Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Braised Pork with Onion Marmalade (A Home Run… in nine hours)

‘Would you call this golden?’ I asked my husband at the forty-five minute mark.

He peered into my frypan. ‘Not even close,’ he replied.
The onion marmalade was refusing to colour-up

It was T minus 20 hours and I had already been cooking for an hour. My youngest daughter was having her 1st birthday party, and since it would be last ever first birthday in our household, it felt only right to celebrate in style.

Braised Pork with Onion Marmalade (aka Pulled pork rolls) was one of those recipes I had been aching to try. However, since it needed a 3kg hunk of pig and a full day to prepare, it wasn’t something you did at the last minute.
From the book (image courtesy Jason Thomas)
So the night before the party I started the onion marmalade, which was basically a kilo of onions, finely sliced, butter, olive oil and cider vinegar. I admit I also added a good fistful of brown sugar because I was erring on the side of Onion Jam.

It took me a fair while to finely slice the onions. It made me very sad.
Yes, I must be ridiculously confident (or stupid) to put such an awful picture on the internet... but those onions made me CRY

But after an hour of sweating (the onions, not me) and caramelising, the damn things still weren’t golden. So I pulled my trademark cooking move, and ignored them. I disappeared off and began the spice rub for my pork and when I remembered the onions some time later, not only had they caramelised, but somehow (luckily) they hadn’t even burned.

The braised pork takes almost nine hours to cook at a low temperature (120C), and has to dry marinade overnight. The thing I liked about the spice rub, is that more than half of it consists of brown sugar. Plus cumin, thyme, fennel, garlic and pepper.
This is the before picture

I got personal with the pig and rubbed it all over before putting it in my beautiful red Le Creuset baking dish and bunging it in the fridge.

It was about quarter to five the next morning that I had the following thought process.

“I need to get up and pork the pork in the oven. Nine hours to cook, man that’s a lot of gas. Oven. Need to make those four dozen cupcakes as well. If I start the pork at 5am then it should be done by 2pm and give me time to shred it before guests arrive at 3pm. Oven. Cupcakes. Pork."

Oh crap.

I couldn’t cook the pork in the oven at 120C for nine hours if I also needed to cook ten thousand cupcakes at 200C. Why was I only figuring this out now, on the morning of the party?

Luckily I had made pulled pork before (but an inferior recipe that called for a bottle of BBQ sauce to be dumped on top), and I had used the slow cooker. Easy fix. Except the other recipe was obviously so inferior I had chucked it out and wasn’t quite sure how long to cook it for, and whether the instructions for the oven were translatable to a slow cooker.

I guess I was going to find out.

So there I was at 5 in the morning banging around getting the slow cooker out and whipping up the cooking sauce, which had a host of flavours including more brown sugar (yay), Tabasco, soy, tomato paste, mustard, ginger and garlic. It also called for dry cider, which I didn’t have, so I opened a beer.
It was very very early

In case you’re wondering I didn’t drink the rest of it then (it was 5am!) but I did drink it later that afternoon. And yes, it had gone flat.
The pork happily cooked away all day. It made the house smell delicious.
I sit and wonder why-oh-why-oh-why-oh-why

Then, in front of Grease which was fortuitously playing on the TV, I got my forks and began shredding the tender meat. I drizzled a fair portion of the cooking sauce over it, and put it in the oven to stay warm.

When my guests arrived I took great pleasure in lifting the lid on the pork and showing them my onions. It was pretty saucy.
I made dozens of rolls, lacing them liberally with the onion marmalade and took them round on a big pink tray like the old-time cigar girls. The only person to refuse my rolls was a vegetarian but I think even she was almost convinced.

My thoughts:

The recipe book says this is a special recipe for a late night party, and it certainly would be. Unlike my 3pm kids’ party time, if you had a late night party you wouldn’t need to get out of bed at 5am to start cooking.

Of course, if you’re the sort of person who is having late night parties, you probably don’t even know what 5am is. Half your luck.


If you have any questions or would like to know more about this recipe please contact me at frommumtome@hotmail.com



Monday, February 18, 2013

Bouillabaisse en Papillote (aka Fish Stew in Paper)

Look at the two titles above. One looks tempting, fancy, you might see it on a menu in a classy restaurant. The other looks… ordinary.

I started out with the intentions of one, and wound up with the reality of the other.
The image from the book doesn't actually show the finished product... although that is one very nicely tied bow (image courtesy Jason Thomas)

It was my mum’s significant birthday, worthy of celebrating with a completely over-the-top thirteen course dinner. I am not an athletic person, I can’t run marathons or participate in grand finals. I’m not very musical. I drive a seven-seater beast with bird crap on the windows. I am not fashion model and I have fuzzy hair. If I can’t show off in the kitchen, there is pretty much nowhere I can show off.

I decided to show off with this.
Yes, I even laminated the menu. Show off.

I can’t take credit for all thirteen courses. The last five are courtesy of my sister who was on dessert and kids duties. The kids got little red sausages and ravioli and we ate bouillabaisse en papillote.

Actually, we had fish stew.

Actually we had giant-baby-octopus-stew-with-a-sliver-of-fish-stew. Nummy.

The recipe calls for an assortment of goodies from the sea: mussels, prawns, scallops, squid rings, baby octopus and pink snapper. This is baked in tomato sugo and white wine and flavoured with garlic, chilli and fresh herbs.
But this was going to be the final savoury course and I didn’t want my guests to be overwhelmed by the cast of Finding Nemo and The Little Mermaid having a party on their plate, so when I went to the fishmonger to buy my ingredients I began making a few changes to the recipe.

The first to go were the scallops, based on the fact I was already dishing them up with the chilled avocado soup.
My soup was a huge success

Next to be deleted were the mussels because Mum doesn’t like them and I figured if it was her birthday, there was no point serving up things she doesn’t like.

The Boatshed (I drool just thinking about that place) doesn’t ‘do’ squid rings but they did have some extraordinary baby octopus. It wasn’t until I got home and unwrapped my packages that I discovered that my babies were more like tweenies. Oh well.
Ooo la la, I'm feeling so French today

Deluding myself I was on a cooking show, I cut all my ingredients and put them in little bowls. Mise en plus, I believe is the technical term. See. I know stuff.

Looking at my show-offy menu I realised there weren’t many vegetables on offer. In fact, it was going to be a meat-fest, so in a half-hearted attempt to be balanced I added some zucchini and leek rings to my packaged.

So began the laborious job of making eight parcels of double-layered alfoil lined with baking paper, then layering the ingredients inside, before tying with twine.
Yes, I think that is an octopus tentacle pressed against the paper

There were two good things about this process. The first was that all the prep could be done well in advance of my dinner party. No last minute stressing (except for the bit when I forgot to actually put them in the oven, but we’ll ignore that).

The second was that each parcel needed only a tablespoon of white wine, which meant the majority of the bottle was left over for me to drink as I cooked.
It looks like the cast of Alien

I had bought enough king prawns for each guest to have two each, but considering they were almost large enough to be legally considered a crayfish, I decided to just put one in each package. So in the end each package had one giant prawn, one even gianter so-called baby octopus and a three unforgivably small pieces of fish. It was a bit of a let down.

Because my quantities were significantly less than the recipe suggested, the cooking time then became my biggest concern. Not much fish… but there were 8 parcels. What to do?

In the end it was irrelevant because the timer on the oven stuffed up and who knows how long they cooked for. ‘Too long’ was the general consensus.

My thoughts:

These were a pretty awesome dinner party offering, as they were posh-as, easy to prepare and you could do it all in advance. Some crusty sour-dough and real butter were all we needed to soak up the juices. I didn’t even bother with fancy dishes, I just served it up in all its alfoily glory.

But, they deserved to be on a main-stage (with a full complement of ingredients) rather than bringing up the rear of eight other (highly successful) courses with less than half of the recommended ingredients.

So, fish stew. How about you?

Annie’s Western Rock Lobster – first attempt

It was my mum’s birthday. I won’t say how old she was turning, because ladies never tell. Suffice to say, it’s a significant number so a pretty special dinner was in order.
Looks pretty tasty (photo courtesy Jason Thomas)

I had planned on making two dishes from Essence, one being Annie’s Rock Lobster Dish. It sounded simple enough and I had grand plans on serving it up as one of ten courses, all fancy like on Chinese soup spoons. Posh, eh?

Except I didn’t realise how much Lobsters cost.

And they come in that scary looking exoskeleton which I couldn’t even begin to fathom to open. Would I require special tools? A PhD in crustaceans? I clearly had no idea what I was doing and didn’t have time to learn.


I bought a lovely piece of tuna sashimi instead and decided to attempt Annie’s Lobster another time.
Looks nothing like lobster

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Lemon and Almond Tart (Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks)

I learned two things today when I started making this tart.
The first was that if you are lazy in the kitchen it inevitably leads to more work.

The second was that sometimes things aren’t as difficult as they seem (but then again, sometimes they are just as difficult as you expect them to be.)

This is how my tart turned out... it tasted a lot better than it looked

We were heading to the ubiquitous summer BBQ at a friend’s house and I had volunteered to make dessert for the grown ups.  Notice how I said ‘for the grown-ups’?

I have learned through bitter experience if you try to make a dessert that please kids and adults either a) everyone ends up in tears or b) you all end up eating frogs-in-ponds.
Not that there is anything wrong with that.

This is how it was supposed to look (image courtesy Jason Thomas)

But bugger the kids, I was making lemon and almond tart. This is the sort of dish that you can buy in nice cake shops for $20+ so I was hoping it would be a big success. The sort of dessert where you bring it out on a fancy tray and everyone oohs and aaahs.

It seemed like a simple enough recipe – a sweet pastry base that is blind baked first, and then a lemon filling made with fresh lemon juice, icing sugar, eggs and almond meal.

Thing is (and I am almost ashamed to admit this, but since I don’t have to look any of you in the eye, I will say it anyway): I have never made pastry from scratch before.

Oh the shame.

Yes, I am a pull-a-frozen-sheet-out-of-the-freezer type gal and this was my first foray into the world of pastry.

But if I am doing this project properly (and there may be some debate about that) I need to follow the recipe as best as I am able, and damn it, I was going to make my own pastry.

God it was easy. Except for the part when I thought it would be easier to tip the icing sugar into the measuring cup right over the food processer, rather than take two steps to the left and get a spoon, which would have prevented this.

And I couldn't even blame the kids for the mess

 Lesson number one: laziness in the kitchen leads to more work.

So after I cleaned up all the icing sugar (side note, don’t use baby wipes to clean icing sugar, because the moisture just makes the sugar dissolve and leads to even more cursing and mess) I checked the recipe which said ‘pulse until it forms a ball’.

So I stood there, madly pushing the button and all the flour and sugar and chunks of butter were whizzing around, but nothing was happening. Where was my ball? Did I leave out an ingredient?

So I did what any self-respecting cook would have done. I pressed the ‘on’ button, walked away and made myself a cuppa (too early for wine, it was only 9am). When I came back, presto! A ball!

A ball... sort of

‘Roll the pastry out until it is 3mm thick and line a 23cm removable-bottom tart tin’.

It sounded so easy, but it’s really really not. I couldn’t keep the pastry from collapsing and tearing so I ended up pushing it into the tin and using the leftovers to patch the holes, figuring that all my (cough) handiwork would be covered up by the filling.

I bet Adrian's Zumbo doesn't have these issues...

The filling was more straight forward: eggs, icing sugar, lemons, butter and ground almonds. The recipe called for (optional) limocello, which I didn’t have. I substituted Triple Sec. It’s all citrus, right?

When I went to pour the filling into the tart case, I discovered there was too much and it started to drip over the sides when I went to put it in the oven. Oh well, it was a generous looking tart, with filling right up to the (slightly uneven) sides.

Later that night.

I did get my ooh and ahhhs and a barrage of compliments. Admittedly, quite a few were for finally growing a pair and making my own pastry rather than resorting to the frozen sort, but most were for the tart itself.

The fact that it was dark by the time we ate also helped. Even one of the kids wanted to try it (although I suspect she mistook it for a savoury quiche).

My thoughts

To all of you who have been telling me for years, yes I totally agree making my own pastry is very easy and tastes a thousand times better than the shop stuff.

But actually managing to put the stuff in a tin without it tearing and swearing is an entirely different matter…

Friday, February 1, 2013

Thai Beef Salad (Ring of Fire)

God I was mad.

How hard is it to pick up your phone and send a text message? I had left this note on the breakfast bar next to the recipe for tonight’s dinner.
All he had to do was call or text when he got home from work and I would bundle the kids into the car and be home in five minutes.

5pm came and went. 5.30pm and nothing. So by 6pm, muttering under my breath, I shoved the kids into the car and came home. When I saw his car in the drive I was ropeable. When I realised he was upstairs in the shower I could have kicked a cat.*
Thai Beef Salad from the book (photo courtesy Jason Thomas)
So I did what any self-respecting, confrontation avoiding, passive-aggressive woman does when she is mad at her husband:  I began cooking, banging together pots and pans, and partaking in a rather large glass of pink fizzy.

It's not really that full... the angle of the photo makes it look like this is a very big glass of bubbles

One of the reasons I was cranky was because this was most definitely one of ‘his’ types of dinners. Heaps of fresh salad and hardly any fat. As a comparison, last night’s dinner (untrimmed lamb cutlets and baby potatoes drowning in butter and garlic and mint was most definitely one of ‘my’ dinners).

I began by pan-frying the porterhouse steak until it was medium rare. I’m lousy at cooking steak so I kept needing to take it out of the pan and cut it in half to see if it’s cooked. It never was, so my two steaks very quickly became about five or six pieces.

People who say steak is fool-proof have clearly never met me

The recipe called for coriander roots, which I hadn’t noticed when I wrote my shopping list. Luckily I was shopping in the ‘other’ grocery shop and they sell them with the roots (and half the garden) attached. Initially I was overjoyed that I could follow the recipe. Then I saw just how much crud was embedded in the roots. 
No amount of washing could ever clean that, I thought, so the roots went in the bin and I threw some stems in the mortar instead.
Not phallic at all

Then I got to pound the coriander with garlic, which made me feel momentarily better. Then in went finely chopped kaffir lime leaves, brown sugar, soy sauce and lime juice. When I threw it in the pan to cook (still hot from the steak) I lost most of it up the wall when it sizzled and spat everywhere.
After this had cooled in went even more lime juice, fish sauce, chillies, mint leaves and spring onion. These are big flavours. Punch-you-in--the-face flavours, even though I chickened out and used half the amount of chillies recommended.

By the time I got to the fish sauce, I was scrabbling around in the back of the cupboard. I was sure we had a bottle up there somewhere. Turns out we had two.

One bottle had a dribble left and the other had an expiry date of 2010. Although I am convinced he wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between ‘fresh’ and ‘two year out of date’ fish sauce, I wasn’t personally willing to try.
Everything was thrown on a bed of salad leaves. Make that an entire bag of salad leaves. I aim to please. This was my finished product.
My attempt

Yes, that is a passion fruit in the picture. I couldn’t find any lemons like the picture from the book.

About an hour later, when he had the kids in the shower and was getting them ready for bed, my phone beeped. It was marked shortly after 5pm and said ‘Just got home. Can I do anything to start dinner?’



My thoughts:

My phone company clearly sucks.
Don’t make strong flavours when you are grumpy and you tend to be a bit heavy handed.


*Don’t worry. I don’t own a cat and if I did, I am sure I would never kick it.

If you have any questions or would like to know more about this recipe please contact me at frommumtome@hotmail.com