Here we have three reasonably easy courses for you to enjoy in January. They are not especially decadent and yet neither are we counting the calories. January can be such a dispiriting month that there is little point in making it worse by not eating enjoyable food. The Thai broth comes from Four Gables Food Academy (www.fourgablesfoodacademy.com) and is simple yet comforting. The other two courses come from Red Mist Leisure (www.redmistleisure.co.uk) who own a number of local pubs including the Stag at Eashing and the Royal Exchange at Lindford. Pork belly is a very flavourful cut and excellent value for money while the cheesecake may look fiddly but is in fact very easy to make and a great favourite of most people.
Thai Coconut and Vegetable Broth
This can be easily adjusted in spice and by the types of vegetables you put in so it is wonderfully versatile…
1½ tbsp Thai curry paste, 1tsp vegetable oil, 1 litre vegetable stock, 400ml can half-fat coconut milk, 2tsp brown sugar, 175g medium egg noodles, 2 carrots cut into matchsticks, half a 300g bag beansprouts, juice of 1 lime, 3 spring onions halved and finely sliced lengthways, a handful of roughly chopped coriander, red chilli cut into thin strips for garnish
Serves at least 6 as a starter
1. Place the curry paste in a large saucepan or wok with the oil. Fry for 1 min until fragrant.
2. Tip in the vegetable stock, coconut milk and brown sugar. Simmer for 3 minutes.
3. Add the noodles, carrots and simmer for 4-6 minutes, until all are tender. Mix in beansprouts. Add lime juice to taste and some extra seasoning, if you like.
4. Spoon into bowls and sprinkle with spring onions, coriander and chilli.
Brined and Slow Roasted Belly of Pork with celeriac purée, sautéed greens and cider jus
For the pork: Half a pork belly, boned and rolled, skin removed, 3 litres of water, 300g table salt, 300g soft dark brown sugar, 1 bay leaf, 1 star anise, 5 peppercorns, 5 juniper berries, 2 cloves, 1 large carrot roughly chopped, 1 onion roughly chopped, a sprig of thyme
For the celeriac: 1 small head of celeriac, peeled and chopped in 1cm dice, 1 onion, finely sliced, 3 sticks of celery, finely sliced, 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, 100g butter, 150ml vegetable stock, 100ml double cream, salt and white pepper to taste
For the cider jus: 2 litres homemade beef or pork stock, 250ml dry cider, 1 sprig of sage
For the greens: 100g pancetta lardons, 2x 500g bag of washed baby leaf spinach
1. Three days before you wish to serve your dish you will need to make the brine. Fill a pan with the water, sugar, salt and spices. Gently heat to dissolve the salt and sugar, and boil for three minutes. Empty into a bowl large enough for the pork belly and chill. Place the pork into the brine ensuring it is completely submerged and refrigerate for three days.
2. Four hours before serving, preheat oven to 150 C. Remove pork from brine and rinse under cold running water for 20 minutes. Place on a roasting tray on a bed of 1cm chopped onion, carrot and thyme, and roast for 3 hours.
3. Meanwhile, place the stock in a pan and reduce by three quarters.
4. An hour before serving, make the celeriac purée. Sweat the onion, celery and celeriac with the thyme in butter on a low heat for about 10 minutes, ensuring it doesn’t colour. Add the veg stock and cream and simmer until soft. Puree well and season. It should be the consistency of a loose mashed potato. Keep warm until serving.
5. When the pork is done, remove from the oven tray and wrap in foil. To make the jus, drain all of the fat off the tray, pouring a small amount into a jug to use later and discarding the rest. Place the tray on the heat and deglaze the tray with the cider. Reduce by half and pour into the pan of reduced stock, ensuring you scrape all the caramelised bits into the sauce. Add a sprig of sage and leave to cook out for 20 minutes. If you wish, thicken with a little cornflour. Before serving pass through a sieve into a jug.
6. While the jus is cooking out and the pork is resting, heat a teaspoon of the pork fat in a sauté pan and render down the pancetta on a low heat. Once crispy, pour off half the fat and add the spinach, a little at a time, until it all wilts down.
7. To serve, warm up the purée and spread on the middle of the plate. Top with the wilted spinach and a slice of the pork belly. Serve with your jus.
For the cheesecake: 530g full fat soft cheese, 1 tsp almond essence, 400ml double cream, 75g ground almonds, 1 vanilla pod, 130g white chocolate
For the base: 165g digestive biscuits, 85g melted butter, 1 tsp almond essence, 75g ground almonds
For the raspberry coulis: 2 punnets fresh raspberries, 100g caster sugar, water to cover
For the jelly: 300ml water, 70g caster sugar, 100g raspberry coulis (above), 3 gelatine leaves
1. Make the biscuit base by blitzing all ingredients until fully mixed together. Line a cake tin with cling film and press mixture into the bottom making sure you have an even base. Place in the fridge and allow base to set.
2. Make the raspberry coulis by placing caster sugar and fresh raspberries into a saucepan and cover with water just above the level of your ingredients. Bring this to the boil on a high heat and then allow to simmer gently for approximately one hour. Pour your mixture into a food processor and blitz until completely smooth then allow to cool and refrigerate.
3. To make the cheesecake mixture, whip double cream until firm peaks appear being careful not to over whip, put to one side. Mix together soft cheese, sugar, vanilla, almond essence and ground almonds until smooth. Add whipped cream and raspberry coulis (setting aside 100g for jelly) to mix and gently fold until mixed through evenly.
4. Take your biscuit base from the fridge when set and spread your mixture into the cake tin evenly trying to achieve a smooth top. Place back into the refrigerator and allow to set again.
5. Make the jelly topping by putting all ingredients together in a saucepan and use the same method as the raspberry coulis. When jelly has cooled, but making sure not to allow it to set, spread evenly across top of cheesecake. Finally allow to set once more in refrigerator.
6. To serve cut into desired sized portions and top with mint, icing sugar and toasted flaked almonds.