27 August 2012

SRKitchen on tour - French onion soup, beef cheeks and strawberry mousse

Join me while I give you my account of how I prepare to take The Self-Raising Kitchen 'on tour' and cook for a party of seven.

A work colleague turned awesome friend Tracy (@gadgetgirltracy) and her rockin' partner Angela (@nerfenstein), saw my previous SRKitchen 'on tour' post and wanted to know how to get in on the action. You see the rules are simple, you pay for the ingredients, I cook for you and a group friends/family/other(?) of your choosing in your house. Easy!

Once a date was set (or a second date in our case) planning started and I was looking forward to a cooking tour to the Gold Coast.

Wednesday, 22 August
I complete menu discussions with Tracy and we decide on:

French onion soup with gruyère bread
Slow cooked beef cheeks with soft polenta and greens
Strawberry mousse with Persian fairy floss (ok, she didn't know about the fairy floss)

Friday, 24 August
5.00pm: The official work week has finished so it's time to get my cook's hat on. I'm off to search for Persian fairy floss and ingredients for the strawberry mousse so I can make it first think in the morning.

Thanks to the awesome world of twitter (@TIFFINbitesized @nataschamirosch @Fridayology @digellabakes @thewordonfood @trisharoe1) I found lots of places in Brisbane selling Persian Fairy Floss. I purchased mine at Greenslopes IGA. The other suggestions were: Rosalie markets, Black Pearl Epicure, Zone Fresh at Windsor, Delicatezza at Michelton and Sourced Grocer at Teneriffe. I'm sure there are plenty more.

THE DAY Saturday, 25 August
8.45am: Coffee is made. Thanks, beloved. An essential element to the day.

9.00am: Strawberries being pureed and the mousse making has started.

Strawberries, lemon juice and sugar blitzed in the food processor

9.30am: Mousse completed and in the fridge to set.

Strawberry mousse ready to set in the fridge. If you are looking
for this recipe I used this one from the Easy French Food blog.
Would I use it again? I most certainly would.

9.50am: Time to make my shopping list.

You see this was one of my more calmer and saner meal plans so I was pretty relaxed about getting everything done, even though I had to drive to the Gold Coast (although it is only 40 mins from my house). 

10.20am: I'm in the car and off to my local fruit shop, butcher and supermarket.

11.20am: DISASTER has struck! My butcher has 12 beef cheeks (which is enough for about 3 'on tour' meals) but they are FROZEN. I will not use the microwave to defrost as it ruins the quality and taste of the meat, in my opinion. So it is time for a luke warm bath for my cheeky bits of beef.

Got frozen meat and don't want to use the microwave?
Leave the meat in a luke warm tub of water. Keep checking
the water and replacing it if it turns cold.

12.00pm: still waiting, waiting, waiting for my cheeks.

12.14pm: another coffee is made.

12.30pm: Preparing to slice onions in food processor to save my eyes.

There is something about me and onions. We are not friends. I love eating them and using them in my cooking, but when is comes to cutting them I cry like a five year old who just had her ice cream full off the cone and onto the footpath. I can even be sitting in another room of someone cutting onions, crying.

12.50pm: time to pack the car. Beef cheeks have defrosted enough. Woo hoo!

The load heading to the Gold Coast. Please take special note of
the casserole dish in the right corner of this photo and read on.

1.16pm: I'm on the road and hoping like crazy that everything makes it in one piece.

1.59pm: Made it! Now it's time to give hugs and kisses to my two beautiful hosts, get unpacked and get started.

But first, check out my view from the kitchen.

Tracy and Angela have a spectacular house on a canal, Gold Coast.

And my office for the afternoon. Bliss!

Tracy and Angela's beautiful kitchen that I've already managed to mess up.

2.30pm: Cooking needs to start. The beef cheeks need at least 3 hours to cook. I'm planning on entree to be served at 6.30, and mains about 7pm. Therefore I want the beef cheeks in the oven by 4pm at the latest to give me 30 mins gap.

2.55pm: Chopping of onion, garlic, herbs etc done, now to brown meat. CRAP I've left my casserole dish at home. Do you remember in the photo the red dish in the corner of the photo? Yes, well it hasn't moved from that location. Oh well, I have another pot that can go in the oven that will have to do.

3.25pm: beef cheeks are ready for the oven. Perfect timing and I've given myself some great wriggle room if the cheeks aren't tender enough by 6pm.

If you are looking for the beef cheeks recipe I used please go here.

Beef cheeks in stock, red wine and herbs ready for a 3 hour stint in the oven.
Time to start the soup.

There's nothing better than the smell of butter and onions cooking. With this recipe you get to fill your house with this smell for a good 30 minutes while you caramelise the onions for the soup.

Caramelising onions for the delicious French onion soup.

I discovered later in the evening, somewhere around dessert, that one of our guests hates onions. Excellent, and here I am offering onion soup! I was assured that she loved the soup, however.

See below for the recipe to this one by the iconic Delia Smith.

4.00pm: I have enough time to gossip with my hosts.

5.30pm: Time to get serious as the first guest, Tracy's mum, arrives. I need to start prepping the beans and broccoli. I want to get these part cooked in boiling water and then place them in ice water so later on all I need to do is fry them with a little butter to heat them up before serving. I'm also getting the french stick sliced and gruyere cheese grated ready for grilling. These will go in the bowls for the soup.

6.15pm: I check the cheeks and I'm very excited as they are just falling apart, as planned, of course. At this point I leave the pot out of the oven until I serve as it will stay hot for a while. Time to free up the oven so I can grill the cheesy bread for the soup.

6:40pm: All guests have arrived. It's time to plate up the entree.

I pour the soup in a terrine that sits in the middle of the table for people
to help themselves. If they like, they can then easily dig in for seconds.

I give each person a bowl with a grilled gruyere cheese
crouton on top. The soup is then ladled on top ready for devouring.
6.50pm: My guests seem to be happily consuming the soup so I focus my efforts on making the polenta with grated parmesan and butter, and frying off the beans and broccoli.

7:30pm: Mains are ready.

Slow cooked beef cheeks with polenta
Looking back, I would have thickened the gravy the cheeks cooked in. Last time I made this dish I was working with a crap oven that used to suck the life (ie juices) out of everything so was left with very little gravy. However, with Tracy and Angela's awesome oven the cheeks quite happily cooked in plenty of juices. It would have been nice to have this thickened a little with some cornflour. I know for next time.

About 8.30pm: Sorry, I started loosing track of time around this point. Time for dessert.

Strawberry mousse topped with Persian vanilla fairy floss.
The evening for me drew to a close just before 9.30pm. I had the car repacked and had even scored a special gift from Tracy and Angela. They very generously bought me a voucher for an Indian cooking class and a strawberry plant. No doubt you will be hearing about the cooking class soon and getting a few recipes as well.

I had such a wonderful night with my hosts and their family. I love cooking for my own loved ones, but it felt extra special being invited into Tracy and Angela's home to cook for their family when I had never met any of them before.

My seven beautiful guests that allowed me to cook for them.
So to the seven wonderful guests who humoured me on Saturday evening, and sat down to eat a meal from a self-trained cook and person they had never met, I thank you so very much. We had a laugh, some very good belly laughs actually, and that is exactly what family and food should be about.

I love this shot. Great family fun!

French onion soup
By Delia Smith


700g onions, thinly sliced
2 tbls olive oil
50g butter
2 cloves garlic,crushed
½ level teaspoongranulated sugar
1.2 litres good beefstock
275 ml dry white wine
2 tbls Brandy
salt and pepper

To serve:
French bread or baguette, cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm)
Gruyère, grated
In a large thick-based saucepan heat the butter and oiltogether. Add the onions, garlic and sugar, and cook over a low heat, stirringoccasionally, for about 30 minutes or until the bottom of the pan is coveredwith nutty brown, caramelised film. (This browning process improves both thecolour and flavour.)

Next add the stock and white wine, bring to the boil andsimmer, covered, over a low heat for about 1 hour. Season to taste and, if youfeel in need of something extra warming, add 1-2 tablespoons of brandy.

SRKitchen version: When I’m ready to serve I grill the breadwith the grated gruyère in the oven. If you prefer crunchier (and proper)croutons, drizzle olive oil over the bread and bake in a high oven for about 10mins, or until brown.

Place the croutons in each bowl and either you ladle the soupinto each bowl or put it in a lovely terrine and let your guests dig in and serve themselves.

22 August 2012

Cooking for a crowd and chocolate mousse

I get a warm fuzzy feeling in my stomach when I can provide loved ones with a tasty meal. You see, I'm slack most of the time. I'm terrible at keeping in touch with friends, my housekeeping skills are appalling, my organisational skills are 'interesting', my financial prowess is non-existant, but, I can cook. And, I think most importantly, I love it!

So when a dear friend of mine and my beloved invited us to a little soiree at his apartment for his birthday, I jumped at the chance to cook for his guests.

Dupree, as he likes to call himself and which I blogged about here, or as he is more widely known, Jamie, provides a great deal of support and friendship to my beloved, so the way I know how to show gratitude for this friendship is to cook.

And cook I did. For 25 people in fact. Arghhhhhh! This was honestly the most challenging cooking experience I've had to date. But I took the bull by the horns, got my organisational skills polished, got my head focused and did it.

The menu consisted of:

Asian style pork meatballs (GF)
Beef Rendang (GF)

Chilli con carne (GF)
Chicken and prawn wontons
Chocolate mousse shots with a blueberry flower on top (GF)
A number of the guests at the party were gluten intolerant, so after a little recipe tweaking, they were easy to accommodate and able to partake in all that I made, apart from the wontons.

As you can see from the food it was a carnivore's paradise. 

I used 3kg beef mince, 3kg chuck steak, 1.5kg chicken,
1kg pork mince, 8 chorizos, and 200g prawns
If you would like to cook up your own party storm here are some links:
  • Asian pork meatballs - I used this recipe from taste.com.au. To make it GF substitute the plain flour for GF breadcrumbs (in a food processor finely chop stale GF bread to make this), and ensure you use GF soy and oyster sauce (both are easily available in supermarkets).
  • Beef rendang - I used this recipe from Gourmet Traveller. I substituted the beef oyster blade with chuck steak (just make sure you give it plenty of time to cook so it is tender) and if you can't find galangal, replace it with ginger.
  • Chilli con carne - I used this fabulous recipe from an awesome site called The Self-Raising Kitchen. 
  • Chicken and prawn wontons - I'm afraid you will have to wait for another post on this one, as it is a secret recipe from my brother-in-law.
  • Chocolate mousse - I am going to share the recipe with you below. It is from the Edmonds Cookery Book. If you are from New Zealand you will recognise the name. Basically, every Kiwi household owns this fabulous book, which was first published in 1908 and gives you simple, everyday recipes and cooking tips. My dad is a Kiwi, hence why my whole family are proud owners of this great book. In fact my mum's Edmonds book would be about 40 years old now and is well loved. I hope you enjoy this very simple and very yummy chocolate mousse recipe.

Chocolate Mousse
by Edmonds Cookery Book
serves 4-6

Deliciously light and fluffy chocolate mousse
150g cooking chocolate (I use dark)
4 eggs, separated
300ml cream
2tbls sugar
grated chocolate

Break chocolate into the top of a double boiler, Stir over hot water (not too hot or you will ruin your chocolate) until chocolate has melted. Allow to cool slightly. Stir yolks into chocolate. Beat until thick and smooth.

Beat cream until think. Quickly fold chocolate mixture into cream.

Whisk egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gradually add sugar, whisking until think and glossy.

Fold half egg white mixture into chocolate mixture until well mixed. Repeat with remaining egg white mixture. Pour into your individual ramekins or one large one or shot glasses as I used for a cocktail dinner. Decorate with grated chocolate and some extra whipped cream, or simply cut a blueberry into quarters, but not to the very bottom, and open it out to look like a flower like I've done.

*Tip - I used my food processor, blender and hand blender to do all the different steps so you can get it done quickly and don't have to waste time washing in between steps. Whatever you do, if you choose to only use one blender, don't leave your egg whites sitting around. They will separate and you will have watery stuff left at the bottom. Also, when you are folding the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, be gentle, as you want your mousse to be lovely and light so don't knock the good work you put into it when whisking.


07 August 2012

Beating the chill with homemade baked beans

A delicious old favourite that comes from a pot and not just a can.

Warming, comforting and tasty homemade backed beans

While the northern hemisphere is enjoying their time in the sun, the southern hemisphere is suffering through the cold. Granted, I live in Brisbane, therefore our winter is really quite pathetic. If we have a day where the temperature is below 20 degrees, we think we're about to hit another ice age and hibernation is the only way we'll survive.

Although I do defend our winters by saying that our evenings can get rather chilly, thus making the mornings ridiculously unwelcoming; especially when you are living in an old wooden Queenslander cottage breathing steam from your mouth while you are still inside the house. Brrrrrr!

I can think of nothing better during these cold winter evenings than a glass of red wine - oh who am I kidding, I mean a bottle - and something comforting in my belly to warm me up while living in my ice box.

Nothing like a bottle of red to keep you warm during a
cold winter evening

Homemade Baked Beans
Adapted from Delicous. magazine, July 2012 edition

2 x 400g can cannellini beans
1 onion, olive oil
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp thyme leaves
1 tbs wholegrain mustard
1 tbs brown sugar
1/4 cup worcestershire sauce
1 tbs cumin powder
2 tsp coriander powder
400g can chopped tomatoes
2 tbs tomato paste
600ml vegetable (or chicken) stock
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Parsley, chopped, toast/bread and butter for serving

Heat olive oil in a pan over a medium heat. Cook onion, garlic and thyme, stirring, for 2-3 minutes until softened. Add in spices (cumin and coriander), cook for 1 minute.

Onion, garlic, thyme, cumin and coriander cooking.
The smell is heavenly.
Drain beans and add to pan with mustard, sugar, worcestershire sauce, tomatoes, tomato paste, stock and a little salt and pepper.

Not terribly enticing at this stage but be patient, it is worth it.

Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and cook for about 45 minutes or until most of the liquid has gone. Check the flavour and add more salt and pepper if needed.

I will include a note here for the carnivorous folk here, i.e. me, I also chop and add two Kransky sausages to the beans. What can I say, it's the German coming out in me.

This is what your beans will look like after about
45 minutes of cooking (with sausages for the non-vegetarians among us)
Prepare your fresh bread or get your toast toasting. Ensure you have your wine topped and get ready to tuck into the tastiest and most warming homemade baked beans recipe you will find. I think it's my beloved's new favourite meal, closely followed by chilli con carne.