Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Picnictimes with slices at Araluen Botanic Park

It’s Spring time which means the blossoms are blooming.

Email exchanges seeking the best place to see blossoms in Perth lead to picnictimes at the Araluen Botanic Park on Saturday.

With the grand final on and the start of the Royal Show, we figured we would have the whole place to ourselves….we were wrong, there were quite a few people around but we found that everyone else left really early after lunch while we stayed on till closing time.

How to have an awesome picnic

  • Bring a picnic basket

  • Bring something to sit on
Like a checked picnic blanket, a blanket with a family of tigers on it or a ridiculously big blue tarp.
  • Bring food
Antipasto, bread, salad, slice, salad, cheese and crackers.

  • Bring some bubbly
What’s with bubbly attracting flies?

  • Bring games
…hacky sack
  • Make friends with the local residents

  • Being at one with nature
  • Let boys be boys
(the boys decided it would be fun to shake all the flowers off this tree)

  • Delegate the food duties
I put up my hand to do sweets and made some slices which I thought would be a nice picnic treat.

Apricot and Coconut Slice

250g plain sweet biscuits, crushed (I used Digestive biscuits)
1 ½ cup chopped dried apricots
1 cup desiccated coconut
395g can sweetened condensed milk
100g butter, chopped
200g white chocolate
2 tablespoons butter

Line ~23x23cm slice pan with greaseproof paper.

In large bowl, combine biscuit crumbs, apricots and coconut.

Combine condensed milk and butter in saucepan and stir over low heat until smooth. Pour over dry ingredients and mix well.

Press mixture firmly into pan, refrigerate for about 30 minutes or until set.

For the topping, melt white chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water until smooth. Spread the white chocolate over the slice base and refrigerate until firm.

(This recipe was adapted from a Women’s Weekly cookbook. Adapted means that I added more quantities of the apricot and coconut. I think that next time I make this I will include some crushed walnut or macadamias)

Raspberry Oatmeal Slice

½ cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, softened/room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups plain flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups wholemeal rolled oats, divided
1 cup raspberry jam or preserves (homemade or store bought)

Preheat oven to 175C. Line ~23x23cm slice pan with greaseproof paper.

Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until incorporated. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the butter mixture and mix until well combined. Stir in 1 ¾ cups of the rolled oats.
Press 2/3 of the dough into the bottom of the prepared pan.

Spread the raspberry jam (preserves) over the oatmeal base. To the remaining dough add the remaining ¼ cup of rolled oats. Crumble this mixture evenly over the top of the raspberry jam. Bake for about 25 - 30 minutes or until nicely browned. Cool and then cut into squares.

(Recipe from Joy of Baking)

Gifts from New York

My friends A and M just came back from a holiday in New York and bought us back all souvenirs. They wanted to buy us all I Love NY tshirts but it would have added to much to their luggage count and I doubt we would all wear the tshirts out at the same time (it would either be really weird or totally awesome). Instead A and M bought us all I Love NY pencils! And some novelty gum, with each pack specifically chosen for each person.

I'm a political nut so I was given the politically themed gum box

My friend N loves cats so she was given the cat inspired gum box (!)

I discovered that you can never take enough photos of flowers.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mondo Cooking Class – Lamb Extravaganza

One night when I was out drinking with my friends, one of my friends told me that the meat he missed eating the most being a vegetarian was lamb. Another friend said bacon (surprise!).  Interesting huh? A lot of vegetarians who choose not to eat meat do so because they don’t think it is right to kill animals for consumption and when you ask them what they miss eating the most they crave the cutest (ie: lamb) or the smartest (ie: pigs) animal. 

That night I told my vegetarian friends that I would be taking a lamb class in a few weeks at Mondo Butchers. This spawned the question  “Are you going to kill a lamb?” and other questions which queried my commitment to eating meat -

”Would you feel differently about eating meat if you had to kill it yourself?”

Would I?

No….I don’t think so. 

People rarely have to kill their own meat. Like the majority of people, I buy my meat from the butchers. I don’t mind handling meat, it doesn’t make me squeamish…I have friends who don’t like to prepare meat and like to by precut/diced and marinated meat from the supermarket/butchers. The closest that I have been to seeing the death of an animal would be watching my dad and uncle kill and gut the catch of their day when they used to go fishing. 

If I had to kill my own meat I believe I could do it but only in the most humane way, and the death would have to be swift and quick. I wouldn’t want it to suffer, not only would that be cruel but meat is muscle tissue and when you slaughter an animal is it important to avoid stress. I learnt from reading Harold McGees, On Food and Cooking that -

“It has been recognised for centuries that stress just before an animals death – whether physical work, hunger, duress in transport, fighting or simple fear - has an adverse effect on meat quality. When an animal is killed, its muscle cells continue to live for some time and consume their energy supply. In the process, they accumulate lactic acid, which reduces enzyme activity, slows microbial spoilage, and causes some fluid loss, which makes the meat seem moist. Stress depletes the muscles of their energy supply before slaughter, so that after slaughter they accumulate less lactic acid and produce readily spoiled ‘dark, firm, dry’ or ‘dark-cutting’ meat. So it pays to treat animals well. The methods of slaughter that result in good quality meat are also the most humane. Meat animals are generally slaughtered as untraumatically as possible (page 142)”.

You always hear the horror stories of industrial scale meat production but any cruelty to the animals will actually reduce the quality of the meat so it’s not an economically beneficial thing to do. If you want quality meat, your best bet is to go to your local butcher as they know and value their produce and can give you information on where the meat has come from and how long it has been hung etc.

In Perth, Mondo Di Carne Gourmet Butchers reigns supreme and Vincenzo Garreffa is the "Prince of Flesh". Controversially, Vince was the first butcher in Australia to sell horse meat for human consumption, it was met with much public outrage and he even received death threats. (For the record, I have not eaten horse before but I would be up for trying it if the opportunity presents itself)

I have being keeping my eye out on the cooking classes and meat workshops that Vince runs. When I saw the Spring classes come up, I immediately signed up to the Lamb Extravangaza on Monday 20 September. I like eating lamb but it has only being a recent appreciation, I didn’t grow up eating much lamb and I wanted to learn more about preparing, cutting and cooking lamb. Vince’s lamb class promises this and much more. 
It felt like Christmas, the lamb extravaganza class involved consuming 5 delicious lamb dishes (osso bucco, ord river chick pea lamb, Persian lamb and rhubarb khoresh, spring lamb t-bones and corned lamb silverside) and two trips to the backroom to watch Vince cut up a whole lamb carcase and learn about the different cuts of lamb, and how to cook it from head to toe. Vince believes that one should “try only to waste nothing”
osso bucco
Persian lamb and rhubarb khoresh
ord river chick pea lamb
corned lamb silverside

Vince used a little carving knife to show that anyone could cut up their own meat at home, you don’t need a huge knife/saw or special butchers equipment. We were also each given the Spring 2007 edition of Spice magazine which contained a lamb feature by Vince. Vince told us that if we wanted a particular cut of meat and didn’t know how to tell the butcher, we could take the magazine in and point to the pictures of the different cuts of lamb and educate the butcher! Vince also informed us of the importance of aging meat “it’s like a fine wine, it gets better with age” and as Neil Perry puts it “after 35 days magic happens”.

It was a real joy to hear someone speaking so honestly and passionately about food. It’s this passion that Vince exhibits while he is running the class that makes you want to listen, learn and appreciate. Vince engages you through his sense of humour - “rosette, French tip, French cutlet – everything’s bloody French with lamb it’s disgusting, why can’t it be Italian?” He informs you of important facts - “fat is good for you, it’s good for your brain function” and imparts many words of wisdom “cooking any meat for a long period of time will make it tender, if you complain to the butcher that he gave you a tough cut of meat you are an idiot”. Vince also respects people’s choices in life, when we were in the kitchen to watch Vince fry up some t-bones, he asked “who likes their meat well done?”…there was silence and then one man put their hand up and then a few more but there was a sense of reluctance to admitting to eating well done meat. Vince said that "it’s ok to have your meat well done and if any restaurants turn their nose at you and tells you they don’t do well done you can tell them to f. off. People deserve to have meat the way they like it!"
spring lamb t-bone

Throughout the class Vince also provided many little cooking tips - “frying the meat beforehand until it gets some caramelisation will enhance the flavour of your stews but don’t stop there fry your vegetables as well to get a bit of caramelisation going before adding it to the stew, this will also add even more flavour”. Vince also demonstrated how to cut and use an artichoke. Round and tight artichokes are the best.
When Vince talked about cooking with garlic he began to explain the wonders of fresh garlic and then called on his helper to go to the backroom and bring out the buckets of fresh garlic so that everyone could take one home (bonus!).

[This is my garlic sitting at home in a cup of water, still thinking about what I should cook with it, anyone have any ideas?]

At the end of the class the message was clear – go home now and start cooking for yourself. There is too much processed food out there and it’s not natural for us to be consuming so much of it. We need to invest more time into cooking and it doesn’t have to be long, hard or complicated - just slowly build up your knowledge and don’t be afraid to experiment and make mistakes. Give yourself a chance to learn but Vince advises that you should “never try cooking a dish for the first time and feed it to your guests, it's a criminal act, you should practice on yourself 2-3 times first”. 

Overtime you will build up your knowledge and understanding of how to cook food and you should be able to chuck together a dish with whatever food scraps you have in your kitchen. With a lot of the lamb dishes the effort required for cooking can be quite minimal - prep and chuck together everything into a pot and let it simmer for a few hours, then go out and do some gardening or shopping or read a book and you will come back to a beautiful meal. A McCain’s TV dinner is not a sufficient or an effective substitute.

This was my first Vincenza Gafferra meat class and I intend on taking many more. It was inspiring and reaffirmed to me why I love cooking so much and also why cooking is important to mankind!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mushroom Soup

I love shitake mushrooms, I have grown up eating them and for a while I found all other mushrooms inferior. I was not a fan of other mushrooms and I realize why - my first experiences of eating other mushrooms (like the common button mushroom) were raw in a salad or sandwich….but things changed when I had some grilled mushrooms, sauté them with some butter and thyme and now we’re talking, mushroom risotto is a killer….mushroom soup? It’s a winner!

Mushrooms have a rich flavour and it’s one of those vegetables that you need to know how to cook properly in order to intensify its flavour and do it justice. 

I love all mushrooms now but shittakes are still my number one. 

Mushroom soup requires few ingredients and is really easy to make --> you pretty much just sauté mushrooms, add stock, simmer, blend and add cream.

The thing I love about cooking is taking a stock standard recipe and tweaking it. To give my mushroom soup more depth in its flavour I used a varity of different mushrooms, included a bit of nutmeg and squeeze of lemon. Mushrooms are considered meat for vegetarians as it is packed with umami with a high content of free amino acids, including glutamic acid and therefore has a very savoury or meaty ‘mouth filling’ taste. I also added pancetta to the soup to amp up the meat factor (you could also use bacon, bacon bones or a ham hock), the idea for adding in pancetta came from a lentil soup recipe from Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy: Food and Stories.

~ 2 tablespoons olive oil
100g butter
3 shallots, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons, fresh chopped thyme
2 bay leaves
100g pancetta
20g dried porcini, reconstituted
250g field mushrooms, thinly sliced
350g swiss brown mushrooms, thinly sliced
4 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
grating of nutmeg (~ ¼ teaspoon)
juice of half a lemon
1 cup/250ml thickened cream
chopped parsley for garnish

(I buy all my veges from the Mount Lawley Fruit and Veg shop. I found a mushroom with two stems)

Heat olive oil and butter in a large pot over med-high heat until the butter is foaming. Add shallots, cook for 2-3 minutes, then add in the pancetta and cook for another 5-7 minutes until the shallots are caramelized. Then add in the garlic, thyme and bay leaves, and cook for 2-3 minutes until aromatic.

Add in all of the mushrooms, increase the heat to high for a few minutes to get the mushrooms cooking and then turn down to medium heat, cook the mushrooms, stirring continuously to make sure that the mushrooms cook evenly until the they are golden brown and tender, around 10 minutes (the mushrooms will reduce down to a fraction of their original size).
Add in the chicken stock and bring to boil, then simmer on low heat for 30 minutes.
Season with some salt and pepper, squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and grate in a little nutmeg. and taste.

Turn off the heat and remove the pancetta and bay leaves. Puree the soup with hand held blender.

Turn the heat back on, stir in the cream and simmer for 5 minutes or until slightly thickened.
Serve topped with some cream and parsley.