They say a change is as good as a holiday and for me that analogy is literal.
After three and a half years I’ve demobilised from the major capital LNG project on which I was working and am now exploring the green pastures of ‘self-funded long service leave’ (thanks to Mum for that phrase).
The feeling of total and uninhibited freedom to do what I want with life is uplifting, revitalizing… I have no structured plans or carefully mapped schedule beyond this week for the first time in my adult life – and it’s wonderful.
I’m finally getting to read the backlog of books that have accumulated on my bedside table. I’m picking up my camera almost every day at spontaneous intervals and capturing those small, pleasurable moments that often pass without thought; winter leaves carpeting the park across the road, light through the dewy morning window and Bailey, snoozing happily in a patch of sun or rolling around like a kitten on the balcony. I’m spending time with friends and family, enjoying those occasions without any unconscious stress or anxiety about all the urgent tasks requiring completion during the next work day.
It’s quietly exquisite. Anything I undertake during the next few months will be purely positive and for my own enjoyment. Freedom is a much underrated status…
And it also means I’m gradually cooking again.
You would have noticed the absence of my own culinary creations during the past six months, which can be put down to exhaustion, lack of inspiration or inclination. My day job reached all consuming heights and left little energy or time for anything else. My creativity was completely sapped.
So… to get things going again, here’s a comforting and warming dish of slow braised beef cheeks with a savoury broth, served over a bed of cheesy polenta.
Although the original recipe indicates a three hour cooking time for the meat, I let it blip away on the stove for double that time which improves the depth of flavour and tenderness of the beef cheeks.
slow braised beef cheeks
with parmesan polenta
from the may 2012 edition of delicious. magazine
150g instant polenta
½ cup grated parmesan
generous pinch of sea salt
chopped flat-leaf parsley, to serve
2kg beef cheeks, trimmed and halved
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 fresh bay leaves (use dried if you can’t get fresh)
750ml bottle of full-bodied red wine
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
3 celery stalks, diced
2 tsp chopped rosemary leaves
2 thyme sprigs, leaves picked
2 tbsp dried juniper berries, crushed
8 whole cloves
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Place a glug of olive oil in a large cast iron or flameproof saucepan and heat over medium-high. Season the beef cheeks well and then, in two batches, sear for a few minutes on each side until well-browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Add the garlic, bay leaves and juniper berries to the pan and cook a couple of minutes, stirring frequently, until fragrant. Return the beef to the pan, pour over the entire bottle of red wine and just enough water to cover.
Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to as low as possible. Cover and cook for at least three hours or until the beef is tender (you should be able to break apart the meat with a spoon).
Once cooked, transfer the beef to a plate and cover.
Continue to simmer the cooking liquor, uncovered over low heat, until reduced by half. Strain the cooking liquor and reserve.
In a clean saucepan, heat a glug of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for a few minutes until golden and translucent. Add the carrot, celery, rosemary, thyme, nutmeg and cloves to the onions and cook for 10 minutes or so until starting to brown.
Add the balsamic vinegar and simmer for a minute before stirring in the reserved cooking liquor. Increase the heat and bring to the boil.
Reduce the heat to medium and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until the sauce is further reduced and the vegetables are tender. Season to taste and return the beef cheeks to the pan, simmering for several minutes until the meat is warmed through.
The polenta can be made just before serving, as it’s super quick to prepare. Bring three cups of water to the boil in a saucepan and gradually stir in the polenta.
Immediately turn the heat to low and stir constantly for a couple of minutes until the mixture has thickened. Take care though, as the boiling water has a tendency to spit hot globules of polenta all over the place if you don’t stir vigorously enough!
Add the butter, grated parmesan and salt to the hot polenta, stirring though until the cheese has melted.
To serve, divide the polenta among bowls, spoon over the beef cheeks and sprinkle with fresh parsley.