Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Beef Cheeks - braised in cider and Mexican drinking chocolate

Winter, slow cooked braises, deep piles of mashed potatoes enhanced with garlic and mustard, glorious deep tastes and satisfaction.

Moore Wilson's have started selling packs of Beef Cheeks and for some reason people appear to be walking past them. Not me, I read the posts on northern blogs, this is a cut of meat destined for the stupid price rises we saw a few years back when lamb shanks went from 'I'll throw a few in for the dog" to over $10 for two small sized ones.

Beef Cheeks - these are amazing chunks of meat.

As pieces of meat they are in constant motion when attached to the animal, these muscles are chomping away on those mouthfuls of grass and cud, so they are tough, full of connective tissues and let me tell you, when cutting into dice, take some muscle to do so, even with a good knife.

Just on the matter of knives, I've gone and paid a fair amount of $ for knives over the years, Wusthof, Victorinox etc. and what do I use day in day out?

Kiwi Brand - made in Thailand and they cost me about $5 each for vege knives and the same for small cleaver style shapes. These are thin; don't hold an edge for long, months not years but they are the sharpest and cleanest cutting knives I have ever used.

Yans - next door to A E Prestons in Wellington stock them (not always) and I buy a new set of them about twice a year. Not a bad result for $20 - $25 every 6 months.

I took four cheeks (two packs at approx $6.50 per pack) diced and browned in a non stick pan. Wiped it out and added a sliced red onion, one sliced leek and about six big stalks of flat leaf parsley, leaves chopped roughly and the stalks just tossed in, and two small rosemary stalks.

All of that softened in a puddle of olive oil with a touch of Maldon salt and ground black pepper.

Then rather than the option of red wine I used apple cider (I didn't have any red wine in the house) with a splash of balsamic vinegar as I felt that would melt down to round out over the cooking process and then the slightly offbeat ingredient.

The original recipe called for a can of peeled, seeded tomatoes, I had slightly soft over ripe 'real' tomatoes so just chopped those roughly and tossed into the pot.

According the recipes I was 'following' the additional ingredient was to be drinking cocoa, of course in our house that sort of ingredient doesn't last due to two teenage children with what I can only describe as brutal appetites for sweet drinks, so what to use?

Well when Zoe and I were in Melbourne earlier this year we had dinner at the South American restaurant down the road from where we were staying and Zoe bought some Mexican drinking chocolate which comes in the shape of tablets, wrapped one by one for the perfect delivery of a great hot drink.

The good news is that you can add this once the cooking process has started so when I realised it was in the pantry I was able to add it in.

This is Nestle Abuelita and when you use the vege peeler to scrape the tablet down into the mix it just blends in and combines with the juices to thicken and enhance the dish.

I used my large Le Crueset casserole dish set at the bottom of the oven on about 120 degrees and let it cook stirring only on occasion for over 3 hours, then turned the oven off and let it sit while I got the mash cooking.

To the boiled Agrias I added milk, garlic puree (yes from a tube - I cheat, never claimed to be a purist) and two large teaspoons of seed mustard. This added some bite to the mash to go alongside the unctuous stew and what I thought would be more than enough for the three of us, there's just enough to fill a very small container so next time, double the volume for the whole family so I have some for lunch the next day.

So - Beef Cheeks are something that I'll add into my basket each time I stop by Moore's - toss them into the freezer and when we get (finally) up the mountain later this year, the slow cooker will deliver this (or something like it) for the end of the day when we stagger down the hill craving comfort food.

If you'd like a full recipe (something I don't think is needed as any dish like this is a changeable dish as every piece of meat is different in size as is everything else) and as I've commented above I changed most of what the original recipe called for, then by all means let me know and I'll provide it. But as I've heard said (and like to say myself) cooking is art, and your expression is as valid as mine or anyone else's.

Enjoy whatever version of this you choose to make. I'm thinking that a mix of beef cheeks, brisket steak or even venison could be a great option, a real grunty Italian Primitovo or Aussie Shiraz along with whole garlic cloves or even pearl onions added about half way through the cooking process.
Anyway - whatever - enjoy

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May already?

Ok, here it is May 2011 and I missed posting in April so maybe I have to manage a couple this month. I've been spending a fair bit of time settling into new routines recently, Zoe is now fully engaged in her leading globally, London this past weekend, New York the weekend prior and she's been to Dublin on very short notice (6.30am Tuesday morning request to be in Dublin for the Friday to start a course then) and I have changed my role at work.

Having been a mobility specialist for approx 13 years I've shifted into the Gen-i procurement team to work on 'connected and specialised' devices, laptops, tablets and so on - a change being a good as a holiday is being tested out.

Food wise the seasons have changed also, with the first real southerly gusts wafting through bringing a chill, although the winds have been more northerly and the temperatures holding at 15+, this morning down to 10 (according to the car's temperature screen) so the mind begins to wander towards the slower braises, the soups, stews etc. so I'm beginning to re-read my recipe files looking for some new options and old favourites.

I'm also looking for baking recipes, and that's not my forte at all, baking = chemistry and cooking = art and all that.

BUT - I did promise to bake a GF bread and to do so more than once, so following up on some recipes on the Gluten Free Girl site and also some links from her site as she seems to have some wonderful contacts / friends and others.

So over the month I hope to have some time to enjoy trying these out and in the meantime here's a recipe I've found and have made a few times for a quick side dish or simple dinner - it a Nigel Slater recipe to start from but I've adapted in a few minor ways.


I am very happy to eat this as it is, but it also makes a cheap and warming accompaniment to grilled bacon or sausages. Serves 4 if used as a main dish

3 medium-sized onions, peeled and chopped into medium dice
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped finely
3 tbsp olive oil
a few whole sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
2 x 400g cans of crushed tomatoes (or passata)
2 x 400g cans of butter beans, rinse and drain
2 medium-sized whole chillies (I use a mid-range chilli, most often a Jalapeno but have used a squirt or three of sriracha suace if I have none handy) is a handy source of knowledge around the Scoville heat range and uses for the varied chillies out there in sauces and condiments)

2 tbsp black treacle (optional - I have used palm sugar instead as I have this as a pantry staple, simply take a palm sugar cake and shave enough off to replace the treacle)
1 tablespoon grain mustard
1 tablespoon smooth French mustard

Peel and chop the onions and the garlic, put them in a heavy-based casserole with the olive oil and leave over a moderate heat till they are soft. An occasional stir will prevent them from sticking to the pan.

Add the dried thyme and the bay leaves, the crushed tomato, 250ml of water and the drained beans, and then bring to the boil. Season with salt and black pepper, the two chillies (or your selected sauce option) , treacle and the mustards.

If you choose to use the palm sugar then the sweetness will be less and the mixture will be slightly less syrupy.

Partially cover with a lid and leave to simmer gently for 30 minutes or so – you want the sauce to thicken a little. Serve hot.

If you can prepare the day prior and gently warm though the tastes will marry together - works well with a dry white, perhaps a dry riesling (the Whitehaven Marlborough Riesling 2010 would be a great partner) for the sweeter note a viogner (a easy option is the Yalumba Y series or a for a bit more coin, the Alpha Domus option will offer a more rounded relationship)


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

So it was a very busy month in March. First, let me explain the photo above.

Our good friend Anne-Marie had a birthday party (one of the important ones) and so we went to Melbourne to attend. As you may be able to work out from the photo- a 70's theme was declared; I grew a beard and man-scaped down to the Lemmy seen above, Zoe went onto TradeMe and found the kaftan for $10. All set.

And of course visiting Melbourne means visiting other friends as well - and eating. Of Course.

So we arrived on the Wednesday afternoon and headed to the Melbourne offices, then out around the corner to a little place called Pekopeko (181 Wells St, Southbank) where Zoe had got takeaway from on a couple of occasions. They were full but would hold a table for us in 20 minutes. No problem, after a flight, shuttle and sitting in the office a brisk walk would be good. So we wandered for the 20 minutes picking up a Yalumba Viogner at the local IGA on the way.

Seated and menus in hand, I was spoilt for choice, a very large list of options all looking great. A quick check with the waitress and she suggested a 2nd option to my choice as that one was crisp fried in a flour batter, and we started with Gyoza. Large and yummy with a good chilli sauce to dip into.

My box meal of honey chicken came as below (sorry photo taken on the IPhone) with a side of steamed broccoli in a peanut / chilli sauce (I was told the chef there created this and won't share the recipe) steamed rice and a nice sized chunk of tofu, beautifully cooked chicken pieces and I wiped the compartments clean and attacked Zoe's meal as well.

Finished off with the green tea icecream on a black rice pudding

Day two we met friends at St Ali - a super cool cafe down a side alleyway, one of those ones you find in Melbourne with the cobblestones and interesting little workshops etc. It was close to lunchtime so I went with the dish that seems to have become a staple of the Melbourne cafe scene, steak with a green salad or variants of that.

The St Ali version is decent sized sirloin, cut slightly thinner than standard served with a mixed greens salad with a mustard dressing. Perfect protein boost for midday along with a couple of long blacks and got to meet Julie and mark's new son, Wilbur while their first climbed under the roller door into the street and got chased by his aunt.

Both Julie and Angela enthused about a restaurant they thought may be close to where we were staying, called Los Latinos which serves a mix of South American dishes, a mix of Mexican, Chilean, Salvadorian, and Costa Rica.

Later that day when I went down that street there it was, barely 500m from our friends house and perfect for dinner that night. This place is amazing, tucked into a slightly dingy strip of shops of the side of a busy street is a bright and shiny and little cafe that when we arrived was almost full with a large very obviously South American family all the way from grand parents down the very latest addition to the family.

A table for two though - no problem and in minutes after a quick consultation with the waitress we'd ordered the nachos as a starter and I'd ordered the Pupusas as my main; these are hot round discs made from maize flour, stuffed with deep-fried pork or refried beans or two cheeses (or a combination of all three fillings) and cooked on a hotplate.

They're served with pickled cabbage (curtido) and tomato salsa and are mighty tasty. I asked for and got a mixed plate of four - that for $10 and was more than enough though I made sure I finished the plate. Zoe had the tacos which she told me were very good indeed!

Lunch the next day was with Julie and Angela and their folks - refugees from Christchurch who had taken up the Air NZ chance to get away and also visit the new baby. The Cafe up the road - Le Chien is their local and we wandered up there for lunch. Again the steak option was there and this time with a side of a potato and beetroot dauphinoise, something I'd not considered before. I'll have to take a shot at this at some stage.
Then after a quick bite to eat we headed to the big party! I'll deal with that in a separate post.
Saturday we visited more friends, Mark and Lynne adopted three Indian children late last year, two sisters and a brother so we went and had lunch and a wine or two there, then went to AAMI stadium to watch the Melbourne Storm thrash the Titans.

The kids, are fabulous with the youngest (only 4 and she re-programmed my IPhone for me) likely to rule the world at some stage.
A very late dinner at China Bar was next on the list.
Again Zoe was the instigator, this place is one of those Melbourne eateries where the basics are done well, very well. A rapid fire menu, even faster service and bare floors, formica tables etc. and lots of options. Braised brisket with rice arrived inside of 5 minutes of me ordering, obviously simmering away in a huge pan out back this was moist, spicy, sweet and perfect, followed it up with the seafood fried kueh tiaw with extra chilli sauce while others around me had all sorts of mixed dishes along with custard buns to finish.
After all of that it was back onto a plane early the next morning and back to Wellington - a great mini break away, enough new foods to spark up the cooking juices and get me going again, so here's to travel and friends, the best excuse I've found to eat a lot in a very short time frame.
cheers all.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Heat in the backyard

In the past two years I've been lucky enough to travel to a couple of places where heat is an integral part of the cuisines on show, Bangkok in 2010 and Delhi-Agra-Jaipur-Mumbai in 2009.

Each country and indeed each region within each country weaves this into their dishes in differing ways, but in most cases the humble chile plays a main part. So this year in a visit to the garden centre I grabbed a few plants and some planter bags and got growing.

this one's a Thai version, Thai Dragon;

Cayenne, Jalapeno and Sweet Banana peppers round out the mix. The Jalapeno are back left, not showing much in the way of chiles as yet.
Thai Dragon, top in the blue bowl, the Cayenne in the green one, and no prizes for guessing the Sweet Banana peppers in the red bowl. The Jalapeno seem to be slowest to come through and are still at the 'just started' point, but I've started harvesting the others.

Checking on the internet I've discovered the following about what I've grown;

Thai Dragon: Scoville units 75,000 - 100,000 meaning 'very' hot, each plant can produce up to 200 chiles in a single season
Cayenne: Scoville units 30,000 - 50,000 meaning hot enough
Jalapeno: Scoville units 2,500 - 5,000, so warmish if you believe the scale and the
Sweet Banana: Scoville units negligible so downright cool

and here's a run down on the Scolville units as advised online

Scoville Units

15,000,000 Pure Capsaicin
5,300,000 Police-Grade Pepper Spray
2,000,000 Common Pepper Spray
855,000 Naga Jolokia
580,000 Red Savina™ Habanero
350,000 Habanero Pepper
325,000 Scotch Bonnet Pepper
200,000 Jamaican Hot Pepper
100,000 Thai Pepper
50,000 Cayenne Pepper
30,000 Manzano Pepper
23,000 Serrano Pepper
10,000 Chipotle Pepper
8,000 Jalapeno Pepper
5,000 Tabasco™ Sauce
2,500 Rocotilla Pepper
2,000 Ancho Pepper
2,000 Poblano Pepper
1,000 Coronado Pepper
500 Pepperoncini Pepper
500 Pimento
0 Sweet Bell Pepper

So based on this it now looks like I'll have a whole heap of very hot chiles available to me to use, looks like some trawling through the internet is ahead of me, any ideas, I'll happily take them.

cheers all

Missed my first blog of the year? the January one, yes I did miss writing it......

So I sat down in late December 2010 and said that one of my goals for 2011 was to be more efficient at adding new posts to this blog, at least one per month I comitted to, and here it is the 21st of February and I'm just starting the January post. How did that much time go by?

Well for starters, since we got back from Miami it's been a blur, Zoe jetted off almost straight away for her final training and then she was signed off by Cathy and so is now leading Advanced Courses, the Communication Course and is still the Operations Manager, which means that last weekend was the one she was home for out of the seven weekend prior to and following (three each side)

And last weekend we also had friends in from Brisbane (ex-Wellingtonians) so the foodie tour went into full swing. Apparently Brisbane is a bit of a foodie wasteland which seems strange to me but if anyone was going to find good food it would be Lydia. And she reports back that Yum Ch is poor there, the markets and stores well short of the Moore Wilson and open weekend markets we have.

So anyway, having established my reason why not and having bored you with "I'm so busy" heres an update.

While Zoe travels the kids and I often indulge in sticky chicken wings, not really a recipe, much more a mindset. (Zoe's not keen on this option as she doesn't like 'sweet sauces on meat')

It's always fairly simple, a tray or more of nibbles, wings or even small drumsticks marinated in a combination of sauces, herbs, spices and flavours (normally in a snaplock bag as that allows me to roll the chicken around and get everything coated completely) for several hours and then baked slowly in a medium heat oven or on the barbeque

(useful hint here - use a tinfoil baking dish, they are cheap and easy to use and you can just throw them away at the end)

The latest lot were a tray of nibbles ($15 the tray at AE Prestons in town), the marinade included, sokey BBQ sauce, a Jamaican chicken and honey baste), crushed garlic - about a tablespoon, Hoisin sauce (makes it quite sticky) a chilli sauce from the back of the fridge I re-found recently, lots of freshly ground black pepper and some Sambal Olek to punch it all up a bit.

Combine all of that (and the additions are endless, soy, oyster sauce, garlic and black bean, Char Siu, worcestershire, mustard - either as a powder or a made variety etc etc) with about 1/4 cup oil to prevent the chicken to stick to the pan too much and then pour the marinade over the chicken in the bag.

A couple of hours later, I poured all this into the big pan and placed in the oven, pre-heated to 180. Gave it all about 30 minutes, then mixed it through, getting the nibbles coated again.

Another 30 minutes and I then poured off the extra fat/oil that's released and lowered the heat to about 100 degrees and gave it all another 30 minutes.

One final mix and then let the chicken 'rest' in the turned off oven for 15 minutes and served up with with a simple green salad Bryn and I had dinner and leftovers for the next day.

As I've said above, the options are endless and I have never writen down a recipe for this as I dont always have the same sauces or herbs etc each time I make - but here are my basic rules;
1 - make sure there's a base sauce, normally a tomato or steak/bbq style
2 - some level of sweet sauce, Asian preferably, something that will add the 'sticky'
3 - something spicy, Rocket sauce, a chilli paste, this will blend down unless you overdo it, but should be a lingering sense on the mouth
4 - spices, garlic, ginger, pepper etc
5 - let it all sit blended then add to the chicken and let the mix sit for as long as you can
6 - the resting in the oven at the end allows the final glaze thicken slightly

and finally - eat with your fingers and have a wet napkin at hand, you should need it if it's all worked out well