Thursday, July 28, 2011

Self-saucing Beef

Just a quick recipe today. Or really, it's more of a 'treatment' of steak that can be applied to other meats, like chicken.

This method involves a quick marinating of beef strips in some soy sauce, oil and cornflour, then cooking it in a hot pan so that the juice from the meat melds with the marinade to produce its own sauce. This a popular way of preparing beef in Cantonese restaurants, and I've recently had a delicious version where they added wasabi paste at the end of the cooking to give the dish a Japanese twist. 

Some restaurants also add some bicarbonate of soda to the marinating meat, to make it more tender, but I didn't do this because the steak that I used was such good quality (I could tell this by how easily it sliced when raw, and Tabitha cat kept scratching at my leg for bits of it - ouch!).

Saucy Beef
serves 2

1 piece of rump steak, approx 400g, sliced or cubed
2 tblsp soy sauce
1 tblsp rice bran oil (or other neutral-tasting oil, not olive oil)
1 tblsp cornflour
1 tsp grated garlic
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tblsp oil, for frying
a few stems green onions or garlic chives, chopped

1. Marinate the meat: Put the steak in a bowl and add the soy sauce, oil and cornflour. Mix so that the meat is well-coated, then cover and leave for 15 minutes.
2. Heat the oil in a frypan over high heat, then add the garlic and ginger and stir for 30 seconds.
3. Add the meat to the pan, separating the pieces while it cooks. Stir for a minute, then add the green onions. Quickly toss together until the meat is no longer red, but do not overcook.
4. Serve hot with steamed rice or plain noodles

These greens aren't garlic chives, but I can't think of their name. What are they called??? They come in long lengths, like snake beans, and they have a garlicky oniony taste.

The sliced steak is marinated in the soon-to-be-sauce.
For an accompaniment, I steamed some bought plain buns ('mantou') that had a slightly sweet flavour that goes really well with the beef and can mop up the sauce

Once cooked, the cornflour and soy create a velvety sauce that coats the beef

Mmm... saucy!

Open wide, here comes the chopstick aeroplane...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Not-a-bake with ricotta eggplant beef

*Some small talk, since we haven’t seen each other for a while*
“So what about this weather, eh?”

What’s it like where you are? If you say, “Oh, it’s beautiful, so fine and clear”, then I’ll clock you one. Because it’s been absolutely miserable here in Sydney for the past week – drenching rain nearly every hour of every day. Rain coming in sheets, sideways, puddles the size of potholes, potholes the size of ponds….

On a brighter note, the rainy weather does not concern me any more because I have a new washer/dryer!!!! So excited that I don’t have to check the weather forecast to find out if it’s going to be fine and mild tomorrow so I can do the washing. Nor do I have to get up at 6.30am to put the laundry in the machine so that it finishes washing by 8am so I can hang it on the line before I go to work. No more looking out the window and groaning at the sight of a stray dark cloud approaching from the west. Now, I can put the washing in, set the dial to ‘wash and dry’ and listen out (4:13 hours later) for the musical tone that tells me it’s all done. Life’s good ™

If only the nightly dinner preparations were as easy. But where would the fun be in that? Here’s a great recipe for a rainy night.

* I've titled this 'not a bake' because 'bake' sounds a bit naff (even though that's what Donna Hay calls this)

Baked Ricotta Beef and Eggplant
Serves 4

1 tblsp olive oil
1 brown onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
500g beef mince
1 cup tomato puree (or 4 small tomatoes, crushed)
2 tblsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper
500g low-fat ricotta cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella or cheddar cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 slices chargrilled marinated eggplant

1. Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan over high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes or until softened.
2. Add the mince and cook, breaking up any lumps with a wooden spoon, for 5 minutes or until browned.
3. Add the tomato puree, Worcestershire sauce, oregano, salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes.
4. Place the ricotta, mozzarella, egg, salt and pepper into a bowl and mix to combine.
5. Place 3 slices of eggplant in the base of a 5-cup capacity baking dish and top with half the mince mixture. Layer with the remaining eggplant and mince. Top with the ricotta mixture and cook for 25-30 minutes or until golden.

recipe adapted from Donna Hay (winter 2011)

Vegetable ingredients (and eggs)

Other ingredients, including cheeses, mince and eggplant

Layer the eggplant and cooked mince mixture in a baking dish

The ricotta on top puffs up beautifully and it tastes quite light as long as you don't think about all that cheese (or use low-fat cheese, like I did)

This smallish slice is for display purposes - I actually ate about a third of the entire creation.
And it was worth every bite.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Onion tart with some sort of pastry

Here is another recipe from my current favourite (non-electronic) cookbook, Small Adventures in CookingPlus, this recipe for onion and anchovy tart is even easier to make if you use store-bought pastry, like I did. More on the pastry later...

All you need to do is slice up some onions (no fiddly dicing required - slicing is so much easier, don't you think?); a few small tears were shed, I must admit. Then cook down the onions till they are soft. Roll out the pastry and blind bake, fill the tart and you're on your way to enjoying a sensationally scrumptious meal.

Onion and Anchovy Tart
serves 8

300g shortcrust pastry
50g butter
6 onions, peeled and finely sliced
salt and pepper
2 eggs
100ml cream
100g grated Gruyere or Cheddar cheese
approx 12 anchovy fillets in oil, drained

1. For the pastry: Preheat oven to 180C. Line a 25cm tart tin with the pastry. Prick all over with a fork, then line with a piece of baking paper and fill with cooking weights or uncooked rice or beans to weigh it down. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then remove the paper and weights and return to the oven for 5 minutes.

2. For the onions: In a large frypan, melt the butter over low heat and add the onions. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

3. Allow the onions to cool a bit. Beat together the cream and eggs and stir into the onions together with the cheese. Season with salt and pepper and pour into the baked tart shell.  Lay the anchovies over the top. Cook the tart in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the filling is set.  Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

recipe from Small Adventures in Cooking by James Ramsden

Ingredients: Lots of onions, lots of butter, eggs, anchovies and cheese.
And cream. And pastry, but more on that later...

I'm not the only one who's crying - Tabitha cat is affected by the onion fumes, too!

Slow cooking of the onions makes them soft and luscious.
The pastry (more on that later...) is blind-baked before being filled with the onions.

The anchovies provide a sharp saltiness to the tart. 

Deliciously rich. Serve warm or cold.

And what about this pastry? The packet says shortcrust, but surely that's puff pastry in there!
The puff pastry didn't affect the flavour of the tart, but shortcrust might have been preferable.

Another recipe from Small Adventures in Cooking is here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Like I Give a Toss: Quinoa Tofu Brussels Sprouts

I'm reminiscing about the days - not long ago - when I used to buy virtually every magazine that came out. While my mag-buying habits have not completely disappeared, I can now see small sections of the surface of my dining table because it's not covered with magazines, "Ooh, look, I forgot that the table has a glass top...*embarrassed giggle*".

Anyway, there's a food magazine (no names, but can you guess which one?) that just loves 'bakes'. Creamy pasta bake. Chilli beef and bean bake (?!). Oh my gosh I've lost the Chihuahua bake. Put some macaroni in a dish with some cream and stick it in the oven and call it a 'bake'. I think I stopped getting this mag because I couldn't take another bake.

However, there is a reason why bakes are popular. They are easy to make, hard to stuff up, and they taste good. Here's a recipe for - not a bake! - but a 'toss'. It's where lots of delicious ingredients are tossed together with an equally scrummy dressing. It's easy, hard to get wrong and tastes incredible. Yes, I like to give a toss!

You can make this dish with any vegetable or protein you have on hand, although it's good to use quinoa as a base as it's healthy as well. This one also as an Asian flavour, with teriyaki tofu and fish sauce and rice wine vinegar.

Quinoa Toss with Brussels Sprouts and Tofu
serves 2

1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water
16 brussels sprouts, bases trimmed, and halved
1 tblsp olive oil
a handful of snow peas (about 10), sliced
1 chargrilled capsicum (red pepper), sliced (store-bought is okay)
100g marinated tofu (or cooked meat such as chicken, or haloumi/fetta), diced

2 tblsp fish sauce
1 tblsp rice wine vinegar
1 tblsp water
pinch of dried chilli flakes
caster sugar, to taste

1. For the quinoa: Rinse the quinoa in a sieve under running water to remove any husks. Put the water in a small pan and bring to the boil. Add a pinch of salt and the quinoa. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and fluff the quinoa up with a fork.
2. For the brussels sprouts: Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Heat the olive oil in an ovenproof skillet or pan over medium-high heat, then add the brussels sprouts. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until they brown slightly. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook for another 10 minutes.
3. For the dressing: Combine the dressing ingredients in a bowl. Add sugar to taste, stirring until it dissolves.
4. If desired, heat the tofu and briefly blanch the snow peas (or ping in the microwave for 50 seconds).
5. When the brussels sprouts are done, remove from the oven and toss through the some of the dressing.
6. To serve: In serving bowls, combine the quinoa, tofu, capsicum, snow peas and brussels sprouts. Drizzle over any remaining dressing.

Ingredients. I use honey soy or teriyaki-flavoured marinated tofu.

This is a fantastic way to cook brussels sprouts. If the sprouts are small and tender, then they are less likely to be bitter. Here, I used my Microstoven baking dish to cook the sprouts on the gas flame before finishing them off in the oven.

Then just toss it all in a bowl, and eat.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Thrown-together pasta (v. attractive to cats)

Here’s another quick ‘recipe’ using smoked salmon. I say recipe (in inverted commas) because it’s actually just a couple of ingredients thrown together with some dressing and dumped on a plate. Trust me, though, it tastes a lot better than it sounds. I usually make this with leftover salmon or smoked trout (that’s been used in a proper recipe like this one). And if you use a thin pasta, like angel hair, then the result is a light, non-stodgy delight of a dish, especially if there’s lots of the spicy, tangy lemony dressing.

Warning: This dish is a well-documented cat attractant. Make sure all external doors and windows are securely closed before making this dish, otherwise neighbourhood felines will come a-calling.

Thrown-together Pasta
Serves 2

300g thin pasta, such as angel hair or thin spaghetti
150g skinless smoked salmon or smoked trout, flaked into 2.5cm(1 inch) pieces
2 cups spinach or rocket leaves, shredded

Juice of ½ a lemon
Same amount of olive oil (as lemon juice)
¼ tsp dried chilli flakes
1 garlic clove, crushed

1. Bring a pot of water to the boil, add a teaspoon of salt, then add the pasta. Cook until al dente (about 2 minutes for angel hair pasta).
2. Make the dressing: Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.
3. When the pasta is ready, drain well, then add the smoked salmon and spinach to the pan, together with salt and pepper to taste. Add the dressing and toss gently to combine.
4. To serve, spoon into bowls and serve with extra lemon, if desired.

Ingredients, such as pasta, lemon, spinach, garlic, chilli flakes and smoked salmon

Whisk the dressing ingredients together and boil the pasta. Easy!

Then toss together...

... and tuck into this tangle of tastiness!

Ooh, look... I spy with my beady eye...

... Dinner time!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Bécasse: Stairway to heaven

Just returned from dinner at Bécasse, so this is just a quick picture post on the meal, mainly so that it can be reminisced about when the memory fades.

Each year, we celebrate his birthday at a restaurant du jour (and I get to choose it!). I tried booking six weeks ahead for last Saturday night, but Bécasse was booked out. Such is the price of popularity. So last week, we went to Felix (in Ash Street, one of my previous visits here). This week, we rocked up to a virtually deserted Westfield shopping centre and ascended the stairway to heaven (long escalator from Pitt St) to Bécasse .

We had: Five-course degustation ($150 each). There is a choice of 2 dishes for the main and dessert.
Plus: Truffle risotto ($20 supplement) - this was a special, with the truffles from Tarago near Goulburn. You can replace one of the standard entrees with this.
We drank: Kronenburg beer ($10 ea), Sparkling mineral water ($10 pp)

The service: Waitstaff were attentive, friendly, professional.
The atmosphere: not too formal, lovely chandeliers, velvet banquettes ('bonkettes') quite comfortable, small velvet stool for my handbag, moderate buzz of conversation from the other tables, better ambience and more intimate than the previous Bécasse, in my opinion.
The food: Elegant presentation, contemporary flavour combinations, beautifully prepared (natch).

Here are some pictures...

clockwise from top left:
canape: lime mascarpone on puff pastry;
amuse bouche: cauliflower and scallop veloute with carrot jelly underneath
bread: fresh and warm, served with wakame butter with black salt
Also: you can glimpse the "Chef's Table" and kitchen behind the circular peepholes on the wall 

Yellowfin tuna, confit octopus, mandarin, white radish (there's a slice of oyster jelly in there, too)
Hapuka (NZ fish, sourced locally) coddled in squid ink, with mussels (amazing black 'skin')
Mushroom risotto with shaved truffle (I was slightly disappointed that the truffle was not strongly fragrant against the risotto; the pieces seemed dried out?)
Also: the table from which the sommelier served the wines

Forgotten vegetables (swedes, celeriac, kohlrabi, etc) with pork jowl and yabby tails.
This was served on a piece of rock (very Flintstones) and came with a smouldering piece of cedar bark that imparted the smell of smoke. Oh, I just love the smell of woodsmoke!

Glenloth pheasant, boudin blanc with Armagnac jus (very intense flavours)
Wagyu cooked 'a la plancha' with mushrooms and lime/wasabi jus (the beef was amazingly tender)

Pre-dessert: Granny Smith apple jelly, sorbet, marshmallow
Dessert: Silken lemongrass and lime caramel, with passionfruit and vanilla yoghurt sorbet (scattered with edible flowers, so pretty)

My dessert: Chocolate cadeau with salted black cumin caramel. The gold leaf fluttered in the breeze (aka air conditioning), the crunchy base was delightfully sweet.

To finish: petits fours of raspberry macarons and chocolate ganache; tea.
Also: closeup of the bonkette.

Final Summary
A lovely place to celebrate a birthday or other special occasion. There was a slight wait between courses, but the great service made up for this (as an aside, it seemed like the waitstaff were all female apart from the sommelier). The meal was pricey and I'd rank the food below our previous birthday dinners at Quay and Sepia though it was of the same high standard. I'd love to try Bécasse again, maybe a spring or summer menu. Oh, and they gave us a couple of brioche from the Bécasse bakery as a goodbye gift (yum)!

Bécasse is at:
Level 5, Westfield Sydney, Pitt St, Sydney, NSW
Ph: 02 9283 3440

Becasse on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 1, 2011

Let's have a date with Pear and Date Muffins

There’s not much to say about this post except… I’m weak. I caved in. I really am a lost cause.

You see, I recently bought another two (2) new cookbooks. Well, there was the Small Adventures in Cooking one, and now, after a suitably solemn interval, I have Annabel Langbein’s The Free Range Cook.

There’s more guilt with this latest book because it’s big and heavy and full of colour photographs. Small Adventures in Cooking looks like a moderately serious novel or something, and doesn’t scream ‘Make something from me or you’ll feel guiiiilteeee...’ every time you glance at it. Hopefully this situation won’t be around much longer, because I now have a longed-for e-reader woohoo!, though the only books I’ve downloaded so far are a (free) copy of Pride and Prejudice and a history of the Churchills (Winston’s family). Of course, I haven’t read either book yet, but at least they’re not sitting on the dining table, mocking me with ‘Read me or you’ll feel stuuuuupid…’.

Pear and Date Muffins
Makes 12-15

175g pitted dates
300ml water
1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
60g butter, chopped
250g brown sugar
2 eggs
175g self-raising flour (or 175g plain flour plus 2 ½ tsp baking powder)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground ginger
2 pears, cored and diced

1. Preheat oven to 180C/360F. Line a standard muffin pan with paper cases.
2. Place the dates, water and baking soda in a large pot and boil for 5 minutes. The baking soda will puff up, hence the need for a large pot. Remove from the heat and mash with a potato masher to break up the dates to a mush.
3. Stir in the chopped butter and mix until the butter is melted. Mix in the sugar and eggs, then fold in the flour, vanilla and ginger. Note again the need for the large pot.
4. Pour the batter into the muffin pan then push down a couple of pear pieces into each muffin.
5. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into a muffin comes out clean.
6. These muffins can be served warm, or they can be reheated in the microwave for 20 seconds.
For an awesome accompaniment, try my favourite caramel sauce, here

Recipe adapted from The Free Range Cook by Annabel Langbein

Some of the ingredients, including flour, a lot of brown sugar, pears, eggs, dates, ground ginger, vanilla and butter.

A serious Tabitha cat was flocking around the kitchen, as usual, but decided that dates are not her thing.

The soaked/boiled dates are mashed to a brown mush before the other ingredients are tossed in.

Pieces of pear are studded into the batter before baking. The muffins are a lovely tanned colour.

For these muffins (for presentation), a slice of pear was put in the bottom of the muffin case before pouring in the batter. Remove the paper case from the muffin before serving on a plate.

The muffins are quite sweet and spicy, so serving them with refreshing pear slices is ideal.

Alternatively, if you're not scared of a little sweetness, top with some caramel sauce for some more scrumptiousness.
For another Annabel Langbein recipe, try this