A cheeky way with boiled beef and carrots

Beef cheeks and mash

REMEMBER when every other menu you looked at had butternut squash on the starters and lamb shanks on the mains?

Any chef worth his or her salt could turn them into an irresistible dish – lustrous soup, fall off the bone meat – with a minimum of effort and pennies.

Then as I remember, it was pork or ham hocks.

Now chefs have discovered beef cheeks. Cook ’em low and slow for three or four hours, some do it for even more ( you hardly need any gas on the stove top ) and they transform into melting moments so tender they fall apart at the touch of a knife.

Superb, complete with their own broth, with mashed potatoes or turned into a ragu.

Trimming the cheeks

They come with a pretty high mark up but you can get pretty much the same result (minus the cheffy twist perhaps) at home.

I have not seen them on sale in supermarkets so you need a good butcher. When I first saw them on the slab at Ralph Thickitt, Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield, and heard the price I had to have a go.

Make sure they have been properly trimmed of sinew and fat. If they are not ( my last purchase were obligingly yanked out of the chiller for me ) finish the job yourself. You can melt down the trimmings to give you enough fat to seal them off in the pan or casserole.

Then set them aside and saute off finely chopped vegetables, an onion, garlic, a couple of carrots and stalks of celery with some herbs: bay, thyme and sage and whatever takes your fancy.

Then when they are nicely translucent pop the beef cheeks on top ( about one per person or halve them like I did for us) and cover with a couple of glasses of red wine and beef stock ( a cube and a shake of soy in my case).

Once it’s up to a simmer put the lid on and leave it, apart for the odd stir, for three or four hours. Test for doneness with the point of a knife.

Then take out the meat, remove the bay and liquidise the broth. You have now got a superb sauce for little effort.

Serve with mash and your favourite vegetables. We like buttered cabbage and carrots.

Searing them off

Of course, you can add all sorts of embellishments for extra unctiousness, perhaps a spoonful of redcurrant or fruit jelly or an anchovy or two.

These would be ideal for dinner parties. Like all stews and curries, this dish improves with a little keeping. They are just reheated in their sauce, gently, until piping hot.

Serve whole unless your guests are like my wife and don’t like chunks. They can be sliced. And the cheeks freeze well.

Don’t worry if they don’t look as if they won’t all fit in the pan at the outset. They will have once you have seared them off.

“I suppose this is what you might call boiled beef and carrots?” said my wife after a beef c,heek Sunday dinner.

I thought about it and laughed. She was right. A de-luxe version, though.

The cooked cheeks

Born in Rotherham, forged in Italy

Livio and Ashleigh

NOT every ristorante or trattoria you see is “Cento per cento italiano” – totally authentic.

So many nationalities have seen the lucrative potential of pizza and pasta and jumped on the bandwagon. But it takes more than a tin of tomatoes and shake of oregano to produce food a momma or a nonna would cook.

So catch the chef at Nonna’s in Stag, Rotherham, hear an accent as broad as the dual carriageway outside the restaurant and you might not expect that much.

But pensa di nuovo, as they say in Italian, think again.

That chef, Livio Maccio, aged 29, has an Italian name but was born in Rotherham, third generation of a family which emigrated here over half a century ago.

Chilli squid with ciabatta

He speaks fluent Italian, lived for a while and trained at cookery school in his family’s homeland, and has been cooking since 14 in his father’s numerous restaurants.

Any doubts and just try a slice of the home baked ciabatta bread served up as garnish on your starter or main.

With its spongy open crumb it looks and tastes just like the real thing – which it is.

Livio and his charming fiance Ashleigh Mills had been running the place with his father Dino until his dad backed out a few months ago in a sort of semi-retirement from the hospitality business.

So now they’re on their own: a rather young “mamma and papa operation.

It had been a former Cooplands sandwich shop until they turned it into cafe and deli then a restaurant – until Covid struck.

Bistecca Livio: Sirloin and scallops

“We were selling pizzas from a van on the front,” says Livio in Nonna’s compact kitchen.

There’s a pizza oven in place but because Nonna’s is very much a one man band, at least in the kitchen, you won’t find them on the menu. ” We just do them once a month.”

Pizzas apart, the menu is pretty much what you would expect to see in any Italian restaurant. There are specials but Livio and Ashleigh, knowing their market, have not yet gone down the new wave Italian route.

I’d been invited as a guest and took along with me fellow blogger and Italophile Craig Harris.

While I opted for one of the specials, a lively and tender squid in chilli as a starter, he went for the meatballs, a sure test of any self-respecting Italian restaurant. They were beefy, meaty and firm-textured with a herby lilt in a rich tomato sauce.

Livio’s honest and thoughtful cooking paid off in my ultra-trad main, a melanzane parmigiana, with plenty of aubergine, plenty of sauce and plenty of taste. I liked the parmesan tuille garnish and more of that ciabatta.

Across the table Craig relished his accurately cooked rare sirloin steak with scallops, the Italian version of surf n turf

Melanzane Parmigiana

Livio clearly loves cooking. “It’s been my dream from a young lad. It’s all I ever wanted you do,” he says.

His grandfather moved from Caserta, midway between Rome and Naples in the Fifties, originally to find jobs in the steel works. Livio’s father Dino has had several restaurants including E Lupo in Rotherham, which I favourably reviewed three decades ago.

Livio is lucky to have found Ashleigh – or maybe she found him. She first visited the family restaurant at 17, then heard they were looking for waitresses and has stayed ever since. That was 11 years ago.

They make a great team. It’s a cosy little restaurant with a pleasant, easy-going menu and well worth giving a spin.

Nonna’s is at 342B Herringthorpe Valley Road, Rotherham S60 4HA. Tel: 01709 837 881. Open Wed-Sat eve.

Nonna’s at night

Arise Sir William, there’s new hope in the valley

John on the pass

SUNDAY’S LUNCHTIME service took them by surprise at the Sir William Hotel at Grindleford in North Derbyshire’s Hope Valley.

“We did 59 covers. I had to make Yorkshire puddings to order,  something I’ve  never done in my life,” says John Parsons.

He was the unnamed “new chef” mentioned laconically on the hotel’s Facebook page but somehow word had got out.

Now John’s cooking – a comfortable mix of French classical with British traditional and more than a dash of pub grub – has quite a following in Sheffield and North Derbyshire.

Diners may have eaten at the companionable long table at Sheffield’s Food and Fine Wine or enjoyed smoked eel with blood orange at tastings and at the Beer Engine, scoffed deep fried sheep’s brains or gizzards and intestines at still-remembered offal evenings or sampled his signature Three Little Pigs porkfest at any one of a number of venues.

Then again John can do high-end: The Kitchen on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield  was one of the highest-rated local restaurants in the Good Food Guide until Joro came along. He helped put the Plough at Hathersage on the  map. There was a restaurant in Cheshire’s gastro belt.

Sunday roast at the Sir William

He was between kitchens after his last berth  the Hathersage Social Club closed just before  Christmas when he heard the Sir William, just up the road from his home in the village   was looking for a chef.

The eight bedroomed former coaching inn, which dates from 1871  High up on the side of the Hope Valley, had seen better days.

But it was not quite moribund. Climber and trekker Chris Allewell, who runs the climbing and Outward Bound-style Beyond The Edge adventure business, already used the hotel as a base and for guests on courses.

He decided to make a go at revitalising the pub side of the business with, in keeping with the company ethos, having as little impact on the environment as possible.

John, aged 49, felt excited about buying into the idea. Besides, he had got to the point where, although he still lives to cook, he wanted to turn the regulo down.

Dining room with a view

“I am done with restaurants and high end food. I am not trying to compete with other places around here . . .We don’t want it to be polished,  it’s very much a local boozer.”

So not so much a new mountain to climb, bearing in mind the boss’s day job, but a stroll in the foothills.

Looking at the new menu, not too many local boozers might have Thai-spiced sea bass in paper parcels nudging shoulders with miso noodles or meat and potato pie.

Or Gochujang sticky chicken wings along with a dipped beef  sarni or 12 hour pork belly and sausage casserole.

Inevitably,  much of the first menu is a remix of tried and tested old favourites although, conscious he needs to keep to a price point of around £15 for main courses, the far more complicated Three Little Pigs may have to wait its turn.

Sundays are completely traditional, a choice of three roasts or all three on a platter with a full array of vegetables.

Our beef and pork were supremely well done, a couple of accurately cooked tasty slices  billowy puddings, proper gravy full of meat juices and a particularly silky mash the most notable components.

Both  desserts, a treacle sponge and sticky toffee, impressed by their lightness of touch.

Treacle sponge

Looking back, he says, he was perhaps ahead of the curve with communal table eating or nose-to-tail offal days. And who could have imagined he could turn a staff canteen, as at Breedon Cement Works, into an open-to-all-comers eateries?

“I never thought I would get them off chips and into ramen bowls,” he chuckles.

Covid stopped all that but did spark off his country-themed £10 takeaways operated out of Hathersage swimming pool car park. 

” It never made any money but was a lot of fun. We could do 110 meals on a night with people coming from as far as Sheffield and Castleton. “

John is not pretending to be a one-man band. He has sterling help in the kitchen from Maria McCaffrey while hotel manager Nick Dunn continues to keep the place running as he has the last few years.

The Sir William is open all week with food lunch and dinner from Wednesday to Sunday. TEL: 01433 631 167. WEB: http://www.thesirwilliam.co.uk

Pets welcome here

Playing Bingo at Tonco

Hog’s head croquette with brown sauce

I RECKON the waiting staff  at Tonco, that quirky little restaurant tucked away in the corner of Dyson Place, Sheffield, play Menu Bingo in idle moments.

And the one who draws croquettes usually takes the prize.

It’s the most requested dish most days says our server Simon.

Small wonder. I remember one with courgettes in the summer, all creamy interior inside a crisp, dry shell. So I’ve got my taste buds cued up for the blue cheese and Jerusalem artichoke with a quince aioli. Now there’s a novelty.

But it gets sidestepped by a special described as ” Hog’s head with our own brown  sauce. “

It sells itself to me because I am a sucker for pig’s cheek ( if I decipher the restaurantspeak correctly ) and want to compare the sauce to my own homemade concoction.

Tonco has an open kitchen

It’s good, the meat shredded and studded with tiny diced carrot in the trademark soft filling, the exterior a satisfying crunch.

And the brown sauce gets my approval. Ten years ago every chef around was making it and it’s good to see at least one kitchen giving it a reprise. This is made with prunes, apples but no onions to give people who can’t  eat alliums a shout out, according to the  chef.

Tonco, run by Joe Shrewsbury and Florence Russell ( Jo and Flo) and named after a long-forgotten Barnsley soft drink, also does a nifty line in ravioli. I have fond memories of a summery one filled with goats cheese last summer.

Today’s has a roast beetroot filling, pleasant enough, but there are wedges of beetroot garnishing the dish and, even more, pallid yellow beetroot which barely makes a contribution, so this is rather overdoing things.

Beetroot, beetroot, beetroot!

Wisps of cavolo nero just irritate but roast hazelnuts provide crunch against good firm pasta. This time the goats cheese is outside, as a sauce.

Tonco still has its lunchtime special offer of three dishes for £22 and the house wines are fairly priced. There always seems to be something to intrigue on this menu even if this diner is not necessarily entirely bowled over.

I always associate Tonco as having a bit of a thing for turnips. Perhaps beetroot is the new turnip here.

Web: http://www.tonco.co.uk

Christmas is not just for turkey

Boxing Day cold meat and bubble

CHRISTMAS lunch or dinner plays a big part of most people’s interest in food over the holiday period but what about the rest?

In our house we can count at least five special meals we have every year at this time.

They are almost, but not quite, as important as the main event but eagerly anticipated all the same.

The first comes on Christmas Eve. We’ve boiled and glazed the ham so we carve off the ends to make it look trim and have ham, egg and chips with pickles for tea.

Of course, the liquid in which you’ve boiled it up with herbs and vegetables will make soups. It’ll be salty and needs diluting but stick a few big peeled spuds in to absorb it. Then you can eat those too, fried.

Christmas Dinner needs no explanation and I bet we’re not alone in having a Boxing Day treat of cold meats and bubble and squeak, fried up from the leftover vegetables. And more pickles.

This year we visited for Christmas Day but did bring home the remains of the turkey.

So apart from dripping for breakfast, there was the carcase to pick for curry (into the freezer because you can have too much turkey in one go) then the bones were boiled up for yet more soup and stock.

Just look at all that dripping

And there was quite a bit of skin left over so sections were crisped up in a pan, with the fat released used to fry the bubble.

Turkey is the bird which keeps on giving and it’s my mission in life to make it disappear from the fridge as quickly as possible.

Bits that get left over can always go into pies or be minced up finely, along with the ham, as potted meat.

I am also planning a stir-fry so we’ll round that up with the dripping ( for me only) and lunchtime soups ànd call them meal number four.

Finally, at my wife’s insistence, we always have beef Stroganoff on New Year’s Eve. Probably because it’s not turkey or ham of which she is getting tired.

Mind you, that turkey essence, nicely jellied in the fridge, would really enhance the Stroganoff. She doesn’t need to know . . .

The Fermentation Generation makes a fizz

BACK IN the Sixties as a young reporter for the Beccles & Bungay Journal I would be sent to cover village shows.

There would invariably be a tent or at least a table full of homemade jams and jellies, pickles and preserves, usually made by stout matrons from the Women’s Institute.

All very motherly and middle class but never for one moment did I guess this might one day be hip.

Then it was raspberry jam and pickled onions, these days it’s more likely to be a kombucha or kefir (fermented drink)  bubbling up for prizes.

I am at Hideaway, a dishevelled former factory, the White Rose Works, in Eyre Lane, Sheffield  for the city’s second Pickle Fest.

I can give 30 or 40 years on the next oldest person there, and rather less hair, as people gather for workshops, talks, browse a few stalls, buy food or enter one of the several categories to have their prized jam, chutney, sauce, pickles or ferments to be judged in a mass taste test later that day.

I bring along three entries, two for the non- hot sauce category:  Pontack, made with elderberries, and a brown fruit sauce from prunes and apples, plus a chutney from foraged windfall apples in my neighbourhood.

I’m delighted to find these are the first entries if you don’t  count the jar entered last year which no one could open and has been resubmitted this year. Tough competition.

The festival is organised by a loose group of people called Social Pickle, explains Lisa Marriott, one of the organisers who, like other young women, is wearing a fetching sash with the organisation’s name.

It gives the event, for an old-timer like me, the slightly disconcerting air of a Sixties beauty contest with Miss Pickles on display although of course the real beauties are the jars of  Green Bean Chunky Ketchup and evil- looking Carrotchanga for sale at the pay-as-you-feel stall.

“We started during Lockdown preparing surplus ingredients for meals for our Food Hall Project ( on Brown Street) and realised there was a lot of energy around,” she says.

What couldn’t be used immediately was pickled and preserved.

“Cider vinegar was our first project, sold in local shops, and we’ve expanded into weekly Glut Clubs.”

I’m impressed. They are not just sitting back and waiting for surplus food to come in. Some are going out and foraging for it.

With things like sauerkraut, kimchis and kombuchas the Fermentation Generation is a lot more adventurous and sophisticated than its grannies. In fact, they’re making a bit of a fizz.

I couldn’t stay for the judging and I’ve been waiting at home for the telephone to ring and tell me if I’d won a category ( not that they were overwhelmed with entries ).

To pass the time I took home one of the jars of Carrotchanga. ” We fermented the carrot to make a Ketchup then added other stuff,” someone said. It tastes how it looks, wicked.

And did they have a serving suggestion? ” Put it on your chips.”

# For more details see http://www.socialpickle.co.uk

Order the wine, drink the view

Korcula through a wine glass

WE’VE ALL done it: been on holiday, great scenery, fabulous time, lovely wine. In fact we’ve liked it so much we’ve brought a couple of bottles back.

But when we opened them on a damp November night in England somehow the magic had evaporated out of the bottle.

Enjoying wine, even more than food, is a subjective experience. It’s not just the aroma which filters up your nose or the taste as it sparkles on your tongue but the atmosphere, the company, the occasion, your mood at the time and, possibly, whether that ankle you twisted is still hurting.

And if you are in attractive surroundings, beside an Italian lake, say, or on a Mediterranean shore, then you are also drinking the view. And you don’t get that in a bottle.

We’ve just been to Croatia. Above is a view of Korcula, seen through a glass of the local white wine. And pretty good it was, too. For a minute or two I was tempted to take home a bottle.

But it just wouldn’t have been the same. Best to stick with the memory.

A few years ago we were walking in the south of France and stopped at a little corner restaurant for lunch. It was lovely, especially the wine, a local one so obscure I’ve forgotten its name.

We forgot to bring back a bottle or two but wanted to recapture the moment. We raved about it to friends and family and eventually managed to track it down.

I popped the cork, poured the wine and . . . disappointment. It tasted so dull.

Some time later I came across some published tasting notes along the lines of ” Bland, local workaday quaff . . . “

That was probably true. But when our glasses were poured that day in France it wasn’t just wine that went in. You can call it what you will – atmosphere, ambience, le terroir, something so hard to pin down but it dances on our memory’s tastebuds even now.

Have stomach, will travel!

WE’VE BEEN eating out quite a bit lately: on a roll you might say plenty of good food to enjoy.But rather than bore you with a bite by bite rundown here are selected mouthfuls.

Let’s start with dinner at newly opened Rosmarino on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, an Italian in what had been the premises of a Portuguese eatery and before that a Polish one which had a dozen soups on the starters).

It’s their first restaurant together for newly-married Abdellatif, from Casablanca, and his Anglo-Italian wife Lidia. Abdel opened Olive with his brother on Ecclesall Road a couple of years back while Lidia’s family had La Terrazza (now Bella Donna) on Sharrowvale Road.

Unlike many Italian restaurants the place does not feel overcrowded with plenty of space and elbow room between the tables. “We took quite a few out,” Lidia told me.

We ate with foodie friends Craig and Marie Harris, who know a thing about Italian food. My starter of calamari was a wee bit chewy but had a lovely jalapeno and lime jam to go with it (£8.50).

A main of ravioli with a gentle hit of black truffle (£15.95) impressed with its good, firm pasta and lively mushroom and parmesan sauce. We topped things off with a home made tiramusi made, surprisingly, with lemon drizzle cake. It worked!

On to Tonco in Dyson Place, which always makes me think of turnips because they once featured heavily on its very esoteric menu. It always seem to faintly annoy me: must be the irritating Pud-Pud to signal the dessert section!

But a family lunch here was terrific, in particular some courgette and Spenwood cheese croquettes (£6), crispy shells enclosing melting interiors, hogget meatballs wrapped a littlepointlessly in vine leaves (£8) and quite lovely summery goats cheese ravioli in a very simple but effective lemon butter and little gem sauce. Oh and the fig leaf custard tart (they were making those fig leaves work!) with bergamot puree was a great hit, too.

Next stop was a lunch at Trippetts in Trippet Lane, run by one-woman gin Wikipedia (and dispenser) Debbie Shaw and her husband Carl, who can always produce something special with his small plates menu.

Stupidly, I forgot to record the gins but did appreciate a trio of samosas and a duo of sliders (minii hamburgers) made from venison and beef in dinky little buns. I enjoyed the contrast in textures between the two meats.

Finally to The Broadfield on Abbeydale Road where it is always advisable to book, even on a Tuesday night, because the restaurant area gets rammed.

The Broadfield has a better-than-pub-food menu with classics such as home made pies and a Mittel-European-style roast ham hock of the kind you’d find in Prague.

That’s got a lot of calories (the amounts are listed on the menus) so I thought again and had the bangers and mash. Well banger because there was just one but homemade and what a plonker! It was very tasty, the pork helped along with ginger, a very old traditional spice, particularly with bacon. I was glad I chose it. And here’s the picture.

Is Bradwells Ice Cream finally licked?

BRADWELLS ICE CREAM, a local favourite in North Derbyshire and Sheffield for the last century, is to close by the end of the month.

Customers received notifications with their deliveries this week. When this blog rang to confirm Managing Director Jane Bownes refused to speak and put down the phone.

Coud this be the end of a colourful business founded in by Hannah Bradwell in 1899 in the North Derbyshire village of Bradwell? She made her icecream with ice delivered by rail from Sheffield.

It became popular in the surrounding area but remained something of a cottage industry, production staying in the village behind an icecream shop front.

All might have come to an end 30 years ago when Hannah’s grandson Noel, the third generation in the company, and his wife Betty, were trying to sell the business after no one in the family was able or willing to take it on.

In 1992 in stepped Sheffield-born businessman Lawrence Wosskow (see The heart-stopping rise of King Cone ), whose mother lived in the village, and having made a fortune developing the Cafe Rouge chain, was looking for a new, local investment. He had moved to London but his wife Julie was expecting her first child and wanted her to be born and raised in her home town.

Lawrence turned the business round, redesigning the logo and introducing new flavours, placing the product in more local local shops, businesses and supermarkets. He used a picture of his daughter, also Hannah, to advertise the business. The local press branded him King Cone.

Bradwells was again at risk when owner Lawrence collapsed with a heart attack in 2006, prompting him to take it easy, wind down and eventually move to the United States.

The business suffered another blow when he was swindled by a long time friend and business associate to whom he had left his affairs. According to court reports, the net loss to Bradwells was £776,000.

Then, two years ago, he handed over the business to Jane.

Speaking from America Lawrence told me: “Just over two years ago I gave the whole business to Jane Bownes, the managing director, free of charge, because she has been so loyal throughout the years. It had £200,000 cash in it so it was very generous of me and (my wife) Julie.

“I always told Noel and his wife Betty I woud never sell the business and although they passed away a long time ago my word is my bond.”

Lawrence does, however, retain the trademark, Bradwells.

News of the closure seemed to take Lawrence by surprise. He said: “It will be a sad day for a lot of people when it does close. It meant so much to me as you know. I put my heart and soul into it for many years when I moved back to Sheffield.”

Lawrence will not be the only one wondering if somehow the business can be revived.

Many local pubs and restaurants regularly serve up the icecream on their menus. One chef said: “It’s incredibly sad news. They will be sorely missed.”

Drunken cherries and Summer Pudding

IT’S BEEN a good year for wild cherries. I beat the birds and on two foraging trips picked three or so kilos, enough to eat fresh, preserve in brandy, make jelly and help stuff a summer pudding full of bursting, juicy fruit.

And I still have some left over in the freezer for later.

The easiest use is preserving them in brandy. All you need is some cherries, brandy and a tablespoon of sugar but you do have to stone the cherries first. Don’t even try stoning those titchy little bird cherries but I know trees with larger fruit and an olive stoner works a treat.

You get a dessert cherry for puddings and a cherry brandy from the fruit-infused acohol. And if you don’t want to go to the bother of taking the pips out try making  ginjinha as here.

Smaller cherries can be used for jams or jellies: just jellies in my case because you don’t need to get rid of the pips first. Put the fruit in a pan, just cover with water then bring to a boil and simmer until soft, breaking up the fruit with a potato masher.

Now put into a sterilised jelly bag and let it strain overnight. Cover with a plastic bag to keep out insects. Discard the solids, measure the juice (in millilitres) and add two-thirds the quantity of sugar in grams. So if you have 600mls of juice you need 450g of sugar.

Boil until you acheive a light set. As cherries have little or no pectin add strained lemon juice and/or pectin powder to ensure a set.

But what I like using cherries best for is my annual summer pudding. You can find a recipe here and this year it didn’t fall apart when unmoulded. If you butter the bowl rather than the bread, overlap the slices, then put the basin into boiling water before unmoulding (easing down the sides with a palette knife) you should get it out in one piece. As I did.