Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Savoury Cupcakes for Ladies Picnic

Every year my friends and I get together with all our lady friends for a picnic at Hyde Park (North Perth).

This year the third annual ladies picnic was held on Good Friday 22 April. The picnic is generally held earlier on in the year in February or March but so much stuff has been happening that the date kept getting pushed back and with the never ending hot and dry spell in Perth at the moment, there was still some fine picnicking weather coming into April. The weather last Friday was perfectly nice and sunny, in the low thirties.

The picnics are usually filled with so many sweet baked goods that I think I use up my quota of sugar intake for the month within one afternoon. With the ladies picnic coinciding with Easter this year as well, I was wary of the potential for people to lapse into a sugar coma with a five day long Easter weekend of sugar intake to account for.

I wanted to bring something non-sweet to the picnic this time and found a recipe for a savoury cupcake from the Globe and Mail – a recipe for a rosemary and roasted-pepper cornbread cupcakes with cream cheese icing. I liked the fact that these looked deceptively like real cupcakes complete with frosting and all, but when you bite into them you get a mouthful of herbs, roasted capsicum and corn, rounded off with cheese. It’s a surprising and really tasty combination of ingredients and everyone at the picnic really enjoyed these cupcakes. Here is the recipe.


2 eggs
1 cup creamed corn
200g  sour cream
¼ cup vegetable oil
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup yellow cornmeal
¼ cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon coarse black peppercorn
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 teaspoons chopped rosemary
1 bunch chopped chive (approximately ¼ cup)
½ cup roasted red peppers, patted dry and coarsely chopped

1 cup cream cheese
½ cup chevre
3 tablespoons finely chopped red bell pepper
2 tablespoons chopped chives

The cornmeal was quite hard to find. I went to the usual suspects – Woolworths, Coles, IGA and none of them sold cornmeal, and when I asked Fresh Provisions if they had any cornmeal I was taken to the polenta section and told that this is what I was looking for. I have never used cornmeal before but I was sure that polenta and cornmeal were not the same thing. My last stop was Antonio’s Continental Store and I finally found some cornmeal. The interesting thing was that when I told people at the picnic that I had used cornmeal in the cupcakes, people would respond with “oh you mean polenta”. It appeared that some people mistake polenta for cornmeal and had used polenta in the place of cornmeal in recipes. Is this a common mistake? Is there a difference? Cornmeal is much finer than polenta.


Preheat oven to 350 F (about 176.67 degrees celsius). In a large bowl combine eggs, creamed corn, sour cream and oil. In separate bowl combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add dry mixture to wet mixture and blend evenly. Stir in the parsley, green onions, rosemary and the roasted red peppers.

(Was a bit concerned about the addition of a whole tablespoon of black pepper as generally I’d be adding a pinch here and here, but it was the right amount for the cupcakes and not overwhelming.)

Pour batter into greased muffin tins and bake until tops are golden brown, approximately 12 -14 minutes (use a skewer to test if the cupcakes are cooked). Remove from oven and let rest before removing from tin.

To make the icing, blend cream cheese and chevre together until smooth. Gently spread a little icing on each cooled cupcake. Garnish with red peppers and chives.

There were lots of baked goods at the picnic including a prototype wedding cake my friend was developing for her sister’s wedding that we got to sample and the classic flourless orange almond cake.

The sugar intake was very high for the afternoon but we managed to balance it with a few physical games including Duck Duck Goose, Wink Murderer…and What’s the time Mr Wolf?  

What’s the time Mr Wolf?  
What’s the time Mr Wolf?  
What’s the time Mr Wolf?  

Monday, April 18, 2011

Braised pork belly with daikon

This is a dish that my mum cooks a lot. My mum told me that she learnt to cook this dish from my grandfather. My mum comes from a family of nine children and I imagine that this would be a very economical dish to cook for a big family as it uses few ingredients and is simple to cook. I only had to buy pork belly and daikon from the shops and all the other ingredients were in my cupboard and fridge.

The pork has a lovely flavour of soy sauce balanced by the sweetness of the daikon. The pieces of pork belly are wonderfully tender after hours of braising with the enzymes contained in the daikon helping to tenderise the pork as it cooks making it almost melt in your mouth. I also love the juices that are released from the daikon which provides a delicious sauce to spoon over rice.

Equal quantities of pork belly, chopped into cubes and daikon, cut into 4cm chunks (I got approximately 1.5 kg of each)
Peanut oil
4-5 slices of ginger
2-3 shallots, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, smashed 
5 small red chillies, sliced open with some of the seeds taken out
1 ½ tablespoon caster sugar
2 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 ½ teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1-2 teaspoon oyster sauce

Par-boil the pork cubes and rinse with cold water.

Heat peanut oil in wok. Add in half of the ginger, garlic, shallots and chillies, and fry for a bit until fragrant. Then add in the pork cubes and fry for a few minutes until the pork pieces are slightly brown. Transfer the pork to a 4 litre heavy based pot. 

Heat peanut oil in wok. Add in the rest of the ginger, garlic, shallots and chillies, and fry for a bit until fragrant. Then add in the daikon and fry for a few minutes until slightly brown. Add the daikon to the pot with the pork belly.

Over a low heat, add 1 ½ tablespoons of sugar into the wok and 2 tablespoons of dark soy sauce. Once the sugar has melted and the mixture starts bubbling, add in 1 cup of the water (I used the water that the pork was parboiled in). When the soy sauce mixture starts to boil, turn off the heat and add into the pot with the pork and daikon. 

(soy sauce mixture morphing into some alien embryo?)

Bring the pot to boil and then simmer on low heat for around 2 hours, stirring occasionally and mix everything together. As the daikon cooks it will release its juices into the pot so you don't need to add any more water.


After 2 hours season with some salt, pepper, fish sauce and oyster sauce to taste. Simmer for another 10-15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Serve with rice.

Here are some of my other pork recipes:

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mondo Cooking Class – Sausages, Brawn, Rillettes, Pate and Pickles

Finding a decent cooking class in Perth that would add to the skills that I already have and one that is not designed for people who don’t know how to cook is not an easy task. Having heard so many great things about Vince Garreffa aka the Prince of Flesh, I didn’t doubt that I would learn a lot from him. 

The Prince of Flesh

Vince runs cooking classes at the premises of Mondo Butchers on Beaufort Street. The classes run for about 3 hours and are usually held on a Monday night (sometimes a Sunday afternoon). You can get information about the different classes from the Mondo website and by joining their mailing list 

Each class involves EATING, EATING and more EATING. Depending on the theme, the class involves learning how to cook dishes using the specified meat as the key ingredient and showcasing it in its most delicious form. 

A few weeks ago on Monday 14 March I took my second Mondo cooking class run which revolved around charcuterie featuring terrines, sausages, brawn, rillettes, pate and pickles – foods which can be prepared and stored for weeks in the fridge.

This class was hands on where you could help with the preparation of the brawn and rillettes by hacking apart meat and also try your hand at making sausages.

As a lot of meat dishes require slow cooking to let the flavours develop and for the meat to fall off the bone, Vince had spent the day preparing the meat for the brawn and rillettes, and also cooked a terrine of veal and pork. The night started with Vince carving up a piece of the terrine for us to eat with some home-made pickled vegetables so that we had something to fill up our stomachs before we got to work cooking the other dishes. The terrine was made with minced veal and pork, minced pork fat, onions, pistachios, capers and wrapped in bacon. The terrine was delicious and provided a hearty start to the night. 

After eating the terrine we were led into the backrooms of Mondo Butchers to the kitchen where a huge pot filled with cured pork and beef pieces had been simmering away since midday, the heat turned off at about 5pm and the meat left to sit in its juices. Every bit of the animal is used here – the head, shanks, tails, breasts, tongue, trotters…all the cheaper cuts that are full of connective tissue and fat needed to create the gelatine as it cooks in water which will be used to bind the brawn. Vince took out all the pieces of meat from the pot and placed them on large trays for people to remove the meat from the bones and chop into small pieces. All the chopped meat was then put into one tray and flavoured with capers, chopped gherkins and vinegar, and Vince ladled over the top dark juices from the bottom of the pot that the meat had been cooking in as it was full of natural gelatine. The mixture was thoroughly mixed together and then divided into takeaway containers and refrigerated. The preparation of rillettes for refrigeration was happening concurrently with people using forks to mash the meat a bit at a time into little strings of meat. 

The class then moved to a much cooler room for sausage making (to inhibit the growth of any bacteria). Pork and lamb sausages were prepared with Vince running through and demonstrating each step of the process and giving tips on what makes a good sausage. It was all hands on. Vince complained about the sterile state of society today where people often wear gloves when cooking. Sometimes this only gives the appearance of being clean as gloves can be reused to the extent that they are more dangerous than properly washed and sanitized bare hands. Just because you use gloves doesn’t mean you are clean. You often see people see people handling food wearing gloves and then using the gloved hand to handle money and other things. If you were wearing gloves and your hand touched some grease you wouldn’t even know it. It is far better to practice proper hand hygiene and use clean hands when cooking. More importantly, you need to cook with your hands and get them into the meat so that you can feel what you are doing - the different textures and changes in the processes. Using his hands Vince ploughed at the sausage mixes until they had developed protein and the meat started binding together. To make the sausages you don’t need an expensive fancy machine. Vince showed us how to make sausages using a special $10 funnel, you slide the castings onto the funnels and then use your fingers to push the meat through. It was great to see sausages been made in such an inexpensive manner, there is no excuse for people not to make sausages at home now. 

Time was running out so the pate was made in another room by Vince’s staff and we were given some to try spread on a piece of toast. The Pate Crostini Tuscan style was full of flavour and delicious, we were informed that double the amount of butter was used in the making of the pate than specified in the recipe. When seconds were offered I made sure that I was quick enough to get a second piece. 

The night ended with everyone retreating to the backyard to eat the sausages we had made.

All the recipes were provided to everyone in a little booklet and we each received some brawn, rillettes and pickled vegetables to take home and enjoy for the rest of the week. 

Home-made pickled vegetables are a treat. They are easy to make and can be stored for a long time so people should forget about the store bought variety. Plus, you get your choice of vegetables when you make it yourself, during the class Vince complained that he never got enough pickled cauliflower.

Vince Brawn take #1

I enjoyed the rillettes the most. When I tried the brawn I found it to be a bit on the salty side but still ok to eat when coupled with bread or in a salad, the saltiness wasn’t too prevalent. 

Two weeks later I received a call from Mondo Butchers and was told that the brawn we had prepared during our cooking class was too salty and Vince had prepared another batch of brawn for the class that I could come and collect. Cooking is fallible, you will not get a perfect result every time and I thought it was a really nice gesture for Vince to acknowledge that something had gone wrong in the process and sort to rectify it by making new brawn for everyone. Vince Brawn take #2 was lovely, it had a much more balanced flavour.

Vince Brawn take #2

If there is anyone who is contemplating whether or not to take a cooking class, I highly recommend the classes run by Vince. 

Related post
My first Mondo cooking class - Lamb Extravaganza