#80 Oxtail Soup

My favourite soup; at least when it comes to tinned Heinz variety. I have made it before, but it was quite an elaborate recipe with loads of ingredients. This one is more basic. It is very tasty, but heed Jane’s advice: don’t buy a skinny little oxtail. I asked for the biggest one they had. However, if you are not reasonably surprised by the size of your butcher’s oxtail, err on the side of caution and buy two. I didn’t do that, and so the flavour was perhaps not as rich as it could have been. It was remedied however, by adding some of that beef stock concentrate, but I did feel like a bit of a cheat! Ask the butcher to chop up the tail and trim the fat off.

I got the oxtails from W H Frost in Chorlton – a very good butcher. I chatted to the man briefly and he mentioned that he could pretty much get anything I want in as long as I order it in plenty of time. Good man! The butcher in Levenshulme is good for the basics, but it’s nice to see there’s somewhere I can get the weird and (not so) wonderful stuff.

I would recommend to giving it a try. If you’re not used to strange cuts or offal, then this is the place to start. It’s not particularly gory and the meat is pleasantly beefy. However, you need to start it the day before you want to eat it.

From this….

…to this!

The day before:
Start off by removing any surplus fat from the tail that the butcher didn’t quite get rid of. Chop three stalks of celery, stud an onion with three cloves and slice a small turnip and a carrot. Next, melt 2 ounces of butter in a large pan and brown the meat and vegetables. This takes about 10 minutes as there’s quite a lot of stuff in the pan. Don’t be coy; have the heat quite high, as you don’t want the vegetables to stew. Give a stir now and again. Meanwhile make a bouquet garni – I used 2 bay leaves, a sprig of thyme some parsley stalk (all fresh, but kept in the freezer). When sufficiently browned, add the bouquet along with 4 pints of water and a teaspoon of peppercorns and season with salt. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently until the meat is coming away from the bones. This took around four hours. Strain the beefy stock you have created into a bowl and allow to cool. You can discard the veg, but I ate them! The final job is to pick the meat from the bones and plop the meaty chunks back into the soup. Refrigerate the soup over night.

On the day:
Much easier! You’ve done the hard work. Using a spoon, skim off the fat that has risen to the surface and solidified. Reheat the soup to simmering point and add 5 tablespoons of port. This makes all the difference. Don’t dare miss it out. Check the seasoning, you can be pretty bold I reckon. If it is not beefy enough, cheat as I did and add a small amount of stock concentrate.

#80 Oxtail Soup – 7.5/10. Even though I cheated, it is still a beautiful soup. The simple combination of a well-flavoured stock, chunky beef and the sweet port wine is addictive!

#74 Vanilla Ice Cream with Plum Sauce and Lace Biscuits

Real vanilla ice-cream, a port-spiked plum sauce and a crunchy caramel oat biscuit; this is a dessert to impress. You could, of course, make any of the things separately as they are all good. In fact, you make much more of the sauce than you need, so freeze what is left for the next time you make ice cream. Make sure you have to the whole day to make it, or start it the previous day, which is what I did. The whole reason I made this was that I saw some lovely plums in the grocers window and remembered seeing this recipe, thinking I’d never get round to it, since plums in this country are usually a bit insipid. If you see some nice ones, make this dessert, people.

You can make any of the three elements in any order.

The vanilla ice-cream
Boil half a pint of milk or single cream (however, see review bit, below) along with a split vanilla pod with the seeds scraped out. Pour gradually onto 2 egg yolks, a whole egg and 2 tablespoons of soft brown sugar, whisking all the way. Then pour the whole lot back into the saucepan and heat gently until it thickens slightly. Don’t be tempted to turn the heat too high as you’ll get scrambled eggs. Pour the whole lot through a sieve and back into the bowl. You don’t have to sieve it, but it will remove any scrambled egg bits, should there be any. Fish out the vanilla pod; you can wash and dry it and use it again later (I keep mine in a jar of sugar, in case a recipe asks for vanilla sugar). Cover with cling-film and allow to cool.

When cold, pour the mixture into an ice cream maker, and when about half frozen, add half a pint of whipped double cram. Keep churning in the mixer until stiff enough to scoop into a tub and freeze. Make sure that you bring the ice cream out of the freezer at least half an hour before you want to serve it.

The lace biscuits
These are quite tricky customers. You can make them big or small, but the bigger they are, the more difficult they are to handle. I did big ones which looked great, but were a total nightmare. There was a small amount of swearing involved, so I recommend not to make them with children present.

Before you start making them, grease two baking sheets and a rolling pin, and set your oven to 180°C. Next, gently melt 2 ½ ounces of butter and take it off the heat. Mix in2 ½ ounces of rolled porridge oats, 4 ounces of caster sugar and a teaspoon each of flour and baking powder, then beat in the egg. Using a dessert spoon, drop blobs of the mixture at least 2 inches apart from each other as they do spread out rather a lot. The more generous you are with your spoons the bigger the biscuits will be. Bake one sheet at a time for 8-12 minutes, depending on size, until golden brown.

This is the tricky bit: Using a palette knife, remove the still-soft biscuits from the baking tray and drape over the rolling pin. Wait about 30 seconds for it to solidify a little and transfer to a wire rack to cool properly. Hey presto, a posh curly biscuit! Repeat with all the biscuits. If they start getting to hard again, just put them back in the oven to soften up.

The plum sauce
De-stone and slice 1 ½ pounds of ripe plums and gently heat with a few tablespoons of water in a saucepan. Make sure the fruit doesn’t stick. Meanwhile make a caramel. I’d never done this before, but it was a piece of piss, so don’t be scared. Stir 8 ounces of sugar in 5 tablespoons of water very gently over a low heat. When dissolved, stop stirring and bring it to the boil. Keep doing this for about 10 minutes until it’s a lovely dark caramel colour. Whilst it’s boiling, liquidise and sieve the stewed plums. When the caramel is ready, take off the heat and very gradually add 6 tablespoons of cold water by stirring. Be very careful here – if you add too much, it will spit on you. I cannot be responsible for any injuries! When fully incorporated, return to the heat to dissolve any lumps and stir in the plums. When cool, add a slosh of port; I’ll leave the amounts to you, as it depends on taste, though I put in around 4 tablespoons.

To present: Place one or two scoops of ice cream onto a biscuit and pour over the sauce.

#74 Vanilla Ice with Plum Sauce and Lace Biscuits – 9/10. A brilliant dessert! Everything works together perfectly. One of the best things about this dish is the real restaurant-quality feel you get about it. All the other desserts, even the ones that are a bit posh, are no way near as impressive as this. I made the ice cream with milk instead of cream, and it didn’t have the silky texture it had when I made the ginger ice cream (it’s exactly the same recipe, except for the flavourings). If I’d one it with cream, I think it would’ve been a 10!