Monday, July 23, 2012

Apple and Pear Pies beware the hungry cat

Remember how I received this fabulous Mystery Box? Well, here's something else I made with the ingredients, although how the final product ended up also became a Mystery.

These little Apple and Pear Pies are an irresistible combination of delicious and adorable. While they are a fiddly to make - lots of rolling of pastry and waiting for it to chill - the end result will give you that feeling of being a domestic goddess. That's how I felt, at least, when the pies came out of the oven. 

Some time was spent admiring these golden morsels (does that sound like Nigella or what??) before we tucked in and ate a couple of them for afternoon tea. A few more were had for dessert (with whipped cream!).  A single pie remained, which I had dibs on. So, wrapped in foil, it waited for me to take the next day. 
Until *da-Da-DAH!* it became the focus of "The Mystery of the Purloined Pie".

What happened next? Read on to find out...

Apple and Pear Pies
makes 12

2 ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut into 2cm chunks
2 small apples, peeled, cored and cut into 2cm chunks (from Mystery Box)
30g unsalted butter
10 fresh dates, pitted, roughly chopped (from Mystery Box)
55g (1/4 cup) caster sugar, plus extra, to dust
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped (from Mystery Box) or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract 
1/2 teaspoon cornflour
1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs 
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tblsp milk, to brush

2 cups plain flour
50g ground almonds
1/4 cup caster sugar 
1/2 tsp salt
250g cold unsalted butter, chopped
1/4 cup chilled water 

1.  For pastry: put all the pastry ingredients, except the water, in a food processor and process until the butter is incorporated and the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add the chilled water and process until mixture just comes together. Divide pastry into 12 pieces, shape each into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
2.  For the filling: Peel pears, core and cut into 1.5cm pieces. Melt butter in a heavy-based frying pan over medium heat, add pears, apples, dates, sugar and vanilla, and cook for 5 minutes or until pears and apples are tender. Add cornflour and stir to combine and cook until very thick. Cool, then refrigerate until chilled.
3.  Roll out the pastry discs on lightly floured baking paper until 3mm thick, then cut into 11.5cm rounds. Gather scraps together and refrigerate. Grease a 12-hole (1/3-cup) muffin tin, line with pastry rounds, then refrigerate for 20 minutes. Roll out pastry scraps, cut out 12 x 7cm rounds, then refrigerate for 20 minutes.
4.  Place a heavy-based oven tray in the oven and preheat oven to 200°C.
5.  Mix the cinnamon with the breadcrumbs and spoon into the pie cases, then top with apple and pear filling. Place a pastry round on top, fold in edges to seal, then cut a slit in the top. Brush tops lightly with milk, dust with extra sugar, place pies on heated oven tray and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 180°C and bake for a further 20 minutes or until golden. Cool for 20 minutes before removing from the tin.

recipe adapted from
Ripe pears, crunchy apples and luscious dates make up the filling.
The pastry is shaped into discs before refrigerating.

Cut the pastry to fit into the holes of a muffin tin. Then, fill with the apple/pear/date mixture and top with a pastry hat.

These are just like mince pies in shape, but are much lighter and easier to eat, in my opinion.

There was one pie left over which I securely wrapped in aluminium foil, to be taken to work the next day for morning tea. But I forgot to take it and it was left on the kitchen benchtop.

Then this was encountered when one of us got home...

Forensics was immediately called to photograph evidence of the crime (though they forgot to adjust the camera settings, which is why the photo is a bit crappy).

After some investigation, the pie-stealing culprit was revealed. No guesses who it was.
Looks like Tabitha cat had enough of the pie after a couple of bites, but rest assured that uneaten pies will no longer be left unattended in this household!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

C'est un Coq au Vin - délicieux!

What's your favourite cuisine? Is it one that you've grown up with, or one that you've discovered on your own?

I've always thought that my favourite was Italian, but really, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Greek, I love most of the Euro-zone cuisines that I've tried. Growing up, meals in our household were a strange hybrid of Cantonese-Australian, such as roast pork with apple sauce - and bok choy. Or sausages on the barbeque, served with tomato sauce - and lashings of boiled rice.  Come to think of it, it wasn't a meal without heaps of boiled rice...

Anyway, I mainly cook European now. And since it was Bastille Day last Saturday, I made this version of Coq au Vin (and no boiled rice).  It's a slow cooker version, and it filled the house with a heady Gallic bouquet of white wine, garlic and thyme. This recipe can also be prepared on a stove top - just brown the chicken and cook the sauce in the same casserole pan, and cook for 2 hours on a gentle simmer. Bon Appetit!

Coq au Vin
serves 4

1 tblsp olive oil
4 chicken marylands
20g butter
6 eschalots, peeled, halved
4 rashers bacon, trimmed, chopped
3 tsp crushed garlic
2 tbsp plain flour
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 dried bay leaf
4 fresh thyme sprigs
300g button mushrooms, halved

1. Heat 1 oil in a large heavy-based frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook chicken, in batches, for about 4 to 5 minutes each side, or until browned. Transfer to the bowl of a slow cooker.
2. Heat butter in the frying pan. Add eschalots and bacon. Cook, stirring for 5 minutes or until onions are soft. Add garlic and cook, stirring for 1 minute then add the flour. Cook, stirring for 1 more minute.
3. Add the wine and bring to the boil. Simmer for 3 minutes or until reduced by half. 
4. Pour the bacon, eschalot and wine mixture into the slow cooker. Add mushrooms, bay leaf, thyme and stock. Season with pepper and stir to combine.
5. Cook on Low setting for 6 hours.  Serve with green beans or peas and crusty bread.

Ingredients, including eschalots, mushrooms, bacon, thyme.
I used sauvignon blanc, which gives off a wonderful aroma. Skulking cat is optional.
Me, wearing a French-style stripey top because it was Bastille Day.
The browned chicken is nestled into the slow cooker with the veg and herbs on top.

After 6 hours of slow cooking, the chicken was literally falling apart, so delicious.
Served with sugar snap peas and courgette. And bread, naturellement.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Vanilla Risotto - It's a mystery to me

Q: Have you been watching season 4 of MasterChef Australia? Just how many reality television shows are there on at the moment? And is MasterChef considered ‘reality’?
A: Yes. Heaps. Maybe.

I do like MasterChef because for every so-so episode, there’s bound to be a corker soon after. And now that the finals are approaching, we can look forward to even more eliminations, recriminations and big spectacles (hello, Alice?).

Pigs might fly and do somersaults over the moon before you’ll see me on MasterChef, so I was very pleased to receive a MasterChef Mystery Box from American Express. This was so I could create something MasterCheffy at home, but without the pressure, oh the pressure, of the TV version. The Mystery Box challenge is the one where contestants have to prepare a dish using ingredients from a box of sometimes mismatched ingredients.

The mystery box I received certainly had some diverse ingredients. Tabitha cat and I pondered for a bit on what to make.
Somewhat predictably, I’ve made 2 desserts so far using the mystery Box and here’s the first one – a really deliciously creamy Vanilla Risotto. More on the other dessert to come soon.
And yes, I know that a risotto has never won any challenge on MasterChef, but that's just stupid, because taste should always trump superstition, shouldn't it?
For details on the MasterChef/American Express Mystery Box challenge, click here

Vanilla Risotto
serves 4

½ cup Arborio rice
3 cups milk (skim or full-fat is fine)
¼ cup caster sugar
½ split vanilla bean or ½ tsp vanilla extract
1 punnet of strawberries, washed and hulled
1 tblsp balsamic vinegar
2 tblsp mascarpone, to serve

1. Place the rice, milk sugar and vanilla into a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir well, bring mixture to the boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, until the rice is tender and liquid is mostly absorbed. Remove pan from the heat (the risotto will thicken on standing).
2. Meanwhile, slice the strawberries and place in a bowl with the balsamic vinegar.
3. When the risotto is cooked, spoon into serving bowls and top with strawberries and a spoonful of mascarpone.

Leftover risotto can be stored in the fridge and served chilled.

Ingredients, including caster sugar, Arborio rice, milk, vanilla pod and strawberries.
From the Mystery Box, I used the rice, vanilla and balsamic vinegar.

Serve the risotto warm or cold for dessert, with some mascarpone and balsamic strawberries.

See my rather poor excuse for a mascarpone quenelle on the risotto.
*sigh* my MasterChef dreams will never be....

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Red Lantern on Riley - birthday part deux

So the second part of the other half's birthday was actually on his birthday. Well, I wasn't going to spend it in the kitchen, so I tried to find somewhere that was not as 'special', so as to overshadow as the main birthday meal (first part was at Ocean Room, here), but fancy enough for another night out.

Enter the newly opened Red Lantern on Riley

So much for thinking this was just a casual, neighbourhood Vietnamese place - this is much more than that!

Very swish decor, though at night it's a bit hard to see (dim lighting).
Must have cost a pretty penny, and it's certainly beautifully turned out, with bentwood chairs and French Colonial-inspired tiles melding with old mirrors, family pictures , red lanterns(!) and Vietnamese-style screens. Lovely flower arrangements (orchids).

Not knowing what the serving sizes were like, we ordered a couple of entrees, and some mains. Plus room for dessert, of course. Here's what we had.

Goi Cuon ($19.80) – rice paper rolls with tiger prawns, free-range pork, vermicelli, herbs.  These rolls were super fresh, some of the best (and most expensive!) I've had.
Muc Rang Muoi ($25.30) – chilli salted squid with lemon and white pepper dipping sauce. The chilli squid was piping hot (freshly fried, mmm!) with a light batter, like tempura, not too spicy but incredibly moreish.
Red Lantern guys, if you're reading this, the Muc Rang Muoi was $15.30 on the menu, but we were charged $25.30. Misprint somewhere?

Bun Thit Nuong ($30.80) – chargrilled pork marinated in honey, served with mint, perilla leaves and lettuce to wrap. This dish is deemed a 'mid course' rather than a main. You take one of the soft lettuce leaves and pile on some of the luscious pork and bean sprouts together with a couple of torn herb leaves, then wrap it up and devour. This dish is simple but amazingly good.
Vit Quay ($41.80) – roasted Burrawong Pekin duck with spiced orange sauce and fennel watercress salad. Quite a few meaty duck pieces, and the salad was a refreshing complement.
We also had Rice ($3.30).

To drink – 333 beer ($9.35) and a pot of jasmine tea ($8.25). Does anyone else think these pricings are a bit strange/odd? Maybe they include carbon tax!

Dessert platter for 2 ($24.20) – coconut crème caramel, black sticky rice and sesame and rice flour dumplings filled with soursop. All a nice enough end to the meal.

All up, a great meal with the best ingredients - all the dishes were prepared beautifully and the serving sizes were fairly decent. The waitstaff we had were perfect - observant, a bit familiar, but knowledgeable about the food.

My only gripe is the prices - I certainly wasn't expecting to pay as much as this for a 'casual Vietnamese' meal (those are my quotes, by the way), but I suppose you have to take into account the inner city location and the lovely decor and quality of the food.  The experience is quite different to the rusticity that you see owner Luke Nguyen encountering on his wonderful tv programs on Vietnam and the Mekong.

Overall, it was a fine finish to the other half's birthday celebrations and I'd like to go back to try other dishes - it would be great if someone else was paying, though!

Red Lantern on Riley
60 Riley Street, Darlinghurst, NSW 2010 
ph: 02 9698 4355 
I booked online by choosing a date and time and they called back to confirm, plus a text reminder as well. Very smooth procedure.

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