Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Szechuan Duck with Mango Salsa (I Could be on MasterChef with this One)

When I was presented with the opportunity to have a practically kid-free Saturday night, I knew I wanted to cook something a little bit special. Our baby is 10 months and at that horrible screaming-in-public-stage, so going out for dinner wasn’t an option. I wanted to try something new, but also appropriate for the 40 degree day. Duck with mango salsa seemed to fit the bill.
The image from the book is basically food porn it is so beautiful (courtesy Jason Thomas)

Duck breasts are rubbed with a mixture of crushed Szechuan peppercorns, cinnamon and five spice, and after being pan-fried and oven-baked, served with a salsa of mangoes, pawpaw, cucumber, red onion which is dressed with mint, chilli, sesame oil, ginger and sherry vinegar.
You need to poke your breasts before rubbing them
My first problem arose when I had a panic attack in the middle of Woolies. My shopping list was so long it went over both sides of my paper, and I hadn’t clearly marked what ingredients were for my duck dinner, and what was for the salads I had planned on making for a BBQ later in the week. The trolley was overflowing, the shop was overflowing and all I wanted was to escape.

I made a few bad calls, and forgot two of the ingredients. Oh well. I never follow a recipe properly anyway.
The salsa is fabulous on its own
My next problem was when I started cooking, I didn’t read the recipe from start to finish. I skipped to the bit that told me how to make the salsa, thinking that it would need to ‘brew’ for a while as the duck was cooking. Pity I didn’t read the bit about the duck needing to sit out of the fridge for an hour before being cooked.

Sidenote: always read the entire recipe before you start.
At this point I needed a drink

When I mentioned this to my husband, he gave me a look that clearly told me he thought I was an idiot. However what he said was simply: ‘I’m not going to say anything.’

He is much more restrained than me: I always tell him off for not reading the recipe.

This is one salad I enjoy eating, maybe because it's full of fruit

I started by dicing the mango, pawpaw, cucumber and red onion. I’m not a fan of raw onion, even red, so I only used about 2 tablespoons in total. I also added a handful of tiny red tomatoes from the garden and a sprig of coriander, because I love coriander. I had forgotten to buy the chilli, but I figure I don’t need any extra heat in the kitchen when it is 40 degrees outside.

By the time I had read the recipe and realised I was meant to rub the spices into the duck and let it rest for an hour before cooking, it was already close to our dinner time (even the absence of the kids doesn’t mean we eat late).
I mixed 2/3 of a tablespoon of Szechuan seasons [perhaps my greatest culinary faux pas tonight, as my local Woolies didn’t stock Szechuan peppercorns as the recipe required], and ½ teaspoon each of salt, cinnamon and Chinese five spice.
I rubbed it on the breasts, not feeling remotely giggly. Three kids will do that to you.
My breasts got a serious tan

I was getting the hurry up from the gallery so it only sat for a short while before panfrying in a hot pan for two minutes each side. I panicked for a minute when I realised the recipe didn’t say whether or not to put oil in the pan. You always put oil in the pan, right? My husband pointed out duck skin is extremely fatty, so I decided to follow the recipe and didn’t oil the pan. It smoked like the Marlborough man and I needed to put the exhaust fan on, and when I shook the pan there were little bursts of flame. I felt like I was on Masterchef.

Then it went into the oven (180C) for 11 minutes. The recipe said 10-15 minutes. My rather small breasts probably only needed 10 minutes, as even though they were still juicy after resting for ten minutes, they weren’t pink. Aren’t breasts meant to be pink?

Dinner was served and it looked fantastic. I also dished up a side of asparagus. There was a moment of awkwardness about whether or not to eat the skin. After all, that was the part with all the spice and flavour, but a few dreary comments from my husband about cholesterol quickly put a stop to any enjoyment I might have had eating the skin.
C'mon, it's just like the book! Winner

In the end it was a successful meal, despite forgetting some of the primary ingredients (we both agreed that the chilli would have helped). Duck is very filling, even when you leave the delicious, tasty skin and fat on the plate. I still managed to find room for dessert though.

My thoughts

Because you can prepare a lot of it in advance, this recipe would be great for a dinner party. It looks spectacular and tastes fresh and zingy. It’s not cheap though, the breasts cost about $7 each and mangoes and pawpaw are not the cheapest fruit in the fruit bowl.

It’s worth it though, for a special occasion. Such as the kids having a sleepover at Grandma’s.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Ginger Cake (The Schmuck with the 20 Bucks)

This is a big cake. A celebration cake. I had originally intended to make it for my mum for her birthday, but then I got carried away by a 12 course degustation, and everyone knows big cakes have no place in the tiny world of degustation.
It has inner beauty (photo courtesy Jason Thomas)

So I’m not quite sure how I ended up making it not with the intention to eat it, but to donate it to the school cake stall.

My beautiful celebration cake. At a cake stall. State election. Whoopy doo.

Part of me thinks that beautiful cakes belong on the cake stall. Who has ever rocked up to their local school, clutching a handful of cash and then stared at a trestle table of packet cakes and plainly iced butter cakes. It makes you sad.
Luckily I had three half-empty bottles of golden syrup in the cupboard
Before I had kids, I used to love election day, not because I particularly liked voting, but I always knew the local school would have a cake stall. But before I had kids, looking at a box of cupcakes that had obviously been decorated by a six year old used to make me shudder.

Now I have kids I still love election day for the cake stall, except now I have to work on the damn cake stall, and I’m not so traumatised about a cake decorated by a child. Let’s be honest, they’re a lot more generous with the lollies than we are.

But it’s always nice to find a special cake on election day, and I think this one meets the mark.

Golden syrup and brown sugar. Eggs and flour. Ginger and cinnamon. That’s pretty much it.

The recipe book describes it as fudgy and best baked the day before to let the flavours develop. Sounded perfect to me.

Because I needed the oven for dinner I thought I would make the cake after lunch. I thought there would be plenty of time before heading to school to collect my eldest.

I took my time.

I stopped to play with the baby.

I stopped to help dress a Barbie doll.

I stopped to check my email.

I didn’t read the recipe properly. Again.

That 40-50 minutes baking time, on closer inspection actually said 80 to 90 minutes cooking time. Almost an entire hour extra.

It came out of the oven just as the school bell rang

 Making it was simple enough, except for the fact it was such a big cake, my largest tin proved a bit inadequate and the cake began overflowing the tin.

A generous layer of lemon icing fixed that, and I must admit I was quite impressed with the finished result. It was a pity I wouldn’t get to try it though. I bundled it in to a box and put it under the pram for the walk to school.
Cake box stylishly decorated by Miss Five
The Awesome Grandparents were joining us. On arrival at the cake stall I handed over my box, it was opened and perused and $20 written on the lid in big black texta.  Twenty bucks? It was a stupendous cake but what schmuck was going to pay twenty bucks for it at a school cake stall?

Turns out that schmuck was me. My mother-in-law who hadn’t previously seen the cake at home, wandered past and stopped in front of my cake. ‘That one!,’ she said to the lady manning the stall.  She opened her purse to discover she didn’t have enough cash. Fair enough, who expects to spend 20 bucks at a school cake stall?

So I fished through my wallet and pulled out a twenty and handed it over. 

My cake went back under the pram and I wheeled it home again.

My thoughts
Don't try and hide a sunken middle by filling it with icing. It doesn't work
This was a lovely moist cake, although it probably could have spent ten minutes less in the oven and been happier for it.  It is more of a spice cake than just a ginger cake, but it would be delicious with a spiced cream or a cinnamon icecream.

Worth the $20. And it goes to a good cause.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Slow Cooked Lamb (Another Disaster)

It looked so pretty in the photo. Juicy, still pink. A leg of lamb, flavoured with lemon and herbs and garlic and slow cooked in the oven for five hours.
This is what it was meant to look like (image courtesy Jason Thomas)
And before I put mine in the oven, it didn’t look too bad either.

Well, it looked like it had potential

But then I cooked it and this is what happened.

Ummmm, yum?

‘What happened to the chicken, Mummy?’ asked my three year old (we call all meat chicken, because they’re more likely to actually eat it).

‘Nothing happened to the chicken,’ I snapped. ‘It’s meant to look like this. Caramelised…’ I muttered.

‘Sure it is,’ said my husband. ‘Needs gravy.’

He was right.

The outside with the lemon and oregano and fennel seeds tasted great. It was just the inside bit that wasn’t. I had overcooked it: how un-Australian.
Lamb is NOT meant to be brown all over

My thoughts:

Now I need a recipe to use up half a leg of slightly overcooked lamb… any thoughts?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Beetroot and Orange Salad (Old Dogs Can Learn New tricks)

Making this dish probably signified a point of growth in my ability as a cook, a maturity perhaps.

It’s not that the dish was particularly hard or technical: it’s a salad - you chop things up.

No, it marked the day that I actually thought about consequences of what I was about to do, and took action to prevent the inevitable. In other words – I wore gloves.
You should always keep some gloves in the bedroom, um kitchen. You never know what you will need them for

Back step a few years to Christmas 2011. I had just bought Julie Goodwin’s second cookbook, even better than her first, because it felt like something my family would have put together, except with some fancy bits and bobs thrown in. I had rather grandly decided to make pots of chutneys and jam for family and friends and she had a tasty looking recipe for chilli ginger jam (try it, it’s awesome).

As I was making massive quantities of this jam I had bought dozens of red chillies.

And I started chopping.

With no gloves.

I didn’t really notice anything at first, but then after I had my hands in the oven numerous times and began handling the roasted capsicums, my hands started burning. Like they had been touched by the devil himself.

For two days my hands scorched. I couldn’t touch the baby, I couldn’t rub my eyes. I could only sit there and tell myself ‘next time, wear gloves’.
I wonder who the first person who thought 'we should definitely eat that!' was

There is no chilli in this salad, but there is something even more cunning: fresh beetroot. This stuff stains like a… well, like a beetroot. Clothes, benches and particularly hands.
It looks like a bit like a scene from CSI
So, it was a simple matter of gloving up to wash the beetroot before wrapping them in foil and roasting them for an hour and a half. Then I double-gloved when it was time to rub the skins off. I make a lot of mistakes, but I certainly try not to repeat the same ones (more than once or twice).
Purple and green: colours of the feminist revolution

Did you know you can eat the leaves of the beetroot plant? Well now you do. Together with some baby rocket, I threw the beetroot leaves in a bowl, added the chopped beetroots, some roasted red onion and segments of orange. Over the top I crumbled feta and tossed some roughly chopped pecans.

The dressing was a tasty combination of seeded mustard, honey, balsamic vinegar and EVOO.
This is the finished product, pretty awesome looking

I made it in advance so by the time we ate it, the feta had been stained pink by the beetroot, but considering it was a BBQ with seven little girls (and one lonely lad) it seemed only fitting.

Not that any of the kids would deign to eat it though. OMG ‘Nuts!’ run screaming for the hills, girls.

My thoughts

After three successes with salads, I am considering changing my opinion to ‘you can make friends with salad’.

As long as there isn’t too much of that leafy stuff.