It’s a game we all play. We’re all guilty of it. If I’m going down, I’m taking you with me, dear reader.
You’re at the supermarket checkout. As you laboriously pile your groceries onto the conveyor belt, you can’t help but furtively cast your eye over your neighbour’s purchases. As you spot the family-sized multi-pack of crisps, the packets of ready-meals and the bag of iced doughnuts, you can’t help but smugly examine your own shopping basket and mentally pat yourself on the back for your food choices. Although judgmental and snobbish, it is an addictive game which I find myself playing time and time again. God forbid if I’m behind you in the queue at Tesco.
Supermarkets don’t help themselves. They are becoming conglomerates, muscling the independent markets, grocers, delis and now clothes, home-ware stores and pharmacies out the way, confirming the convenience of everything you could need under one roof. And, boy, do they mean everything. Frozen ready-made mashed potato anyone? As the food industry continues to grow, the fashion of flavour combinations, healthier alternatives and ingredients from around the world are expanding our supermarket shelves until they are bursting with exotic yet convenient pastes, sauces, marinades, seasonings and snacks. Gazing at all the produce brings to mind the scene in The Hurt Locker as Jeremy Renner stares at the endless boxes of cereal in blank incredulity before grabbing the closest and walking off. As his job requires him to dispose bombs in Iraq, our modern lifestyles of indecision are put into sharp perspective.
I am not about to dismiss convenience. Shamefully, I will usually reach for the jar of curry paste rather than make my own. Also, I have a weird love of supermarkets, but maybe it’s because they have brainwashed me with their safety net of easy access and affordable food, plus the added bonus of menu ideas, recipe cards and by simply wandering the aisles you’ve planned the next three dinners. But these are also reasons why supermarkets frustrate me. Aware of consumer demand they are jumping on the bandwagon of food made from scratch with mouthwatering recipe cards emphasising the ease of homemade food, yet will sell powdered dumpling mix, frozen baked potatoes and three varieties of own-brand jarred gravy. The customer is bombarded with infinite choice, each product more tempting than the last so will buy that jarred gravy, you know, just to see what it’s like, instead of making gravy from scratch. Countless times I’ve been enticed by the varieties of granola, especially as new colourful packets appear on the shelves flavoured with cashew and coconut or chocolate and orange, but I eventually tear myself away sticking to my guns to make my own – sometimes with a pack of granola in my trolley. It wouldn’t take much for a supermarket to release recipe cards for homemade granola, gravy or, heck, a baked potato, but if they did they would lose the edge of their convenient allure.
Anyway, amidst this supermarket-diatribe, there is a recipe. Sometimes my shopping basket is full of Thai green curry paste, Gü chocolate cheesecakes with that molten caramel layer, and a plastic-wrapped garlic flat bread. On other occasions, however, I buy blackberries, star anise, pork mince, beef mince, onions and double cream. With a basket full and a well-worn recipe waiting for me at home, I do tend to feel a bit smug at the checkout.
Swedish meatballs with blackberry anise sauce
Adapted from Ruby Tandoh’s book, ‘Flavour’
Calum developed an infatuation with Swedish meatballs after one too many visits to Ikea. Admittedly, they do them well. Ruby’s recipe is even better, however, especially the sweet, vibrantly purple blackberry sauce, spiked with star anise and bay. Meatballs must be served with mashed potato, and maybe some carrots and celery sauteed in butter and cinnamon. Most packets of minced meat, especially minced pork, come in larger quantities than this recipe so just double or triple the amounts and freeze them once cooked, without the sauce.
For the blackberry sauce:
100g caster sugar
2 star anise
1 dried bay leaf
1tsp red wine vinegar
For the meatballs:
190g pork mince
190g beef mince
35g dried breadcrumbs
Half a small onion
1tsp dried rosemary
150ml double cream
1tsp Dijon mustard
A few drops of Worcestershire sauce
Salt and black pepper
- To make the blackberry sauce, put all the ingredients in a pan over medium heat and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, gently crushing the blackberries with a spoon.
- Discard the star anise and bay leaf. Pass the sauce through a sieve to remove the seeds and leave the sauce to cool and thicken. Once cold, check the consistency. Add a splash of water if too thick, or place back over the heat for 5 minutes if you want it to be more jammy.
- Finely dice the onion. Mix together the two minces, breadcrumbs, onion, rosemary and milk. Season generously with salt and black pepper, stir to combine then shape into small balls, roughly an inch in diameter.
- Heat a good glug of oil in a large frying pan and cook the meatballs over medium-high heat. If you’re cooking a large quantity fill the pan in batches. Turn them as they darken and caramelise, ensuring every side is cooked. To make sure they are fully cooked, cut one open. If the meat is no longer pink, the juices are clear and it is piping hot they are done.
- Gently lower the heat and pour the double cream into the pan. It will bubble and thicken. Stir around the meatballs so all the juices and scraps of meat on the pan are absorbed into the sauce. Stir in the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and a large splash of water if the sauce is too thick. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve the meatballs with the blackberry sauce on the side and a large dollop of mashed potato.