Saturday, September 18, 2010

Red Box Italian Feast


I have been requested a number of times to publish the recipes on the blog from the popular Italian Feast day that was held at Red Box Cafe mid last year.  So due to popular demand t'is.

The day started out sunny and still with loads of preparation ahead of us to prepare for the booked out lunch crowd of 40 people with the chance of walk-in customers highly likely.  The response to our publicity for the day was overwhelming, and we could have filled the cafe many times over if we had had enough food. Requests rolled in after the event to have this as a regular event throughout the year. The weather turned grey in the afternoon, but it did little to dampen any spirits, in fact it encouraged them to partake more if anything.
On the morning, the wood fire was stoked and roaring in readiness for the task and preparations started on the chopped and peeled 10 kg of potatoes and 7 kg of zucchinis that had been gratefully prepped by staff the day before. The marinated side of lamb and 2 very large joints of stuffed and rolled roast pork loin were removed from the fridge to allow them to come to room temperature. The meat was supplied by Josh at Tuross Meats and was as usual, sensational. On the day, all food but the cakes were cooked in the woodfired oven, however if you were cooking this at  home, a regular oven would do the job just fine,a nd I will provide quantities for regular home cooking. If by chance you do have a wood oven, stoke it and allow it to burn down to hot coals with a regular log top up each hour to maintain temperatures while cooking.

The menu for the day consisted of:

Housemade breadsticks with marinated olives
Woodfired roast loin of pork with apple, pecan and sage stuffing
Woodfired roast lamb, marinated in preserved lemon and housemade basil pesto
Baked garlic zucchinis
Patata sformato, potatoes baked in provolone and cream sauce
Hazelnut torte and housemade caramel ice cream
Jewish apple cake with vanilla bean cream (this recipe is already on the blog).

All recipe quantities serve 4-6 people
Roast loin of pork with apple, pecan and sage stuffing.
3 tbsp olive oil
1.5 - 2kg boned, rolled loin of pork (ensure your pork is young, by choosing a loin that has light pink skin)
4 braeburn apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 tbsp maple syrup
Let's do ita again!
3 tbsp sage, finely chopped
4 slices of pancetta, finely chopped
1 brown onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
100g pecan nuts, chopped
1 cup chopped fresh bread into cubes
1 egg lightly whisked
1 tsp fennel seeds
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 230C. Stew apples in medium saucepan with maple syrup and 2 tbsp water on medium heat with lid on, until soft. This should only take a few minutes. Heat half the oil in a large frypan over medium heat, add onion, pancetta, garlic, and cook, stirring for 5 minutes or until onion softens. Add pecans and cook lightly, unitl nuts are golden. Remove from heat and set aside to cool a little, then transfer to a medium bowl. Add the stewed apple, bread, sage and egg and stir with hands to combine and season with salt and pepper well.

Place the pork loin (unrolled) rind side up on a clean surface and pat dry with paper towel. Turn pork over and use a small, sharp knife to make a cavity for the stuffing. Place the stuffing across the centre of the pork and roll pork to enclose. Secure with kitchen string, tying at 2cm intervals. Place in a roasting pan, drizzle with remaining oil and sprinkle with fennel seeds and extra salt. Rub into the rind. Roast in oven for 30 minutes, reducing heat to 180C and roast for a further 45 minutes or until pork is tender.  Remove from heat and cover with foil, resting for 15 minutes.

If cooking in a wood fire, place towards the rear of the oven for first 30 minutes to crisp the skin, then move to the front of the oven to adjust temperature where it is cooler. Rotate the pork in the pan to ensure it is crisped evenly. Cooking time will vary, depending on the type of wood oven you have.

Roast lamb marinated in preserved lemon and basil pesto
1 de-boned 2kg leg of lamb
1/2 cup of preserved lemon, use skin and flesh, chopped into large-ish chunks
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 cups of fresh basil
1/2 cup olive oil
100g roasted pine nuts
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 large garlic cloves
salt and pepper

Marinate the meat the day before cooking. Combine, the basil, pine nuts and garlic in food processer and pulse until fine. Slowly drizzle in the oil while machine is on and then add in the parmesan, pulsing  until combined.

Flatten out lamb on clean surface, skin side down and rub the pesto all over the lamb on both sides.Then rub the preserved lemon in, tucking the lemon skin into the meat. Leave to marinate overnight preferably. Preheat oven to 200c and place lamb and marinade in baking tray, roasting for about 30 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 180c for the remaining 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and cover with foil, resting for 15 minutes.  If cooking in the wood fire use the same oven temperature principle as the pork.

Zucchini in garlic

"Redbox Feast, what a great idea!
 6 zucchini, sliced with skin on
120 b butter
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 cloves garlic, chopped
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 180C and place all ingredients into an ovenproof dish with lid and roast in oven for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  This can be cooked in the oven at the same time as the meat, and can also be cooked in either regular or woodfired oven, adjusting the temperature as needed.

Potatoes sformato
500g bintje potoates, peeled and cut into 3mm slices
1 garlic clove, cut in half
1 tbsp soft butter
100 g provolone cheese, grated
black pepper
sea salt
300m double cream

Preheat oven to 180C and butter a 20cm shallow ovenproof dish and rub the inside with the cut clove of garlic. layer the slices of potato, covering each layer with a sprinkling of cheese, then seasoning with sea salt and black pepper. Continue until the dish is full, then finish with a good layer of cheese on top.  In a pan, bring the cream to the boil, season with salt and pepper and pour over the potoato. Bake for about 45 minutes or until completely tender. Again, this dish may be cooked in the woodfired oven, however make sure it does not burn by turning the dish around to ensure it is evenly cooked. Test by inserting a fork into a potato slice.

Hazelnut torte
4 egg whites
1/2 cup castor sugar
1/2 cup self raising flour, sifted
1/2 cup ground hazelnuts
2 tbsp melted butter, cooled
3 tbsp rum
15 whole hazelnuts

600mls w\pure cream
1/4 cup castor sugar
2 tbsp dutch cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 tsp vanilla bean paste

Whip egg whites till stiff, add castor sugar slowly to make meringue mixture. Fold in sifted flour, butter and hazelnuts. Mix lightly until just combined. Pour into two 23cm baking paper lined cake tins and cook for approx 25 minutes at 140C or until just cooked but not coloured. Remove from oven and when cooled slightly remove paper and cool to room temperature. Brush both layers with rum.

Whip cream with cocoa, sugar, and vanilla until very stiff. Place one cake layer on serving plate, rum side up and cover top with a layer of cream about 1/2 cm high.  Place second layer on top, rum side down and spread top and sides with remaining cream. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. 
This cake can be frozen whole in a container and thawed with the lid off to alleviate the condensation dripping onto cake.


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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The birthday gift

birthday moon @ Mission Beach
My 40th 50th birthday has finally now come and gone.  Even though I did not realise it at the time, I must have been feeling the pressure of reaching this landmark age. Because I now feel slightly liberated somehow, as if a light weight has been lifted off me, or the feeling you get when you get your hair cut, or the transition of spring to summer when you can finally throw off the winter woolies (anyway, you get the idea). 

the holiday house
birthday prawns
With two weeks of intensive celebrations that included a wonderful and large gathering of friends and family from Canberra and beyond at Chris and Jill's house on the Saturday before my birthday, and then the pilgrimage to Mission Beach in Queensland with the Skelton side of the family in tropical paradise, I can think of no better way of turning 50. I slipped from one decade to the next, relatively pain free (apart from a red wine headache or two), while buffered and cocooned by my family and friends (many of who are already enjoying their 50s and 60s) telling me this is okay, don't worry you'll be fine (not to mention, well yes I will..... providing lots of delicious food and wine to make the transition that much easier).
family feast

So, I would like to thank all my family and friends for the nurturing, love and effort that made this such a special time for me and gave me the gift of feeling loved and the making of many happy memories.

While on the subject of food, we experienced a fantastic meal in Mission Beach in an absolutely magical setting at the Bibesia Beachclub restaurant of the newly renovated Castaways Resort, situated 300metres along the beach from our holiday house. The menu had a tropical fruit and seafood focus with the simple meals well presented with tight flavours.  The thing that stood out for us was the casual, but stylish presentation of the atmosphere, food and service.  Would definitely recommend the restaurant. Photos by Steve Shanahan

Friday, September 3, 2010


This column first published in the Canberra Times 25 August 2010.
So humble and satisfying and one of the great dishes of the Languedoc Region in France, the cassoulet continues to be a standard on French menus. A rich and hearty casserole of slow cooked white beans, often served with duck or goose, is just as comfortably eaten as a stand- alone meal when served with crusty sourdough bread and butter. I especially love the depth of flavour the smoked meats impart, and the aromas that flow through the house when the cassoulet is cooking. Like any form of long cooked stew, its basic ingredients of beans and meat can be varied and I have adapted this modern version to be leaner and faster, while still retaining that sticky deliciousness that is so satisfying.

Legend has it, that among the best French cooks it is considered a heinous crime to open the oven door or to create any kind of draught until the crumbs on top are golden brown and the cassoulet is ready to eat. The cassoulet can be cooked in an earthenware pot and kept in the fridge and reheated in the same pot. This is a dish that ages well, and will keep refrigerated for about 4 days. You may find you need to add the remainder of the retained broth when reheating, depending on the consistency. I found this is perfect for serving on a chilly winter evening or a relaxed weekend lunch. Remember, this dish requires preparation the night before to allow time to soak the beans.

Easily serves 6

350g cannellini beans
Photo by Steve Shanahan
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
400g bacon pieces
1 pork hock
2 pigs trotters
6 pork sausages (toulouse style are good)
4 small onions
1 leek sliced
3 garlic cloves chopped
1 stick of celery sliced
2 carrots chopped
4 bay leaves
3 tblsp tomato paste
3 cloves
bunch of thyme
bunch of chopped parsley
fresh baguette breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 180C. Soak the beans overnight in the bicarbonate of soda and water to cover. Brown the bacon pieces in a large ovenproof dish. Add all the meats, chopped leek, whole onions, chopped carrots, celery, bay leaf, thyme, garlic and cloves and cover with water. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and cook gently for about one and half hours. Remove the meats from the casserole dish, reserving the stock. Add the drained, rinsed beans and tomato paste to the stock and simmer very gently until al dente and can be squashed with the back of a spoon– this should take about one to one and half hours. Slice the meats and return to the casserole dish and bring back to simmering point. Spoon out excess broth so the level comes to about one centimetre below the top of the beans. Retain the leftover broth in the fridge if needed when reheating. Sprinkle with a thick layer of breadcrumbs and cook in the oven for one and half hours and breadcrumbs are golden. Press down the breadcrumbs mid way through cooking to allow the crumbs to become golden and crispy. Top with chopped parsley and serve with crusty sourdough bread and butter, washed down with a humble red.