May 29, 2012

Slow-cooked Ox Tail in Red Wine

This is by far one of my favourite dishes to cook. I once worked in a restaurant with a very clever chef who taught me his "Marinate Method" way of slow-cooking tough cuts of meat - and have never looked back since! The trick is to marinate your meat overnight with the same liquid and vegetables that you plan to slow-cook it in, which allows the savoury juices to permeate deep into the meat.

I would love to say this is a quick and efficient one-pot wonder, but unfortunately, the straining and reducing required means there will be that extra little bit of washing up to do! However, all is forgiven once you see the magic that is created - juicy meat, so tender that it literally falls apart in your mouth, and a sauce so gelatinous and luscious that you'll be asking yourself why you didn't make this sooner!

For this recipe, I used ox-tail, but the method also works beautifully with other secondary cuts of meat like beef shin, ox cheek or lamb neck.

Serves 4-6
1.5kg ox tail
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 brown onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, bruised
3 bay leaves
8 thyme sprigs
15cm zest of an orange
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 bottle red wine (my favourite to use is shiraz)

½ cup plain flour, seasoned with 1 tsp sea salt
1 tbs olive oil
125g pancetta, chopped
2 cinnamon quills
1 tbs tomato paste
1L cold water

2 carrots, diced
2 celery sticks, diced
4 thyme sprigs

To serve:
Knob of butter
Mashed Potato
Orange Gremolata (combine ¼ cup chopped parsley, grated zest of 1 orange and ½ tsp chopped garlic)

Place the oxtail, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, orange zest and black peppercorns in a large container or non-reactive saucepan. Pour in the red wine to cover everything and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight.

Drain the marinating liquid and set it aside to use later. Separate the vegetables from the ox tail. Pat the ox tail dry with a paper towel and roll into the seasoned flour. Shake off any excess flour.

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan and seal the meat, over a medium-high heat, until golden brown. Do this in batches if needed, wiping the pan clean between each batch. Overcrowding the pan will decrease the temperature and the meat will start to "stew" instead of brown. Set the ox tail aside.

Add the pancetta to the pan and sweat over a medium-low heat, for 5 minutes, or until it is fragrant and leaking of juices. Set aside with the ox tail.

Add the drained vegetables and herbs to the pan, along with the cinnamon quills, and cook on a medium heat until the vegetables are softened.

Add the tomato paste and cook it out for 2-3 minutes.

Return the oxtail and pancetta to the pan and pour in the reserved red wine marinating liquid. If the liquid does not completely cover the meat and vegetables, pour in enough cold water to cover everything.

Bring to the boil, then cook on a gentle simmer for at least 4-5 hours, until the meat is tender and almost breaking apart.  Regularly skim off the oil and residue that rises to the top.

Carefully remove the oxtail from the saucepan. Set it aside and cover with foil. Strain the cooking liquid and discard the vegetables, pancetta, herbs and cinnamon. Return the liquid to the saucepan and cook on a gentle simmer, until it reduces to your desired saucy consistency.

This next step is optional, but I always do it to give the sauce extra flavour and fragrance - and also because I love my vegies! Simmer the freshly diced carrot, celery and thyme sprigs with your sauce for at least 30 minutes to cook the vegetables.

TIP: To prevent fibrous celery, use a vegetable peeler to peel away the "stringy" bits on the outside before dicing. Simple, but very effective :)

Return the meat to the saucepan with the sauce and stir in a knob of butter, which gives the sauce a wonderful richness, without being greasy. Serve right away, with mashed potato and a sprinkle of orange gremolata.

Slow-cooked Ox Tail in Red Wine

Grilled Zucchini with Parmesan and Mint

Zucchini is one of those vegetables with a sweet, mild flavour that makes it quite versatile in both sweet and savoury dishes. It can be eaten raw, grated, roasted, stuffed, braised and pickled- the list is endless! To enjoy as a snack, slice it into thick medallions, season with black pepper and sprinkle with grated parmesan and chopped mint leaves. Then place under a super hot grill until the herbs go crispy and the cheese is melted and beauitfully golden brown. Whats your favourite way of enjoying zucchini?

Take a look at this ginormous zucchini from grandma's garden!

May 28, 2012

Brazilian-style Chicken with Okra

The sweetness of the capsicums and delicate flavour of the okra really stand out in this dish. Together, they beautifully compliment the chicken and white wine. Not only is it visually appetizing, but this meal is also quite healthy and great for winter - add more jalapeños to fire up those taste buds! Serve with anything that will soak up the zingy sauce - rice, mashed potato or crusty bread.

Recipe from "Relaxed cooking with Curtis Stone":

Serves 4:
- 4 chicken drumsticks
- 4 chicken thighs
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 1 red capsicum, seeded and thinly sliced
- 1 yellow capsicum, seeded and thinly sliced
- 2 roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
- 1 or 2 jalapeños, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 10 fresh okra pods, thinly sliced on the diagonal

Score the skin on the chicken drumsticks and thighs with a sharp knife. Sprinkle the chicken all over with salt and black pepper.

Place a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Drizzle the oil into the hot pan and add the chicken, skin side down. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the skin is a deep golden brown colour. Then turn the chicken over and cook the second side for about 5 minutes. Transfer the chicken pieces to a plate and drain all but 1 tablespoon of the oil from the pan. (The chicken will be golden brown on the outside but will not be cooked through at this point.)

Add the onions to the pan and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the capsicum, tomatoes, jalapeños, and garlic, and sauté for 4 minutes, or until the capsicum has softened slightly. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in the wine and allow to come to a simmer.

Return the chicken to the pan. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Stir the okra into the stew, cover the pan again, and cook for a further 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Serve and smile!

Brazilian-style Chicken with Okra

May 26, 2012

Vietnamese Pork Roll with Coleslaw

I love a good old fashioned Vietnamese Pork Roll. You can get it, made to order, from the many Vietnamese bakeries dotted along streets like Victoria Street in Richmond, Springvale Road in Springvale and Hopkins Street in Footscray.

In Vietnamese, the pork roll is known as bánh mì thịt (literally "bread and meat") and is basically a sandwich made from a white, airy baguette with a thin and crispy crust. It can include various meat fillings such as grilled pork, grilled pork patties, grilled chicken, meat floss, roasted pork belly, pork meatballs in a tomato sauce, Vietnamese seasoned pork roll (also known as Vietnamese ham) and spreadable pork liver pâté. The salad served with it usually includes shredded and pickled carrots and daikon, sliced cucumber, spring onion, coriander and fresh chilli - finished off with a drizzle of soy sauce and ground white pepper. Yum!

Below is my twist on a Vietnamese pork roll. For the meat filling, I used Vietnamese ham (chả lụa) and pork liver pâté. The salad includes a mixture of vegetables and herbs, combined to form a crisp and refreshing Vietnamese coleslaw.

Vietnamese ham can be found, wrapped and sealed in banana leaves, in Asian groceries. It is sometimes labelled as "Vietnamese seasoned pork roll". You can purchase canned pâté from delicatessens, supermarkets, Mediterranean food stores or in small containers from some Vietnamese bakeries.

Serves 4:
- 4 baguette rolls, from a Vietnamese bakery (usually $1 for 4)
- 1 x 78g can of pork liver pâté
- 1 x 450g roll of Vietnamese seasoned ham, sliced
- ¼ savoy cabbage, shredded
- 1 lebanese cucumber, sliced lengthways
- 1 carrot, grated
- Handful of Vietnamese herbs, shredded. From my garden I picked a mixture of coriander, spearmint (húng lui), Asian basil (rau que), fish mint (diep cá
) and Vietnamese mint (rau răm).
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp white vinegar
- 1 tsp white sugar 
- 1 tsp fish sacue
- Soy sauce and ground white pepper, to serve

In a colander, combine the carrot and cabbage with the salt and vinegar. Set aside over a shallow dish for at least 1 hour to slightly cure. Squeeze the vegetables with your hands to extract excess juices and transfer to a large bowl.

In a small bowl, stir the sugar with the fish sauce until dissolved. Pour this over the vegetables and mix to combine. Taste, and adjust the seasonings to your preference by adding in more salt, vinegar, sugar or fish sauce, if required. Add the herbs and combine.

Slice the baguettes in half lengthways and evenly spread the pâté over one side of each of the rolls. Add the sliced ham, followed by the cucumber and the salad. Finally, if desired, drizzle over soy sauce and sprinkle on the white pepper. Serve and enjoy! :)

Vietnamese Pork Roll with Coleslaw

May 14, 2012

Moroccan Vegetable Ragout with Mushrooms and Couscous

Not only is this Maghreb-inspired dish nourishing and scrumptious, but it also bursts with goodness and antioxidants from the great array of vegetables, spices and herbs used. The ragout is yet to let me down when I want to impress my friends and family - they always go back for seconds and are surprised when I tell them how simple it is to put together. Oh the magic of spices!

If desired, add an onion and a clove of garlic, both chopped, and sweat them with the olive oil for a few minutes before adding the spices. I just omitted them because my grandma can't eat onions or garlic - the ragout turned out just as flavoursome and moreish.

Serves 4-6:
- 2 tbs olive oil
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper (or more if you want a spicier kick)
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 400g tin whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- 4-5 cups vegetable stock
- 1 stick celery
- 1 large carrot
- 1 large zucchini
- 200g button mushrooms
- 420g tin chickpeas
- ¾ cup coriander and parsley leaves, chopped

For the couscous (serves 6):
- 500ml water
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 500g packet couscous
- 75g butter

To make the couscous, bring the water to the boil with the salt in a non-stick saucepan. Turn off the heat, then quickly pour in the couscous.

Cover with a lid and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Add the butter and carefully combine it into the couscous. Season with more salt if necessary. If you find that your couscous has clumps, use a fork to gently break and fluff it up. Cover with the lid and set aside.

To prepare your vegetables, quarter the zucchini and carrots lengthways and cut into 4cm long pieces. Cut the celery into a similar shape. Halve the mushrooms and set aside.

Drain the chickpeas and put in a large bowl with enough cold water to cover well. Lift up handfuls of chickpeas and rub them between your hands to loosen the skins. Run more water into the bowl, stir well and let the skins float to the top, then skim them off. Repeat until all the skins have been removed, then drain them again. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a heavy-based pot, add the cayenne pepper and spices and cook gently on a low heat for 2 minutes until fragrant. Turn the heat up to medium-high, add the celery and carrot and cook for 5 minutes, or until beginning to soften. Add the tomatoes and continue to cook, stirring for 3-4 minutes.

Add the sugar and 4 cups of stock, ensuring that the stock comfortably covers the vegetables. If it doesn't, pour in more stock until everything is completely covered. Cover the pot with a lid and simmer for 30 minutes. Then add in the zucchini and mushrooms and gently simmer, with the lid on, for 20 minutes.

Finally, add the chickpeas and cook for a further 5 minutes until all the vegetables are soft. Taste the ragout for seasoning. 

To serve, spoon the couscous into shallow bowls. Ladle the vegetable ragout over the couscous and sprinkle with the coriander and parsley.

Moroccan Vegetable Ragout with Mushrooms


May 13, 2012

Poached Eggs with Basil and Smashed Avocado, Mushrooms, Spinach, Bacon and Hollandaise Sauce on Sourdough Toast

Happy Mother's Day to all the wonderful mums out there! I have much respect for mothers - no matter who you are or where you come from, life as a mum is not easy. However, without sounding too biased, I think my mum is the best in the world! :P

For brunch today, I cooked a meal full of our favourite breakfast foods - mushrooms, avocado, spinach, eggs and bacon on sourdough toast. Initially, I was tossed up between the idea of making either pancakes or crepes, but then finally decided a well-rounded breakfast finished off with fresh hollandaise sauce would hit the spot best - and it sure did, mum was very satisfied by the end of it! 

This was my second attempt at poaching eggs (method obtained from - the yolk was beautifully runny in the centre, but for some reason, I had a problem with the final shape of the poached egg. I forgot to take a photo of the eggs after poaching, but they were all quite flat and neatly round in shape, rather than taking on the rustic 3D 'teardrop' shape we see in cafes. Perhaps I didn't fill the saucepan with enough water and the egg just dropped to the bottom when I slid it in?

I must also admit that the idea of making hollandaise sauce freaks me out a little. It could be from all the hype created about yolk-based sauces being vulnerable to splitting and overcooking, but the washing-up-after-cooking side in me also thinks it is too much trouble to start a sauce from scratch. Well, that was up until I came across the recipe in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (one of the few cookbooks that I actually refer to on a regular basis). It made realise that nothing compares to freshly whisked hollandaise sauce - warm, rich, luscious and moreish. I was surprised to discover that the method is quite basic - there is just a lot of wording in the recipe to ensure that you do the process correctly; And it literally takes less than 5 minutes to make! I highly recommend for you try it out if you haven't made hollandaise sauce before :)

Serves 4:
- 4 thick slices sourdough bread
- 2 avocados, ripened
- 1 tbs pesto
- 1 tbs butter
- 500g mixed mushrooms, roughly sliced (I used button, shiitake and field)
- 1 tbs oregano leaves
- 4 bacon rashers, rind removed
- 400g baby spinach
- 20g Fontina cheese, grated (substitutes: gruyere, gouda, provolone, swiss)
- Basil leaves and extra virgin olive oil, to garnish
- Sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste

Poached Eggs:
- 4 fresh eggs, at room temperature (to maintain the temperature of the poaching water when the eggs are added)
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp salt

Hollandaise Sauce (makes 1-1½ cups):
- 175g-225g butter
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 tbs lemon juice
- 1 tbs cold water
- Big pinch sea salt
- Large pan or bowl of cold water, set aside
- 2 tbs cold butter
- Sea salt, cracked white pepper and drops of lemon juice, to taste

Poached Eggs:
First poach the eggs, working with one egg at a time. Crack one egg into a small bowl. Fill a wide saucepan with water until approximately 10cm deep. Add the lemon juice and salt (adding vinegar or lemon juice to the water when poaching helps the eggwhites to set quickly and keeps them attached to the yolks). Bring to the boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to medium-low. The water is at the right temperature for poaching when it is just simmering - there should be small bubbles rising from the base of pan and small ripples across the top of the water.

Fill a medium bowl with cold water and set aside. Using a wooden spoon or whisk, stir the water vigorously in one direction until it forms a whirlpool, which will help the eggs set in a neat shape.

Slide the cracked egg into the centre of the whirlpool as close to the surface of the water as possible. Cook for 3 minutes for a soft yolk or 4 minutes for a semi-set yolk. Do not stir the water again. To test whether the egg is cooked, use a slotted spoon to lift the egg out of the water and gently press the yolk with your finger. For a soft yolk, the white should be set and the yolk should yield. For a firmer yolk, the yolk will only yield slightly.

Use the slotted spoon to carefully lift the poached egg out of the saucepan and slide it into the bowl of cold water. This will stop the cooking process. Remove and drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Return the water to the boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low. When the water is at poaching temperature, use a large metal spoon to skim any foam from the surface. Repeat the poaching with the remaining eggs, then set the plate of poached eggs aside to be reheated just before serving.

Eggs can be poached up to 2 hours before serving and kept at room temperature until ready to be reheated. If you are poaching more than 6 eggs at a time, rinse the saucepan and use a fresh batch of water, lemon juice and salt, as the poaching water tends to become cloudy with threads of egg white.

To reheat the eggs, refill the saucepan with fresh water and bring to the boil over high heat. Turn off the heat. Use the slotted spoon to carefully transfer the eggs to the saucepan. Cover and set aside for 1 minute. Use the slotted spoon to lift the eggs out of the saucepan, resting the spoon on folded paper towel for a couple of seconds to absorb any excess water. Then slide the eggs onto your serving plate.

Hollandaise Sauce:
Next, make the hollandaise sauce. Cut the butter into pieces and melt it in a small saucepan over medium heat. Set aside. Beat the egg yolks for about 1 minute in a medium heat-proof bowl with a wire whisk, or until they become thick and sticky. Add the water, lemon juice and salt, and beat for half a minute more.

Add 1 tablespoon of the cold butter, but do not beat it in. Then place the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water and stir the egg yolks with the whisk until they slowly thicken into a smooth cream. This will take 1-2 minutes. If they seem to be thickening too quickly, or even suggest a lumpy quality, immediately plunge the bottom of the bowl in the pan of cold water, beating the yolks to cool them. Then continue beating over the heat. The egg yolks have thickened enough when you can begin to see the bottom of the bowl between strokes, and the mixture forms a light cream on the wires of the whisk.

Immediately remove from the heat and beat in the last tablespoon of the cold butter, which will cool the egg yolks and stop their cooking.

Then beating the egg yolks with the wire whisk, pour on the melted butter by droplets or quarter-teaspoonfuls until the sauce begins to thicken into a very heavy cream. Then pour the butter a little more rapidly. Omit the milky residue at the bottom of the butter pan.

Season the sauce to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

- Keeping the sauce warm: Hollandaise is served warm, not hot. If it is kept too warm, it will thin out or curdle. It can be held perfectly for an hour or more in a pan of lukewarm water.

- If the sauce is too thick: Beat in 1-2 tablespoons of hot water, vegetable cooking liquid, stock, milk or cream.

- If the sauce refuses to thicken: If you have beaten your butter too quickly, and the sauce refuses to thicken, it can be easily fixed. Rinse out a mixing bowl with hot water. Put in a teaspoon of lemon juice and a tablespoon of the sauce. Beat with a wire whisk for a moment until the sauce creams and thickens. Then beat in the rest of the sauce, half a tablespoon at a time, beating until each addition has thickened in the sauce before adding the next. This always works!

- If the sauce curdles or separates - "turned sauce": If a finished sauce starts to separate, a tablespoon of cold water beaten into it will often bring it back. If not, use the previous technique.

- Leftover hollandaise: Leftover hollandaise may be refrigerated for a day or two, or even frozen. To use again, beat 2 tablespoons of it in a saucepan over very low heat or hot water. Gradually beat in the rest of the sauce by spoonfuls.

Smashed Avocado:
After poaching the eggs and making the hollandaise sauce, prepare the avocados. Halve each avocado and carefully remove the centre pip. Use the tip of a knife to cut a criss-cross pattern through the flesh of the avocado halves (like you would with a mango). Scrape the cut flesh out with a spoon, into a bowl. Add the pesto and mix to combine, slightly squashing the avocado with the back of a spoon. Season with cracked black pepper. Set aside.

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add a splash of olive oil and the tablespoon of butter. Saute the mushrooms for 3 minutes with a pinch of sea salt and cracked black pepper. Toss through the oregano leaves and continue cooking for another minute or so, until the mushrooms are juicy. Transfer to a warm bowl, cover with foil and set aside.

Sourdough bread:
Lay the slices of sourdough on a baking tray, lined with baking paper, and place in a 180°C preheated oven for 3-4 minutes.

Meanwhile, wipe the frying pan, used for the mushrooms, clean with a paper towel. Fry the bacon on 2 minutes each side, until golden and fragrant.

At this stage, the sourdough should be ready - warm and slightly crisp. Begin to assemble the dish: Lay 4 dinner-sized plates out next to one another on the kitchen bench. Place a slice of sourdough toast on each plate, then evenly top with the smashed avocado, the mushrooms and the poached egg. Lay the bacon next to the sourdough bread.

Re-heat the frying pan used for the bacon and add the spinach. Saute for 1 minute, then add the grated cheese, season with a pinch of salt and pepper and mix to combine. Evenly divide the spinach between the 4 plates, alongside the bacon and sourdough toast.

Finally, finish the dish off with a sprinkle of basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil. Bon Apetit!

 Poached Eggs with Basil and Smashed Avocado, Mushrooms, Spinach, Bacon and Hollandaise Sauce on Sourdough Toast

Poached Egg with Basil and Smashed Avocado, Oregano Buttered Mushrooms and Hollandaise Sauce on Sourdough Toast (Inspired by one of Snow Pony's classic dishes)

May 12, 2012

Lemon Meringue Cupcakes

As we welcome Masterchef Australia back for its fourth season, let's commemorate with a delightful recipe by Isabella, from Junior Masterchef! The final results see a moist cake with bursts of flavour from the lemon curd, finished off with a pretty mountain of creamy, velvety meringue. You'd be crazy to resist!

- 1 cup pure cream
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1½ cups self-raising flour
- Finely grated rind of 1 lemon

Lemon Curd:
- ½ cup lemon juice
- 100g butter
- ½ cup caster sugar
- 1 egg
- 3 egg yolks

- 3 egg whites
- ½ cup caster sugar

Preheat oven to 180°C. Place 12 patty cake liners in a 12 hole ½-cup capacity muffin pan. Place cream, sugar and eggs in a large mixing bowl and whisk until smooth. Gradually add the flour and lemon zest and continue whisking until the mixture becomes thick and smooth.

Divide mixture between prepared liners and bake for 15-20 minutes or until cakes spring back to touch. Cool in muffin pan.

For the lemon curd, heat lemon juice and butter in a small saucepan and simmer until butter has melted. Add sugar, egg and yolks and cook, whisking continuously until mixture becomes thick and glossy. Taste, and adjust with extra sugar or lemon if necessary. Pour into a shallow dish to cool.

For the meringue, beat egg whites in an electric mixer until firm peaks form. Gradually add sugar, a tablespoon at a time, beating until sugar has dissolved between each addition. Spoon meringue mixture into a piping bag.

To serve, preheat grill to medium-high. Cut a small hole in the top of each cupcake and fill with 1-2 teaspoons of lemon curd.

Pipe a swirl of meringue mixture on the top of each cupcake and place under the heated grill for 1 minute, or until golden. Serve while warm and enjoy! :)

Lemon Meringue Cupcakes