European, Tasting

Split pea and smoked hock soup

This soup is the definition of simplicity. Apart from sautéing the carrots, celery and onion, you throw everything else in. And then all you do at the end is remove the ham hocks, blend the soup and throw the meat back in ‘sans’ bones.

It’s hearty, tasty and filling. It easily passes as a main course, especially when you serve it with some nice crusty bread. And it’s (relatively) healthy too. It will keep you regular, if you know what I mean.

It also passed the kid taste test (no screwed up faces and they finished it, with a bit of cajoling of course). Enjoy.

The ingredients (serves 4) – downloaded from taste.com.au

  • 290g (1 1/3 cups) green split peas
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled, chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, trimmed, chopped
  • 1 brown onion, halved, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 x ham hocks
  • 2L (8 cups) cold water
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. Rinse split peas under cold running water until water runs clear. Drain.
  2. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add carrot, celery, onion and garlic, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the onion softens.
  3. Add split peas, ham hocks and water. Bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 2 – 2 1/2 hours or until ham hocks are tender and the meat is falling away from the bones. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly. Remove ham hocks from pan. Remove the meat from bones. Coarsely chop meat and set aside.
  4. Place one-quarter of the pea mixture in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Repeat with remaining pea mixture. Return to pan with ham. Alternatively, hand blend the soup while it is still in the saucepan (as I did). Taste and season with salt and pepper. Stir over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until hot.
  5. Ladle soup into bowls.
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European, Tasting

A winter BBQ for Braveheart and Time Lords

It’s still winter here in Sydney and the weather has been relatively mild (until today, which is bloomin’ ‘orrible). So, when the weather is unseasonably warm, what do poms (English people) living in Australia do? Have a bbq of course. In winter. Wearing short sleeves, eating outside.

I invited friends over from my cycle club.

My cycling club has a funny relationship with weather. When it is even hinting at rain, we pull out of an early morning ride at the drop of the hat. Even the sun temporarily hiding behind one solitary wispy cloud is enough for us to call the ride off. One Shoe will not brave below 12 degrees centigrade, full stop. So we don’t see him too often in the winter, or autumn, or spring for that matter.

A bbq, on the other hand, is a completely different matter. If free food is on offer, the normal fair weather riders turn into Braveheart, willing to huddle together, clan-like, eating cold food and beer in sleet, hail and 120km/h winds.

And team members, normally tardy, suddenly turn into time lords.

Mr Pants (who lives closest to the park where we meet for a cycle) is always late.

Yet at a bbq, he teleports out of nowhere with a half drank bottle of beer wedged between his lips before anyone has arrived. Before I’ve even been born. No words, just a slight nod of the head and a raise of eyebrows to acknowledge he’s here.

The menu included:

  • Grilled chicken marinated in lime, orange juice, garlic, chillies, sherry vinegar and coriander seeds served with Salbitxada sauce (tomato and almond salsa) – courtesy of Bill Granger
  • Butterflied leg of lamb marinated in garlic, rosemary, balsamic vinegar, chilli and a splash of Shaoxing wine

  • Roast potatoes with rosemary and garlic
  • Cabbage and fennel slaw, dressed with sour cream, parmesan and sherry vinegar

  • Rocket, mizuna, spinach and watercress salad (from the garden) with fresh soft boiled eggs (from our chucks) and parmesan (from the supermarket)

  • Fresh sourdough
  • Finished with Chocolate and blueberry cheesecake, courtesy of fellow blogger expat chef.

For this post, I’ll concentrate on the chicken and sauce. If you want to know any other recipes, let me know.

Ingredients

For the chicken

  • 1 X 1.5 kg chicken
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 125 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tbsp orange juice

For the salbitxada sauce

  • 3 tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed, finely chopped
  • 1 roasted red pepper, peeled, diced
  • 30 g blanched almonds, , toasted, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dried red chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh flatleaf parsley
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 125 ml extra virgin olive oil

1. For the chicken: remove the backbone from the chicken by cutting either side of the bone. Flatten out with the palm of your hand, then slash the chicken breast in a few places on each side with a sharp knife. Place the chicken into a dish, cover and set aside in the fridge.

2. Pound the garlic, chilli, coriander seeds and salt to a paste together in a mortar. Transfer the paste to a bowl. Heat the olive oil in a pan until shimmering, then carefully pour the oil over the paste. Add the sherry vinegar, lime juice and orange juice and mix well to combine. Season with freshly ground black pepper, then pour half of the mixture over the chicken and leave to marinate in the fridge for one hour.

3. For the salbitxada sauce: place all the  ingredients, except for the olive oil, into a bowl. Heat the olive oil in a pan until shimmering, then carefully pour over the tomato mixture. Pulse to a chunky puree in a food processor.

4. Heat your barbecue to a high heat. Place the chicken cut-side down on the rack, close the lid and cook for 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked. (If not using a barbecue, preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7 and cook for 30 minutes, or until cooked through.)

5. To serve, carve the chicken into thick slices and divide between the plates, then serve the salbitxada sauce alongside.

Enjoy!

 

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European, Tasting

Osso Bucco

I didn’t follow a recipe. I applied the same principles from my slow cooked lamb shanks and liberated myself from the shackles of a recipe book.  It was an enlightening experience. I also didn’t put any wine in so the kids could eat it. Even so, the results were mighty fine.

As a reminder, here are my principles for slow cooking:

  • right cut of meat: in this case veal shin, which after slow cooking falls off the bone
  • inject flavour into the sauce: I browned fatty bacon, used a decent beef stock and put in a bouquet garni freshly cut from the garden
  • don’t rush it: friends came over and I left it cooking on the stove top on a low heat for about four hours.

Ingredients

  1. 4 x veal shin (osso bucco)
  2. olive oil
  3. seasoned flour to dust the veal
  4. 1 x carrot, 1 x white onion, 2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
  5. 1 x garlic clove, finely chopped
  6. two rashers of fatty bacon, chopped
  7. 400ml tin of tomatoes
  8. good teaspoon of tomato paste
  9. beef stock (amount depends on the casserole dish you use, but rule of thumb is that the stock should just cover the meat after all the ingredients have been included)
  10. bouquet garni tied with kitchen twine (I used bay, parsley and rosemary)
  11. chopped parsley

Method

  • heat oil in a casserole dish (make sure it has a tightly fitting top)
  • dust the veal with the seasoned flour
  • brown the veal
  • brown the bacon until crispy
  • add the onion, celery and carrot and cook on a lowish heat until softened.
  • add the garlic
  • if there is any flour left over, add it now, and stir to mix with the vegetables
  • add the meat and bacon back into the casserole dish
  • add the tomatoes, tomato paste, beef stock and tuck the bouquet garni down the side of the meat
  • bring up to a simmer, lower the heat. Add the lid and leave for a few hours
  • when the meat is tender and falling off the bone, remove the lid and let the sauce thicken a little
  • remove the bouquet garni
  • add chopped parsley
  • I served with pasta, but steamed vegetables and creamy mash would be lovely
  • enjoy with a nice glass of red wine.

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European, Tasting

An offally good pie

Now, I know offal isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But before you start pretending to put two fingers down your throat and mimic hurling your guts up, hear me out for a second.

Firstly, I’m not a passionate advocate when it comes to offal. I will only eat it if it is turned into something special and I can forget it’s offal on the plate. So there is hope for you.

I can, at a push, eat liver if it is cooked nicely (not overdone, slightly pink) and in a very tasty onion gravy that masks the flavour. Serve it with a mountain of buttery mash and I’m just about ok. I’ll give sweetbreads a go because the name has no bearing on what they actually are, and the French are very good at turning these little nuggets into something quite lovely.

But one thing I have never been able to eat on their own are kidneys. I could never quite get my head around the fact that kidneys are designed to siphon toxins from an animal’s body. Surely that can’t be good to eat. And that smell.

So, it may come as a surprise that I am writing about steak and kidney pie. This recipe is the one exception (there is only one) to my aversion to kidneys. You see, something remarkable happens when you cook kidneys with a good cut of beef, good stock, red wine and a smattering of a few other ingredients for a couple of hours. Gone is the smell of a male public toilet and hello delicious, rich gray with melt-in-your-mouth beef.

Convinced? No?

Well, add to that a buttery and flaky short crust pastry and you have in my view the tastiest pie on the planet. Rich, tasty, meaty, flaky, moist and all the yuk factor of kidneys melts away in your mouth like they never existed.

If you are unsure about offal, this recipe is for you. You’d never know you were eating it.

Gone on, give it a go. You only live once.

The recipe

I used the recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “The River Cottage Meat Book”. It’s a fab book, if you like meat. Good, hearty traditional and honest food. His recipe calls for homemade puff pastry, which is a little time-consuming for me. So I plumped for Delia Smith’s short crust flaky pastry. Dead easy and a winner in my book.

The filling

  • 1kg of beef skirt or chuck steak cut into generous cubes (you can ask the butcher to cut it up for you)
  • 400g of kidneys, cored and cut into chunks (again, ask your butcher to do this for you)
  • A little oil
  • Up to 50g of plain flour, seasoned
  • 1 glass of red wine (a generous glass!)
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon of English mustard
  • 1 bay leaf
  • About 750ml of stock (I used veal stock)
  • 350g of button mushrooms
  • Salt and pepper

The pastry (note you may have to increase the proportions because I didn’t quite have enough to line the dish and put the top on)

  • 225g of plain flour
  • 175g of cold butter
  • a pinch of salt
  • Cold water to mix
  • One egg yolk

Start by making the pastry. Make sure the butter is cold. Cut up the butter into cubes and add to the flour in a large bowl. Using a palette knife, stir and break up the butter so that mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Don’t use your hands. You’re trying to keep the mixture as cool as possible. My hands are as hot as hell – good for massage, rubbish for pastry making. I’m ok with that. But it means need to keep my hands as far away from the pastry as possible.

Then add cold water little by little (about a tablespoon at a time) and continue to mix using the palette knife. When it all comes together and the bowl is clean, pour it out onto a work surface and bring the dough together. You don’t need to work it much. If you do, you’ll lose the flakiness. Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for an hour or so.

Now make the filling. Heat a little oil in a heavy based frying. Dip the beef in the plain flour, dust of the excess and fry the meat in batches until browned.

First brown the meat

Do the same with the kidneys. Transfer the meat to a heavy based casserole or saucepan.

Brown the kidneys

When all the meat is browned, deglaze the frying pan with half of the wine and add this to the meat.

In the frying pan, add a little oil and fry the sliced onion until softened. Add the onions to the meat, along with the mustard, ketchup, bay leaf and enough stock to cover the meat. Add the rest of the wine.

Add bay leaf, English mustard and tomato ketchup

Cook on a very gentle simmer for one and a half hours, until the beef is fairly tender, but not quite finished. Leave to cool. At this point, brown the mushrooms and add to the meat mix.

Next, roll out the pastry. I used a square pie dish. Make sure you grease it lightly.

Roll out two rectangles of pastry, one to fit the top and a bigger version to fit the bottom and sides. You’ll need to roll the pastry out about 5mm thick.

Line the dish with the largest bit of pastry, right up to the lip of the dish. Trim any excess. Brush the inside with egg yolk. Spoon in the meat so that it is higher in the middle than the edges. Then spoon in the juices.

Cover the pie with the smaller piece of pastry and add to the top of the pie. Crimp the edges to seal it.

Bake the pie in a moderately hot over (190 C) for 50 minutes to an hour, until the pastry is golden brown. Serve with vegetables and buttery mash.

More pie porn

Enjoy.

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European, Tasting

It’s slow cooked season: recipe for lamb shanks braised in Sangiovese

Winter is the time to take everything slowly. Slow walks along the beach, slow to get dressed on weekend mornings, slow read of the paper and slow cooked food. It’s my favourite time of year for cooking because the frantic, last minute prepping of summer food is replaced with melt-in-your-mouth one pot wonders, with no worry about having to watch over the pot every couple of minutes.

This recipe ticks all the boxes. I haven’t used a recipe from a book. That’s the beauty of slow cooking. You don’t need to. Follow a few basic principles (right cut of meat, inject flavour into the sauce and don’t rush it) and you can’t go wrong. It’s the old adage – the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Slow cooking is food alchemy.

The recipe is below along with a few photos of the food and us enjoying our new backgarden.

Lamb shanks slow braised in Sangiovese, served with pasta

4 x lamb shanks

Plain flour to dust the lamb

Olive oil

1 x rasher of bacon or proscuitto

1 x carrot, stick of celery and onion, all finely diced

2 cloves of garlic

6 x French shallots

Mix of herbs, tied with butcher’s twine (I used rosemary, bay and parsley)

1 x large tin of tomatoes

Enough red wine (don’t get cheap plonk, it’s not worth it. I went for Sangiovese) to cover the meat in a casserole dish (needs a tight fitting lid and should be big enough to hold the meat nice and snugly)

Method

  1. Dust the shanks in plain flour. Knock off any excess flour.
  2. Heat oil in the casserole dish on a fairly high heat.
  3. Brown the shanks. Set aside for later
  4. Brown the bacon/proscuitto. Set aside.
  5. Lower heat and add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook until softened (probably about ten minutes)
  6. Add the chopped garlic and cook for a minute or so
  7. Add any excess flour to the cooked vegetables and stir through (this will help thicken the sauce)
  8. Add the lamb shanks, bacon, herbs, tomatoes and enough wine to cover the meat (around half a bottle, depending on the size of your casserole dish). Season to taste.
  9. Bring liquid to the boil, turn heat down to a simmer and add the lid. Cook on a low heat for at least a couple of hours.
  10. Check the meat. When it falls off the bone without any effort it’s done. At this point I take the bones out, remove the lid and cook for another hour or until the sauce has reduced or thickened.
  11. Serve with pasta, and finish with decent parmesan and chopped parsley. I tried to make handmade parpardelle but I made a right pigs ear of the dough. I used the wrong flour. So I had to go with dried penne – it’s all we had.
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European, Tasting

Saving a national tradition: six tips for the best roast Sunday dinner

Sunday roast

Roasting meat is the most primitive way of cooking, stemming from hunter-gatherers cooking freshly caught meat next to an open flame. Yes, ingenuity and technological innovation has made roasting a meal easier and more inventive, but this form of cooking still relies on direct, dry heat, as it always has. And it is still as much a ritual today as it ever was.

A Sunday roast is a meal that despite our modern pressures on time, brings families and friends together to share stories and experiences over a slow cooked and slowly eaten feast.

It’s not Britain’s favourite meal (apparently that’s Chinese stir fry) but it’s certainly one to evoke the fondest memories. It’s on a par with the Australian barbecue.

Why? Well, Sunday roast fuelled a nation through wars and post war depression. Money was in short supply, so meat could only be afforded once a week. To serve meat to family and friends was seen as an honourable thing to do. It was, and still is, a major event.

My early childhood memories

My mum would cook roast dinners every Sunday without fail. So I remember our Sunday dinners from a very early age.

Dad, a passionate flag bearer of women’s rights, would spend the afternoon down the Attleborough Arms pub and come back just before dinner was served (anything later would cause world war three). Mum would have a drink while she was cooking.

The meal could only go one of two ways – jolly jape or a war of words.

My everlasting memory of roast beef was an overcooked. To be fair, there was no such thing as cooking meat medium rare or medium when I was a kid. Chefs were still unknown. Vol-au-vents and prawn cocktails – so retro now – were the height of sophistication. The only wine to hit our table was sweet and sickly Liebfraumilch (brand name Blue Nun). And cooking for two young kids and a husband who acted like one couldn’t have been easy. Over done was the norm.

My older sister would struggle through, shearing, tearing and huffing and puffing at the meat (she should have been an actress) but would often leave the fat. I can understand why, but my parents were brought up to eat everything on a plate, including meat, fat, and skin. My mum would point out every little morsel of meat left on the plate.

My sister would raise her eyebrows. This was seen as an act of defiance and set off the fireworks. An argument would start. My sister would storm out, banging every door in every room in the house on her way to her bedroom (she took the scenic route).

Dad would keep his eyes fixed on the plate, waiting for the moment to be blamed for not backing up. I struggled with a chisel to get through the rock like roast potatoes. An awkward silence would take over.

Traditions aren’t always easy to carry on but mum’s roasts are now the stuff of legends. She has so much more time to prepare, not having to work and look after two young kids. I understand that all too well how difficult it is with two young kids. Fantastic meat is now readily available. And there are plenty of chefs teaching us how to cook well.

Carrying on the tradition

Living in Australia, I carry the torch for Sunday dinners. They are still a mainstay of our family life (although I tend to make the traditional roast only on colder, winter days).

Our kids are only three and six, so don’t really appreciate Sunday dinner, but it is important to me that we all have good wholesome food together, as a family, and with friends, now and in the future. It’s a tradition I want to carry on.

Dinner times are just as mental as my childhood. Tantrums, food flinging, force feeding and more tantrums are the norm. But this doesn’t matter a jot to me. We have no other family in Australia, so it means everything to be able to bring everyone together, even though nine times out of 10 meal times are dysfunctional .

I do wonder what my kids’ memories of Sunday dinner will be when they are my age though. But I do hope when they are old enough that they carry on this tradition.

Top six tips for a successful roast dinner

1: Don’t skimp on the meat

My favourite cut of meat is rib of beef cut on the bone from the fore of the animal (according to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingsall, the smaller fore ribs are more succulent). Don’t think you can get this meat from your local supermarket. Get yourself down to a traditional, local butcher where the meat is aged and hung properly. It’s costly, but you value it more.

I prepare the meat by rubbing in olive oil and seasoning the meat. Sometimes I add rosemary. I normally place it in the roasting dish on a bed of vegetables so the bottom of the meat doesn’t burn. Included in the vegetables are onions, celery and carrots as well as a lot of garlic. I also add to the bottom of the roasting dish a glass of red wine or port along with a glass of water. All this helps to make fantastic gravy.

I cook the meat for 20 minutes on a high heat and then cook for 15 minutes for every 500 grams. This should cook the meat to medium rare to medium.

2: Simple to get wrong: stay focussed with humble Yorkshire pudding

The Yorkshire pudding is made from a simple batter of milk, water, eggs and flour. Originally the Yorkshire pudding was eaten on its own as a first course with thick gravy. This was to fill your stomach so that you would not eat so much of the more expensive meat in the next course. Now Yorkshire puddings are served and eaten with the meat. My dad used sprinkle sugar on leftover Yorkshire puddings for dessert.

The key to a great Yorkshire pudding is to fill your muffin tin with oil (about a third from the top) and put into the oven until it is smoking hot. Then add your batter about half way up the tin, and put back in the high part of the oven for 25 minutes. Don’t open the oven until they are ready and have puffed up more than double in size.

3: It’s ok to be obsessed with the potatoes

I have become slightly obsessed with making roast potatoes. I cut them to a certain size. I par boil them, drain them and rough them up by shaking them in a covered saucepan. Still in the pan I normally drizzle with olive oil (although I used duck fat this week). I add crushed cloves of garlic and season with salt and leave them for 30 minutes. I add a roasting dish to the oven with a small amount of oil. Once it’s hot I add the potatoes.

Here’s where I get a bit obsessed. I make sure every potato is positioned so that they lay on their curved side. I find they are crisper the less surface area is touching the pan. If you put them flat side down (the side you have cut them) I find they burn or don’t crisp as well. Works for me anyway.

You can never make too many potatoes. My rule of thumb is double the amount you think you need. They always get eaten.

4: Don’t cut corners with the gravy

You can’t underestimate the importance of good gravy. For a Sunday roast, forget gravy granules. It’s time and effort to make it, but so worth it. You owe it to your family.

I strain the juices and liquid from the bottom of the meat roasting dish into a saucepan. I also squash the roasted garlic through a sieve and scrape it into the gravy. I put it on a medium heat, add stock from the vegetables and reduce. I don’t mind thinner gravy, but my wife prefers it thicker, so I usually thicken it with a beurre manie (equal parts flour and butter combined to the consistency of breadcrumbs) or a bit of cornflour.

5: Don’t forget the accompaniments

Brussel sprouts, broccoli, carrots, parsnips and/or peas normally grace our table. Parsnips are beautiful roasted in parmesan. I haven’t found many people to like brussel sprouts though!

6: Get the timing right

To this day, I find Sunday dinners hard to make. Not because they are complicated, but because getting the timing right so everything is served crispy, succulent and hot is not easy.

My advice is this. Work your timings out before you start. Always add on another third of time on top, because it always seems to take longer than you think. Get the meat done and resting early. Work out how to keep food warm in advance if you finish something early or are running late with something. The success of a Sunday roast hinges on getting this right.

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European, Tasting

Leftovers: Spanish pork and olives

Leftover pork turned into Spanish pork

First of all, I have to make a confession. I didn’t cook this dish. My wife did all the hard work, so I can’t claim anything apart from writing this post.

She used the leftover pork from the weekend curry. Our daughters love olives and tomatoes, so this recipe ticks all the right boxes.

The Spanish pork recipe is from Delia Smith’s iconic Complete Cookery Course. My book is about 15 years old. It has no cover and the spine has all but disappeared. I daren’t move it from the bookshelf because it’s held together by air. It might dissolve into a heap of dust.

But the book has stood the test of time just like Delia’s reassuring and simple recipes. Spanish pork was first published in 1978 and the version below has been downloaded from deliaonline.com for your delectable pleasure.

My wife changed a few things from the recipe below, mainly for convenience, and adjusting the ingredients for young palates.

First of all, there’s no red wine. Instead chicken stock is used. And because we want a quick and easy meal, tinned tomatoes replace fresh, skinned ones. Finally, because we have already cooked the pork, my wife gives the meat a quick introduction to the frying pan, but nothing more.

The dish is simple, and for a Monday is a treat in my book. Or should I say Delia’s book.

Method

First skin the tomatoes (if using fresh and not tinned): pour boiling water over them and leave them for 1 minute before draining and slipping off their skins. Then roughly chop them.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in the casserole over a high heat, and brown the pork on all sides, about 6 pieces at a time, removing them to a plate as they’re browned.

Then, keeping the heat high, add the rest of the oil, then the onions and pepper, and brown them a little at the edges – about 6 minutes.

Now add the garlic, stir that around for about 1 minute, then return the browned meat to the casserole and add all the thyme, tomatoes (fresh or tinned), red wine (or stock), olives and bay leaves. Bring everything up to a gentle simmer, seasoning well, then put the lid on and transfer the casserole to the middle shelf of the oven for 1¼ hours.

Serve with potatoes and vegetables to your liking.

Ingredients

2lb (900g) pork, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces

1½ oz (40 g) black olives

1½ oz (40 g) green olives

1 lb (450 g) ripe red tomatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, peeled and sliced into half-moon shapes

1 large red pepper, deseeded and sliced into 1¼ inch (3 cm) strips

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 heaped teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, plus a few small sprigs

10 fl oz (275 ml) red wine

2 bay leaves

salt and freshly milled black pepper

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