Tag Archives: meal

Genuine Mexican Delicacy: Chilli Relleno’s

When I mention the words “Mexican Food”, what comes to mind?  Nachos perhaps, covered with melted cheese, guacamole, and sour cream?  Crunchy tacos filled with mince and lettuce, topped with cheese and a salsa?  Maybe Fajita’s (pronounced fa-hee-tahs), with sizzling strips of beef or chicken served on a warm flour tortilla with grilled onions and capsicums?

Sadly, wrong on three counts.

Mexican food is one of the most loved foods in Australia at the moment, yet in truth, we’re actually eating Tex/Mex food…not original Mexican fare at all, and I think it’s time we all learnt a little bit more about true Mexican cooking (and perhaps a little about some of the pronunciation).

The fact is, Mexican cooking is something we can and should all adopt.  Authentic Mexican food is not born from modern kitchens and closely guarded recipes or techniques.  It traditionally makes the most of the cheap cuts of meat from old animals that served duty as egg layers or beasts of burden, so Mexican food makes delicious use of cheap ingredients using simple techniques and very little kitchen trickery.  Its a food that is ideal for the household on a budget, and these days, who isn’t?

Mexican food is more corn than flour…ground maize (or masa) that is formed into a dough (for tortillas; pronounced tort-ee-yah) or a cake (for tamales) and used to carry tid bits of slow cooked cheap cuts of meat, or to soak up the flavours of a punchy mole (pronounced mol-ay) or sauce.

Mexican food uses foods that are readily available, and therefore cheap to find.  Small amounts of slow cooked shredded beef, pork, and chicken (meat and offal) is what you’ll find on taco’s and inside burritos, not minced meat and not choice steak, and you’ll almost always find it served with a hunger buster like beans or rice.

Seafood is used more often that you think, with much of Mexico’s population living along coastlines.  Fish and shellfish are as likely to be in a stew or taco as shredded chicken.

And of course there’s chillies.

So Mexico is famous for hot food, no doubt, but not all chillies are hot…and many Mexican dishes rely on the flavour of the chilli itself, rather than the heat it may bring, so there are many dishes that use varieties of chillies (or peppers) that have little or no heat at all.   On the mild side are Capsicums and, if you can find them, Pobano’s and Anaheims…also called “Bull Horn Chilli’s” in Australia.  Hot Chillies are usually used sparingly, to add a zing to normally delicate dishes, while the milder chillies are used whole, as an ingredient or vegetable/fruit in it’s own right.

Look for chillies that are longer and narrow, rather than ball shaped.

Look for chillies that are longer and narrow, rather than ball shaped.

Which brings me to my most favourite of all Mexican dishes.  It’s a dish of stuffed chilli’s, usually stuffed with a mild melting cheese (traditionally queso, a Mexican cheese, fried in an egg batter and served with a smooth salsa or a Mole.  It’s as easy to cook as it is sublime to eat.

Chile Rellenos (pronounced re-yen-nyohs)

  • Look for chillies that are longer and narrow, rather than ball shaped.  Larger is easier, smaller works too.  Try Bullhorns for mild…Jalapeno’s (pronounced Ha-leh-pen-yohs)if you’re more adventurous.
  • Make a slit in them and extract the seeds.  Try to keep the slit as small as possible, but large enough to do the job.
  • Blister the peppers in a scorching oven, or over a gas flame, and place them in a plastic zip bag to steam a little.  You really want to blacken the skins here, it makes a big difference.
  • Remove when cool, and gently scrape the skin off.  It should peel off quite easily.
  • While they’re cooling, think about a stuffing.  It’s a great use of leftover rice, or you can simply use some mild cheese.  The key is not to overpower the flavour of the chilli.  It’s a delicate dish.  Gently stuff your chilli’s with your stuffing, and set aside.
  • Separate a few eggs, about 1 for every two small to medium chillies, and beat the yolks with a generous pinch of salt until light.  You can add some corn flour or rice flour to the yolks too, it will help with the final batter, but just a tablespoon or two.  Now beat the whites, with a splash of white vinegar, until peaks form.  Stir in half the whites into the yolk mixture to combine.  Gently fold the yolk mixture back into the remaining whites.  You want to maintain as much volume as you can.
  • Put a frying pan on the stove, medium heat, with about a 1cm layer of neutral oil.
  • Dollop some of the batter into the pan into a shape and size that matches your chilli.  Now put your chilli to bed on this batter.  The batter will keep it off of the bottom of the pan.  Cover with another dollop of the batter and shape (or add more) until the chilli is completely covered.
  • Cook until the bottom is browned, and turn over, cooking until the flip side is brown.
This method is a revelation.  Master this and you'll be egg battering everything.  It's is fool proof.

This method is a revelation. Master this and you’ll be egg battering everything. It’s is fool proof.

 

 

 

 

When done, serve with a nice salsa and a dollop of sour cream.

When done, serve with a nice salsa and a dollop of sour cream.

Some other tips for authentic Mexican?

  • Slow cook your meat for your tacos and burritos, and try chicken (pollo) or pork (carnitas).  I cannot say this enough.  Ditch the mince!
  • Look for Corn Tortilla’s, not flour.  Maize is Mexican…wheat not so much (it’s also gluten free folks).
  • Play with chilli’s…even mild ones have amazing flavour.
  • Use shredded cabbage on your taco’s, not lettuce.
  • Try fish or prawns on your Taco’s…in fact, prawn tacos (or tacos de camarones) are by far the best tacos you can eat.
  • Make your own salsa!  Don’t buy the stuff in jars…it’s just rubbish  Use google for some ideas if you need, the results are amazing.

Remember, you don’t have to eat expensive to eat well.  Enjoy a Mexican feast today, and maybe even throw a Mexican themed party and try some authentic South of the Border cuisine.

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Budget Brilliance – Part 1 “Steak on a shoestring”

When it comes to meat, and particularly beef, there are a few truisms that everyone should know.

  • The more a muscle works, the tougher it is to eat, BUT the more flavour it has.
  • The closer to the horn and the hoof, the more work the muscle does.
  • Tough cuts of meat should be tenderised before eating.  This can be done mechanically (mincing, chopping, perforating), chemically (acids: marinades, or enzymes: kiwi, papaya), or by cooking for extended periods of time.
  • Tender cuts of meat are expensive, whilst tough cuts tend to be cheaper.
  • Restaurants buy the best of the tender cuts, leaving the public to fight over the second grade leavings…whilst quality tough cuts can be found for a fraction of the cost.

So, knowing the best way to tenderise a tough cut of meat will mean you can not only save plenty of dollars from your beef budget, but you can get the best of the the most flavourful options available.  It’s a win-win situation for us all.

Let me introduce you to what is arguably (though almost certainly dollar for dollar) the finest steak that you can buy.  When the purse strings tighten, and I have the kind of hunger that only a steak can satisfy, there is only one cut of meat that I turn to.

Skirt Steak.

Skirt Steak comes from the cows diaphragm, so it is a muscle that is used every second the beast is alive.  The unique qualities that make skirt steak so attractive is that the muscle fibres are uniform in direction, and long in design.  This means that whilst the steak is tough as old boots, thanks to it’s constant use, it is also very easy to mechanically tenderise…and it has flavour in spades.

  • You can see there is a little surface fat, which can be easily trimmed, but very little marbling. Skirt Steak is very lean, and great for heart health.
  • The fibres (running the length of the steak, and vertically, are very distinct and easily recognised. This is important later.

Step 1, and possibly the hardest step, is to find your Skirt Steak.  Granted, it’s not the most popular of steaks on the market (despite my loud, but singular efforts), so don’t count on your local box grocery store to have any.  Hit up a local butcher instead.  If quality meat is what you want, you should be building a healthy relationship with your butcher anyway, and buying your meat from a source that knows it’s stuff.

Step 2, bring the meat to room temperature, and fire up your bbq.  You want a heat source that is as hot as you can get it.  You can cook this indoors, but I’d recommend a cast iron pan, 20 minutes preheat on a max burner setting, and several gas masks for the smoke you are about to produce.  For me, it’s a flat out BBQ preheated to pizza oven or tandoor proportions.

Step 3, trim and season the meat.  There can be an opaque membrane left on the muscle, and you should do your best to remove this.  Trim the fat off as well, if you so desire.  As for seasoning: I use cooking (or Kosher) salt, and little else.  The salt will help draw a little protein ladened moisture to the surface and assist in the creation of that tasty crust.  Note, this DOES NOT SEAL IN THE JUICES.  That is a cooking myth.  It does, however, taste delicious 🙂

Step 4, prepare a place to rest the meat after it’s cooked.  And by prepare, I mean chop up some fresh herbs with a little garlic, oil, and salt/pepper.  By laying the freshly cooked meat on this when resting, you will do more to add the fresh herbal goodness to your steak(s) than by trying to add them prior to cooking.  Also have a sheet of aluminium foil ready.

Step 5, cook the meat.  Medium rare is best (in my opinion), and it is not the thickest piece of meat on the market, so it wont take long.  My preference is to cook for a couple of minutes on one side, then rotate the steak 90 degrees to allow the criss-cross pattern to form.  After another minute, turn the meat over and repeat.

Step 6, rest the meat.  This is probably the most important step in affecting the final result of the meat.  Rest it for at least 10 minutes, and even 15 if you can.  Use this time to make a salad, or prepare your other dinner elements.

Step 7, the slicing.  This is the critical stage that will turn your shoe leather into butter tender slices of steak.

  • Look at the steak, and note the direction of the grain.
Well rested, you can see the juices that have reabsorbed into the meat.  It makes me hungry EVERY time I look at it.

Well rested, you can see the juices that have reabsorbed into the meat. It makes me hungry EVERY time I look at it.

  • Using a large sharp knife, slice thinly (5mm slices) ACROSS the grain.  Lay the beef on a cutting board in front of you, with the grain running left to right, and slice vertically (at 90 degrees) to the fibres.

There is nothing left to do but enjoy the steak.  I promise you that this is a dish to try at home.  Whether you cook it for yourself, your family, or a crowd of friends, you will be seen as a food hero when you lay this platter out.  And just what is the best way to enjoy the results?

Watching your weight?  As healthy as it is delicious.  Unless you include the baked potato...in which case it's a little more delicious than healthy!

Watching your weight? As healthy as it is delicious. Unless you include the baked potato…in which case it’s a little more delicious than healthy!

A classic use for skirt steak, and delicious in  anyone's language.  Just add guacamole, sour cream, and saute'd onions and capsicums.

A classic use for skirt steak, and delicious in anyone’s language. Just add guacamole, sour cream, and saute’d onions and capsicums for world class Fajitas.

There is a bun under there somewhere.  A steak sandwich is about as Aussie as it gets.

There is a bun under there somewhere. A steak sandwich is about as Aussie as it gets.

Chicken Lasagne – No boundaries, no borders

There are two schools of thought when it comes to regionalized food.

One school of thought is that you should preserve the recipes and techniques that are synonymous with all of the various regions and cultures found around the world.  That the dish “Spaghetti Bolognese” or “Pot au feu” should be recreated faithfully to the time honoured practices that have made the dish the signature dish of the area in which it was created.  These traditionalists argue that preserving the dish in it’s original form is preserving culture, and that changing it whilst maintaining the name is perpetuating a lie that will ultimately dilute the truth bring about it’s eventual demise.

Pot au feu - photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The other school of thought is that food culture evolves, and through exposure to new ingredients and techniques, tastes and recipes develop to maximize the environment of the day.  Culinary preservation is important to document, as history teaches us a lot about why we are what we are today, but preserving recipes for preservation’s sake is to risk losing potentially new and great dishes solely for stubbornness.

I actually take a very uncontroversial view, and believe that there is room for both.  I think that we should preserve dishes exactly as they have been created for centuries, and the food world should work together to ensure that proprietors and restauranteurs worldwide who carry out these traditions are supported and encouraged to continue through future generations…almost as living museums.  Whilst others use these creations as inspiration to take the dish elsewhere, in new and exciting directions.  All dishes, even the classics above, owe their creation to a single departure from some other dish, so you never know when the new gun Chef is actually creating the classic dish of tomorrow.  Even Lasagne, a dish that can evoke many arguments about how to create the best version, is an evolution of French and Greek recipes, with the catalyst change being the hottest new ingredient in the market place, the tomato (courtesy of Christopher Columbus).

A traditional Lasagne - Photo courtesy of Dee Catering & Logistic Services (Western Australia)

This version of Lasagne was inspired by a meal I had in a Restaurant that actually disappointed me.  I saw “Chicken Lasagne” on the menu, and ordered it, but felt the intensity of the tomato based sauce totally killed the chicken in the dish.  Two days later I created this recipe, or something very much like it (as I did not write the original recipe down, it was more the concept that I am replicating here).  In essence, it’s a blending of a creamy chicken Alfredo or Carbonara, using Lasagne techniques and pasta.  It’s one of those dishes that I make that seems to be an instant hit, yet no one seems to have joined the dots and made a version commercially yet…at least I have never seen one in any Restaurant or cookbook.

Chicken Lasagne with cream, bacon & mushrooms.

I hope you get inspired by it and give it a try.  Again, don’t pay too much attention to the recipe itself, just the idea…and make it your own.  Let me know what you do, and how it turns out.

The ingredients to make the magic happen...

Ingredients

  • 1kg Chicken Thighs (boneless & skinless)
  • 200g Mushrooms (Sliced)
  • 200g Rindless Bacon (Julienned)
  • 1 1/2 Red Onions (finely diced)
  • 2 Tbsp Garlic
  • 1 Tablespoons Olive oil
  • 3/4 Cup White Wine (good enough to drink)
  • Zest from 1/2 Lemon
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter (3 Tbsp if using fresh or pre-cooked pasta)
  • 2 Tablespoons Flour (3 Tbsp if using fresh or pre-cooked pasta)
  • 1 1/2 Cups Milk or Cream (or blend)
  • 1 1/2 Cups Chicken Stock
  • 1 Cup Sour Cream
  • 1/2 Cup fresh Parsley (finely chopped)
  • 150g Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 Cups grated Mozzarella Cheese
  • Salt/Pepper (freshly ground) to taste
  • Lasagne Sheets (fresh or dried)

Cut the chicken thighs into large cubes and add half to a food processor.  Pulse for 10 x 1-second pulses, then 1 x 4-second pulse (full seconds…one-one thousand, two-one thousand, etc).  Turn out into a bowl, and repeat with the other half.  You can use chicken mince instead, if you want, the result will be more consistent.  You can also use breasts, which will actually whiten up the dish a lot, as thighs tend to be a bit grey.  I like the flavour of thighs though, so I tend to use them a lot.

Add oil to a large frying pan and add the bacon.  Cook until almost crispy over a medium heat, stirring often.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon to a bowl, and reserve.

Delicious rendered bacon

Add a quarter of the chicken to the bacon grease, and cook until almost done, trying not to brown the chicken at all.  Clear the centre of the pan by moving the cooked chicken to the sides, and add the next quarter.  Repeat until all of the chicken is cooked.  Using the slotted spoon, remove the cooked chicken to the bacon bowl, and reserve.

Move the cooked chicken to the edge, and add the next batch in the centre.

Add the onions and mushrooms and garlic, with a pinch of salt, and cook slowly until the onions are just translucent.  You don’t want any browning as it will colour the dish.

De-glaze the pan with the white wine and lemon juice, and cook until almost evaporated.

Notice the base of the pan where I moved a spoon through the mix. When the liquid takes a while to fill the path made by the spoon, you've reduced enough.

Add the chicken and bacon mix, and stir to combine, then set aside.

Combine the chicken stock and milk in a microwave proof container, and cook on high for 3 minutes.  If it is not yet steaming, cook for 1 minute bursts until it is.  Careful not to boil the liquid, however.  Add the butter to a sauce-pan and cook until fragrant.

Liquid gold

Add the flour to the butter, and stir until all lumps are gone.  Cook for 1 minute and then add the hot milk/stock mix, stirring constantly until thickened (about the consistency of cream).  Remove from heat and add the Parmesan cheese.  Stir until all of the cheese is melted, the add the sour cream and stir until is well combined.

Added the Parmesan Cheese to the sauce...

Add the cream sauce to the chicken mix, and stir to combine.  Taste, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in the chopped parsley, and set aside.

Everyone in the pool! Now just the layers...

In a bowl, mix the Mozzarella cheese with the lemon zest.

Preheat the oven to 180C (350f).

At this point, we consider the pasta.  I just use bought dry pasta sheets, and place layer them as is.  I do not pre-cook them, and I try not to buy “Instant” either, as they are usually thinner.  If you are using fresh, or precooked, get them ready now, and hopefully you used the higher quantity of flour and butter (for a thicker sauce).

In a high sided baking dish, spread a thin layer of the chicken mixture, just enough so that you cant see the bottom of the baking dish.  Top with a sprinkling of the Mozzarella.  Layer the pasta sheets on top, without overlapping them.  Repeat this layering until you reach the top of the pan, at which point you do not add a layer of pasta on top of the cheese.

Just to show the layering of the sauce and cheese with the pasta.

Cover the lasagne with foil, and bake for 45 minutes (30 minutes for fresh or pre-cooked pasta sheets).  Then uncover, and bake for 15 minutes more.

Just out of the oven...now the wait.

It is important that you let the Lasagne cool before you cut into it.  You really want to let it sit, covered loosely with foil, for 90 minutes before serving…if you can.  Good luck with that.

Serve with a side of steamed broccoli, and maybe a nice bruschetta. Oh, and a glass of the white wine you used in the dish.

Again, let me know if this dish inspires you, and share with us all where you take it in your kitchen.

Enjoy the meal!

Maria’s Donkey – Tapas Treats along the river

We live in a beautiful part of the world, and this is the time of year that the region shines.  The wet season is behind us for another year, and the warm tropical days are washed away with balmy evenings and cool nights while the rest of the country is bracing for winter snows, and chilling rains.

Maria's Donkey on the Pioneer River

This is the time of year where you can’t decide whether the week should end with a Friday evening stroll amongst the palms along the riverfront, or sipping margaritas as the sun sets, painting the mangroves in hues of amber and burnt orange.  This week we chose the latter.

Mackay is really doing some exciting things along the Riverfront, and it’s about time.  Downtown has always been a club haven, where nights are filled with echoes of dance music and peels of intoxicated laughter, but it’s not been a great place to go out for a quiet drink…or two.  This is slowly changing.

The promise of a nice quiet drink, and some great Mexican food (according to the rumour), is what took us along to Maria’s Donkey on River Street.  It’s on the Eastern side of the Forgan Bridge, just before you get to the Fish Markets, and is marked by a small swinging sign with the picture of a hatted donkey.

For a good time, enter here...

Like many of the buildings in the area, it’s built on piers over the top of the mud flats that edge the Pioneer River, and stepping onto the entryway takes you off of terra firma, as the river bank drops away beneath your feet.  This afternoon a party was enjoying exclusive access to the patio at the far end of the building, but other nice seating was available along the side patio, and inside offered cozy couch seating, as well as stools along the bar.

The first thing that caught our attention was the sign “This is not a restaurant, this is a bar” and it turns out that Maria’s Donkey is a Tapas bar, rather than a restaurant proper.  It basically means that it’s not really a place for kids, though the manager explains that weekend lunches and afternoons are not really an issue.  I actually like the Tapas Bar concept as a place where adults can gather and share a few drinks with great small appetizer portions of finger foods.  A place where you don’t have to dodge under-supervised children.  A place that doesn’t quite cater to the cashed up and testosterone fueled miner, who is two days into his five day break, and is sharing the second day of his “bender” with everyone else within earshot.  Maria’s lives up to the promise of a nice quiet drink, and gentle music plays in the background…loud enough to enjoy, but quiet enough to allow conversation to be held at a normal level.

Delicious Chorizo Hotpot

Looking over the Tapas offerings, the selection had an eclectic Mediterranean feel to it, rather than the Mexican we had hoped for, though the menu does change daily.  The specials board spruiked a range of seafood choices, including oysters, mussels, prawns and calamari, while on the menu proper Arabic, Greek, Spanish and Italian inspired dishes shared space with some Mexican offerings.  Today we honed in on the Chorizo Hot Pot, though the Empanada’s (Chicken and/or Beef) were calling my name, as was the Cherry Tomato and Chorizo skewers, with Feta and fresh Basil.

I thought the prices were quite reasonable, and the Hot Pot  was enough food for a good lunch by itself.  Essentially a tomato and Chorizo stew, it was packed with sausage and full of flavour.  It was rustic and simple, very hearty, and I thought great value at $12.  Unfortunately we weren’t that hungry, we actually shared the one hot pot, as it was only late afternoon, but I’ll update the blog with other food tastings as I visit again.

One of the other things that caught my eye, was the range of beers and cocktails available.  For a smaller bar, I thought the range carried a good mix of beer styles and flavours.  Red ales through to light lagers were all represented, and I don’t think anyone would walk away from Maria’s without finding a beer that they would enjoy.  Normally I would have been all over the ales, but this afternoon we had a thirst for something else.  Something with a lime’s sharpness, and a crust of salt around the rim of the glass.  The word “Margarita” stuck out like a sore thumb on the Cocktail list, and it reminded me that it had been an awful long time since I had had a good Margarita in a bar.  Could this be the place?

Now the view is perfect

So, also at $12 a pop, the Margarita wasn’t cheap, but it was good.  No, it was great.  Maybe we were here on a “pop-in” visit, just on a whim, but the Margarita they served actually put the wife an I on a Tequila and Triple Sec fuelled adventure that night.  We went home and broke out the blender, to perfect our own at home, and we got close to Maria’s quality…but a great Margarita is a hard thing to find, and even harder to replicate, and Maria’s was one of the best.

This is not a very detailed review of Maria’s Donkey, but I wanted to get this post out quickly, rather than wait until I had tried more of the menu, and the cocktail list.  7 weeks it’s been open, and places like Maria’s really need our support.  Not just because it’s a nice place for adults to enjoy a drink without drunken yobo’s spilling XXXX Gold on our shoes and shirts, but because it’s a place that delivers on it’s promise.  Good honest simple food, great atmosphere, an excellent selection of beverages, all reasonably priced.

I will certainly be back, and I’m giving it 4 little piggies.

Stew Weather – Winter with 26C (79F) temperatures

It’s funny how climate affects food.  Summer time meals are lighter, and usually involve the BBQ and a few cleansing ales.  Winter meals tend to be more slow cooked braises and stews, and the soul warming soup.  But what happens when you live in place that is warm all year round?

Good weather for Stew

Being a fairly recent transplant to Tropical Australia, one of the things we found that we missed from the colder climates were the stews and braised roasts.  It just never sounded like a good idea while the sun was shining outside, and the temps were hovering in the high 20’s (low 80’s Fahrenheit).  The last thing you wanted to do was heat up the house more by cooking something for 4 hours.

Not so good weather for a stew...
The boys enjoying a nice winters day in Tropical Queensland

This year seems different, however, and I think it’s because we have acclimated.  I used to laugh at all the “Queenslanders” because they were so damned temperature sensitive.  27C was great, 26C a bit nippy, whilst 28C was a heat wave…but now I am not far off the same punchline.  It’s been 10 days since we have seen temperatures over 26 (79F) and I feel like a stew! Admittedly none of those 10 days were below 26 except 1…which was 25.1.

So, bargain shopping again, the wife found some lovely lamb leg chops…just the ticket for a warming stew.  The key to any stew is to chose a nice tough cut, with plenty of connective tissue.  As my post “Take back the Burger” tries to explain, the tough cuts closer to the hoof and the horn usually reward you with the richest flavour, and hours of cooking in a liquid require a robust flavoured cut to stand up to the punishment.  Jut like a good stock, however, bones are also critical.  You need the gelatin to form from the bones so that you get the nice unctuous mouth-feel that a good stew gives.  Bone in leg chops tick the boxes, almost as well as a nice ox-tail.

Now, I love stews…I mean really love them.  And everyone knows that a stew is good day 1, but great day 2 (and beyond), but do we know why?  Well, let’s see if I can explain it.

Gelatin is a substance that is formed when you cook collagen, which is found inside the bones and skin of animals.  It’s a building block.  Long cooking methods hydrolise the collagen, turning into something amazing…Gelatin.

Gelatin has a viscous mouthfeel that is not dissimilar to fat, and we are programmed genetically to like it…and we do.

The interesting thing about Gelatin, is that once it cools and shifts into it’s solid state (relatively solid, given it’s jiggliness) it’s melting point raises.  So when reheated the meat which has the gelatin throughout will be less stringy and more solid.  This translates to a better food experience, and a better dish after the meal has cooled.

So, the secret to making your stews great day 1 is quite simple.  Serve them on Day 2 for the first time.  That’s right, cook them the day before and reheat them!

The only problem with that thinking, is you end up with horribly over-cooked vegetables.  I still want some bite in my veg, and whilst the stew is delicious on subsequent days, the carrots and potatoes (etc) are not.

Well, here is my solution:

  • Day 1, cook the meat (lamb in this case) and build the flavour base
  • Day 2, reheat the meat with a new batch of veg

Day 1:

Lamb Stew Ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 1.8kg Bone-in Lamb Leg Chops (about 7 or 8)
  • 1/4 cup light olive oil

Dredge:

  • 1 Cup Flour
  • 2 Tbsp Salt

Flavour Base:

  • 250g Diced Carrots (about 4 medium)
  • 250g Diced Celery (about 4 ribs)
  • 150g Diced Onion (about 2 smallish)
  • 1 Tbsp Salt (Kosher or Cooking)
  • 4 Anchovies
  • 2 Tbsp Crushed Garlic
  • 1/2 Cup Tomato Paste
  • 1 Cup Red Wine
  • 1 385ml Bottle Dark Ale
  • 1 Cup Chicken Stock
  • 1 Tbsp Peppercorns
  • Bay leaves (4 small, 2 large)

Mix the dredge ingredients, and…well…dredge the lamb.  Leave it whole, no point wasting time and cutting up meat that’s just going to fall apart itself later.

In a heavy ovenproof pot (one which has a heavy tight fitting lid), add the oil and begin to fry the dredged lamb.  Do not crowd the pot.  Just cook as much as the pot can hold whilst keeping a good gap between the pieces, and to the edge.  I do 2 at a time, no more.  Remember our culinary friend, the Maillard reaction?  Once browned on both sides, evacuate the pot and put the lamb chops on a plate.  Repeat with all of the lamb.

Nice crusty exterior thanks to our friend the Maillard reaction

Add the anchovies, and stir quickly to melt them.  Add the garlic and the mirepoix (carrots, celery, and onion), and sprinkle the salt over the top.  Cook until just starting to become tender, then add the tomato paste and pepper corns.  Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes.

Add the wine, ale (I used a nice home brew dark ale), stock, and the bay leaves.  Stir to combine and bring to the boil.

Add the lamb chops back in, including any liquid that has come out of the chops, and make sure the meat is buried by the sauce and veg.  Lid, and place in a low oven (about 130 degrees Celsius or 260f) for 3 hours.  Remove from the heat.

Packed with flavour, here is the heart of the dish.

Once cooled, remove the meat to a dish and break it up a bit.  Cover with foil or wrap and place in the fridge.  Strain the liquid from the pot, and put it into another container (or jug).  Once cooled enough, cover with wrap and put it in the fridge to cool.  Discard the remaining veggies and herbs/spices (or use it, as I did, to make you favourite pooch a very tasty dog food).

Day 2:

Stew Ingredients:

  • Cooked lamb and liquid from previous method
  • 4 Potatoes
  • 6 Carrots
  • 2 Onions
  • Any other vegetables you like (even mushrooms)
  • 1 cup barley
  • 2 cups Chicken stock
  • Sour Cream or Yoghurt

Remove the liquid from the fridge.  The fat will have solidified on top, and should be removed in one big piece.  I love lamb fat to cook with, so I’d tend to keep it.  At the very least, use it to make dog treats.

Quarter the potatoes, chunk up the carrots, and french the onions (ok, cut them up however you’re happy to eat them).

Put half of the “liquid”, which should actually be a jelly, into the pot.  Layer in the lamb and veggies, mixed with the barley.  Top with the rest of the “liquid” and lid.  Put back into the oven, and cook for 2 hours, or until the barley is tender.

Serve in a bowl with a dollop of sour cream or yoghurt on top.  Goes great with a nice crusty loaf of bread, or some Yorkshire pudding.

A lovely lamb stew...but not exactly MY lamb stew

OK, so I have to be totally honest here.  Not everything went as planned…well not with the blog anyway.  The stew was amazing, however the day of final assembly did not happen until a couple days after I expected.  It’s one of the great things about the stew, is that you can hold it in suspended animation for a while, before finishing it.

Anyway, I did not finish it, that pleasure fell to my wife to do.  Unfortunately, I did not get any photo’s of the finished result.  Sometimes the reality of food and meals does not cooperate with the reality of blogging!  So above is a beautiful picture I lifted from a fellow blogger.  Her site can be found by clicking on the photo above.  I encourage you to read her site as well, she writes lovely recipes and the photo’s (as you can see) are just amazing.

Anyway, enjoy the stew, and send me a photo of yours…i’ll replace the one I lifted with yours!

Enjoy the meal.

My Deathbed Meal – Rib Tickling Roast

If you’re even remotely a foodie, you have considered the answer to the following question:

What meal would you want on your deathbed?  Your last ever meal?

Invariably it’s a throw-back to a childhood comfort classic, something that mum used to make on a Sunday night, and something that brought the whole family together around a dinner table where civil conversation replaced the usual bickering and complaining.  Food excites us in a very primal way, and it’s one of those triggers that releases memories that we might have otherwise thought of as long lost.  At least to me, it does.

As with most foodies, the last meal quandary is something I have mulled over at different times, in conversations involving different people, but it always seems to come back to one meal.  The simple Roast.

Who can resist the allure of the Roast Beef? Probably my deathbed choice.

Of all of the roasts available to choose from, i would more than likely choose the Standing Rib (Beef) roast.  I think it has a perfect blend of flavour, tenderness, visual appeal, and good memories of childhood and adulthood alike.  In fact, as much as I love the Hindu religion, the Standing Rib Roast alone makes being a practitioner simply not worth it.

Standing Rib Roast - AKA Prime Rib

Ingredients:

  • Bone-in Rib Roast, minimum 3 bone
  • 2 Tbsp Oil
  • 2 Tbsp Cooking Salt
  • 1 Tbs Fresh Ground Pepper
  • 1 Tbs garlic Powder
  • 1 Tbsp Mustard Powder
  • 2 Tsp Ground Sage

Carefully run a sharp knife between the bone and the meat, to separate the tines in one single piece.

You don't have to be a great butcher to do this. A bit of patience, and a little practice, it's a lot easier than de-boning a chicken!

Cut the collar of fat off of the roast, wrap it, and put it in the fridge.  We wont be using this for this recipe, but you will want it for the roasted potatoes.

Using kitchen twine, tie off the roast to make it more compact and uniform.  It will help the to cook the meat more evenly.

From butcher to surgeon...cooking is multi-faceted. Again, it's a good technique to learn, and this is the best time to practice...when there's no filling to leak out, lol.

Blend all of the spices/seasonings in a small bowl and rub the beef with the oil.  Then season all parts of the beef, including the bones.

By cutting the meat off the bone before cooking, you will be able to easily slice the hot roast. You still get the delicious ribs, plus lifting the main roast from the bottom of the pan is a great idea.

Preheat the oven to about 150 degrees Celsius (300f).

Place the bones in a greased roasting pan, and put the roast on top, using the bones as a trivet.

Refer to the chart below, and cook until internal temperature is about 20 degrees short of target temperature (35 degrees short if using Fahrenheit).  Push the heat up to 200 Celsius (400f) and cook until internal temperature is about 8 degrees short of target (15 degrees short if using Fahrenheit).

What target temperature, Celsius and Farhenheit, for what doneness.

<WARNING:  SCIENCE CONTENT>

This is a bit of a reverse method to the most common thinking, which is to start the meat off in a hot oven and reduce.  What happens, however, is that the more gently build up tends to shock the meat less, which results in less moisture loss.  Contrary to popular belief, searing meat does not seal in the juices.  In fact, it does the opposite as the meat fibers contract and squeeze out internal juices.

If you have the time, try this method with an oven temperature closer to your target temp (30C/50F above target, or even closer if you have more time) and cook for longer…following the same rules in respect to boosting the temp and resting the meat.

Once thing searing does do is create a Maillard reaction, which gives a lovely flavour and crusty texture.  We can get this by bursting the heat at the end.

Remove the roast portion, wrap completely in foil, and let is sit for 25 minutes.

Can you wait the 25 minutes? Well you need to, your patience will be rewarded.

Wrap the bones in foil and return them to the oven.  Back the oven off to about 150C again (300f).

After 25 minutes, remove the bones from the oven and unwrap.  Hide them for yourself to eat later.  Unwrap the roast, and reserve any juice to add to the Au Jus.  Slice and serve with your favourite roast vegetables.  This time I chose Hasselback Potatoes and Roasted Carrots (with a green salad).  You will see from the picture below the result of tying the roast.  A nice round evenly cooked presentation.

At medium, it's probably a tad over-cooked (for me), but for the kids and guests, it made a good balance. Ends for well done fans, centre for medium to medium rare.

Watch for a future blog on Hasselback potatoes, they were truly to die for.

I would love to hear from you about your deathbed meal.

Eat and enjoy the meal.

A dining “experience” – Grand Chancellor Hotel Brisbane “Fresco’s”

Dining is all about an experience. It’s a sum of factors, some more important than others, that equate to a perception of enjoyment. Granted, many of these are subjective in nature, and even the import of each piece of the overall package will vary from one person to another…even one day to the next.

I bring this up because it is especially important today. This evening I ate at the Fresco’s restaurant within the Grand Chancellor in Spring Hill (Brisbane).

For a start, I had a late lunch today. Couple this with a flight from Mackay, and I was just not feeling very hungry. I wasn’t even going to review this meal, given I wasn’t really “feeling it”, but here we are. And for good reason, I think.

Now, part of the overall experience, and for me a major part, is value. When you have to hand over your hard earned dollars at the end of the meal, how do you feel about it? Did you get your money’s worth? And Fresco’s sells itself as a higher end restaurant. From the hotel lobby, it has all the signs of a flash joint. Small menu with prices that don’t include cents. Fancy gourmet buzz words in the descriptions, like “champagne vinegar mignonette” and “porcini mushroom foam”. Wait staff and a maitre ‘d who wear matching uniforms and half aprons. So it was almost with trepidation that I walked into the dining room to be seated.

Now, to be fair, the waitress was teriffic. In fact, all of the staff were great. Service was spot on, no complaints, but the experience started to get a little confused when I took my seat.

Shiny white butchers paper lined the tables. Underneath was a white table cloth, to be sure, and by god it was going to stay white. Ok, you might thimk i’m being a bit persnickety, but come on. Really Grand Chancellor Hotel? If you have an entree (or appetizer for my American friends), a main course, a dessert, and 1 drink, you cannot spend less than $60 per person. It is not a paper table cloth type restaurant. I promise you there are not unruly kids squirting ketchup bottles here.

Then I noticed the shot glass candle, and the only thing tackier than a shot glass candle is…a battery powered LED shotglass candle. Which, of course, is what it was.

Placed next to the fake candle, was a small saucer separated into two halves in the shape of a ying yang. Decor by jumble sale? One half had flaked sea salt, the other coarse ground pepper. Love the salt idea, hate the pepper. Hit me with a grind or two, i love the aroma of pepper as it is ground between two ceramic wheels, but it loses that freshness in seconds, and setting it on a dish doesn’t cut it.

I wont even get started on the rest of the decor, other than to say it needed some serious updating. I love the music from the 80’s, but the decor not so much.

All that aside, let’s talk food.

Ok, first thing…great wine list. A good selection, covering a lot of styles, and a range of price points. The wine fridges sitting on the counter, not great pieces of furniture. The beer selection is OK, but they have Coopers Sparkling Ale, so I’m well pleased.

Next thing. A salad. Remember me not being hungry? All of a sudden, i’m thinking a salad is a good idea. But guess what. No salad on the menu. If you have a restaurant, please make sure you have a salad option for the main. It’s not hard to make one, and it’s a great light alternative. Plus, remove the meat and you have a vegetarian option. If you are reading this Fresco’s…GET A FRIGGIN’ SALAD.

So, i decide to order a couple of entrees (again, appetizers for my American friends).

Salmon, marinated with ginger & kaffir lime: served with shaved coconut, coriander and bean sprout salad with chilli soy dressing.

Kangaroo fillet: baby spinach, beetroot & feta salad with chilli tomato relish (except they were out of feta, so had goats cheese, and had rocket (arugula) instead of spinach).

And they were both amazing.

The chef at the Fresco’s knows his (or her) shit. All that decor crap, the tacky table settings, well they are not really the important components of the package now, are they.

The salmon was perfectly cooked. A small portion, maybe, but it was an entree only. Rare are it’s centre, still moist, and delicately seasoned, it was perfectly done. And i don’t know how he (or she) made the salmon skin cracker, but it was a knock out. Even such a simple thing as the bean sprout and coriander salad was masterfully done. Like the old game of “pick up sticks”, bean sprouts create a tangled mess of 3d architecture that adds visual interest to the plate, and the colours of the sprouts, red onion (finely sliced) and coriander really prove that one first eats with ones eyes. Of course, it tasted great too, very well dressed.

The Kangaroo was better. Rare, as roo should be, it was perfectly seasoned, still juicy, and incredibly tender. I tried to savour those 5 small slices, but they were gone too soon. Is there a better combination in the food world than beetroot and goats cheese? I don’t think so. Fresh roasted beetroot, deliciously sweet and still with a good crunch, though tender enough to run a fork through it. Contrasted against the saltiness and soft creamy texture of the cheese…it was amazing. The chilli tomato relish balanced the dish nicely, with a little piquancy and acidity. This dish will go into the memory bank for later reproduction. No greater compliment than that.

I finished a very satisfying meal off with a nice espresso…and of course it was served in a double walled bodum espresso glass, as if to make a final statement about tacky decor.

If i were to measure the meal by the meal alone, it would have been outstanding. And while the decor and accessories were truly minor issues, more comedy fodder than anything, they were still issues. Less excusable was the lack of a salad on the menu (there was a pasta).

Though the environment may have missed the mark, the food was of the highest order and i felt it was well worth the money spent. Chef, my kudos to you and your team.

Fresco’s, your dining experience, as a package, was worth 3.5 little piggies.
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