Archive for the ‘meat’ Category

h1

Merry Christmas, peace & goodwill

December 25, 2009

To all visitors to this blog over the past year, I wish you a peaceful, happy Christmas. As I write, our (formerly) happy free-range ham from www.featherandbone.com.au is glazing in the oven, and it smells delicious.

The glaze is made from some gorgeously lustrous Seville marmalade made a couple of months back by the Parsnip Princess, mixed with orange juice, Dijon mustard and white wine vinegar.

I wish you a happy day, wherever you may be and whatever your festivus for the rest-of-us may comprise. Thank you for all your visits here, and especially all your comments and suggestions and cooking ideas.

It’s all given me much more pleasure than I can say, and I hope you come back again in 2010.

h1

Fear of tofu

November 20, 2009

Don’t get me wrong, I love tofu. In good Thai and Japanese restaurants, or when somebody skilled cooks it for me. Agedashi tofu is one of my favourite things in the world. And at our favourite Thai, the beloved Ploy, there are a couple of tofu dishes to die for – one stir-fried tofu with bean sprouts, and the other a divine larb tofu salad.

Tofu should be on our home menu more often as we are trying to cut down on meat for all the obvious and much-discussed reasons.

But when it comes to cooking with tofu, I am filled with anxiety. Which one, for starters? What is the difference between ‘silken’ and ‘firm silken’ and ‘firm’, for example? Recipes tend to say ‘firm’  or ‘soft’ but the shops seem to have zillions of different kinds. I am way too confused to master this stuff, and always expect it to fall apart, so have generally just steered clear.

However, yesterday I decided to feel the fear and do it anyway (which reminds me of stonesoup’s excellent post on that subject recently).

I decided to have a crack at a very delicious looking Karen Martini recipe that appeared in the Sunday rag a little while ago. But as hers had salted black beans and various other bits and bobs in it, and I couldn’t be bothered hauling myself to the Asian supermarket to get such things, I just bastardised our usual basil and chilli stirfry taught to me many years ago by our Asian gourmand friend Ricardo, the lunging latino.

The first thing I did was buy the wrong tofu. ‘Firm silken’ is not the same as ‘firm’, I discovered as soon as I unwrapped the former (pictured above, at rear). Lovely soft, wobbly stuff – but even getting it out of the packet made it start to crumble and collapse, and I had visions of a wokful of sloppy custard. So back to the grocer for a block of the hard stuff, easily chopped into pieces (foreground).

I dried and fried the tofu cubes first, then drained them on kitchen paper – then did the rest of the stirfry and then tossed the tofu back in at the end with the fish sauce and basil. The result? Pretty damn fine! So here is the befuddled recipe, which can obviously be mixed and matched and altered as you wish.

But before my next foray into tofuworld, I would love to hear from any aficionados who may be lurking here – I need your advice! Tips, tricks, which is best for what, other easy recipes, how to buy, store, etc. Come on: spill.

Pork & tofu stir fry with chilli & basil

  • rice bran / peanut / vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • small knob ginger, julienned
  • 1 block firm tofu, cut into 1.5cm cubes
  • 150g pork mince
  • 1/3 red capsicum, cut into sizable chunks
  • handful green beans, halved
  • 2 birdseye chillis with seeds, split lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce, or more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar, to taste
  • 1/2 bunch basil
  • steamed jasmine rice, to serve
  1. Heat a little oil in wok or other pan to smoking point, then toss in garlic &  ginger for 10-20 seconds.
  2. Add tofu cubes and fry for 2 minutes, turning so all sides are golden.
  3. Remove wok from heat while you remove tofu pieces & leave to drain on kitchen paper.
  4. Return to heat and add pork mince to pan, stir frying for a few minutes.
  5. Remove pork and set aside. Either wipe out pan or continue with pork juices.
  6. Add chilli, beans, capsicum and cook on high heat till just tender – a little water added to the pan can sometimes help cook more evenly.
  7. Return pork and tofu to pan and stir to mix, keeping heat high
  8. Add fish sauce & brown sugar, adjusting each to taste.
  9. When you are happy with the seasoning, tear basil leaves from stalks and toss through.
  10. Serve on a bed of fluffy rice.
h1

The temperature and the times

October 25, 2009

thermometerAs you will have deduced, I am quite the fan of a big lump of roasted red meat, a deep and abiding love that I regret persists despite the fact of its ethical and environmental indefensibility. I know not how it will end, except it’s clear this affair cannot last forever if I’m to live with myself …

But until the break-up, let’s talk about roasting. If you are a meatlover like me, but have been frustrated by uneven results in the roasting department – is it cooked through? is it wobblingly raw? is it charred on the outside but inedibly cold and raw in the middle? – I have two words to say to you, Kimmie: meat thermometer.

I was first introduced to the joys of the thermometer by chefbro Hamish, who, being a restaurant guy, is all about consistently perfect results in the kitchen. He gave me a nifty little digital thermometer, needle-thin, which you stick into the meat at intervals through the cooking. I loved and used this little red rocket of a thing until it fell to bits. I then bought a fancy Zyliss digital thingummy with a silicone thread and a metal probe, which involved the magnetic digital dial and timer bizzo sticking to the outside of the oven while the probe stayed in the meat and the silicone cord went, umbilically, from one to the other. Then I lost the instructions and have never been able to figure it out since. It just lights up and beeps and makes me crazy.

All of which led me to my trusty, daggy, oldfangled  Acu-Rite thermometer, pictured here. I love it to pieces. I believe it came from a kitchenware shop but I’m sure I’ve seen them in any old daggy supermarket. Cheap – and how cheerful. You simply shove it into the thickest part of the meat before cooking, and leave in for the whole time. If you position it right, often you don’t even need to remove the pan from the oven to check the temp, but just peer through the open door or even the glass with the light on.

As everyone’s definition of ‘medium’ and ‘rare’ seems to differ (there’s no problem really with ‘well done’ – just ruin the meat by cooking it to buggery and you’re sorted), it might take a little time to work out your own preferred temp.

But as I like my meat red-to-pink, generally with a sizable piece of meat (e.g. leg of lamb or whole rump /Scotch fillet of beef, enough to feed six or more) I take it to around 60-65°C for both lamb & beef. This is generally medium-rare in the centre, while allowing any well-done eaters some cooked-through bits on the ends.

The beauty of the thermometer is that it takes into account the coldness of the meat before you begin. I try to get meat to room temperature first, but most of the time that’s near impossible, by the time it comes from the butcher’s cool room, and so on.

I haven’t paid too much attention to the recommended cooking temps on Acu-Rite’s dial here (cute name, huh), although they roughly correspond to what I do. But my advice comes from Stephanie Alexander, every Australian gal’s kitchen matriarch, who provides cooking temperatures in The Cook’s Companion sections on beef (rare = 60°C, medium = 70°C, well done = 75°C), lamb (rare = 60°C, medium = 65°C, well done = 80°C) and pork (“…one does not have to cook pork until it is dry and splintery as a precaution. The safe internal temperature for pork is in fact 76°C. At this temperature the meat is both safe and juicy.”)

One thing to remember is that the internal temperature keeps rising after you remove the meat from the oven – I believe Hamish told me it “rests up” 5°C; Stephanie A says it rests up 2-3 degrees, so the message is you need to take it out a little before you reach the desired temperature. (I find this whole thing puzzling – how does this happen? – but it’s true.)

And, as always, the final secret to tender, juicy roasted meat is to rest it for as long as you can before carving. Keep the roasting pan on top of the stove or in another warm place, very loosely covered with a double layer of foil, for up to an hour.

If you do all this – and so long as you’ve bought decent quality meat in the first place – I guarantee it will be good, and stress-free, every time.

h1

The platters that matter…

October 13, 2009

4candlesMenu for a 40th birthday lunch

My absence here over the past week has, till now, been almost entirely food-related. Well, celebration-related anyway – and in my family that means food. My sister’s 40th birthday on the weekend involved a bunch of us staying in houses on the coast just south of Sydney, and a few others popping down for the day. The main event was a birthday lunch for 25.

All our old family favourites (both human and culinary!) came to the table – a table groaning with platters of lovely food, it must be said, and as the last stayer at the coastal house I am the beneficiary of my sister’s generosity, still chomping my way through the leftovers.

Sadly I was too busy on the day to take pictures, which is a shame cos it looked beautiful. But nevertheless thought I’d share the menu with you here in case you ever need some stalwart standouts to cook for a crowd – everything on this menu is low-stress, almost all of it can be made ahead of time, every dish can be served warm or at room temperature, the platters set down a long table create an impression of great, colourful generosity and luscious diversity, and with a couple of vegetarians and one coeliac among our guests, this menu makes everyone happy. I’ll gradually add these recipes to the blog down the track – right now I’m still in culinary recovery – but let me know if any strike you as desperately urgent to have now.

  • Oysters – of course! – freshly shucked, with a squeeze of lemon
  • Rare rump of roast beef, according to Stephanie Alexander’s instructions
  • Poached whole salmon (with a horseradish cream for both this and the beef)
  • Zaatar chicken – from the fab Ottolenghi lads
  • Green beans braised in olive oil, garlic, tomato & dill
  • Roast carrot salad with mint & balsamic
  • Citrus couscous salad
  • Fennel, feta, tarragon & pomegranate salad – another Ottolenghi fave
  • Chickpea, roasted red pepper & marinated feta salad (all from jars & cans, but it looks and tastes fab)
  • Lentil, sundried tomato, parsley and Balsamic salad (ditto)
  • Crisp roast potatoes with minted creme fraiche dressing
  • Dessert, made by sweeter cooks than me, was an incredibly good chocolate and coffee birthday cake (Alice, we’ll have the recipe for that, please?) and the Manna from Heaven chocolate crunch made by Miss Jane; this is a lusciously dastardly version of the old fave hedgehog cake, updated into an utterly irresistible  death-by-chocolate experience.

Lunch went on for hours, the birthday girl looked a million bucks, the speeches were lovely, the wine flowed and the love goes on. Thanks Lou and J&B for a great weekend.

And thanks for the leftovers…

h1

Snag a sausage roll

August 26, 2009

stephsnagrollsThe Empress has come over all flaky in her Good Living 3-of-a-kind column this week – it’s on sausage rolls.

I can vouch for the goodness of the Bourke St Bakery pork & fennel version, and the others sound just as fine. (If you’ve never checked out the Berry Bakery, down there in the southern highlands, you must.)

As the Empress writes, “Six years ago, in a pre-election distraction strategy, former NSW Premier Bob Carr heaped scorn on this iconic snack but as a nation we disagree with him. Along with the meat pie, the sausage roll is up there among our favourite fast foods. Most of us have fond childhood memories of them, hot from the tuckshop or at birthday parties with the requisite sticky tomato sauce. Pastry and fillings vary enormously and, while dud versions are still around, some good bakers take them very seriously.”

Pop along and have a look at Steph’s picks of the best three snag rolls in Christendom here.

P.S. Snag rolls are not the only thing we disagree with Dymocks Bob about…


h1

Neil Perry’s lamb, mint and pea pie

July 9, 2009

lambpie(or How I Got My Bottom Crispy)

I wanted to make some freezable food for a friend’s father who has been having a rough time, so I turned to an old favourite, this lamb, mint and pea pie from Neil Perry’s Good Food – it is a chunky, hearty little number full of comfort, but with the zing of the mint to give it a lift.

The only trouble is that I hate pies that have no bottom – in my book that’s not a pie, right?

And as I am no pastry-chef (my sister, on the other hand, makes the best flaky pastry this side of paradise) I pretty much always use the frozen stuff. (Except for one great pastry made with suet for rabbit pies – hmm, must get that one out again. Sooo delicious.)

Anyway, even with frozen pastry I have too often failed in the past to get a crispy bottom (vale Mrs Slocombe), and as the only thing worse than no base on a pie is a sludgy, undercooked one, I determined to get it right this time. And it worked – shortcrust pastry on the bottom, which I made sure for once to really thoroughly blind-bake, which also provides an excuse to use my lovely ceramic bauble pastryweights. And puff pastry on the top, well-brushed with egg wash.

And if I say so myself, these little babies turned out beautifully crisp on the base, reasonably rich on the innards and suitably golden on top. And if you cook them in these disposable aluminium trays you can chuck them in the freezer and then distribute to the needy as your heart desires.

PS: As I keep saying, just buy Good Food – it’s a great book; every recipe is a winner. Saves faffing around all over the internet…

h1

Disdain, rebellion & pork in milk: how Elizabeth David changed my life

July 2, 2009

elizabethdavidbookThis week’s Guardian has a nice little piece about the spiteful annotations made by Elizabeth David on other people’s cookbooks. Irresistible, no?

I have an abiding love of Elizabeth David which is only tangentially to do with her cookbooks. The first time I ever heard of her was when I went to my university art teacher’s house for lunch, where his spiky, intelligent and beautiful wife cooked something rustic, garlicky, slow-cooked and to me, delicious in an unearthly way. I had never eaten food like it.

It seemed to me that day, sitting in that rambling country house full of Norman Lindsay paintings and art books and warm-toned, casually handled antiques, talking of art and books and garden-grown food and life, that this smell, this dish, this way of eating was somehow a portal into an entirely new creative life, a simpler-but-richer way of living than I had ever known existed, or aspired to. I was right, I think.

It’s not that my own upbringing was lacking in creativity – quite the opposite; I had a talented father who made half the furniture in the house as well as beautiful, ethereal costumes for school plays and other things, and a florist mother who routinely created beauty in small ways around our house (I have written about them here) – it’s just that food was never really a part of that creativity. Food, for my beleaguered mother, was a matter of filling up seven hungry stomachs every day in the most efficient and responsible way possible before escaping out into her beloved garden. The cooking got done out of love, but I don’t think she really ever enjoyed it. And who on earth could blame her?

But the food I ate at my painting & drawing teacher’s house that lunch time, I intuited, was somehow to do with art, not separate from it. It seemed to draw the very art from the walls, and the garden and the furniture and the conversation of that day, into one living whole. In an unspoken and completely unpretentious way, it seemed to somehow feed not only the physical but the artistic selves of these people.

I think the dish my teacher’s wife (who later became a friend too) cooked that day was Maiale Al Latte, or pork cooked in milk – I remember it because I found the idea of cooking meat milk completely astounding – and when I asked about it, the elegant chef said it was “just an old Elizabeth David thing”. I feigned familiarity with this person. Ah, I said, and nodded. And noted the words Elizabeth David, Elizabeth David, in my head.

A short time later, in a local op shop, I came across my first copy of Elizabeth David’s little Penguin paperback, A Book of Mediterranean Food. It was destiny. I took the book home and began cooking boeuf en daube a la nicoise and soupe au pistou for my uni flatmates, and began to fall in love with cooking.

I still have this book (that’s it, above) even though the pages have fallen out and the cover is ragged. I bought a new hardback version a few years ago, but I can’t let go of this one for sentimental reasons. Even though I only ever cooked a few things from it, and never have properly read David’s musings and impressions, this book seems deeply emblematic to me, in the way objects can represent those moments one has, as a young person, when you find a way of becoming your real self – that person you want to be. I treasure it still for that reason.

I know there are plenty of Elizabeth David fetishists out there, and I suppose I am one of them.

I absolutely loved, for example, that brilliant television biopic screened here last year, Elizabeth David: A Life in Recipes, not because it was an accurate portrayal – which those who know their stuff about her tell me it absolutely wasn’t, omitting any mention of her elite Tory childhood and patrician ways, for example – but because it was a film about the creative struggle, and about abundance in the midst of postwar miserliness, and saying yes to personal freedom in spite of society’s disapproval. And the price paid for all those things.

(As an aside, any writer who’s ever done a bookshop or library reading to an audience of four, two of whom are asleep and one of whom berates one for using, on page seventy-two, the word ‘squashed’ when they themselves would have chosen ‘crunched’, should clasp to their bosom the scene in this film when cookery writer ED goes to address a Women’s Insitute meeting. Priceless).

Anyway, back to the Guardian piece: apparently her archive of personal papers shows that Elizabeth was a right snidey-pants about other people’s cookbooks and recipes (and even the illustrator of her own books), keeping notes on their faults.

There’s a light dusting of yellow stickies with general comments to set the tone: “p166 This is NOT a tian [a Provencal mixed-vegetable gratin]”; “This is a useless book”; and “Chocolate in the Renaissance?” There are comments that should be engraved on every modern food writer’s heart: “Why say crispy when crisp is more expressive?”

Then, suddenly, you find yourself deep in sedition and heresy. Inside a copy of The Cooking of Italy (1969) by an American journalist Waverley Root: “Waverley Root is a pitiful phoney.”

On the legendary 1969 French book Ma Gastronomie by Fernand Point, regarded by a generation of chefs as the bible of modern cuisine: “This is a really awful book.”

In a carbon copy of a private letter dated October 1983: “I have to tell you that really I never did care very much for the John Minton illustrations for my books. They are so cluttered and messy. They embarrass me now as much as they did in 1950.”

On a copy of Full and Plenty, a mercifully forgotten volume by Maura Laverty: “The kind of pretentious rubbish that has brought French cooking into disrepute as a snob’s preserve.”

Perhaps she was a vindictive snob, but who cares? These are personal papers, not published remarks (until now!). Or perhaps she was right. Regardless, I’ll always be grateful for whatever spirit of rebellion or snobbery (along with, doubtless, the Tory money) sent her from England to the Continent, into and out of her miserable affairs and her drinking and her stroke. And I’ll be grateful too, for what many have seen as her unforgivable disdain for the lives of ordinary Britons, because a generation and a lot of geography later, it was that same rebellion and disdain that made an everlasting difference to my very ordinary life.

So tell me, did you ever have a small but transformative culinary moment like mine? And which was the cookbook that changed your life?

h1

Winged victory – chicken brodo

June 18, 2009

brodoI have never been a big fan of chicken wings – too fiddly, greasy, just annoying, and for what?

But Ms Karen Martini (I only just thought recently what a killer name this is. How I would love to be called Charlotte Martini) has changed my mind, and found an excellent use for the delights of these tender moist little bits of flesh without the finger-licking tedium. Or at least, the tedious bit is only the cook’s job, not the diners’.

Here is Ms M’s chicken & vegetable brodo faithfully reproduced by some other braver recipe-sharing blogger  (the original is from KM’s second book Cooking at Home – buy it, it’s brilliant apart from way too many arty personal kitchen and/or new baby photos – why do people do that??), and below is my slightly altered version, replacing a few ingredients with whatever we had in the fridge. But the big debt is to KM.

Getting the flesh off the chook bones is the fiddliest bit, but from start to finish it took a bit over an hour, and was sooo delicious – was feeling a little off-colour with burgeoning headcold (swine flu?) yesterday arvo, but after a bowl of this stuff was bounding with good health.

I urge you to make this at least once in the next week – I promise it’ll cure what ails you!

Chicken & vegetable brodo, with thanks to KM

  • 1kg chicken wings (mine were organic from woolies, and cost six bucks. Bargain.)
  • 2 litres chicken stock
  • 1 leek, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, ditto
  • 1 small red chilli, split
  • 3 fronds silverbeet or cavolo nero – stems diced, leaf roughly chopped
  • 1 celery stick, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • ½ chorizo sausage, finely sliced (optional, can leave out)
  • ½ cup arborio rice
  • Small handful spaghetti, broken into 5cm sticks ( I acidentally used tube spag, but it was still fine)
  • 2 zucchini, sliced
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • Chopped parsley
  • Grated parmesan, to serve Read the rest of this entry ?
h1

Beef Bourguignon, Bennelong style

June 15, 2009

guillaumeMy cyber-savvy mother-in-law cooked dinner for eight on Saturday night, including us, and her main was a spectacular beef Bourguignon she found on the SBS Food Safari website.

The step-by-step recipe is all in an online video with the Opera House Bennelong restaurant’s Guillaume Brahimi showing the way. The result was too good to describe – and one of the fab secrets is using pureed carrot instead of flour to thicken the stew.

Of course, being a fancypants chef, he used Wagyu beef (hello??) – but he also says he’d have no trouble using ‘any piece of beef’ so I guess I’d go for chuck. Annie if you’re out there, what did you use? It was soo tender.

Anyway, here’s the video – I might give it a whirl this week, will report back with results. And thanks to Annie for the amazing taste test.

h1

Sitting duck – cheat’s cassoulet

June 14, 2009
Assembled, not yet baked...

Assembled, not yet baked...

Today, with gloomy rainy cold weather and a heavily pregnant friend here for lunch en famille, we decided to go all-out on the winter stodge and revisit a deliciously easy duck cassoulet I made a few times years ago.

The cassoulet recipe is a great Brigitte Hafner dish, from Good Living in May 2004 – a very stained and blobbed-on bit of newsprint that lives in our big folder of cut-out recipes. The original has a whole fresh duck chopped up and roasted in pieces, instead of the traditional confit duck, which makes it not so pricy and still pretty easy, but today I went the total Convenience Cassoulet route with bought confit duck and canned beans, thereby bastardising this into an even simpler recipe which still packs an excellent punch.

Bless the internet, because I’ve just found the original Brigitte Hafner version here, and below is my even quicker version. Read the rest of this entry ?