Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Home Lure: Beef and Dark Ale Stew

What do I do when my husband is working long hours, and I want to inspire him to spend some more time kissing this face? I go all out. All out means bringing him slippers, spending hours making supper, the bringing of the tea, and plenty of the flicking of the hair.

I've made this stew twice now. The first time strictly according to the recipe, and the second I implemented my go-to rule: add a tin of chopped tomatoes, and cook for longer than prescribed. It worked like a charm. Last time Ralph went nuts for it, but this time I definitely did too. There is just nothing better than a home made stew on a cold night. I think the dark ale went a long way towards enriching the flavour and ensuring the tenderness of the meat.

Beef and Dark Ale Stew
Adapted from Ms. Buena Vida

1 kg chuck beef
1 onion
3 medium carrots
3 medium potatoes
1 bottle dark ale (less than 500 ml)
1 can chopped tomatoes, drained of excess juice
1 cup tomato juice
1 cup beef stock
2 bay leaves

1) Clean all fat and sinews off beef and chop to pieces. Chop up the onion.
2) Pour about 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a cast iron pot.
3) Add the onion to the oil, and fry until softened.
4) Add the beef, and brown. Don't worry about caramelised bits clinging to the pan. These make the stew tastier.
5) While the beef is browning, peel and chop up the carrots and potatoes into bit size pieces.
6) Once the beef is browned, season generously. Then add the carrots, potatoes, ale, tomatoes, tomato juice, beef stock and bay leaves.
7) Set up to simmer for at least 2 hours. Can add hot water if it gets too dry. Taste continually and correct seasoning.
8) Serve to people you like only.

Monday, 29 April 2013

The Meringue Wars Part 3: Swiss Meringue

I'm still on the hunt for the perfect lemon meringue. The latest installment was inspired by a blog entry on Zoe Bakes. I'm so happy someone else is as obsessed with the different kinds of meringue as I am! This specific meringue was thicker than the other two types (French and Italian) and definitely closer to the creamy quality I'm hunting! I'm still on the path to perfection though!

There was a slight misunderstanding with my actual pie dish, so this pie ended up in my new pasta serving bowl. I think it turned out looking pretty though!

I made this for my wonderful Ani, her husband Jan and our favourite person, Shaun. Ani was the maid of honour at our wedding. She spent about an hour following me around with a glass of water, rearranging my dress and freshening my lipstick. Jan and Shaun were our ushers, and did an absolutely wonderful job. I've been wanting to cook for them to thank them for being there for me on the most important day of my life.

This recipe follows the same general recipe, with just the meringue being different.

Swiss Meringue
From Zoe Bakes

5 egg whites
1 2/3 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla paste

1) Place the egg whites with the sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl.
2) Put over a pot of simmering water. Keep stirring with a spatula until all the sugar is dissolved, and rubbing the mixture between two fingers feels smooth.
3) Now, take the mixture off the heat, and start beating. Beat until the mixture is roughly room temperature.
4) Spread on top of the lemon meringue pie, and bake for about 15 minutes, of until the pie is lightly browned.

I'm not quite sure what to try next to make this meringue even creamier. Any advice will be MUCH appreciated. By me and Ane, who gets to eat all my lemon meringue leftovers, on threat of the death of her fiancee, and I happen to really love the guy..

Friday, 26 April 2013

Grandma's Stuffed Peppers Made Easy

 We finally went away fishing with Ralph's sister again! Last time was so much fun! Board games, reading, fishing and playing with the kids- woohoo!! This time I actually got to fish on my own (I'm a newbie fly-fisher) and I caught a crab! Sweet little thing kept trying to get at the fly after I put him back in the water. We stayed in this sweet, homey, badly lit wood cabin, and I got to make one of our suppers!

Did I mention that I made this in my(our!) brand new Le Creuset pot?!

We wanted something simple to reheat and as carb free as possible - and there's not a drop of oil in this dish, and only about a handful of rice. My gran used to make a similar recipe and I wanted to simplify it so I can make it into an easy supper, and still feel like my gran was in my home.

Stuffed Peppers
Adapted From Always Missed Tiny Grandma

500 g lean beef mince
1/2 cup chopped Coriander
1/2 cup cooked Basmati rice (just boil and drain)
4 large bell peppers
820 g chopped tomatoes with juice (2 cans)
45 g tomato paste

1) Preheat oven to 150 C.
2) Put the mince into a bowl, add generous pinches of salt and pepper, the rice and the coriander.
3) Cut the tops off the peppers, and clean out all the seeds and white bits inside.
4) Divide the mince equally between the peppers.
5) Pour chopped tomatoes and tomato paste into a deep baking dish large enough for all the peppers. Season generously and mix lightly with a fork.
6) Place the peppers in the dish. And of they're not 3/4 covered by the tomato mixture, top up with boiling water.
7) Place in the oven, and bake for about 2 hours. Turn after about an hour so they don't brown too much. I've been known to go for a run while they're baking- they're that low maintenance. 
8) Serve covered in sauce, with a dollop of sour cream.

And here's the bonus: There's always sauce and if you're lucky half a pepper left. Cook this down, add a bit of cream and serve as a pasta sauce. 

Just add a bit of pasta water to the sauce as it's cooking, and a tiny knob of butter just before you serve it.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Almost Healthy Broccoli Soup

The plan for this winter is: at least one soup a week. Tomato, butternut, broccoli and any other soup I can finagle. Look out for my grandma's pickle and cold meat soup sometime soon- Ralph flipped for it! Soup should be a good supper if you're trying to lose some weight- just need to skip the bread. I've been struggling with my weight for years now, and this is my weapon this winter when no doubt my butt will be firmly glued to the couch.

This soup got me through the last bit of winter last year. A lonely winter when Ralph was in Shanghai and I had to study all the time when I wasn't working. This soup allowed me to consume broccoli and still feel like I got a soup hug, with the bonus that it's quick to put together.

Broccoli Soup
From I Adore Food

1 onion
1 celery stalk
1 large head of broccoli
3 cups chicken stock
45 g butter
45 g flour
2 cups milk

1) Chop the onion an celery. Heat up some oil in a pot and add.

2) Fry until cooked and browning.

3) Cut up the broccoli head into florets- I cut mine up quite roughly. Add the broccoli and chicken stock to the pot.

4) Cook until the broccoli is tender, the use a stick blender to liquify.

5) Melt the butter in a separate pot. Add the flour, and cook for a bit. Take off the heat and add the milk gradually, while whisking. Put back on the heat and cook until the sauce thickens.
6) Add sauce to soup and whisk in.
7) Season generously, and serve to tired and cold family members.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Brownie Experiment: Bouchons


I love Bouchon Bakery. I love Bouchon like I imagine girls used to love Paul McCartney (I'm a Ringo girl through and through). I feel like their book changed me. And guess where Ralph took me on honeymoon?? NYC!! Where two Bouchon Bakeries live!

These days it seems like every time there's a hype about any bakery their baked goods are disappointing. But Bouchon didn't let us down! I even let myself get very optimistic about Bouchon. But I could FEEL their passion and experience in that brownie.. And the cookie.. And the croissant.. And the brioche.. Just like when McCartney sang love songs, every girl felt loved.

This is the first recipe I've tried from the Bouchon Bakery book. The bouchons didn't turn out quite like those pure chocolate, melty, soft, addictive little things we had in New York, but moreish they were! Up to Ane where they land in the brownie scale? Her unashamed sultry staring made my cake box blush, so it's looking good.

From Bouchon Bakery

141 g butter
50 g cake flour
50 g cocoa powder
small pinch salt
75 g eggs (beat two eggs, then measure out the weight)
162 g sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla paste
112 g chocolate chips
Icing sugar for dusting

1) Halve the butter. Melt half on a medium heat, and put the other half in a bowl. Pour the melted butter over the rest, and stir together. The unmelted butter will soften, and the mixture will become creamy.
2) Whisk together flour, cocoa and salt in a separate bowl.
3) Whisk together the eggs, sugar and vanilla in a separate larger bowl.
4) Now, alternate adding the flour and butter to mixture from step 3, in 3 additions each.
5) Add the chocolate chips and stir in.
6) Set aside for 2 hours.
7) Preheat oven to 180 C.
8) If using a muffin tin, these brownies take about 15-20 minutes. I'd perhaps suggest a mini muffin tin, and of course a much shorter time. Poke with a toothpick to check doneness, it should come out clean with perhaps just a bit of chocolate, but no dough.
9) Once out the oven, dust these naughty things with icing sugar.

These were gone with a lot of sad eyes wishing there were more. I'd definitely make two batches!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Happy Husband Chicken Pie

Chicken Pie

Ralph actually sent me flowers the day after eating this. Do I need more proof? It's the crust that really does it. It's soft but substantial and it soaks up the filling while keeping the crunch of the crust intact.

Ok so lets talk married life. It's been a month now. I can't say that everything is the same- it's not. But it's only very subtly different. It's like.. You come home, and ALL YOU WANT is a chocolate peanut butter cookie, and suddenly you remember you made that a month ago and have frozen cookie dough in the fridge. Yup it's EXACTLY like that moment. I've been assured it will go downhill soon enough though, so I'll keep you updated.

I'm finally starting to gently alter recipes in my head before I make them- I think I'm getting a cooking style? I was making this pie for my mom-in-law, so I was trying extra hard because we love to make only our best dishes for her (I'm still trying to forget the red lentil soup disaster). I altered this recipe quite a bit from the original- but I kept the crust exactly the same.

Chicken Pie
Adapted From The Kitchn

4 chicken breasts, skins on, bone in.
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

1 onion
2 medium carrots
1 stalk celery

60 g butter
about 1/2 cup flour (look at the first steps here to see what consistency the butter and flour should have)
2 cups hot chicken stock
1 cup 2% milk

1.5 cups flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1.5 teaspoons salt
115 g butter, melted
1.5 cups 2% milk

1) Preheat the oven to 180 C.
2) Rub the chicken breasts with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and pop in the over for approximately 40 minutes, or until the skins are brown and crunchy. Remove the skin and bone, and cut the chicken into very small pieces.
3) Chop the onion, carrots and celery (this mixture is called a mirepoix). Fry these in olive oil with generous salt and pepper until they brown nicely.
4) Now make a chicken veloute: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan.
5) Add the flour, cook it for a little while. Take off the heat.
6) Now, start adding the chicken stock, bit by bit, making sure to stir well to keep lumps from forming. Eventually you should be able to use a whisk. 
7) Once all the chicken stock is added, add the milk. The consistency should be very thin.
8) Now put the pot back on a medium heat, and stir until it thickens nicely (it should almost boil). Season with salt and pepper.
9) Add the vegetables and chicken to the sauce. Now, taste it and season more if needed.
10) Pour into a pie dish- I used a 9 inch, and the mixture came to within a couple of centimeters of the top.
11) Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl.
12) Melt the butter, and add it along with the milk and mix nicely (I simply used a whisk- no mixer required).
13) Pour mixture on top of pie.
14) Pop in the oven for approximately 40-45 minutes. Make sure to put a cookie sheet under the pie in case it overflows a little. Remove when the top is lightly but definitely browned.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Cheese sauce on everything!

Tutorial on Cheese Sauce and Two Lasagnes

The best thing about a wedding is having everyone you love around you at the same time! I planned a supper for the families, to meet and get comfortable with each other, and I wanted a really warming  meal to get everyone comfortable. Lasagne was something I had never put together from scratch, but I had the components licked (yes, licked), so I thought I'd give it a shot.

I made two lasagnes using bolognaise as the filling for one, and ratatouille for the other. The layers go like this: first, cheese sauce goes at the bottom.

This gets topped by filling, and cheese.

Then top that with lasagne (I used store bought sheets that don't need pre-cooking).

Your last layer will be of cheese (Mornay) sauce, topped with cheese.

In this tutorial, I'm not putting amounts. It's more about seeing how each stage in the cooking process should look, and being able to make as much sauce as you want, rather than always following the same recipe and making the same amount.

Cheese (Mornay) Sauce

cake flour

First, get some butter and melt it on a medium-high heat. I used a lot of butter, but this was a big lasagne.

Don't cook it after it's melted- we're not trying to make brown butter.

Now, add flour, until the mixture has roughly this consistency.

Now, stir it around and cook it for about 5 minutes. Now, take it off the heat, and add a bit of milk (I take it straight out of the fridge).

More bravely now, add more milk.

Now, switch to a whisk, and add more milk (I used about a liter for this). This is your final consistency- almost like normal milk.

Now, put it back on the heat (switch to medium heat). This is where I get a bit tricky. Using the whisk works really well on distributing the thickness of the sauce, but the whisk doesn't reach the corners of the pot, so I have to use a wooden spoon to get the thickened bits on the bottom stirred in. Keep heating until the sauce is almost boiling- at which time it should be thick. 

Now add cheese, salt, pepper and, definitely, nutmeg. Taste it lots, as you'll need more salt than you think.

All done. This can be used in lasagnes, mac and cheese, broccoli and cauliflower and roasted vegetables. It has been known to be eaten in teaspoons by the connoisseur in our house. Tablespoons when Ralph isn't looking.

If you're worried about having an awkward evening, these lasagnes and a whole lot of wine did just the trick for me. Friends were made and vegetables were eaten by my dad- which is basically a miracle.