It occurred to me, when I was pondering on how to cook the enormous piece of bacon that we'd procured for Sunday lunch, that as I had the slow cooker out still - it made sense to use it.
I had previously been intending on pot-roasting the bacon, however it was such an enormous piece that I doubted it would fit into any of our saucepans. So having a sudden brainwave about the slow cooker solved that problem and also got it out of my hair for the cooking period. I could then concentrate on cooking the other components of the dinner.
At the end of some six or seven hours in the slow cooker, the meat just fell apart. The top surface had become a slightly odd colour, which I take to have been due to the celery, carrot, onion and other vegetables in the stock. The flavour was just divine!
I had two fresh beetroot left over from the Borscht and decided to roast these along with some potatoes, carrots and a butternut squash. I'd wanted to try roasted beetroot for quite some time, so that played into my hands beautifully. Who knew that roasted beetroot was as lovely as that? The flavour was very akin to those beetroot crisps you can get, but with the intensity of the softer centre. Just lovely.
I doused the butternut squash pieces in cumin powder and a little pinch of chilli flakes, which always go so well with butternut squash. Following roasting, it made for an interesting change of pace in the flavour profile of the whole meal.
However, the unexpected star of the whole proceedings was the Celery Gratin.
Many years ago, I would ring the changes in my diet of microwave dinners by every so often buying a can of celery hearts and mixing up a cheese sauce to pour over them. I so enjoyed this for a change and the Cauliflower Cheese we made the other day reminded me of it.
Now I know I had resolved to make another cauliflower cheese to have with roast bacon, but I had a feeling that a celery version would be well received by the assembled masses (a.k.a. hubby and Son & heir). I was right where hubby was concerned, but it was a bit of miss where Son & heir was concerned, who had to be "encouraged" to eat the celery.
However, I thought it was gorgeous - and even had the leftovers for lunch the following day, which tells you how nice it was.
In this, rather more serious version, I used fresh celery and par-boiled it before baking, as I hadn't made one before and wasn't sure how long it would have required to cook from raw. As it turned out, the 2-3 minutes par-boiling was just perfect as its texture was tender but still fairly firm at the end of the 45 mins baking.
I sprinkled it with breadcrumbs and a little more grated cheddar, to give a nice contrasting crunch. All in all, it rather upstaged both the bacon and the beetroot!
CELERY GRATIN (serves 4)
2 celery hearts, or alternatively, 2 bunches of celery - tops, bottom & hoary outside stems removed (use the tops and stems in a stock)
2-3 tbsp flour (depending on how thick you like your sauce)
1 pint semi-skimmed milk
half a tsp Cayenne pepper
100ml double cream
1 tsp Dijon mustard
250g mature cheddar, grated
25g parmesan, grated
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
a couple of handfuls of breadcrumbs.
1. Pre-heat oven to 180deg C/Gas Mark 4.
2. Prepare the celery by making sure it is scrupulously clean. This may very well mean you have to dismantle the structure of the hearts, but better that than grit between your teeth! Chop into pieces some 2 inches long and put into a pan of boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain and place into a deep baking dish.
3. Arrange the celery evenly across the dish and set to one side.
4. In a non-stick pan, melt the butter and when foamy, sprinkle on the flour. Stir like billy-o, ensuring all the flour is swallowed up by the butter.
5. After 2-3 minutes cooking, add a splash of milk and stir like crazy to avoid lumps forming. Continue to add milk and stir until the sauce achieves the quantity and consistency you're looking for.
6. Add the cayenne, mustard and cream and stir to combine, keeping the sauce at a low simmer.
7. Add all but a handful of the cheeses and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
8. Pour the sauce over the celery, making sure every bit of the celery is covered.
9. Sprinkle on the breadcrumbs and the last handful of cheese and place into the oven for 45 minutes.