Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Eschalot and Honey Terrine

First published Canberra Times 31 August 2011.
Parisians don’t compromise on food and the mind-boggling choices available in its famous street markets are a powerful expression of this. The abundant selection of mouth-watering, ready-made foods means you may never need to lift a saucepan again. Locals are spoilt for choice with anything from rare, cave-ripened cheeses to freshly slaughtered game meats, creating a feast for the eyes and stomach.
A special discovery of mine made on a recent trip to Paris, is Le Marché des Infants Rouge, off the Rue de Bretagne in the Marais. This is reputed to be the oldest food market in Paris, built in 1615 under the rule of King Louis XIII. The name translates as  “The Market of the Red Children”, and is believed to come from its proximity to a nearby 17th century orphanage where the children wore red uniforms. 
This little gem is hidden down a laneway among a labyrinth of fixed stalls which sell gourmet foods of all descriptions. Here, the merchants noisily call out to each other, joking and singing and chatting with their regular customers. I find it hard to resist the plump perfumed strawberries or a choice of cheeses, the like of which I’ve never seen. The fresh North Sea fish sitting on ice beckons, but the charcuterie with its awesome array of delicious terrines is the drawcard for me.
The friendly woman who greets me at the counter cooks these terrines herself and is very willing to provide tasty morsels and to decipher the ingredients of some of the more unusual combinations. After a funny and good natured discussion in pidgin Frenglish, I am persuaded to choose the eschalot and Parisian honey terrine which looks light and delicious nestled in among the heavier meats.
She explains that this is one of her most popular terrines and describes to me the love affair Parisians have with honey. I learn that many Parisians keep bees right in the heart of Paris where there are fewer pesticides than in the French countryside where honey is traditionally produced. The flowers and plants are continually changed and revitalised, creating fresh pollen for the bees. It’s difficult to imagine that there are beehives atop the Galleries Lafayette, the Paris Opera and in many of the central parks including the Tuilieries, but they are there.
The eschalots used in this terrine are usually sold in Australia as “French eschalots”, and resemble small brown onions. To add some confusion, they are sometimes labelled as “shallots”. Be careful not to buy the long green shallots that are often used in Asian cooking.  You need about 800g of eschalots for this recipe - I paid around $8.00 for this quantity.  
This terrine is light, delicately sweet and is perfect for a lunch with some leafy greens, dressed with a white wine vinaigrette. It’s best eaten warm or at room temperature and served with the reduced honey sauce and a dollop of crème fraiche. The flavours in this terrine are great for a spring lunch matched with a light and subtle fruity white, like Viognier Nouveau 2010 from Clonakilla.

800g eschalots
2 tbsp olive oil
250ml of white wine
3 tbsp honey, light flowery honey is best
1 large sprig rosemary
1 tbsp cornflour
1 cup crème fraiche
6 eggs, beaten
Pinch of salt and pepper
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Extra crème fraiche to serve
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Peel the eschalots, cut them lengthways into thin slices and sauté in the olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the wine, honey and rosemary, mixing to combine. Simmer, covered for 20 minutes on a low heat.
While the eschalots are cooking, mix the cornflour and crème fraiche together in a large bowl. Add the beaten eggs, the salt and pepper and nutmeg and mix well.
When the eschalots are cooked, strain the honey juice, pressing down on the eschalots to extract all remaining juice. Mix the eschalots into the crème fraiche mixture.
Butter a terrine or loaf pan well, 25cm x 10cm x 7cm high. Pour the mixture into the terrine. Place the terrine in a pan half filled with boiling water and bake in the oven for 40 minutes.
Just before serving add the balsamic vinegar to the reserved juice and boil down for 3 minutes. While the terrine is still warm unmould and slice with a sharp knife. If you have an electric knife, use it to slice. Add a few rosemary leaves to the honey sauce and serve separately at the table. Photos by Steve Shanahan

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hot Meringues

First published Canberra Times 24 August 2011.
Biting into a crunchy meringue is a wonderful sensation - that crispy outside and marshmallowy soft centre melts away to nothing on your tongue.  There is no better place to eat them than in France, where patisserie shelves are piled high with these light, crispy confections. They are usually made in large freeform shapes in a subtle, swirly palette of colours and flavours.
The French were one of the first countries in Europe to make meringue, known as "pets" back in the middle ages. The literal translation of pets is "fart" because the meringue texture is as light as air. I think if we venture into the nearest cake shop here and ask for some "farts" we might not get the reaction we are expecting.
The earliest recipes call for the egg whites to be whisked with birch twigs and shaped into tall sculptures to adorn feasting tables for nobles and royalty . The meringue was used as a structural element to provide support for large edible centrepieces.
The meringue has long since ceased to be the perogative of the rich and powerful. Which 1960's kid could resist the local cake shop with its heady scent of vanilla essence and its orderly rows of pink piped meringues lined in formation? Where would Australian popular culture be without its iconic Aussie pav?
This recipe breaks the "rules" for meringue-making as it strays from the traditional and more well known methods by combining  egg whites, sugar and boiling water at the beginning of the recipe. The end result is not as dry and crisp as traditional methods, but has a crunchy outside and a soft marshmallow centre. This is a perfect winter dessert when eaten warm from the oven, combined with an oozy, warm chocolate sauce and whipped cream.
French meringue is the most popular method used by home cooks, using caster sugar beaten into egg whites, and is the usual way to make our famous pavs. Italian meringue is made with a pre-made boiled sugar syrup, which is added to beaten egg whites. It results in a much more stable consistency and is used in pastries and pies to prevent collapsing. On the other hand, Swiss meringue is made by whisking egg whites and sugar over warm water and then whisked until cooled and then baked.
As is usual for meringues, the egg whites should not contain any yolk or they won't whip up. You can pipe them or shape them between two dessertspoons to form large mounds. I like to use the dessertspoon method because it makes them puffy and decadent looking.

You can add Tia Maria or any liqueur you like to the chocolate sauce. I add a few fresh berries to the plate and some maple syrup coated macadamias for colour and crunch. Don’t forget to leave your eggs out of the fridge to warm to room temperature which allows the whites to whip to a greater volume.

3 egg whites
2 cups of icing sugar mixture
½ cup of boiling water
¾ cup thickened cream, whipped
Chocolate sauce
100 g dark chocolate, chopped
½ cup thickened cream
2 tbsp Tia Maria
2 tbsp boiling water
Preheat the oven to 180C.

Beat egg whites, icing sugar and water in a small bowl of your electric mixer for about 8 to 10 minutes or until firm peaks form.

Using a large metal spoon, drop 8 equal portions of mixture onto large baking trays lined with baking paper. Bake on lowest shelf, in moderate oven, for about 20 minutes or until browned slightly and firm to touch.

For the Chocolate sauce, combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and stir over low heat without boiling and chocolate is melted.

Gently lift the hot meringues from the oven tray to serving plates. Top with whipped cream and a large drizzle of Chocolate sauce. Add berries or nuts to taste and dust with icing sugar.
Photos  by Steve Shanahan.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cola spare ribs

First published Canberra Times 17 August 2011. Each year, as Canberra approaches the end of winter, we are sent a slightly warmer spell of weather that lulls us into believing that the big chill is coming to an end. It was during this winter hiatus that I fired up the barbecue to cook these jammy ribs.

We are also selling our house and I didn’t want to dirty my clean oven. Given that the weather was only tricking us, it’s looking like some shivery dinners coming up for the next little while for us.

I first tried these pork ribs while we were on holidays last year in Mission Beach, North Queensland, and was surprised to come across them again while we were in France. I’m told they are very popular in France, eaten during the summer months, cooked in the outdoor ovens.

As I am not a big fan of cola, I was pretty sceptical when I found out how these ribs were cooked. With cola’s reputation of stripping paint, cleaning concrete and car engines, I had nasty visions of it eating holes in my stomach. But in saying that, I’ll give most things a go. Because you cook the ribs in the cola liquid, then discard it - probably not worth getting twisted in knots about the whole cola thing.

The ribs are pre-cooked in a cola, cinnamon and star anise liquid. It’s not surprising that this trio of flavours matches the pork perfectly. I also added a knob of ginger and some black pepper and a small amount of orange juice to give only a slight sweetness without being overly cloying.

They need to be prepared in advance, so make plenty of extras. They will keep cooked in the fridge for a few days, ready to reheat when you get home from work. I teemed this with a crunchy noodle salad that cuts through the sweetness of the pork nicely. This is great picnic or watching the footy food. The ribs are best eaten with your fingers with lots of paper serviettes at the ready.

2kg pork spare ribs
1.5 litres of cola
4 star anise
½ cup of orange juice
2 cinnamon sticks
small knob of ginger
cracked black pepper

Marinade1 small glass of sherry
2 tbsp of honey
2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp grated ginger
few drops of sesame oil
½ cup of tomato sauce
juice of ½ lemon
2 fresh or dried chillies

Preheat the oven to 180C. Place the pork ribs, with the cola, star anise, black pepper, salt, orange juice and cinnamon in a large, deep, ovenproof casserole dish over medium heat. Bring to the boil. Transfer dish to the oven for about 2 hours or until the pork is tender when tested with a knife. Remove pork to a plate and cool slightly. Discard the cola liquid.

If any of the ribs have curled up, make a short slit with a sharp knife in between the ribs and they will flatten out.

To make the marinade, whisk ingredients together in a bowl. Place the pork ribs in a large ceramic or glass dish, and pour the marinade over. Cover pork with plastic wrap, and set aside in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Preheat a covered barbecue to medium heat. Cook the pork spare ribs with the cover down for 10 to15 minutes, basting during cooking with the marinade. Photo by Steve Shanahan

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

French toast goes glam

First published Canberra Times 10 August 2011.
It’s a winter’s morning and I wake to the smell of nut brown butter frying in a pan and the sound of eggs being whisked in Mum’s treasured orange melamine mixing bowl. This hum of activity and the unmistakeable aromas of milk, vanilla and nutmeg could only mean one thing – french toast for breakfast.
It also signalled a last delicious snuggle under the covers before wrenching myself out of bed, slipping into school uniform and charging into the kitchen, just in time to see the last of the soaked bread slices lifted from their milky egg bath into the sizzling pan. My job is to sprinkle the cooked slices of french toast with a cinnamon and vanilla sugar mixture before delivering them to the table for breakfast.

Images of this family favourite flooded back to me when a Dijon bistro blackboard listed “pain perdu pudding” as the dessert du jour. I couldn’t resist the temptation to stroll down memory lane.
The dish arrived - a pudding version of french toast, dripping with thick cream, melting over a crunchy praline topping in a sea of pillowy softness. I poked it with my spoon, releasing a puff of eggy steam. This was the smell of memories.

It seems french toast is a favourite the world over, and most countries can claim their own version, sweet, savoury or both. The Roman’s ate it and its existence in England dates back to at least to the time of Henry V when it was known in the Norman world as Pain Perdu, or “lost bread”, a tasty way of using up leftover bread. It had another incarnation in the Old Dart as “Poor Knights of Windsor” where the egg and milk mixture included wine or sherry and it was spread with jam.

The basic concoction of bread dipped in a milky egg mixture and fried in a pan is universal, but after that, the variations are seemingly infinite. In Australia, this essentially breakfast dish has basic variations of sweet and savoury, determined by the addition of salt or sugar to the mix. We also have some startling regional variations, including Vegemite and Marmite, while Queenslanders might refer to their version as fried bread, and serve it with cheese and tomato sauce as a savoury meal (yuck).The Canadians love theirs with bacon and maple syrup.

The Hong Kong version is served for breakfast, made by deep frying stacked sliced bread dipped in beaten egg or soy milk. It is then served with a slab of butter, topped with golden syrup or honey.
In India, they prefer theirs served salty, rather than sweet. Eggs are beaten with milk, salt, green chili and chopped onion. Bread is dunked into this mixture and deep fried in butter or cooking oil. It is normally served with tomato sauce. In the Czech Republic, it arrives with mustard, gherkin and sometimes onion and capsicum.

French toast is the ultimate peasant food, made from simple ingredients, readily available to most people, rich or poor. It’s filling, tasty and lends itself to the addition of almost anything else that comes to hand.
This recipe for French toast pudding is very easy to make. I use a loaf of brioche, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced into one centimetre thicknesses. You could use any bread, panettone, croissants, baguette or sourdough for this dessert, as long as you soak the bread in the milk and egg mixture for a few hours before cooking. Serves 8.

French toast pudding
1 loaf of brioche
8 large eggs
1 ½ cups pouring cream
2 cups of milk
3 tbsp sugar
1 scraped vanilla bean
¼ tspn nutmeg, ground
¼ tspn cinnamon, ground
Pinch salt
12 pitted prunes
½ cup brandy
½ cup thickened cream and ½ cup yoghurt to serve

Praline topping
125 g unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup chopped pecans
½ tspn cinnamon, ground
½ tspn nutmeg, ground

Fig vino-cotto sauce
2 tbsp fig vino-cotto
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp maple syrup

Start recipe a few hours ahead of cooking. Slice brioche in half horizontally, then slice into one cm slices. Arrange slices slightly overlapping in a large well buttered ovenproof dish. I use a 34cm by 22cm lasagne dish. Tuck the prunes in and around the bread slices. Sprinkle the brandy over the bread.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and cream until combined. Then add the milk, sugar, vanilla bean, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt to the egg mixture and whisk until combined. This can be done by hand, but use an electric mixer if you prefer. Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all the bread slices are coated evenly with the egg mixture. Cover with foil and leave to absorb for a few hours.

While the bread is soaking, prepare the praline topping. In a small mixing bowl, combine the softened butter with the remaining praline topping ingredients, mixing well.

Preheat oven to 180C. When the bread has soaked up the egg mixture and is ready to bake, spoon the prepared praline topping over the pudding. Place the pudding uncovered in the preheated oven and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the topping is golden.

For the fig vino-cotto sauce, mix all ingredients in a small jug.
Serve the pudding warm with a dollop of thick cream and yoghurt mixture, topped with a drizzle of fig vino-cotto sauce.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Spicy beef cheeks and roasted brussel sprouts - Cheek by jowl

First published Canberra Times 3 August 2011. 
It’s a drizzly, windy Friday evening and we’re perched on tall stools close to the bar, in one of London’s popular South Kensington’s Gastro pubs. The place is packed with groups of suits, gathered for end of week drinks, debating the week that was.  It’s still early and the crush of people at the bar is still ordering drinks and bar snacks.  They look hungrily at our table.

From it’s pressed tin ceiling to the huge umbrella stand at the etched glass doors, this traditional old pub, exudes old British aristocracy. These popular London Gastro pubs, generally serve high quality bistro fare, rustically presented in a pub atmosphere, with a whisper of restaurant level service. The menu here is simple, and includes the usual suspects; farmhouse pies, lamb shanks, risotto and the meal we choose, spicy beef cheeks.

We order and settle in with a Cabernet to enjoy what are to be our last few days away, as more and more people squeeze into the busy bar. It seems like no time at all that the meals are brought to the table. There’s no mucking around here with fussy chefy presentation either, the beef cheeks are served with green beans sitting aside a large dollop of creamy buttery mashed potato.  The adept waiter brings everything to the table together on a tray, including the two full plates, cutlery and condiments. This is exactly what we need.

Just as I am about to take my first mouthful, a hand is placed on my shoulder and a dishevelled suit from the adjacent group strikes up a semi inebriated conversation with us about the fabulous food served here. In his thick Irish accent, he asks us where we’re from. He hoots loudly when he finds out we are Australian and tells us about his upcoming Sydney holiday in three weeks time. He shares a toast to Australia with us.

He leaves us to enjoy our food, but drops by our table again on his numerous trips to the bar, to share stories and his infectious good humour. This is nothing short of entertaining, but the food is definitely the star. Our beef cheeks are meltingly tender and covered in rich, sweet gravy, perfectly set off by the creamy, buttery mash. There is no match for the flavour of European butter enhancing the soft, rounded potato flavours. The cheeks have evidently been slow-cooked as the meat falls apart and has a slightly, sticky gelatinous texture to it.

The beef cheeks are a reasonably inexpensive cut of meat, although you might need to ask your butcher to order them in. Don’t overdo it - a little bit goes a long way, as the beef cheeks are incredibly rich.  I served them with nutty oven roasted baby brussel sprouts. Quantity serves 4.

Spicy beef cheeks
1.2 kg beef cheeks, with outer skin removed
4 tbsp olive oil
sea salt and black pepper
2 tbsp butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
3 star anise
1 tsp ground cloves
2 tbsp tomato puree
100ml honey
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
500ml hot chicken stock
Preheat oven to 150C. Trim away any large areas of fat from the beef cheeks and slice each cheek into three smaller pieces. Season the cheeks with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large fry pan and fry the cheeks for about two minutes on each side. Add a little butter to brown. Remove from the pan.

Add the onion, carrots and celery to the same fry pan and cooking for about eight minutes until golden and caramelised. Stir in the tomato puree and fry for a further minute. Add the honey, star anise and cloves and increase the heat a little. When just bubbling, remove from the heat and pour the contents into a casserole dish.
Add the browned cheeks and juices, the herbs, and the heated chicken stock to cover. Place the lid on the casserole dish and cook in the oven for 2 to 2 ½ hours. The meat should be starting to fall apart and very tender.

When cooked, remove the cheeks from the casserole with tongs or a slotted spoon to a dish and set aside. Pour the remaining vegetables and sauce into a sieve and place over a medium saucepan. Push down on the vegetables to squeeze out all the juices. Boil the extracted juice over a medium heat until reduced by about two thirds. The sauce should be a thick, syrupy consistency. Taste for seasoning. Return the beef cheeks to the saucepan and reheat gently. Serve with potatoes and roasted brussel sprouts.

Roasted brussel sprouts
350g brussel sprouts
3 tbsp olive oil
sea salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 170C. Remove outer leaves from brussel sprouts and if the sprouts are large, slice each one in half. Combine all ingredients into a small oven tray and mix with your hands until the sprouts are coated.  Roast in the oven for 20 minutes until lightly golden and just tender. If you plan to have the roasted brussel sprouts with a dish that isn’t as sweet as the cheeks, such as a roast, including a drizzle of maple syrup to the sprouts before roasting is a great addition.
Photos by Steve Shanahan.