Sunday, 29 September 2013

My Asian Excursion Weekend

Because I was starting to get a bit obsessed with Heston Blumenthal recipes, I decided to revert to cooking recipes created by Neil Perry - my other man crush. This also gave me a good reason to do my shopping on the heavily Asian influenced Victoria Street in Richmond. So I guess you could say this weekend is a locally sourced, internationally flavoured, Neil Perry affair.

Victoria Street is predominantly Vietnamese but there is also a Thai zone at the western end and there's a huge pan-Asian supermarket opposite the Woolworths and Aldi centre. It's pretty good to have such an authentic destination so close by, but this is one of the only times I have done my full shop here. It won't be the last.

The recipes that I've used this weekend are all from Neil's cookbook "Balance & Harmony", which he released around the time that Spice Temple was launched. This is my go-to Asian cookbook as even though it's written by a non-Asian the flavours seem authentic, the food is creative but not fussy and Neil's recipes are easy to follow. I also like the way that most recipes have a story behind them.

I've made steamed cod with black beans and served that with stir-fried zucchini, as well as black pepper beef. I served the beef with the most beautiful little bok choy shoots, each about the size of one of my fingers. I felt like a gastronomic, role reversed Crocodile Dundee when I saw them in a bag next to the regular bok choy and baby bok choy ("You call that a baby bok choy? Now this is a baby bok choy").
Black pepper beef with bok choy shoots 
The beef was beautifully tender and spicy. It could almost have been called "with three types of peppers" as it had 2 tablespoons of crushed black peppercorns, 2 chopped long chilli peppers and a diced capsicum (aka bell pepper). The feel in my mouth was hot without burning and the sauce - which included yellow soy bean sauce, oyster sauce and shaoxing rice wine - brought the flavours together beautifully. I also cooked some rice as this is something I've missed over the last few months.

I cooked the rice in the pressure cooker on a low pressure and was so pleased with the result that I took my Panasonic rice cooker to the Red Cross Shop this afternoon, together with some more fat clothes. Buying the Breville Fast Slow Cooker was such a good decision. I use it constantly in pressure cooker mode, and I've now been able to replace two other dedicated appliances (slow cooker and rice cooker).

Dinner tonight is chicken with snow peas and sichuan pepper, so I'd better get back to the kitchen as I'm getting hungry.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The meal that took a week to make

It took ages, and didn't quite work out, but I'm glad that I made the shepherd's pie from Heston Blumenthal at Home. The flavours, as with all of the recipes in this book were very pure, and while it was rich, there was a subtleness and (dare I say it?) sophistication to the dish (just not in how it looked - which was rustic at best). 
Heston Blumenthal's shepherd's pie
This is the dish that started last week with lamb stock that cooked overnight, continued last night with lamb shanks cooking overnight in the stock, and was finished tonight with about 5 steps. Yes, that's a lot of effort for something that doesn't look particularly beautiful, but I don't regret a minute of it. I'm not really sure what went wrong, but once I combined all the parts it went really soupy. 

Earlier this year, I made Karen Martini's shepherd's pie, which she acknowledges is based on this Heston Blumenthal recipe. I have to say, even though I'm disappointed with the outcome, and it was even more effort than Karen's version, the taste was superior. I come back to my earlier point about the purity of the flavour. The fresh lamb stock made part of the difference, as Karen version had beef, but I think there was also an improvement in the vegetables as those flavours were also able to be picked up with each mouthful. Both versions had a combination of lamb mince and slow cooked lamb shanks, which gave a very nice texture variation - certainly more interesting than the old fashioned pure mince versions of the 70s.

I've got a massive number of little containers of leftovers, so I'll be able to enjoy this dish again a couple of times a week for the next month! I thickened the sauce up with some Xanthan gum before putting them in the freezer so hopefully it won't be so runny when reheated. 

Which of these foods is nasty?

Normally I will head out for lunch on a Sunday, but this weekend I've got work to catch up on so decided to prepare lunch at home. Unfortunately, I've now learned what happens when I eat food that doesn't agree with my new restrictive diet and portions. I'm not quite sure which part of the lunch made me feel sick though.

With broad beans in season I really wanted to make something this weekend that used them, so found a recipe online for broad bean and fennel salad. Broad beans are a bit fiddly to cook as you need to double peel them to make them look their best (pods off before cooking, and skins off after cooking), but I don't mind doing this while I'm watching TV.
Broad bean and fennel salad served with chicken sausages
I also reheated a frozen, leftover sausage, as I felt the freshness of the salad and it's lemony dressing would be a have a nice cut-through for the sausage. So far, so good. The salad came out nicely, the sausage had good flavour and the quantity looked about right. However, after eating about half of what was on my entree-sized plate, I not only started to feel very full, but also was getting terrible reflux and felt like I was going to throw up.

When I had the other sausage during the week, I did think it felt a bit greasy, so I think that I might not buy sausages again, but I didn't get the reaction I had today. This is what makes me think that primarily, the negative reaction to lunch was because of the beans. I now believe that the dense nature and high fibre of legumes like broad beans is too much for my new digestive system to handle.

I will try some more of the salad tomorrow night with a different protein such as a slice of ham off the bone, and see how I go. The diet guides do warn about the potential for temporary food intolerances, so perhaps I've found one. The other option is that I can only have half a sausage (which is going to look a bit sad on the plate - even my trick of slicing it up to serve won't look like a proper meal).

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Simple flavours from great ingredients

I'm really enjoying my Heston Blumenthal at Home cookbook. It's now probably taken the prize as my most used book and I've only had it for a month.

Dinner tonight was especially good. The flavours were really simple so let the quality of the produce shine. I put two Heston recipes together on the plate: Sea Perch poached in court-bouillon and Broccoli with Chilli. Even though I only had half a piece of fish and a couple of pieces of broccolini it was a very filling meal for my new little stomach.
Poached Fish and Broccoli
Court-bouillon is a very light stock (it's only boiled for a few minutes) and then left to infuse. What made the fish really great was the low heat cooking, using a thermometer to measure the heat of the stock (50 degrees) and the temperature of the fish (45 degrees). Just as well I've got both of those hey?  It only took about 10 minutes for the fish to reach the right internal temperature. The fish was cooked so delicately and was beautifully moist and tender. It was a lovely contrast with the texture of the broccolini. Of course, being a Heston recipe, the broccolini wasn't just steamed. I heated a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan, then cooked the broccolini with the lid on for 5 minutes, giving it a few shakes along the way. Then the chilli flakes were then added and the pan given a good shake.

Everten has a good range of thermometers for meat and liquid. I might as well promote them considering I seem to order something from that site at least once a month. I don't buy my cookware there though. The pan I used for the broccolini was a fantastic non-stick Le Creuset frying pan from Le Domaine that I bought a matching lid for. It's seriously good and I can't recommend it highly enough.

I haven't just cooked dinner today though. It's been a very productive afternoon and evening. I now have the following staples in the fridge ready for the week, starting with breakfast tomorrow:

  • Pressure-cooked steel cut oats
  • Strawberry Compote (for serving with the oats)
  • Pickled vegetables
To top that off, I've also got a couple of lamb shanks that I've just put in the oven to (super) slow cook for 9 hours in the lamb stock I made last weekend. This is to get ready to make Heston's Shepherd's Pie for dinner tomorrow night. It's literally the recipe that takes a week to make. That's one way to join the slow food movement!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

This weekend brought to you by the colour red

I didn't consciously plan a weekend of red coloured meals, but upon reflection there certainly was a theme happening. I had red meat Saturday night, reddish brown chicken cacciatore, and bright red risotto to close the weekend out.

As is my routine now on Friday night, I relaxed with a glass of wine and my recipe books while watching the TV, and put together my shopping list in the iNeedStuff iPhone app. After much thought I decided that I would make the following dishes this weekend which would give me some good variety as well as freezer supplies for the week ahead.
  • Low-temp oven steak (from Modernist Cuisine at Home)
  • Chicken Cacciatore (from Good Food by Neil Perry)
  • Beetroot Spelt Risotto (Heston Blumenthal at Home)
  • Lamb Stock 
  • Garlic Confit
  • Creamed Spinach
  • Poached Pears
I'm really enjoying the weekly trips to Prahran Market on Saturday afternoon. Having a list and an idea of what I am making gives a really good sense of purpose. For me, the joy of cooking definitely starts with buying the produce and looking at different options. In a market like Prahran, you can also pick and choose between different suppliers for the best of each thing. A couple of the stall holders didn't have very nice garlic this weekend, but when I got to the third or fourth fruit and vegetable seller I found nice big heads of garlic that I was happy with.

My favourite stall at Prahran is Paddlewheel as they represent small farmers from around Victoria and are organic (and the staff are always friendly and keen to talk about new items). It's always my first stop. The other cool thing to note is that Gary's Quality Meats - the organic butcher I go to - has just been judged best butcher shop across all the Melbourne markets. Well done guys!

So ... back to the cooking. The first thing I put on was the Garlic Confit. I'd ordered some preserving jars last weekend as these are recommended in Modernist Cuisine for using in the pressure cooker for delicate foods. The end result was delicious creamy garlic that I can keep in the fridge in the oil for a month and use in different recipes. I even had a clove on sourdough toast as a snack this afternoon. Yum.

Searing the steak and then cooking it in the oven at 70 degrees until reaching the right internal temperature for rare was a revelation. The result was so even and moist. I think next time I would even go medium rare as I'm sure it would still be moist, and I will sear it longer so there is more obvious crust formed by the Maillard reaction. This is perfect for my current eating as the diet guides recommend food with moisture or a sauce/gravy that helps it to go down. Because the serving suggestion was to slice before serving it also didn't look too bad only having half a steak. This is a good tip for anyone looking to reduce portion sizes.

The creamed spinach had a few extra steps and ingredients to what I'd made before but it was a great success and went so nicely with the steak. Unfortunately, my picture didn't come out well. I think due to the lighting, and pretty average iPhone camera, the meat looks super red and is not a good representation of what it was like - it was not as raw as it looks here.
Low-temp oven cooked steak
Because Neil Perry is such as wonderful practical chef, the Chicken Cacciatore that I cooked last night and had for lunch today worked out beautifully. It had lots of mushrooms in at and a red wine sauce. It was wonderfully rich with a punchy umami flavour sensation, which was definitely better than the overly tomato flavoured versions that I've had in the past.

Then the piece de resistance. Tonight's dinner was the Beetroot Spelt Risotto from Heston. While the pearl spelt didn't soften as well as I would have liked, the general flavour - which was quite rich - and colour of the dish was very luxurious. The shaved fennel with mustard vinaigrette on top helped to cut through some of the richness. This is definitely dinner party food rather than than something for regular eating. I might try it with pearl barley rather than spelt in the future, or soak the spelt overnight, for a softer outcome. The little cubes scattered on the plate are pickled beetroot. The other interesting element of the recipe is the use of "acidulated butter" which I also had to make, using onion cooked in wine and white wine vinegar, which was then emulsified with butter and hardened back in the fridge.
Beetroot Spelt Risotto

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Best. Roast. Chicken. Ever.

If you're not going to eat much, you have to eat well, don't you agree? And if you're going to have lots of kitchen gadgets and cook books, you have to find ways to use them well. Tonight I scored on both accounts.

The most impressive cook book that I've purchased recently is Modernist Cuisine at Home. With over 400 hundred pages, thousands of pictures and at almost the size of a small coffee table when opened up it's quite a spectacular volume. There's a spiral bound companion book without pictures to use when actually cooking. Tonight's dinner was the first thing that I have made from this new book.
Slow-baked Chicken
To make the Slow-baked Chicken with Onions I used a free-range chicken breast with the skin on. The fact the recipe didn't call for a whole chicken was attractive as I can only have about 50g of meat in a serving so a breast is plenty, including leftovers.

The preparation was quite fun as I got to use lots of my kitchen gadgets. The first step was to inject a 10% brine into the breast meat using my new flavour injector. It's the first time I've used this as I only bought it after reading the recommendations of Heston and this book.

Before putting into the oven, the chicken breast was covered with very finely sliced white onion, cut using a mandoline. I don't mind the one I've got, but to be honest I'm thinking of upgrading.

The chicken was then baked for 3 hours at 75 degrees until the internal temperature reached 60 degrees then cooked for a further 20 minutes. To monitor the internal temperature of the meat I used the digital thermometer with metal probe that is part of my kitchen scales (yes, this is a real thing). This didn't work that well as the cable attached to the probe wasn't long enough to reach out of the oven and up to the benchtop, so I had to keep bending down with the scales to plug them in and check the temperature. I should have used the digital meat thermometer that I use with my Weber Q.

While the chicken was cooking I watched the Richmond-Carlton game. Fortunately, my dinner turned out better than the match did for Richmond. What a thriller. Shame about the outcome.

Just because I could, I steamed the potato and carrots in the pressure cooker (as recommended by Modernist Cuisine). While it seems like overkill, it actually worked really well. The carrot kept it's flavour and texture really well, so much better than regular steaming, boiling or microwaving. It also meant the potato stayed nice and dry, which makes for a better mash. Once the potato was cooked, I put it through a potato ricer to make a lovely smooth basis for mash. The other good trick that I picked up from the book was to put the butter in at this stage and then wait until ready for serving to reheat and add the heated milk.

When the chicken was finally cooked (it took longer than the recipe said), I was able to quickly crisp the skin in a hot pan. The onions were then cooked off to a caramelised consistency in the same pan.

The results were fantastic. The chicken breast was so tender and full of flavour. The texture was really good too. Very "meaty" and none of the stringy fibres that I've experienced before when roasting a chicken breast.

Well this sure is a long post, but perhaps that's fitting for a meal that took 4 hours to make.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

So this is what it feels like to chew meat again

It's a very exciting milestone today as I'm officially back to eating solids. In fact, tonight's dinner was my first "real" meat meal for 7 weeks. The sacrifice has been paying off though, as I've now lost 18kg. To celebrate, I cooked dinner from a recipe by Neil Perry who is one of my food heroes.

I really like Neil Perry's cookbooks and have all of them either in hard copy or more recently as eBooks. The one I've probably used most though is "Good Food" which is where I sought out my meal for tonight. The thing I like about Neil's recipes are that they are packed with flavour, are not overly complex and the dishes present well.

Tonight's dinner was a tasty Beef Fillet with Carrot and Sweet Potato Tagine. The combination of flavours and textures, with the chunky vegetables and tender beef were really good. The beef was marinated in chermoula paste, then seared and cooked in the oven. It's topped with harissa for extra zing.
Beef Fillet with Carrot and Sweet Potato Tagine
Now, I must admit that I cooked the beef more than I prefer but I'm going to claim this is because I'm out of practice! It was still really nice to reacquaint myself with the pleasure of chewing a great piece of beef. Of course there are plenty of leftovers even though I halved the recipe, so lunch on Monday and a couple of dinners are taken care of.

Another of my food heroes is Heston Blumenthal, and his recipes are one of the reasons I'm now using a pressure cooker every week. When I first bought this, one of the first things I made was his Brown Chicken Stock using a recipe I found online. Tonight I've got White Chicken Stock cooking, using the recipe from his "Heston Blumenthal at Home" book which arrived this week. After buying stock all my cooking life, it is so rewarding to now prepare my own range of stocks to keep in the freezer. The sleeve gastrectomy is certainly having a positive impact in many aspects of my life!