Thursday, April 29, 2010

Slow cooking rules

As the seasons change here in Sydney I’ve been taking a more relaxed and slow approach to cooking.

Not only is slow cooking a great way to transform secondary cuts and even roasts into delicious meals, but the prep time is minimal – it really is set and forget cooking.

I don’t have a slow cooker, however I know these are very popular. I simmer on the top of the stove, braise in the oven or use a pressure cooker.

Whatever you want to call the results of slow cooking – hotpot, casserole, stew or daube – the principle remains the same. It’s all about combining meat, vegetables, liquid and seasonings in a single pot – which also means less washing up! These dishes also freeze well but cool first before placing in the freezer.

Here are my top tips:

1.  Use a secondary, and therefore less expensive cut of meat. These cuts have more flavour but would be tough if cooked quickly. Long slow cooking allows the connective tissue to break down without the meat disintegrating, giving a wonderfully succulent and flavoursome result.

Beef – chuck steak, gravy beef (boneless shin), blade
Veal – osso bucco, breast
Lamb – boneless shoulder, boneless forequarter, shanks, neck chops
Pork – boneless shoulder, neck
Chicken – pieces on the bone are best, doesn’t need such long cooking

2.  For flavour and colour, brown the meat in small batches in the stockpot first. Either toss the meat in flour first, or sprinkle flour over afterwards if you are cooking a lot and be sure to brown for colour and to cook out the floury taste.

3.  Don’t overcrowd the meat when browning or it will stew in its own juices and toughen.

4.  Cut meat and vegetables into similar-sized pieces to ensure even cooking. Add quick cooking ingredients like mushrooms towards the end of cooking.

5.  Choose the right size stockpot or casserole to cook in. Too small and the liquid may overflow, too large and the liquid can evaporate too much. Choose a stockpot or casserole dish which will be about ¾ full at the beginning of the cooking process.

6.  Ensure your pot has a tight fitting lid so that too much liquid doesn’t evaporate. If unsure, tie some baking paper over the top of the pot with string and then put the lid on. Alternatively for very long, slow cooking, you can make a flour and water paste to seal the lid to the pot.

One of my favourite recent recipes is Slow Cooked Beef in Guinness – something magical happens when you combine dark beer and beef, however don’t forget the tomato paste, it is essential to add sweetness and counteract the bitterness of the beer.

Here is a link to the recipe on my main site.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Celebrating contemporary regionality and when romance becomes reality

Two hundred and sixty five people attended the inaugural Rocks Vintage Dinner on Friday night and feasted under the stars on regional food and wine from Orange, Mudgee and the Hunter Valley – regions of New South Wales known for their outstanding produce and wine.

The scene was set for a classic wine vintage style feast: Jack Mundy Place and Kendall Lane in the Rocks were transformed – five long tables, appropriately named after wines styles, with the vintage theme carried through with vintage white lace tablecloths, eclectic old china plates for salt and pepper and crystal vases of bright red dahlias. Stunning vintage lamp shades and fairy lights were strung up and guests were entertained with an eclectic mix of musicians. Passers by were agog, wanting to know when the next one was planned so they too could experience this unique event. While long seated lunches and dinners have been held elsewhere we think this is a first for Sydney.

It was all theatre as the Rocks Farmers’ Market stalls were transformed into food and wine destinations, serving regional food cooked by local Rocks’ heros Pony Lounge & Dining, Sake Restaurant & Bar, Wine Odyssey, Guylian Belgian Chocolate Café and La Renaissance Café Patisserie accompanied by some of the best wines from NSW.

Hunter Valley
Polin & Polin


La Colline

Each food menu item was matched to at least two wines and also beer from nearby Harts Pub, providing guests with a few different options. Matches included:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Meaty issues

I did a segment on Mornings with Kerri-Anne on Monday 5 April about cooking mistakes and it prompted me to put together a quick checklist specifically about cooking with meat. Here it is:

Room temperature is best
If time allows, always remove meat from the fridge 15 to 30 minutes prior to cooking. This will avoid uneven cooking – overdone on the outside and raw in the middle. It will also avoid having to adjust cooking times.

Starting with a hot pan
Pale, blonde-looking meat is not only unattractive but the taste suffers too. The best way to maximise flavour and obtain an aesthetically appealing dish is to heat your pan well before adding oil or fat and finally meat, fish or poultry. That sizzle sound is good. This will also avoid food that sticks.

A meat thermometer takes out the guesswork
When dealing with a large roast, by all means calculate the cooking time based on weight, however inserting a meat thermometer into the thickest part is the easiest way to avoid under or over cooking. A meat thermometer is a small investment to make when seeking a perfectly roast chicken or medium-rare beef roast. Some ovens come standard with a digital probe, however it is just as easy to pick a thermometer up from a kitchen supplies shop.

Don't turn, turn, turn meat, fish or poultry too often when cooking
It is very important to leave food alone when cooking, particularly when grilling and especially when barbequing. You want your piece of meat, fish or poultry to develop a crust on one side before you turn it. How do you know its time to turn? Your spatula or tongs will slide easily underneath the meat and the crust will stick to the meat not the pan. This is true for both regular and non-stick pans.

Give it a rest
Depending on size, all meat should be rested from 5 minutes (a chicken breast) to 30 minutes (a whole bird or a standing beef rib roast). Or as a guide rest it for half the cooking time. When you remove the meat from the oven ‘tent’ it with foil to keep it warm and set aside to allow the juices, which migrate in the centre of the meat, to distribute throughout. This applies for both expensive and inexpensive cuts. Now you can turn up the oven to brown the potatoes or cook the Yorkshire pudding, as well as transfer the roasting dish to the stovetop and turn the pan juices into gravy.

Season season season
Recipes will often say ‘season to taste’. Learn to use your palate and remember that while under-seasoning may ruin your carefully constructed dish, it can be corrected, over-seasoning for the most part, cannot. Proceed with caution and taste, taste and taste again. It’s always best to season during the cooking rather than adding afterwards, except for something like a risotto where you are adding stock, as some stock can be quite salty.

Boiling when you should be simmering
You cannot fast-track slow cooking by excessive boiling. It doesn’t work that way. You will end up with a tough, dry dish. Simmering is when a bubble breaks the surface every second or two and boiling is a more vigorous bubble. They are not interchangeable.

Read the recipe
Some recipes do not include cooking and preparation times in the method. To avoid serving meat that should have braised for three hours to guests arriving in one hour, read the recipe from beginning to end to calculate preparation and cooking times. Some recipes will even sneak another ingredient into the method that wasn’t listed in the original list. If it is an ingredient you don’t have and you don’t have time to shop, this may ruin your carefully planned dinner. Be vigilant!

Speaking of meaty issues, I recently did four short videos for MLA on roasting beef. Click on the links for some great winter roast beef ideas:

Standing rib roast
Slow roast
Beef rump
Beef eye round roast

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sepia – European/Japanese fusion in the CBD

I’ve been to Sepia a couple of times in the past few weeks – for a quick drink with a girlfriend and for a business lunch. Both times were fabulous – Sepia is welcome addition to drinking and dining options in Sydney’s CBD.

Located just down from the hustle and bustle of Town Hall on the ground floor of Darling Park at 201 Sussex Street, Sepia is an oasis of calm – from the comfortable dining chairs in the restaurant to the stylish marble bar in the centre of the room.

It is the creative collaboration of George Costi of renowned seafood emporium De Costi, English born chef, Martin Benn and my old friend Vicki Wild.

Martin Benn

As you’d expect seafood features heavily on Benn’s menu in many of the European/Japanese fusion options – appropriate as Martin became head chef at Tetsuya’s at only 25.

In 2007, Martin left Tets and Sydney for Hong Kong but, at Costi’s request, returned in 2008 to open Sepia. Almost from the beginning the accolades began – 2010 NSW Restaurant & Catering Associations’ Best New Restaurant and TimeOut Sydney’s Best Seafood Restaurant Award as well as a listing in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide.

When I went for a drink with a girlfriend, I sampled the following flight of three Northern Italian wines with recommended food match, angel hair pasta with scampi & tarragon:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Spaghetti alla carbonara brings home the Australian bacon

Initiated by pork industry body, Australian Pork Limited from 15 to 21 March we celebrated Australian Bacon Week, another good reason to ensure we buy pork products endorsed by the pink square PorkMark – indicating 100% home grown and manufactured bacon.

Be aware that pork products labelled ‘made in Australia’ may be processed in Australia, but not actually grown in Australia. According to APL, 70% of pork product sales are from imported meat. For guaranteed authenticity, look out for the 121 Australian butchers and smallgoods manufacturers licensed to display the pink square PorkMark.

One of my favourite ways of enjoying Australia bacon is a simple spaghetti alla carbonara. There are many interpretations of this famous dish but classically it is made by tossing very hot pasta in raw eggs that form the sauce.

Click here to go to the recipe on my main website.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Spiced food and wine matching extravaganza at Just Add Spice book launch

Herbie and me with our publisher, Julie Gibbs from Penguin

My new book Just Add Spice (Penguin) co-written with Ian ‘Herbie’ Hemphill was launched last week at Essential Ingredient at Rozelle. I cooked and signed books at their new Rozelle store opening back in February. The new location is fantastic – rows and rows of cooking utensils, books, tableware and every type of food imaginable as well as a purpose built cooking demonstration area. I’ll be back!

The official part of the night began with a welcome by Penguin’s managing director, Julie Gibbs. Herbie and I loved working with Julie and the professional and innovative team at Penguin. Julie introduced Pete Evans of Hugo’s and My Kitchen Rules and my former co-presenter on Fresh on the Nine Network. Pete has known Herbie and I for over ten years and was a fitting choice to launch our book. We were incredibly touched by his kind words. Herbie and I followed Pete with a double-act – thanking everyone who played in a part in bringing the book to fruition and talking through the food and wine matching menu.

Pete Evans, Julie Gibbs and Deborah Thomas (The Australian Women's Weekly)

Food for event was from Just Add Spice and was expertly provided by Syd Pemberton from Pembertons Food Workshop. She is a long time friend and colleague from the Food Media Club, now the Association of Australian Culinary Professionals.

Each canapé was matched to a wine from the Fine Wine Partners stable. I have a very long professional and personal relationship with Rob Hirst, the Chairman, Fiona MacDonald and all the team there.

The food from the book, with wine matches were:

Herbed fromage blanc on french toast and Tomato soup shot
with St Hallett Eden Valley Riesling
The combination of chives, parsley, basil and lemon myrtle with creamy fromage blanc and the zing of ginger and smoked sweet paprika in the cool shot of tomato soup were perfectly matched with the citrus flavours and floral aroma of the St Hallet Riesling.

Prawn cakes with masala dip
with Macs Hop Rocker or Knappstein Three
A golden malty lager or a gewürztraminer, riesling and pinot gris blend offered an excellent complement to prawn cakes packed with fragrant curry leaves, fenugreek and brown mustard seeds.

Middle Eastern Fish Casserole
with Phillip Shaw Pink Billy rosé
This canapé was served in a small bowl with steamed rice and instead of white fish (as mentioned in the book) New Zealand King Salmon (link was used. The rich, succulent pink flesh was a perfect carrier for the middle eastern flavour notes – cardamom, cumin and turmeric. Fresh dill and coriander and a spritz of lime added aroma and freshness. The rose, full of flavour yet finishing clean was the idea partner.

Pork Meatloaf with fennel on sour dough
with Phillip Shaw Pink Billy rose
What’s not to love about meatloaf? This version combined pork and bacon with sage, fennel and black pepper. A winning combination matched with the rosé.

Duck breasts with pomegranate dip
with 2008 Wither Hills Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand
Heady with ground coriander seeds and Chinese five-spice, the roasted duck breasts were served with an orange, star anise and pomegranate molasses dipping sauce. Pinot Noir is perfect with duck – the rich and elegant plum and spice flavours created harmony with the rich duck breasts.

Dukkah and date sandwich with cheese
with 2008 Wither Hills Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand
Sweet dates crusted with hazelnut and pistachio dukkah served with creamy brie washed down with pinot noir – I can’t think of a better combination!

Simon Thomsen (Taste) with Herbie and I

Herbie and I have also hosted a few Just Add Spice literary lunches, including at Trio's at Noosa.  Here and here are blog posts from guests who attended.