Thursday, July 31, 2008

I Want The Sizzle and The Steak!!

While I love to eat spicy food, serving it up as a family meal can sometimes be a little fraught. There is often a list of ingredients that is longer than some short stories, a lot of hard work with a mortar and pestle and then a bleat from the youngest: "it's too spicy". Insert rolling of eyes from both mother and daughter.

Enter Kylie Kwong with the solution. This dish (from "Heart and Soul" by Kylie Kwong) is fantastic, a great balance between tasty enough and mild enough to please the various palates around the table. The ingredients are all easily accessible via large supermarkets (or Asian grocers if you have one nearby). Apart from the marinading time, the cooking is quick, so if you can organise yourself to marinade the meat the day before, you can whip this up in no time after a long day.

Sizzling Beef
adapted from "Heart and Soul" by Kylie Kwong

3 tbls shao hsing rice wine (substitute dry sherry if you can't find it)
2 tbls Chinese BBQ sauce
3 tbls peanut oil
1 tsp white sugar
1 1/2 tbls mushroom soy sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
400g beef fillet cut into 1.5cm thick slices (as this does not cook for long, it is worth getting good quality)
2 small white onions, peeled
6 cm knob ginger finely sliced
4 garlic cloves crushed
1 tsp kecap manis (a sweet thick soy)
Sichuan pepper and salt
1/4 cup lemon juice

Place 2 tbls wine, BBQ sauce, 1 tbl peanut oil, sugar, 2 tsps mushroom soy and 1/4 tsp sesame oil in a large bowl. Add beef, and mix thoroughly so it is coated completely. Cover and refrigerate for two hours.

Cut onions into 2cm wedges, and then separate the layers. Heat remaining peanut oil in a hot wok until the surface starts to shimmer (don't let it get to smoking). Add onion, ginger and garlic and stir fry for 1 minute. Add the beef slices and marinade to the wok, spreading them out so they all sear on one side (ie do not stir fry). After about one minute, or once they are browned, turn them over and sear the other side for another minute. Add remaining wine, kecap manis, soy sauce and sesame oil, and stir fry for one minute, or until the beef is just tender and the flavours are balanced. You can also throw in some green vegetables (maybe beans / snow peas) at this point if you like. Just par cook them first in a little water for a minute or two in the microwave so they are not too crisp.
Arrange beef on a platter sprinkled with Sichuan pepper and salt, and a little extra soy and sesame oil if you like (I forgot and it didn't need it). Serve immediately with some lemon juice, which you can sprinkle to taste.

Time For A Pie

As the cold weather persists, I find my little tribe hankering after good, old-fashioned rib sticking food. And first among their favourites, especially for the younger daughter, is a chicken pie. There is nothing quite like the crisp texture of pastry alongside a warm moist chicken filling. In Bowral, The Gumnut Patisserie makes the most scrumptious chicken pies, and we buy up big any time we are down that way. Sadly, we haven't been to the Southern Highlands in a long time. Alas, the freezer is empty but a Jamie Oliver pie recipe from Jamie's Dinners has caught my eye....

Despite generally approving of Jamie, his shows and his causes (especially the school food), I have had mixed success with his recipes. Maybe it is because I like a bit more precision in my instructions, or maybe it is the difference between produce in Australia and the UK, but I have had a bit of a hit and miss relationship with him. This pie was good, and we all enjoyed it, but it is not the ne plus ultra of chicken pies, despite its modest name. It is, however, worth making especially since the filling can be made up to two days in advance of final cooking and eating. Meanwhile, I will continue my search for the ultimate chicken pie, and report back later. Incidentally, I left out the pork sausages and I didn't thicken the sauce enough (how loose is loose?), so maybe that was where I went wrong....

The Best Chicken and Sweet Leek Pie With Flaky Pastry
adapted from "Jamie's Dinners" by Jamie Oliver
Olive oil
1 kg boned and skinned chicken legs cut into pieces (I used chopped thigh fillets)
2 medium leeks, trimmed, washed and cut into 1cm rounds
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped (I also added a couple of chopped potatoes)
3 sticks of celery, finely sliced
a handful of thyme
2 tbls flour
1 wineglass of white wine
285 ml milk
255g good pork sausages
500g puff pastry
1 egg

Preheat oven to 220C. Take a large casserole pot and add a lug of olive oil and two knobs of butter. Add chicken, leeks, carrot, celery and thyme and cook slowly on the hob for 15 minutes. Turn the heat right up, add the flour, and stir for a couple of minutes before adding the wine, a wineglass of water and the milk. Season with a little salt and pepper, then cover with a tight lid and allow to simmer very slowly on the hob for 30-40 mins or until the chicken is tender. Stir from time to time to stop the bottom sticking. The sauce should be loose but quite thick. If it is too liquid, let it simmer a little longer with the lid off until it thickens. At this point you can let it cool and keep it in the firdge for a couple of days or eat it as a stew.

Pour the chicken mixture into a pie dish. Squeeze the meat out of the sausage skins, roll it into little balls, brown them in a little oil, and sprinkle them over the stew. Roll out your pastry to 1/2cm thick. Lightly beat egg with a fork, and brush over the rim of the dish. Lay pastry over the dish, and trim to fit, then egg-wash the top of the pastryto make it go golden. Lightly criss-cross the pastry with the back of a knife to help the pastry go crispy and flaky. Cook the pie in the centre of the oven for 30-40 minutes, until golden on top. Jamie suggests serving with sweetcorn and mash.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

An Eye-Popping Birthday Cake

Birthday time for the lovely Ms Martine! I promised a cake, but then came the agonising choice of what to make. Martine is French, and her partner cooks beautifully, so I felt that the best strategy was to aim for something less European / more new world, but what?

I ultimately decided to make the Hummingbird Cake that I first saw in an old edition of Martha Stewart Living. I have made this cake before and it always provokes a lot of oohs and aahs. In fact, when I stopped at a cafe to grab a coffee (with the cake in a carrier), the proprietor took it into the kitchen to show the chef. Very festive indeed. The cake itself is moist, and has lots of fruit and nuts, so if you try, you could nearly convince yourself that it was quite low on the "sinfulness scale".

Have a look at the beautiful picture on Martha's website to see how really amazing this cake could look. I like my pineapple really crisp for the textural contrast with the cake, so my pineappple looks a little less yellow and less perfect. It also takes a couple of hours instead of one hour to dry the pineapple out to my preferred level of crispiness, but the good news is it keeps well, so you can dry the pineapple the day before you make the cake. If you want the pineapple to cup like Martha's I suggest laying the slices in a lined muffin tin, as mine were as flat as the tray I dried them on.

Hummingbird Cake adapted from Martha Stewart Living
3 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups mashed ripe banana, about 3 large
1 small can crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup desiccated coconut

Preheat oven to 180C. Butter two 9-by-2-inch round cake pans, and flour the sides. Line the bottoms of the pans with baking paper.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt, and then set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat oil, vanilla, and sugar until combined, about 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, incorporating each thoroughly before adding the next. Beat at medium speed until mixture is pale yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Mix together banana, pineapple, walnuts, and coconut. Add to egg mixture; stir until well combined. Add flour mixture; blend well, but do not overwork.

Divide batter between pans. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer pans to a greased wire rack. Let cool 15 minutes. Run a knife around edges to loosen. Invert onto racks; reinvert, top side up, and leave to cool completely. Assemble cake, or wrap each layer well and freeze (thaw before using).

With a serrated knife, trim and discard rounded top off one layer. Place layer on serving platter. Spread top of layer with 1/4 inch of icing. Top with untrimmed layer. Frost sides and top of cake with remaining icing. Decorate with pineapple flowers. Serve at room temperature. (Cake can be refrigerated up to 3 days.)

Cream Cheese Icing (I halved the recipe and still had leftovers)

24 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
375g unsalted butter, room temperature
6 cups icing sugar, sifted

With electric mixer, beat cream cheese on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add butter, 1/4 cup at a time, and beat until smooth. Reduce speed to low and then add icing sugar 1 cup at a time, beating until fully incorporated. Chill before spreading.

Dried Pineapple

1 large pineapple

Preheat oven to 110C. Line two baking sheets with baking paper. Peel pineapples. Using a small melon baller, remove and discard "eyes." Slice pineapple very thinly; place slices on baking sheets. Cook until tops look dried, about 30 minutes. Flip slices; cook until completely dried, 25 to 30 minutes more. Cool on a wire rack. Refrigerate in an airtight container up to 3 days.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Beef Casserole for a Cold Night

Sydney has been unseasonably cold this week, with maximums of 14C and worse. While I know that the rest of the world must look at this and laugh, Sydney is almost uniquely unprepared for weather like this. Houses are designed to catch draughts and stay cool, and big open plan rooms are sometimes hard to heat. To make matters worse, the shops are already stocking what they call "first summer"; nothing makes me feel colder than looking at little cotton tees in July.

So, it is weather like this that makes me want to stay home, do the crossword and put something in the oven for a few hours. I am convinced that a casserole helps warm the room as well as providing dinner, or maybe I have just been seduced by the fabulous smell that drifts from my kitchen when I leave something cooking for a couple of hours...

This recipe comes from Belinda Jeffrey's 100 Favourite Recipes. It is what I consider to be a lovely old-fashioned tasty casserole; the sort my mother used to make at this time of year. It serves 4-6 depending on your appetite, so I usually have a nice box of it to freeze, and it does freeze well. It is also very easy to reheat, if you are the type to cook on a Sunday afternoon for the following week. Hope this makes you nice and warm!

Beef, Mushroom and Red Wine Casserole
adapted from Belinda Jeffrey's 100 Favourite Recipes
2 tbls olive oil
350 g slab of bacon cut into small chunks, rind reserved
1.5kg blade or chuck steak cut into 5cm cubes
1 large onion, finely diced
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 1/2 tbls plain flour
2 tbls brandy
2 cups red wine (Belinda suggests Shiraz)
1 bay leaf
2 tsps fresh thyme
2 1/2 cups chicken or veal stock
olive oil
18 spring or pickling onions
250g button mushrooms

Preheat the oven to 180C. Heat the oil in a casserole pot, then add the bacon and fry gently until it is pale golden. Remove from the pot and put aside.

Increase the heat and add some of the beef chunks. Fry the beef in batches until it is browned all over. Remove beef from the pot and put aside. Reduce the heat a little and add onion and garlic (and a little more olive oil if you need it). Cook these for a few minutes until they start to smell fantastic and the onion is becoming translucent. Next, sprinkle on the flour and cook it, stirring constantly, for another couple of minutes.

Return the beef to the casserole pot, and toss it with onion, garlic and flour. Pour in the brandy and red wine, and give it all a good stir. Scrape up any of the nice brown bits from the bottom of the pan for extra flavour. Add the bacon chunks, rind, bay leaf, thyme and a grinding of black pepper to taste. Pour in enough stock to cover the meat, then press a piece of baking paper onto the surface. (This will keep the pieces of meat at the top of the casserole nice and moist; they can get a bit dry and tough otherwise.) Cover the dish tightly, then put it in the oven and cook it for two hours.

After 1 1/2 hours, heat a little oil in a frying pan, and saute the onions until they are golden, then set aside and saute the mushrooms. Stir onions and mushrooms into the casserole, then return it to the oven for another 15 minutes or so. When the casserole is ready remove from the oven and scoop out the bacon rind and the bay leaf. Garnish with a little parsley, and serve with potatoes and salad.

++ Instead of serving with potatoes on the side, I like to cook potatoes and then add to the casserole with the onions and mushrooms. I love the way they sop up the juices!

Sticky Chicken Wings When You Feel Like A Headless Chook

You can tell that I am having trouble getting organised by the way this week is all about serving up superfast meals. I keep telling myself that one day, my life will be sufficiently organised to elegantly float from one activity to the next rather than constantly feeling I need to catch my breath, or my mind. Here's hoping....

These chicken wings are a great dinner for those nights when the 75 things that require you outside the kitchen can no longer be ignored. For the time poor and disorganised (like me), there is no requirement for soaking the wings in a marinade in advance of cooking. They also cook in the oven for an hour with only one turn in the middle, so you can leave them alone to do their thing while you are tackling the rest of the house. Coleslaw is also a fast and easy side to serve with it, and would probably go down even better at the height of summer.

This recipe comes from Belinda Jeffrey's 100 Favourite Recipes. Belinda was the cook on Better Homes and Gardens, as well as running a cafe, and this cookbook offers the sort of simple but delicious recipes that you would expect. I would also recommend another of her books called Belinda Jeffrey's Tried and True Recipes. She has also written for Delicious magazine in Australia, and published another cookbook last year called Mix & Bake.

The Simplest and Best Sticky Chicken Wings
adapted from Belinda Jeffrey's 100 favourite Recipes
12 large chicken wings, wing tips removed
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 cup white sugar
2 tsps finely chopped fresh ginger
Preheat the oven to 200C. Sit the wings in a single layer in a large baking tin. Put the soy sauce, red wine, sugar and ginger in a small saucepan. Stir them together over low heat until the sugar has dissolved, then pour the mixture evenly over the wings.
Put the wings in the oven (bottom side up) and bake for 35 mins, then turn them over and continue cooking them for another 25 minutes, or until they are deep brown and glossy. Small wings will cook faster, so check them sooner.
Serve with coleslaw. Belinda suggests mixing a tablespoon of sesame oil into the mayonnaise dressing for the slaw, and finishing with a sprinkle of toasted seame seeds (depending of course on how hectic your day was and whether you are more inclined to sit with a glass of wine and the paper....)

Blue Eye Cod and Vale Joan Campbell

Without realising how timely I was, I had picked a Joan Campbell recipe to cook this week. Joan Campbell passed away a couple of weeks ago at the grand old age of 95. In food circles in Sydney, she was a legend, spanning both catering and journalism, as well as cookbook writing. As a teenager, I used to pore over her work in Vogue Entertaining, and still have a well-thumbed collection of the annual cookbooks they published. Amongst the faux French pretentious food that was being peddled at the time, her recipes distinguished themselves as dependable and delicious. Many of the recipes I learnt from her, I still make decades later. If you ever find them in a bookshop, titles from Joan Campbell that are worth buying include: Five Minutes in the Kitchen and Bloody Delicious.

The recipe below comes from "From Market to Table: Recipes and Ideas for Fresh Produce" by Joan Campbell and Barry McDonald. It is quick and easy, and even my kids loved it. If like me, you have nights where you want something satisfying that can be cooked inside 30mins, this is a good pick. Blue eye is a lovely white fish; feel free to substitute any other white fish that looks good to you (thicker fillets are better than thin for pan frying). Don't be afraid of the celeriac or the fennel; after cooking, both are very mild flavours. In fact this recipe might be a good way to introduce new vegies to your table.

Hope you enjoy.

Blue-Eye Cod With Winter Vegetables
adapted from "from Market To Table" by Joan Campbell and Barry McDonald
1 cup peas (frozen are OK)
8 baby pencil leeks, trimmed (look a bit like spring onions, with a milder taste)
125g butter (depending on your taste and your arteries, feel free to halve this)
salt & pepper
4 x 180g fillets of blue eye cod
1 tsp grated lemon rind
1 clove crushed garlic
1/4 cup white wine
2 baby fennel, trimmed and shredded finely
1 cup celeriac, peeled and sliced

Cook the peas in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes until bright green and tender. Drain and set aside. Cook leeks in a separate saucepan of boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes until tender. Drain and set aside.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Season the fish fillets and cook for 1-2
minutes. Turn the fish over and sprinkle with lemon rind, garlic and wine. Cover and cook over low heat for four to five minutes, or until just cooked. Remove from the pan, cover with foil and
keep warm.

Place the fennel and celeriac in the frying pan. Cook over medium heat stirring occassonally, until tender. Add the leeks and peas to warm through. Serve with the fish.

Serves 4.