Monday, September 17, 2007

Beef Bourguignon

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Cooking French food is always lots of fun, especially when you're cooking for a real French person. This Friday, I hosted a little dinner for a few friends, one of which who's French through and through (I also suppose she'd kill me if I did injustice to her national cuisine!). Rather than going all out to do something new, I trusted my better judgement and went with an old favourite of mine that I keep handy in my arsenal for ocassions like this: la boeuf bourguignon!

I've cooked this dish many times before, both at home and at work, and it's one of those dishes that guarantee a high probability of success. I mean seriously, who doesn't have a soft spot in their heart for rich, meaty, fork-tender, slow braised beef?

For the best possible beef bourguignon that you can make, here are some tricks of the trade that I'd be happy to divulge:

1) This dish has its origins in Burgundy, France. Most of the red wine produced in Burgundy is of the Pinot Noir variety, so a deep, full-bodied Pinot Noir would be ideal for use in this dish. If you can't get hold of a rich Pinot Noir (which is highly unlikely considering the wine glut in Australia), you could possibly get by with a Merlot.

2) Choose the beef carefully. I, personally, am not a fan of the usual chuck steak or topside for stews and braises. I feel that they tend to be a tad dry and fibourous even after being cooked to a tender state. When eating a slow-cooked red meat dish, I often look for gelatinous and soft membrane-y bits that add variety to the mouthfeel of the dish. It is for this reason that I love to use the more modest cuts such as cheeks, ribs, shins, briskets and tails, which contain heaps of tough stuff that can be cooked down to gooey-goodness. On this ocassion, I used a mixture of the the first three. (You'd be surprised to learn that the lesser known beef cheeks can actually be found in many larger Woolworths supermarkets, next to where they display the offal. Beef shin is also known as gravy beef, and is commonly found in most supermarkets.)

3) "Depouiller, depouiller, depouiller." That's what a French chef once taught me as the secret to making a great beef bourguignon. Literally translated, it means: "skim, skim, skim", and it refers to the time consuming task of continuously removing the fat and impurities that rise to the top of the sauce as the meat cooks. Lesson 101 on fat and impurities: if you don't skim them off quick enough, they fall back into the sauce to make it cloudy and grainy, a.k.a. - RUINED. A good beef bourguignon should have a sauce that's deep and rich, but still clear and glossy. If necessary, the meat should be removed and the sauce strained several times before serving. As you can see, the French people take a lot of pride in making their dishes perfect, so I think we should too.

You can find a good recipe for beef bourguignon at wikipedia. But if you just apply these three pointers that I have just made in addition to that, I assure you that everyone will be blown away. Yes, even a real French person.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Chouquette, New Farm

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Coffee Eclair, Paris Brest, Cherry Macaroon (yum!) and Chocolate Macaroon

Hidden away from the heavy traffic of Brunswick Street, somewhere in the heart of New Farm, lies this little gem of a patisserie. Chouquette (pronounced shoo-ket) is named after a darling little French pastry made simply with choux pastry (the good stuff used in eclairs) and coarse sugar crystals. Don't get me wrong when I say this, the chouquettes there are lovely ($2 for a bag of 10 bite sized morsels), but what I'm here to rave about are actually the macaroons! The finest yet that we've come across, especially the cherry one, which boasts generous chuncks of fruit laced through the ganache filling.

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Among the other goodies that we sampled were a coffee eclair, a Paris Brest (a donut shaped ring of choux pastry split open and filled with cream, then topped with toasted almonds and icing sugar), and a chocolate macaroon. Just a little trivia about the Paris Brest, and how its name came about: a French pastry chef I once studied under explained to me that the these pastries were first created by a patissier whose patisserie lay along the route of the famous bike race from Paris to Brest, back in the day. In honour of the atheletes, he made these pastries in the shape of a bike wheel. People loved them and they've been around ever since!

Chouquette also specialises in breads and speciality cakes, and the next time we go back, I know I'm definitely gonna get my hands on one of those great looking, rustic baguettes.

19 Barker Street
New Farm, Brisbane, QLD
07 3358 6336
Closed on Mondays

Monday, July 16, 2007

Thai Deep Fried Egg Salad - Yum Kai Dow

I first had this dish at a picnic cum potluck a few years back, where a Thai friend of mine, Noi, proudly presented this dish to the crowd. I was shocked at how delicious this dish was, considering the few very simple ingredients and steps involved in its preparation. Unfortunately I never got around to asking her for the recipe.

Just last week, we had invited another Thai friend of ours, Pang, over for dinner. This time, I was madly craving for Yum Kai Dao and decided that I HAD to make her show me how to prepare it. I've eaten Pang's Thai cooking before, and I can seriously vouch for its goodness; I guess I could rely on her to recreate Yum Kai Dao for me. So she did. And it was lip smacking!

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Yum Kai Dao - Deep Fried Egg Salad

4 large eggs
1 brown/white onion, thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, wedged
a bunch of lettuce/salad greens
a bunch of coriander

1 tsp finely grated raw garlic
4 tbsps fish sauce
4 tbsps fresh lime juice
4 tbsps palm sugar
chopped fresh chilli, quantity as desired

Crack eggs into very, very hot oil and deep fry till fluffy and crispy, and yolks are cooked through. The hotter the oil, the fluffier and crispier your eggs will be. Let cool slightly, then cut into rough chunks and toss with vegetables. Combine salad dressing ingredients in a bowl and further adjust the taste as necessary to suit your liking (I like mine quite sour and hot, so I tend to give a few more bits of lime and chilli). Dress the salad and tuck in!

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Inside of a Meat Pie from Absynthe Bakery

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Hi folks, just to further expound on one of my previous posts regarding meat pies, I made a special journey down to Circle on Cavill, Surfers Paradise just to test out the acclaimed meat pies at Absynthe Bakery. There were only 2 types of pies left by the time I arrived, a beef and red wine pie, and a lamb and mushroom version. I got to sample both, and they were fantastic. Just to prove my point, I took a picture of the inside of the lamb pie, showing the sheer amount of filling that they pack into their pie pastries. I know it's a bit of a nasty shot, the pie being chewed up and all, but just look at the quantity of meat in that baby! For pies of that size and meat density, they certaintly make for a full meal all on their own. And boy, was I stuffed!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Baked Italian Sausages, Beans and Eggs

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Here's another dish to warm up your chilly winter. Preparing and cooking the beans takes a bit of time, if you are using dried beans that is. However, if you don't mind the idea of using canned beans, please be my guest; it will save you heaps of time to be frank. But for the sake of those purists out there, I will talk you through the steps right from the top, using dried beans to begin with.

Beans in Tomato Sauce with Italian Sausages and Eggs

300 gms dried borlotti/cannellini beans, soaked overnight in water
2 litres water
half an onion
half a tomato
2 bay leaves

1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 anchovy fillet (optional)
pinch of dried chilli (optional)
1 stalk of rosemary
3 stalks of thyme
1 litre of passata, or equal volume of tinned tomatoes

6-8 Italian pork sausages
a few eggs
extra virgin olive oil
crusty bread, to serve

Drain the beans from their soaking water. Add them to a pot with all remaining ingredients and simmer for half an hour to 45 minutes, or until beans are just tender, and not mushy. It is crucial to add the tomato half as it helps to soften the skins of the beans. Also, do not salt the beans at this point as salt causes their skins to toughen. Once done, drain and set aside. (If using tinned beans, simply omit this step and begin from below:)

In a saucepan, sweat onions, garlic, anchovy and chilli with a good amount of olive oil. Once translucent and fragrant, add in the entire bunches of herbs together with the passata/tinned tomatoes. Return beans to the pan and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste.

Place bean mixture in a baking dish. Randomly distribute over the sausages, pricking with a fork to prevent them from 'exploding'. Drizzle sausages with olive oil and place dish in a preheated 200 degree celcius oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes till sausages are nice and brown. Using a spoon, make a few wells in between the sausages and crack an egg into each well. Bake for a further 5 minutes till the eggs are just set. Serve bubbling at the table with crusty bread to mop up the beans and runny egg yolks. Lovely.

Buffalo Wings with Blue Cheese Coleslaw

Sorry guys, we know it's been a while since our last post. Bev and I have been pretty tied up with work and all for the last few weeks. Anyway, we're back again, and here is the first of a few backlogged entries to come.

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This is a recipe for buffalo wings from Bev's stack of recipe cuttings. I matched these wings with a recipe for blue cheese cloeslaw that I chanced upon at, one of my favourite foodie sites. And as funky as it sounds (blue cheese coleslaw), it actually makes perfect sense, seeing that buffalo wings are typically served with crunchy vegetables and a blue cheese sauce!

Just keep in mind, if you were to use the Italian Gorgonzola for the blue cheese, be sure to use Gorgonzola Picante (a sharp gorgonzola) instead of Gorgonzola Dolce (a milder, sweeter gorgonzola), as there will be huge variances in the results. Also, instead of undertaking the labour intensive task of shaving my own vegetables for the slaw, I simply popped open a bag of ready shaved coleslaw vegetables from the supermarket. Ah, the conveniences of modern day grocery shopping!

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Buffalo Wings

1/2 dozen chicken wings
2 tbsps melted butter
4 tbsps tabasco sauce
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsps salt
1/2 tsps cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp cracked black pepper

Toss wings with all of the specified ingredients. Marinate for at least one hour. Grill in a hot oven, at 210 degrees celcius, for 10 minutes on each side, basting frequently with the left over marinade.

Blue Cheese Coleslaw

recipe at

Sunday, June 17, 2007

As Nice as Pie

In this month's issue of the Australian Gourmet Traveller, the Gourmet News section on page 16 is devoted to featuring the editor's picks for some of the best pies around the country. Of these, proud Queensland establishments Bespoke, Yatala Pies, Joycelyn's Provisions and Absynthe Bakery can celebrate the great honour of making the list.

In addition to that, and just to delve further into the topic of good pies, I would like to make an honourable mention of Songbirds in the Forest, which serves a killer rabbit, mushroom and herb pie. Their's is essentially a revamped version of everyones classic favourite, served atop a mound of smoothly pureed mushy peas, and drizzled with a rich madeira jus. Yes, I know this is a little of a longshot from the usual comforts of a messy, saucy meat pie with tomato sauce, but it sure makes up for every bit of that in the taste catagory alone.

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Rabbit, mushroom and herb pie from Songbirds, Mt Tamborine

Meat pies have been feeding the hungry man for ages, but sadly, aside from being an expert in devouring them, I know little else about their place in our society. Thus, I took it upon myself to research further into the literature of the humble (meat) pie.

Surprisingly, my research revealed a few neat facts:

- meat pies were described by former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr as Australia's "national dish"

- Australians consume an average of 12 meat pies each per year

- Four'N Twenty Pies produce 50,000 pies per hour

- by Aussie regulations, meat pies may legitamately contain snouts, ears, tongue roots, tendons and blood vessels (urgh!)

Personal research even led me to try Domino's meat pie pizza which, while Bev enjoyed, I was rather disappointed with (it's a pretty cool idea, but having shortcrust pastry on pizza dough is just a little too heavy on the starch for me).

On a lighter note, I discovered this awesome sounding thing called the pie floater, which is a meat pie topped with tomato sauce, and floating in a puddle of green pea soup (oooh!). Apparently it was popular all over the country at one point in time (how long ago was that?), but it's popularity gradually weaned and now its availability is limited to mostly only South Australia, where it was officially recognised as a South Australian Heritage Icon by the National Trust of Australia back in 2003!

Geez, now I really gotta sink my chops into one of those pretty soon! Maybe a little pilgrimage to Adelaide on the horizon? We'll see about that..

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An old picture of me mucking around, making a beef pie

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Thai Wi Rat - Our Favourite Thai Joint

Thai Wi-Rat in the Valley is by many standards our favourite Thai restaurant here in Brisbane. No doubt, it could also easily stand up to any other great Thai restaurant that you'd find in this big country.

The restaurant has been around for a while now, and Bev and I have been there at least 6 times this year alone (talk about a lot, geez). And everytime we go there, the food never fails to impress. We've tried most of the stuff on their menu by now, and feel confident enough to announce to the whole of Brisbane that Thai Wi-Rat absolutely rocks!

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Yen Ta Fo noodles- noodles and seafood in a tasty red soup, topped with crispy pork crackling

Unfortunately, and oddly enough, everytime we eat there, we forget to bring our trusty camera along. Perhaps its because we're always too excited about the thought of eating there that we blindly rush out of the house. Well, this last ocassion was different, and we finally arrived at Thai Wi-Rat prepared. Here's some incriminating pictoral evidence of what we pigged out on that day.

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Pad Thai with juicy prawns- possibly the most well known Thai noodle dish outside of Thailand

The food boasts regional integrity, something that's increasingly hard to come by these days. The food is of Thai-Laotian influence, and deviates away from most of the run of the mill Thai-restaurant-syndrome dishes (think green, red and yellow curry, fried rice, spring rolls, etc). Although they do offer these dishes still, the focus is on the not-so-stereotypical fare. Our favourite dishes thus far have been the lipsmacking grilled thai pork sausages, stir fried pork leg slices with chilli and green peppercorns, duck larb (mince meat salad), calves liver salad, pork fried with pickled bamboo and pad see ew noodles. They do the usual fare very well too, and we adore the pad thai, som tum (green mango salad) and chicken rice just as much. But ooh, please promise me that you'd order a side serve of deep fried egg and/or fried pork cracklings (just $2 each) to top things off - superduper unhealthy, but just too darn good!

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Yum Thai Wi-Rat (Thai Wi-Rat salad)- crispy fish maw, calamari and cashews with herbs and red onion in a sour dressing

To add to the excitement, the restaurant even has a couple of their own no-joke looking metallic "spice kits" which they bring around to every table when it's not too busy. If they don't bring you one of these, you should go hunting around for them; some people like to hog them at their table. Inside them you will find four compartments containing the essentials of Thai eating: chilli powder, fish sauce, sugar, and a sour chilli sauce.

Price-wise, Thai Wi-Rat serves up fantastic food that would'nt break your budget. In fact, it was even featured in the Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine's Cheap Eats column a while back. Apart from the food and the price tags, our other favourite thing about this place is that it opens early and doesn't close till late. That means that you could drop in anytime in the arvo between lunch and dinner and still be served. Now, thats one hell of a joint eh?

Thai Wi-Rat
TC Beirne Building
Shop 48
20 Duncan St
(same stretch as Burlington supermarket)
Fortitude Valley 4006 QLD
Phone: (07) 3257 0884

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Custard 2 Ways: Baked Creme Caramel & Frozen Vanilla Custard

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As spoken about previously, I promised the good people at the Mount Tamborine Winery cellar door that I'd feature a dessert dish on my blog that (hopefully) does justice to their fantastic Mountain Muscat. Now, I think I've outdone myself! Here is a second dessert, following last week's olive oil and Muscat cake, a duo of of creme caramel and frozen custard, laden with that wonderful Muscat.

I won't deny it, this dish does require a bit of effort. But irregardless of whether you're a self-confessed culinary dummy or an accomplised home cook, this should'nt be in any way out of your league. So here's how its done:

Muscat Creme Caramel and Frozen Custard

150 gm sugar
100 ml water

200 ml thick cream
200 ml milk
100 ml Muscat (or other appropriate dessert wine)
seeds of 1 vanilla pod, or alternatively, a few drops of vanilla extract
4 whole extra large eggs (59g min weight)
4 egg yolks
110 gm caster sugar
8 buttered ramekins

200 ml cream (extra)

Preheat the oven to 160C.

For the caramel component of the creme caramels, simply heat the sugar and half of the water over a medium heat till the water evaporates, and the sugar begins to caramelise. Once it reaches a golden brown colour, take off the heat and splash in the remaining water to slow the cooking. Swirl it around till the caramel dilutes and cools down slightly. Distribute warm caramel among the bases of each buttered ramekin.

In a separate saucepan, heat up the cream, milk and vanilla till just scalding (ie. just before boiling point). Meanwhile, whisk the sugar, whole eggs and yolks in a mixing bowl till pale and frothy. Pour in the hot cream mixture bit by bit, whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Then, when all the cream has been incorporated, whisk in the Muscat. Pour the entire mixture back into the pot and heat over a medium-low flame, stirring constantly, for 4-5 minutes till it slightly thickens.

Strain the liquid mixture through a fine sieve into each of the prepared ramekins. If there are little bubbles along the top edges, remove them carefully with a teaspoon (trick of the trade: you could use a blow torch, if you have one, to blast out any small bubbles off the tops of custards). You will have some custard left over, this will be used to make the frozen custard.

Place the ramekins in a baking dish half filled with hot water (aka. bain marie), and cover the entire thing with al-foil. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Remove, wrap each individual custard with al-foil to prevent drying out, then chill for at least 6 hours, or at best, overnight. Run a hot knife around the rims to unmould them onto a plate, pouring out as much of that sinful caramel sauce as you can! The longer you leave it in the fridge, the more caramel sauce you will get out of it (within reasonable limits of course!).

For the frozen custard, mix the remaining egg custard with the extra cream and churn it in an ice cream maker. If you, like me, do not have an ice cream maker, you can most easily complete this process by placing the mixture into the freezer and diligently mixing with a fork every half an hour till it freezes. That should make it fluffy enough!

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Save on Washing Up with a One-Pot Chicken and Chorizo Rice Pilaf

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Now here's a recipe thats simple to prepare, and best of all, made in one pot. That's gonna save you heaps of time in front of the kitchen sink after dinner; and if anyone asks me, that sounds like a mighty good plan!

A pilaf is a dish where rice (or other grain) is browned in oil, then cooked in a flavoured broth. There are variations of pilafs across the many different cultures of the world. The Spanish have paella, while Indian and Pakistani cultures have biryani. The Italians have risotto, and Africans can be proud to add jambalaya to this list.

Chicken and Chorizo Sausage Rice Pilaf

5 chicken thigh fillets, skin intact, cut into cubes
salt and pepper

1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground fennel
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika

1 large onion, diced
1 capsicum (green/red), diced
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 chorizo sausage, diced
3 cups long grain rice

750 ml hot chicken stock, infused with a large pinch of saffron threads
5 medium roma tomatoes, roughly diced
1/2 cup frozen peas

lemon wedges, to serve

Start off by heating a few tbsps of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. When hot, add in chicken pieces, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Leave chicken to cook on medium to high heat. Resist any temptation to touch or turn the pieces at this point. What you should be looking for is a very well browned and crispy crust to form on the chicken pieces. After 5-10 minutes, turn the chicken pieces, they should have formed a deep brown, crusty exterior, and release themselves from the base of the pot without much coaxing. Season again. Let them cook on the other side in the same fashion. Remove from pot when done and set aside.

In the same pot, add the spices and fry till fragrant, scratching the base of the pot to release the tasty chicken reside thats left behind. Add in onion, capsicum, garlic and chorizo, and cook for a further 5 minutes till the vegetables become translucent. Add in rice and stir to coat the grains evenly with oil. Pour in the stock, saffron threads and the tomatoes. Stir to mix everything evenly. Top with chicken pieces, and sprinkle with peas. Put on a tight-fitting lid, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer over the lowest heat setting for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, turn off heat and let stand covered for a further 15 minutes to steam. Do not at any point in the cooking process open the lid, as this allows precious steam to escape. Remove lid and serve with some lemon wedges alongside.

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