16 June 2013

Winter warmers - Beef Cheeks Ragu

I love Twitter and the little community of friends I have made. Although I'm not a die hard twitterer, I still like to pop on and see the latest news my new mates are up to, follow a few organisations that I love and shout out for advice if needed.

My beloved and I were hosting his family for dinner last night. It was going to be a cold night (yes, even for Brisbane for those of you sniggering that we don't know anything about the cold) and a cold night for us in our little Queenslander equates to a bloody cold night. Similar to living in a tent, but safer if it rained…just.

To compensate for the ice-box living quarters, I wanted my in-laws to fill there bellies with tasty warm food. I felt a tasty ragu would do the trick.

Enter Twitter.

I sent out a tweet asking if anyone had a tasty ragu recipe. The lovely @melkettle came back promptly with a yes, followed by a photo of a recipe from the OzHarvest book (a fantastic organisation that distributes excess food to charities):

Ragu recipe from the OzHarvest cook book.
As I have a love of slow cooked beef cheeks - you can find my other recipe here - and I needed to make it for 8 people, a little ingredient substituting was in order.

This recipe was so tasty and easy to have bubbling away until my guests arrived. All I need to do was cook the pasta on their arrival.

Beef Cheeks Ragu
Adapted from the OzHarvest cook book
serves 10 (easily)

Beef cheeks and porcini mushroom ragu

50g butter
olive oil
100g speck, cut into small batons
2 onions, finely chopped
8 garlic cloves, chopped
300g swiss brown mushrooms, finely chopped
60g dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in water for about 10 mins then chopped
1 to 1.2 kg beef cheeks, cut each cheek into about 3 or 4 pieces
8 vine-ripend tomatoes, roughly chopped, juices saved
1litre of beef stock
3 bay leaves
leaves from a few sprigs of thyme
2 x 500g packets of linguini (or your pasta of choice)

Melt the butter with a good couple of glugs of olive oil in a deep frying pan - I used my dutch oven - and cook speck for a few minutes. Add the onion and garlic and fry gently until soft. Add the mushrooms and porcini and cook for about 5 minutes, or until they have released their juices and these have been reabsorbed. Remove from pan.

Without washing the pan, return it to the heat and add another good glug of olive oil. When it starts to shimmer (just before smoking point) add the beef cheeks. You might need to do this in a few lots for this portion sizing. I had to do it in 3 lots. Fry them until they are brown. Add all beef cheeks back into pan and add the mushroom mix, stir. Then add the tomatoes with their juices, stock and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and then gently simmer for 4 hours with no lid on.

After 4 hours - or until the cheeks are very easy to pull apart - remove the beef cheeks form the pan and shred the meat by using a fork. No need to be perfect here, just get in and shred away. Return shredded meat to pan. At this point taste the dish and season. I cooked for another 2 hours with the lid on. This isn't necessary, but my guests weren't coming for a while so I thought I would just leave everything to bubble away on the lowest my stove could go until they arrived. Also, if you prefer and less 'saucy' sauce, keep the lid off so you can steam off the liquid.

I served this with some rustic country style bread from my local bakery and a simple salad of rocket, pear, parmesan, a splash of balsamic vinegar and olive oil with a little salt and pepper.

I will certainly be making it again.

Beef cheeks ragu, served with a rocket salad
and rustic country style bread

28 May 2013

Beef Stroganoff, the universe and a piece of corn

People (not all people...I don't know all people) have been startled by my admission to having depression and anxiety. I assure you it's not courage that has led me to make this announcement. It's more about putting these shitty, confusing years of my life to some better purpose. Rather than just feeling sorry for myself, I want to bring awareness of this godforsaken invisible illness out into the bright open fields where it can be analysed, discussed and better understood.

You see, I don't have a problem shouting about this illness from the roof tops. Why? Because, I still see so much confusion around what it is; and some of that confusion is my own when I've got the damn thing.

I recently read the coolest blog post about depression. Well, actually it's two posts, because it's in two parts. It's from Hyperbole and a Half and the post has cartoons, humour and truth. You can read part one here, and part two - which is my favourite - here. I'm still trying to find my piece of corn.

And so, after four months between writing my last post, 10 months between seeing my GP and about 12 months of this roller coaster ride starting, a shadow still follows me.

Don't get me wrong I'm doing a hell of a lot better than I was four months ago, but my little shadow remains. It just kinda hangs around to one side no matter where I am. It's like a ticking alarm clock with only the snooze button function accessible. The harder I look for the off button the louder the ticking gets, reminding me it's the shadow that controls that switch, not me, not yet.

But self-discoveries have been made, certain secrets have been freed and much soul searching has been, well, searched. Apparently the universe wants me to hang around for a while longer yet. So oblige, I must, as not even I can contend with the universe's plans.

Which leads me brilliantly into beef stroganoff. Okay, so that was a crap segue. In fact, it wasn't a segue. But seriously, who the hell can segue from depression, the universe to beef stroganoff? If you can come up with a good way to segue between such things - and you live in Brisbane - I will even make you a dinner of beef stroganoff.

Good luck to you ;-)

Beef stroganoff for the slow cooker
by The Self-Raising Kitchen

Beef stroganoff in the slow cooker with comforting
potato and cauliflower mash.
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp paprika
1kg beef (chuck or round steak), cut into thick strips
2 brown diced onions
4 to 6 cloves garlic crushed (depending on how strong the cloves are)
400ml can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 cups beef stock
1/2 cup red wine
2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 cup yoghurt or sour cream
salt and pepper

Combine flour, a good couple of pinches of salt, a few good grinds of pepper and paprika in a bag - I just use a freezer bag. Chuck in your beef and shake it all around until all strips are coated.

Place the beef in your slow cooker along with the onions, garlic, mushrooms, can tomatoes, tomato paste, beef stock, red wine and worcestershire sauce. Mix it all around, cover and cook on low for 7 to 9 hours or high for about 4 hours. Don't have a slow cooker? Just cook it on the stove on a low heat for about 4 hours or until the beef is tender.

In the last 30 minutes of cooking time, mix in the yoghurt or sour cream.

Serve with pasta, rice, or if you are in the mood I was in, some mashed potato and cauliflower.

This freezes brilliantly, too.

Enjoy and I wish you all the best in finding your piece of corn :-)

03 January 2013

Time for a little self-raising SELF

"If you create a GOOD situation out of a BAD one, than the MEANING of the event has changed." - Bev Aisbett, A Guide to Being Your Own Best Friend.

I've been quiet in the self-raising kitchen.

The oven's left cold, the stove's gathering dust, the knives are left blunt and unused.
Once loved cooking magazines and books are now untouched, unseen.
The kitchen bench once a platform for herbs to be cut, garlic to be crushed and spices to be pounded, is now a collection point for piling bills, alone.

Yes, I've been quiet in the self-raising kitchen.

The light went out. The darkness engulfed me and the self-raising kitchen.


So what is this about? I've had a few people contact me about why the updates of my kitchen adventures vanished for a while. I've even had friends email or call asking why they've not seen me for months.

What have I said? To many I have said nothing, or avoided the calls or questions about where I've been. What do I say? Will they understand? Or will they think I'm a freak and a person who should just get over themselves?

You see, I have an illness. An illness that has left me unable to work, socialise, love or care about myself and those around me. An illness that has left me loathing the very core of who I am. An illness that has made me hurt myself as a way to release the unbearable pain within that I do not understand or comprehend.

This illness strikes so many - and the numbers are increasing - yet it's rarely uttered in civilised conversation. Whisperings of its name can be heard within private discussions, but it's treated as if the mere mention of it will leave the speaker suffering from the condition themselves. Maybe it should be labelled 'the-illness-which-shall-not-be-named!'.

After much angst and realising that bringing this illness into civilised discussion can sit with me, I've decided to be open about what I've been suffering with for most of my life, and medicated for over the last 10 years.

I have depression, closely followed by a dose of anxiety and panic disorders, and topped with an eating disorder (the irony!).

I originally started to cook and blog, not only because I have a love of food, but because it helped give me purpose and kept the depression at bay. What I love the most about cooking is the clear beginning, middle and end. Within a few hours, give or take, I can see an achievement - a cake, a curry, a roast - which fills me with a great sense of satisfaction. However, this latest depressive episode even took my joy of cooking away.

I had become so disengaged with life and my own wellbeing that standing up and caring enough to ask for help, again, - as I'd already felt like I had been down this road so many times before with various doctors, counsellors, psychologists, nutritionists, self-help books, friends, family, personal trainer and medication - felt near impossible this time around.

But, I'm one of the very lucky ones. One, because I'm still here therefore can share my story, and two, because I have a partner who saw the signs and insisted on me seeing my GP. That was about six months ago, by which time my cozy black fog was securely wrapped around me happily threatening to throw away the key.

After several changes in medication, time with a psychologist, time with a psychiatrist and time with a mental health nurse, I'm getting there.

Actually no, I'm not okay!
Image owned by SRKitchen

But I will be!

So where's this leave the self-raising kitchen? The kitchen will continue as before because it gives me purpose, but I will also share stories about my progress with this illness.  It is time to show that life is not always gourmet meals and rich gooey cakes, sometimes it's just good ol' bangers and mash or Vegemite toast, and that's okay.

So as the image says above, actually no, I'm not okay…but I will be. And that is my focus for 2013.

If you or someone you know needs mental health help in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14, Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36, or Salvo Care Line 1300 36 36 22.