ve been meaning to take on a brisket for some time and would like to take a moment to thank Geller’s for being open late on a Friday and enabling me to do so. Early hours at most of the butchers in my town plus an unfriendly policy towards raw meat in the overpopulated office fridge mean that it’s rarely easy to make an impulse meat purchase on a school day.
Not that you should really cook a brisket on impulse for the first time- this is a slow cooking cut that takes the best part of a day, at a bare minimum, to do justice to.
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There are a million brisket recipes out there- slow roast, casserole, BBQ, smoked, brined, pulled beef (ghastly phrase) and many more. One day I’ll go on the BBQ trend but barely prepared as I was, I decided to give my slow cooker a chance to redeem itself from past disappointments. This is a simple but slow recipe, mostly using things I would guess you either have in the cupboard or can get from a local shop, meat notwithstanding. The sauce is wonderfully rich and would serve as an extra special french onion soup if you find yourself not wanting to drown your dinner in it all at once.

Points also to this recipe for having massive taste to pennies ratio- three pounds of meat shouldn’t cost you a lot over £10 and will make at least 4 hearty plates of dinner. Like many tougher cuts (such as shin, my favourite stew cut), brisket gets the wow factor from a long time at a low temperature and when it shreds effortlessly on to your plate you will know that time was worth it before you even get to tasting it. I might even dare to say that any leftovers (?) will improve over night.

Boomboom Brisket with Onion Gravy

All times and quantities assume a 4l slowcooker

3lb rolled brisket
2lb white onions
2 sticks celery
5-8 cloves garlic
1 pint beef stock
3Tbspns Lea & Perrin’s Worcestershire sauce
1tsp soy sauce (optional)
1 bay leaf
Salt & pepper
Butter & oil for frying

Give your brisket at least half an hour out of the fridge before you plan to begin cooking. This is a good time to very roughly chop your onions, then separately very finely chop the celery and mince the garlic.

Next chuck some butter and a glug of rapeseed oil into a large, heavy based pan. Now cover a dinner plate in a mix of fresh ground black pepper and sea salt (Maldon salt if you can!). Roll all sides of your brisket over this plate to season. When the pan is hot, gently place the brisket in and seal on all sides (including the ends) until the meat just begins to brown. This should take a couple of minutes only for each turn, no more than ten minutes to do the whole thing.
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Remove from the pan immediately and place into a cold slow cooker.
Add the uncooked celery and minced garlic plus bay leaves to the slow cooker pot.
Use the pan you sealed the beef in to now fry the onions (add a little more fat in needed). You may wish to get on with this but be patient and continue to cook the onions until they are translucent and just starting to caramelise- this give your gravy a rich, comforting substance upon serving. Now add the onions and the pan juices into the slow cooker.
If you are using a liquid stock then warm this up and add the Lea & Perrins’ and soy sauce. If you are using a (good quality please) stock cube then you may wish to forego the soy as it may tip the salt balance. You can always add later if the seasoning needs adjusting.
Add the stock to the pan, get the lid on and cook on high* for at least 7 hours. Check periodically after the first 3 hours, baste the meat if necessary. Try not to drool into the pot as you take in the heavenly aromas.

falling apart and ready to go.

falling apart and ready to go.

With regards to cooking, you are looking for the meat to be soft enough that you can pull it into thick shreds with very little pressure from a fork.

Serve on a chilly night covered in lashings of the gravy with some buttered greens and mashed potatoes and a chunky glass of red.
Enjoy.
Repeat.

*please note that the ‘low’ function on my slow cooker basically means ‘off’. It should take 4+ hours to get up to a low simmer

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The New York State of Mind- Cooper’s Craft & Kitchen

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What: Craft beers and higher end pub grub, big TV
Where: 2nd Ave on the corner of 5th St, East Village
How much: Mid range, roughly $8 a pint, relatively a lot more for bottled brews. Food menu $10-$20 a plate
Overall: 10/10 for beer drinking,

We came across Cooper’s (named for the local college, not the barrel makers) on our first night in New York- not quite the first bar we walked past having left our Air BnB digs but the first one boasting a $1 oyster happy hour and a long list of craft beers on tap. Sold.

coopers outSo it was Thursday night, some time after 8, Cooper’s is underlit to fully endorse its bare brick and high wooden stool trendiness. It’s busy and a little noisy, there are lots of suits in the back and an iconic line of solo drinkers at the bar keeping an eye on the not proper football. The bar man has a partially shaved head and very tight trousers. You know the kind of place. Ok so it wasn’t a massive gamble- the older male sibling commented that the bar, as well as much of the local area, reminded him a lot of what many establishments are trying to achieve in Shoreditch. I might suggest it was the older, slightly smoother American cousin that nicks your girlfriends to Three Wise Monkeys back in sunny Essex. So yes, we were guilty of being Brits abroad and going for something that was a lot like the places we choose to go at home only it all seems better because you’re on holiday. Not a novel venue,  but certainly an exotic drinking list with next to nothing on the chalk board that I recognised. A half memory of trying and liking a sour ale at the Victoria Inn once upon a time lead me to take a gamble and discover Southern Tier and their deliciously winky Local Sour beer- local in name and nature as the brewery is based in West New York. I’m going to take a moment to sell you this beer if you ever see it- looks like a dark blonde, drinks like a hoppy, sharp scrumpy, if there were such a thing. Different, yes, but in a really good way. Absolutely beautiful and I am a one woman Twitter campaign to get them to ship across the pond. My second pint choice of Funky Pumpkin from the Boulevard brewery was marginally less successful. Drinkable? Just, but distinctly odd with a medicinal aftertaste of cough candy. A distince Hmm on untapped for that one, but I’m inspired to try more pumpkin brews as it is the season. The OMS found two pints that appealed well to his old-man-ale preferences too and an all day session could no doubt have opened up a couple of tempting espresso brews, stouts and ciders also available.
We didn’t eat, having already committed ourselves for some time to eat at a BBQ joint a few doors away. I would certainly give them a go for a dinner based on the plates we saw being served during our drinking- think high piled burgers with innovative fillings and shiny buns, stacks of fries, huge green salads and unctuous steaming dishes of mac n cheese. Mmm. We did however skip back there for dessert in the form of two wonderfully formed nightcaps, over ice, which some of us regretted the next morning.

If there was any downpoint to our visit, it was that time and circumstance had us there for  pre and post dinner drinks, rather than a long day of ale sampling punctuated by plates of whatever and chips and lazy conversation. It’s a good place to go.

check out Coopers here: http://coopersnyc.com/

check out Southern Tier here: http://www.stbcbeer.com/

The New York State of Mind- Bluebird Coffee Shop

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What: Coffee, pastries, cakes, limited kitchen menu.
Where: 72 East 1st St, between 1st & 2nd Ave, downtown Manhattan.
How Much? Coffee and breakfast $12ish
Overall: 9 out of 10

Bluebird was an early addition to my NYC holiday hit list after a quick search for the best coffee local to our mission base in the East Village. It ranked high, and deservedly so. The coffee was perfect, the staff jovial and on my visit impeccably turned out. Looking good, ladies.
It’s a cute setting, with wooden floors, artsy lighting and stool & bench seating. By cute, I do actually mean small. Like, eight seats or you’re outside small. And if you aren’t friendly with those other seven people when you sit down you will be by the time you leave.
So it is close quarters, but you can get everything to go and thus relocate to pastures with more elbow room like a small porch area at the front or the park on the other side of the road. Maybe not the park unless you have kids with you or that’s just weird.
But cosy as we were, we still ordered breakfast and if the coffee was good then the food was a revelation.

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Breaking the fast Bluebird style. Pic courtesy of @jonboybarton, instagram hero and biological relation

Simple, tasty and flawlessly executed. The older male sibling went for baked oatmeal- a solid construction of oats, nuts, dried fruit and spices packed into a tempting brick of hot slow-carby goodness. Served with freshly steamed milk (whole please, we’re English) and an elegantly sliced nana. Beautiful. Our R&D team are putting all their efforts into recreating this one at home.
I went for the avocado toast- a single slice of rye bread topped with a glorious dollop of avocado that I can most closely describe as heftily whipped- a deceptively substantial guacamole cloud if you will. Top that with feta crumbles, a few slithers of pickled red onion and a shake of chilli flakes. The edible equivalent of getting chatted up by a sexy Latino stranger who sidestepped your hotter frenemy to get to you. Most smugly satisfying indeed.
Their pastry cabinet also looked worth investigating, in particular the pound cake slices which I should have picked up to go. Sadly our planned return visit was vetoed by too much booze crab steak pie dinner on Saturday night.
My only complaint is the size, yeah it creates a buzz to always have a queue but eating at a shelf by the door doesn’t do much for the digestion.
A great stop, and a great start for us that day.

The New York State of Mind

street signI’ve been harping on about a trip to New York with the older male sibling for some time now and you may be relieved surprised to hear it is over already. We got home five days ago and all that is left of that little adventure is half a can of choc-full-o-nuts in the fridge and a malingering ghost of jet lag still prompting me wide awake and ready to go about two hours after I fall asleep each night.
Why New York? I could be boring and say why not? So much to see, to do, to eat, why would you not go?
In truth it is maybe a lazy destination. You can kid yourself that you are visiting a cultural melting pot of arts, commerce and a truly integrated international community with the comforting knowledge at all times that they speak English and you will get a lot more Well Known Coffee Chain for your buck than you would back in Blighty. Years of TV and Hollywood have ingrained the concept and components of NYC so deeply into your pop culture psyche that when you get there it is almost like you have been there before and just forgotten how much you liked it. You shouldn’t be scared of visiting New York- though I should clarify I didn’t make it out of Manhattan, which is big, bustling and (85% of the time) authentically friendly. The people are nice, even when you’re pulling a total dick maneuver like an unnamed Japanese tourist seen walking slow-mo, fingers out stretched to feel first hand the textures of Van Gough’s Cypress Trees at MoMA.
Ma’am, you can’t touch that please.
Ma’am? Seriously, as a puny civilian I was ready to drop my camera then drop that mentalist before she put her paws on the priceless artworks. But no, you get Ma’am.
I have to say I had hoped for a little of that famed NYC fiestiness, a few scowls and cusses and I’d have given my right arm to hear an authentic I’m walking heyah! Alas not, life is long and full of disappointments.
But what certainly didn’t disappoint, was the food. Yeah I know, culture, history, architecture, shopping, all great things but I was excited to eat in New York. Because you can eat anything, you can eat late, you can eat on the street or at a table. You can eat from most of the major and several minor cultures in the world without having to walk too far home to your classic brownstone or uniform hotel of choice. There’s going to be steaks, franks, pickles, beers, one dollar oysters, thai, sushi, juice blends, kebabs, weird flavoured pretzels, sandwiches with so many bread options it feels like too much of a headache to even order, protein shakes, muffins, funnel cakes, fruit baskets, it never ends. It was excruciating to prep my initial list of recommended and randomly researched eateries then whittle it down to just three days and four nights. Even then we had to miss a few through inclement weather and digestive fatigue. Yes, yes there were times when even we couldn’t have eaten another thing. Cue my introduction to the doggy bag and what I know will be a life long pining for the Lower East Side Pickle Day that we just couldn’t fit in around a red meat and wine hangover.

It’s not news to anyone that I love everything about dinners, from inception to Instagram. A lot of the time I am that idiot you see in the restaurant, snapping nine different angled shots of every plate of lettuce and onions that is set before me. I am also that irritating co-diner tapping away on my phone, tweeting the dessert before I let you eat it and making everyone else in the room roll their eyes and whisper about that bloody idiot over there taking all the photos. I don’t apologise for it, and this NYC trip has strengthened my resolve to document these things at all times, even if only for myself. A quick blast through my android swyped notes from last week has refreshed two things I had forgotten already. Awesome things that do not deserve to be forgotten, and in this chunk of bloggings I will spill back to you as much of it as I can fit in, mostly in micro review form. Look out for East Village BBQ, stupendous steaks, cereal milk ice cream and Lebanese red wine to name a few.

All I need now is a way to justify a twenty minute Tiffany’s inspired squueeeeee on a food blog……..