Monday, 25 July 2011


Before the deluge of vegetarian food forecast for Thursday, I wanted to cook something supermeaty. I was watching Rick Stein’s new programme (there's an absolute dearth of fun activity around these parts) and I saw one of the chefs he met make a rabo de toro. It looked so so good. The recipe was nowhere to be found on BBC food website so I went to other sources for inspiration. However, there was one obstacle between me and those sweet ox cheeks: most recipes I found seemed to require brandy and my parents don’t drink. Papa dearest doesn’t really have any objection to the concept and definitely doesn’t mind the use of alcohol in cooking, however, he would probably hesitate before buying me a bottle of brandy ‘to cook with’. Anyway, the hassle and expense of buying then hiding the brandy for only a few tablespoons meant that the stew wasn’t a viable option. So, motivated by a lack of brandy and having cooked a spate (turns out it’s not spelt –eight, who knew) of oriental inspired dishes of late, I decided to go Italian and make a ragu.

Except this was a ragu with a difference. Since I don’t have a car (parents sent it to the scrapyard while I was away without telling me) and the nearest proper supermarket is a forty minute walk away, I had to make do with the offerings of the Tesco Express and Spar. No parpadelle or even tagliatelle for me. And I, remembering the wisdom of the far more experienced, didn’t want to subject the meaty chunks to rakish spaghetti. Instead, I settled for rigatoni with the intention of coupling it with parmesan breadcrumbs to make a makeshift-ragu pasta bake. Also, since the family eat food of the Indian subcontinent most days, our 'larder' isn't particularly well stocked. You're guaranteed to find rice and a spice drawer that looks like a turmeric quarry but anything else is a surprise. So I set about making a ragu with all of these various constraints and easily-resolved-if-I-wasn't-so-lazy problems. Now you understand the name (do you?) of the recipe.
Escapologist's Ragu (aren't I witty?)
485g casserole steak
2tbsp flour
100g diced carrot
1 ½ small onions, diced
2 cloves garlic
1 can chopped tomatoes
3 OXO stock cubes
200ml merlot
2tsp thyme
1 large bay leaf
Pinch rosemary
Salt and pepper

Brown the onion, carrot and garlic. Toss the meat in seasoned flour. Add to vegetables and brown.
Add herbs and merlot on high heat. Add tomatoes and stock cubes. Season. Simmer for 2 hours.

Amendments I’d make: simmer the meat for 3 hours instead. The meat was soft but not soft enough. And I’d add a liberal handful of basil. Also, better ingredients. I’ve often wondered whether good food is the result of good ingredients or skill. With recipes as simple as ragu, I think it’s the former. Hand on heart, I think I made this taste as good as I possibly could. But I think it would have tasted 23749203284x better with better ingredients. Well, I’ll bear that in mind for Andalusian ox cheek stew. I miss the covered market

Now, you might be wondering why I chose to write up such a pedestrian recipe under the guise of 'hey I was doing the best I could with what I had' followed by a glaringly obvious conclusion/moral. Well, I just think I need practise at writing 'til my style doesn't make me want to claw my skin off. Also, I could do with getting into the habit of updatiing this. Oh, and I need to learn to take photographs of food. I fear there's an analogy to be drawn between trying to turn sub-optimal ingredients into an amazing ragu and trying to take good photographs with my camera.


  1. maybe brown the meat on high heat separately to caramelise then maybe no stock cube? what do you say? Sounds yummy as it is though :) xxx

  2. oh and the covered market misses you. They told me!