Naked

The Italians get it. Jamie Oliver gets it.  Babies get it… Nakedness.  Before you judge me as a raunchy writer, allow me to sprinkle some synonyms on your read before you rate this “X” and never read my blog again.

bare

nude

exposed

stripped

simplistic

There were generations and societies that went before us that lived simply.  I’m not sure what happened, how it happened or when it happened but the world I currently live in is often very crowded, complicated and complex.  We often cannot see what is important because “stuff” has congested our view.  There are moments however that remind us of what we truly do need and often this is not much – like when the power goes out (we realise we won’t die without TV), or the car breaks down (we realise can walk), or the internet connection fails (we realise we have books, or people or the outdoors!).

Last week Matthew, the baby and I were holidaying on an island.  We didn’t take much for our stay because we didn’t expect that we’d need much.  Strangely, we found out that that when we came to pack up after our week’s stay, we had barely even used half of what we had originally packed… We could have simplified our stay even more!

We took most of our food over to the island to avoid exorbitant costs but made a point of indulging in some fresh seafood over the week.  We had read reviews about a shack that just sold prawns and every day we drove past it to see if it was open but the weather was unkind to us and we found a wee sign on the last day of our stay that said the prawn trawlers really couldn’t operate in the week-long tempest.  That was ok because we found another place that stocked some fresh, local seafood.  Matthew sent me in to purchase it as he knew our flavour pantry was limited back at our beach shack.  Two things that caught my eye were freshly shucked oysters and squid tubes.  There was some delightful salmon but I’d just coated that fish in dukka a week before and had told of that adventure.

I asked the lady in the store how to cook the squid tubes as I’d never taken to the task before.  She told me to slice it thinly and cook it for no more than about two minutes.  I asked her what flavours I could use.  She suggested sweet chilli sauce but I knew better.  I knew that this little tube of squid deserved to let his naked flavours shine – his flesh needed to be exposed (in my mouth…)!

We passed the convenience store on the way back to our beach shack and I bought a knob of ginger, some garlic, a red chilli, and a bottle of cheap, white vinegar.  That’s the recipe!  Oh, we had some lemon and lime at home, along with some castor sugar so they were added to the mix.  I let the squid rings marinate for a bit but didn’t add the vinegar, lemon and lime juice until just before they were placed delicately (not thrown!) on the BBQ as acidity tends to cook seafood. The flavours gave the squid some zing but that fresh squiddy flavour was by far the darling of the dish.  Chef Matthew also cooked them to perfection – not chewy at all.

We ate the oysters au natural` and served the squid rings with some iceberg lettuce cups containing finely sliced snow peas, carrots and red onion.  I used the same marinating ingredients to make a salad dressing.  This just added the perfect crunch to the delicate, soft texture of the seafood.  The chilli also added a nice sing.

The thing I loved most about the dish was its simplicity or nakedness.  Often we over-complicate our food, our lives and our relationships and smother them in things that often don’t taste good at all.  Some people obsess over their looks, their make up and their attire so much so that you can’t actually see the person.  Others crowd their lives with attitudes (generally negative) that consume and overtake the heart of a person.  Some people stress over work or this or that to a point where their “naked” passions and drive are no longer evident.  This saddens me because people “taste” best when they are just themselves – no facades, no falsities, no fronts.

Good food tastes best naked.  So too does life.

Matthew’s Eight Finger Tarantula Rating (which will be explained in a later blog): 8 out of 8 – Perfect as is – I wouldn’t change a thing!

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An unexpected classic

Classic: We use the term to categorise motor vehicles, music and movies.  Often the discussion of so-called, “classics,” can bring into question what sociologists call “cultural capital.”  Just the sound of this term often makes me feel a little sweaty and uncomfortable – and it’s not because I’m sitting alone in a café on Valentine’s Day!  Apparently, those who lack in “cultural capital” have missed out on certain cultural experiences (in language, the arts, “high” culture, travel – the classics!) and make them unable to use this capital as a form of currency in social settings, thus leaving them feeling inferior – culturally.

I have often felt I have cultural liability rather than capital because of my farmer’s daughter, small country town, public school upbringing. When people refer to classic movies, especially, I feel somewhat in the dark. While I have seen some classics, there are glaringly obvious ones that I am yet to view. This could be because of my lack of said cultural capital but also my lack of fondness for watching films.  At the cinema I feel sick.  At home I feel like I’m wasting my time – there are so many things I can do in one hundred and ten minutes!

My husband has a friend, Mark, who is a film buff and an enthusiast for the classics. He & his wife recently invited us over to watch a classic film at their house and eat a film-setting-appropriate meal with the film.  The name of the film evades me but for something produced more than fifty years ago, it had the pace, the intrigue and thought-provoking plot of a film I saw at the cinema just last month (yes, I did relinquish 170 minutes of my time to watch “The Hobbit”).  Thanks to Mark’s passion for quality productions, I resolved to watch more classic films in my spare time. (What is spare time, precious?!)

For the next two weeks, my husband and I have taken holidays for the first time since our wee cherub was born.  Week Two of our holidays will be spent on an island with next to no mobile connectivity (hence why I must take a blog-hiatus for one week; I apologise in advance) but for this week, I borrowed out $7.00 worth of weekly DVDs – two of which included “classics.”  As a new mother, I have come to the conclusion that my holidays will never really be the same again – until our children are at least 25 – so, watching DVDs (as it’s something I seldom do) has been my relaxational vice this week.

Seeking to “up” my cultural capital, I borrowed out “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”  I think Audrey Hepburn is one of the most stunning ladies to have ever walked the earth so I was expecting a refined and well-mannered Hepburn to grace my television screen – like a classic! How wrong I was… Not knowing much about the plot of the film, I was quick to discover that the only thing classic about Audrey in this film is her dress, style, and beauty.  Her character is rude, immature and pretentious– apparently her most difficult role to act in as it ran contrary to her introverted nature.  Until a “classic” romance scene in the middle of the film, I was just about ready to press stop on the DVD player and reach for a magazine but I persevered and I’m glad I did.  Audrey Heburn’s portrayal of Holly Golightly was completely unexpected but I thoroughly enjoyed it… Much like Monday night’s salmon (my recipe segues are brilliant!).

I have long-desired to cook with dukka (and make my own blend).  Being on holidays, I bought a delicious-smelling and bright green-coloured pistachio dukka at my local fresh food markets on Sunday morning and looked for a recipe to coat a salmon fillet – not because I expected them to taste good together (I didn’t, to be honest) but because I had some salmon fillets in the freezer.

Trusting a fellow blogger, who claims to be sober (which is a good thing when dealing with salmon and beetroot), I made two thirds of the following recipe: “Pistachio dukkah crusted salmon on smashed sweet potato and feta with beetroot purée.”

http://www.sobermanfood.com/2011/07/pistachio-dukkah-crusted-salmon-on.html

I spared the sweet potato and just made regular smashed potatoes but as we had left-over beetroot from a weekend BBQ, I attempted the puree (minus the fresh garlic) – also expecting it to taste average because it was beetroot – from a tin!  As Matthew and I sat down to eat the meal – which smelt amazing from the aromatic blend of spices – I apologized to him for what I expected to be a bizarre mix of flavours and a somewhat disappointing meal.  To me, the blend of spices in a dukka seem to marry well with red meat as does beetroot but seafood and beetroot?!  Pink and purple?! I was skeptical…

Matthew’s Eight Finger Tarantula Rating (which will be explained in a later blog): 7.5 out of 8 – An unexpected mix of flavours!  I could have just paid for that in a restaurant.

To conclude, Audrey was not as classic as I thought she would be and the classic flavour of dukka was unexpectedly “classic” with the salmon and the beetroot – how ironic!  I guess it was several unexpected experiences all round.  Here’s to more – especially ones that leave a good taste in my mouth!

The Rabbit Tale (Part II)

My mother always said that when someone copied you it was the greatest compliment.  This brought comfort to a 12-year-old girl who was conscious of what she wore, what she said and how she performed at school.  As an English teacher, I understand that there is a distinct difference between copying and plagiarism.  You copy someone’s style.  You plagiarise someone’s work.  One is abstract – the other concrete.

I have long-admired the style of a colleague of mine.  She is an art teacher (of course!) and is 100% bold with her daily attire.  In fact, attire does not cut is as a word, I’d almost call it costuming.  Her outfits are so creative and unique that just passing her along the concrete path at school conjures up my creative urges.  If I didn’t have to teach my Year 8 English class, I’d probably sit down and write a poem right then and there.  I once promised that I’d sing her an outfit-inspired song each time I saw her but I found myself too struck with her bold presence that I often couldn’t think of a song.  Me – lost for words or a song – that’s impressive (and rare!).

On the odd occasion when my colleague and I do get a chance to chat, the topic quickly diverts from pedagogy to food.  The general context of these conversations is over a semi-warm sausage roll or a corn chip dipped in a generic something at a staff morning tea.  Very quickly, our minds traverse from the culinary sea of average in front of us to home-grown herbs, indulgent dishes and lots of French-sounding things.  Admittedly, amongst our lofty food dreams, I often have to smile, nod and ask for an English interpretation.

Let me plainly state: I cannot copy this wonderful lady’s fashion style, nor her command of speaking French but I can copy her love of good, fresh and adventurous food.  This lady is copiable! (Yes, I just made up that word).  As previously mentioned last week, my husband has a penchant for cooking rabbits, so when a “Rabbit Ragout with Pappardelle” was mentioned as we passed each other, not at school but at a gourmet inner-city food store, Matthew was quick to encourage me to poach the recipe (no pun intended regarding this gamey friend!).  Much like the “Rabbit Paella,” the thought of attacking the “Rabbit Ragout with Pappardelle” frightened me.  I guess it was a fear of the unknown because I printed the recipe as soon as it was emailed to me several months ago but didn’t ever read it until last week – an hour before I started cooking!  (I’d obviously read the list of ingredients beforehand.)  Inspired by Matthew’s dedication to maintaining recipe integrity, I made myself a cup of tea, braced myself and read the recipe with staunch concentration.

Much like a terrible terrible story that one of my Year 8 English students would write, reading the recipe was much like experiencing a serious anti-climax.  It didn’t sound difficult at all.  In fact, it was a similar method to what I’d use for any slow-cooked meal: brown the meat with herbs, brown vegetables, make a sauce for simmering and slow-cook the meat.  For some reason, because the recipe was named a “ragout” and not a “stew,” the procedure seemed so much more mystical!

In retrospect, when I google the word “ragout” it is defined as: “A highly seasoned dish of meat cut into small pieces and stewed with vegetables.”  I think the operative word there is “stewed”!!!  With a little more googling, I have also discovered that the term, “ragout,” comes from the French word, “ragouter,” which means, “to revive the appetite” – much like a warm, hearty stew would do!  I must confess, out of all my blogable recipes, this was easy – just like cooking a stew coincidently!!!

To serve the ragout, I carved (actually, credit to him, Matthew carved) the rabbit off the bones, stirred in the pappardelle and sprinkled some finely grated pecorino on top.  I once read that eating duck and rabbit is the perfect excuse for drinking Pinot Noir.  It truly is a match made in heaven.  It was like eating a tomato-based pasta, expect fancier and French!

To conclude, what’s in a name?  Sometimes a lot of fear – unnecessary fear.  Watch how many French-sounding things I will attack partir de ce point… (from this point forward).  You should too! Ciao!

Matthew’s Eight Finger Tarantula Rating (which will be explained in a later blog): 7 out of 8 – Not quite as good as my paella…

RECIPE – “Rabbit Ragout with Pappardelle”

I only have the recipe in hard-copy form, however when you google the recipe title many similar recipes to the one given to me can be found.  I really don’t have time to re-type the procedure – I hope you understand!

When I emailed and asked my colleague for her recipe in soft copy form, this was her reply:

Rabbit recipe….is a synthesis of 40 years of cooking and reading cookbooks and experimenting. I never really cook the same thing twice in a row exactly the same. Marinate….add and subtract…taste…sniff…sudden rush of inspiration! Try this or that…… Cook and eat!

Bonne chance!

The Rabbit Tale (Part I)

This is the tale of a rabbit.  The tale comes in two parts: Part Matthew and Part Tamara.  Today I will tell the first tale, the Rabbit Tale of Matthew.

In this tale, I did not hunt a rabbit.  I did not skin a rabbit.  Alas, I did not even cook a rabbit.  All I did was eat it and this final act to commemorate the life of said rabbit is what I would like to reflect upon.

My husband, Matthew, has never claimed to be a good cook.  He does posses a stellar cooking heritage from his father so I always knew that deep down, with focus and persistence, these genes of knife-wielding, flavour-finding and recipe execution would make its way into our kitchen.  He has impressed me before with several dishes whose details I will not delve into as I have a Rabbit Tale to tell.  I will say this though, compared to a lot of husbands out there, my husband is a damn good cook!

For over a year, whenever we know friends are coming over for dinner, I ask Matthew what we should cook and for over a year, he has answered, “Rabbit Paella.”  The notice we have of guests coming to our house may vary from one week to one day but every time the question has been asked, the answer given has been, “Rabbit Paella” and every time my response has been, “Maybe next time (then insert my myriad of excuses here).”  The excuses ranged from: “Where does one buy rabbit?” to “Do we have the right pan to cook it in?” to “I’ve already been grocery shopping;” to “Where does one source calasparra rice?” to “It takes a really long time to cook.”  My poor Matthew’s dreams of rabbit were thwarted by yours truly and my bag of excuses for well over twelve months – that’s a lot of dinner parties in our household!

Thankfully, my Matthew is a determined fellow and just last week insisted that he cook Rabbit Paella for some foodie friends of ours.  There was another excuse I had up my sleeve, “What if you a stuff if up?  These people are pretty flavour-conscious.”  I didn’t ever actually verbalise these thoughts but he knew what I was thinking.  He was going to be arriving home early from work on this particular day and said he was more than happy to source the rabbit.  Not only that, I was sick of cooking (yes the passion does wane at times) so, I agreed.

I admit; in the back of my mind I was really nervous.  I didn’t doubt my intelligent husband’s ability to follow a recipe (he is 100% precise when it comes to following procedural texts), I just knew how difficult it was to cook a rabbit – well.  My last encounter with rabbit was less than impressive with very dry meat, and this was at one of Brisbane’s top French restaurants!

I held my tongue, offered to chop vegetables – do whatever, but I was told to go about other domestic duties.  I’m not going to lie – it was difficult – probably more difficult that actually cooking the rabbit!  It seems that all my excuse-making in the twelve month duration of Matthew’s pining for paella, the one excuse I never admitted to was coming to terms with losing control of my kitchen!  There, I said it: I like to be in control.

The evening was a very interesting journey for the two of us.  Like I said, Matthew often cooks and cooks well but for “big deal” recipes I consistently take dibs.  He generally doesn’t fight it either as he’d rather pour a wine and talk to our guests.  This time was different.  I set the table, opened the front door and poured the wine for our guests.  In doing this, I must admit, I felt like I had missed out on the achievement.  Had Matt let me chop the onions I could have shared in the glory but I was entitled to zilch.  He even said that the taste of the meal was so much more enhanced by the work he had contributed to laboring over the stove and carefully minding that the paella didn’t burn on the bottom.  Overall, he said the effort attributed to deboning (yep, the wild rabbit came with identifiable rabbit organs) the rabbit was especially what enhanced the flavour of his meal – the seasoning of hard work!

I thoroughly enjoyed the long-awaited Rabbit Paella (which also contained chorizo) and was able to taste the satisfaction of being able to enjoy a meal that I had absolutely nothing to do with in my own home.  I think the chorizo made the dish – it gave it that extra zing and spice.

Tamara’s Eight Finger Tarantula Rating (which will be explained in a later blog): 7½ out of 8 – Almost perfect except for some slightly over-cooked green beans on top.  It really does pay to actually follow the recipe!!!  Oh, and the chef was hot!

 

Usually at the end of my blogs I encourage, commission and implore you to do something… Maybe don’t this week.  Just sit back, relinquish control and taste that sweet sweet taste of being waited on by someone else!

RECIPE:

http://www.gourmettraveller.com.au/rabbit_paella_with_rosado.htm

NB:

To save you time, forget googling alternatives to calasparra rice.  If you can’t get a hold of it, just use aborio rice.  It worked very well and at no stage did my taste buds think I was eating a risotto!

If you can’t find a rabbit – there’s a butcher that stocks them at Brighton.  Alternatively, hunt one down in the forest.

Matt only used half the rabbit… The tale of the rabbit’s hind will be told next week!

Handwriting

You know the moment: You might not admit it but you love it.  You hear the postman’s two-stroke motorbike engine rattle up your street and you peep out of the front door, only to catch the last little bit of yellow glow from his high-vis vest.  You take a quick glance left and then right to check to see that all the neighbours haven’t descended upon their mailboxes simultaneously – I mean, these days, collecting the mail isn’t all that exciting is it?  Computer processed bills, generically addressed promotional material and junk mail that is produced by several different companies but somehow all look the same – why would you be excited about retrieving that?  You’re excited because every now and then there is a little slice of yesteryear’s method of communication waiting to be read by you – a hand-written letter!

I must admit, my heart does enthusiastically skip a beat when I receive one of these said treasures in the mail.  Fortunately, I have some wonderful friends who “get” me and this is not such a rare occurrence for me. What one sows, one surely does reap so yesterday I made the most of some time allocated to handwriting letters.  What better day to handwrite some letters than “Handwriting Day?”  Yep, that’s write(!), the 23rd of January is annual “Handwriting Day.”  Says who?  Well, initially I was told by a shallow fashion magazine I borrowed (I wouldn’t pay money for it!) from the library.  To ensure it wasn’t some fadsie, hipster deal, I confirmed that the website www.daysoftheyear.com does officially recognise this day.  There is even a hashtag dedicated to the cause (#handwritingday).  Does anyone find this a little ironic?  Much like the fact that I am blogging about handwriting?  Rest assured, pen friends, I planned (mind-mapped), drafted and edited this blog by hand before publishing it via the world-wide-web.  I promise.

The date, 23rd January, is now officially a calendar-worthy event in our household.  To observe my first ever celebration of the hand and its ability to write, I invited an old (in longevity, not age) friend over and we hand wrote letters using her quills on parchment.  We saw it as a form of commemoration of former methods of communication before social media and mass-processed letters invaded our real and virtual mailboxes.  After I’d splattered the fresh ink of the “D” in Dear, I was writing like an old-timer – ink-stained pointer finger and all.

Writing with a quill was a novelty, that’s for sure but not only that, it gave me a substantial appreciation for the time and effort those before us attributed to maintaining professional correspondence, lasting relationships and gratuitous notes of thanks in days before biros or MacBooks.  I guess there are some things that are classic and should not be altered – but definitely need to be maintained and honoured as a tried and true method of days gone by.  Here’s the food lead in… Roast!  Yes, this week I tackled a beef roast.  When you think about it, my grandmothers would have spent several hours in the kitchen cooking a Sunday roast whereas, if right now I felt like something of the beef variety, I could buy “roast beef” from a deli (pre-cut and everything!), an eye fillet that is filleted (obviously) and ready to serve or a two minute piece of sizzle steak.  With a trade on flavour and the novelty that handwriting (or roasting) brings, I can consume a similar thing to a roasted piece of beef in next to no time.  How times have changed!

Maybe it’s just me, but I found it difficult to cook a decent roast – much like writing with the quill! Admittedly, I’m not 100% sure if I have ever cooked one before (except for those cheat ones they butterfly and label step-by-step in the supermarkets). So, with 1.3kg of raw beef in my hand I sought a new method to deal with this classic dish.  My sous chef, google, provided me with a metric meat cooking calculator which guided me through my roasting experience every minute of the 117 that my beef transformed from raw to roasted.  I didn’t even know that the cooking form of Wikipedia even existed until now.  This website factored in my specific cut of meat, weight (of the meat, not mine!) and preferred serving time to ensure the roast was ready when our guests arrived.

http://www.cookipedia.co.uk/recipes_wiki/Meat_cooking_time_calculator_Metric

I used the pan juices from the roast to make a red onion and portobello mushroom sauce (not gravy – that’s a bit too old school!).  I used corn flour to thicken the stock.  To be honest, I think this was my favourite part of the meal.  The roast compared to the letter arriving in the mail but the thick, rich, beef-infused sauce warmed my heart like reading several pages of personal handwritten prose.

After this pursuit into somewhat of an antiquated form of cooking it is now glaringly evident why Sunday used to play host to the humble roast – the sheer time taken to cook it (so the husband could look after the little darlings!).  I have gained an appreciation for meals that take time – much like the appreciation I share for a carefully handwritten letter.

Matthew’s Eight Finger Tarantula Rating (which will be explained in a later blog): 6 out of 8 – Classic but a tad dry…

Until next time, pour the gravy! (oh, I mean sauce…)

Three Dollars

I am currently reading a novel by Elliot Perlman called, “Three Dollars.”  I have fourteen pages left of the book and, as much as I am unable to predict what will unfold in that three percent of the book, there are other forces that drive me to do things other than find out how poor Eddie ends up going from being married, with a child, employed by the government and paying off his own house to only having three dollars to his name. 

Is this a book review?  No.  Do I recommend the book?  Absolutely – if you like the thought that economics, politics and ethics can dance with a regular plot of inter and intra personal conflict.  It’s a whole new genre of writing that I’ve never really encountered before.  I like it; it whets my nerdy “I once studied business and law for a semester” side.

Central to the book is the theme of economic rationalism.  While this isn’t a cooking term (although I’m sure I could conjure up some grand metaphor in the mixing bowl of specialised language!), bare with me while I provide you with some copied and pasted definitions:

economic rationalism (noun)

an economic policy based on the efficiency of market forces, characterised

by minimal government intervention, tax cuts, privatization, and deregulation of labour

markets

(SOURCE: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/economic+rationalism)

Another, slightly more slanted definition that author, Pusey, provided in 1991 is:

“Economic rationalism is the dogma which says that markets and money can always do everything better than governments, bureaucracies and the law. There’s no point in political debate because all this just generates more insoluble conflicts.”

(SOURCE: http://www.abc.net.au/money/currency/features/feat11.htm)

To put it in layman’s terms: buying stuff makes everything better – which brings me to this week’s recipe… “Mexican beef-cheek tortillas” made with only three dollars ($3.09 to be precise) worth of meat!  With this recipe in tow, I was out to prove economic rationalism wrong: expensive meat doesn’t necessarily make a better meal!

As you know, this year’s goal is to make a new recipe every week and blog about it.  On top of this, I have also set a personal goal to try to cook one vegetarian meal and one meal using a cheaper cut of meat per week.  In Perlman’s book, his seemingly safe government job is taken from him because he chooses to protect the environment and stay true to his own ethical compass.  And, rather than allowing a particular mining company to bully him into giving an environmental engineering “OK” on a lucrative mining development Eddie loses his job. Considering 100% of the adults in our household are currently employed by federal or state government (and I’m on maternity leave!), saving money on the weekly grocery bill is of the essence!

So, I took my three dollar beef cheeks (you can buy these in the offal section at major grocery stores – or sheepishly ask your butcher!) and cooked them in a piece of cookware worth about one hundred times as much as the meat.  I wouldn’t say my meal was a success I’d rave about but the humble cheek of a cow is not to be blamed.  Ironically, my new Tuffcast sauté pan cooks alarmingly faster and with more zeal than a regular casserole dish and because the recipe said to cook it for over three (there’s that number again) hours in true offal-fashion, about thirty (that’s three times ten) minutes in, the meat seemed to be cooked and somewhat tough or parched from the dwindling amount of marinade in the pan so, I added water: not a good idea as it diluted the marinade and the meat (which really needed a strong flavour to offset its offalness).  Needless to say, the meal lacked that real Mexican depth of marinade and spice.

Fortunately, I decided to try something else new and served the cheeks with some pickled red onions – Mexican style!  This three minute recipe (now I’m getting carried away with the digits) saved the cheeks that toiled for three hours in the expensive cookware.

I should mention at this stage that the beef cheeks were left over and frozen from a Maggie Beer recipe I tried last year after first tasting beef cheeks in a funky Spanish tapas bar in Melbourne a few years ago.  I was convinced they were an unsung hero of the bovine species and needed a staring role on my dinner plate.  With Maggie Beer’s help (and a cheap old casserole dish), the original cheeks did sing.  This time however, I think I learnt that high expenditure does not always equal quality of flavour.  I say, let the mutton dress itself in the juices of a warn-out casserole dish and leave the Tuffcast for the rack of lamb!  In summary, cheap meat can taste sweet!

Matthew’s Eight Finger Tarantula Rating (which will be explained in a later blog): 6 ½  out of 8 – Texturally, the meat was nice but it could have been richer in flavour from the marinade. The feisty crunch of the pickled onions and kick of the home-made chili jam made up for the meat’s mild flavourings.

RECIPE

“Mexican beef-cheek tortillas” from Delicious Magazine, March 2012.

Marinade:

1 dried ancho chilli (I used one regular, red one from the garden!)

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tbs tomato paste

1 tbs peanut butter (I was reluctant but after last week, followed orders)

1 tbs honey

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp smoked paprika

2 tbs olive oil

Mix in with about 4 beek cheeks (trim off the fat first).  Marinate for as long as possible – overnight if you can.

Brown beef cheeks in olive oil and transfer to a casserole dish (OR, use your wanky Tuffcast and disturb the flavour by only having to wash up one pan).

Cover and cook in the oven with the remaining marinade, 2 cups of beef stock and the juice of 2 limes for 3 hours or until the meat is tender.

Remove meat from the braising stock and shred each cheek by using two forks.

Serve with tortillas, pickled onions and your favourite Mexican salads, salsas and condiments!

For the pickled red onions, I followed this recipe and added about half a teaspoon of whole coriander seeds to give the onions an extra kick: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/adobe-beef-tacos-with-pickled-red-onions-small-plates-big-taste-recipe/index.html

For the chilli jam, I hung out with my friend Molly last week (you know that!) and she gifted it to me for Christmas – it’s delicious!!!

New vs Old

Yesterday I spent two moments in the kitchen – well two significant ones anyway (heating up baby mush doesn’t necessarily count as life-changing).  Before meeting up with a friend who is about to embark on the newest of new journeys herself into lands in the far north of our state, I decided to bake her a “happy going” gift.  The choice of recipes didn’t require much thought.  As you may know, I am not a lover of baking and unlike my savoury pursuits, I have a handful of default recipes – one being “Chocolate Dream Bars” – the original recipe found in my Kindergarten Cookbook compiled by several enthusiastic mothers (mine included) in 1986!  My nostalgic mother still has the original cover-torn 1980s-printed compilation but my recipe has been transposed into the cookbook she gave me when I left home.  This is the first recipe I remember making with my mum when I was a child.  As my lovely friend, Molly, is a keen baker herself (and has faced me in a baking challenge) I thought, “I can’t go wrong.”

My abstract thinking was that the nostalgia of the old recipe would provide Molly with a deserving send-off into a new land, a new career and new horizons however, just before adding the butter to my dreamy slice batter, it dawned on me that for twenty-six years we’ve been putting far too much butter in the mix – how unhealthy!  So, I made the executive decision to halve the amount of butter.  To cut a twenty-six minute (one minute for every year the recipe has been in my possession) baking story short, the slice burned and I had to deliver a less than appealing piece of nostalgia to the lady who was about to know the new – in its fullest sense!

Fortunately, my second significant kitchen encounter of the day – making the marinade (from scratch!) for Char Siew Pork (AKA. Chinese BBQ Pork) – proved to be far more successful.  As this recipe was 100% new to me, I treated the method with careful diligence and measured my Szechuan peppercorns like I would my daughter’s paracetamol.  We often buy the BBQ pork displayed in the windows of Asian grocers in Chinatown but rather than taking the “old road,” I was determined to pave a new way and cook one of the cuisines I love to cook (and produce fodder for the blog of course!).

It’s strange to think, but this time five years ago I was travelling in one of the many provinces of China.  At that stage, I hadn’t fully fallen in love with food, nor had I discovered many things about myself so I feel like making this meal was somewhat of a reminder of how far I’ve come – in life, in my relationships, in my pursuits, in my perspective on the world, and – of course – in my cooking.  As I didn’t quite “suck the marrow” out of the Chinese cuisine while I travelled there for a month, I feel like I owe it somewhat to the cuisine to make meals that far outshine the westernised, sweet, and less-than-satisfying dishes we find in Chinese Restaurants here in Australia.  To put it bluntly, the food I ate in China tasted nothing like I had known to be “Chinese” – until I started making meals myself.

Pardon my scatter-brained trail of musing in this post.  I guess the point I wish to make is that sometimes the old is to be kept “as is” – as a momento to our foundations but the new should be pursued with gusto, risk and hard-work.  That’s what it was like making my Char Siew Pork.  Had I not been meeting up with my friend, Molly, who is about to pursue her own life’s recipe with gusto, risk and hard-work, I think I would have been less than inspired to get creative in the kitchen in a day highlighted by ho and hum.  Thank you Molly and may your adventure be full of spice!

Matthew’s Eight Finger Tarantula Rating (which will be explained in a later blog): 8 out of 8 – Brilliant!  Very tasty.  Very moreish. Very flavorsome.  A perfect blend of spice – just like my wife. (I added the last spicy bit!)

 

Char Siew Pork – adapted from Adam Liaw’s “Two Asian Kitchens”

INGREDIENTS

5 spice powder:

2 cinnamon sticks

3 star anise

12 cloves

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns

2 teaspoons sea salt flakes

Marinade:

8 cloves garlic

5 centimetres ginger knob

4-6 tablespoon honey

3-4 tablespoon raw sugar

2 tablespoon shaoxing wine

60 grams soy sauce

1 kg pork neck (I used pork loin)

METHOD

1. Dry roast the spices for 5 minutes on a medium heat

2. Allow spices to cool down

3. Place the spice mix into a mortar and pestle and pound (I’d use ground cinnamon next time as the quills are quite rough in the mix – maybe I’m weak…)

NB. At this stage, you only need half of the spice mix so store the rest for your next Chinese banquet!!!

4. Mix all the marinade ingredients in a non-metal pan (not sure why Adam Liaw detests metal!)

5. Add the spice mix to the marinade and cover the pork.

6. Marinate for a day (or while you farewell your friend at least!)

To cook the pork: brown the meat for 5-10 minutes in a pan then either cover on the stovetop or roast for a further 20-30 minutes in the oven in the remaining marinade, basting regularly (soy sauce LOVES to stick to pans). Once cooked, rest the pork for 10 minutes, and slice with a sharp knife. Eat while hot.

Serve with stir-fried Asian greens and a bed of rice!

NB: The pork you see hanging in shop fronts in Chinatown is often quite red in colour – you can add red food colouring to the marinade if you wish to add a touch of Communism to your pork!