25 April 2012

SRKitchen school: A touch of French - Cassoulet

It is warming, comforting, yummy and just a little bit naughty. That is the Cassoulet; a slow cooked casserole from the south of France.

I took great delight in deliciously devouring my first Cassoulet in the beautiful town of Carcassonne, France in 2006.

The beautiful Cité in Carcassonne, France
(photo by SRKitchen, 2006)

I was with my dear friend, Asha, and we'd decided to leave the depressing grey skies of London (where we lived at the time) to enjoy a long weekend in this breathtaking, world heritage listed, fortified walled town -- or Cité -- to enjoy a European winter fairyland.

Asha & I felt like we had stepped onto the set of a
Disney production in Carcassonne, France
(photo by SRKitchen, 2006)

You will find a plethora of cassoulet recipes on the internet, all varying in ingredients and the number of days it can take to make them. Basically, it is a casserole of beans, meats and herbs. 

A connoisseur of the cassoulet, Jean-Claude Rodriguez, describes the cassoulet as a sharing dish. "When a cassoulet arrives at the table, bubbling with aromas, something magical happens -- it's Communion around a dish." I absolutely adore this description. 

Traditional French dish - Cassoulet
(photo by Chris McCurley)

So when Asha asked for her second cooking lesson in The Self-Raising Kitchen, she decided she wanted to try her hand at the Cassoulet; a far cry from her first lesson making the humble omelette.

I don't think I made it easy for Asha, however. I had made cassoulets previously, but this time I wanted to experiment a little with several recipes. I used this one, this one and I had written out a different herb crust topping on my cooking notes, of which I have no recollection where I got it from.

Although the quantities can easily be varied, please note you will need a very large dish for this. We ended up having to take some of the meat and juice out, which I put into a saucepan and left simmering on the stove while the casserole dish cooked in the oven.

Asha did a superb job experimenting with me to make this recipe. We hope you like it.


by The Self-Raising Kitchen

Serves 10
Serving up the Cassoulet
(photo by Chris McCurley)
2 large brown onions
8 garlic cloves
2/3 cups white beans (cannelini, haricot, butter beans)
400g speck (you can buy speck from most supermarkets in their specialty meat sections)
750g pork belly
1 chicken* (ask your butcher to cut the meat off the frame and keep this to make a stock. Cut up the chicken into palm size portions, where you can.)
3 garlic sausages (if your can't find substitute with pork sausages)
2 rosemary sprigs
4 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
1 tin diced tomato (400ml)
375ml white wine
4 cups of good quality (or homemade) chicken stock

*Please note: Traditionally duck is used. If you can't purchase duck, or you're looking for something a little more cost effective, chicken is a great substitute.

Garlic and herb crust ingredients
4 cups fresh breadcrumbs 
1.5 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
50g butter, melted
1 tbsp thyme, chopped

If using dried beans, place in bowl and cover beans with plenty of cold water. Leave over night.

Preheat oven to 140 degrees celsius.  Cut speck into 2cm batons. Cut pork belly into 4cm batons. Heat oil in a large casserole dish over high heat. Cook pork in small portions to allow meat to brown and not broil in its own juices. Set aside. Do this each for the speck, chicken and whole sausages. Cut sausages into quarters.

Add onion and garlic, stirring, for 5 minutes or until soft. Add stock, wine, tomato and herbs to the dish. Add salt to taste. Stir.

Add beans, pork, speck, chicken and sausages. Bake in a preheated oven, covered, for 1.5 hours or until meat is tender.

Towards the end of the 1.5 hours, combine the breadcrumbs, flat-leaf parsley, garlic, thyme and melted butter in a bowl. Ensure breadcrumbs are coated with butter, but not oily. Sprinkle this mixture over the cassoulet and bake, uncovered, for a further 30-40 minutes or until the top is crisp and golden. Remove from the oven and serve with some fresh bread to sop up the juices.

Cassoulet - the sharing dish
(photo by Chris McCurley)

I would like to make a special thank you to Chris McCurley for taking such sensational photos for this post. You are welcome at my house for dinner anytime, Chris.

11 April 2012

Family Fun - Duck Mole Poblano

It was close to midnight. My beloved and I were chatting away (okay, it was me chatting away). Suddenly, like a lightening bolt to a lightening rod, like a positive charge to a negative charge, like a bee to a flower, an idea plunged into my head and the family Easter feast was born.

Without consideration of the hour on my part, texts were sent to my family. With consideration of the hour from my beloved, emails were sent to his family: Family Easter Feast at The Self-Raising Kitchen on Easter Saturday. Bring a dish!

I love a feast.

Family Easter Feast Menu

BBQ baby squid with a Greek salad
(prepared by my sister)

My sister's amazingly tender BBQ baby squid
with a side of Greek salad

slow roasted pork belly
roast tomato and bean salad
(prepared by my father)
duck mole poblano
radish salad
(prepared by me)

triple chocolate trifle
(prepared by my mother-in-law)

My father's most amazing and succulent
slow roasted pork belly

In this post I'm going to share the recipe of the dish I cooked: Duck Mole Poblano courtesy of the April edition of SBS Feast magazine. I chose this dish in honour of chocolate, it was Easter after all, and mole poblano is a Mexican dish that includes chocolate. How could I go past it?

There's a couple of items in this recipe you won't be able to buy at your local grocer. Let me introduce you to my favourite online spice store, Herbies.com.au. This place has everything you could hope to want when it comes to herbs and spices, including wonderful quality and fabulous turnaround times. I made my order late one Monday evening and I had my spices by Wednesday. It is too easy.

Mexican chocolate from the fabulous

Duck Mole Poblano
by the SBS Feast magazine, April 2012 edition
Serves 4

6 dried pasilla chillies or dried ancho chillies, seeded, stems removed (you can buy these from Herbies. I used the ancho chillies (they come in 3 to a pack) as I was cooking for chilli novices and this is a really sweet chilli. In fact, once I had rehydrated the chillies they smelt like prunes to me.)
4 (about 800g) duck breasts, trimmed (this can be substituted with chicken)
1 tbs vegetable oil
500ml (2 cups) chicken stock
2 cloves
1 cinnamon quill
40g Mexican cooking chocolate, chopped
410g can whole tomatoes
chopped coriander leaves and lime wedges, to serve

Ingredients for almond paste
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 small corn tortilla
250ml (1 cup) chicken stock
35g (quarter cup) raisins
40g (quarter cup) blanched almonds, toasted (simply place in a non-stick pan over a low heat until fragrant and lightly brown)
2 tbs pumpkin seeds, toasted (as above)
2 tbs sesame seeds, toasted (as above)
1 tsp ground coriander
2 garlic cloves, quartered

I deseeded my chillies after soaking them,
which was a lot easier.
Soak chillies in 500ml water for 20 mins to soften. Drain, reserving 250ml soaking liquid. Process chillies in a food processor, gradually adding reserved liquid, to form a smooth paste.

Ancho chilli paste

To make almond paste, heat oil in a frying pan over high heat. Add tortilla and cook for 1 minute each side or until lightly golden. Remove from pan and roughly chop, then process in food processor with the remaining ingredients until smooth.

Almond paste

Place duck breasts, skin-side down, in a large frying pan over medium heat. Cook for 8 minutes or until skin is golden. Turn and cook for a further 2 minutes or until lightly browned. Cut into 3 pieces on the diagonal, cover and set aside.

Golden skinned duck breasts

Heat oil in a heavy-based frying pan over medium heat. Add chilli paste and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes or until fragrant. Stir in the almond paste and cook for a further 3 minutes or until slightly reduced. Add chicken stock, cloves, cinnamon, chocolate and tomatoes. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Add duck and cook for a further 10 minutes or until sauce has slightly thickened. Season with salt and pepper, scatter with chopped coriander and serve with lime wedges.

Duck mole poblano
(food photography is a skill, a skill I still do not have)

04 April 2012

Guest review - Public, Brisbane CBD

I'll be honest, I have no ambition to be a food critic/reviewer. Frankly, the thought of publicly critiquing a chef is not my bag. I think that even the ones that may be having a bad night probably have a thing or twenty that they could teach me about the art of cooking.

However, I did get to go to a fabulous restaurant the other day with two wonderful friends, and we decided, as it is a new restaurant in a quieter end of Brisbane city, we wanted to shout to the people of Brisbane what a dining asset we have gained. So please let me introduce you to my dear friend and wonderful writer, Karyn Brinkley, my guest reviewer. I know you will enjoy.

Intimate lunch? Go Public
by Karyn Brinkley

Let me qualify my credentials up-front: I’m no food critic, and this is my first ever restaurant review. But I do love my food, and I eat at restaurants a lot. Mostly, the experiences blur into one another. I’d recently come to the conclusion that food is food is food.

And then I lunched at Public, at 400 George Street, Brisbane.

Forgive me if I end up sounding like a paid-up member of Public’s food fan club. I promise it’s not just the wine talking – although it was excellent. The list is comprehensive, interesting and high quality, and between the three of us, we put away a bottle of Tim Adams Pinot Gris. I have no idea if that was the right wine for the dishes we chose, but it was served promptly, and perfectly chilled, and it tasted consistently fresh and fruity, so I really don’t care. I do wish I’d ventured into the cocktail menu, but that can wait for another day.

The single-sheet menu was at first a little disconcerting. How could a single sheet provide much in the way of menu variety? My goodness. Public shows you how. 

Kentucky Fried Duck from Public
(photo: SRKitchen)

We started with Kentucky Fried Duck (a small plate, $22) which arrived with a small dish of Paris mash with duck jus. Delicately crumbed and spiced, no trace of grease to test my diet conscience, and as delectable a duck drumstick as I’ve tasted. A superb start which had my two lunch companions tweeting their friends. 

Cauliflower mac and cheese from Public
(Photo: SRKitchen)

Cauliflower mac and cheese followed (a small plate, $8), and the faintest hint of curry made this a surprisingly tasty and far-from-homely starter. Despite having declared myself a curry-hater from way back, I could happily have devoured the whole pot. 

Saltbush organic lamb shoulder with mint jus
(Photo: SRKitchen)

The piece de resistance was a saltbush organic lamb shoulder with mint jus, which arrived whole, aromatic and glistening. We argued over who should carve it, then discovered carving wasn’t necessary. When foodies talk about lamb falling off the bone, they’re talking about Public’s lamb shoulder. Generously portioned and priced for two people ($65 with your choice of two vegetable accompaniments), the three of us forced ourselves to finish it because there was no way any skerrick of lamb was going back to a kitchen rubbish bin. 

Lamb easily falling of the bone at Public
(Photo: SRKitchen)

For sides, we chose crusty potatoes with salt and vinegar – heaven in a bowl – and zucchini wild white, which turned out to be an elegant salad of finely sliced zucchini with mint, nasturtium flowers and pistachios, piquantly drizzled with passionfruit juice.

We were deliciously and comprehensively satiated. But not so much that we turned away from dessert ($16): the smoothest, most decadent chocolate marquis in a bed of coconut snow and topped with lime sorbet. Exquisite. 

chocolate marquis in a bed of coconut snow
 and topped with lime sorbet
(Photo: SRKitchen)

Ambience? With food this amazing, who notices the décor? But it’s sophisticated, contemporary, light and airy, quiet and relaxed. Service was very close to perfect, with the ever-attentive and friendly Bonnie timing the arrival of our various dishes to the table perfectly. Chef Damon Amos deserves congratulations for an innovative, inspiring and nevertheless hearty lunchtime menu.

Public is on level one, 400 George Street, Brisbane, at the end of town that’s not normally known for amazing cuisine. I have a feeling that’s about to change. Certainly, I’ll be back.

01 April 2012

A cheeky piece of beef

My first beef cheek experience was at Spanish restaurant, Ole, at South Bank in Brisbane. It was the most tender, melt in your mouth piece of meat I'd eaten in a long time.

I already had this cut of meat in my freezer and I've been wanting to cook it up for a while now. I finally got my act together and found a recipe in my copy of the 2011 Collector's Edition of Gourmet Traveller.

What I liked about this recipe was its use of simple, yet tasty ingredients. The next best thing was the price of beef cheeks. They are cheap. I got mine (500g) for under AUD$3 just from a regular supermarket. I think that is a bit of a bargain, myself. However, you may not always find them, so it would be worth talking to your butcher and even ordering them, if need be.

Treat your cheek like chuck steak; you need to put the time into cooking them to reap the delicious reward of this tender, tasty bit of cheekiness.

Slow cooked beef cheeks
by 2011 Collector's Edition, Gourmet Traveller
Serves 4

Slow cooked beef cheeks on
cauliflower puree and beans.
(no food photography award will be handed to me anytime soon)

2 tbsp olive oil
4 beef cheeks (about 250g each) - (I was only cooking for two and had a 500g cheek)
3 onions, halved, thinly sliced lengthways
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 fresh bay leaves
3 thyme sprigs (I also added a sprig of rosemary)
375 ml good quality red wine
125 ml (half cup) beef stock (I used beef consomme to give it a richer flavour)

Please note: I ended up using 500ml of stock -- and I was only cooking half the amount of meat -- due to my very uncooperative oven. I suggest you have more liquid on hand (even just water would do) and keep checking the beef during the 3 hour cooking process. If the dish is drying out (as mine kept doing) add more liquid.

The deliciously simple ingredients
that go into this dish

Preheat oven to 150C. Heat oil in a flameproof casserole dish large enough to fit beef cheeks in. Add cheeks, cook over high heat until browned (3-5 minutes each side), then transfer to a plate.

My sealed beef cheek

Add onion and garlic to casserole dish and stir occasionally over a low heat until starting to caramelise (8-10 minutes). Return cheeks to casserole dish, add herbs, red wine and stock, season to taste, then bring to the simmer.

The beef cheek in the boiling braising
liquid before its transfer to the oven. 
Cover and transfer the dish to the oven. Cook until beef cheeks are tender (3-3.5 hours).

I served mine with pureed cauliflower and green beans.

-recipe end-

I have fallen in love with beef cheeks and will certainly be cooking them again.