This week I wanted to share with you an old classic that uses a wonderful, if rarely used, cut of meat. Beef cheeks are one of the most astounding flavours and so cheap to buy. Yes I do mean cheeks, the ones near the mouth not the ones at the other end!
With meat cookery you need to look at the amount of work a muscle does to understand its flavour and cooking method. Put simply, the more work a muscle does the better the flavour but the tougher the texture, that’s why the relatively unworked fillet is a fantastic texture even when cooked very quickly but frankly a bit boring in the taste department, which is why we tend to marry it to highly flavoured sauces (like peppercorns).
With beef cheeks, the muscle work rate is phenomenal, which explains the truly extraordinary flavour. If you’ve ever spent some time watching a cow you’ll know that it’s the one muscle that is constantly in motion. The only thing left is to deal with the texture, probably the perfect role of the slow cooker.
Braised Beef Cheeks
2 beef cheeks
300ml hearty red wine
1/2-1 tsp Chinese five spice
2 tbsp butter or even better, duck fat
salt and pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, sliced very thinly
1. In a very hot heavy pan (cast iron would be the best option), sear the cheeks on both sides for approximately 1-2 minutes per side. Remove from pan and set in a slow cooker.
2. Pour the wine over top, sprinkle the cheeks liberally with Chinese five spice, toss in the butter (or duck fat), season to taste with salt and sprinkle the garlic over top.
3. Set the slow cooker to “low” and allow to cook uninterrupted for 8 hours.
4. When finished, remove from slow cooker gently (as they will be delicate and fall apart easily at this stage, and serve with accompanying vegetables or mashed potatoes.
This is such a gloriously rich, full flavoured dish that you can bring out the big, hearty red wine. For me the extraordinary blend of grapes in the Célèbre 2007 from Ata Rangi in Martinborough is a blast of joy.
Following on with our preparations for Christmas, now is the time to get the Christmas cake ready. If, that is, you want a traditional one. For those of you that want a fast cake I’ll share a really great recipe nearer to the time.
This recipe for a mature Christmas cake comes from the most extraordinary tea rooms in England, Bettys Tea Rooms started in Harrogate in North Yorkshire over one hundred years ago and now have six foodie shrines spread around Yorkshire, all still run by the descendants of the original Swiss founder.
As a child, we would go to Bettys for my mother’s birthday and I will always remember pressing my nose to the window, staring at the unbelievable array of breads and cakes. The choice of traditional breads with names that I could barely pronounce was staggering and the perfection of the cakes, tarts and sweet treats completely inspirational. Now usually our memories play tricks on us, but Bettys is different, we took the kids there last year and it was like I was transported back to my own childhood only this time it was all four of us with our noses pressed to the window.
This Christmas cake recipe is theirs and frankly is hard to beat, to see the glistening glace fruits crowding the top hark back to an older time when families would save all year to be able to buy the spices and fruits that we take for granted today.
For the cake
250g butter, at room temperature
250g caster sugar
4 large eggs
250g plain white flour
75g ground almonds
pinch of salt
250g golden sultanas
125g glace pineapple, finely chopped
75g crystallized ginger, finely chopped
185g whole mixed peel (lemon, orange and citron) finely chopped
50g angelica, finely chopped
125g chopped walnuts
grated zest and juice of one lemon
250g naturally coloured glace cherries
For the decoration
3-4 tablespoons apricot jam
3-4 tablespoons water
glace fruits (orange and lemon slices, pineapple, apricots, figs, cherries, angelica)
- line the bottom and sides of a 20cm cake tin with baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 140°C (gas mark 1)
- Place the butter and sugar together in a large bowl. Beat until pale and creamy.
- Add the eggs, one by one, mixing well.
- Combine the flour, almonds and salt together and add to the mixture gradually.
- Next add the sultanas, pineapple, ginger, peel, angelica, walnuts, sherry and lemon juice and zest. Mix well, then gently stir in the cherries so that they remain whole.
- Transfer the cake mixture to the cake tin, flattening the surface with a spatula. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 3 hours. The cake will be ready when it is golden brown on top and firm to the touch, but don’t be afraid to give it a little longer if it doesn’t appear to be ready. To check, pierce the centre with a thin skewer – it should come out clean.
- When cool enough to handle, remove from the cake tin and leave on a cooling rack until completely cold. Wrap in tin foil and place in an airtight container to mature until needed. This should be placed in a cool dark corner of your pantry.
- The day before you need it, decorate it. Depending on how boozy you like your Christmas cake you can add 50ml of brandy (or spirit of your choosing) to the top of the cake and allow to soak in before the decoration begins.
- To decorate, place the apricot jam and water in a small pan over a low heat. Stir well until you have a thick glaze. Brush the top of the cake with a generous quantity of the apricot mixture, then lay the glace fruits on top in a design of your choice. Allow to cool, then brush the top of the fruits with a little more apricot glaze.
Traditionally in Yorkshire this would be served with Wensleydale cheese, which seems a little odd but has to be tried to be believed. Going the full hog why not match it all to a glass of Dark Spice Liqueur from 8th Tribe, our glorious Bay of Plenty distille
Seems odd doesn’t it to be talking about Christmas so soon, but in a cooking sense it all begins now with the Christmas cake and puddings needing time to mature.
For those of you that used to buy my Christmas puddings in the old Deli days, I’ve always promised to share the recipe and for some reason never got around to it. This pudding is light and full of flavour unlike the dark, heavy ones that use shredded suet. For me these work so much better for our New Zealand Christmas, leaving you able to move afterwards instead of anchored to the sofa.
There are many people who claim to loathe Christmas pudding, in most cases I suspect that they have never tasted a real one, only the heavy and flavourless commercial version. Food processors offer us a vast range at different prices and qualities but this one should come with a warning, once you’ve made it at home you’ll never be able to buy one again.
The ‘Ultimate’ Christmas Pudding
Makes 2 x 1.8kg puddings
350g grated fresh breadcrumbs
625g each of raisins and sultanas
560g Demerara sugar
175g mixed peel
250g grated cold butter
1 tsp mixed spice
20g each grated lemon zest and orange zest
175g glace cherries
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons lemon juice
Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl, add the liquid ingredients and mix well again. Fill 2 buttered pudding basins and tie foil across the top with a pleat to allow the pudding enough room to expand. Steam in a covered pan with water coming halfway up the basin sides for 6 hours, topping up water as necessary. Store in an airy place for 3 months to 1 year. Steam for 1 hour on day of eating or microwave for 5 to 6 mins.
Like snuggling around an open fire in winter, the Dark Spice liqueur from Distillerie Deinlein is warm enough to make you hope for bad weather and cold evenings every day. Its warm, smooth, seductive flavours come from the most unlikely hero …..the walnut! And what’s more it’s local.
Yippee, Spring is here. Which means that the first of the fresh asparagus is starting to hit the shops. Don’t wait, eat as much as you can as the season is short.
Originating in the Eastern Mediterranean, with a distinctive earthy, leafy flavour, asparagus grows wild in some parts of Europe. Greeks and Romans used it as a medicine; it apparently cured bee stings, eases toothache and restores eyesight. Asparagus also has a reputation for being a ‘real stinker’ and a source of endless debate at dinner parties! In some countries people prefer to eat white asparagus which has been grown out of the sun, but Kiwis like it green and there is little, if any, white grown here although purple asparagus is becoming increasingly available.
The North Island’s temperate climate is ideal for the production of sweet tender asparagus spears, the alluvial strip between the Tararua Ranges and the Tasman Sea north of Wellington providing perfect growing conditions. There are over two hundred commercial growers in New Zealand, producing 5,000 tonnes of asparagus every year. Harvested August through to January, peaking in September, about one fifth supplies the local export and the rest is exported fresh (mainly to Japan) or processed into canned, bottled or frozen product.
Fresh asparagus should not be rubbery and should ‘squeak’ when the spears are rubbed together. Choose straight firm green stems with trimmed ends. Asparagus has a high water content and should be stored in a refrigerator, preferably with the ends wrapped in wet paper towels or in plastic bags to prevent dehydration.
Asparagus is an excellent source of antioxidants, especially phenols, carotenoids and vitamin C. One of the best natural sources of folate, asparagus is also a source of fibre and small amounts of many other vitamins and minerals. If the asparagus is thin and fresh it can be used raw in a salad, otherwise blanching it will produce the best results. Purple asparagus is often eaten raw as it is sweeter and more tender than green. Lemon juice will help retain the purple colour and it should be cooked quickly. For maximum flavour, asparagus should not be overcooked and should be tender but still slightly crisp. It can be steamed, stir-fried, microwaved or boiled. Asparagus is also great on the barbeque or served with a simple sauce or dressing. It can also be used in tarts, soups, salads and other dishes.
Chargrilled Asparagus with Easy Hollandaise
This is what the French do best; celebrate one perfect ingredient eaten at its prime and in season. Take a delicate flavour like asparagus and enhance it with the richness of the Hollandaise.
Serves 4 as an entrée or 6 as a vegetable
2 bunches of fresh asparagus
Easy Hollandaise – Makes 600ml
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
4 tablespoons lemon juice
6 large egg yolks
A large pinch of salt
6 rounded tablespoons fresh chives, snipped
- Melt butter slowly in a small saucepan.
- Place wine vinegar and lemon juice in another pan and bring to the boil.
- Meanwhile chargrill or barbeque asparagus for 3 to 4 minutes. Set aside and keep warm.
- Blend egg yolks in a food processor or liquidiser, then – with the motor still running – gradually add the hot lemon and vinegar.
- When the butter reaches the boil, trickle this in very slowly, with motor still running until it is all added and the sauce is thickened.
- Stir in snipped chives.
- Serve immediately with asparagus. (Will also keep for up to 2 days if covered with glad wrap and refrigerated.)
This is time for happy wines, and the happiest of them all is the Pinot Gris. The Birdman at Bird Wines has sneakily managed to make one that is a beautiful peachy colour while still being dry, an incredibly difficult combination to achieve.
I’ve been looking back over the last couple of years of columns and realise that I haven’t shared the best Brownie recipe in the world. This is one that we used to do at the deli all the time and is just perfect. The sweet richness of the chocolate brownies is counterbalanced by the sharpness of the raspberries.
You’ll notice that the recipe includes frozen raspberries instead of fresh, this is quite important as fresh raspberries would turn to liquid during cooking whereas frozen hold their shape and don’t sink.
There’s no real trick when making brownie, it is really just a chocolate cake that doesn’t have enough rising agent in it so collapses at the end of cooking to form that wonderful dense fudge-like consistency. You don’t need to worry about opening the oven as the collapse is the desired end result anyway, and you will know it is ready when it looks cooked but still has a little bit of movement in the middle when you shake the tray. Dust with a little bit of icing sugar and enjoy.
Chocolate & Raspberry Brownies
Makes 1 medium tray
200g plain flour
80g cocoa powder
300g unsalted butter, diced
300g dark chocolate, chopped
450g caster sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla essence
150g flaked almonds
150g frozen raspberries
Melt the chocolate and butter over a pan of gently boiling water and allow to cool slightly. In a clean bowl, whisk the sugar and eggs until thick and creamy, mix in the vanilla and chocolate mix until smooth. Fold in the sifted flour and cocoa, and then pour into a greased 20 x 30cm tray. Sprinkle with the raspberries and nuts evenly on top. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 170˚C for 25 minutes. When cool, cut into squares and serve dusted with icing sugar.
Brownies are a hard one to wine match as the chocolate tends to dominate, that said a Mills Reef Port certainly hits the mark.
My week seems to be getting filled with sport at the moment, not just with our two boys getting to finals time with their rugby and hockey, but also as a cook. Wednesdays are filming days for foreverfit.tv, an online gym and Internet TV channel, while my Mondays are taken up with cooking for the mighty Steamers.
For those of you that know me well, it’s obvious that I love food in all its forms and being a cook it is a little hard to stay at the peak of fitness. Who am I kidding with the peak of fitness thing; nothing makes you feel short, fat and old like walking into the Steamers training rooms to be surrounded by real athletes. Speaking of real athletes, we all should be very proud of these exceptional young men that represent the Bay of Plenty on the rugby fields around the country. I am constantly astonished at their dedication and discipline, and their constant search for improvement.
So why is the chef involved? Simple really, food is supposed to be tasty, easy and fun, especially during training. It’s too easy to make a list of all the things you’re not allowed to eat instead of exploring new flavours that can make mealtimes fun again. For our young athletes striving for their personal gold medals the sacrifices are already enough with out dismissing the joy of good food.
Hot and Sour Thai Chicken Broth
This recipe is based on a version of Tom Yum soup – a spicy, clear, refreshing broth found on the menu of most Thai restaurants. It can also be made with tiger prawns and is very low fat. This soup is also nice made with Japanese miso stock.
2 skinless chicken breasts (175g each)
1.2 litres chicken stock
10g bunch coriander leaves, stalks removed and set aside
2 small red bird’s eye chillies, halved and de-seeded
1 stalk lemon grass, roughly chopped
2.5cm piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
2 medium ripe tomatoes
3 salad onions, trimmed and finely sliced (including green parts)
50g fresh, shelled peas (or frozen)
50g sugar snap peas, cut in half
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
1 tablespoon tamarind puree
Juice of a large lime (about 2 tablespoons)
Put chicken stock into large saucepan and add coriander stalks, one of the halved chillies, lemon grass and ginger. Bring to boil, stir, then cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes to allow Thai flavours to infuse stock.
Skin tomatoes with hot water and cut into quarters, removing seeds, then cut quarters into three lengthways so you have thin slices. Cut chicken breasts in half widthways and slice into thin slivers. Strain stock, discarding flavourings, and return to the pan. Bring to a simmer, then stir in chicken slivers and half of salad onions. Stir and cover, leaving chicken to poach gently for 5 minutes until cooked through. Meanwhile, finely slice remaining chilli (washing hands afterwards!)
Next, add peas, sugar snaps, sliced chilli, fish sauce, tamarind and lime juice to the soup, stir and gently simmer for 2-3 minutes or until peas are tender. Stir tomato in and divide coriander leaves among 4 deep bowls. Ladle hot soup on top, sprinkle with remaining salad onions and serve.
How can I recommend a wine when this is all about being fit? Well for those, like me, whose athletic ship has already sailed a little glass of Gewurztraminer hits the spot. Try Osawa Wines from the Hawke’s Bay.
For all those that were at the Cook School at The Good Food Trading Company today, here are the recipes.
I’ll definitely post the seasoning recipe as soon as I can.
Veal Scaloppine with Mushrooms & Madeira
2 x 150-180g veal scaloppine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
15ml olive oil
4 thin slices lemon
1 cup thinly sliced mushrooms or rehydrated porcini
¼ cup Madeira
¼ cup good quality beef stock
Season meat with salt and pepper, then dip in flour and dust off excess. Heat butter and oil in a frying pan. Drop in lemon and brown on both sides. Remove to a hot plate and add veal to pan. Seal for 1-2 minutes, then turn and seal the other side quickly. Remove veal to oven. Tip mushrooms into frying pan and stir for 1 minute. Add Madeira and allow to bubble up, stirring gently. Stir in stock and bring to boil. Serve scallopine with sauce immediately, accompanied by ‘pommes sarladaises.’
Scatter finely chopped garlic and plenty of freshly chopped parsley over a pile of tender browned potatoes, parboiled then sautéed in duck fat.
Tips for Pan-Frying:
- When pan frying meat, you should fry in an uncovered wide pan as a lid traps the steam and the food stews rather than frying crisply.
- The fat should be pre heated before adding the food to be fried; otherwise it will absorb the fat and become too greasy and will also not brown and form a skin to trap its juices, becoming dry and tasteless.
- Meat, poultry or fish should be fried in small batches; otherwise the temperature of the fat will be lowered and again hinders the browning process.
Fry as quickly as possible until the browning is complete, and then turn down to moderate heat to cook the inside through.
Fried food should be served as soon as possible after cooking. Juices gradually seep from even well browned meat and fish and they dry up and toughen on standing. Potatoes lose their crispness and fritters deflate.
Wine Reduction Sauce:
3 shallots, finely chopped
¼ leek, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon olive oil
300ml wine, fortified wine or spirit
300ml double cream
Lemon juice to taste
To make sauce, sweat shallots, leek and garlic in the olive oil. Add stock,wine and spice to the pan and reduce to quarter of original volum. In a second pan, reduce cream to half the original volume. Add stock mix to cream and hand whisk. Add lemon juice and seasoning to taste. Set to one side.
I’ve just spent the weekend as the private chef to a group from Australia who are now heading back home believing that the Bay of Plenty is the wettest place on earth. Thankfully they were staying at The French Country House, so were thoroughly cosseted from the elements raging outside.
Cooking to a captive audience is always fun, and in this case educating a few of our Australian cousins in the history of food was a blast.
This recipe is over five hundred years old and, as you’ll notice, has only three ingredients. In cooking, simplicity is probably the hardest thing to achieve as it takes restraint to not just keep adding things. The flavour is astonishingly lemony and the texture can only be described as velvety.
Lemon Posset is a very English dessert dating all the way back to the middle ages when access to lemons was a sign of wealth and power, so celebrating the lemon was the idea. These days it’s a little different, with most of us having access to a lemon tree, so give it a go and enjoy the lemon.
250g caster sugar
Juice of 3 Ben Meyer lemons
Boil the cream and sugar together in a pan and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the lemon juice, off the heat, and mix in well. Leave to cool slightly then pour into six glasses and leave to set in the fridge for at least 2 to 3 hours. Serve.
Some Ice cold Lemoncello, from Dystillerie Deinlein at the top of the Minden, is the perfect way of keeping the lemon theme going.
200g pasta ‘00’ flour
2 eggs or 4 egg yolks
Sieve flour into a bowl. Add whole egg and combine mixture with finger tips. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead into a dough. If possible, rest in refrigerator for at least half an hour.
Roll out onto floured board into a rectangle. Next, flour surface of pasta and, using both hands, roll rectangle into a ‘swiss roll’ shape. Use a sharp knife to cut into desired thickness, e.g. tagliarini (thin), tagliatelle (medium) or parpadelle (thick).
To cook pasta, use 1 litre of water for each portion pasta and 1 litre for the pan. The water should boil fast while the pasta is cooking. Allow about 150g fresh pasta per person. Add 1 tablespoon salt per 4 litres boiling water. (Olive oil is only really necessary with lasagne sheets to prevent sticking.) Fresh pasta cooks in 2-3 minutes; “al dente” pasta should feel firm but not have a hard, chalky centre. Drain in a colander. Do not rinse or you will lose the precious sauce-catching starch. Quickly add olive oil and garlic to the hot pan, tip the pasta back in with a handful of freshly chopped herbs or some fresh tomato sauce (see below), cooked mussels, clams or fish, olives and capers or hot steamed vegetables.
Tagliatelle with Chicken & Green Beans
1 x 200g chicken breast, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1½ garlic cloves, finely sliced
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 batch tagliatelle (see ‘speedy pasta’ recipe above)
1 tablespoon olive oil
100g baby green beans, topped (not tailed) and sliced from end to end on the diagonal
65ml (¼ cup) chicken stock
Good quality parmesan cheese, grated
25g basil leaves
Place the chicken, EVO oil and garlic in a bowl and stir to combine. Season with salt & pepper. Cook pasta in a large pot of rapidly boiling salted water until ‘al dente’ and drain well. Meanwhile, 5 minutes before pasta is cooked, place a large frying pan over a high heat until hot. Add olive oil and heat for 5 seconds. Add chicken with marinade and sear quickly for 30 seconds. Add beans and reduce heat to medium. Cook for another 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Return heat to high, add the stock and simmer for 30 seconds. Add pasta and toss to combine.
Divide pasta evenly between two bowls and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese, basil and freshly ground black pepper.
Serves 4 people
If you have just dived for the crayfish yourself, the best way to eat this is straight from the barbecue on the back of the boat, with a glass of New Zealand’s wonderful Pinot Gris. If you are not a diver, the barbecue at home will do just fine. Read more →