Sunday, May 28, 2006

Ginger and Mandarin Brûlée

This month's host for Sugar High Friday (Ruth from Once Upon a Feast has declared she isn't making the Lime and Ginger Brûlée from Delicious magazine, but here in Oz we've had the luxury of having already gone there a few months ago in March, coz Delicious is an Aussie invention :). I've already had my say about this recipe and posted my version here, but for SHF I offer yet another variation on the theme of this perennial classic. Even though it is essentially a cold dessert, something about the incendiary scorching of the sugar topping makes it instantly adapt to winter. The ginger flavour creates a warming backdrop for the spiky citrus – a flavour match made in heaven. Mandarins are in season right now and bountiful, so make use of them while they’re inexpensive and ripe for the picking.

500 mls of fresh mandarin juice (about a dozen Imperial or large mandys)
50g sugar
500 mls of 35% milk fat cream (pouring or thickened)
1 tbsp of fresh grated ginger
1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped, or 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste
7 egg yolks
¼ cup caster sugar
Demerara sugar for topping

Add the sugar to the mandarin juice and dissolve over a medium heat until the juice is simmering. Reduce down to about 1 tbsp of intense syrup. Be careful right at the end as it can burn quickly when it gets syrupy.

Add the ginger and vanilla to the cream and bring just to boiling point Set aside to let the flavours infuse for about 10 minutes. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar, but don’t put too much air into them, then strain the infused cream into the eggs, discarding the ginger and vanilla pod. Whisk until combined. Pour back into the saucepan and stir over a low heat until the custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Pour into ramekins to within a few millimetres of the rim and leave in the fridge for a few hours to chill and set. Just before serving, sprinkle with demerara sugar to thinly cover the set custard. Caramelise the sugar topping with a blowtorch until it forms a crisp crust that you can crack your way into!

Links: Sugar High Friday

Friday, May 26, 2006

Beef and Guinness Pie

Miss L’s birthday and my birthday are quite close together. So we planned a little celebration at the half way point between the two. We both share an Irish ancestry – mine through the Doyle’s, her the O’Neill’s, so what better on a cold May evening, dan a wee sumpthin’ ta warm da noight, dat remoinds us a de ‘ol cuntree, ta be shur, ta be shur. Seasoned with the mysteries of Mr Guinness’s creamy black velvet.

But tragedy awaits, as it does in all good Irish yarns. After preparation of the mighty feast, which rightly begins several days beforehand, a sudden illness strikes the worthy guest on the morning of the great event. Get well soon Miss L, but what the feck am I going to do with a pile of B&G Pie filling large enough to fatten up Nerds FC? Enter blokes with appetites, at short notice, stage left. Selflessly G, Burgs and Bren buckle their swashes and stride in to help a sweet maiden (stop laughing) in distress. And like all good Irish heroines (put down the needles, not that sort) she serves up a heartwarming and hearty pie to her heros, with lashings of champ and peas. Don’cha lerv a happy ending?

1.5 kg stewing beef (chuck is ideal) cut into cubes1 packet of Continental beef and red wine casserole base (no, really, I’m serious)
2 leeks, white parts chopped
2 parsnips, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1 x 440 ml can of Guinness
1 cup beef stock
2 tbsp HP sauce
Salt and pepper
Chopped fresh parsley
Pastry and egg wash to top the pies.

With the exception of pasta, I normally eschew packet stuff when cooking. But I’ve found this little mix really adds a kick to casseroles if used this way. Instead of seasoning your meat with flour, salt and pepper, pour the contents of the casserole mix over the beef cubes and stir to coat them. In a heavy pan (like a Le Creusset) heat olive oil on medium-hot temperature and sear the coated meat in batches and remove to a plate. When all the meat is done, lower the heat and add the vegetables. Stir frequently until they have sweated down – about 15 minutes, picking up all the crusty bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and herbs, the seared meat back to the pan, and stir to combine. Add the Guinness, bring up to the simmer, and add the beef stock and HP. Season to taste. Cover the pot with a lid and cook at 170°C for 1 ½ hours until the liquid is reduced and it’s jammy and unctuous. Allow to cool and stir through the parsley. At this stage leave it in the fridge for a couple of days if you can as the flavour intensifies.

Spoon the mixture into pie bowls and cover with a puff pastry lid, brush with egg wash and whack into a 220°C oven for 20 minutes to brown the pastry and heat the pie. Serve with champ (mashed potato with spring onions) and veg.

This comforting dish is just so right for winter nights. Not only is it warming, the parsnips and carrots lend a deep sweetness to the gravy that is contrasted with the bitter yet smooth Guinness in the background.

Min valiantly played with string to make sure it didn’t attack us while we ate. Good cat.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

More banger for your buck

Duck, orange, pistachio and cognac sausages

Call me a control freak, but I usually like to know what’s in my food. Consequently, one foodstuff that relentlessly causes difficulties for me is the humble snag. Even the gourmet ones you buy at upmarket providores or food halls that boast some ‘it’ chef’s moniker are something of a mystery. When cooked, I usually find them too salty, too fatty, too dry, underseasoned, overseasoned etc etc. One can run about on a noble quest for the perfect snag, an action not recommended my many cardiologists, but my solution? Make your own. It’s really not that difficult once you’ve worked out a few basics. You won’t believe the inner satisfaction that comes from seeing glistening cases emerge from your mincer full of luscious goodness and knowing exactly what’s inside.
I think there are two cardinal rules of sausage making. Fat and mincing. Sausages have to have fat. Ideally at least 10% to make them moist and juicy. Many sausages have way more than that – up to 40% and beyond – and by all means if your arteries are made of teflon, go ahead and add as much as you wish. And sausage filling has to be minced. You can try to use a food processor but it will mulch rather than chop and you’ll end up with a pasty sausage. Mincers are pretty cheap – a decent metal one will cost about $80 including the sausage attachment, and the physical act of mincing is excellent for upper body strength and keeping those bingo wings on the lower side of your upper arm under control. After that, let your imagination run wild. You can buy sausage skins from your butcher. They come on a hollow rod, all squished up and salted. You need to soak the skins in water and a little vinegar for about 30 minutes before using them. You can either get natural casings (made from animal intestines – usually pigs) or collagen casings.

This is a fave recipe because I do love duck so much. The ingredients for this one aren’t particularly cheap, but the result is spectacularly eyepopping upon the first taste, and just think how much smug satisfaction you will get when your guests ask “WHERE did you buy those sausages????”, and you casually respond with – “oh, I made them myself”. They’ll be gobsmacked and impressed you went oto so much troouble. In fact I have now started a line in special friend sausages. The GV is a lovely pork shoulder, garlic and fennel number, the Burgy is a honey, lamb, rosemary and pine nut creation. Recipes on those another time, and needless to say this is a project for a quiet afternoon rather than a quick mid week dinner. Although frozen home made sausages are excellent last minute meals.

1 duck and 4 duck breasts.
¼ cup cognac
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
4 eshalllots (French shallots) finely chopped
Grated rind of 1 orange
Salt and pepper
½ cup chopped pistachios
Sausage skins, soaked

Take the skin off the duck and breasts and place into a non stick pan over a low-medium heat. Render the fat from the skin over about 30 minutes. Strain and reserve, allowing it to come to room temperature (whatever fat remains after sausage making you can use to cook luscious roast potatoes). Take all the meat off the duck and chop this and the breast meat into chunks – this should give you about 1 kg of duck meat (save the bones for stock). In a bowl mix the duck meat, seasoning, herbs, cognac and orange rind. Add some of the reserved duck fat to constitute at least 10% (more if you prefer) of the total weight of meat, in this case about 100 grams. Stir through the meat to distribute. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Place your assembled mincer in the freezer for the same length of time.

It is infinitely easier to make sausages when everything is cold during the mincing part. The meat grinds better, the fat stays firmer, the blades don’t gum up. Set up your mincer and grind the cold meat mixture through it. After it’s minced, add the chopped pistachios. I like to add the nuts last so you get uneven chunks, rather than minced nuts, in the sausage. Now comes another important part. Before you make the mixture into sausages, fry a small amount to check for taste and seasoning. If you need to adjust it, test again.

Now set up your mincer with the sausage attachment and watch with amazement as your fat scrumptious snags emerge from the other end. Twist them off into whatever size you want and store in the fridge for a few days (the flavour does develop a little as they sit) or freeze in batches.

Cook in a non-stick pan for best results, or bake in a 200°C oven, until cooked through. Remember – never pierce your sausage before cooking it.

Friday, May 19, 2006

What? No photos?

The other day I was in the embarrassing and unenviable position of being told by a waiter I was not allowed to take pictures of my food. My food. The food I’d ordered and paid for. NOT the food on the next table or in the kitchen and NOT with a large tripod, massive Nikon Digital SLR, umbrellas for flashes, professional lighting, and two assistants. Just my little ‘ol plate of food and my lunch pal’s plate sitting next to me. With a little Casio digital camera with the flash turned off.

Now, this wasn’t some exclusive, mega swank, oak-floored eatery with damask from here to next week, silver cutlery that weighs a ton, and people speaking in hushed tones in tuxedos. Nor was it the bestest, newest, funkiest, most innovative ‘it’ venue, stacked to the gunwales on opening night with faux-bashful celebrities on the lookout to dodge roaming packs of paparazzi.

It was an ordinary Wednesday lunchtime in a café above a fruit and veg shop in a Sydney suburb. And the food in question? Ah ha! I hear you say: looking to rip off and duplicate a wildly inventive gastro-artwork for fun and profit, à la Interlude? Well, no, in fact. It was antipasto and a plate of spaghetti.

Bemused, I asked the waiter as to why this was the case as I’d never encountered any problem in other restaurants. He replied it was their policy. Fine, I said. Why?
“I’ll get the manager”, came the reply.
“It’s ok”, I said, “– no need – just tell me why you don’t want me to take a picture.” Undeterred, the manager was fetched and relayed the same information.
“I understand”, I reiterated, “but can you tell me why?”
“The owner doesn’t like it”.
“I see”, I pressed on, “but why?”
It seemed a simple enough question to me, but maybe I had all of a sudden started speaking Swahili without knowing it and was not making myself clearly understood.
“He just doesn’t”.
“Yes, yes”, I attempted in my best English, making sure it wasn’t Swahili, “I appreciate that, but I would like to know why the owner objects to it. A simple reason will suffice as I’m curious”.
“Someone tried to take a picture of the blackboard menu once.”

Maybe I come from a different planet to everyone else, but the blackboard in question looked like every other Italian blackboard menu I’ve ever seen. It had the same stuff on it – pastas, risottos, mains, panini, side dishes, desserts. No gold plated truffle jus reduction with foie gras foam and pavé tian batons of wagyu solar plated resin shards. Rigatoni Bolognese is hardly something even those most desperate in culinary espionage would bother with. And I didn’t want a photo of the blackboard menu anyway, just the plate of food I’d ordered that was sitting within the safe confines of the edges of our table. Realising she might be worried that a ruthless competitor might be coveting the spelling and menu calligraphy of the ‘figs with proscuitto’, I assured her I was writing about my meal and wanted to post a picture on my website for readers to view, and that no other restaurant proprietors in the English (or other language) speaking world that I’d encountered seemed to have similar concerns. No go.

So what’s the problem? What’s the big deal about photographing food in this very decent, yet unremarkable café? Most times when I quietly (without disturbing any other diners) photograph the lovely bounty of a kitchen and ask questions about the food, the staff and managers are delighted that someone is actually interested in what’s going on in there, instead of asking for more pepper and tomato sauce. Should I have informed them from the outset of what I was about to do? As a communication professional and academic, I adhere to the Association of Food Journalists’ guidelines for food writing and reviewing, viz, arriving with unannounced intentions so a balanced review and description, based on what any other punter would experience, can be delivered to my chosen media, rather than the kitchen being on best behaviour for a review. Also, no explicit consent is required for photography in Oz.

But whether or not the owner of this café is trying to control images and critique of the venue and food within public media is unknown to me because the staff and manager are obviously in the ridiculous position of having to enforce a policy whose reason for existence is apparently unknown, at least to them. I must admit I felt sorry for them. The owner was unavailable for a chat regarding the motivation for the policy.

I can’t comment on the food as I discovered I had a rather bad taste my mouth and had quite lost my appetite. No point presenting a biased review, now, is there? And as a member of the typically good-willed food blogging community, as well as a member of the general dining public, I was quite offended by my experience at this establishment and will not patronise it again. This is Sydney, after all, and today’s café is tomorrow’s bargain book basement, so there’s plenty of other places to keep me and you readers entertained. In the meantime, the only picture I can present to sum up this outing appears below.

photo reference:

Undeterred, however, and being the glass-half-full type, I thought my experience could be not only amusing, but instructive as well. I’ve done a little digging around because I thought any bloggers reading this might want a potted guide to your rights in such a situation. There has been a post on Accidental Hedonist about this, but they’re operating with a Bill of Rights, which we don’t have in Oz.

I’ve mentioned the AFJ’s website above which is a great place to start in terms of basic conduct. Another fantastic resource for the image side of things is Andrew Nemeth’s site about photographers’ rights, which is very up-to-date and from both an Australian and International perspective. Some of the information I have quoted here is from his site and is used with his permission (thanks, Helen, for the lead) but browse through the entire site as is has some very interesting information. I’ve restricted this summary to food itself – a whole lot of other things come into play when there are people involved, which is why I restrict my photos to inanimate things on a plate. So here are some tips from what I’ve found out (please note this does not constitute legal advice).

To cut straight to the chase: if you are in a restaurant and the staff ask you to not take a photo, you can’t. No question, no argument, just put the camera away. It’s private property, it’s their call, you have no recourse to any law or rights to allow you to snap. Yes they are morons, yes they are jumped up ponces, yes they are up themselves wankers. But it’s their restaurant and they get to say whether you photograph or not (link).

Being challenged in the middle of a restaurant about your behaviour is a bit confronting and not altogether pleasant. People at other tables stare and whisper. You will feel like a criminal – a hunched and shunned social pariah skulking about the dark periphery of society with base intentions. Try and convince yourself you are dangerous and glamorous and living on the edge. Blog, James Blog, 007 gastronaut. You’ll feel better about yourself.

Once you have taken a photo (ie if you are not asked to stop and later they decide to question you) it’s too late. The photos are your property, they can’t take them off you and they can’t stop you publishing them. They do not own copyright of the presentation of the food on the plate (link).

If you photograph from a public place (the street or footpath for example) they can’t stop you. The benefits of a telephoto lens and a window table become obvious here if you are determined and desperate enough. Unless of course you constitute a public nuisance or breach the NSW Summary Offences Act and they call the police, which is highly unlikely unless your camera is the shape of a 9mm revolver or the people eating the food are naked (link).

But ultimately, as Helen so eloquently put it, it’s their loss. The best revenge is just not to write about them and don’t give them any publicity. Touché. I also hope it doesn’t ever happen to you, particularly if you like running around taking nice pix of pretty food and showing everyone else. If you’ve had similar experiences and want to add a comment (or tell your story as a form of therapy) please feel free to rant. I have purposely not mentioned the name of the establishment I visited, but if you’ve guessed where it is, then let’s keep it our secret!

Friday, May 12, 2006


Right on the water at the end of Harris St. in Pyrmont Point, Sugaroom has proven itself to be a reliable eating place with consistently good food, and reasonable prices. I haven’t lunched here in a while mainly because, well, the menu stays a bit the same and once you’ve eaten your way through the favourites you need a break. The menu is available online here, and in addition to the attraction of the constant favourites – like the pork belly and scallops; the duck liver parfait – there’s a decent selection to choose from with entrees at $12 ($14-15 for the specials board) and mains for $25 ($27-29 for the specials).

On this visit we had

Pan fried jewfish with soubise, prawn raviolo, & crisp parsnips
Roasted free range Glenloth chicken breast
Char grilled grain fed sirloin with fondant potato and shiraz butter

…and a side of pesto baby beans with shaved parmesan.
This is a perfect place to enjoy the late Autumn sun flitting along the waters of Sydney’s inner harbour with the dynamic backdrop of the Anzac Bridge off to the left. Despite the fact that we had enough gossip to catch up on to keep us amused, our order took quite some time to arrive (after 40 minutes we had to inquire where it actually was as other tables seemed to be getting fed) and on this occasion the fish was a little dry. The chicken was moistly tender and the beef, while succulent and cooked perfectly to my requested rare, could have done with a sharper knife, if just to flay away the crisp fatty rind rather than deal with the meat itself. M was very impressed at the availability of a lavish selection of loose leaf tea (which she reliably informs me is a rarity in restaurants these days).

Lime curd cannoli

This started out with a net full of little Tahitian limes that were just on the verge of going a little yellow, so I wanted to use the juice and capture that last drop of summer limes before heading into winter. Lime curd is a great way to use lime juice.

125 grams butter
250 mls fresh lime juice
125 grams caster sugar
6 eggs

Melt the butter in a saucepan on a medium to high heat, add the sugar and lime juice, and stir to combine. Add the eggs and whisk until the mixture is thick like a custard. Contrary to popular opinion (and according to Stephanie Alexander who I trust implicitly) you can do this over a fairly high heat without risk of it splitting, as long as you whisk it and don’t leave it alone on the heat. The benefit of doing this is that all the zesty, fruity taste of the lime is retained without risk of dulling it through too long a cooking time. Another tip, that I picked up somewhere throughout my cooking adventures, is that the beauty of citrus curd is its silky, roll-around-the-mouth, smoothness. To make sure your curd is velvety and lumpless, strain the lime juice through a fine sieve and also strain the eggs (after lightly whisking them) through a fine sieve before adding them to the pan. This removes any coagulated bits of albumin in the whites and ensures a winning texture. Once cooked, allow to cool and refrigerate until you need it.

You can do heaps of things with curd. Tart fillings, cement biscuits together etc etc. But while I was shopping at the Zanetti 5 Star Deli (108 Ramsay Rd.) at Haberfield the other day, I saw packets of pre-made cannoli shells in normal and mini size ($4.99 for 20, made locally). Bingo. The vision of a plate full of baby cannoli filled with zingy lime curd accompanied by a rich Neapolitan espresso (Café Kimbo $4.99 for 250 grams) slid through my mind. Ain’t it great when inspiration hits like that?

Cannoli (the plural of the Italian word cannolo or ‘tube’) originated in Sicily, probably at the time of Arab domination, but have pretty well spread throughout Italy as a Passticeria staple. They consist of a piece of pastry shaped around a metal tube and deep fried. They are usually filled with sweetened or flavoured ricotta. It’s important to fill them close to eating time so the shell stays crisp and crunchy - use a piping bag or a plastic bag with a tip cut into one corner to fill them easily and quickly. Although this version is not at all traditional, they went fabulously well with coffee and the entire plate full was consumed with gusto!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Cabbage Rolls

Some recent chat between myself and Tankeduptaco at Food for Thought has revealed a mutual admiration for cabbage rolls. We come from different traditions, however – his from his good wife’s native Poland and mine from my ex partner’s Mediterranean heritage. But cabbage rolls seem to be a universal comfort food, following in the tradition of many foodstuffs prepared and rolled up in something, to later reveal an exciting and nutritious gift within.

You can find the luscious-sounding eastern European version on Food for Thought here, and what follows is my version, based on both Greek and Lebanese recipes, and was declared ‘better than Nana’s’ by my previous in-laws. Luckily Nana was by that time deceased and didn’t have to suffer the ignominy of some ring-in Aussie trouncing her cabbage roll prowess.

First, catch your cabbage. If you can get Savoy, so much the better. To prepare the cabbage for rolls, follow ‘Taco’s description (see link above) of boiling the beast (I tend to use water rather than stock, but it doesn't matter too much) and taking off the blanched leaves, ready to lay out for the filling, which is made from...

1 kg lamb mince
1 large or 2 smaller onions, finely chopped and fried ‘til golden in a little olive oil
¾ cup of uncooked long grain rice (basmati is good for this)
3 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh mint
Ditto of dill
Ditto of flat leaf parsley
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ nutmeg, grated
1 large or 2 small Roma tomatoes, finely chopped
Lots of fresh ground black pepper
Pinch of salt

Mix all the above ingredients with your hands so everything is well combined. Lay the wilted cabbage leaves out flat and cut the large stiff rib out of the centre. The larger leaves can be cut in half. Use the very tough outer leaves (blanched) to line the base and sides of a large, high sided saucepan. Place a few heaped tablespoons of the meat mixture in the centre bottom of the leaf, rollover the bottom flap and fold in the sides, then roll it up to secure the parcel. Lay the roll seam side down in the pot, and continue rolling and placing the rest into the pot, making sure you pack them in very tightly. You will have about 2 layers, perhaps with a few extra on top. This mix should make about 30 rolls.

1 - 1 ½ litres of hot chicken stock
½ cup of white wine
50 g butter.

Pat the top of the rolls with small pieces of butter and pour over the wine. Lay more tough outer leaves of cabbage on top and pour on a litre or so of hot stock to just come to the top of where the rolls sit in the pan. Cover the rolls in the pan with an upturned plate to stop them floating and cover the pan with a tight fitting lid. Place over the heat and bring to the simmer, then simmer gently for 1 ½ - 2 hours. When the cooking is finished, remove the rolls to a warm serving platter, strain the cooking juices and reduce them by half to for a sauce to serve with the rolls.
4 cloves garlic
Sea salt
Juice of 1 lemon
½- ¾ cup olive oil
Ground black pepper

In a mortar, crush the garlic with the salt to form a sticky paste. Add in some oil and mix thoroughly. Add the lemon juice and pepper and add in the rest of the olive oil until the dressing reaches a slightly emulsified consistency and is still garlicky and sharp. Serve this at the table to drizzle on the cabbage rolls.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Duck ragu for pasta

Ever since I first sampled Antonio Faccinetti’s version of this dish (back when he owned and cooked at Il Baretto) I have been in love with it. It’s a wonder it’s taken me so long to actually cook it for myself. Despite the proliferation of easy-to-cook duck cuts, like breast fillets, I still think of duck as a special occasion meat. Something that’s not always that straight forward to cook (read: easy to wreck and overcook), takes some time and planning, needs to be served to people who aren’t saturated fat averse, is rich so needs to be matched well with other dishes and wines, and so on. But now that I’ve mastered this particular ragu, I will cook it for ever after because it was so delicious.

To serve six generously (with leftovers) I purchased two fresh size 10 ducks, and the method and ingredients used are a combination of those from former Sydney Morning Herald food critic Matthew Evans, Neil Perry and Stefano de Pieri. This is not a simple straightforward recipe, but falls into the ‘slow cooking’ genre of food. It takes a bit of time and patience to make and put together, but the result is truly worthwhile. Definitely a weekend or holiday type of meal. The traditional accompanying pasta for it is a fresh made pappardelle, but on this occasion I simply ran out of time and energy to make it as I was in the midst of several days of a cooking frenzy. So with apologies to the slow food movement, I used the next best substitute I had available at the time which was a bronzato moulded spaghetti.
2 tbsp olive oil
2 size 10 ducks
2 onions, roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, roughly crushed
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 cup red wine
500 mls chicken stock
Handful of thyme sprigs
10 sage leaves
To serve:
3-4 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
Grated parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a roasting pan big enough to hold the ducks and the vegetables. Brown the ducks on all sides until they are golden. Add the vegetables and garlic and fry them for five minutes until softened. Add the wine, stock and herbs, salt and pepper and cover the pan tightly and roast (breast side up) at 150°C for 2 hours. The ducks should be very tender. Remove them from the pan to cool a little and strain the pan juices. Set them aside and when the fat comes to the top, skim it off.
Tear the meat from the duck carcasses and shred into bite-sized pieces. Reduce the cooking juices to form a thick sauce. Add the duck meat back into the sauce to warm through, and add a tablespoon or so of parsley. Toss through the cooked pasta and top with the parsley, serve with parmesan cheese.

Then we ate it in front of this

With a few bottles of this sangiovese

…… Mmmmmmmm.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Emergency Terrine

Pork, Duck and Cognac Terrine de Campagne

Crisis. Lunch for six people. MN needed something to serve for entrée. No time. Ahhh! Panic.

The benefits of having a foodblogger and culinary obsessive in the family are not extensively documented. Sometimes the down side is more prominent – that you are unlikely to ever have a hot meal in a restaurant again because your dining companion has to photograph it before it’s touched. But here is a definite plus: because I’m a nice person and on leave at the moment, I offered to make her a terrine for her lunch party. Terrines suit light eaters and ravenous hordes alike. You can prepare them in advance and they travel well, making them ideal for picnics or ferrying over to friends and relatives. Some people are scarred of pâtés and terrines, but if you can make a meatloaf, you can make a terrine. It’s just slightly more fiddly, but not much.

300 g pork mince
300 g chicken livers, trimmed
100 g pork belly chopped into small dice
6 rashers of bacon, or equivalent of pancetta
4 French (golden) shallots
2 cloves garlic
½ cup toasted slivered almonds or chopped pistachios
2 duck breast fillets, skin removed and fat rendered
Spices and flavourings: Juniper berries, nutmeg or mace, fresh thyme leaves, pepper, cognac or port, bay leaves.

Slice the duck breasts lengthways and marinade in a few tablespoons each of cognac and thyme, a few teaspoons of crushed juniper berries, and a decent grind of pepper and nutmeg. Leave for a few hours or overnight. Fry the shallots and garlic in the rendered duck fat and cool – don’t drain, the duck fat gives more flavour. Combine the pork belly, pork mince, shallots and garlic, a few tablespoons each of cognac and thyme, a few teaspoons of crushed juniper berries, and a decent grind of pepper and nutmeg. Leave to sit for 30 minutes or so and pour in the excess marinade from the duck. Pulse the chicken livers in a food processor ‘til they form a fairly smooth paste and mix this thoroughly with the pork mince mixture, adding in the nuts as well.

Place a few fresh bay leaves attractively in the bottom on your terrine mould (I don’t have one so I use a non-stick loaf tin) then line it with bacon, making sure you leave an overlap to wrap over the top. Pour in half the pork mince mixture, then lay the strips of duck breast over the top to form a layer. Pour in the rest of the mixture then fold the overlapped bacon over the top. Cover the terrine with baking paper then foil and secure tightly round the edge. Place in a baking dish and pour boiling water half way up the sides, and bake at 170°C for 90 minutes. Towards the end of cooking, check that the terrine has shrunk away from the sides. There will be a luscious pool of juices surrounding the terrine.

Remove and let cool slightly (leave the foil covering in place) then weight the top of the terrine with heavy cans or wine bottles. It’s good to do this gradually (ie progressively heavier weights) so you don’t loose the juices and they re-absorb into the terrine and form a glossy aspic layer around the outside. Refrigerate the weighted terrine for at least 24 hours before unmoulding. To unmould, dip the terrine briefly into hot water and turn out onto the serving dish. Serve with crusty bread, some type of relish, cornichons etc.

Terrines develop more flavour as they age so make it a few days at least before you want to use it. I also make a smaller one to test out the flavour and texture and check what might go best with it (these are the pix of the inside texture I have here). Apparently the big one was a hit – finished unmoulded pic courtesy of MN & P.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Slow Roasted Pork Belly

With so much talk of braises and shanks around the cooking blogosphere, coupled with cooling temperatures, my thoughts have naturally strayed to belly pork.

Once upon a time in the bad old days, you could only find it in Chinatown. Now every menu aspiring to gastronomic chic lists it, and every scallop in town wants a date with it. The humble piglet tummy has well and truly ‘arrived’ in contemporary culinary consciousness.

I’ve tried gazillions of recipes for roasted pork belly, ranging from newspaper lift-outs, the Women’s Weekly, featuring a variety of marinated, exotic flavours or plain, cooked at varying temperatures, and incorporating the full range of degrees of complexity But this is the one I consistently return to. Why? Because it tastes fantastic, has a difficulty level only slightly higher than boiling water, and you can watch a good movie while it cooks. It comes from Britain’s antidote to Gordon Ramsay, the gentle and polite Garry Rhodes from his Cookery Year collection (telly repeats currently playing at about 3am on ABC - and no I don't stay up to watch them :).

Get a 1 kg piece of pork belly with the rind still on (I reckon the absolute best place to buy this is from a Chinese butcher in Haymarket, or your local Chinatown). Peel 2 fairly large onions and cut them in half. Lay the onions, cut side down, in a baking dish. They will form a trivet and keep the pork from touching the hot dish. Score the pork skin with a very sharp knife at about 1 cm intervals lengthways and rub with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place the pork on the onions, add a little water to the bottom of the dish, and bake at 160°C for 2 ½ - 3 hours.

Check it every so often. The alchemy that happens involves the pork skin slowly crisping to a magnificently crunchy crackling, and the fat from the layers dissolving out, not only basting the pork constantly, but basting the slowly caramelising onions underneath.

Add more water to the dish in small amounts so the juices that run out don’t scorch. Never baste the top of the crackling, just keep adding water to the baking dish.

At the end of the cooking time, remove the pork and let it rest, remove the onions and take the rendered fat off the top of the juices (you can scrape the dish and make a jus with these juices by adding wine and water and reducing them down further).

Cut the crackling off the pork ready to snap into deafeningly crispy shards of crunchy delight, and cut the pork against the grain into serving pieces which will be meltingly juicy. Serve with your favourite winter veggies, or make a scallop’s day and sear it and chuck it on top.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Waffles with Bacon and Maple Syrup

I first tried this at breakfast at Le Chateâu Frontenac in Québec City. Maybe it was the grandeur of the dining room of this magnificent old Canadian Pacfic Hotel, maybe the cold, sharp late Spring air, but one taste and I was a goner. Theoretically, it was initially an improbable combination to my taste buds. Salty bacon, sweet syrup – no, it will clash and jangle and divide into breakfast and dessert in the one mouthful. But I’ll try anything once. Watching the breakfast chef, white hat almost as tall as the spires of the Chateâu, pour batter into the iron and expertly flick out piping hot, crisp, fresh waffles, whetted my appetite anyway. Mandolin thin, golden, brittle smoked bacon is laced on top and drenched in proper maple syrup, gathered by a gnarled old Québecois with a smouldering Gitanes hanging out his mouth, trudging through the snow up to a sugar shack. Ok, well maybe not the gnarled old man, but it was real syrop d’erables.

The combination of tastes and textures is amazing. Waffles that crackle in your mouth, the salty sting and crunchy rustle of bacon, the velvet nutty sweetness of the syrup cloaking your tongue. It’s luscious. Definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, as with most simple cooking. Now, when I want a big breakfast I go for this dish every time. I’ve created many converts to it and serve it with (if anything) the soft curds of creamy scrambled eggs on the side. I get thin sliced bacon (available from David Jones) because it’s lighter, and when grilled is crunchier than normal cut bacon.