Monday, June 29, 2009

Pressure cooking

One of the cooking utensils that Adam brought into our relationship (along with a fabulous set of excellent chef's knives) was a pressure cooker. It's a lovely modern cooker, with a low-pressure and high-pressure gauge, not at all like my mother's old stainless steel pot with its jangly little bell. It used to whistle on the stove, rocking around with the pressure of the steam, and my sisters and I were always fearful it would blow up. Mum usually used the pressure cooker for corned silverside and not much else, so I don't have many recipes for pressure cookers and Adam and I really haven't used it much.

But a recently released cookbook has inspired me to pull out the pressure cooker, dust it off and give it a try. The Pressure Cooker Recipe Book by Suzanne Gibbs features more than 80 recipes, many of them a surprise to me. Of course a pressure cooker is a logical choice for braises and casseroles, turning a long slow-cooked casserole that would normally take several hours into a quick weeknight meal that can be whipped up within 20 minutes or so. But Suzanne includes recipes for nibbles such as hummus and lentil tapenade, terrine, stocks and soups, vegetable braises and even desserts such as lemon cheesecake and puddings. I was impressed by the range and variety of dishes, many of which could be cooked in a conventional oven but would take much longer. As Suzanne notes in her introduction, "The pressure cooker has brought back into my life those delicious braises and stews that used to bubble away on the stove for hours. Now I think nothing of making a melt-in-the-mouth osso bucco or a French daube at the drop of a hat. Those many hours of long, slow cooking have miraculously turned into half an hour. A great bolognese sauce that used to take three hours now takes just twenty-five minutes."

When we moved house last year, we planned to sell the pressure cooker in a garage sale but somehow it missed the sale. Now I'm really glad it didn't and I'm equally glad that this new cookbook has opened my eyes to a range of recipes to try. I still enjoy having a casserole cooking slowly on the stove for hours but, for days when I don't have time, I'll gladly be pulling out the pressure cooker to replicate the end result.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Daring Bakers challenge - Bakewell tart

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800s in England.

Bakewell tarts are a classic English dessert, supposedly originating from the town of Bakewell in Derbyshire. Like many ancient, venerated dishes, its beginnings are obscured by time but it appears to have been in existence since the 1820s (or perhaps it was the 1860s).

I have several recipes for Bakewell tart from well-known English chefs, including Gordon Ramsay, Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver. Most are fairly similar: a sweet shortcrust pastry is layered with jam (traditionally strawberry jam) and then topped with an almondy frangipane. It is a delicious sweet treat, to be enjoyed either as a dessert or a sweet snack during the day. As Jasmine and Annemarie wrote in their recipe introduction: "Enjoy it with a cup of tea or coffee or just eat it sneaky slice by sneaky slice until, to your chagrin, you realise the whole tart has somehow disappeared despite you never having pulled out a plate, fork or napkin with which to eat it." Having successfully made this tart, I can vouch the truth of this statement. Several times I found myself wandering past the tart, cutting off a teeny slice to nibble on, and then returning some time later for some more, and some more ...

I'm not sure of the provenance of Jasmine and Annemarie's recipe (perhaps it's a combination of all the Bakewell tart recipes they've come across) but it is an excellent version. The tart is easy to make and tastes wonderful. We ate this slightly warm from the oven as a dessert, which received a big thumbs-up, but it was just as nice the next day as a mid-morning snack. However, I felt that the tart was best eaten the day it's made, or the next day at the latest. By the following day, the pastry base on the remaining small sliver of tart, was starting to get a little soggy. But this is such a delicious treat that I doubt you'll have many problems with leftovers!

Although the recipe traditionally uses strawberry jam, I opted for raspberry, as I prefer its flavour. Unfortunately I've used up all my home-made raspberry jam, so had to make do with a bought version. Other DBs successfully made this with cherry conserve, and I think I will try that next time.

Thanks to Jasmine and Annemarie for a great challenge this month. This is a recipe that I will definitely make again.

Bakewell Tart…er…pudding

Makes one 23cm (9” tart)
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin
One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Sweet shortcrust pastry

225g (8oz) plain flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Note: you can also make this pastry using a food processor, which is much faster.

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) plain flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Perfect winter dish

"I can't believe how quickly the year is disappearing!" we comment to each other, as appointments are booked for July and August, and spring fashion is starting to appear in the shops while we're only just getting into the swing of wearing our winter coats.

It's a common refrain about how quickly the time seems to disappear. For me, I measure how quickly the year is going by the appearance of my Delicious magazine. I feel like I've barely glanced at the previous month's issue before the new one is in my letterbox. Some issues are full of inspiring dishes, while others barely stir my cooking passion. But the July issue, which arrived yesterday, is packed full of dishes I can't wait to try.

Generally, I flick through issues and mark which dishes I want to try. Some get made that month; unfortunately most don't and join my long list of "recipes to try". But this month was different. For the first time, I marked a recipe and made it the very next day. This is a first for me. But this was also a special dish. It was lamb shank cassoulet.

Cassoulet is a dish I've long wanted to try and I've collected many recipes over the years. It's a rich, slow-cooked casserole, originating in the south of France, that contains meat,m such as pork, goose or duck, and white beans, usually haricot, but cannellini beans are a good substitute. The dish is named after the cassole, the distinctive deep round earthernware pot with slanting sides in which the cassoulet is traditionally cooked.

Cassoulet doesn't seem a particularly complicated recipe but it does require planning and preparation - most of my recipes seem to involve duck confit and/or duck, which either require an extra trip to a specialist shop or, in the case of confit, another long preparation process - and it does require long, slow cooking time.

So this lamb shank version sounded ideal, especially as all ingredients were easy to hand. It's time-consuming but not complicated and the end result is a revelation. I think this is one of the best dishes I've ever made and I can't wait to make it again. It's an ugly duckling sort of dish: it's not the most attractive dish to look at but the flavours are sublime. The lamb shank meat becomes meltingly tender, while the cannellini beans give it guts and the crisp breadcrumbs sprinkled over the top add an extra flavour dimension. If you are after this winter's perfect recipe, I urge you to make this as soon as you can!

Lamb shank cassoulet

From the "French Connection" article by Valli Little, Delicious magazine, July 2009

1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil, plus extra to fry
4 lamb shanks, French-trimmed
50g pancetta or speck, cut into strips
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tsp chopped rosemary leaves
2 Tbs tomato paste
2 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs, plus 1 Tbs chopped leaves
1 cup (250ml) dry white wine
1 litre (4 cups) lamb or chicken stock
4 Toulouse sausages (I was unable to get these, so substituted with four mild Italian pork sausages instead)
2 x 400g cans cannellini beans, drained, rinsed
30g unsalted butter
1 cup (70g) fresh breadcrumbs
2 Tbs chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat 2 Tbs oil in a flameproof casserole or heavy-based pan over medium-high heat. Season lamb, then brown for five minutes, turning, until sealed on all sides. Remove and set aside. Add pancetta to pan and cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes or until crisp. Add onion, garlic and rosemary, season, then cook for 3-4 minutes. Add tomato paste, bay leaves and thyme sprigs, stir for 1 minute, then add wine and simmer over medium-high heat until reduced by half. Add stock and lamb shanks. Cover surface closely with a sheet of baking paper, then simmer on a very low heat for 2 1/2 to 3 hours until lamb is very tender.

Meanwhile, heat a little extra oil in a pan on medium-high heat. Brown sausages for 3-4 minutes. Remove, then slice into 2cm thick slices (they'll finish cooking in the sauce).

Remove lamb shanks from pan. Skim excess fat from sauce, then boil over medium heat for 3-4 minutes until reduced. Reduce heat to medium-low , add beans and sausages, then simmer for 10 minutes or until sausage is cooked. Return lamb to pan to warm through. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a pan over medium heat, add breadcrumbs and chopped thyme and cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes or until crisp. Stir in parsley. Serve cassoulet sprinkled with herbed crumbs.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Daring Cooks Challenge - potsticker dumplings

Yum yum! This month's Daring Cooks challenge was Chinese dumplings/potstickers, one of the more popular bites at Chinese restaurants. Host Jennifer, of Use Real Butter, provided a version of her family recipe for the Daring Cooks to try. The one proviso of the challenge was that the dumpling dough had to be made by hand (no cheating by using bought wonton wrappers!)

Making the dumpling dough was not difficult. It was a little time-c0nsuming but not enough to put you off. You could make these dumplings in about an hour or so. It's obviously not something you could whip up in a flash but it's also not something you need to put aside a whole afternoon to make.

Jennifer provided both a pork and a shrimp (prawn) filling for the Daring Cooks to try. "The beauty of the Chinese dumpling/potsticker is that the filling is very versatile. That's why there are so many different kinds of dumplings when you go to dim sum," Jen wrote to the Daring Cooks.

"The important thing to keep in mind is that the filling needs to 'stick' to itself or else you will make your life incredibly miserable wrapping up filling that keeps falling apart."

The dumpling dough is made of just two ingredients - flour and warm water - demonstrating, once again, the wonderful chemistry of cooking. Who would have thought that mixing and kneading flour and warm water together would produce a sturdy dough that could then be rolled out into neat little wonton wrappers, filled with a teaspoonful of a sticky filling, and then cooked to make luxurious little purses of goodness.

Although Jen provided two recipes for potsticker filling, I chose to make an adapted version of a Donna Hay potsticker filling of pork and coriander. I'm not a huge fan of pork mince, so I substituted beef mince instead, and this made a delicious filling.

For the final result, we could choose to boil, steam or pan-fry the dumplings. Although I had planned to try each version, in the end I pan-fried all my dumplings to make potstickers.

I absolutely love Chinese dumplings and this was a great recipe to try. I was very pleased with the final results. My folding and pleating of the dumplings does need some practice - I certainly wouldn't be able to get a job as a dim sum chef! - but I thought they looked quite good for home-made dumplings. I would definitely make this recipe again. I loved the filling, so I could cheat next time and just use bought wonton wrappers to save time, but most of the fun was in making the dumpling dough. A big thanks to Jen for choosing such a great challenge!

Based on the recipe provided by Jen from Use Real Butter

250g plain flour
115g warm water

Place the flour in the work bowl of a food processor with the dough blade. Run the processor and pour the warm water in until incorporated. Pour the contents into a sturdy bowl or onto a work surface and knead until uniform and smooth. The dough should be firm and silky to the touch and not sticky. [Note: it’s better to have a moist dough and have to incorporate more flour than to have a dry and pilling dough and have to incorporate more water).

Knead the dough about twenty strokes, then cover with a damp towel for 15 minutes. Take the dough and form a flattened dome. Cut into strips about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide. Shape the strips into rounded long cylinders. On a floured surface, cut the strips into 3/4 inch pieces. Press palm down on each piece to form a flat circle (you can shape the corners in with your fingers). With a rolling pin, roll out a circular wrapper from each flat disc. Take care not to roll out too thin or the dumplings will break during cooking - about 1/16th inch. Leave the centres slightly thicker than the edges. Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of each wrapper and fold the dough in half, pleating the edges along one side. Keep all unused dough under damp cloth.

To pan-fry (potstickers): Place dumplings in a frying pan with 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Heat on high and fry for a few minutes until bottoms are golden. Add 1/2 cup water and cover. Cook until the water has boiled away and then uncover and reduce heat to medium or medium low. Let the dumplings cook for another 2 minutes then remove from heat and serve.

Potsticker filling
Adapted from a Donna Hay recipe for pork and coriander potstickers

300g beef mince
3 green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon kecap manis
1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce
½ teaspoon finely grated ginger
¼ cup chopped coriander leaves
1 eggwhite
vegetable oil, for pan-frying

Place the pork, green onion, kecap manis, sweet chilli sauce, ginger, coriander and eggwhite in a bowl and mix until combined. Use as directed in master recipe above.

Dipping sauce: I made a dipping sauce of 2 tablespoons lime juice, 1 tablespoon brown sugar and 1 teaspoon fish sauce. You could also add one finely chopped red chilli to this sauce if you wished.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Nibbles: Carman's Rounds

Carman's colour-coded boxes of breakfast muesli and muesli bars are a staple in many kitchens. But for those who are too time-pressed to fit in even a small bowl of cereal before they leave for work, Carman's now has an answer: breakfast rounds.

Marketed as a "breakfast replacement", the rounds come in classic fruit & nut or apricot & almond varieties. They are GM free and contain no preservatives. The rounds are more like a biscuit than a breakfast dish; they taste like muesli but have a dense biscuit texture. Each round is individually wrapped and easily transportable for breakfast on the run. I found them too sweet and too small to satisfy me for breakfast (unlike the muesli) but the rounds made a good snack during the day.

Carman's is an Australian-owned company, with the factory based in Melbourne, and no preservatives, genetically modified ingredients or artificial colours or flavours are used in their products.

Previously available on Qantas flights, the breakfast rounds are now available from Coles and Franklins stores.